Business – Press Herald Wed, 26 Apr 2017 09:44:41 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Beloved Le Garage bids adieu to Wiscasset Wed, 26 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 WISCASSET — Twice a month, for two or three decades, Charles and Stanley Wick have had lunch together at their favorite restaurant, Le Garage. Ever since hearing the news that it is closing on Sunday, they have eaten there twice a week.

On a recent Friday, the brothers – both retired residents of Damariscotta – enjoyed bowls of French onion soup at a table overlooking the Sheepscot River and reminisced about eating at Le Garage when their parents were still alive.

Stanley Wick still tears up thinking about how kind the staff was when they heard his mother had died. He got hugs.

“We don’t see it as a restaurant,” he said. “We see it as a part of our lives, our family.”

Le Garage has been in Wiscasset for 40 years – longer if you count its beginnings as a small take-out spot that sold sandwiches, chowder and ice cream – and some of its employees have been there nearly as long. Alan Dodge, the chef, has cooked at Le Garage for more than 32 years. Barbara Wyman has been a server there nearly 37 years, since the summer of 1980. Others on the staff can’t boast that kind of extreme longevity but still have impressive employment records, especially considering that today many restaurant owners complain they can’t keep employees six months.

Linda Verney, the chef’s sister-in-law, started working as a server in 2006 after a short stint as a bartender in the mid-1990s. Danny Peters has washed dishes for 19 years. Daphne Cromwell has been at Le Garage for about 20 years, and during one summer in the late 1990s three generations of her family worked there – Cromwell was a server, her mother was the hostess, and her daughter bused tables.

Such loyalty from the staff has helped create loyal customers and turned Le Garage into a family restaurant – not in the traditional sense, but by fostering a feeling of family among those who work and eat there.

“We fight just like family too,” Dodge said, laughing. Then he turned serious.

“If somebody’s sick, everybody wants to know what’s going on with them,” he continued. “If somebody’s crabby, we try to find out why.”

In its heyday, Le Garage was a destination restaurant in Maine. Gourmet magazine featured the seafood platter Dodge created when the restaurant first opened; he broiled the seafood because he had no fryolator in the kitchen. Bon Appetit, owner Cheryl Rust recalled, did a spread on Tree Richardson, the Westport Island woman who was the baker at Le Garage from age 66 until she finally retired at 94.

Over the years a few celebrities discovered the place, including Walter Cronkite, legendary Associated Press White House reporter Helen Thomas, a teenage John F. Kennedy Jr., and former first lady Barbara Bush. Beau Bridges visited Le Bar, the cozy bar Rust added downstairs, while he was in Maine filming “Signs of Life” in 1988; the actor said, Dodge recalled, that he liked the wine list.

Le Garage got its name because in the early 20th century it was an auto and engine repair shop. Today, it’s a beautiful cream-colored structure made of formed metal that looks like chiseled fieldstone, with a hip roof. It could have been transported to the banks of the Sheepscot from a field in France, except for one feature that hints of its past – two big, weathered garage doors, painted blue, on either side of the entrance.

Linda Verney delivers food to the dining room. Verney has worked at Le Garage in one capacity or another for 14 years. “I still feel like the new kid,” she jokes. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Inside, hanging near the hostess area, are old black-and-white photographs of workers in the garage. Nearby is a more recent photo, a large image of a young Dodge and five grinning, fresh-faced employees posing by a vintage Cadillac convertible that parked in front of the restaurant one day in 1984. (Bruce Springsteen released “Pink Cadillac” that year.)

As Dodge – much older now but still sporting wavy brown hair – reminisces in the dining room, a young man on his way out the door stops to shake his hand.

“I came back to eat one last time,” the man said. “Good luck to you, sir. Thank you for keeping me on when you shouldn’t have.”

Dodge explained that the young man once worked as a dishwasher. Dishwashers are usually kids, he said, “so they’re always doing something wrong.” But because they are so young, he doesn’t consider anything they do, really, a fireable offense.

Wyman, the server, says she thinks the kind of employee longevity seen at Le Garage is more common in rural Maine, where there’s often not much work to go around. But nationally, it is unusual.

According to a 2014 restaurant workforce survey conducted by the National Restaurant Association’s Educational Foundation, about half of all restaurant employees 35 and older have worked for five or more restaurant or foodservice businesses during their career. Only 3 percent of chefs/cooks have worked for just one restaurant.

Dodge himself started at another restaurant. When he was a freshman in high school, he washed dishes at the Dodge Inn restaurant (no relation) in Edgecomb, just across the bridge, and over the years worked his way up to head chef. At age 19, he got a call from Crosby and Charlotte Hodgman, owners of the early take-out version of Le Garage, asking if he wanted to buy the business. Dodge declined, then got another call from Crosby Hodgman informing him they had sold the restaurant to Hodgman’s stepdaughter (Charlotte Hodgman’s daughter), Cheryl Rust, and asking if he would consider being the chef. Dodge agreed.

Forty years later, the kitchen at Le Garage is twice the size it was when Dodge, now 60, started. In 1986, Rust added a bakery as well as Le Bar, which offered locals a place to unwind. The view of the Sheepscot from the upstairs dining room is still stunning, despite the removal in the late 1990s of the Hester and Luther Little, two schooners abandoned in the harbor for decades that had become popular local attractions.


Le Garage now has 25 year-round employees, and the staff swells to 35-40 in the summer. It has felt a lot like summer at Le Garage lately, ever since Rust announced her retirement.

“We’re doing a summer business with a winter crew,” Wyman said in between checking on tables.

The restaurant is getting more than twice the number of reservations it normally does at this time of year. There are 170 seats, if you include the seating in Le Bar, and on a recent weeknight 83 customers came in. A fan trying to squeeze in one last dinner drove up from Philadelphia, then drove back the next day.

“I’ve never seen it so busy,” said Brittany West of Damariscotta, who got her first job at age 15 washing dishes here and now, 15 years later, works as a part-time server.

Chef Al Dodge, who has cooked at Le Garage for more than 32 years, prepares salmon fillets. The restaurant – a midcoast mainstay since the 1970s – will close its doors on Sunday. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Dodge has had to bring back former employees to help out, including architectural designer Lynn Talacko, who worked summers here for about five years starting in the late 1970s, when he was in college. After he graduated, he continued to work two or three nights a week for years, “just to get some extra money.” He came back about a month ago at Dodge’s request.

“Al was desperate,” Talacko said, only half joking.

Matt Craig, who worked at Le Garage 11 years, is back behind the line, tossing pasta and folding crepes, and Nate Ridley calls out orders for Reubens, omelettes and plates of creamed finnan haddie on toast.

To keep up with demand, Dodge is making seven-pound batches of creamed finnan haddie daily – it’s his grandmother’s recipe.

Customers cite the New England-style menu as a reason they’ve embraced the restaurant over the years – dishes like crab cakes, lobster stew, lobster rolls, pot roast and homemade chicken pie. They weren’t happy when Dodge left the restaurant in 2009 after his father died. He had lost his energy and creativity after 32 years, so took the summer off to ride his motorcycle. “In this business,” he said, “we never get to see summer, so I felt like a kid in the candy store the first year I wasn’t here.”

Dodge stayed away a few years, working construction, doing maintenance for a vacation rental business, and working in food service at Bowdoin College. The restaurant hired a succession of chefs to replace him, and customers still talk about that period as if they had taken a bad cruise. “Al went away for a while and we went through a series of chefs,” Schildroth said. “Some of them we got trained properly, and some of them we didn’t.”

Dodge came back to the Le Garage kitchen last August, just as two prep cooks were retiring – one had been at the restaurant for 27 years, the other for 25.

“I think it was hard on everybody” when Dodge left, said James Schildroth, a local architect who eats lunch every day at Le Garage. “I was glad when he came back.”

Schildroth sits at the same table every day, sometimes with a client but usually alone. A large label with his name on it is stuck to the wall above the table, serving as a permanent lunch reservation. Schildroth has been here from the beginning, ever since Rust called him in 1977 for help designing a stairway, and for advice on winterizing a screened-in porch.

“I’m good friends with the people here,” he said, “and it’s part of my routine to come down and have lunch and kibbutz with all the wait staff and the cooks and the chef.”

Linda Verney arrives and asks, “Are you ready to order?”

“I’m going to have the pot roast,” Schildroth replies.

They talk in their own shorthand.

“Mashed potato,” she says.

“Gravy, if you’ve got any,” he says.

“Green beans.”

“Oh boy.”

“OK, gotcha.”

Verney, who lives in Alna, wears her light hair pulled back, with a pair of rhinestone-studded glasses perched on her head. Her nails are painted bright pink. She chats expressively with her customers, especially a table of four women she knows. She’s the kind of old-fashioned waitress who says things like “See ya, honey.”


Although Verney looks forward to spending more time with her grandchildren, she’s going to miss what has become her family – and she doesn’t mean just her brother-in-law.

“We take care of each other,” she said.

Wyman, who is looking forward to her first summer off in 36 years, agrees.

“People just help each other out, not only inside the restaurant but outside the restaurant,” she said. “I had to move my mother’s bed from one nursing home to another. I didn’t have a truck and Linda did, so she lent me the truck and her physicality and helped me move my mom’s bed.”

When an employee who was a single mother needed her house painted quickly, or risk losing a loan she desperately needed, Dodge recruited co-workers to help.

“A whole mess of us went up and we scraped and puttied and painted and turned that house into a wonder in a day,” Rust recalled.

West said if former employees come in struggling, Dodge will find something for them to do.

“The people who have no cars, no places to live, he helps them get a job and get money in their pockets,” she said. “He’s very caring.”

Rust says Dodge is “like a brother” to her.

“I just have enormous respect and affection for him,” she said. “The only time I ever really saw him get mad was when he kicked out a line chef for being rude to a dishwasher.”

Wyman, a former teacher, said the family atmosphere extends to dealing with customers. “A lot of people will come in and say ‘How was your teaching year this year?’ Or ‘I remember you retired. How has your year been?’ ” she said. “So they remember you.”

West has fond memories of an elderly customer from Damariscotta named Arlene who always arrived dressed to the nines and drank her martini with a straw.

“I told her she was my grandmother because she didn’t have any grandkids,” West said. “She came in twice, three times a week.”

As her health failed, Arlene wrote West a letter to say she would never forget her. She left the waitress a bracelet in her will.

Rust says the Le Garage building has long been paid off, and she has no debt. She is simply tired. She is selling the building (asking price $775,000) and hopes it may attract another restaurateur.

Employees have already made plans for life after Le Garage. Dodge will return to his vacation rental job. West will work at King Eider’s Pub in Damariscotta. Varney plans to nurture two side businesses she owns. Peters, the dishwasher, has a job lined up at Hancock Lumber in Damariscotta.

The customers will have to move on as well.

The Wick brothers say they’ll probably start going to the Cupboard Café in New Harbor. Schildroth said his other favorite restaurant is Moody’s Diner, but it’s too far away to eat lunch there every day.

“I’ve got to eat somewhere,” he said, “but it’s not going to be here, I guess.”

]]> 0 Wyman leaves the bustling kitchen at Le Garage with a full tray of food.Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:16:11 +0000
Maine sawmill owners welcome Trump’s tariff on Canadian softwood lumber Wed, 26 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000

Mathew Wight restocks cut wood Tuesday at Hammond Lumber in Portland. President Trump said Monday night that punitive duties on Canadian softwood products will begin next week, in retaliation for perceived unfair subsidies provided by provincial governments there. Staff photos by Derek Davis

Maine sawmill owners are welcoming the Trump administration’s announcement that it is imposing stiff duties on imports of Canadian softwood lumber, intensifying a longstanding trade dispute with the United States’ largest trading partner.

President Trump revealed the decision to a gathering of conservative journalists Monday night, pre-empting the Commerce Department, which had planned to make the announcement Tuesday. Starting next week, the department will impose duties of 3 percent to 24 percent on softwood 2-by-4s, planks and other lumber arriving from Canada. The punitive duties are retaliation for Canadian provincial governments allegedly providing unfair subsidies to their industry.

The action might raise the price of house framing lumber made from spruce, fir, pine and other softwood trees, but Maine’s sawmill owners are greeting the news with a sigh of relief.

“What we’ve desired all this time is a level playing field, and news like this gives us confidence,” said Jason Brochu, co-president of Pleasant River Lumber, which employs 300 people at sawmills in Dover-Foxcroft, Jackman, Hancock and Sanford. “With a strong presence from the government and such an emphasis on trade and jobs, it is timed perfectly for us to expand our operation and increase employment, which is exactly what we are going to do.”

U.S-owned lumber companies have pushed for countervailing duties for years via an ad hoc association, the U.S. Lumber Coalition, which also has claimed Canada is dumping softwood lumber on the U.S. market below cost.

The announcement of new duties “is a very solid and very good outcome which will help level the playing field from unfair Canadian imports that have been devastating to U.S. jobs, communities and owners,” said Zoltan van Heyningen, the coalition’s executive director. “This was not a knee-jerk thing. It was a result based on a long and careful investigation.”


The duties vary based on the level of subsidies the Commerce Department believes a given Canadian producer has received. Most firms face a 19.88 percent duty, but the duties against West Fraser Mills and the Canfor Corporation of British Columbia are set at 24.12 percent and 20.26 percent, respectively.

The Maine Forest Products Council says many of its members – like Twin Rivers Paper Co., whose lumber products were available at Hammond Lumber on Tuesday – own mills and forest property on both sides of the border.

One firm has an extremely light penalty: J.D. Irving, the New Brunswick-based wood products powerhouse that is the largest landowner in Maine. Its duty is just 3.02 percent, reflecting the fact that most of its timber comes from privately owned forests, rather than the provincial public forests that critics say are charging too little for logging rights.

J.D. Irving also owns some of the largest sawmills in Maine, demonstrating the complexity of the cross-border lumber trade in a state where the closest sawmill may be in another country.

Ottawa reacted angrily to the news and vowed to defend an industry that exports 70 percent of its production to the United States.

“The government of Canada disagrees strongly with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision to impose an unfair and punitive duty,” federal Foreign Affairs Minister Chrystia Freeland and Natural Resources Minister Jim Carr said in a joint statement. “The accusations are baseless and unfounded.”

NB Forests, the trade association of New Brunswick’s forest products industry, did not respond to an interview request.

Lloyd Irland, a forest products and timber consultant in Wayne who has worked for both U.S. and Canadian clients, said it isn’t at all clear that Canadian sawmills have unfair advantages, especially when it comes to the fees they pay to cut public forests – “crown lands” in Canadian parlance. “The crown forests out there are often very remote – it’s often small trees and long hauling distances – and so the (timber) just isn’t worth that much,” he said. “There are irritants in the trading relationship, but it’s hard to make a blanket statement that the Canadians are trading unfairly on the resource.”

He also noted that J.D. Irving and other Canadian firms have invested in sawmills in Maine, which wouldn’t make a lot of sense if they were getting timber at a cut rate in their own backyard. “Why are they competing with themselves?” he asked rhetorically.

While the softwood tariffs please Maine-owned sawmills, the state’s forest products industry as a whole is divided on the issue.

“We have commerce going back and forth between Quebec and New Brunswick, and we have members who own mills and forest property on both sides of the border,” said Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council, which also represents paper mills, loggers, landowners and wood pellet plants. “We certainly understand the members who want to have a level playing field, but we have to understand that up in the northwest corner of the state, some of the closest mills to the landowner community are just across the border in Quebec and of interest to some of our members.”


The softwood trade dispute, which has been simmering on and off for decades, is one of the most contentious between the largest trading partners in the world. A 1996 agreement that established quotas and tariffs on Canadian imports expired in October 2015, allowing Canada to export lumber tariff-free for one year while the parties negotiated. When they failed to come to a new agreement last October, interests such as the U.S. Lumber Coalition were free to file fresh trade grievances.

Mathew Wight works at Hammond Lumber’s Portland warehouse on Tuesday. While some Maine manufacturers celebrated news of a U.S. tariff on Canadian lumber, a forest-products industry consultant said “it’s hard to make a blanket statement that the Canadians are trading unfairly.”

Maine sawmills employed 1,996 people last year, down from 2,365 in 2001, according to state labor statistics. The state’s lumber and solid-wood products sector – which includes plywood and furniture – has an annual output of $1.1 billion and supports more than 11,000 jobs, according to the forest products council. Harvesting operations – which cut trees bound for paper mills, wood pellet makers and firewood dealers as well as the lumber trade – employ another 2,200.

Maine imported $168 million worth of wood construction products in 2016, $158 million of that from Canada, according to WISERtrade, a trade analyst service. China was the second-largest exporter to Maine, at $4.7 million.


Canada provides a third of the lumber used in the United States as a whole, and 95 percent of the imported lumber.

In contrast to Maine sawmill owners, the National Association of Homebuilders said it was “deeply disappointed” with the Trump administration’s announcement, calling it a “short-sighted action” that “will negatively harm American consumers and housing affordability.”

The homebuilders said it takes 15,000 board feet of wood to build a typical American home and that, after lumber prices spiked 22 percent in the first quarter of the year, the price of a new house increased by $3,600.

The U.S. Lumber Coalition’s van Heyningen disputed those calculations. “The average cost of the dimension lumber in a U.S. home is about 2 percent of the overall cost of construction, so the impact of bringing about fair trade is negligible at best or near zero for consumers,” he said. The housing association, he said, included in its calculations a range of non-softwood wood products that are not affected by the tariffs.

Irland, the forest products and timber consultant, said it wasn’t yet clear what effects the tariffs would have on U.S. softwood lumber prices, which are a commodity set by a variety of market forces. But even if prices did increase by 20 percent, the effect on would-be homeowners would be small.

“It’s a small portion of the price of a new home,” he said. “But if you’re building hundreds of thousands of homes a year in the country, it does add up.”

Colin Woodard can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Wight restocks cut wood Tuesday at Hammond Lumber in Portland. President Trump on Monday night said punitive duties on Canadian softwood products will begin next week, retaliation for perceived unfair subsidies provided by provincial governments there.Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:42:28 +0000
Wells Fargo investors send warning to executives Wed, 26 Apr 2017 00:59:39 +0000 PONTE VEDRA BEACH, Fla. — Shareholders irritated by the fallout from Wells Fargo’s sales practices scandal sent a warning to the bank’s executives and board, with some directors barely holding onto their jobs Tuesday in what is typically a symbolic vote.

The shareholder meeting was the first time Wells Fargo had met collectively with its investors since acknowledging last fall that its employees opened up to 2 million bank accounts without getting customers’ authorization in order to meet unrealistic sales quotas.

While all 15 board members kept their positions for another year, four directors received backing of 60 percent or less. That included Chairman Stephen Sanger, who received 56 percent support.

“Wells Fargo shareholders today have sent the entire board a clear message of dissatisfaction,” Sanger said.

Although shareholders voted everyone in, they were clearly unhappy. All the directors who were at Wells Fargo before the scandal broke got 80 percent or less of shareholders’ votes, based on preliminary results. The three who got 99 percent were CEO Tim Sloan –who got his job in October after former CEO John Stumpf departed – and two independent directors who started earlier this year. Last year, Wells Fargo’s board got approvals from at least 90 percent of shareholders, a common level at big corporations.

Sanger said he did not see the slim majority as a vote of no confidence in his role as chairman. And he said the board has no plans to replace any of its members.

Wells Fargo’s contentious, three-hour long shareholder meeting was interrupted several times by protesters, with one man, Bruce Marks of the Neighborhood Assistance Corporation of America, being effectively dragged out by armed security guards. Sanger said Marks had to be removed because he physically approached a board member, something people sitting nearby disputed.

Other protesters were ordered to leave the meeting, escorted by guards but not physically forced to leave.

Wells Fargo’s’ board has placed blame for the scandal at the feet of former managers, notably former CEO Stumpf and Carrie Tolstedt, who was the executive in charge of the community banking division while the problems were happening. Through a lawyer, Tolstedt has denied responsibility and says the board is trying to shift blame.

]]> 0 was quiet Tuesday outside Wells Fargo's annual shareholders meeting in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., but inside, the meeting was interrupted several times by protesters, with one man being effectively dragged out by armed security guards.Tue, 25 Apr 2017 21:17:37 +0000
Burial site selected for soil dredged from Portland Harbor waterfront Wed, 26 Apr 2017 00:49:40 +0000 An advisory group wants to bury contaminated soil dredged from the Portland Harbor waterfront under the muddy shallows near the Coast Guard Station in South Portland.

The group of municipal and harbor officials and a team of grant-funded consultants chose the South Portland site as the preferred location of Maine’s first confined aquatic disposal – or CAD – cell from among a half-dozen candidates, concluding the 5-acre spot sandwiched between two other dredged areas was the only viable alternative, said Bill Needelman, Portland’s waterfront coordinator.

Over the last year, other potential sites have been rejected for various reasons, such as their value as a clam seeding, migratory bird nesting or lobster fishing territory; their proximity to a navigational channel; or their too-shallow depth, which might leave too much of the site exposed at low tide, said Needelman. “All the other sites faced opposition,” Needelman said. “The (Coast Guard) site was the last one standing.”

A cell is essentially an underwater hole filled with dredged material, then capped. Such disposal facilities have been dug across southern New England from New Bedford, Massachusetts, to Boston, but Maine has none. The soil removed in other Maine dredging projects has been clean enough to be dumped at sea, but a dredge of the Portland and South Portland waterfront won’t be clean enough for that.

The sediment that has built up between the wharves and piers of Portland and South Portland’s oldest sections of waterfront is tainted by decades of runoff from dockside and upland industry. The cost of hauling the dredged material to an upland landfill for hazardous waste has been so expensive that most wharf owners have simply put off dredging, reluctantly giving up a few inches of usable pier every year, with dozens of berths lost over the decades.

The Portland Harbor Commission and the city of Portland joined forces a few years ago to tackle the dredging issue, securing state and federal grants to hire a team of consultants to study the soil that needs to be dredged and design an affordable but safe way to dispose of the contaminated soil. The advisory group has met with potentially impacted groups, like lobstermen and Friends of Casco Bay, to study potential solutions.

Economic and environmental groups have joined forces to support the plan as relief from falling profits, gentrification, and degradation of water quality.

Wharf owners say they have had to look for other sources of income, like leasing to restaurants or offices, because they can’t attract marine businesses to their piers without deeper berthing spaces that can be used even at low tide. Environmental groups worry about the decades of pollutants that have built up between the undredged wharves, and what happens when big storms or boat propellers disturb the tainted soils.

Federal tests of CAD cells built in Boston Harbor a dozen years ago have found the buried toxins stay put, even during big storms.

The group briefed the South Portland City Council this winter. Claude Morgan, a South Portland councilor who sits on the Waterfront Alliance of Portland Harbor, said he has no major concerns with the cell being on the South Portland side of the Fore River. South Portland pier and marina owners could use it to dredge their facilities, he said, including the city-owned Portland Street Pier.

“I’m satisfied with the caution that’s been taken in reviewing several potential sites and choosing this one,” Morgan said Tuesday. “I’m satisfied that CAD cells have been proven safe over the last 50 years and that the material placed in them does not drift.”

The advisory group settled upon the Coast Guard location in February after ruling out all the other potential sites, but it is “far from a done deal,” said Needelman. Now that it has been chosen as the group’s preferred location, additional tests can begin to make sure there is enough sediment atop the bedrock to dig a hole big enough to bury the 300,000 cubic yards of sediment likely to be dredged.

A drilling barge is scheduled to begin a two-day test of the proposed cell location on Wednesday, Needelman said. It should be visible from Casco Bay Bridge.

Piling tests will follow the drilling if the initial test results prove encouraging, Needelman said. The group hopes to have all the tests completed, along with sediment tests of the areas likely to be dredged, by the end of the summer, so it can get permits from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and apply for additional grants to proceed with its proposal.

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, the regulatory agency that would permit a CAD cell, told the advisory group that designing, permitting and building this kind of disposal facility is a “two-to-10-year adventure.” The total cost of dredging and disposal could run to $8 million to $14 million.

