Business – Press Herald Mon, 27 Mar 2017 08:00:47 +0000 en-US hourly 1 In a first for Maine, Scarborough and South Portland to start collecting food waste Mon, 27 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 South Portland and Scarborough are getting ready to launch Maine’s first municipal food waste collection programs.

The two pilot programs will offer free, weekly curbside pickup of food scraps such as bread, coffee grounds, dairy products and meat in select neighborhoods. Based on the results, the programs could expand in both cities, potentially providing a model for other southern Maine communities.

The goal of both pilot projects is to reduce the amount of waste sent to an incinerator or landfill. Other American cities – including San Francisco, Portland, Oregon, and Boulder, Colorado – have implemented successful food waste programs. As of 2014, nearly 200 U.S. cities had some form of food waste collection.

“This is where national leaders in waste management are trending,” said Julie Rosenbach, South Portland’s sustainability coordinator.

Food waste makes up almost 28 percent of household trash in Maine, according to a 2011 University of Maine study. In 2015, Maine towns and cities generated 1.19 million tons of solid waste. Of that, 39,659 tons, including food waste and lawn trimmings, was composted, about 3 percent of the total, according to a report in January from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Efforts to remove food and other organic waste from the state’s waste stream have grown in recent years. Towns and cities have arranged places where residents can drop off kitchen scraps, or have partnered with private companies to offer residents fixed prices for compost pickup. Organic collection companies such as Garbage-to-Garden and We Compost It! offer fee-based collection to homes and have expanded business in southern Maine in recent years.

But the South Portland and Scarborough programs go a step further by integrating food waste into regular collection of trash and recycling.


In September of last year, ecomaine, the Portland waste processing company collectively owned by more than a dozen towns and cities, began accepting food and organic waste in exchange for reduced tipping fees. The food waste is shipped to Exeter Agri-Energy, an anaerobic digester that converts organic waste and cow manure into electricity, compost and animal bedding.

“We were basically waiting for ecomaine to take food. The minute they did that we started setting up the pilot,” Rosenbach said.

Sending food to a waste-to-energy incinerator is inefficient – Rosenbach likens it to trying to fuel a campfire with oatmeal – and some food waste does not break down in landfills. Delivering it to a digester like the one in Exeter, in Penobscot County, is the highest use for the material, she said.

South Portland is testing the one-year project on about 600 households in the Knightville and Meetinghouse Hill neighborhoods. Beginning in May, every household will get a white, 6-gallon lidded bucket for disposal of food waste. Those buckets will be collected every week on the same day as trash and recycling. Residents can first put food scraps into a clear plastic bag, then that is inserted into the bucket.

Garbage-to-Garden was the winner of the three companies that bid for the new service. The company will be paid $43,700, including the cost of the bins and outreach and education services. South Portland will also have large compost bins available at its transfer station for any resident to use.

Even though tipping fees at ecomaine are slightly less for food waste than for trash – $55 a ton versus $70.50 a ton – the pilot project isn’t expected to save money, said Rosenbach. However, diverting food from the waste stream could get South Portland closer to its goal of 40 percent recycling by 2020, after hovering around 28 percent for the past seven years, she said.

“This is the largest chunk of our waste stream we can target,” Rosenbach said.

Neighboring Scarborough is trying out a nine-month pilot project for about 100 homes in the Pleasant Hill neighborhood. Residents will be given green, 35-gallon bins that will be collected every week along with either trash or recycling, said sustainability coordinator Kerry Strout. Pine Tree Waste, the company that provides collection services for the city, uses dual-body trucks and can only pick up two types of material at a time, Strout said.

Food waste collection will not add to the town’s solid waste budget, she said. Scarborough will also provide composting bins at its transfer stations for residents who are not part of the pilot program.


Travis Wagner, an environmental policy professor at the University of Southern Maine, intends to work with South Portland, Scarborough and ecomaine to analyze the data produced by the two programs. He also intends to measure how the drop-off composting bins are used at the Falmouth, Yarmouth and Cape Elizabeth transfer stations. The goal is to come up with best practices for municipal programs based on participation and cost, Wagner said.

“By looking at these different approaches, maybe other towns can glean off this and learn what works and doesn’t work,” he said.

Even though collection and disposal of food waste is in its infancy, it is likely the direction in which municipalities and private companies are headed, said Scarborough Public Works Director Mark Shaw.

“This is similar to where recycling was 10 or 15 years ago,” Shaw said.

“You’ve got to look to the future here,” he said. “The model we have for getting rid of food waste will change.”

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

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

]]> 0 Rosenbach, South Portland's sustainability coordinator, says food waste collection is the next major trend in waste management.Sun, 26 Mar 2017 21:38:27 +0000
Will New York City invite ‘Fearless Girl’ to stay on Wall Street? Mon, 27 Mar 2017 01:49:21 +0000 NEW YORK — Should the “Fearless Girl” stand up to Wall Street’s charging bull forever?

That’s the question New York City officials are facing after a statue of a ponytailed girl in a windblown dress went up in front of the bronze bull early this month and immediately became a tourist draw and internet sensation.

What was intended as a temporary display to encourage corporations to put more women on their boards is now getting a second look in light of its popularity, which has spawned an online petition seeking to keep it.

But does keeping the girl past her scheduled April 2 deadline forever alter the meaning of the bull? After all, the 11-foot-tall, 7,100-pound bull has been hugely popular in its own right; it was placed in a lower Manhattan traffic median in the wake of the 1987 stock market crash as a symbol of Americans’ financial resilience and can-do spirit.

Some fans of the bronze girl already see the bull much differently.

“The bull represents men and power,” says Cristina Pogorevici, 18, a student from Bucharest, Romania, who visited the statues this past week. “So she is a message of women’s power and things that are changing in the world right now.”

Holli Sargeant, 20, a visitor from Queensland, Australia, says the 4-foot-tall, 250-pound bronze girl “is standing up against something and we see her as a powerful image. She represents all the young women in the world that want to make a difference.”