Penelope Overton can be contacted at 791-6463 or at:

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

]]> 0, 25 Apr 2017 21:12:55 +0000
Uber aims for future rides to be shared in flying taxis Wed, 26 Apr 2017 00:44:49 +0000 The ride-sharing company Uber set ambitious goals Tuesday to create a network of flying taxis in Dubai and the Dallas area by 2020.

At a summit Tuesday in Dallas, company executives outlined plans to develop their own electric Vertical Takeoff and Landing aircraft, or VTOLs, that would use small landing pads called “vertiports.”

“It’s possible because we’re radically changing the type of aircraft,” Jeff Holden, chief product officer at Uber Technologies, said at the summit. “This is why we’re so bullish. … We just want to usher it in as fast as possible because we all want to live in this world.”

A futuristic fantasy for many, that world may now be closer to reality. Still, flying cars face a number of logistical, technical and regulatory obstacles: Much as in the development of electric planes, battery limitations place boundaries on the duration of a flight in an all-electric flying car. But those hurdles have not stopped Uber and other Silicon Valley tech companies from launching aggressive initiatives to develop flying vehicles.

Uber, which in recent months has faced its share of lawsuits and scandals, published a white paper about “on-demand aviation” last fall, and earlier this year the company hired longtime NASA aircraft engineer Mark Moore to help it develop flying cars.

Eventually, the company, which is also developing self-driving cars, thinks it can get the cost for a trip in an Uber flying taxi down to an ambitious $1.32 per passenger mile, with the overall goal of making it “economically irrational” to drive a car on the ground, Holden said Tuesday.

Uber’s announcement Tuesday came on the heels of another flying car earning its wings this week.

Kitty Hawk – a company backed by Larry Page, the Google co-founder and Alphabet Inc. chief executive – debuted its long-secret “Kitty Hawk Flyer” in a demonstration video released Monday.

The video shows a prototype of the Kitty Hawk Flyer – a contraption that, alas, looks far less like anything from “The Jetsons” cartoon and more like the amalgam of a Jet Ski, a motorcycle arcade game and a giant drone. For about 30 seconds, the driver – or is it pilot? – is shown zipping across a lake on the single-seater vehicle, hovering close to the surface. She touches down next to her friends’ boat, to cheers and hugs.

There’s good reason for that scenario: So far, the Kitty Hawk Flyer is only meant to be flown for recreational purposes in “uncongested areas” in the United States, specifically over fresh water, according to the company’s website. So unless you happen to live in a lakeside property where you need to cross the water rapidly for impromptu dinner gatherings, the utility of the Flyer seems rather limited for now.

That didn’t stop the company’s leaders, including Kitty Hawk chief executive Sebastian Thrun, from promising this was a revolution in “personal transportation.”

“This is clearly just the beginning of what will one day be possible with personal flight,” Thrun said in a statement to The Washington Post. “Safety is, and always will be, our first priority. I dream of a day when anyone – not just highly trained pilots – can safely operate a flying vehicle and experience the excitement that we’re aiming for with Kitty Hawk.”

Flying-car prototypes that other companies have rolled out so far, however, have been underwhelming or untenable for the majority of the population.

Last year, the Federal Aviation Administration granted an exemption to the Terrafugia Transition to be classified as a “light sport aircraft,” marking the first step toward legalizing commercial flying cars. The Washington Post’s Jacob Bogage was more hesitant about the Terrafugia Transition itself, describing the “two-seated flying thingumajig” as “a goofy mosquito, its fat cockpit shoving through the wind while aloft, its wings folded up like a dragonfly while grounded.”

Just last week, Slovakian company AeroMobil revealed its own car-plane hybrid, a sleeker blend of sport car and aircraft that will require a pilot’s license to operate. It also comes with a hefty price: between $1.3 million and $1.6 million. Those two factors alone place it out of reach for the average user.

“I think it’s going to be a very niche product,” University of Warwick engineering professor Philip Mawby told the Associated Press.

As for the Kitty Hawk Flyer, a pilot’s license won’t be required to fly it; the FAA has designated the Flyer as an ultralight aircraft. There are no prices yet, only a three-year membership for $100 that promises “priority placement on the Kitty Hawk Flyer customer wait list” and $2,000 off whatever the Flyer’s retail price ends up being. According to its website, the Flyer will be on sale by the end of the year.

And even that product will likely not look like what was debuted in the video this week. The Kitty Hawk website only indicates that “the go-to-market Flyer will have a different design than the prototype Flyer that appears in our April 2017 photos and videos.”

]]> 0 Tue, 25 Apr 2017 22:05:46 +0000
Profits beat forecasts, boost markets Wed, 26 Apr 2017 00:06:14 +0000 NEW YORK — Profits are climbing for companies, and so are their stock prices.

More big businesses joined the earnings parade Tuesday, saying their profits were even larger in the first three months of the year than analysts were expecting, including Caterpillar and McDonald’s. The encouraging reports pushed U.S. indexes to their second straight day of big gains, placing them either close to or firmly in record territory.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index rose 14.46 points, or 0.6 percent, to 2,388.61. It’s within a third of a percent of its all-time high, set at the start of March.

The Dow Jones industrial average gained even more due to the big jumps for Caterpillar and McDonald’s, which are among the 30 stocks in the average. The Dow rose 232.23 points, or 1.1 percent, to 20,996.12.

The Nasdaq rose 41.67, or 0.7 percent, to 6,025.49, its first move above 6,000 points. The Russell 2000 of smaller-company stocks was up 13.13 points, or 0.9 percent, at 1,411.08.

“Earnings have come through quite nicely so far,” said Ernie Cecilia, chief investment officer at Bryn Mawr Trust. “They’re beating forecasts, the numbers have been quite good and this is now the second consecutive quarter that’s happened.”

After struggling for years with a slow global economy and weak oil prices, big U.S. businesses are in the midst of reporting their best quarter of profit growth in years, analysts say.

Companies in the S&P 500 are on track to report overall growth of about 10 percent in first-quarter earnings per share, according to S&P Global Market Intelligence. This is a particularly busy week, with more than a third of the companies in the S&P 500 scheduled to unveil their first-quarter results.

Many investors say strong profit reports are necessary to justify the big gains stocks have made. Stock prices in recent years have been climbing faster than earnings, which has led skeptics to call the market overly pricey.

Caterpillar soared $7.61, or 7.9 percent, to $104.42 after reporting stronger revenue and profits for the first quarter than analysts expected. It also raised its forecast for full-year results.

And it wasn’t the only big industrial company to cite signs of optimism among customers. 3M said sales improved in all its markets around the world, while reporting stronger quarterly earnings than expected.

Such encouraging talk about the economy’s strength raises hopes that revenues and profits can keep rising for companies, which could rein in worries about stocks being expensive.

McDonald’s jumped $7.47, or 5.6 percent, to $141.70 after likewise surprising investors with better-than-expected results.

]]> 0 Smith monitors stock prices at the Nasdaq MarketSite on Tuesday in New York. The Nasdaq Composite rose above 6,000 Tuesday, a record high.Tue, 25 Apr 2017 21:47:48 +0000
Have bottle deposit programs like Maine’s become obsolete? Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:23:51 +0000 HARTFORD, Conn. – As curbside recycling has grown, environmentalists around the United States find themselves fighting to protect decades-old bottle recycling programs that critics say are becoming obsolete.

Connecticut, Massachusetts and Iowa are among the states where bills have been proposed to replace the bottle deposits with a tax. Supporters say the tax revenue could support recycling efforts that did not exist when the bottle redemption systems were introduced.

The so-called “bottle bills” remain in place in 10 states, including Maine. Typically, consumers pay an extra few cents when they buy certain beverages, a deposit they get back when they bring their cans or bottles to a redemption center or grocery store.

Some fear people will be more likely to toss their empties if they’re no longer worth cash.

“This is the most effective, proven way that we have to guarantee that these containers do not end up on our streets and do not end up on our beaches and open spaces as litter,” said Louis Burch, the Connecticut program director for Citizens Campaign for the Environment.

In 1971, Oregon became the first state to pass a bottle bill. It was seen as a way to address a growing litter problem along the state’s beaches and highways. Since then, Hawaii, California, Iowa, Michigan, New York, Vermont, Maine, Connecticut and Massachusetts have passed similar legislation. The types of beverage containers and the deposit amounts can vary by state.

In eight of the 10 deposit states, beverage distributors have both the financial and operational responsibility for the system.

Kevin Dietly, an economic consultant to the American Beverage Association, said there is no evidence that litter is any worse in Delaware since that state scrapped its bottle bill in 2010.

In Connecticut, distributors were allowed to keep the unclaimed bottle deposits to help offset the costs of running the program, but state officials decided in 2009 to use that money – about $34 million each year – to help balance the government’s budget.

That change, coupled with the growth in single-stream recycling where glass, metal, plastic and paper is placed in a resident’s curbside bin, has prompted legislation that would replace the existing bottle redemption system. It would create a two-phase system covering a broader range of containers and creating a minimum 4-cent tax.

Lawrence Cafero, executive director and general counsel of the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of Connecticut, said the two recycling systems have “competed with each other over the years with very mixed and, some might say disappointing results” in the state. He said it’s time to choose one system over the other.

Susan Collins, president of the Container Recycling Institute, said it would be towns and taxpayers that get stuck with the bill for single-stream recycling.

There are other bills up for debate this year in Connecticut that would increase the handling fee paid to redemption centers, increase the deposit to 10 cents and expand the law to include other beverages, such as teas and sports drinks.

An estimated 3,000 to 3,500 jobs in New England and New York stem from bottle bill laws currently in place, according to Andrew Crowley, a senior plant manager for Strategic Materials, overseeing glass recycling operations in Connecticut, Rhode Island and Massachusetts. He has warned lawmakers that scrapping the bottle deposit system would lead to the elimination of jobs.

“We think there are advantages to both systems and I wouldn’t propose going too radical in either direction,” he said.

]]> 0 on a soda can show that it is subject to a 5-cent deposit in Vermont, Maine, New York, Iowa, Massachusetts, Oregon, Connecticut and Hawaii. In effect since 1980, Connecticut's nickel deposit on bottles and cans faces potential changes from competing proposals before the General Assembly to replace the state's returnable container law.Tue, 25 Apr 2017 22:52:48 +0000
Maine needs expanded, higher-level energy office, Republican leader says Tue, 25 Apr 2017 22:46:44 +0000 AUGUSTA — Mainers spent $7.6 billion on energy in 2015, but the state does energy planning and policy work with only two full-time positions that are part of the governor’s office, some part-time temporary help and a bare-bones budget.

Maine would be better served by having a Cabinet-level energy agency, with a commissioner and adequate staff, to handle complex issues that affect the state but are national and regional in scope.

That view was expressed Tuesday not by environmental advocates, but by House Minority Leader Ken Fredette, R-Newport. During testimony on the bill he was presenting to lawmakers at a public hearing, Fredette acknowledged that Republicans typically don’t look to add people to the state’s payroll.

“But we really aren’t staffed up to deal with a lot of these issues,” he said, referring to topics that include offshore wind energy, nuclear waste storage at the former Maine Yankee power plant in Wiscasset, and the growing use of solar energy.


Fredette’s bill to create a Maine Energy Office resonated with members of the committee that deals with utility and energy matters. There’s some dispute over how to pay for a beefed-up energy office. And it may be best, some said, to study the issue after the legislative session ends and tee up a plan for when the next governor takes office in 2019. That would short-circuit partisan bickering about the future of an office now controlled by Gov. Paul LePage, an outspoken opponent of renewable energy.

LePage has declined to appoint a new director for the Governor’s Energy Office since last fall, when Patrick Woodcock resigned. But his acting director, Angela Monroe, expressed support Tuesday for Fredette’s idea. She said her office would need at least five people to properly handle the workload.

There was wide agreement at the hearing that Maine is way behind what other states are doing to help their residents and businesses lower energy bills, benefit from new technologies and navigate a maze of rules and regulations. During Tuesday’s testimony, it was brought out that New Hampshire’s energy office has a staff of 14 and gets $600,000 a year from its general fund. Vermont’s office has 10 people and is funded mostly by ratepayers and utilities.


Maine’s office relies largely on a federal grant pegged at between $350,000 and $400,000 this year for operations. But Fredette and others fear the program that helps support state energy offices may be at risk under budget proposals from the Trump administration.

Fredette said he saw the need to elevate Maine’s profile after a recent trip to Washington, D.C., where he met with staff from the Department of Energy and Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. He’s also a legislative liaison to Canada, which has vast hydroelectric resources being developed for export to New England.

In his bill, Fredette proposed taking $300,000 from the Efficiency Maine Trust to help form a new state energy office. But some lawmakers wondered why it wouldn’t be better to get the money from the General Fund, a debate that’s likely to extend past this session.

Efficiency Maine was created by state law in 2009 to consolidate spending on consumer efficiency programs for homes and businesses. The trust spent $47.8 million in 2016, according to its annual report. Funding came from sources that include Maine ratepayers and the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative. In the last fiscal year, programs helped homes and businesses avoid $300 million in energy costs.

If Maine creates a more robust energy office, it would be revisiting the past. State energy offices were established after the 1973 Middle East oil embargo, as a response to the nation’s dependence on imported petroleum. Maine’s Office of Energy Resources was set up in 1975 during the term of Gov. James Longley.

An emphasis on cutting oil use and developing local renewable power led to growth in the agency during the administration of Gov. Joseph Brennan. Gordon Weil, who directed the office under Brennan from 1980 to 1982, said in a phone interview before Tuesday’s hearing that he recalls having 20 to 25 people on his staff. But an economic downturn led the Legislature to dissolve the agency in 1989, placing some functions within the now-defunct Maine State Planning Office and other agencies.

The lack of coordination that followed led lawmakers in 2001 to create the Energy Resources Council, which had members of various agencies working together on energy policy. But the function returned to the governor’s office in 2003 when then-Gov. John Baldacci created the Office of Energy Independence and Security.

LePage renamed it the Governor’s Energy Office when he took over in 2011. The cost of energy has been a major focus under LePage, but he has run a lean office. Until last year it functioned with a director and senior planner.

The office now operates with Monroe as acting director and a senior planner, Lisa Smith. Recently, Jim LaBrecque, an informal energy adviser to LePage, and Larry Dunphy, a former legislator, have joined in temporary positions to ease the workload during the session. Dunphy’s work will end after the session, Monroe said. LeBrecque is a consultant under a temporary contract.

]]> 0 Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:04:44 +0000
Annual report shows exports a bright spot in Maine’s economy Tue, 25 Apr 2017 21:51:17 +0000 Maine’s export growth outperforms the nation’s, a positive sign for the state’s economy, which otherwise lags behind the U.S. and the rest of New England.

Exports were one of the few bright spots highlighted in Measures of Growth 2017, the annual report released Tuesday by the Maine Development Foundation and Maine Economic Growth Council. The report assigns grades to 26 economic indicators that range from unemployment rates to fourth-grade reading scores and the quality of Maine’s air and water. Each indicator has a benchmark and an analysis of the state’s performance.

Among the business indicators, Maine seems to be making progress on unemployment and wages, in addition to exports. But it still faces significant challenges in areas such as research and development, transportation infrastructure and gross domestic product.

Overall, the state’s gross domestic product grew 1.1 percent from 2014 to 2015, from $50.5 billion to $51.1 billion, the first positive growth since 2010, according to the report. Maine’s GDP growth between 2010 and 2015 was essentially even, at 0.3 percent, compared with 4.1 percent growth in New England and 10 percent nationally.

“There is no question that Maine’s economic recovery has generally been lower than the country and the region,” said Yellow Light Breen, president and CEO of the Maine Development Foundation.

But Maine now has a 3 percent unemployment rate, the lowest in 40 years, and broke a record for private sector employment in 2016.

The state’s per-capita income was $44,316 in 2016, an increase of 14 percent from 2011. Maine still ranks 33rd in the country and has the lowest annual income out of the six New England states, according to the report.

International sales from Maine grew by 5 percent from 2015 to 2016, while U.S. exports declined by 3.3 percent over the same period. Maine’s export growth was rated second-best in New England and eighth nationally, according to the report.

Total exports were valued at $2.9 billion in 2016 for products shipped to 175 foreign markets. Despite a 15 percent decline in pulp and paper exports, forest products remained Maine’s largest export industry with $626 million in sales in 2016.

Lobster and seafood exports grew 27 percent from 2015 to 2016 and seafood was the state’s largest export commodity, valued at $565 million. The aerospace and defense industries also recorded significant gains. And there was double-digit growth in exports to developing Asian markets such as Thailand, Vietnam and Singapore, from the state’s food and agriculture industries in 2016, said Janine Bisaillon-Cary, president of the Maine International Trade Center.

She expects the growth to continue in 2017.

“We have seen a lot of Maine companies that traditionally traded in European markets going into Asian markets,” she said.

Other sectors, like pharmaceuticals, are also growing, Bisaillon-Cary said.

“We have been doing a lot more in terms of export development and seen a lot more companies diversify into export markets than in the past,” she said.

Companies that export tend to deal in higher-volume orders and pay more than those that deal with domestic sales, she said, adding that the true value of Maine exports is higher because numbers for semiconductors and lobsters are often underreported.


The report’s authors gave “red flags” to several areas, including research and development and transportation infrastructure, both cited as problems in previous years’ reports.

The percentage of Maine’s major arteries for private and commercial traffic that were rated in “fair” or better condition declined from 66 percent in 2014 to 64 percent in 2015, far from the council’s benchmark goal of 81 percent. The condition of smaller roads declined even further, from 60 percent rated “fair” or better in 2010 to only 54 percent in 2015.

The state’s road maintenance is underfunded by about $159 million annually, although the Maine Department of Transportation expects to bond $100 million a year until 2019 to make up some of the shortfall. Lawmakers are considering proposals to boost highway revenue by increasing the gas tax and adding fees for hybrid and electric vehicles.

Transportation spending as a proportion of total state revenues has dropped from 25 percent in the 1970s to 10 percent now, according to the report.

Research and development investment in Maine in 2014 was $596 million, about 1.1 percent of GDP, well below the benchmark of 3 percent by 2020. The U.S. average is 2.8 percent of GDP and New England’s average is 4.7 percent.

The state is on par for nonprofit and public research investment but lacks private sector spending, said the report’s authors. About 65 percent of the state’s research and development investment came from private industry in 2014, compared with 83 percent in the U.S. and New England.

“We just don’t have enough of a concentration of those players in Maine that are private sector,” Breen said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Wed, 26 Apr 2017 00:24:01 +0000
Portland extends season for The Cat ferry service to Nova Scotia Tue, 25 Apr 2017 16:24:35 +0000 The Portland City Council unanimously approved a contract Monday to extend the season for the Portland-to-Yarmouth Nova Scotia ferry service by two weeks.

The new lease would also allow the Bay Ferries to lease the ground-floor space in the Ocean Gateway terminal building for an additional $1,400 a month. All told, the amended agreement is expected to generate an additional $16,600 in revenue for the city, which last year received $265,000 in rent, parking and fees.

“We expect we will have more ridership this season and more fees to the city,” said City Councilor David Brenerman, who leads the Economic Development Committee, which negotiated the deal.

Under the new agreement, Bay Ferries will operate The Cat high-speed ferry service from May 31 to Oct. 15. Last year, The Cat ferried 35,551 passengers during the 2016 season, which ran from June 1 to Sept. 31, though the first voyage did not occur until June 15.

The Cat carried fewer passengers than its predecessor, The Nova Star, which carried 59,000 people in 2014 and 52,000 people in 2015. However, Bay Ferries Chairman and CEO Mark MacDonald said he was pleased with ferry’s first season.

While the previous agreement with the city contained so-called blackout days to avoid conflicts with Portland’s busy fall cruise ship season, the new agreement limits The Cat’s arrivals and departures to four or five days each week during the fall.

The Cat’s current schedule indicates the ferry will run five days a week through the end of June, then six days a week until the end of July, and then seven days a week until the early September. It will go back down to five days a week in September, and four days from Oct. 3 to 15. It departs Yarmouth every day at 8:30 a.m. Atlantic time and leaves Portland at 2:30 p.m. Eastern time.

The Cat can carry at least 700 passengers and more than 200 regular passenger vehicles. It makes the crossing between Portland and Yarmouth in about 5½ hours.

The high-speed ferry service replaced the slower Nova Star ferry, which took twice as long to make the trek.

The 2017 ferry season starts as the service has become a political flashpoint in Nova Scotia, which is expected to hold an election for a new premier this year. Progressive Conservative Leader Jamie Baillie has vowed to end the service, which is heavily subsidized by the Canadian government, according to the Nova Scotia-based Chronicle Herald.

Randy Billings can be reached at 791-6346 or at:

Twitter: @randybillings

]]> 0 Cat docks in Portland last year. This season, the ferry will run from May 31 to Oct. 15.Tue, 25 Apr 2017 23:34:26 +0000
Food giant Tyson Foods to buy AdvancePierre, owner of former Barber Foods Tue, 25 Apr 2017 12:21:23 +0000 Food giant Tyson Foods intends to buy AdvancePierre, a company that includes the former Barber Foods of Portland, for $4.2 billion.

The sale’s likely impact on the Portland operation is unknown. Tyson said it intends to push AdvancePierre brands such as Barber Foods into new markets, but it also plans to cut costs and make the operation more efficient.

The deal, announced Tuesday morning, has been approved by the boards of both Tyson and AdvancePierre. If it receives regulatory approval, the sale is expected to close in the third quarter of this year.

Cincinnati-based AdvancePierre employs about 300 people at its St. John Street plant where frozen, stuffed chicken entrees are made and sold under the Barber Foods name. AdvancePierre bought Barber Foods in June 2011 and started layoffs as it integrated the Portland operation into the much larger company. At the time of the sale, about 650 people worked there.

AdvancePierre also invested millions in modernizing the production facility, helping the frozen entree division become one of the most profitable for the company, which also makes sandwiches and other prepared foods for convenience stores and other retailers, as well as institutions such as schools and hospitals.

Since 2011, AdvancePierre has undergone multiple acquisitions, and an initial public offering last July raised $219 million.

In a written statement, Tyson said the Barber Foods brand of products “has a strong heritage in both retail and food service channels and we look forward to building upon its foundation of quality.”

Several workers at the Portland facility declined to speak with the Press Herald, saying they have been instructed not to speak to the press and to refer all media inquiries to a communications firm in Cincinnati. The firm did not respond to questions about the acquisition’s likely impact on operations in Portland.


During a conference call for investors Tuesday morning, Tyson President and CEO Tom Hayes talked in broad terms about how he plans to combine the two companies. Some of his comments could be interpreted as good news for employees of the former Barber Foods, while others could be regarded as cause for concern.

On the positive side, Hayes said one of the company’s goals is to expand the reach of AdvancePierre’s products. He described the company as a regional player and said Tyson wants to take it national.

“This transaction is about growth,” Hayes said. “We believe that Tyson is the right home for AdvancePierre to continue to expand its distribution footprint and nurture even greater brand loyalty for its products.”

Hayes noted that there isn’t much overlap between Tyson and AdvancePierre products, and that all of the product segments in which AdvancePierre competes are attractive to Tyson. He said employees of AdvancePierre will benefit from the acquisition.

“We are looking forward to AdvancePierre employees joining our team,” Hayes said. “As a part of Tyson, they will have a larger, more attractive opportunity set at a company that Fortune repeatedly lists as one of the best places to work.”

But Hayes also said Tyson expects to transform the combined entity into a leaner, more efficient operation by streamlining areas such as manufacturing, ingredient sourcing, product distribution and corporate administration.

“We should expect synergies of approximately $200 million to be realized within three years,” he said.

When asked for specifics about where the cost-cutting would occur, Hayes said, “It’s a bit too early to give you the full quantification. We’re working through that.”


Tyson is a massive conglomerate with operations in the United States, India and China. In 2016 it sold products in roughly 115 countries, according to its annual report. The company employed about 114,000 workers in 2016 and generated sales revenue of $36.88 billion.

Brands under the Tyson umbrella include Hillshire Farm, Jimmy Dean, Wright Brand bacon, Aidells gourmet sausage and Ball Park hot dogs. Its largest retail distributor is Wal-Mart Stores Inc., which accounts for more than 25 percent of all Tyson product sales. The company also is the primary supplier of chicken to fast-food chains such as KFC, McDonald’s, Burger King, Wendy’s and Taco Bell.

AdvancePierre is a much smaller operation, with roughly 4,500 employees and $1.57 billion in sales in 2016, according to its annual report.

The 250,000-square-foot plant in Portland is the largest of AdvancePierre’s 11 manufacturing operations. It falls under the company’s “entrees and snacks” segment, which accounted for roughly one-third of AdvancePierre’s total sales over the past three years.

In 2014, Tyson purchased Hillshire Brands Co. for $7.7 billion in what was described as the meat industry’s largest acquisition ever. To help fund the deal, Tyson agreed to sell off its poultry operations in Mexico and Brazil to Brazilian meat processing giant JBS S.A. for $575 million.

No major layoffs have been reported as a direct result of the Hillshire Brands acquisition, but Tyson did shut down two manufacturing facilities in 2016 that it said were unrelated to Hillshire. They included a pepperoni plant in Jefferson, Wisconsin, and a plant in Chicago that made prepared meals for the hospitality industry. A total of 880 workers were laid off.

Tyson has had a few run-ins with regulators, pro-labor organizations and animal rights groups in recent years over some of its business practices.

In 2016, the Occupational Safety and Health Administration fined Tyson $263,000 for unsafe working conditions in a Texas chicken-processing plant after a worker’s finger was accidentally amputated in a piece of machinery. OSHA found more than a dozen violations, including a lack of proper safety gear for workers and protective guards for potentially dangerous machines.

Also in 2016, Tyson was accused of engaging in animal cruelty after the animal rights group Compassion Over Killing released an undercover video of workers in several Tyson contract chicken farms punching, kicking, suffocating, mutilating and crushing live birds. Tyson vowed to put a stop to such practices, and 10 employees were fired.


Barber Foods was founded in 1955 as Barber Beef by Augustus “Gus” Barber. It initially sold hamburger to Portland restaurants and markets. The company later expanded into chicken sales, and in 1968 its name was changed to Barber Foods.

The Barber Foods brand consists primarily of prepared chicken entrees sold to supermarkets and other food retailers, as well as institutions such as hospitals, schools, hotels and the U.S. military.

Over the years, Barber Foods earned recognition as a major employer for the immigrant community in Greater Portland, hosting language and citizenship programs for immigrants and refugees. It also received honors for its contributions to local food banks.

Bruce Wagner served as Barber Foods’ interim president from 2007 to 2011. He said Barber, who was of Armenian descent, built a staff so diverse that at one point there were more than 50 different languages being spoken on the factory floor.

“He had a vision that Barber Foods could be a great place for newly arrived Americans to prosper and move on (from),” said Wagner, who is now CEO of the Finance Authority of Maine. “It was really a multicultural, very dynamic environment.”

Wagner praised AdvancePierre for having the foresight to modernize and automate the Portland plant, even though it resulted in staff reductions. He said the Portland facility is far more likely to survive under Tyson as a result of those actions.

“I would at least express optimism that it wouldn’t be consolidated,” Wagner said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 0, 25 Apr 2017 23:53:28 +0000
On the Job: Nature inspires Willa Wirth to make jewelry Tue, 25 Apr 2017 08:00:05 +0000 Willa Wirth, 42, of Portland, owns a small shop on Munjoy Hill where she creates her own jewelry by forging, soldering and forming sterling silver wire.

Wirth took a class on a whim after seeing a listing for a Maine College of Art course, “How to Make a Ring.”

Ever since, she has been creating designs inspired by her love of nature, particularly the ocean.

She gathers inspiration to design sterling silver bracelets, rings and necklaces during early-morning walks on the beach with her golden retriever, Oli, or paddling on rivers.

Her studio is in the back of her small shop at 99 Congress St. The open area allows customers to watch her at her work while they peruse her retail pieces.

“I really like to connect with people,” says Wirth.

She especially enjoys custom work for clients.

“It is really rewarding” she says. “You become a part of their world.”

The one part of her job that she struggles with is adhering to the store hours.

“I struggle to be inside,” she says.

Wirth has been making jewelry for over 10 years and has owned the store for the last seven. Her pieces are mostly priced from $200 to $500.

]]> 0, ME - APRIL 24: Willa Wirth owns a small shop on Munjoy Hill where she creates her own jewelry, forging, soldering and forming sterling silver wire. Wirth uses a soldering torch while creating a piece on Monday, April 24, 2017. (Staff photo by Derek Davis/Staff Photographer)Mon, 24 Apr 2017 19:57:14 +0000
Medical marijuana providers seek first chance at retail sales in Maine Tue, 25 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — Medical marijuana dispensaries and caregivers are quietly lobbying state lawmakers to allow them to sell pot to recreational users before retail cannabis stores open in Maine next year.

Later this legislative session, lawmakers are likely to consider bills that could give segments of Maine’s well-established medical marijuana industry a potentially lucrative toehold in the recreational market. Supporters hope that Maine will follow the lead of states such as Colorado and Oregon, which allowed medical marijuana businesses to offer “early sales” of cannabis products to adults while policymakers worked out the details of licensing new businesses catering to recreational users.

But questions about who would qualify to participate in the temporary “early sales” marketplace could fan long-standing tensions between the few large, tightly regulated dispensaries in Maine and the state’s thousands of small, individual “caregiver” suppliers of medical marijuana.

“It has to be an equal playing field,” said Paul McCarrier, the president of Legalize Maine. He wants to ensure that caregivers – not just dispensaries – have an opportunity to participate.

Marijuana became legal for adults age 21 and over in Maine on Jan. 30. But the state is not required to begin accepting applications for retail marijuana sales licenses until February 2018 in order to give agencies and lawmakers time to draft rules and enforcement policies.

That has created a legal quandary for recreational users who can possess and use marijuana but still have nowhere to buy it legally. Their only options are to grow it themselves – adults can possess up to six flowering plants – or turn to the illegal black market. Adults also can “gift” marijuana to other adults in Maine.

David Boyer of the Maine chapter of the Marijuana Policy Project said an “early sales” marketplace is desperately needed and would help steer people away from the black market.

“People ask me all of the time how they can get marijuana, and I have to say, ‘You have to go get a medical marijuana card to buy it legally,’ ” Boyer said.

Supporters of an early sales market contend it also would generate much-needed tax revenue that could be used to help cover the costs of crafting the rules on licensing marijuana businesses.

Maine first legalized medical marijuana in 1999 and then significantly expanded the program a decade later by creating a regulated system of dispensaries and caregivers.

The state currently has eight dispensaries licensed to grow and sell marijuana on a large scale. And there are an estimated 3,200 caregivers who can grow and sell marijuana for up to five “qualifying patients” at a time.

Two bills propose allowing medical marijuana suppliers to step into the early sales marketplace.

Both of the bills, L.D. 1448 and L.D. 1491, would allow dispensaries to sell cannabis products to Mainers who are 21 and over. Caregivers also could sell any excess cannabis products not needed for their patients to dispensaries, but they could not sell directly to recreational users. L.D. 1448 is sponsored by Rep. Matthew Harrington, R-Sanford, while L.D. 1491 is sponsored by Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, the co-chair of the Legislature’s Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee.

A concept draft version of a third bill, L.D. 1499, sponsored by Democratic Sen. Troy Jackson of Allagash, also appears to only allow dispensaries to obtain “provisional licenses” to sell cannabis prior to the establishment of retail shops.

Maine’s network of dispensaries and caregivers have had an uneasy and oftentimes distrustful relationship going back nearly a decade.

Dispensaries are more tightly regulated than caregivers – subject to stringent inspections, quality control and security requirements – and are capped, by law, at eight operations statewide. In comparison, there is no cap on personal caregivers, whose numbers have swelled dramatically during the past two years as the state moved toward recreational legalization. Some caregivers, meanwhile, regard the much-larger dispensaries as representing a corporate culture intent on monopolizing the potentially lucrative cannabis market.

A representative for the state’s largest dispensary, Wellness Connection, could not be reached for comment Monday. But Boyer said he believes any early sales program should be “done equitably,” in part by allowing caregivers with a proven track record to apply to become dispensaries. And McCarrier, of Legalize Maine, said dispensaries should not be allowed to “stifle the competition” and that caregivers who are paying sales tax and are willing to be inspected should be given an opportunity to open retail store fronts.

“Why can’t ‘craft cannabis’ have access to the recreational market?” asked McCarrier, referring to small-scale growers.

Maine won’t be treading new ground if it allows medical marijuana businesses to get into the recreational marketplace first. Both Colorado and Oregon gave preference to established medical marijuana businesses, and Nevada plans to begin allowing medical marijuana shops to sell to the recreational markets this July, six months before retail shops open.

Lawmakers on the Maine Legislature’s Marijuana Legalization Implementation Committee also are debating whether individuals involved in the state’s medical marijuana industry should be given preference when regular retail sales licensing begins next year.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> 0“I’ve seen the benefits of the marijuana economy,” said Paul McCarrier of Legalize Maine and a grower of medicinal pot.Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:32:36 +0000
Trump plans 20% tariff on imports of Canadian softwood lumber Tue, 25 Apr 2017 04:00:58 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Trump administration moved Monday to impose a 20 percent tariff on softwood lumber entering the United States from Canada, escalating an intensifying trade dispute between the two countries.

The president announced the decision during a gathering with conservative media outlets at the White House on Monday evening. Trump’s initial comments were relayed by four people who were in the room and confirmed by an administration official.

On Twitter, Breitbart News White House correspondent Charlie Spiering quoted Trump as saying, “We’re going to be putting a 20% tax on softwood lumber coming in – tariff on softwood coming into the United States from Canada.”

The Commerce Department later announced it had reached a preliminary determination and would impose countervailing duties ranging from 3 percent to 24 percent on imported softwood lumber, with an average of about 20 percent.

One person in the room said Trump threatened that dairy could be next.

The U.S. and Canada typically enjoy a friendly trading relationship, but things have soured in recent months.

Trump has been railing against Canada’s decision to change its policy on pricing domestic milk to cover more dairy ingredients, leading to lower prices for products, including ultra-filtered milk. Trump has called the move “a disgrace” that’s hurting U.S. producers in dairy states like Wisconsin.

“It has been a bad week for U.S.-Canada trade relations,” said Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross in a statement. “This is not our idea of a properly functioning Free Trade Agreement.”

The Canadian government, meanwhile, rejected the assessment, calling the duty “unfair and punitive.”

“The Government of Canada disagrees strongly with the U.S. Department of Commerce’s decision to impose an unfair and punitive duty,” said Jim Carr, Canada’s Minister of Natural Resources, and Chrystia Freeland, Canada’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, in a joint statement. “The accusations are baseless and unfounded.”

They warned the action would have a negative impact on American families who will have to pay more to build or renovate homes. And they said they would sue, if necessary.

According to the U.S. Commerce Department, imports of softwood lumber from Canada were valued at an estimated $5.66 billion in 2016.

U.S. lumber interests have alleged that Canadian firms have an unfair advantage because they cut most of the wood in provincial public forests, where they allegedly pay below market prices. They say the practice adversely affects sawmills and wood products makers that support the employment of 11,000 Mainers.

]]> 0 Tue, 25 Apr 2017 01:09:44 +0000
Lobstermen tired of conflicts support bill to allow GPS tracking of boats Tue, 25 Apr 2017 01:56:36 +0000 AUGUSTA — Lobstermen fed up with cohorts who violate fishing regulations testified in favor of a bill to allow Marine Patrol officers to secretly install tracking devices on fishing vessels suspected of illegal activity without first obtaining a warrant.

While a smaller faction opposed the bill, both sides agreed that Maine faces a growing “epidemic” posed by a small number of law-breakers fueling dangerous conflict and threatening the stewardship ethos within the state’s most valuable fishery. They also agreed that the Maine Department of Marine Resources needed more enforcement tools, but lobstermen differed on whether DMR’s commissioner should be allowed to authorize the installation of GPS tracking devices without getting a judge’s approval.

“It is coming to a point where violence will happen and I don’t want to see it happen,” Jason Joyce, a Swans Island lobsterman. “I’ve fished my whole life … the department is full of people who (committed to) criminal justice and they are not trying to impose anything on us as an industry. They are trying to help us out and they need the tools to do it.”

Critics raised concerns about giving the DMR commissioner – a political appointee – too much power and criticized what they said was overly broad or sweeping language in the bill.

“We need to help our law enforcement, yes, but the way the bill is written presently is not the way to do it,” said Rock Alley, a Jonesport fishermen and president of the Maine Lobstermen’s Union.

Lobstering in Maine always has been a rough-and-tumble industry where territorial disputes, personal conflicts or perceptions of wrong-doing can lead to sabotaged traps, sunken boats and occasional violence. But those tensions have risen to new levels in recent years, including the loss of more than $350,000 in gear during an intense “trap war” in the Swans Island-Stonington area last year, and one lobsterman’s boat being sunk at its mooring three times.

Maine lobstermen hauled in 130 million pounds of the crustaceans last year worth an estimated $533 million.

State law already allows Marine Patrol officers to obtain a warrant from a court to covertly install surveillance devices such as GPS trackers on vessels when officers have probable cause to believe the operator is engaged in criminal violations. But many serious crimes in Maine’s lobster industry – such as fishing more than the maximum 800 traps or hauling another fisherman’s gear – are civil violations that therefore require officers to provide targeted fishermen with at least 24 hours’ notice before installing tracking devices.

The bill under consideration in the Legislature, L.D. 1379, would allow the DMR commissioner to authorize the covert installation of a GPS tracking device in cases where Marine Patrol officers show “probable cause” of a civil violation.

Commissioner Patrick Keliher said conflicts between lobstermen are “indisputably” increasing as some lobstermen fish too many traps, set gear outside of their designated zone or fish “sunken trawls” without buoys to evade detection. Keliher, who called the bill “the most important piece of legislation” of his tenure as DMR commissioner, said he feared the actions of a few bad apples threatened to erode the conservation ethic of the industry.

“On many occasions when conducting suspension hearings in my office, I have asked the fishermen what led him to commit these violations?” Keliher told members of the Legislature’s Marine Resources Committee. “Many times, the unfortunate response is that they witnessed other fishermen getting away with it and finally grew tired of the uneven playing field.”

Seeking to address concerns raised by numerous fishermen, Keliher said the department would gladly clarify that the bill would only allow installation of GPS tracking devices and not video or audio surveillance equipment.


But the bill drew strong opposition from the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers and the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, both of which raised constitutionality concerns about what they said amounts to a secret, warrantless search.

“You would be allowing a political appointee to make a decision to allow for electronic surveillance of an individual. That is unheard of anywhere in the law,” said Walt McKee, representing the Maine Association of Criminal Defense Lawyers. “There is no other provision in Maine law for any other commissioner of any other organization to allow electronic tracking … to track someone or to observe someone in their own private places. That is an incredible, broad power that you would be allowing this commissioner to engage in and, I would suggest to you, is an incredibly slippery slope.”

Fishing too many lobster traps and molesting other people’s gear used to be a criminal offense, however DMR and lobster industry leaders were frustrated that so many offenders received small fines or no punishment at all. As a result, they successfully petitioned the Legislature to change those violations to civil offenses. Opponents of L.D. 1379 suggested reverting back to the old system, thereby allowing Marine Patrol to covertly install surveillance equipment with a judge’s approval.

But the clear majority of lobstermen who traveled to Augusta to testify Monday – including a contingent of eight from Swan’s Island – were in favor of the bill, albeit with amendments. They wanted the bill to specify that it only allowed GPS tracking and support requiring the Attorney General’s Office to sign off on any warrantless surveillance. Keliher said he already consults with the Attorney General’s Office on major cases.

Dave Cousens, a South Thomaston fisherman who serves as president of the Maine Lobsterman’s Association, estimated that a half-dozen people are stealing in excess of $150,000 in lobster every year. Those people are taking money directly out of the pockets of other lobstermen in those zones, which Cousens said “leads to social unrest” and fuels anger among honest fishermen who see others fishing 1,200 or even 1,600 traps with no punishment.

“Right now, there is a lot of lobsters being caught,” Cousens said. “I would say the major problem we are facing right now is cheating by not a lot of people but enough people so that it is becoming a huge problem.”

The Marine Resources Committee will hold a work session on L.D. 1379 at a future date.

Kevin Miller can be contacted at 791-6312 or at:

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> 0, ME - FEBRUARY 1: The rising sun lights up the windows of a lobster boat tied up at the mouth of the Saco River at Camp Ellis Tuesday, February 2, 2016. (Photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette/Staff Photographer)Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:19:02 +0000
Longfellow’s Greenhouses marks 40 years of ‘a grand vision’ Tue, 25 Apr 2017 01:10:22 +0000 MANCHESTER — When Scott Longfellow first helped his parents open a greenhouse business in 1977, he didn’t think he’d work there more than a couple years, and he also thought his father’s decision to start the business with 12 greenhouses was too ambitious.

“It seemed crazy,” he said of the largeness of the business plan hatched by his parents, Lawrence and Mavis Longfellow.

The severely cold winter of 1976-1977 made the odds of Longfellow’s Greenhouses succeeding seem even slimmer, but the business took off, proving Scott wrong on multiple counts. After working for his parents for a decade, he bought the operation and continues to run it with his wife and kids, and the number of greenhouses has more than doubled in that time. As Scott sees it, Lawrence and Mavis capitalized on a landscape gardening trend sweeping the nation in the 1970s.

“My parents had a big vision, a grand vision, and it worked,” Scott Longfellow said.

Nowadays, the business — which is celebrating its 40th anniversary with an open house this weekend — is growing tens of thousands of geraniums, mums, perennials, poinsettias and other flowers, as well as herbs, shrubs and other plants. It displays the plants in spacious greenhouses attached to a retail store and also stocks plants that are grown in other parts of the country, as well as seeds, soil, gardening tools and a host of other items.

At Longfellow’s Greenhouses, the surge of younger gardeners has led the staff to become more like growing coaches to their customers, advising them on how much light is needed, what types of fertilizer work best and how they should water their plants.

“The gardener of today knows less than our grandparents,” Longfellow said. “It’s been people who are less connected to agriculture, and have less of an understanding of the basics of gardening. Our goal is to help these people succeed.”

On a 14-acre property on Puddledock Road, the business includes about 90,000 square feet of growing space and employs about 90 people at the peak of gardening season.

Longfellow’s has made a name for itself over the years, growing despite the tough competition from big box stores and smaller operations, said Caragh Fitzgerald, an agricultural educator at the University of Maine Cooperative Extension in Kennebec County.

“That business is certainly one of the leaders in the industry,” Fitzgerald said. “They pay really close attention to the trends.”

Charles Eichacker can be contacted at 621-5642 or at:

Twitter: ceichacker

]]> 0 Haskell, left, of Bryant Pond is joined Sunday by her daughter and grandchildren at Longfellow's Greenhouses. At right of her are Ella Akers, 10, of Andover; Crystal Rowley of Lisbon Falls; and her daughters Molly, 12, and Bridget, 16.Mon, 24 Apr 2017 21:19:53 +0000
State Department website posts item on Trump resort Tue, 25 Apr 2017 01:00:47 +0000 A State Department website that promotes travel to the United States included an article this month about the history and lavish furnishings of President Trump’s privately-owned Florida resort club Mar-a-Lago, opening questions about whether the federal government is improperly promoting Trump’s moneymaking enterprises.

Sen. Ron Wyden, D-Ore., pointed to the travelogue-style blog piece Monday, asking in a Twitter message why the State Department would spend “taxpayer $$ promoting the president’s private country club.”

The short item was posted on a promotional website called “Share America” on April 4, ahead of Trump’s meeting at Mar-a-Lago with Chinese President Xi Jinping. A version of the item was recently reposted on the website maintained by the U.S. Embassy in London, where it caught the attention of watchdog groups.

The item adopts Trump’s term “winter White House” for the members-only club. The item includes photographs of the house and sumptuous interiors, and copies of Trump tweets mentioning Mar-a-Lago.

The article gives a brief summary of the 1927 mansion’s history.

]]> 0 Mon, 24 Apr 2017 21:00:47 +0000
Immigration crackdown sends chill through winery owners, farmers Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:59:43 +0000 SALEM, Ore. — The head of Bethel Heights Vineyard looked out over the 100 acres of vines her crew of 20 Mexicans had just finished pruning, worried about what will happen if the Trump administration presses ahead with its crackdown on immigrants.

From tending the plants to harvesting the grapes, it takes skill and a strong work ethic to produce the winery’s pinot noir and chardonnay, and native-born Americans just aren’t willing to work that hard, Patricia Dudley said as a cold rain drenched the vineyard in the hills of Oregon.

“Who’s going to come out here and do this work when they deport them all?” she asked.

President Trump’s hard line against immigrants in the U.S. illegally has sent a chill through the nation’s agricultural industry, which fears a crackdown will deprive it of the labor it needs to plant, grow and pick the crops that feed the country.

Fruit and vegetable growers, dairy and cattle farmers and owners of plant nurseries and vineyards have begun lobbying politicians at home and in Washington to get them to deal with immigration in a way that minimizes the harm to their livelihoods.

Some of the farm leaders are Republicans who voted for Trump and are torn, wanting border security but also mercy toward laborers who are not dangerous criminals.

Farming uses a higher percentage of illegal labor than any other U.S. industry, according to a Pew Research Center study.

Immigrants working illegally in this country accounted for about 46 percent of America’s roughly 800,000 crop farmworkers in recent years, according to an Associated Press analysis of data from the U.S. Departments of Labor and Agriculture.

Stepped-up deportations could carry “significant economic implications,” a 2012 U.S. Department of Agriculture study said. If America’s unauthorized labor force shrank 40 percent, for example, vegetable production could drop by more than 4 percent, the study said.

The American Farm Bureau Federation says strict immigration enforcement would raise food prices 5 to 6 percent because of a drop in supply and because of the higher labor costs farmers could face.

In addition to proposing a wall at the Mexican border, Trump wants to hire 10,000 more Immigration and Customs Enforcement officers and has served notice that he intends to be more aggressive than the Obama administration in deporting immigrants.

ICE agents have arrested hundreds of immigrants since Trump took office, though how much of a change from the Obama administration that represents is a matter of debate.

Field hands have been among those targeted, with apple pickers detained in upstate New York and Guatemalans pulled over in Oregon on their way to a forest to pick a plant used in floral arrangements.

It doesn’t appear the arrests themselves have put a sizable dent in the agricultural workforce yet, but the fear is taking its toll.

Some workers in Oregon are leaving for job sites as early as 1 a.m. and staying away from check-cashing shops on payday to avoid dragnets. Farm employers are worried about losing their workforces.

“They say, ‘Don’t go out, don’t get drunk, don’t do nothing illegal’ because they need us too. They worry too,” said Moses Maldonado, who is in the U.S. illegally and has worked for nearly four decades tending wine grapes and picking fruit in Oregon.

In Los Banos, California, asparagus farmer Joe Del Bosque said workers are so afraid of being arrested in the field that he struggled to find enough hands in March to pick his crop.

When immigration attorney Sarah Loftin held a recent seminar in the Oregon wine-region town of Newberg to talk about immigrants’ legal rights, she was surprised to see about half of those present were winery owners or farmers.

]]> 0 Maldonado stands in front of a statue of pioneers at the Oregon Capitol in Salem, Ore. Maldonado attended a rally honoring farmworker organizer Cesar Chavez. in March.Mon, 24 Apr 2017 21:06:04 +0000
United passenger was abusive, aviation officer’s report says Tue, 25 Apr 2017 00:11:11 +0000 CHICAGO — The physician who was dragged off a United Airlines flight in Chicago this month was verbally and physically abusive, and flailing his arms before he lost his balance and struck his mouth on an armrest, according to the aviation officer who pulled the man out of his seat.

The Chicago Department of Aviation on Monday released the officer’s report of the incident, in response to a Freedom of Information Act request by The Associated Press. The report reveals for the first time the officer’s version of what happened aboard the plane at O’Hare International Airport on April 9.

The incident – which was videotaped by other passengers and widely shared online – became an international embarrassment for both the airlines and the city’s aviation department.