]]> 0 "Charging Bull" and "Fearless Girl" statues stand on Lower Broadway in New York. The bull has stood as an image of the spirit of Wall Street.Sun, 26 Mar 2017 21:51:46 +0000
Maine business equips sheds with solar panels for better energy return Mon, 27 Mar 2017 01:43:28 +0000 UNITY — Matt Wagner decided one day to stop by an Amish-run business that builds mostly sheds and some tiny homes.

Wagner, who lives in Knox and is a project manager for Insource Renewables, went to Backyard Buildings in Unity to meet with a contractor, but he left with a realization.

“We had a lot of mutual interests in solar and deploying solar and doing it at a reasonable price,” Wagner said.

And so came the idea for solar sheds. They’re built just like any other shed, but feature a saltbox-style roof equipped with an array of solar panels.

So why get a solar shed instead of just adding solar panels to your roof?

“Obviously, there’s a huge benefit in the shed in that not all people’s roofs face south,” Wagner said. “To get a customer who has a perfect solar exposure and a perfectly-oriented roof isn’t extremely common.”

According to the Solar Energy Industries Association, the industry has seen an annual growth rate greater than 60 percent. That’s in part because of a federal solar investment tax credit that can enable people to claim a 30 percent credit on their income taxes when they buy a solar energy system.

In Maine, many people are drawn to solar energy because it also allows the customer to tie into the grid and send excess electricity back to the utility. Customers then get a credit on their utility bills.

Wagner said that the state is in a great place to deploy more solar power, but it’s still falling behind.

“Maine doesn’t just lag behind the Northeast, it lags behind the world,” Wagner said.

Steve Weems, executive director of the nonprofit Solar Energy Association of Maine, said getting on board with solar would help not just the environment, but also the state’s economy. Massachusetts has about 14,000 solar jobs, he said, while Maine has about 500.

“On a per capita basis, they’ve got eight times as many solar jobs as we do,” he said. If Maine caught up with Massachusetts, that would mean 4,000 new jobs.

Nationwide, one out of every 50 new jobs is in the solar industry, Weems said. “This is across the country a major growth industry,” he said. “And there aren’t many of those around these days.”

The response for solar sheds is already “pretty overwhelming,” Wagner said, even though the companies announced the new product only a little over a week ago.

Joas Hochstetler, a partner and manager of Backyard Buildings, said solar energy is common among the Amish.

“We use solar strictly in off-grid applications,” Hochstetler said, referencing off-grid solar power, which charges batteries but doesn’t feed back into the larger electrical grid. “The Amish aren’t against technology in itself. We try to reduce use to things that aren’t destructive to the Amish family and our faith.”

It’s a principle that Hochstetler said “everyone shares at some core level.”

The sheds built in Unity use materials that are almost all sourced from Maine, Hochstetler said, and the rest are manufactured in Canada. The six people who work at Backyard Buildings on Leelynn Drive construct the sheds inside a large workshop garage, which allows them to work year-round.

It takes about two days and two workers to construct a solar shed, and another day and three more people to install the solar panels, Hochstetler said. Customers can choose an off-grid or grid-tied solar energy system, which affects the price and size options. There are three sizes offered for each, along with the other options offered with every shed.

A 12-foot by 28-foot grid-tied solar shed that is on display at Backyard Buildings would start at $12,955 and generate 6,000 kilowatt hours per year.

After a solar shed is bought, Insource Renewables gives the buyer directions and offers advice on where to place the shed for sun exposure. After it’s placed, an electrician from Insource Renewables can connect the solar power to the house or a local electrician can use the directions to do the same.

Tiny solar houses, while possible, may prove more difficult to configure.

“Either the solar will have to be scaled down or the functionality of the home will be pretty low,” Hochstetler said, but the home probably wouldn’t need as much power, either.

If a roof doesn’t get enough sun exposure, that can affect the rate of return on the solar power. “The shed is pretty neat because we can, for the same cost of putting solar on your roof or pretty close to it, we can put a shed in the optimal location to optimize investment for people,” Hochstetler said.

Creating a product with a solar component was attractive to Hochstetler for two reasons, he said: the principle and the potential.

A lot of the sheds are sold to fill the “American consumerism problem,” providing more space people can fill with stuff. But attaching solar to the shed gives it another layer of meaning.

“I really love the principle of the solar shed, helping people use cleaner energy,” he said.

Madeline St. Amour can be contacted at 861-9239 or at:

Twitter: madelinestamour

]]> 0 left, Insource Renewables worker Ben Holt; Joas Hochstetler, manager of Backyard Buildings; and Matt Wagner, project manager for Insource, with his son, Ansel. Backyard Buildings makes solar-power sheds with Maine-based materials.Sun, 26 Mar 2017 21:47:00 +0000
Maine Maple Sunday a sweet success for syrup producers Sun, 26 Mar 2017 20:43:11 +0000 WINDHAM — Angie and James Horler of New Gloucester and their sons, Isaac, 9, and Joshua, 6, spend every Maine Maple Sunday at the Nash Valley Farm.

Sunday was no exception. The two boys munched on puffy mounds of maple cotton candy while their parents beamed outside the sugarhouse.

“My first Maple Sunday was when I was pregnant with Isaac, and we have come here every year since,” Angie Horler said.

The Horlers said they like to visit the Nash Valley Farm, not only because it is a tradition, but they also like the low-key atmosphere. There are hardly any lines and the operation features a sumptuous array of maple sugar products.

“And the people here are real nice,” James Horler said.

Maine Maple Sunday is a major hit with thousands of people who descend on the state’s maple syrup-making operations on the fourth Sunday of March. Some operations stretch it out over the weekend. This year, 85 sugarhouses opened their doors to the public to serve pancake breakfasts, maple syrup on snow, maple-infused baked beans and other treats.

Boilers said they expect a better-than-average season in quality and yield this year despite a topsy-turvy season, which started for some operators in January, a month early because of warm weather, then slowed to a trickle during the chilly early spring.

“It’s definitely been different. A lot of the syrup was made back in January,” said Richard Morrill, who produces about 60 gallons a year at his Nash Valley Farm.