The report also includes the name of the officer, James Long, who authorities initially declined to identify.

In the report, Long said he boarded the United Express flight after being called in response to a disturbance involving two people regarding a refusal to leave the aircraft. United has said four passengers had been ordered off the airplane to make room for four employees to fly to Louisville, Kentucky.

Long said he approached Dr. David Dao to ask the 69-year-old physician to get off the plane. Long said Dao refused and “folded his arms tightly.” Long said he reached out to “hold” Dao and was able to pull him away from his window seat on the aircraft and move toward the aisle.

“But suddenly the subject started flailing and fighting,” Long wrote.

Dao then knocked Long’s hand off his arm, causing the struggling Dao to fall and strike his mouth on an armrest on the other side of the aisle, according to the report. Long said he then dragged Dao because Dao refused to stand up.

Long said he wrote the report and gave his version of events only because he faced losing his job.

In a separate report released Monday, labeled a “Hospitalization Case Report,” the Chicago Police Department said Dao was observed striking his face against an armrest as aviation officers “attempted to escort” him from the flight.

Neither report details Dao’s injuries, but at a news conference days after the incident, Dao’s attorney said the doctor suffered a broken nose and a concussion, and lost two front teeth.

Long said he was able to remove Dao from the airplane. Long said that once off the plane and in the walkway back to the gate, Dao said he was a diabetic, but then got up off the floor and ran back onto the aircraft. Long alleges Dao, while running back to the plane, said they’d have to kill him.

Long and two other aviation officers were subsequently placed on leave by the aviation department.

The report jibes with comments that United CEO Oscar Munoz made in the aftermath of the incident, in which he called Dao belligerent.

Munoz later offered a more emphatic mea culpa, saying: “No one should ever be mistreated this way.” The aviation department has also profusely apologized and vowed an investigation

]]> 0 Mon, 24 Apr 2017 20:11:11 +0000
Changes coming in the fall to how major credit score is calculated Mon, 24 Apr 2017 23:46:57 +0000 A major credit score is planning changes to how it’s calculated, and the shift this fall could make the key number more forgiving for people who have debt.

The VantageScore, a credit scoring model developed by the three major credit reporting bureaus TransUnion, Equifax and Experian, will soon put more weight on the trends in a person’s credit report. That includes whether they have been paying off their credit cards or have been racking up more debt, said Jeff Richardson, a spokesman for VantageScore Solutions, the company that offers the score.

The new data is meant to provide more context to a consumer’s debt load and help lenders get a more holistic view of a person’s credit behavior and risk level, Richardson said.

Take two people who both are using 50 percent of the spending limit on their credit cards. Under current scoring models, both borrowers would be hurt by that high card utilization, since lenders typically like to see that consumers are using less than 30 percent of the credit they have available.

But under the new Vantage- Score model, one person might look better if his report shows he has been paying down debt and using less of his total credit, Richardson said. On the flip side, someone who has been piling on debt would be viewed as risky.

The changes also address an issue that sometimes hurts people who have generally good credit scores but may temporarily have more debt because of a major purchase. Some consumers may see their credit score take a hit during that time, say after booking an expensive flight, even if they were planning to pay the card off in full and on time, Richardson said. The new model, however, would factor in that this consumer has a history of keeping card balances low, and therefore the score wouldn’t be affected as much.

People buying homes won’t see a change to their chances of being approved for a mortgage since most mortgage lenders rely on the FICO score, Richardson said. However, some people pulling credit scores for other reasons, such as when they are applying for an apartment, opening a credit card or applying for an auto loan, may be able to use the new score, he said. About 8 billion VantageScore credit scores were used between July 2015 and June 2016, up 40 percent from the year before, the company said.

The new scoring model may not dramatically change what consumers should do to boost their credit score, said Matt Schulz,’s senior industry analyst. It’s still important to pay your bills on time every month, Schulz said. And if you have debt – especially credit card debt – you should be working to pay it off, he said. If anything, it may become more important to show that you’re making progress over time, he said.

Trying to clean up your act immediately before applying for a loan may not cut it, Richardson said, since the score would factor in that you tend to carry debt over from month to month.

]]> 0 Mon, 24 Apr 2017 21:21:13 +0000
Trump seeks 15 percent corporate tax rate Mon, 24 Apr 2017 23:29:24 +0000 WASHINGTON — President Trump has instructed advisers to drastically cut the corporate tax rate even though doing so will expand the deficit and grow the national debt, sticking to one of his campaign pledges but shattering another.

Trump instructed advisers last week that he wants the corporate tax rate to be lowered from 35 percent to 15 percent, a senior White House official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. This is the same rate that Trump pursued during his 2016 campaign, but officials had not signaled since the election whether he would stick to the pledge.

By doing so – but not committing to measures that would offset the revenue loss – Trump is making clear he is putting a priority on cutting taxes over the national debt. It also potentially creates a tension point with House Republicans, who have spent years advancing a vision for tax restructuring of their own.

The White House decision comes at a crucial time. White House officials plan to unveil the broad principles of their tax plan Wednesday, though details of what would be in the release remained fluid Monday, another White House official said.

When Trump proposed the 15 percent rate during the campaign, the nonpartisan Tax Policy Center projected that this would reduce federal revenue by $2.4 trillion over 10 years. But White House officials have said that the tax cuts will create such a jump in economic growth that it will create new revenue, an assumption that has divided experts.

“The tax plan will pay for itself with economic growth,” Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said Monday.

The Wall Street Journal first reported Trump’s request to cut the corporate tax rate to 15 percent Monday.

Businesses are projected to pay $340 billion in corporate taxes in 2018, roughly 10 percent of all revenue collected by the government.

If the amount of taxes paid by businesses falls, it could put more pressure on other taxpayers to make up the difference. But Trump has said he wants to put in place a “massive” cut for the middle class, which means all tax revenue could fall. This would expand the budget deficit unless there is a giant contraction in federal spending, which so far has not been proposed.

At 35 percent, the United States has one of the highest corporate tax rates in the world, but most companies pay a much lower effective rate because the tax code is riddled with deductions. Still, lawmakers from both parties have said the corporate tax rate must be reduced to make the United States more competitive.

House Republicans have pursued lowering the corporate tax rate to 20 percent, with the belief that anything lower than that is very difficult to do.

Trump also said that he would reduce the deficit, but top advisers have signaled that his tax plan will grow the deficit because tax rates will be cut so substantially for individuals and businesses.

White House officials have said there are several basic principles to their tax plan. They want to simplify the tax code, cut the corporate tax rate, pass a giant middle-class tax cut, and create a way to punish companies that move overseas and ship goods back into the country. They also want to incentivize U.S. companies to move money back into the United States.

Trump’s push for unveiling his tax plan began last week during several meetings in the Oval Office, where he expressed his frustration with the slow pace of legislation on several fronts, including taxes, according to two officials who were not authorized to speak publicly.

Trump urged his top economic advisers, including Mnuchin, to ready a rollout for this week and to keep the details of the plan controlled as much as possible by Trump advisers and Cabinet members rather than by Republican lawmakers, officials said.

Trump’s motivation, the officials said, was to showcase progress on tax restructuring ahead of the 100-day mark of his presidency and to quiet critics, especially in the business and financial community, about whether there would be movement on taxes this year.

Trump underscored the need for the tax plan to include sweeping cuts for both corporations and individuals and did not focus on or express extensive concern about revenue issues or the deficit. As one official said, “he wants high growth and high employment.”

Several House Republicans close to House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., said they were privately taken aback over the weekend about the White House’s efforts and said Trump risked alienating the speaker and his allies on Capitol Hill if they got behind a proposal that had weak or fragile support in the chamber. They noted that Ryan has already outlined the House’s tax plan over the past year and secured buy-in from members on the general outline of rates and the inclusion of a border-adjustment tax.

The plan Ryan supports is much different from the one Trump is pursuing. It has the 20 percent corporate tax rate, as well as a border adjustment tax that would raise costs for importers but incentivize U.S. exporters.

]]> 0 Mon, 24 Apr 2017 19:29:24 +0000
Supreme Court rejects GM appeal on ignition switches Mon, 24 Apr 2017 22:56:12 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Supreme Court on Monday turned away an appeal from General Motors Co. seeking to block dozens of lawsuits over faulty ignition switches that one plaintiffs’ attorney said could expose the company to billions of dollars in additional claims.

The justices without comment left in place a lower court ruling that said the automaker’s 2009 bankruptcy did not shield it from liability in the cases.

An attorney representing hundreds of plaintiffs who are suing the company said it exposes GM to around 1,000 additional lawsuits and $5 billion to $10 billion in liabilities. GM said the cases will have to be tried on individual merits.

A federal appeals court ruled last year that GM remains responsible for ignition-switch injuries and deaths that occurred pre-bankruptcy because the company knew about the problem for more than a decade but kept it secret from the bankruptcy court and owners of cars with the faulty switches. The decision also opens GM to claims that any of those cars sold by the company prior to bankruptcy lost value because of the ignition-switch scandal.

The company had argued that well-established bankruptcy law allowed the newly reorganized GM to obtain the old company’s assets “free and clear” of liabilities.

GM recalled 2.6 million small cars worldwide in 2014 to replace defective switches that played a role in at least 124 deaths and 275 injuries, according to a victims’ fund set up by GM and administered by attorney Kenneth Feinberg. The switches could unexpectedly switch from the “run” position to “off” or “accessory,” shutting off the engine and knocking out air bags and the power-assisted steering and power brakes.

The automaker has paid nearly $875 million to settle death and injury claims related to the switches. That includes $600 million from Feinberg’s fund and $275 million to settle 1,385 separate claims. It also has paid $300 million to settle shareholder lawsuits.

After it emerged from the government-funded bankruptcy, the company referred to as New GM was indemnified against most claims made against the pre-bankruptcy company, known as Old GM. A bankruptcy court sided with the company in 2015, ruling that most claims against Old GM could not be pursued against the new company.

But the appeals court in Manhattan overturned most of that decision and said hundreds of pre-bankruptcy claims could go forward.

Robert Hilliard, a Corpus Christi, Texas, lawyer who has about 300 pre-bankruptcy cases pending against GM, said the decision wrecks GM’s strategy to settle the strongest post-bankruptcy cases and refuse to negotiate with pre-bankruptcy plaintiffs.

“This takes GM back to the starting line after four years,” Hilliard said. “They are now back to being responsible for terrible deaths.”

Hilliard said pretrial discovery and depositions on broader factual issues have been completed, so he would expect cases to go to trial shortly.

But GM said in a statement the decision does not change the legal landscape much for the company. The high court did not make a decision on the merits of GM’s legal arguments. Instead, those decisions will be made by lower courts, the company said. GM has a motion pending in federal court seeking to dismiss many of the pre-bankruptcy claims based on state liability laws governing liabilities against successor companies, spokesman Jim Cain said.

“The plaintiffs must still establish their right to assert successor liability claims,” GM said. “From there, they still have to prove those claims have merit.”

The company said the appeals court “departed substantially from well-settled bankruptcy law.”

Plaintiffs have yet to win any so-called bellwether cases that have gone to trial, Cain said.

The Supreme Court decision not to hear the appeal exposes GM to additional liability from the pre-bankruptcy cases, said University of Richmond law professor Carl Tobias.

He expects many of those cases to be settled soon under pressure from a federal judge overseeing pretrial discovery in the cases.

]]> 0 Mon, 24 Apr 2017 18:56:12 +0000
Systems upgrade causes shipping delays for L.L. Bean Mon, 24 Apr 2017 22:39:31 +0000 L.L. Bean Inc. is experiencing shipping delays of up to a week on some customer orders as a result of problems with a systems upgrade.

The Freeport-based outdoor retailer has sent letters to some customers apologizing for the delays and offering a discount of 20 percent on a future order.

In the letter, L.L. Bean says the delays are temporary and were caused by an upgrade to its order-processing and fulfillment systems.

“I recognize how critically important it is to get your products to you in a timely manner, and I assure you we are working around the clock to get back to the high standard of shipping speed you expect from us,” says the letter, signed by company President and CEO Stephen Smith. “We will get there, and I appreciate your patience through this transition.”

Company spokeswoman Carolyn Beem said she could not provide specifics about the number of customers affected or when the problem would be resolved. She said the average delay for those affected is a few days to a week.

“It has slowed shipping down for some, but not all orders,” she said. “We’re working on it. We’re aware of it.”

Beem said that once the problem with the systems upgrade is worked out, the company will be able to fill customer orders even more quickly and reliably than in the past.

“It’s going to improve service recognizably,” she said.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 0 Schuster stocks moccasins at L.L. Bean's flagship store in Freeport. Schuster recently moved to Maine from Seattle and was hired in October as a temporary worker at the company, which hires about 5,700 seasonal workers annually.Mon, 24 Apr 2017 21:50:09 +0000
Court upholds damages against Pan Am Railways in Waterville case Mon, 24 Apr 2017 21:58:34 +0000 A federal appeals court has upheld an award of $250,000 in punitive damages against Pan Am Railways after a lower court found that the railroad illegally retaliated against an employee for reporting a safety hazard and injury at the company’s Waterville rail yard.

The ruling by the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston upholds the finding of an administrative law judge after a conductor, Jason Raye, told supervisors about a pile of old railroad ties next to a track in the yard in Waterville in 2011. A couple of weeks later, Raye stepped off his train onto the pile of ties and sprained his ankle.

Raye missed a day of work because of the sprain, and that required Pan Am to report the injury to the Federal Railroad Administration.

The railroad called Raye to a disciplinary hearing because, the company said, Pan Am’s safety rules require workers to carefully assess conditions and make sure their footing will be firm before getting on or off a train. At the hearing, Raye said he stepped cautiously from the train, but lost his balance and sat down on the ground to avoid falling. Still, Pan Am determined that Raye failed to follow its safety rules and gave him a formal reprimand, which was entered into his employment file.

Raye got a lawyer, who filed a complaint with the Occupational Safety and Health Administration, but that complaint said Raye fell hard to the ground after stepping on the ties. He had told supervisors in the company hearing that he sat down after spraining his ankle to avoid a fall.

Pan Am called those two different statements a “major discrepancy” in Raye’s account of the injury and brought another set of disciplinary charges against him, threatening him with firing for providing “false statements” about the injury.

Raye’s lawyer contended that what Pan Am was really doing was retaliating against the employee for filing the OSHA complaint.

Pan Am ultimately took no further action against Raye, but an OSHA panel said that Pan Am was retaliating against Raye with the disciplinary charges, and that led to a hearing before an administrative law judge, who agreed that Raye was being retaliated against. The judge awarded Raye $10,000 for emotional distress and $250,000 in punitive damages, finding that Pan Am used disciplinary hearings to intimidate and discourage Ray and other employees from reporting safety hazards and injuries.

Pan Am appealed the ruling to a Labor Department board and then to the appeals court, which last week sided with the administrative law judge and the board and refused to review the findings.

The appeals court said there was “substantial evidence” to support the administrative law judge’s conclusion that Pan Am “overstated the significance of the discrepancy” in Raye’s accounts of the injury and that Pan Am appeared to have “a corporate culture more focused on retaliation than on safety.” In fact, the judge had found that 99 percent of the injuries to Pan Am employees that required a report to the railway administration led to the company filing disciplinary charges against the worker.

While awarding $250,000 in punitive damages “seems high,” the appeals court said, it also deferred to the administrative judge’s discretion in setting the amount.

Calls to Pan Am’s lawyer and the federal Department of Labor, which defended the findings of the administrative law judge and the department board, were not returned Monday.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at 791-6465 or at:

]]> 0 Mon, 24 Apr 2017 21:04:16 +0000
Bill to guarantee insurance for Maine naturopaths is held for study Mon, 24 Apr 2017 19:14:55 +0000 AUGUSTA – A Maine bill designed to prevent insurers from discriminating against naturopathic health care providers will likely have to wait several months to determine its potential impact on the insurance industry.

The bill was submitted on behalf of the Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors and opposed by state superintendent of insurance Eric Cioppa. The bill says insurers would not be able to discriminate against health care providers who are licensed by the state.

Bill sponsor Sen. Justin Chenette, a Saco Democrat, says the bill will likely be back for consideration in January. He says the state insurance bureau is going to evaluate the effectiveness of the bill and its impact on insurance companies and insurance customers.

Naturopathy is an alternative medical system that focuses on diet, herbs and vitamins instead of pharmaceuticals.

]]> 0 Mon, 24 Apr 2017 17:40:37 +0000
Is your digital life private? A lot depends on your provider Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 When President Trump and the Republican majorities in Congress swept away privacy rules preventing your internet service providers from selling your data without your permission, you might think Fletcher Kittredge would want to celebrate.

Kittredge, after all, is founder and CEO of Biddeford-based GWI, an internet service provider that serves more than 18,000 Maine customers and would benefit from the repeal, which lets companies like his sell his customer’s Web browsing history, geo-location movements, and all sorts of other valuable information to advertisers. The rules, repeal advocates said, had put more stringent restrictions on such firms than are applied to Web-based companies like Facebook or Google.

But Kittredge says the repeal is a disaster for his customers and anyone who cares about privacy or civil liberties, an ill-conceived move that will ultimately make people’s data less secure and the internet itself less valuable.

“ISPs have broader access to information about you than anybody else because everything else goes on top of the connection they provide,” he says. “They can tell who you’re having conversations with, where you go, and lots of information that’s best left private, especially as hackers will be attracted to it.

“If we all end up not being able to appropriately trust the internet, that’s not good for anyone.”

The rule repeal – which the president signed into law April 3 – will make most things we do on the internet much less private, privacy experts say, as providers learn how to make money selling their customers’ data. For years prior to the repeal, providers had been expecting tightened rules and had set their policies to anticipate this, but now are free to exploit data more aggressively. This has implications for Maine internet users and national policymakers alike.

Proponents of the repeal said it was necessary to create an even playing field between internet service providers and other Web-based companies, but the practical effect so far has been to shift the balance in favor of service providers, who can now operate with far fewer privacy restrictions.

“There are no rules here now,” says lawyer Peter Guffin, who heads Pierce Atwood’s privacy and data security practice and teaches information privacy law at the University of Maine School of Law. “There’s a complete vacuum in terms of when an ISP can see into the contents of our communications, what it can do with those contents, and even whether it has to tell us if this data has been hacked.

“From a user’s perspective, you should be on notice that the ISPs have been given the green light by the U.S. government to essentially surveil all of your electronic communications,” Guffin added. “My hunch is that many providers are rewriting their privacy notices, and whatever they said about opting out won’t be the same as a year ago.”

Internet providers can see a wide range of their customers’ online activity, according to Jeremy Gillula, senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco-based digital civil liberties group. Unless you’re using special tools like a virtual private network or the free, privacy-minded Tor internet browser, he says, “an ISP could definitely see and sell all the web addresses you visit,” though they would be limited to the domain name for “https” sites using encryption, such as banks, most online shopping sites, Google, Facebook, and Web mail.

They can also gather your geo-location data – especially interesting for mobile internet – and could glean what songs you’ve been listening to, movies you’ve watched, or items you’ve shopped for from any unencrypted addresses you’ve visited.

While they can also see the content of emails in accounts they provide their users, wiretapping laws likely prevent them from sharing or selling this information.

Reducing exposure to snooping

There are steps Mainers can take to reduce their exposure, says Zachary Heiden, legal director for the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. One is to use the Tor browser (download the Tor browser here) – though it will slow down your internet traffic – and encrypted text messaging tools like Signal (download Signal here).

“That will at least protect the content of your communications,” he says. “But it doesn’t protect the metadata” – the digital equivalent of a letter’s envelope, with sender, receiver, time stamp, and size information about the text.

Users can also ask their ISPs to opt them out of at least some of their data being shared, though this process is often cumbersome. “An ACLU colleague of mine who is an expert on internet privacy tried as an exercise to contact different ISPs and exercise the opt-out option and found it incredibly challenging and confusing – and this is somebody who studies technology for a living,” he says. “But if you care about privacy and don’t want your personal browsing history stored, commodified, and sold then it may be worth it for you to take those steps to opt out.”

More sophisticated users may consider subscribing to a virtual private networking – or VPN – service, which masks much of one’s internet activity from your service provider, but experts say that comes with its own risks, as the VPN provider may be snooping on you itself.

“There’s a strong overlap between VPN companies and the dark web, because a lot of people who want to hide things this way are also doing something wrong,” says Kittredge. “It can be like hiring a security guard to protect your warehouse by going to the local bar and picking out somebody who looks tough.”

A fourth possibility, depending on your geographic location: “Vote with your wallets and choose ISPs that are protective of your privacy,” Heiden says.

Most ISPs active in Maine are seeking to reassure customers about their commitment to their privacy, but on closer scrutiny, the strength of their stated commitments varies considerably.

Another unknown is what lawmakers will do next.

Repeal’s goal: An ‘even playing field’

Congress repealed the privacy rules the Federal Communications Commission was about to put into effect that would have prohibited internet providers from selling or sharing a wide range of personal data without users’ consent, including Web browsing history, geo-location, and application usage. It was a party-line vote, with Sen. Susan Collins and Rep. Bruce Poliquin voting with their Republican colleagues for repeal, independent Sen. Angus King, Democratic Rep. Chellie Pingree and the entire Democratic caucus voting against.

The action also prevents the FCC – the only entity currently authorized to regulate ISPs – from developing new rules.

Supporters of repeal say it was necessary to create an even playing field between ISPs and other internet firms like Google and Facebook. The FCC rules on internet providers were stricter than those for Web-based firms and application developers, which are regulated by a different agency, the Federal Trade Commission. Opponents reject this as a false comparison.

Poliquin says that repealing the rule will enhance privacy. “I absolutely want to ensure there are proper safeguards to keep Mainers’ private data secure when they use the Internet, which is why I voted with Senator Collins to remove this FCC rule,” he said in a written statement to the Maine Sunday Telegram. “The reality is that the FCC rule creates a misleading sense of security for users” because they applied “to only a specific segment of the industry, while giving unequal advantage and preference to a handful of companies that wouldn’t be under their jurisdiction. This is not the way to regulate, as it would also undermine the very goal of protecting users’ data.”

His vote, he added, was “the right thing to do.”

According to data compiled by the Center for Responsive Politics, internet firms have not been important campaign donors to either Collins or Poliquin. No member of the industry appears in the top 20 donors to either’s campaign or the political action committees they control.

Users don’t pay Google, Facebook

The most prominent advocate pushing for the changes is Jon Leibowitz, a former movie industry lobbyist who was chairman of the Federal Trade Commission under President Obama, and is now co-chairman of the 21st Century Privacy Coalition, which represents and lobbies on behalf of Comcast, Time Warner Cable (now Spectrum), Verizon, DirecTV and other major internet providers who disliked the restrictions.

In interviews with the Telegram, Leibowitz defended the rule change on fairness grounds. “The whole history of American privacy protection is focused on three things: the data itself, the way in which it’s collected, and the way in which it’s used,” he said. “You shouldn’t discriminate on the basis of silos, on the basis of who is doing the collecting.”

ISPs, he and other proponents of the repeal argue, should be on an even playing field with other internet firms in terms of exploiting users’ digital data. But repeatedly asked why internet service providers should necessarily operate under the same rules as Web companies, he was unable to provide a clear answer. “It’s not about who is collecting your data, it’s about what data is being collected and how it is being used,” he reiterated, adding that he thought you could make a fair “apples to apples” comparison between ISPs and other internet firms.

Elsewhere he has argued that ISPs don’t really have a comprehensive picture of our internet use, both because they can’t see the content of browsing at “https” sites and because customers roam from ISP to ISP during the day, connecting at work or the local coffee shop.

Opponents of the rule change disagree, arguing there is a fundamental difference between the companies we pay to provide us internet access and those like Google and Facebook that are paid by advertisers for information about who we are and what products we might like. For internet service providers, they say, their users are their customers, while for Google and Facebook their users are the product they’re selling to their real customers, marketers and advertisers.

“It’s a little disingenuous for ISPs to argue they should be treated equally, because it’s not really comparing apples to apples,” Pierce Atwood’s Guffin says. “Unlike using Google, which is free, I’m actually paying my ISP 50 bucks a month to get that ISP connection, and now I find out all my data is also being monetized and leveraged to make more money.”