Maine is the third-largest producer of syrup of all the states. In 2016, Maine turned out 675,000 gallons. New York was second with 707,000 gallons and Vermont first at 1,990,000 gallons. But Quebec is the maple syrup capital of the world, producing 11.1 million gallons of Canada’s 12.1 million gallon output in 2016.

Maple syrup prices range from about $55 to $63 a gallon this year.

The sap runs when temperatures drop into the 20s at night and rise into the 40s during the day. It takes about 40 gallons of sap to produce a gallon of syrup.

Maine Maple Sunday means total indulgence for some syrup lovers. Samantha Roberts of Windham stood in line for the cash register at Nash Valley Farm with seven bags of maple cotton candy.

“I will send one bag to my mother in Oregon, but the rest are mostly mine,” said Roberts, who also planned to buy some maple whoopie pies and maple pecans.

Betsy Hart of Windham said she always looks forward to Maple Sunday.

“We come here pretty much every year. It is nearby, it is easy and prices are reasonable.” Hart said of the Nash Valley Farm.

Scott Dunn talked maple syrup production nonstop Sunday at the Dunn Family Farm in Buxton, where hundreds of people stopped by for a pancake breakfast and maple syrup demonstrations.

Dunn maintains1,500 taps and has produced 71 gallons so far this season, with no end in sight as long as the current weather pattern holds.

Dunn said he sells his product by word of mouth.

“And by the honor system on the porch,” where people can pick out what they want and leave money, Dunn said.

Beth Quimby can be contacted at 791-6363 or at:

Twitter: QuimbyBeth

]]> 0 large crowd lines up to visit Cooper's Maple Products in Windham on Maine Maple Sunday. In top photo, maple syrup is for sale at Dunn Family Farm in Buxton on Maine Maple Sunday.Sun, 26 Mar 2017 19:20:42 +0000
Week in review: Alternative energy: Exploring wind power and pushing for solar incentives Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 ENERGY

Maine searches for opportunities in offshore wind power

Gov. Paul LePage’s opposition to the cost of renewable energy has stalled Maine’s chances of developing an offshore wind power industry. But this month, his acting energy director went to England to learn about the economic development and government policies around offshore wind that are creating thousands of jobs and attracting billions of dollars in investment. Angela Monroe said that while offshore wind would still be more expensive than other energy sources for Maine, wind farms planned off the coast of Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and other states could hold promise for Maine companies. Monroe was the second Maine official to take the trip in the past six months. Bruce Williamson, one of Maine’s three Public Utilities Commission members, went last fall after Patrick Woodcock, the governor’s former energy director, was unable to attend. Monroe was part of a nine-member American delegation that visited Hull, England, in early March. The city includes an area along the Humber River branded as the Humber Energy Estuary. The trip was paid for by the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and co-sponsored by the Team Humber Marine Alliance, a 200-member group of businesses that include shipping, manufacturing and ocean services. Read the story.

Advocates petition PUC to reconsider solar incentives

A coalition of organizations and businesses is petitioning the Maine Public Utilities Commission to reconsider a recent decision on solar energy billing even as they gear up for a potential court challenge. In a formal request filed Tuesday with the PUC, the petitioners argued the commissioners failed to take into account the broader interests of electricity ratepayers when they voted in January to change the compensation system for solar energy users. Instead, the petitioners said the PUC decision to gradually reduce the financial incentives offered to homeowners who install solar energy systems “are more likely to raise unnecessarily electricity costs for Maine ratepayers without any countervailing benefits.” Opponents of the PUC decision on net energy billing – or “net metering” – are pursuing a three-pronged approach to overturn a rule that they say will hurt Maine’s small but growing solar industry. Read the story.


Volume of home sales dips in February

The value of Maine real estate continued to increase in February despite a sharp decline in sales, according to the Maine Association of Realtors. The association reported a 12.5 percent jump in the median sale price for existing, detached single-family homes in February compared with a year earlier, bringing the statewide median price to $180,000. The median indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less. However, homes sales volume declined by 12.9 percent statewide. Bad weather was a major factor, association President Greg Gosselin said. The association tracks changes in home sales volume and median price on a rolling, three-month basis for Maine and its individual counties. Statewide, sales volume was up 3.1 percent from the previous year for the three-month period ending Feb. 28. The median price for the period was $185,000 – up 7.8 percent from a year earlier. Read the story.


Turbulent season in northern Gulf of Maine scallop fishery ends

Large fishing boats drag for scallops last week in the Gulf of Maine. Maine’s small boat fishermen scrambled in bad weather this season to reach their quota so the scallop grounds would be closed to the larger boats, which have no quotas under federal fishing rules. Large fishing boats drag for scallops last week in the Gulf of Maine. Maine’s small boat fishermen scrambled in bad weather this season to reach their quota so the scallop grounds would be closed to the larger boats, which have no quotas under federal fishing rules.

Fisheries regulators announced the closure Wednesday after small-boat fishermen – many of them Maine lobstermen operating 40- to 45-foot boats – met their annual quota of 70,000 pounds. This year’s federal harvest has been contentious because the large, full-time boats are believed to have caught more than 1 million pounds of scallops in the northern Gulf of Maine scallop fishing area, but owing to a quirk in federal rules the fishery could not be closed until the small vessels caught 70,000 pounds. This month’s storms and unseasonable weather had kept the small boats in port, delaying their ability to meet their annual quota and close the area to the larger vessels, who were permitted to continue harvesting large quantities of scallops under federal rules. Read the story.

Court rules rockweed harvesters need landowner’s permission

A Superior Court judge has ruled against a Canadian rockweed harvesting company in a civil case, saying that harvesters need to obtain a landowner’s permission before they can remove the seaweed growing on private intertidal property. The March 16 ruling by Justice Harold Stewart II, which could affect an growingexpanding industry in the state, applies to the entire coast of Maine and concludes that rockweed growing in the intertidal zone is privately owned property and is not owned by the state in trust for the public. The Maine Department of Marine Resources and other opponents say the court’s decision will harm the $20 million rockweed harvesting industry and is almost certain to be appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court. Read the story.


Employers head to Boston to recruit workers

A busload of Maine entrepreneurs and other businesspeople set off for Boston on Thursday afternoon, prospecting for new hires. The group of 50 was scheduled to meet with about 150 Boston-area workers Thursday night to talk up business and Maine’s amenities over Maine-brewed beer and Maine-sourced food, said Nate Wildes, director of Live + Work in Maine, a group that promotes the state to job seekers. It was the latest attempt by Maine employers frustrated by their inability to fill job vacancies, particularly for skilled workers, such as those with technical skills or college degrees. With its workforce getting older and several key industries, such as papermaking, shrinking, Maine’s labor force is in decline. The number of people either working or looking for work in Maine has shrunk from nearly 710,000 in mid-2013 to just over 690,000 in 2016. With Maine’s unemployment rate at a low 3.9 percent last year, growing companies are finding it difficult to hire workers. Read the story.

Jobless rate continues slide

Maine’s February unemployment rate of 3.2 percent is the lowest since December 2000. The most recent jobless rate was released Friday by the Maine Department of Labor. It shows that the preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 3.2 percent was down from 3.5 percent in January and 3.7 percent one year ago. The report said the rate was below 4 percent in 13 of the last 16 months, only the third time there’s been such a run in the last 40 years. Read the story.


Gorham company lands $7 million in contracts

Microwave components maker Mega Industries LLC in Gorham has received two new lucrative contracts and is expanding its workforce, the company said Tuesday. The company recently expanded its staff by 20 percent and is looking to increase by another 20 percent, it said. Mega Industries just received a $5 million contract from Sweden-based European Spallation Source and a $2 million contract from Menlo Park, California-based Stanford Linear Accelerator Laboratory. The company manufactures high-power microwave transmission equipment for research and commercial uses. It achieved record revenue in 2016, up more than 32 percent from the previous year, according to a news release. Read the story.

]]> 0 horse and driver train at Scarborough Downs last fall. Managers of Scarborough Downs confirmed Friday that they are under contract to be sold to a developer. The nearly 500-acre harness-racing facility has been for sale since last year. Its current operators say the 66-year-old track has been crippled by dwindling profits and attendance, increasing competition from casinos and online gambling, crumbling facilities and continuing controversy with horse owners and trainers. (Staff photo by Kelley Bouchard)Fri, 24 Mar 2017 17:13:56 +0000
Michelle Singletary: No, you can’t claim your dog as a dependent Sun, 26 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Given how much we spend on our family dog Simba, he’s like a dependent. Thank goodness he doesn’t have to go to college, although we did put him through training school.

All the food, grooming and veterinary expenses add up. As a country, we spend about $63 billion on our pets, according to the American Pet Products Association.

So as my husband and I prepare our taxes, the thought crossed our minds: Could we claim Simba?

Apparently we’re not alone. A survey by software maker Xero of 900 accounting partners found that pets are the most asked-about deduction topic.

But nope, your bulldog Napoleon is not a dependent. In general, you can’t deduct expenses for your pooch. (There are a few exceptions, such as for service dogs.)

Of course, my husband and I were only joking. Yet some people do test the agency when it comes to deductions.

I asked members of the California Society of Certified Public Accountants to dish about the crazy deductions clients have tried to get past them.

Here are some of their stories:

“My favorite was seeing Victoria’s Secret listed as a vendor in the uniform expense account for one of my clients,” said Andrew M. Porter, a CPA practicing in Lafayette. “I could not resist asking what sorts of uniforms his employees wore that came from Victoria’s Secret. Needless to say, the client did not end up taking that deduction.”

Lawrence Pon, a CPA in Redwood City, dropped a shady client who wanted to cheat on his tax return.

“Her favorite expression was ‘How will they know?'” Pon said. “She didn’t let the facts get in the way of the conclusions she wanted. Another favorite expression of hers was ‘What can I get away with?'”

The client once chopped down a tree that was blocking her view. Unfortunately for her, the tree belonged to the city, and she was fined $45,000.

“She wanted to deduct this as a charitable contribution,” Pon said. “My office was so glad to get rid of her.”

Mitchell Freedman, a CPA in Westlake Village, said numerous clients ask him if they could put money in foreign bank accounts to avoid paying taxes. That would be a “no.”

Freedman said he has many clients in the performing and creative arts who ask if they can deduct every item of clothes that they purchase as a wardrobe expense.

That would also be a “no.”

Mary Kay Foss, a CPA in Danville, says she’s known folks who create corporations or partnerships so that they can report payments to the entities as business deductions.

Janet Lee Krochman, a Costa Mesa CPA, shared two “nightmare stories.”

Once Krochman was reviewing the prior year return of a potential new client and noticed some funky accounting going on. Cash from the client’s business (on a weekly or biweekly basis) was taken to the bank and turned into cashier’s checks, which were then put into a safe-deposit box.

The potential client was attempting to deduct expenses without reporting all of the business revenue. “When I asked the potential client if they were aware that they were cheating on their taxes, their answer was yes and that ‘everybody did it.’ “

She did not take on the client.

Finally there was the daycare provider whose family appeared not to eat.

Krochman had a client whose personal returns she had been doing for years. She was asked to do the business tax return for the client’s new daycare center. The client was using an accounting program to keep track of revenue and expenses, and she trusted the figures.

But the return was audited and the auditor noticed something odd while reviewing the business and personal checking accounts.

“He asked, ‘Where is the family’s personal food purchases?’ ” Krochman recalled.

The client claimed his family only used cash to buy food and didn’t have receipts. But the food expenses for the daycare were very high. The auditor figured out that the client was funneling the personal expenses through the daycare business. The client ended up having to pay $30,000 in fees and penalties.

“The audit with this client happened very early in my career and taught me a lesson, which led to my office policy of working with clients on their recordkeeping throughout the year,” Krochman said.

Needless to say, that client was let go after the audit.