ISPs, he says, are more akin to the postal service – a conduit through which we conduct our digital lives, and one you can’t avoid having, which is why European regulations prohibit such firms from collecting user data. Nor do most Maine consumers have a lot of options, as many communities are served by just one or two providers. “It’s an essential service, and there aren’t hundreds of ISPs that are knocking at my door for business,” he adds.

Heiden at the ACLU of Maine agrees. “The rules should be different, because ISPs are literally invited into our home and provide a service that is almost necessary for participating in the public and economic life of our country,” he says. “That carries with it a social responsibility that’s different than that of the Web companies we may choose to visit through the internet.”

It’s unclear how or when privacy rules will be replaced

In the short term, the repeal has also created a profoundly uneven playing field, as ISPs are now far less regulated than other firms. It is unclear how and when Congress will move to rectify the situation, given that the FCC still has authority over the ISPs yet is barred from developing privacy regulations.

Some backers of the repeal appear concerned about the vacuum. On April 7, 50 Republican House members wrote the FCC chairman to urge him “to continue to hold ISPs to their privacy promises” laid out in the privacy policies they present their users. The letter also suggested the FCC should turn regulation of ISPs over to the FTC. (Poliquin was not a signatory.)

But Gillula of the Electronic Frontier Foundation says that’s not reassuring, as many major ISPs’ privacy policies allow them to collect your browsing history and target ads at you unless you opt out, something most users are unaware they can do. “Basically, the letter is kind of like asking the FCC to ensure that the fox guarding the henhouse stands by the contract he imposed on the hens, which says in fine print that he’s allowed to eat one or two of them now and then,” he says.

It’s also possible that the Maine Legislature could try to impose its own rules, though this might be tested in court. “This is all uncharted waters,” says Guffin. “But if you have Congress saying we’re not regulating ISPs, it may create an opening for states to step in.”

Colin Woodard can be contacted at:

Clarification: This story was revised at 12:50 p.m., April 24, 2017, to clarify that former FTC chairman Jon Leibowitz is a former lobbyist who co-chairs an organization that represents and hires lobbyists on behalf of large broadband companies.

]]> 0 Kittredge is founder and CEO of GWI, a phone and internet service provider that serves more than 18,000 customers in Maine. He says the repeal of rules governing what ISPs can do with customer data – which President Trump signed into law this month – will undermine users' trust in the Web.Mon, 24 Apr 2017 12:52:30 +0000
Is your data for sale? We asked local internet providers about their safeguards Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Internet providers in Maine are reassuring customers that they have nothing to fear about the repeal of federal rules governing the exploitation of users’ data, but they have a range of positions on what is and isn’t being protected.

Fletcher Kittredge, CEO of Biddeford-based GWI, is the most blunt, saying his company won’t so much as collect users’ internet data, better yet share or sell it, and that would only change over “my dead body.”

“We don’t collect it, and that means it’s not there to be stolen, and we would not share it and we would not sell it,” added Kittredge, whose company operates in all 16 of Maine’s counties, but its service area is concentrated in the larger towns and along major highways.

Similarly, Susan Corbett, CEO of Machias-based Axiom Technologies, says “we do not collect, store, distribute, or otherwise sell our subscriber information” and that it’s company policy “to work directly with our customers about their information being protected.” Her company provides broadband access across Washington County and on Chebeague Island.

The state’s largest provider, Charter Communications’ Time Warner Cable, referred inquiries about its policies to a company blog post that said it does not sell or share customers’ “web browsing histories to third parties” or their “information for personalized third-party marketing or advertising” and would provide customers notice “in the event that we change these business practices.”

FairPoint Communications spokeswoman Angelynne Beaudry said via email that the company “remained committed to protecting (customers’) private information” and that its privacy policy “prohibits the selling of customer information without permission.”

Comcast – the primary broadband provider in 11 towns in the Brunswick area – plus Kittery, Berwick, South Berwick and Eliot in southernmost Maine – referred inquiries to a blog post by company deputy general counsel Gerard Lewis, who used some ambiguous language. Lewis said the company doesn’t sell customers’ “individual web browsing history” and complied with laws preventing sharing of their banking, health, and children’s information without consent. It also noted that Comcast allows customers to opt out of their data being used to send them targeted ads.

It was not clear if the company sells aggregated Web browsing history information or if lists of internet locations an individual has visited – not precisely the same thing as the history collected in the individual’s Web browser – might be fair game, and a company spokesman, Marc Goodman, declined to clarify.

Goodman also declined to say why customers attempting to opt out of being tracked by the 41 advertising networks Comcast partners with are required to enable third-party cookies to do so. (Cookies are files websites place on your computer to track your identity, preferences, and behavior.)

Jeremy Gillula, senior staff technologist at the Electronic Frontier Foundation, the San Francisco-based digital civil liberties group, says this is problematic, as enabling such cookies would allow other third parties to track you online. “Requiring third-party cookies to opt-out of online tracking is a terrible design decision,” he says.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at:

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Michelle Singletary: Graduating from college debt-free Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 My husband and I recently invited our daughter Olivia to speak to students attending the money-and-marriage class that we teach at our church.

The couples were given free rein to ask her questions. They were dying to know what it was like growing up under such frugal parents. Eventually, the conversation got around to borrowing for college. Olivia will be graduating from the University of Maryland at College Park next month. She’ll leave with a double major – and no debt. And we won’t have any on her behalf either. (Thank you, 529 plan!)

If you’re a parent with young children, you should be interested in what she had to say.

And if you have a high school student trying to decide between a college that won’t require student loans – or very few – and one that would necessitate heavy borrowing, listen to what it feels like for a young adult not to have the burden of education debt.

“Even the friends that I have who are frugal, even they have debt,” Olivia began.

She shared that her friends talk about the anxiety they have about paying back their loans and how they are dreading the end of their six-month grace period when their loans go into repayment. “I just don’t have those fears,” Olivia said.

It’s in these types of moments, when your children are speaking to others, that you learn their heart.

“When you are little, you don’t care,” Olivia said. “‘College fund? Who cares? I want this toy.’ Or: ‘College fund? Who cares? I want that milkshake.’ But I didn’t need the toy. I didn’t need the milkshake. I’m going to graduate without debt. And I’m also going to go to grad school without debt.”

What Olivia presents is an ideal situation. But what if your child is going to graduate with debt?

There’s some relief. Borrowers with federal loans can opt for repayment plans to reduce their monthly payments based on their income and family size. There are four such plans:

 Income-contingent repayment. Your monthly payment is capped at 20 percent of your discretionary income.

• Income-based repayment. Generally, payments are set at 10 percent of discretionary income for new borrowers on or after July 1, 2014. Someone who has loans prior to that date will be at 15 percent even if they have some loans after that date, points out Mark Kantrowitz, publisher and vice president of strategy at, a free website with information about college admissions and financial aid.

 Pay-as-you-earn repayment. Payments are set at 10 percent of discretionary income. But this option is only available to borrowers who have at least one federal student loan first disbursed on or after October 1, 2011, and no loans prior to October 1, 2007.

 Revised pay-as-you-earn repayment. This is the newest plan designed to give relief to all borrowers, not just those with recent loans. Payments are 10 percent of discretionary income.

To figure out which repayment plan is best for you, contact your lender.

“The important thing is to look for an affordable plan that you can work into your budget,” says Rohit Chopra of the Consumer Federation of America.

Lots of borrowers focus on the fact that debt can be forgiven under the various income-based plans after 20 or 25 years. But it’s a long road to forgiveness, and many borrowers don’t realize that if their loan balances are forgiven, the canceled debt is treated as income and will be taxed.

The May 1 college decision deadline is coming up. And where students choose to attend college can result in years of debt obligations. I’m glad that, for those aspiring scholars who do take on debt, there are plans that can ease their monthly burden.

But maybe Olivia sharing what it’s like to be debt-free at the start of her adult life will help somebody make a different decision.

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

Twitter: SingletaryM

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Restriction in work visas leaves Maine tourism businesses scrambling Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 In an ordinary year, Julie Van de Graaf would be getting ready to open the Pentagoet Inn, a 16-room bed-and-breakfast and restaurant in Castine.

This year is anything but ordinary, and Van de Graaf is worried.

“It is the end of April, my staff should be arriving May 1, we should be opening the restaurant,” she said. Every year, the inn hires five or six kitchen workers and housekeepers – about a fifth of the staff – from Jamaica with H-2B visas, a tightly regulated seasonal foreign worker program heavily used by Maine’s hospitality sector in the summer tourism season. But because of a new restriction on the program, those workers, some of whom have been coming to work at the Pentagoet for years, haven’t been allowed into the country.

If the program isn’t amended quickly, Van de Graaf expects to lose thousands of dollars in revenue and even worse, tarnish her guests’ experience and overwork her local staff. She’s already had to tell a wedding party she couldn’t accommodate a July date because she isn’t sure she will have enough workers.

“If we are not open, then we are not buying from local farmers, local fishermen, the local bakery,” Van de Graaf said.

“One of the things we realize is that tourism is the engine that drives the economy in Maine. While we are suffering and losing money, it is impacting so many tourist areas in the state.”

The H-2B program allows businesses to hire seasonal foreign workers when they can’t find enough local help to fill jobs. With Maine’s unemployment rate at a historic low, business owners say getting local workers into jobs cleaning rooms and washing dishes is tough.

There is a cap of 66,000 H-2B visas a year in the U.S., but an exemption put in place in 2016 allowed businesses to hire returning workers without affecting the cap.

That exemption expired last year and was not renewed by Congress, just as demand for H-2B visas in Maine is surging. That has left many seasonal businesses, especially hotels, scrambling to find workers.

Maine’s congressional delegation, along with those from other states, is supporting legislation to improve the program and make the returning worker exemption permanent. A continuing resolution that will be under consideration this coming week to keep the government funded could include an extension.

It is still unclear if those efforts will be successful. If they are, help might come too late to relieve short-staffed businesses getting ready for a throng of summer tourists.

“It is really going to hurt operations,” said Raymond Brunyanszki, co-owner of the Camden Harbor Inn and Danforth Inn in Portland. His company expected six workers from the H-2B program this year.

“We are trying to fill some gaps, but it is definitely a very, very difficult year,” Brunyanszki said. “It will in general make Maine look bad and that is not good for a tourism destination.”


Businesses can start recruiting workers for the visas 120 days before the anticipated employment date, so places that open earlier in the season, like some resorts in southern Maine, apply earlier than businesses farther up the coast that open later. This year, visa processing stopped when the cap was hit March 13, leaving applications from many businesses in limbo.

“If you didn’t have a petition date on the very first day, you didn’t stand a chance to get seasonal help,” said Allyson Cavaretta, director of sales and marketing at the Meadowmere Resort in Ogunquit. “It’s sort of like you are proving you are hungry, but there is nothing left to buy at the store.”

The Meadowmere was able to get the 18 workers it applied for this year, Cavaretta said. All but two are returning employees and some have worked at the resort for a decade.

“We made the cap. We are one of the very few businesses that have that luxury this year,” Cavaretta said. “It shouldn’t be a luxury.”

Restrictions on the program are coming at the same time Maine’s demand for H-2B visas is at a nine-year high. As of Thursday, 140 employers had requested 2,877 H-2B workers, roughly 370 more than in 2016 and almost twice the number requested in 2009, according to the Maine Department of Labor.

Conservative critics of the program have said it takes jobs away from Americans who need them, while some liberal politicians and labor unions point to abuses and cases of exploiting foreign workers.


The critique that visa holders are taking jobs from Americans doesn’t line up with reality, said Patrick Morgan, president of Witham Family Hotels. The company owns 13 hotels in Maine, including several in Bar Harbor. It has used H-2B workers in each of its properties for years, and Morgan is holding out hope for legislation to reinstate the returning worker exemption so the company can find enough workers to fill its housekeeping ranks.

“The part that is frustrating is the argument against it is that these jobs are available to able-bodied American workers,” Morgan said. “It simply isn’t the case. Opposition to the issue just isn’t applicable in Maine.”

Seasonal foreign workers also bolster the business during the important shoulder season in September and October, when seasonal employees from high school and college have left, Morgan said.

In order to qualify for a visa, businesses have to prove they tried to hire locally. If there are no local hires, businesses can then go through the expensive and time-consuming visa process. It costs between $1,500 and $2,000 per H-B2 worker with the help of an agency, said Greg Dugal, director of government affairs for the Maine Innkeepers Association. That doesn’t include the cost of airfare and housing for workers when they arrive. Visa workers are paid a prevailing wage set by the U.S. Department of Labor, which means they cannot be paid less than local hires.

“Most people would rather hire someone from around here. If they don’t exist, you have to go this route,” Dugal said.

Van de Graaf, from Castine, puts it in starker terms.

“Why in the world as this tiny little business would I pay out $15,000 to get employees if I didn’t have to?” she said.


Many coastal employers find it hard to hire locally for seasonal jobs either because the workforce just isn’t there, or potential hires are looking for full-time employment.

But there is a geographic obstacle, too. Many of the seasonal positions are in areas far away from a potential labor pool, said Julie Rabinowitz of the Maine Department of Labor.

“Someone who lives in Millinockett year-round is not going to commute to Mount Desert Island. It is not a reasonable expectation,” she said. The department is encouraging employers and local business groups to think outside the box and come up with transportation and housing programs that could connect Maine workers with seasonal employment.

The hospitality industry is competing with employers who are offering year-round jobs. Maine just broke a record for private sector employment and the state’s unemployment rate is only 3 percent, the lowest in 40 years.

“All these year-round jobs have grown, they are pulling people who might have had a part-time job in the winter and a full-time job in the summer,” Rabinowitz said. Even when jobs are scarce, foreign workers from the H-2B program and J1 student visa program meet a critical need, she added.

“There are certain jobs in the hospitality industry that are always going to be hard to fill,” Rabinowitz said.

The problems with H-2B visas this year are severe, but Maine businesses are used to volatility in the program. Rule changes, holdups in visa approvals, program freezes and other hiccups are commonplace in hiring foreign workers. The returning worker exemption is the “issue du jour,” said Dugal, from the Maine Innkeepers Association. “It isn’t always the same issue with this program, but there is usually an issue,” he said. “In the last 14-15 years this is definitely the worst, the need is greatest and the supply is small.”

It was volatility with H-2B visas that led Bob Smith, owner of the Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg, to stop using the program several years ago. “We abandoned the program because it wasn’t reliable,” Smith said.

He tried again this year and hired 12 workers from Jamaica. He thought all his workers were lined up, until he learned the returning worker exemption didn’t apply anymore. Now, he expects a stressful summer for his depleted staff and a hectic fall when some seasonal workers leave.

“We spent all this money, put all this effort forward, and in all likelihood, unless something happens soon, it will be a waste because we won’t be able to use them,” Smith said.

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Smith, owner of Sebasco Harbor Resort in Phippsburg, is frustrated by the limits in a visa program that are hurting Maine's hospitality industry.Sun, 23 Apr 2017 12:18:00 +0000
Week in review: Unemployment rate is lowest on record; downtown projects get underway Sun, 23 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 TOURISM & HOSPITALITY

Maine’s tourist hot spots report no sign of a ‘Trump slump’

Despite worries that the Trump administration’s national security and immigration policies might hurt the U.S. tourism industry, one Maine town that relies on foreign visitors is gearing up for a busy summer. Several of President Trump’s proposals, such as a ban on travel from some Muslim-majority countries, a border wall between the U.S. and Mexico, and intensified border security have led some tourism experts to warn of a “Trump Slump” in international visitation. But here in Maine, where the summer economy thrives on millions of Canadian tourists every year, Trump’s policies don’t appear to have had an effect yet, and some innkeepers say the exchange rate is a more important factor. In Old Orchard Beach, a popular destination for generations of visiting Quebecois, 2017 is shaping up to be better than last year. Read the story.

Augusta Civic Center expected to be profitable for second year in a row

The Augusta Civic Center is expected to turn a profit for the second year in a row, a milestone that officials say shows the growing strength of the local economy as more people attend events and spend money there. The city-owned convention center and auditorium will likely finish the current fiscal year with a profit of between $40,000 and $50,000, Earl Kingsbury, director of the civic center, told city councilors during a recent budget workshop. That won’t match the $272,000 in profits the civic center brought in the previous year, but continues the recent trend of the facility running “in the black.” That isn’t the case every year, as sometimes it loses money, including as recently as 2015, when expenses exceeded revenues by $120,000. Kingsbury said the civic center is getting new business, having booked about a dozen new events this year, most of which have also re-booked for the following year. Read the story.


Maine’s unemployment rate falls to historic low in March

Maine’s preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was 3 percent in March, the lowest on record since the current methodology was implemented in 1976, driven in part by high job gains in construction, transportation, education and healthcare. The March rate was down from 3.2 percent in February and 3.7 percent a year ago. The number of unemployed Mainers was down 4,500 over the year to 21,000. The unemployment rate was below 4 percent in 14 of the last 17 months, only the third such period in the last 41 years. That compares to the national preliminary unemployment rate of 4.5 percent, down from 4.7 percent in February and 5.0 percent a year ago. The New England unemployment rate averaged 3.8 percent in March. Read the story.


Project to transform ‘dead space’ at Portland’s Canal Plaza begins

Work crews began a redevelopment of Canal Plaza in the heart of Portland’s Old Port on Monday. The open plaza next to Middle Street is nestled between tall office buildings and has long featured concrete planters and trees and been used mostly as a cut-through to nearby office buildings and the lower Old Port. The multimillion-dollar redesign will include the addition of a free-standing building and new landscaping that the owner hopes will make it a more vibrant space. Owner Tim Soley, of East Brown Cow development company, plans to replace one of the planters and its six mature trees with a circular single-story building for use as a cafe or retail store. He also plans to replace the brick-and-concrete plaza with 17,000 square feet of granite and add benches and new trees. Read the story.

Developer begins 28-unit downtown Portland apartment project

A Portland developer has begun construction on 28 apartment units inside the Clapp Memorial Building at 443 Congress St. in Portland, including four units that will meet the city’s requirement for affordable housing. Northland is building eight two-bedroom apartments, sixteen one-bedroom apartments, and four studio units on the former office building’s upper floors. Two commercial tenants on the first floor, the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce and Planned Parenthood, both have long-term leases and will remain. Northland is the first developer to include affordable apartment units under Portland’s relatively new requirement, city spokeswoman Jessica Grondin said. Developer Chip Newell’s 26-unit Luminato Condominium project on Newbury Street was the first condo project to include affordable units under the ordinance, she said. Read the story.


Buyers of Harris Golf discount passes unhappy that they now exclude Sunday River

Some golfers are disappointed that discount passes sold by Bath-based Harris Golf Inc. can no longer be used to play the award-winning Sunday River Golf Club course in Newry. However, the passes can be used at other Harris Golf properties, and the company has promised a refund to at least one customer who called to ask for his money back. Harris Golf had owned and operated the Sunday River course since it opened in 2005, but recently lost those rights while a legal dispute over its ownership is pending. Portland-based Newry Holdings LLC, the sole creditor on the property’s mortgage, took possession of the course Jan. 5, saying Harris Golf failed to make a required mortgage payment. Read the story.


Regulators vote to allow lobstering in Gulf of Maine coral protection zones

New England regulators have voted to allow lobster fishing in proposed deep-sea coral protection zones, including two heavily fished areas in Down East Maine. The New England Fishery Management Council voted 14-1 Tuesday to ban most fishing in the canyons and plateaus where slow-growing, cold-water coral gardens flourish in the dark waters of the Gulf of Maine. But pleas from Maine lobster fishermen who say a trap ban in fertile gulf fishing grounds would cost them millions of dollars helped sway an initially resistant council to grant a lobstering exemption. If approved at the council’s June meeting in Portland, the exemption would allow lobstering in coral protection zones on Mount Desert Rock and Outer Schoodic Ridge, where Maine officials believe state-based boats land about $4.2 million worth of lobster a year. Read the story.


Madison Paper sells its hydropower facility to New Jersey firm

Hydro power assets at the shuttered Madison Paper Industries have been sold to a New Jersey hydroelectric power producer, marking the final step in the sale of the paper mill and opening the door for future plans at the site. Madison Paper Industries, a former partnership of UPM and Northern SC Paper Corp., a subsidiary of The New York Times Company, signed an agreement to sell its hydropower facilities to Eagle Creek Renewable Energy LLC, a hydroelectric power producer based in Morristown, New Jersey. The paper mill, which closed in May and put about 215 people out of work, was sold in December to a buyer with plans to put the property back into use as an industrial site. Future uses of the mill site have been on hold pending the sale of the hydroelectric assets. Read the story.


Reformed scam artist tells Mainers how to protect their data

Frank Abagnale Jr. visited the University of Southern Maine campus in Portland Thursday to teach Mainers how to avoid identity theft. Abagnale’s life as a teenage fraudster and his ultimate transformation into an anti-fraud innovator was immortalized first in book form, then in the 2002 Steven Spielberg-directed movie “Catch Me If You Can,” starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Tom Hanks. More recently, the story was adapted into a Tony Award-winning Broadway musical. For the past three years, Abagnale has been touring the country with the AARP Fraud Watch Network to teach audiences how to avoid being scammed at a time when personal information is everywhere and fast-changing technology is constantly creating new security problems and solutions. Abagnale offered a variety of lessons to the audience in Portland. Read the story.

]]> 0 dense, multi-species deep-sea coral garden was found 200 meters below sea level in a federally funded survey of the Gulf of Maine in 2014. New England regulators have voted to allow lobster fishing in proposed deep-sea coral protection zones, including two heavily fished areas in Down East Maine. (Courtesy of NOAA Fisheries/New England Fisheries Science Center/University of Connecticut/University of Maine)Fri, 21 Apr 2017 18:14:59 +0000
For Domino’s owner, former Gardiner bank a good spot to make some dough Sat, 22 Apr 2017 23:55:28 +0000 GARDINER — Fernando Jantorno Stelser doesn’t do things slowly.

He talks fast and he moves fast, because as the owner of six Domino’s restaurants he has a lot to do.

“Maybe I slow down when I’m sleeping,” he said Friday.

Right now, he’s working on his newest restaurant at 192 Water St., the site of the former Maine Trust & Banking building.

Stelser, 38, is planning for a June opening, if all goes smoothly. Last Wednesday, he was in Gardiner overseeing the delivery and installation of his pizza ovens. By afternoon, he had already dropped off payroll at his Augusta restaurant and stayed long enough to make some pizza before heading south.

Work at the restaurant started in earnest in March, and it’s expected to wrap up at the end of June when Domino’s is expected to open.

And when it does, it will be unlike any other Domino’s restaurant because Stelser and Haldria Vale Jantorno, his wife and partner, are keeping many of the historic details of the former bank building intact, including the trim and the vault, which will be dining space for customers. They are also planning a small function room along the front of the restaurant. And if the state Historic Preservation Commission agrees, they will have a take-out window where the ATM used to be.

“It’s easier than you think,” he said. “People are afraid of historic towns.”

“One of the things I was struck by is the juxtaposition of the modern business and finishes in a historic building,” which are complementary, Gardiner Maine Street Executive Director Patrick Wright said.

Like most other Domino’s owners, Stelser started as a driver. In 2002, he drove for a restaurant in Acton, Massachusetts, before returning to his native Brazil to complete college.

When he was ready to return to the United States in 2004, he started managing his first Domino’s in Kittery. Stelser and his wife bought his first restaurant in Bath in 2009 and started adding from there. In addition to Gardiner and Augusta, they own restaurants in Auburn, Brunswick and Freeport, which was the most recent addition before Gardiner and is also in a historic building.

What attracted him to Domino’s was the pace and the dynamic environment when he was a driver, and it stuck.

“Every day is a different day,” he said. “Different customers and different routes.”

What attracted him to Gardiner was the city’s location in relation to his other restaurants. He had been looking in the area for a couple of years before focusing on the former bank building, which they bought last year.

Domino’s is a franchise operation putting down roots in a city that has well-established pizza restaurants.

Wright, who in addition to his Gardiner Main Street duties is also Gardiner’s economic development coordinator, said he’s heard some concern about a franchise restaurant moving in.