“Before I finished with the client, I asked, ‘Why did you do what you did?’ she said. “Again, the response was ‘Everybody does it.’ He just had not planned on being caught.”

Michelle Singletary can be contacted at:

Twitter: SingletaryM

]]> 0 Sun, 26 Mar 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Harbor Freight will join growing Pine Tree Mall in Waterville Sat, 25 Mar 2017 22:45:26 +0000 WATERVILLE — Construction of a 6,384-square-foot addition to Pine Tree Mall at 369 Main St. will start soon to make way for a Harbor Freight tools and equipment retail store.

Meanwhile, an announcement is expected soon about a restaurant to be housed in the former Friendly’s restaurant nearby in that same area of upper Main Street, near Exit 130 of Interstate 95.

Harbor Freight, with headquarters in Calabasas, California, carries power, air and hand tools, as well as floor jacks, gas generators, welding equipment, winches and tool storage items, among other things.

The addition will be built onto the north end of the mall where the former 8,691-square-foot Aaron’s rental store is located, and Harbor Freight will include that space as well as the addition, for a total of 15,075 square feet.

Project broker Charlie Craig, a partner in the Dunham Group, of Portland, said Friday that officials hope to break ground in April or May and complete construction about three months afterward – by the end of the summer.

Founded in 1977, Harbor Freight has 700 stores in 47 states and employs more than 17,000 people. In Maine, Harbor Freight has stores in South Portland, Bangor and Auburn.

Craig also is brokering a lease for the former Friendly’s building west of the mall. He said he expects a new tenant to be named within a month.

“There is announcement forthcoming – a new tenant for the former Friendly’s,” he said. “It’s a restaurant that likely will be very popular.”

Businesses in the Pine Tree Mall include the Ming Lee restaurant and Advance Auto Parts. The Cigaret Shopper on nearby Armory Road also is part of the development, which is owned by Sanderson Development. Craig said two more buildings are available for lease on the lot – the former Jiffy Lube and a 39,000-square-foot warehouse at 10 Armory Road that is the former Huhtamaki machine shop.

Amy Calder can be contacted at 861-9247 or at:

Twitter: AmyCalder17

]]> 0 announcement is expected soon about a restaurant occupying the former Friendly's restaurant on upper Main Street in Waterville.Sat, 25 Mar 2017 20:03:19 +0000
Federal aid sought to boost business plans in Winthrop Sat, 25 Mar 2017 20:58:04 +0000 Two established Winthrop business owners are hoping to expand their offerings in the next year and are seeking assistance through a federal economic development program.

Kimberly Stoneton, the owner of Bloom Salon on Main Street, hopes to open a new coffee shop next door to her salon, in an empty storefront on Main Street.

Ryan Chamberland, who owns and teaches classes at United Fitness & Martial Arts Studio on Route 133, plans to launch at least two new offerings: a martial arts class for central Mainers with physical and mental disabilities and a fitness class for home-schooled children.

Both Stoneton and Chamberland have been working with the town to secure funding through the federal Community Development Block Grant program, which helps cities with economic development needs.

A public hearing about both projects will be April 3 at a Winthrop Town Council meeting.

Stoneton said she plans to go forward with the new coffee shop even if she doesn’t receive the $30,000 community development grant.

Chamberland is applying for $50,000 in block grant funding to help cover the costs of repairs and renovations to United Fitness & Martial Arts Studio

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

]]> 0 ChamberlandSat, 25 Mar 2017 21:19:42 +0000
Report: Union at Bath Iron Works investigating allegations of missing funds Sat, 25 Mar 2017 03:49:27 +0000 A spokesman for the largest union at Bath Iron Works confirmed it is investigating allegations of missing funds in Local S6 of the machinists’ union.

Jonathan Battaglia of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers told WCSH-TV on Friday that the investigation is ongoing. He wouldn’t disclose the amount of money in question.

Battaglia said the internal investigation is progressing quickly, but couldn’t say when it would be completed.

]]> 0 Sat, 25 Mar 2017 00:18:08 +0000
Flight Deck Brewing takes off at Brunswick Landing Sat, 25 Mar 2017 00:09:48 +0000 BRUNSWICK — On the Friday after Valentine’s Day, Nate Wildes and Jared Entwistle, co-owners of Flight Deck Brewing, decided to have a “soft opening.” They assumed a few dozen people would come to it.

More than 500 showed up.

In the next six days, they served over 5,000 people, and continue to work full-tilt to keep up with the demand. A small bed stuffed in the corner of their office is evidence enough of the 100-plus-hour weeks both have been pulling.

“Oh, to be wanted,” Wildes said with a laugh.

The demand for beer from the new brewery located at Brunswick Landing has far outstripped expectations, to the point the pair’s plans for distributing some of their beer locally have been put on the back burner.

“We have not distributed one keg of beer, and not distributed one bottle of beer, because we have not been able to brew enough for just the tasting room,” Wildes said.

Originally, the soft opening was intended to test whether the building was ready for the public. Built in the former small arms range that served Brunswick Naval Air Station, the rectangular bullet-proof box of concrete brought its own set of challenges and benefits.

Challenges such as cutting windows into the foot-thick walls. Benefits like being able to put those windows basically wherever they wanted.

The result is a well-lit, open space with towering ceilings. Walls that were once thick concrete slabs have been opened up with floor-to-ceiling windows and a set of massive doors that can be opened when the weather is warmer. The industrial-sized beer cooler is made out of the garage doors that were once on the former base’s fire station.

Bare concrete walls – which still carry bullet holes from its former purpose – coupled with stainless steel brewing tanks and wooden tables give the place a distinctly modern industrial feel.

“People have complimented us on our ‘industrial chic’ decor,” Wildes said. “In reality, it looks like it does largely because of the building.”

Other bits of decor reference the days when Brunswick Landing was still the naval air station. Hats, photos of military life, and other paraphernalia dot the walls. All of the pieces of history were unsolicited donations from former Navy personnel.

While Wildes tends to handle the marketing of the business, Entwistle is the man behind the beer. At the grand opening on March 16, Flight Deck offered five different beers of distinct styles: Hibiscus Tea, a light beer; P-3 Pale Ale; 44th Parallel IPA; Pilots Porridge Oatmeal Stout; and Rye Wing Porter.

“My philosophy has kind of been, we wanted to start out with a wide variety of old-style beers that people really know and like,” Entwistle said. “It’s the motto of easy drinkable beers that someone, no matter who it is, is going to like it.”

Entwistle started brewing 10 years ago in college on a much smaller scale, basically as a way to get cheaper beer. “I fell in love with the process of it all, and it really became a passion of mine. I did it throughout college, and I’ve always wanted to own a bar brewery area,” he said.

Despite the smashing success of the opening weeks, Wildes said their vision for a brewery in Brunswick hasn’t been without criticism. Questions like whether Maine – which has over 90 breweries – can really support another one have been thrown their way.

Wildes said they have no fear that they’ll be a success, as brewing has entered a different era from the former “build big, brew big” models.

“It’s just like the coffee shop model of 30 years ago,” he said. Criticism of coffee shops then was similar, with many people wondering whether an area really needed more than one coffee shop.

The massive early customer numbers, and the huge attendance of the grand opening, certainly assuage any ideas that another brewery isn’t needed in Maine. Hundreds of people packed into the tasting room to toast Flight Deck at their ribbon cutting, including U.S. Sen. Angus King.

“Who would have ever thought there would be an economic development boom for beer in Maine?” King said to the crowd. He praised the growing industry that is becoming self-sufficient, with Maine farmers growing ingredients used by many breweries.

King said a bar he recently visited in Washington was carrying six Maine beers out of the eight they had on tap.

Flight Deck Brewing is located at 11 Atlantic Ave., Brunswick Landing. Hours are noon to 7 p.m. Wednesday and Thursday; 11 a.m. to 8 p.m. Friday and Saturday; and 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday. For more information, visit

]]> 0 Entwistle, one of the two co-owners, is the man behind the beer for the new Flight Deck Brewing at Brunswick Landing. The brewery held its grand opening on March 16.Fri, 24 Mar 2017 20:58:54 +0000
Maine internet providers blast Senate vote to strip customers’ privacy protection Sat, 25 Mar 2017 00:05:08 +0000 The heads of two Maine-based internet service providers blasted an ongoing congressional effort to repeal privacy protections for their customers Friday, saying it is wrongheaded and an invasion of privacy.

Sen. Susan Collins joined her Republican colleagues Thursday in voting to overturn landmark privacy protections for broadband internet customers, making it easier for internet service providers to collect, sell and share detailed information about individuals’ web browsing, app usage, personal movements and internet search terms without their consent.

The vote broke along party lines, with 52 Republicans voting in favor of repealing the protections. Sen. Angus King, an independent who caucuses with the Democrats, voted against it.

Fletcher Kittredge, founder and CEO of Biddeford Internet Corp., which does business as GWI, said the vote was “absolutely appalling” and a threat to everyone who uses the internet.

“This is very, very bad,” he said. “Your ISP can look at your traffic and discover the most intimate details of your life, and selling that information will ultimately be more valuable than selling the internet connection, which is something libertarians and civil libertarians ought to worry about, especially as the government and hackers will ultimately have access to it.”

The House, which also is controlled by Republicans, is expected to take up the measure early next week.

The privacy protections, which were to go into effect later this year, would require that internet providers obtain permission from subscribers before sharing or selling data on their users’ browsing, internet use, geo-location history and other information. Currently, broadband providers can collect all of that information unless a user tells them not to collect it.

The adoption of the rules in October by the Federal Communications Commission was bitterly opposed by major internet providers like Comcast, AT&T and Verizon Communications, which argued they would result in higher costs for consumers because they would reduce the opportunity to profit from the sale of precision-targeted advertising.

But Kittredge and the head of a Machias-based internet provider, Susan Corbett of Axiom, disagree with their national competitors, saying the measures are a clear threat to their customers. They note that internet providers – unlike web services like Google or Facebook – have the ability to collect the full picture of everything you do, from the video feed of your smart television to what disease you just looked up on the internet.

“As an internet service provider we have access to individual’s data, where and how they surf the web, the sites they frequent and other important information most customers would be uncomfortable sharing,” Corbett said in an email. “We believe customers have a right to know if a company is selling or using their data in a way that invades their privacy and should be given a choice to decide for themselves.”

Kittredge said the situation will get worse with the continued expansion of the “internet of things,” where cars, household appliances, home security cameras, baby monitors, and other devices become connected to the internet.

“If you’re monitoring someone’s web connection, you know what they think, who they associate with and every intimate detail about them,” he said. “When you add access to video and audio feeds of what is going on in the house, they will know more about you than you know about yourself.”

He said history suggests all that data, if collected by your internet service provider, will be available to the government and hackers, and for sale. “I’m sure my competitors are seeing dollar signs, but in the long run I think it’s a really bad idea because it reduces the value of an internet connection when you can’t trust your ISP.”

He said his company would collect and sell such information “over my dead body,” but it puts GWI at a competitive disadvantage against its competitors.

He also said he found it “deeply upsetting” that Collins voted for the measure. “As a Republican who is very close to becoming a former Republican, this goes against every principle and precept I thought the party had.”

Collins spokeswoman Annie Clark defended Collins’ vote in a statement to the Portland Press Herald, saying that the Obama administration’s “new so-called ‘privacy’ rule” had “created an inconsistent, confusing standard.”

“This new rule put extensive restrictions on internet service providers like Verizon and Comcast, while leaving much less strict standards in place for edge providers like Google and Facebook,” Clark said. “This inconsistency created confusion for consumers, competitive disadvantages for internet service providers, and limited broadband innovation without ensuring privacy for internet users. Therefore, Senator Collins voted to eliminate this misguided rule and looks forward to internet privacy rules that apply consistently to all providers.”