“Our experience of local franchise owners has been very positive,” he said. They include Dunkin’ Donuts, Subway and Craft Beer Cellar.

“Our brand is that we’re welcoming to people, and we welcome any business that wants to do business here,” he said.

Stelser, who is already scoping out his next restaurant, said he hopes to have good sales and be a part of the community.

“I really like Maine. It’s a safe state,” he said, and it’s a place he wants to be in and chooses to raise his family in.

“Brazil is very dangerous,” he said. “It’s a paradise here.”

Jessica Lowell can be contacted at 621-5632 or at:

Twitter: JLowellKJ

]]> 0 native Fernando Jantorno Stelser started managing his first Domino's restaurant in Kittery in 2004, and he now owns six in Maine. The former Maine Trust & Banking buildiing at 192 Water St. in Gardiner will be the next Domino's.Sat, 22 Apr 2017 20:40:42 +0000
Defunct Madison mill churns with uncertainties amid hopes of a revival Sat, 22 Apr 2017 23:13:23 +0000 MADISON — There is a different sort of hum at the former Madison paper mill these days.

Gone is the hot, loud blast of a giant paper machine rolling out 195,000 tons of paper annually after the mill closed in May 2016 and put about 215 people out of work.

The hum amid the quiet industrial corridors of the mill and its offices now is all business – phone calls and walking tours with prospective buyers taking notes on the mill’s equipment and value.

Everything is for sale, said Jerome Epstein, 81, whose father, Perry Epstein, founded Perry Videx, a used equipment and machinery company in 1932. Perry Videx is one of the partners of Somerset Acquisition LLC, the group of new owners who purchased the mill in December. The mill property was sold to a joint venture of New Mill Capital Holdings, of New York; Perry Videx, of Hainesport, New Jersey; and Infinity Asset Solutions, of Toronto.

“We buy and sell machinery just like people buy and sell used cars,” Epstein said from the mill offices this past week. “And when someone shuts a plant down, we buy it and occasionally we’ve been able to sell plants completely the way they are, but mostly we sell off the equipment and repurpose the real estate to see if we can find other uses for it.”

Epstein said there are several companies interested in the equipment at the mill, including the paper machine itself, which under the agreement with the former seller, UPM and Northern SC Paper Corp., a subsidiary of The New York Times Co., could be used in place to make paper, so long as the product is not in direct competition with UPM.

“We are trying to sell the paper machine,” he said. “It’s not a dead certainty by any means – it’s a long shot because it’s a big machine – but it’s a beautiful machine. It’s in wonderful condition.”

Epstein said the best case would be to find someone to come in, buy the machine and operate it right there in Madison without having to spend money to take it apart, move it and reassemble it.

The final part of the sale of the mill properties came Tuesday, when the former owners announced an agreement on the sale of its hydropower facilities to Eagle Creek Renewable Energy LLC, a hydroelectric power producer based in Morristown, New Jersey.

Now, according to Epstein and Gregory Schain, principal of New Mill Capital Holdings, the plan is to sell what they can and find tenants or buyers for the vacant buildings.

Tours of the old paper mill are conducted by Jaime Broce, the manager and supervisor for Somerset Acquisition. That group escorts prospective buyers through the sprawling plant, which had produced supercalendered paper used for glossy magazine publishing in Madison since 1978. Broce, 69, moved temporarily to the Madison area in January with his wife from their home in Monterrey, Mexico. He has worked with Epstein’s company since 2007, but this was his first winter in Maine.

“It was terrible,” he quipped of the recent winter, during a tour of what was the No. 3 paper machine, the drying room and the maintenance area of the shuttered mill, now all sitting silent. Paper machines No. 1 and 2 were dismantled years ago, he said.

Touring the mill last week, there was an eerie quiet with only the buzz of electric lights in the air.

“It was really, really loud,” Broce said of the mill when it was up and running. “All the pumps running, all the agitators working, the rollers, they make a lot of noise. Now it’s very quiet – sad.”

In the last 16 years, demand for newsprint declined 15 percent and for glossy paper between 30 and 50 percent, according to an industry analyst.

Once employing more than 18,000 workers at its height in the 1960s, the papermaking industry in Maine has lost more than 1,500 jobs in the last two years. There are just six operating paper mills left in Maine.

Broce said the best way for Somerset Acquisition to make a profit on its purchase is to sell the equipment whole, not in pieces or parts and not as scrap metal.

He said there are papermaking plants in other countries such as Brazil, India and Turkey that could be interested in a working American paper machine that if purchased new would cost $500 million.

The Madison paper machine was upgraded in 2001 at a cost of $55 million and is in good condition, he said.

The Catalyst paper mill in Rumford already has purchased some pieces of equipment and some valves have been sold, Broce said. He said there will be an auction of some of the smaller, movable items such as stepladders, floor cleaning machines, regulators and fans this summer.

Future uses of the mill site have been on hold pending the sale of the hydroelectric assets. The acquisition of the mill site – which closed for an undisclosed price – included the real estate of the main paper mill site as well as all mill equipment.

The parties have agreed not to disclose the purchase price.

Schain, at New Mill Capital, said the announced sale of the hydropower assets helps turn the page and open up a new era for central Maine.

“I think it’s great,” he said this past week. “It finally closes one chapter and hopefully opens another for property in the area. Now that UPM is mostly out of the picture, hopefully the two parties – us and Eagle Creek – can work together to bring some economic life back to the site.”

Schain said there are businesses interested in the site, but would not say which companies have their eye on Madison. The town has courted Poland Spring about possibly occupying the site. Schain said discussions with future buyers or tenants have been on hold, pending the sale of the hydro assets. Now, he said, those discussions can advance.

Epstein said Perry Videx is now into its fourth generation, with his son and now his granddaughter having a role in operations. He said he started with his father’s company, Perry Equipment & Supply of Philadelphia, in 1957.

He said his company was successful in repurposing the former Wausau paper mill in Groveton, New Hampshire. He said a new company has come in and is manufacturing metal products there. It employs only about 40 people, a far cry from when the mill was making paper, but it is a start, he said, and it’s better than no jobs at all.

New Mill Capital had a success in Maine a year ago with the sale and repurposing of the 265,000-square-foot Hostess Brands bakery in Biddeford. FedEx opened a distribution center there last year, Schain said.

Schain said in January that his company has purchased more than 11 million square feet of space in the last five years, and almost all of it has been put back to use.

He said other paper mills have left “and just scrapped the place and left a blank space in the middle of town.”

“That’s certainly not our intent,” he said. “If that was going to be our business plan, I wouldn’t have bothered doing this deal in the first place. It’s certainly in everyone’s best interest to bring in the best use we can for the site.”

Epstein said he, too, is optimistic.

“It’s a possible market – it’s a probable market,” he said of the prospect of selling the Madison paper machine. “There’s more of a market for that machine now outside of the U.S. than there is here because there’s not that much going on here as far as paper goes. The internet has taken care of that.”

If the machine cannot be sold whole, then sections of it will be sold, Epstein said. The worst case would be selling it for scrap. He said the company will spend at least a year, maybe two years, trying to find a buyer for the machine before they decide to scrap it.

“We want to try to do the best we can for ourselves … for the people here,” Epstein said. “The best outcome for us would be to have somebody come in here and start operating – that’s what we want to do.”

Doug Harlow can be contacted at 612-2367 or at:

]]> 0 former Madison Paper Industries mill's assets and equipment, now owned by Somerset Acquisition LLC, are for sale.Sat, 22 Apr 2017 20:01:08 +0000
New look for Portland’s landmark convenience store Sat, 22 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 After being closed for more than a year, Portland landmark Joe’s Super Variety reopened Thursday at the same Congress Street location it has occupied for more than 70 years.

But the address is the only thing old about Joe’s – the low-slung brick store with tiny windows and low ceilings has been replaced with a sharply lit, modern space.

Even owner David Discatio took a while to get used to the new ambiance.

“I can’t handle the brightness,” he joked.

The fresh atmosphere is the first thing returning regulars comment on, and Discatio is happy with the changes.

“It was so dingy and dark,” he said. “This is so much better.”

The old store, originally Joe’s Smoke Shop, was opened in 1945 by Joe Discatio and has been in the family ever since. David Discatio, 52, and his brother Michael are the third generation to run the business. They dropped the “smoke shop” out of the name in 2014 in favor of Joe’s Super Variety.

In December 2015, the brothers closed the store and the building was demolished to make way for an eight-story apartment building with more than 130 units called The Hiawatha, which is now leasing units for June.

Discatio said he enjoyed the time off and took a couple trips to the Dominican Republic and North Carolina, but he has been itching to reopen.

So were his regulars.

Over the past year, long-time customers would pass him on the street and make a point to ask when the store would be up and running, Discatio said.

“We wanted to get back sooner than we did – we didn’t want to be closed for 16 months,” he said. “People were really anxious for us to open.”

The new look isn’t the only thing that’s changed. The walk-in cigar humidifier is gone, to make space for a wider selection of drinks and a “beer cave” with an expanded offering of craft beers.

Giving up the humidifier was a tough decision but, in the end, they needed the space, Discatio said. Instead, they saved the cedar lining from the humidifier to install temperature-controlled glass cigar cases in one corner of the new store.

There are other subtle changes, such as fewer tobacco products and more healthy snack choices, a fountain drink machine and a revamped kitchen.

Nicole Barna looks over the menu at Joe’s Super Variety, formerly Joe’s Smoke Shop. The Congress Street store reopened Thursday. One feature that didn’t make the cut this time around: the store’s walk-in cigar humidifier. Staff photo by Derek Davis

The store reopened Thursday, with limited hours. It will be closed over the weekend and open 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Monday while they work out some kinks and train workers,. By Tuesday, it will be open normal hours, 6 a.m to 11 p.m., Discatio said.

On Friday night, a few shoppers popped in to pick up drinks and snacks and take a look around the place. One man complimented Discatio on the new store and asked when he’d be getting in his favorite kind of beer.

“It’s been a lot of new faces, and a lot of familiar faces – people I haven’t seen in a year,” Discatio said.

He expects to get a lot of new customers when people start moving into apartments upstairs. The store has a separate entrance in the lobby of the apartment building that can only be accessed by residents with a key card.

“On a bad winter day, they don’t even have to leave the building to get in,” Discatio said.

It has taken a little while for word to get out that Joe’s is again open, but Discatio expects that people will soon get the word.

Bill Dawson was walking up Congress Street on Friday on his way back home in the West End when he chanced upon the reopened store. Dawson, who has been going to Joe’s for decades, was overjoyed to see the new digs, especially its beer selection. After more than a year, he’s glad to have a locally owned store back in his neighborhood.

“Do you really want to go to 7-Eleven or CVS? It’s just not the same,” he said. “The people in there were bright and shiny, helpful, just the way they’ve always been.”

Peter McGuire can be contacted at 791-6325 or at:

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Barna looks over the menu at Joe's Super Variety, formerly Joe's Smoke Shop. The Congress Street store reopened Thursday. One feature that didn't make the cut this time around: the store's walk-in cigar humidifier.Sat, 22 Apr 2017 00:06:31 +0000
When the going gets tough, some get golden parachutes Sat, 22 Apr 2017 01:23:21 +0000 NEW YORK — Don’t let the vault door hit you on the way out.

Getting forced out of a job is painful, but a couple (dozen) million dollars help salve the wound. The latest big name to get a big payment with a bye-bye from the boss is Bill O’Reilly. The longtime Fox News host is in line to get up to $25 million, according to media reports, after a string of sexual-harassment allegations led to his ouster.

He joins the long list of executives and bold-faced names who have grabbed handsome payouts that have become standard operating procedure for companies to hand out. The reasons for departure can range from the mundane, such as a CEO simply being ineffective in boosting the stock price, to the salacious, with accusations of improper behavior.

Here’s a look at some other recent departures of big names and what they received as they exited, according to regulatory filings and media reports:

n Roger Ailes, Fox News, $40 million.

It was only last summer that the other man who helped build Fox News into a ratings behemoth had his own departure from the company following allegations of sexual harassment. Ailes was chairman and CEO of Fox News and, with O’Reilly as a high-profile host, pushed it to become the most-watched U.S. cable-news channel.

n Jeff Smisek, United Continental, $36.8 million.

The CEO atop United Airlines stepped down in 2015 amid an investigation into whether it flew a route between Newark, New Jersey, and Columbia, South Carolina, to curry favor with the chairman of the agency that operates New York-area airports. He received $4.9 million in cash severance, along with millions more in stock grants. He also received lifetime flight benefits.

n Marissa Mayer, Yahoo, $23 million.

The woman brought in to save the struggling internet giant may soon be on the way out after brokering a deal to break it up. Verizon is buying Yahoo’s email service and other websites, and the deal is expected to close by the end of June. The remaining part of Yahoo, which is also the far more valuable one, will be turned over to a new company called Altbaba. If Mayer doesn’t have a job afterward, she’ll be in line to get a severance package, which was most recently valued at $23 million.

n Philippe Dauman, Viacom, $58 million.

The former CEO of the entertainment giant was pushed out last summer following a bitter battle for control of the company’s board. The $58 million severance payment doesn’t include millions more paid to Dauman in pro-rated bonus money, vested stock options and other awards.

n John Stumpf, Wells Fargo, zero.

When the CEO stepped down from the company last year as the uproar about its aggressive sales tactics echoed in Capitol Hill, the bank said he would receive no severance pay. The board also reclaimed millions of dollars in pay made to him.

]]> 0 O'ReillyFri, 21 Apr 2017 21:23:21 +0000
For $3.5 million, you could own an entire tiny town in Oregon Sat, 22 Apr 2017 01:22:36 +0000 TILLER, Ore. — In the tiny, dying timber town of Tiller, the old cliche is true. If you blink, you might actually miss it.

But these days, this dot on a map in southwestern Oregon is generating big-city buzz for an unlikely reason: Almost the entire town is for sale.

The asking price of $3.5 million brings with it six houses, the shuttered general store and gas station, the land under the post office, undeveloped parcels, water rights and infrastructure that includes sidewalks, fire hydrants and a working power station. Tiller Elementary School, a six-classroom building that closed in 2014, is for sale separately for $350,000.

Potential buyers have come forward but are remaining anonymous, and backup offers are still being accepted.

The listing represents a melancholy crossroads for Tiller, a once-bustling logging outpost that sprang up after the turn of the last century deep in what is now the Umpqua National Forest, about 230 miles south of Portland. The post office opened in 1902, and miners, loggers, ranchers and farmers flocked to the community along a pristine river.

By the 1940s and 1950s, there were three timber mills running, and the town expanded the elementary school and built a new general store.

Then, nearly three decades ago, logging on the federal forest lands that encircle Tiller came to a near standstill because of environmental regulations. The mills closed, and families moved away. One longtime resident began buying up properties. When he died three years ago, the family owned much of the town.

Then the Tiller Elementary School closed and was up for sale, as well as a small market, and the man’s estate bought those too – and the potential became clear. The listing includes more than 256 acres (1 square kilometer) in 29 distinct parcels, water and timber rights, and a variety of zonings, from residential to industrial.

About 235 people still live in the unincorporated area around Tiller, and have long relied on the buildings now for sale along historic Highway 227 as a gathering spot and one of the only places to shop for groceries in miles.

“Between the dying economy and the dying owners, Tiller became a new opportunity that had never been available before,” said Richard Caswell, executor of the estate. “I started getting inquiries from all over the world, essentially, ‘What was it? And what could you do with it?’ It’s the buyer and their imagination that’s going to determine what Tiller can become.”

The potential buyers have said through the seller’s broker that they intend to turn the school into some type of campus and create a “permaculture” development that respects the town’s remaining residents and its picturesque setting in a bend in the emerald-tinted South Umpqua River. They want to make reopening the market a priority.

“The buyers understand that they only have one shot at a first impression,” said Garrett Zoller, principal broker for, the seller’s agent. “They want to address this project with the community in mind.”

Beyond that, Tiller’s future remains shrouded in mystery.

Residents gather at the church for coffee and cinnamon rolls on Fridays and collect their mail at the one-room post office – when it’s open. Some have a sense of humor: A small, weathered sign affixed to the defunct market reads, “Last one out of Tiller turn out the light.”

Sarah Crume and a few other mothers cling to a sense of community by meeting with their young children for playtime at the church, one of the few places not for sale. She’s raising five daughters here and had to send her younger children to school in the next closest town when Tiller Elementary shut down.

“It is a little scary, especially raising our kids in this place that we love,” Crume said. “I’m just wondering what kind of impact it’s going to have on the people.”

For Rosemary Klep, news of the sale brought on strong emotions. Her parents built the market that’s now for sale in 1947, and she grew up camping and roaming the forests near town.

“This town has been in dire straits for many, many years,” said Klep, 72, who now lives near Olympia, Washington. “But we loved growing up there. To us, it was a paradise.”

]]> 0 a vibrant logging outpost, the town of Tiller in southwestern Oregon lost its economic life about 30 years ago. Now, much of its downtown looks more like a ghost town, though an anonymous potential buyer has emerged.Fri, 21 Apr 2017 21:47:50 +0000
Report: Maine propping up unsustainable biomass power industry Fri, 21 Apr 2017 21:37:30 +0000 Taxpayers and ratepayers have doled out more than a quarter of a billion dollars over the past decade to prop up Maine’s biomass power industry, which cannot compete economically without subsidies and is among the state’s top polluters, according to a new report by an anti-biomass advocacy group.

The report, by the Massachusetts-based Partnership for Policy Integrity, argues that while Maine’s biomass industry has received over $250 million in subsidies and grants since 2008, the payments have done little to stop the bleeding of jobs and tax revenue from an industry that generates electricity too dirty to be eligible for clean energy subsidies in some neighboring states, and too expensive to compete with alternatives in the free market.

It says Maine’s biomass facilities, including some receiving renewable energy subsidies worth millions of dollars a year, represent the largest polluters in the state, emitting smog-forming chemicals, particulate matter and greenhouse gases. Meanwhile, asthma in Maine exceeds the national average, incurring costs of over $173 million each year, according to the report.

“Maine policymakers keep asking biomass industry insiders, some of whom are among the greatest beneficiaries of public subsidies, how to keep the biomass industry going,” it says. “Not surprisingly, they keep getting the same answers, usually involving asking for more financial support.”

Bob Cleaves, president and CEO of the Portland-based Biomass Power Association, took issue with the report, saying it is filled with “half-truths and misinformation.” Cleaves said the industry is vital to Maine’s economy because it provides jobs in economically devastated rural areas.

“The Maine Legislature and LePage administration strongly support biomass power because it provides well-paying rural employment in a state where it is urgently needed,” he said. “Biomass power was facing uncertain times following a steep decline in the value of our power, and our state legislators took action, for which we are extremely grateful. Maine’s loggers, foresters, landowners and biomass power employees are hard at work today because of this.”

The report acknowledges that bioenergy should have a role in Maine, where facilities burn forest product manufacturing wastes on site for heat and power, thus also avoiding disposal costs. However, it says continued support for standalone wood-burning power plants will only prolong the industry’s financial losses and subsidy dependence by “supporting the lowest-value use of wood – burning it.”

“As atmospheric carbon dioxide continues to increase, and climate change effects deepen, policymakers should commission independent, science-based studies to help Maine value forests as carbon storage, rather than as fuel,” the report says.

Maine’s sawmills and paper mills have burned biomass to generate on-site heat and power and dispose of industrial wastes for more than a century.

But the report argues that in recent decades, as traditional forest-based manufacturing has declined, Maine’s biomass power sector has become increasingly dominated by wood-burning power plants built exclusively to generate electricity for the grid. Not affiliated with any manufacturing operation, those plants have relied on renewable energy subsidies and tax credits to remain viable, it says.

But subsidies for biomass power are drying up because of its relatively high pollution rate, and the industry is in trouble, according to the report. In response, Maine lawmakers are scrambling to preserve biomass jobs, most recently with a controversial $13.4 million public money bailout of four biomass plants in 2016, it says.

A legislative commission appointed to examine the benefits of the biomass industry has recommended even more subsidies for the industry, the report says.

“Yet almost none of the discussion about Maine’s biomass sector has addressed the real financial costs of biomass energy, or its impacts to forests, air quality and the climate,” it says. “As Maine policymakers weigh granting still more public funds to the bioenergy sector, they should consider these costs.”

The report includes a detailed breakdown of how taxpayer and ratepayer funds have been used to prop up Maine’s biomass power industry since 2008:

• Over 90 percent of ratepayer-funded Renewable Energy Credits in Maine have gone to aging biomass power plants, totaling more than $68 million.

• State and federal grants totaling $15 million were made to the Verso Bucksport mill for expanded bioenergy. The facility closed a year after receiving the grants.

• Other federal grants, including to a failed biofuels venture, total over $30 million. The equipment from that facility was later put up for auction.

• The federal Biomass Crop Assistance Program allocated over $35 million in matching payments for deliveries of bark and chips to biomass power plants in Maine. Some recipients were later seated on the state’s 2016 commission to study the benefits of the biomass industry, which recommended that the state grant more subsidies to the industry.

“There is almost no kind of subsidy that has not been tried,” the report says.

Still, the report fails to acknowledge the vital economic role that standalone biomass power plants play in Maine, according to Carrie Annand, executive director of the Biomass Power Association.

“The Maine biomass industry creates local, rural employment – about five jobs per megawatt, or 1,300 jobs, when plants are fully operational,” she said.

Annand noted that biomass plants are the largest taxpayers in many rural Maine towns, and that they account for roughly $10 million to $20 million in annual economic impact per facility.

They also reduce the state’s reliance on fossil fuels, she said.

“The Maine biomass industry provides New England with more than 300 megawatts of baseload, sustainable, affordable, renewable energy,” Annand said.


]]> 0, 21 Apr 2017 20:03:44 +0000
Maine home sales remain strong in March Fri, 21 Apr 2017 20:36:50 +0000 Maine home sales remained strong in March, with both sales volume and median price up from a year earlier.

Home sales were up by 9.2 percent in March compared with March 2016, according to a report issued Friday by the Maine Association of Realtors.

The median price for detached, single-family homes in Maine remain reached $191,000 in March — a 4.7 percent price increase compared with a year earlier. The median indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less.

“Real estate activity remains steady across Maine with a tightened for-sale housing inventory,” said association President Greg Gosselin, owner and broker of Gosselin Realty Group in York. “In many markets across Maine, Realtors are reporting multiple offer situations on most listings.”

For the three-month period ending March 31, statewide home sales were up 1.9 percent and the median sale price was up 6.6 percent to $186,000 compared with the same period of 2016.

Half of Maine’s 16 counties experienced a decline in sales during the three-month period, while half saw an increase compared with a year earlier. However, all but three counties experienced an increase in median price.

The biggest increase in sales volume was in Knox County, where sales were up 28.4 percent. The biggest decrease was in Washington County, where sales were down 18.1 percent.

The biggest median price increase for the three-month period was in Somerset County, where the median price reached $111,000 – a 50 percent jump. The biggest decrease was in Knox County, where the median fell by 5 percent to $190,000.

Nationally, home sales were up 6.1 percent in March compared with a year earlier, according to the National Association of Realtors. The national median sale price was up 6.6 percent to $237,800.

Regionally, the Northeast experienced a 4.1 percent rise in sales compared with a year earlier, while the median increased by 2.8 percent to $260,800.

J. Craig Anderson can be contacted at 791-6390 or at:

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

]]> 0 many homes have become unaffordable for would-be buyers, “for sale” signs might remain in yards for a long time.Fri, 21 Apr 2017 23:14:35 +0000
Cousins Maine Lobster is coming home Fri, 21 Apr 2017 18:57:44 +0000 After Jim Tselikis and Sabin Lomac emerged from ABC’s “Shark Tank” in 2012 with a $55,000 investment in their business, Cousins Maine Lobster, they opened 25 lobster-themed food trucks around the country. But they’ve never parked one of them in Maine.

That’s like not serving hot dogs at the ballpark.

All that is about to change. Cousins Maine Lobster will fire up its first food truck in Maine sometime in May. Tselikis said it will wander around southern Maine, probably from Kennebunkport up to the Freeport area, and be available for catering and weekend events.