But Kittredge says that argument doesn’t hold water, for two reasons: First, he said, you can avoid using Facebook or Google, but everyone has to have an internet provider. Second, internet providers like his company collect everything, whereas web service providers like Google and Facebook have only a partial picture of an individual’s online activity.

“An ISP sees everything and can put it all together and draw inferences,” he said. “If you’re worried about inconsistency then the thing to do is apply the same rules to Google and Facebook, not say, ‘Geez, someone else is robbing you, so our remedy is to allow everyone to rob you.”

King’s spokesman issued a statement on the senator’s vote that echoed many of the same points.

“Broadband providers can see nearly everything that someone does online, from what sites they access to where they are physically located when they do it, which is why Senator King believes that they must be required to obtain a person’s consent before sharing that data with third-parties,” spokesman Scott Ogden said in an email.

He said King understands the concerns of those looking for consistent standards, but noted that repealing the rule does not accomplish it, since the Federal Trade Commission, the agency that regulates web services like Google, has no jurisdiction over internet providers.

“The result will be that broadband subscribers are left with no privacy or data security protections at all, and he thinks that’s a mistake that will compromise the personal information of millions of Americans,” Ogden said.

The cable industry’s trade association applauded the repeal, describing it as a “step toward reversing the FCC’s misguided approach” and “restoring a consistent approach to online privacy that consumers want and deserve.”

The Republican sponsor of the bill and President Trump’s new FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, have both said that the rules are onerous, and that it is unfair that internet providers would face these regulations when web companies like Google or Facebook do not.

“It’s unnecessary, confusing, and adds another innovation-stifling regulation,” bill sponsor Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Arizona, said when he introduced the measure last fall.

Civil liberties groups have opposed the effort to repeal the privacy rules.

“We’re disappointed that the Senate – including Senator Collins – voted against protecting the basic privacy of Mainers and all constituents in favor of protecting corporate profit,” said Oamshri Amarasingham, advocacy director of the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine. “We believe we should have to consent to sharing sensitive information with the rest of the world when we use the internet. We hope that the House will stop this from moving forward.”

Rep. Chellie Pingree of Maine, D-1st District, said she will oppose repealing the regulations when the bill comes before the House.

“It is unconscionable that the House and Senate leadership have chosen to make repealing broadband consumer privacy rights a top legislative priority in Congress when there is so much to be done to bring broadband access to Americans,” Pingree said via email. “I do not support this invasive resolution and strongly believe that internet service providers should not be given a blank check to collect data on their customers just to help companies boost their advertising.”

A spokesman for Maine’s other House member, Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, said he was undecided.

“The congressman will closely review the legislation if it is brought up in the House,” Brendan Conley said via email. “He wants to ensure that the internet remains a level playing field where consumers are protected consistently across the internet and gaps in consumer protection are not created.”

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

]]> 0 cost of wired Internet service is a major obstacle for poor and working-class Americans. Proposed regulatory changes could help by encouraging competition and lowering prices.Fri, 24 Mar 2017 23:40:42 +0000
Comcast reported to gain rights to online TV Fri, 24 Mar 2017 22:55:38 +0000 Comcast has acquired rights from cable network owners to offer their channels nationwide, according to people familiar with the negotiations, giving the biggest U.S. cable operator a backup plan if rival online-TV services catch on with consumers.

The rights allow Comcast to sell video service for the first time outside its regional territories, which include Chicago, Boston and Philadelphia, said the people, who asked not to be identified discussing private information.

In most cases, Comcast acquired the rights through “most favored nation” clauses in contracts, which let the company sell channels in the same places as new online distributors. Since Comcast doesn’t sell traditional cable-TV service in markets like New York and Los Angeles, the rights mean the company could presumably offer a package of channels as an online-streaming service in those cities.

In some scenarios, Comcast asked for the rights as part of broader carriage negotiations with programmers. For now at least, Comcast has no plans to offer a video service nationwide because it still sees opportunity to gain cable-TV subscribers in its footprint, according to a person close to the company.

“When you really try to evaluate the business model, we have not seen one that really gives us confidence that this is a real priority for us,” Matt Strauss, Comcast’s executive vice president for video services, said at a conference in November. “There is significantly more upside and profitability in going deeper and deeper into our base first versus following a video-only offering OTT,” he said, using the industry term for nationwide online video.

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 18:55:38 +0000
Stocks wobble, finish mixed Fri, 24 Mar 2017 22:48:54 +0000 NEW YORK — U.S. stocks flirted with sharp losses but managed a mixed finish after Republicans canceled a vote on their health care bill because it became clear the bill would fail. Hospital stocks soared in response, while companies that stand to benefit from other Trump proposals faltered.

For the second day in a row, stocks started higher and wilted as it became clear the health care bill was in trouble. The Dow Jones industrial average plunged as much as 126 points in afternoon trading on reports of the bill’s impending failure, although Wall Street cut its losses after the vote was canceled. Consumer-focused companies like Nike, Starbucks and clothing company PVH rose.

The health care act became something of a proxy for the rest of the Trump agenda and it dominated the market for most of this week. It was the worst week for stocks since the week before the presidential election. Banks and small-company stocks, which made huge gains after Trump was elected, both suffered their biggest losses in more than a year.

President Trump and other Republican leaders said they were moving on from health care, and Michael Scanlon, a portfolio manager for Manulife Asset Management, said investors will be glad if that happens.

“You’re going to see a very quick pivot to corporate tax reform,” he said. A corporate tax cut could give stocks a large boost by increasing profits, and it might also raise tax revenue. After the close of trading, House Speaker Paul Ryan said Republicans will proceed with tax reform proposals, but acknowledged the health care debacle will make that task more difficult.

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index finished down 1.98 points, or 0.1 percent, at 2,343.98. The Dow lost 59.86 points, or 0.3 percent, to 20,596.72 as Goldman Sachs and Boeing sank. Technology companies inched higher and the Nasdaq composite rose 11.04 points, or 0.2 percent, to 5,828.74. The Russell 2000 index of smaller-company stocks added 1.22 points, or 0.1 percent, to 1,354.64.