Tselikis said he and Lomac, his cousin, started their business in California because it was a market that didn’t have access to affordable lobster meat, and the food truck industry there was well established and thriving, “which is how we’ve picked some of our other markets as well throughout the country.”

The timing is right to bring the idea back home.

“Now there’s a little bit more of a food truck scene in Portland and southern Maine,” he said.

They’ve also had requests from customers who like their food and are puzzled why they can’t get it in Maine when they vacation here, Tselikis said.

The cousins also own a restaurant in West Hollywood, California.

Tselikis and Lomac, who are from Cape Elizabeth and Scarborough, respectively, return to Maine every other month or so to visit family or to do business. (Their lobster is sourced from the Gulf of Maine.)

Their food trucks serve two kinds of lobster rolls: warm lobster served with butter (also known as Connecticut style) and cold with mayonnaise (Maine style). They also serve 4-5-ounce lobster tails in the shell, lobster tacos, lobster quesadillas, shrimp tacos, clam chowder and lobster bisque. Tselikis said the Maine food truck will serve the company’s two newest items as well – lobster grilled cheese and “lobster tots.” Lobster tots are tater tots served with lobster meat on top, a little warm butter, pico de gallo and cilantro lime sauce.

“People call that their food crack here,” Tselikis said.

The cousins still stay in regular touch with their “Shark Tank” investor, real estate guru Barbara Corcoran, who received 15 percent of the company for her $55,000 investment. Tselikis said they talk every other week by Skype or phone, and their relationship has gone from dealing with details, like designing marketing brochures, to larger discussions about the big picture of the business – for example, what kind of infrastructure they’ll need as the business grows.

Mainers can follow the new food truck through Twitter or Instagram (@cmlobster), Facebook, the website, or the Cousins Maine Lobster app.

Tselikis said while they don’t envision having a dozen food trucks in Maine, they have high hopes for this first venture.

“I don’t know what it will turn into,” he said, “but we hope this unit, at least, will be very successful.”

Meredith Goad can be contacted at 791-6332 or at:

Twitter: MeredithGoad

]]> 0, 21 Apr 2017 21:16:23 +0000
Gigantic offshore wind turbines planned are taller than the Eiffel Tower Fri, 21 Apr 2017 15:28:20 +0000 Offshore wind turbines are about to become higher than the Eiffel Tower, allowing the industry to supply subsidy-free clean power to the grid on a massive scale for the first time.

Manufacturers led by Siemens are working to almost double the capacity of the current range of turbines, which already have wing spans that surpass those of the largest jumbo jets. The expectation those machines will be on the market by 2025 was at the heart of contracts won by German and Danish developers last week to supply electricity from offshore wind farms at market prices by 2025.

Just three years ago, offshore wind was a fringe technology more expensive than nuclear reactors and sometimes twice the cost of turbines planted on land. The fact that developers such as Energie Baden-Wuerttemberg AG and Dong Energy A/S are offering to plant giant turbines in stormy seas without government support show the economics of the energy business are shifting quicker than anyone thought possible — and adding competitive pressure on the dominant power generation fuels coal and natural gas.

“Dong and EnBW are banking on turbines that are three to four times bigger than those today,” said Keegan Kruger, analyst at Bloomberg New Energy Finance. “They will be crucial to bringing down the cost of energy.”

About 50 miles off the coastline in the German North Sea, where the local fish and seagulls don’t complain about the view of turbines in their back yards, offshore wind technology is limited only to how big the turbines can grow. Dong has said it expects machines able to produce 13 to 15 megawatts each for its projects when they’re due to be completed in the middle of the next decade — much bigger than the 8-megawatt machines on the market now.

Just one giant 15-megawatt turbine would produce power more cheaply than five 3-megawatt machines, or even two with an 8-megawatt capacity. That’s because bigger turbines can produce the same power from a fewer number of foundations and less complex grid connections. The wind farm’s layout can be made more efficient, and fewer machines means less maintenance.

“Right now, we are developing a bigger turbine,” said Bent Christensen, head of cost of energy at Siemens Wind Power A/S, in a phone interview. “But how big it will be we don’t know yet.”

Larger turbines are heavier, placing a natural limit on size, said Christensen. Lightweight materials such as carbon fiber may be required to reduce the heaviness of the rotor and the blades as the turbines grow.

“If we just go 10 years back, nobody could imagine what we’re doing today,” he said. “When you try to predict the future you have to be quite careful.”

The scale of the turbines may not even stop at 15 megawatts. In Albuquerque, New Mexico, a unit of Lockheed Martin is working on components for a possible 50-megawatt turbine that would have blades about 328 feet long.

These gigantic blades would be able to fold away to reduce the risk of damage at dangerous wind speeds. Siemens, along with Vestas Wind Systems and General Electric, are advising on the research program that’s funded by the U.S. Department of Energy.

In the nearer term, Denmark, the home of wind energy, last month said it would expand the country’s main offshore wind test site to demonstrate turbines that will soar as high as 330 meters, taller than the Eiffel Tower. That could take the generation capacity past 10 megawatts, enabling turbine makers like Vestas and Siemens to challenge the boundaries of current capacity.

“The question of turbine capacity and wing span has never really been an issue from a technological perspective,” Jens Tommerup, chief executive of MHI Vestas Offshore Wind A/S, a partnership Vestas has with Mitsubishi Heavy Industries, said in an email. “We have already taken the capacity of our 8-megawatt platform to 9-megawatt. The real question is what can the market support.”

Turbines will get bigger if developers and governments allow.

“The answer lies more in stable, visible volume targets rather than the technology itself,” Tommerup said.

The auction in Germany was a jaw-dropping moment for industry analysts, many of whom expected a steady decline in prices but not another record. Deep-sea projects in Germany and the cable arrays needed to reach substations off the coast make these developments more complex than in neighboring states. The idea that Dong and EnWB bid for zero subsidy was a shock — and a first for projects of this scale.

“This is a wake up call that the fossil-fuel power industry in Europe is on its way out,” Urs Wahl, manager of public affairs at Germany’s Offshore Wind Industry Allianz, said in a phone interview.

The previous record low price was 49.90 euros a megawatt hour, won by Vattenfall AB in September. Bloomberg New Energy Finance had anticipated bids near 55 euros. The average price in the end was just 4.40 euros per megawatt-hour because one Dong Energy project secured a subsidy of 60 euros per megawatt-hour. The others bid zero, meaning they’ll get paid at market electricity prices.

“This option is opening up now as a subsidy-free production of electricity,” said Magnus Hall, chief executive officer of Vattenfall, in an interview in Brussels on Wednesday. “That really moves offshore into a perspective of continued growth.”

Competition in the German round may have been even tougher than other recent contests because it was the last chance for developers to win contracts for projects they’ve worked on for years, according to Deepa Venkateswaran, analyst at Sanford C. Bernstein & Co.

The “surprise” result highlights that “developers appear to be increasingly banking on scale” including cost cuts expected in the future and perhaps higher wholesale power prices, said analysts at Jefferies Group.

The industry’s relentless focus on efficiency and cost cuts have come at a big price for turbine makers. Vestas, which has installed more turbines than any other company, closed a third of its factories and cut more than 3,000 jobs to deal with three years of losses stemming from declining turbine prices.

South Korea’s CS Wind Corp., a turbine-tower maker, cut 54 jobs at a factory in Scotland on April 18, saying that “extremely low prices requested by developers of projects” created gaps in its order book.

“Clearly, this puts us all under pressure,” Ralf Peters, a spokesman for turbine maker Nordex SE, said in a phone interview from Hamburg.

His company, which builds only onshore machines, has already seen how ultra-low bids in the onshore wind market in Chile are squeezing the supply chain.

]]> 0 GE-Alstom Block Island Wind Farm stands in this aerial photograph taken above the water off Block Island, Rhode Island, on Sept. 14, 2016. MUST CREDIT: Bloomberg photo by Eric ThayerFri, 21 Apr 2017 11:38:08 +0000
Maine’s unemployment falls to lowest rate in 40 years Fri, 21 Apr 2017 14:42:32 +0000 Maine’s preliminary unemployment rate hit a 40-year low of 3.0 percent in March, driven in part by high job gains in construction, transportation, education and healthcare – and an aging population.

“The economic recovery is finally washing across Maine’s shores,” said Michael Donihue, an economics professor at Colby College. “Labor markets are really tight. The thing to watch for next is what happens to wages.”

March’s preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate was down from 3.2 percent in February and 3.7 percent a year ago. The March rate in Maine compares to a national unemployment rate of 4.5 percent last month.

Arkansas, Colorado and Oregon also reported their lowest unemployment rates since the current methodology was implemented in 1976. Colorado’s rate, at 2.6 percent, was the nation’s lowest.

Gov. Paul LePage, in a statement, lauded the new figures.

“This shows that our efforts to lower taxes, reform welfare and bring fiscal responsibility to government are working,” he said in the statement. “Liberals are trying to reverse all the progress we have made by raising taxes and expanding welfare. We must work even harder now to continue our progress and stop the liberals from harming the economy with their tax-and-spend policies.”

But the unemployment rate doesn’t paint a complete picture of the labor market.

The labor force, whose activity is measured by the unemployment rate, is made up of people who have jobs and people who are unemployed but actively looking for work. It does not capture people who aren’t looking for work – students, retirees, homemakers – or people who have stopped looking for work even though they might want a job.

In Maine, it’s the older workers who have retired, or moved here as retirees, that move the needle on the unemployment rate, said economist Charles Lawton.

“Demographics – the aging population – is the single most significant factor in the low unemployment rate,” said Lawton, because a shrinking labor force drives down the unemployment rate.

That means there’s a “critical need” to attract more workers to Maine, he said.

“If employers can’t attract the workers they need, their businesses will be undermined and could close,” Lawton said. “This would further increase the fiscal pressure on the state.”

Economists in Maine have been warning for years that the state is headed for a significant labor shortage.

John Ryan, president of the Wright-Ryan construction company, said they have a hard time finding workers, both skilled and unskilled.

“We’ve been coming out of the recession steadily for the last several years,” Ryan said.

“The low unemployment figure is a wonderful thing on the one hand,” he said. “But our company is experiencing difficulty hiring people at all levels.”

Their subcontractors – plumbing, drywall, painting companies – are also short on labor.

“Subcontractors just don’t have enough people. You beg. You cajole. They want to help, but they can’t. So you have two people when you need six,” he said.

“That’s a terrible situation. We’re looking to perform at a high level on projects with very demanding schedules with inadequate resources.”

That in turn affects wages. Ryan wouldn’t say if he’s had to pay workers more, but he said “it’s safe to say there is increased pressure on wages.”

To meet the need for more workers, Ryan said, the company is beefing up its in-house training program and forming new internships and partnerships with vocational schools, community colleges and the university system.

Maine’s unemployment rate was lower than the average rate among New England states, which was 3.8 percent in March.

Maine and Vermont had the second-lowest unemployment rates of the New England states at 3.0 percent, compared to 2.8 percent in New Hampshire, 3.6 percent in Massachusetts, 4.3 percent in Rhode Island, and 4.8 percent in Connecticut.

The Maine Republican Party also touted the figures, crediting LePage’s policies.

“The pro-growth policies of the LePage administration and pro-growth Republican legislators are doing exactly what they promised,” Demi Kouzounas, chair of the Maine Republican Party, said in a release. “Not only has unemployment decreased, but private sector employment has skyrocketed to an all-time high for our great state. Additionally, employment in government jobs is at its lowest percentage in history.”

Maine House Republicans said the falling unemployment rate was proof that conservative policies have worked in the state.

“Now more than ever we need to stay the course and that means passing policies that continue to move Maine in the right direction,” said Assistant House Republican Leader Rep. Ellie Espling of New Gloucester.

“Our focus is on implementing a 2-year budget that reduces the overall tax burden on all Mainers and continues to promote this type of job growth.”

The number of nonfarm payroll jobs for March was up 5,300 from a year ago to 623,000, an all-time high.

The sectors that saw the largest job gains were in construction, trade, transportation, utilities, education and health care.

Government jobs comprised 16.0 percent of nonfarm jobs, the lowest share on record.

Unemployment rates declined over the year in all Maine counties, with the lowest rate, 2.5 percent, in Cumberland County and the highest, 6.9 percent, in Washington County.

The unemployment rate was lower than the statewide average in the Portland-South Portland metro area, at 2.6 percent.

Noel K. Gallagher can be reached at 791-6387 or at:

Twitter: noelinmaine

]]> 0 Arsenault, left, and Alan Nielsen of B.H. Milliken work on a construction site at the Hiawatha building in Portland on Friday. Construction was one of the sectors that showed strong employment gains in Maine during March.Fri, 21 Apr 2017 23:37:19 +0000
Wall Street statue standoff unchanged Fri, 21 Apr 2017 00:08:16 +0000 NEW YORK — After the 1987 stock market crash, sculptor Arturo Di Modica spent two years and $300,000 secretly working on a gift he hoped would lift the spirits of a demoralized city. He deposited the 11-foot, 3-ton “Charging Bull” statue in front of the New York Stock Exchange in the middle of a wintry night.

Today, that icon of Wall Street prosperity is staring down another statue that has become a potent symbol in its own right – a petite girl in high-top sneakers. The “Fearless Girl,” fists curled at her sides and face held high in seeming defiance of the giant bull galloping before her, has drawn international attention since it was unveiled last month and tapped into growing frustration around the struggle female executives face rising into leadership positions, particularly on Wall Street.

Di Modica sees something else: Fearless Girl, he argues, has turned his bull into a symbol of male chauvinism. His attorneys said he may sue if the statue isn’t removed.

But the city isn’t budging, and the standoff has turned into a high-profile debate over the role of public art, intertwined with visceral feelings about Wall Street and the role of women.

The origins of the two works of art could not be more different. Fearless Girl belongs to one of the largest banks in the world, Boston-based State Street, which commissioned the work last year as part of an advertising campaign. The statue, the bank says, is part of an effort to use its financial might to encourage companies to put women in more prominent leadership positions. (It initially included a plaque that mentioned one of the bank’s funds.)

Di Modica says his statue was a work of conviction.

The 76-year-old gray-bearded sculptor has generated some sympathy, particularly from other artists. Gabriel Koren, whose bronze sculpture of Frederick Douglass looks into Harlem from Central Park, says she would be offended by another artist placing a competing piece of art near her creation without permission.

“Every sculpture needs space. That is the nature of sculpture,” she said. “If you put something else there, it changes it.” The Fearless Girl, she said, is “cute,” but “you don’t stand up for women’s rights at the expense of the artist’s rights. Each right is equally important. I am saying this as a woman.”

Yet others say the meaning of Di Modica’s bull began to change long before Fearless Girl arrived. During the height of the Occupy Wall Street protests, New York City police put barricades around the statue to protect it from demonstrators.

“Let’s be blunt, the Charging Bull is a celebration of unfettered capitalism,” New York Mayor Bill De Blasio said recently on the Brian Lehrer Show. “You could say it is about the spirit of optimism, sure – that’s what the artist was thinking, that’s great. But it is a symbol of Wall Street. And Wall Street, to say the least, is a double-edge sword.”

This comes as the financial industry struggles to shed its reputation as a boys club where women struggle to succeed. None of the country’s mega-banks, such as JPMorgan, Bank of America and Goldman Sachs, are led by women. Even State Street has been forced to acknowledge its own shortfalls – the bank has only three women on its 11-member board of directors and five women on its 28-member leadership team.

“We ourselves are being challenged on how do we help address” the lack of women in leadership positions, said Stephen Tisdalle, chief of marketing at State Street Global Advisors, a subsidiary of the bank. “We’re taking a very humble approach to this.”

“Fearless Girl,” the bank says, was not meant to change the meaning of the bull statue but to create a potent symbol to show that women can – and should – be an important part of the financial sector.

The city has refused to remove the statue, which has a permit to stay put for another year.

]]> 0 DI MODICAThu, 20 Apr 2017 20:08:16 +0000
Strong corporate earnings reports give U.S. stocks a lift Thu, 20 Apr 2017 23:05:54 +0000 NEW YORK — U.S. stocks climbed Thursday as industrial companies, banks, technology and materials firms, and energy companies all rallied. A strong day of corporate results left investors feeling better about the economy.

For more than a week, investors have been poring through company earnings for signs the economy is growing at a faster pace, and on Thursday they felt they found it. Railroad operator CSX gave transportation companies such as railroads and airlines a big boost, while Sherwin-Williams raised its annual projections and helped basic materials makers go higher.

It’s still early in this round of earnings reports, and a few high-profile companies have disappointed Wall Street this week, so stocks have wobbled recently. But for the most part, experts and investors are encouraged by what they’re hearing. They say companies feel good about the economy and expect stronger growth and bigger profits.

“The major takeaway so far to earnings season is the CEOs are still saying we’re poised for growth,” said J.J. Kinahan, chief market strategist at TD Ameritrade. “Last quarter was sort of the first time we heard this theme.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index advanced 17.67 points, or 0.8 percent, to 2,355.84. The Dow Jones industrial average rose 174.22 points, or 0.9 percent, to 20,578.81.

The Nasdaq composite gained 53.74 points, or 0.9 percent, to an all-time high of 5,916.78. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks added 17.02 points, or 1.2 percent, to 1,384.15.

American Express had a solid first quarter as its credit card members spent more and kept bigger balances on their cards. The stock gained $4.47, or 5.9 percent, to $80.02. SLM, the parent of the student lender Sallie Mae, reported much stronger revenue than expected and its stock climbed $1.17, or 10.1 percent, to $12.70. Citizens Financial rose $1.05, or 3.1 percent, to $35.27 after its report.

“The banks are the shining star” so far, Kinahan said, although he speculated that Goldman Sachs had a down quarter because it lost several top executives to the Trump administration.

Bond prices fell further. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note rose to 2.23 percent from 2.22 percent.

Energy prices wobbled and finished lower. Benchmark U.S. crude slipped 17 cents to $50.27 a barrel in New York while Brent crude, the international standard, rose 6 cents to $52.99 a barrel.

In other energy trading, wholesale gasoline rose 1 cent to $1.67 a gallon. Heating oil was flat at $1.58 a gallon. Natural gas fell 3 cents to $3.16 per 1,000 cubic feet.

Railroad company CSX announced a bigger profit and more revenue than Wall Street expected in the first quarter. CSX also said restructuring and spending cuts will increase its profit by about 25 percent this year. The company is cutting jobs and reorganizing after it hired Hunter Harrison, former head of Canadian Pacific, as its new CEO last month. The company also said it will buy back more stock and raise its dividend. CSX stock jumped $2.65, or 5.6 percent, to $49.58.

Railroads and transportation companies like trucking companies and airlines rose. Industrial companies were among the top performers Thursday.

Sherwin-Williams raised its profit guidance for the year as paint sales jumped and prices increased. The stock added $12.48, or 4 percent, to $324.02. That helped basic materials companies. So did steelmaker Nucor, which rose $2.73, or 4.7 percent, to $60.35 after its first-quarter results were stronger than expected.

Verizon dipped 53 cents, or 1.1 percent, to $48.41 as it lost wireless cellphone subscribers and its profit dropped 20 percent. That helped push other telecom companies lower.

Other stocks that pay big dividends also fell. Utilities, companies that make and sell household goods, and real estate investment trusts also declined as bond yields rose. That made the stocks less appealing to investors seeking income.

Equipment rental company United Rentals flopped after its sales fell far short of expectations. The company said rental rates are still somewhat weak, and its stock lost $6.21, or 5.2 percent, to $113.24.

State and federal authorities sued Ocwen Financial and said the mortgage lender botched the handling of millions of accounts. The Consumer Financial Protection Bureau said Ocwen generated errors in borrowers’ accounts, failed to credit payments, illegally foreclosed on homeowners, and charged borrowers for products without their consent.

Ocwen is one of the nation’s largest non-bank mortgage lenders, focusing mostly on subprime and delinquent mortgages. Its stock plunged $2.91, or 53.9 percent, to $2.49 in heavy trading.

Gold rose 40 cents to $1,283.80 an ounce. Silver lost 14 cents to $18.02 an ounce. Copper rose 1 cent to $2.54 a pound.

The dollar rose to 109.31 yen from 108.70 yen. The euro inched up to $1.0722 from $1.0721.

Paris’ CAC 40 jumped 1.5 percent as traders bet on a growing likelihood of a victory for centrist Emmanuel Macron in the upcoming presidential election. Polls have long showed a tight race between four candidates ahead of the first round of voting Sunday.

The DAX in Germany and the FTSE 100 of Britain both added 0.1 percent. The benchmark Nikkei 225 in Japan finished little changed and the Kospi in South Korea rose 0.5 percent. Hong Kong’s Hang Seng index climbed 0.9 percent.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Apr 2017 19:05:54 +0000
Efforts to battle dumping of steel in U.S. intensify on two fronts Thu, 20 Apr 2017 22:43:20 +0000 The Trump administration began an investigation of steel imports into the U.S. on Thursday as U.S. Steel Corp. asked a trade agency to investigate its claims that rival Chinese manufacturers colluded to fix prices and undercut competitors in the American market.

President Trump signed a memorandum encouraging the Commerce Department probe, which had already started and will explore whether steel imports hinder national security under section 232 of the Trade Expansion Act.

In an Oval Office ceremony, Trump declared the opening of the Commerce Department investigation “a historic day for American steel, and most importantly, for American steel workers.”

Imports have risen “despite repeated Chinese claims that they were going to reduce their steel capacity,” Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross said in a briefing for reporters at the White House. “It’s a very serious impact upon the domestic industry.”

Still, when a reporter asked Trump whether the investigation would raise tensions with China as he seeks that country’s help in slowing North Korea’s nuclear and missile programs, Trump said the trade investigation “has nothing to do with China” and addresses “a worldwide problem.”

Meanwhile Thursday, the U.S. International Trade Commission in Washington heard U.S. Steel’s argument that a separate antitrust complaint it had filed against Chinese manufacturers should be revived. A trade judge in November had thrown out the claim, saying the agency didn’t have the legal authority to hear the allegations.

From the beginning, the antitrust complaint has caught the attention of U.S. politicians, with members of Congress from both parties writing to the commission to ask it to hear the case in full. Questions about the future of the American steel industry have became a hot political topic, with Trump signing a “Buy America” order to buoy American steel producers by forcing projects such as U.S. pipelines to use steel made in the country.

Steelmakers in the Americas just capped their best collective stock performance since 2003 after a raft of successful trade cases levying tariffs against foreign metal.

The key question before the commission is whether it has jurisdiction over the antitrust complaint. U.S. Steel and other American steel producers have traditionally filed cases with the commission under anti-dumping laws that bar sale of goods priced at less than fair value or that are subsidized by foreign governments. The remedy usually involves imposition of tariffs that raise the prices on foreign products.

The Commerce Department investigation is moving on a separate track. If the department finds evidence of a national security threat from steel imports, the president is authorized to unilaterally “adjust imports.” Only two presidents – Richard Nixon and Gerald Ford – have ever granted relief under Section 232, citing national security concerns stemming from the global oil crisis of the 1970s.

Since then the U.S. has launched only two such investigations, and in each the Commerce Department’s Bureau of Industry and Security declined to recommend action. Should Ross recommend action after the steel investigation, targeted countries would likely file a dispute with the World Trade Organization.

In an unusual move, U.S. Steel filed its complaint under a statute covering unfair trade practices, which most often is used to protect domestic companies from patent infringement and theft of intellectual property. Under this provision, the commission could block carbon and alloy steel produced in China from entering the U.S.

The case, however, has been an uphill slog for U.S. Steel.

The complaint filed in April 2016 made three allegations. One was theft of trade secrets in connection with Justice Department allegations that Chinese officials hacked the Pittsburgh-based steel company. A second involved claims the Chinese companies were rerouting their products through other countries to hide the country of origin. The third – which is the one U.S. Steel was seeking to revive Thursday – involves antitrust violations that the companies improperly conspired to fix prices and control export volume.

In February, U.S. Steel dropped the trade secrets claim related to hacking, citing “the inequities of the statutes that were enacted before the dawn of the internet age and the substantial threats posed by cyber espionage.”

Baoshan Iron & Steel Co., China’s second-largest steelmaker, accused its American competitor of seeking an unprecedented “total blockade of steel trade from an entire country.” The company, along with other Chinese steelmakers, argue that the case should go through normal trade complaint channels, which American steel companies have used extensively.

“Imports from China have dropped to a trickle” because of U.S. Steel’s aggressive use of anti-dumping regulations,” Sturgis Sobin of the Covington firm, representing the Chinese manufacturers, told the commission Thursday. He said U.S. Steel is instead asking the commission to “make up your own set of antitrust laws” to block all imports.

U.S. Steel has the backing of the nation’s largest steel union and AK Steel Holding Corp.

Members of Congress have also sided with U.S. Steel. The 30-member Congressional Steel Caucus sent a letter saying “we assure you we will be carefully watching the progress of this case,” while a bipartisan letter from 47 members of Congress said they “strongly urge” the commission “to ensure that U.S. Steel is permitted to present its case in full.”

The Commerce Department investigation comes less than two weeks after U.S.-Sino trade tensions boiled over at an April 6 meeting of the World Trade Organization goods council in Geneva.

At the meeting, the U.S. delegation said its fight over China’s industrial overcapacity problems had “culminated to a critical point” and that WTO members have “no choice” but to bolster their trade defenses against China.

The U.S. and other WTO members – including the EU, Canada and Japan – have long criticized Beijing’s domestic steel subsidies, which they said have led to massive overcapacity in global markets.

Despite China’s pledge to reduce the country’s annual steel capacity by as much as 150 million tons before 2020, the country remains the world’s largest steel producer and accounts for almost half of the globe’s total steel production.

Beijing counters that its subsidies adhere to WTO rules and that the growing overcapacity in steel markets is a global problem that must be solved in a collaborative effort in forums such as the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development and Group of 20 major economies.

]]> 0 signing an executive memorandum encouraging a Commerce Department investigation of steel imports that began Thursday, President Trump said it was "a historic day for American steel, and most importantly, for American steel workers."Thu, 20 Apr 2017 21:39:18 +0000
Rural electric drivers face ‘range anxiety’ Thu, 20 Apr 2017 22:23:31 +0000 SARANAC LAKE, N.Y. — Sunita Halasz has tips for “driving electric” along lonely roads in New York’s Adirondack Mountains: Know the locations of charging stations, bring activities for the kids during three-hour recharges, turn on the energy-hogging window defroster in just 10-second bursts.

And have a backup plan.

“When we really go anywhere, I have a whole list of phone numbers of friends who live all over the Adirondacks,” Halasz said during a charging stop. “So that at a moment’s notice I can call somebody and be like, ‘Hi, I’m going to pull into your driveway. And do you have an outdoor electrical outlet?”‘

There are more than 18,000 electric car charging stations in the United States, and the number of outlets at those stations has more than tripled over five years to about 48,000, according to federal data. But they’re often few and far between in rural areas. That can leave electric vehicle pioneers in the backcountry with chronic “range anxiety,” the fear that their batteries will run out and leave them stranded.

Halasz counters that with careful strategizing before she and her husband take their fully electric Ford Focus on trips over its 75-mile range. On family trips to Burlington, Vermont, which is at the edge of that range, they know where they will charge and how they will keep their two sons occupied for the extra hours. The 1,300-foot descent down the mountainsides helps them recapture kinetic energy when they brake, but the trip back up can be a battery killer, especially on cold days.

“I really think we are some of the most extreme EV drivers in the entire United States, living in the Adirondacks, because of all of our ups and or downs and our very cold temperatures,” Halasz said.

More than 600,000 electric vehicles are on the road in the U.S. and Canada, including models with gas engines, according to the ChargePoint network. Charging stations are unevenly distributed, with concentrations in California and populous portions of the East Coast. But backcountry electric vehicle drives are getting easier every year with more stations and better batteries.

Silke Sommerfeld and Rolf Oetter, a retired couple from British Columbia’s Vancouver Island, demonstrated that with a just-completed 21,000-mile trip around North America in their Tesla Model X. The luxury car has a listed range of 295 miles, much farther than most electric cars on the road.

Towing a camper that reduced their range, they spent months traveling east across Canada, down to Florida, west to California and back home to the Pacific Northwest. They relied on Tesla’s infrastructure of “Supercharger” stations that can power a vehicle in less than an hour. They also used campgrounds for charging in remote stretches, like between Calgary and Toronto.

“We had a few nail-biters, mainly in Canada, not so much in the U.S.,” Sommerfeld said. “But we always made it with at least one kilometer range left.”

While the Tesla Model X can cost more than $100,000, longer ranges are also becoming available in more affordable models, such as the 200-mile Chevrolet Bolt, which runs about $30,000, after a government tax credit.

“The most important thing we can do to contribute to the EV ecosystem is to deliver on a really compelling vehicle for consumers. And we’ve done that,” said Chevy spokesman Fred Ligouri.

But for many electric vehicle drivers, the issue is not miles, but hours.

It can take three hours to fully charge a car on the common “level 2” charger, which is like a clothes dryer outlet.

For Art Weaver and his wife, that means budgeting two to three hours each way for charging his Nissan Leaf on 100-mile trips from their home in New York’s Finger Lakes region to Rochester.

“Everyone thinks it’s a big deal – that you’re inevitably going to run out of electric fuel. It’s not true,” said Weaver, who lives near Ithaca. “It’s just that it can’t be a no-brainer activity anymore like finding a fossil fuel service station.”

For electric enthusiasts, the extra effort is more than balanced by the carbon-free country drives.

Pete Nelson, of the Adirondack town of Keene, charges his car at home with the help of solar panels, a sort of carbon-free double play. He is so pleased with his electric and gas Chevy Volt that he just went all-in with an electric-only Bolt.

“I love driving down these roads,” he said. “And the quiet and the lack of emissions is Zen-like.”

]]> 0 Halasz shows how she charges her electric car at her home in Saranac Lake, N.Y. Halasz has tips for "driving electric" along lonely New York Adirondack Mountains roads.Fri, 21 Apr 2017 09:39:26 +0000
GM faces hard road on Venezuela factory Thu, 20 Apr 2017 21:54:51 +0000 DETROIT — General Motors became the latest corporation to have a factory or other asset seized by the government of Venezuela, and the Detroit automaker faces an uphill battle to recover any damages.

GM said Thursday that its only factory in Venezuela was confiscated a day earlier, as anti-government protesters clashed with authorities in a country roiled by economic troubles. GM said assets such as vehicles were taken from the plant, causing the company irreparable damage.

The seizure is the latest in a long string of government confiscations of factories and other assets that have been a staple of the so-called 21st century socialist revolution in Venezuela started by the late Hugo Chavez two decades ago. Venezuela is fighting claims of illegal asset seizures at a World Bank-sponsored arbitration panel from more than 25 companies.

GM vowed to defend itself legally but getting compensated could be difficult. Under Chavez, Venezuela seized some Exxon Mobil assets. The oil giant sought compensation of $16.6 billion. The company won a $1.4 billion judgment, but earlier this year the arbitration panel determined that Venezuela had to pay only $180 million.

GM can seek compensation and damages for its lost plant in several international venues, said Nigel Blackaby, a lawyer at the Freshfields Bruckhaus Deringer law firm, which has battled Venezuela in several high-profile cases in international courts. The venue depends on what treaties, if any, govern the investment, he said. While Exxon’s case was heard by the World Bank panel, Freshfields has successfully pursued claims against Venezuela’s government before a United Nations panel.

Auto production in Venezuela has nearly ground to a halt amid the country’s economic collapse. The cash-strapped government has choked off car companies’ access to dollars needed to import parts and repatriate profits. GM’s factory in the industrial city of Valencia did not produce a single vehicle last year. Nationwide, car makers assembled just 2,849 cars in 2016, from a peak of 172,218 in 2007. Still, many car makers have stayed put in case the economy experiences a turnaround.

GM has about 2,700 workers in Venezuela, where it’s been the market leader for over 35 years. It also has 79 dealers that employ 3,900 people.

In Washington, the State Department said that it was reviewing details of the factory seizure and called on Venezuelan authorities to resolve the case “rapidly and transparently.” It said a fair judicial system is critical to economic reforms that would restore growth, but made no mention of any action the U.S. government might take.

]]> 0 Thu, 20 Apr 2017 17:54:51 +0000
State submits bill to allow surveillance of lobstermen Thu, 20 Apr 2017 19:38:29 +0000 AUGUSTA – Maine lawmakers are pushing for a bill to allow electronic surveillance on lobster boats.

WGME reported that the bill submitted by the Maine Department of Marine Resources would require lobstermen to agree to the surveillance as a condition of getting their lobster licenses.

If law enforcement believes a lobsterman is violating the law, they will first send evidence to the Department of Marine Resources. Then, the department could use surveillance equipment to record the boat’s movements. Lobstermen convicted of violating the law could have their fishing licenses suspended.

Rep. Walter A. Kumiega III, who proposed the law, says it will help catch lobstermen cheating the system. However attorney Kim Irvin Tucker says the law is “shameful” and treats lobstermen as if there were a “lawless group of people.”

]]> 0, ME - FEBRUARY 21: Josh Kane and Mark Pinkham offload lobster while docked at the Cranberry Isles Fisherman's Co-Op on Islesford after fishing off Mount Desert Rock on Tuesday, February 21, 2017. Kane is a former addict who encourages other fishermen to seek recovery treatment. (Staff Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer)Thu, 20 Apr 2017 15:42:12 +0000
Healthcare industry hires, promotions Thu, 20 Apr 2017 16:00:00 +0000 NEW HIRES
Rebecca Greenleaf, a family nurse practitioner, joined the Central Maine Family Medicine Residency in Lewiston.
Greenleaf has been practicing for six years. She previously worked at Mount Sinai Medical Center in New York and the Maine Dartmouth Family Medicine Residency in Augusta.

Promerica Health announced it has named Jennifer Rancourt as vice president of communications and compliance.
Rancourt brings a background in laboratory science, health care administration and medical device sales to Promerica Health. Most recently, she served as nursing home administrator at the Brentwood Center for Health and Rehabilitation.

Sacopee Valley Health Center hired Tiffanie Weston and Colleen Shula as family nurse practitioners.
Weston graduated from the University of Southern Maine with nursing and nurse practitioner degrees. She brings a strong background in cardiology, correctional medicine, women’s health and psychiatry. She moved back to Maine after living in Savannah, Georgia.


Shula completed her master’s degree in nursing at Seattle University in 2016. Her interests include women’s health, diabetes care, pediatrics, health promotion and preventative medicine.


Arun Thukkani, M.D., joined the staff at Central Maine Heart Associates in Lewiston.
Thukkani continued his specialized training at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston with fellowships in coronary interventional and structural heart disease interventional cardiology.

Dr. Sara Sheikh and Dr. Ali Shazib became the new owners of Kennebunk Center for Dentistry.
Sheikh teaches clinical dentistry at the University of New England.




Shazib is currently completing his oral medicine residency at Harvard School of Dental Medicine, Brigham and Women’s Hospital/ Dana Farber Cancer Center.


Guilherme Valverde is their in-house prosthodontist. She teaches aesthetic dentistry at Tufts University and has a Ph.D. in biomaterials.



Ascentria Care Alliance hired Patrick Williams as vice president of quality and compliance.
Most recently, Williams was the system director of Lean Transformation for Covenant Health. He will be based in the firm’s Westbrook office.


David Mejia was named director of education at Delta Ambulance.
He joined Delta in 2012 with extensive experience in emergency medical services and educating others.

]]> 0 SARA SHEIKHThu, 20 Apr 2017 10:12:03 +0000
Dow Chemical lobbies Trump administration to kill pesticide risk study Thu, 20 Apr 2017 14:47:51 +0000 WASHINGTON — Dow Chemical is pushing a Trump administration open to scrapping regulations to ignore the findings of federal scientists who point to a family of widely used pesticides as harmful to about 1,800 critically threatened or endangered species.

Lawyers representing Dow, whose CEO is a close adviser to Trump, and two other manufacturers of organophosphates sent letters last week to the heads of three of Trump’s Cabinet agencies. The companies asked them “to set aside” the results of government studies the companies contend are fundamentally flawed.

Dow Chemical wrote a $1 million check to help underwrite Trump’s inaugural festivities, and its chairman and CEO, Andrew Liveris, heads a White House manufacturing working group.

The industry’s request comes after EPA Administrator Scott Pruitt announced last month he was reversing an Obama-era effort to bar the use of Dow’s chlorpyrifos pesticide on food after recent peer-reviewed studies found that even tiny levels of exposure could hinder the development of children’s brains. In his prior job as Oklahoma’s attorney general, Pruitt often aligned himself in legal disputes with the interests of executives and corporations who supported his state campaigns. He filed more than a dozen lawsuits seeking to overturn some of the same regulations he is now charged with enforcing.

Donald Trump gives the pen he used to sign an executive order to Dow Chemical President, Chairman and CEO Andrew Liverisn. The Feb. 24 order mandated the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations. Liverisn was appointed to chair one of those panels. Associated Press/Pablo Martinez Monsivais

Pruitt declined to answer questions from reporters Wednesday as he toured a polluted Superfund site in Indiana. A spokesman for the agency later told AP that Pruitt won’t “prejudge” any potential rule-making decisions as “we are trying to restore regulatory sanity to EPA’s work.”

The letters to Cabinet heads, dated April 13, were obtained by The Associated Press. As with the recent human studies of chlorpyrifos, Dow hired its own scientists to produce a lengthy rebuttal to the government studies.


Over the past four years, government scientists have compiled an official record running more than 10,000 pages indicating the three pesticides under review – chlorpyrifos, diazinon and malathion – pose a risk to nearly every endangered species they studied. Regulators at the three federal agencies, which share responsibilities for enforcing the Endangered Species Act, are close to issuing findings expected to result in new limits on how and where the highly toxic pesticides can be used.

“We have had no meetings with Dow on this topic and we are reviewing petitions as they come in, giving careful consideration to sound science and good policymaking,” said J.P. Freire, EPA’s associate administrator for public affairs. “The administrator is committed to listening to stakeholders affected by EPA’s regulations, while also reviewing past decisions.”

The office of Commerce Secretary Wilbur Ross, who oversees the Natural Marine Fisheries Service, did not respond to emailed questions. A spokeswoman for Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke, who oversees the Fish and Wildlife Service, referred questions back to EPA.

The EPA’s recent biological evaluation of chlorpyrifos found the pesticide is “likely to adversely affect” 1,778 of the 1,835 animals and plants accessed as part of its study, including critically endangered or threatened species of frogs, fish, birds and mammals. Similar results were shown for malathion and diazinon.

In a statement, the Dow subsidiary that sells chlorpyrifos said its lawyers asked for the EPA’s biological assessment to be withdrawn because its “scientific basis was not reliable.”

“Dow AgroSciences is committed to the production and marketing of products that will help American farmers feed the world, and do so with full respect for human health and the environment, including endangered and threatened species,” the statement said. “These letters, and the detailed scientific analyses that support them, demonstrate that commitment.”


FMC Corp., which sells malathion, said the withdrawal of the EPA studies would allow the necessary time for the “best available” scientific data to be compiled.

“Malathion is a critical tool in protecting agriculture from damaging pests,” the company said.

Diazinon maker Makhteshim Agan of North America Inc., which does business under the name Adama, did not respond to emails seeking comment.

Environmental advocates said Wednesday that criticism of the government’s scientists was unfounded. The methods used to conduct EPA’s biological evaluations were developed by the National Academy of Sciences.

Brett Hartl, government affairs director for the Center for Biological Diversity, said Dow’s experts were trying to hold EPA scientists to an unrealistic standard of data collection that could only be achieved under “perfect laboratory conditions.”

“You can’t just take an endangered fish out of the wild, take it to the lab and then expose it to enough pesticides until it dies to get that sort of data,” Hartl said. “It’s wrong morally, and it’s illegal.”

Organophosphorus gas was originally developed as a chemical weapon by Nazi Germany. Dow has been selling Chlorpyrifos for spraying on citrus fruits, apples, cherries and other crops since the 1960s. It is among the most widely used agricultural pesticides in the United States, with Dow selling about 5 million pounds domestically each year.

As a result, traces of the chemical are commonly found in sources of drinking water. A 2012 study at the University of California at Berkeley found that 87 percent of umbilical-cord blood samples tested from newborn babies contained detectable levels of chlorpyrifos.

In 2005, the Bush administration ordered an end to residential use of diazinon to kill yard pests such as ants and grub worms after determining that it poses a human health risk, particularly to children. However it is still approved for use by farmers, who spray it on fruits and vegetables.

Malathion is widely sprayed to control mosquitoes and fruit flies. It is also an active ingredient in some shampoos prescribed to children for treating lice.


A coalition of environmental groups has fought in court for years to spur EPA to more closely examine the risk posed to humans and endangered species by pesticides, especially organophosphates.

“Endangered species are the canary in the coal mine,” Hartl said. Since many of the threatened species are aquatic, he said they are often the first to show the effects of long-term chemical contamination in rivers and lakes used as sources of drinking water by humans.

Dow, which spent more than $13.6 million on lobbying in 2016, has long wielded substantial political power in the nation’s capital. There is no indication the chemical giant’s influence has waned.

When Trump signed an executive order in February mandating the creation of task forces at federal agencies to roll back government regulations, Dow’s chief executive was at Trump’s side.

“Andrew, I would like to thank you for initially getting the group together and for the fantastic job you’ve done,” Trump said as he signed the order during an Oval Office ceremony. The president then handed his pen to Liveris to keep as a souvenir.

Rachelle Schikorra, the director of public affairs for Dow Chemical, said any suggestion that the company’s $1 million donation to Trump’s inaugural committee was intended to help influence regulatory decisions is “completely off the mark.”

“Dow maintains and is committed to the highest standard of ethical conduct in all such activity,” Schikorra said.

The AP’s Jack Gillum and Sophia Tareen contributed to this story.

]]> 0, 20 Apr 2017 11:02:33 +0000
GM halts operations in Venezuela after government seizes factory Thu, 20 Apr 2017 13:20:44 +0000 DETROIT — General Motors has stopped doing business in Venezuela after authorities took control of its only factory there in what GM called an illegal judicial seizure of its assets.

The plant was confiscated on Wednesday as anti-government protesters clashed with authorities in a country that is roiling in economic troubles such as food shortages and triple-digit inflation.

The Detroit automaker said in a statement Thursday that other assets such as vehicles were taken from the plant, causing irreparable damage to the company.

GM says the plant was taken in disregard of its right to due process. The company says it will defend itself legally and that it’s confident that justice eventually will prevail.

GM has about 2,700 workers in the troubled country, where it’s been the market leader for over 35 years. It also has 79 dealers that employ 3,900 people, and its parts suppliers make up more than half of Venezuela’s auto parts market, the company said.

If the government permits it, workers will get separation benefits “arising from the termination of employment relationships due to causes beyond the parties’ control,” the GM statement said.

Dealers will continue to service vehicles and provide parts, the company said.

GM’s Venezuelan operations have been a drag on earnings for several years. In the second quarter of 2015, the company took a $720 million charge for currency devaluation and asset valuation write-downs as the economy faltered.

South American operations, which include Venezuela, account for a relatively small portion of GM’s earnings and sales. Last year the company lost $400 million before taxes in South America, but as a whole the company made a pretax profit of $12.5 billion. GM sold just over 583,000 vehicles in the region last year, but that was only about 6 percent of its total sales.

In its 2016 fourth-quarter earnings release, the company said that its South America region “remains challenged from macro-economic and political standpoints.”

Companies have been cutting operations in Venezuela as a result of runaway inflation and strict currency controls. Last May, tire maker Bridgestone sold its business there after six decades of operating in the country.

Bridgestone joined other foreign multinationals including Halliburton, Ford Motor and Procter & Gamble who have either slowed or abandoned their investments in Venezuela.

Shares of General Motors Co. rose slightly in premarket trading.

]]> 0, 20 Apr 2017 09:25:25 +0000
Jobs in arts, culture employ 16,000 in Maine Thu, 20 Apr 2017 08:00:00 +0000 The business of arts and culture contributed more than 16,000 jobs and $764.9 million in worker income to the Maine economy in 2014, according to statistics released Wednesday by the federal Bureau of Economic Analysis.

The report is the first from the bureau, part of the U.S. Department of Commerce, to offer state-level data on jobs and compensation in the arts and culture sector. The bureau has been tracking national data in that sector for the past three years, with funding from the National Endowment for the Arts, said Thomas Dail, a public affairs specialist with the bureau.

“That number, nearly $800 million for employment, really jumped out at me,” said Julie Richard, executive director of the Maine Arts Commission. “I think it’s something we should be proud of.”

The overall number of arts and culture-related jobs in Maine – at nonprofit and for-profit organizations – decreased by 2.3 percent between 2013 and 2014, the report said. But that dip is part of a “roller coaster” trend in Maine, where arts and culture compensation goes up and down often, mirroring employment trends in other state business sectors, Richard said.

The number of people working in what the bureau defined as “core” arts and culture businesses, such as museums or performing arts companies, increased 1.2 percent and the total pay for those jobs went up by 4.9 percent. Jobs in “supporting arts and cultural production industries,” such as construction, publishing or rental companies, decreased about 3.4 percent and the compensation fell slightly, by less than 1 percent.

A fuller picture of the economic impact of Maine’s arts and culture businesses and organizations may be revealed in June, when two more studies are due out. A study from the New England Foundation for the Arts will include employment data, while one being done by Americans for the Arts will focus solely on nonprofit arts providers.

Nationally, the business of arts and culture grew for the third straight year in 2014, the most recent year for which data was available. Arts and culture-related economic activity increased 1.9 percent, when adjusted for inflation. It accounted for 4.2 percent of the gross domestic product that year, or $729.6 billion.

Arts and culture jobs increased nationally by 1.3 percent in 2014, about the same rate as in 2013. The total number of arts and culture-related jobs nationwide in 2014 was 4.8 million, or 3.3 percent of all jobs. The number of people working in industries that supported arts and cultural groups or events was about 3.58 million.

Wednesday’s report found that Maine had 16,112 full- and part-time arts and culture-related jobs, including 3,195 in core businesses and organizations. There was not a break down of how many were full time or part time, Dail said. The total compensation for Maine workers in arts and culture was listed at $764.9 million. Of that, about $157 million was compensation for people working in the core businesses, including jobs such as museum staff, actors, dancers, performing arts company staffers, agents, managers, marketers and designers. About $562 million was for people in industries supporting arts and culture business.

The report Wednesday did not rank the arts and cultural employment of each state. But it did list Washington, Arizona, Utah, Nevada and Florida, in that order, as the states with the most growth in arts and culture employment between 2013 and 2014. All had more than 3 percent growth, with Washington’s growth at 5.7 percent.

Few past studies have measured the economic impact of arts and culture on Maine. Americans for the Arts conducts an economic impact study every five years focusing on nonprofit organizations, called “Arts & Economic Prosperity.” Its 2012 report included data from Portland, and a new study set to be released June 17 will include, for the first time, statistics for Maine overall.

The 2012 Americans for the Arts report found that nonprofit arts and cultural groups in Portland spent $26.5 million, including on salaries, supplies and rent. It also found that audiences, or consumers, spent about $22.6 million, including on concessions, meals, lodging, transportation and child care. Admission prices weren’t counted as audience spending in the study, but as revenue for the arts and culture businesses.

The 2012 report also said that Portland’s arts and culture sector supported 1,535 full-time equivalent jobs and generated $35.4 million in total household income. The sector contributed $2.8 million to local government revenue and $2.9 million to the state. The 2012 report used data collected with help from local arts and culture organizations, including financial and attendance information.

The federal report released Wednesday was based on economic data gathered every five years by the U.S. Census, Dail said.

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 210-1183 or at:

Twitter: @RayRouthier

]]> 0 woman walks past the Robert Indiana sculpture “Seven” in front of the Portland Museum of Art last week. The sculpture was recently vandalized.Wed, 19 Apr 2017 23:23:21 +0000