Trading was relatively light as investors waited for answers about the state of Trump’s business-friendly agenda. That may have contributed to the big fluctuations.

Hospitals and insurers that do a lot of business with Medicaid celebrated the demise of the bill. HCA Holdings, the largest U.S. hospital company, climbed $2.87, or 3.5 percent, to $86.04, and Community Health Systems jumped 84 cents, or 9.7 percent, to $9.54. Among Medicaid-focused companies, Centene and Molina Healthcare each gained about 5 percent.

The American Health Care Act likely would have left more Americans uninsured and would make big changes to Medicaid, a joint federal-state health program for low-income Americans. Those stocks fell when the bill was introduced because investors were concerned hospitals would have to take in more patients who lack insurance and that insurers would get less money from Medicaid.

Insurance companies slumped. Cigna fell $3.36, or 2.3 percent, to $142.82 and Anthem shed $2.63, or 1.6 percent, to $126.77.

With Trump and majority Republicans unable to pass the first big item on their agenda, there were some signs of concern that his proposals of tax cuts, infrastructure spending and regulatory cuts will take longer. Those are aspects of Trump’s proposed agenda Wall Street is excited about.

Vulcan Materials, a construction materials maker, sank $2.65, or 2.3 percent, to $112.74. Steel maker Nucor declined $1.50, or 2.4 percent, to $59.76. Construction and machinery companies also stumbled. Engine maker Cummins shed $1.45, or 1 percent, to $150.77 and Boeing sank $1.44 to $175.82.

Scanlon, of Manulife, said investors want Trump and Congress to come up with a real proposal that changes corporate taxes.

“Something needs to be done with a permanent solution, not just one of these holiday things,” he said, because “the goal is to be a stimulus for domestic investment.”

Bond prices rose slightly. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note fell to 2.41 percent from 2.42 percent.

U.S. crude oil futures rose 27 cents to $47.97 a barrel in New York. Brent crude, used to price international oils, added 24 cents to $50.80 a barrel in London.

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 18:48:54 +0000
Agreement signed to build greenhouses near biomass plant Fri, 24 Mar 2017 19:47:43 +0000 HALLOWELL — Acres of peppers could be growing in greenhouses adjacent to the Stored Solar biomass power plant in West Enfield next year if an agreement between the plant’s owners and one of the largest greenhouse pepper growers in North America comes to fruition.

The greenhouses would use electricity, as well as heat and carbon dioxide emitted from the plant, to grow the crop and provide Stored Solar with a new source of revenue that would make the generator profitable.

The venture would be an example of how Maine’s forest industry is working to diversify and find new uses for obsolete, wood-fired power plants and closed paper mills.

A letter of intent has been signed with the grower to erect up to 60 acres of greenhouses, according to William Harrington, Stored Solar’s director. Harrington also provided a few details about the company’s plans for a potential shrimp farm, possibly at a second biomass power plant in Jonesboro, and a biorefinery that would make diesel fuel, at a now-closed paper mill in East Millinocket.

Harrington made his comments during a presentation at a conference called The New Forest Economy – Biobased Power, Products and Fuels. Co-hosted by E2Tech and GrowSmart Maine, it brought together industry experts and policymakers to examine the challenges and opportunities in transforming a struggling industry essential to the well-being of rural Maine.


After his presentation, Harrington confirmed to the Portland Press Herald that the greenhouse company is Nature Fresh Farms of Leamington, Ontario.

Nature Fresh is one of Canada’s largest independent greenhouse produce growers. The company has been building a massive greenhouse complex for growing tomatoes in Delta, Ohio, next to a steel factory that produces excess heat and carbon dioxide. The first 15-acre phase was built in 2015.

Chris Veillon, marketing director for Nature Fresh, confirmed Friday that the company has been in discussions to build greenhouse facilities in Maine, but declined to provide details.

Harrington said West Enfield is a good location for a greenhouse because it’s less than a day’s drive from supermarkets in Boston and New York. In Madison, the Backyard Farms hydroponic tomato greenhouse has been supplying grocers in the region for 10 years. It covers 42 acres and has roughly 175 workers.

But to achieve its vision of sustainability and job creation, Stored Solar is going to have to work through some short-term problems.

Loggers who supply the biomass plants stopped delivering wood chips this month because they weren’t getting paid on time. Harrington declined to discuss that issue, which currently is under review by the Maine Public Utilities Commission. But Dana Doran, executive director of the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, said Friday it was his understanding that Stored Solar and the affected loggers were meeting and trying to resolve the matter.

“Hopefully the discussions are positive,” he said. “We would like to see (Stored Solar) be successful.”

Along with another biomass power producer, Stored Solar is sharing a $13 million state subsidy meant to prop up the sector while it finds ways to make the plants profitable. The money is expected to last up to two years. During a question period after his presentation, Harrington said his company intends to do that by finding partners who can use the heat created from generating electricity.

Aside from the greenhouse operations, Harrington also said Stored Solar is talking to a shrimp farm venture.

In his presentation, Harrington referenced tentative plans for an experienced shrimp farmer who could produce 10,000 pounds a year in tanks located in covered buildings, using the power plant heat.

He also said he has been meeting with officials in East Millinocket about plans to turn the closed paper mill there into a biorefinery capable of producing 33 million gallons a year of biodiesel. The Penobscot Biorefinery Project, as it’s known, would come on line by 2020. The project, however, would hinge on federal loan subsidies and gaining title to the mill property. The company is in the midst of a court dispute with the current owner, North American Recovery Management.

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or


]]> 0 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 22:00:25 +0000
Maine blueberry growers cut back amid falling prices Fri, 24 Mar 2017 18:33:55 +0000 HARRINGTON — Dozens of blueberry growers in Maine are facing another year of predicted low prices and are cutting back to survive.

Maine is the largest wild blueberry-producing state in the country.

While a pound of berries was worth $1.09 a decade ago, the Maine Public Broadcasting Network reports prices paid at freezer facilities to growers have fallen into the pennies per pound. That’s roughly half the cost of production.

Experts with the Maine Cooperative Extension say cultivated, or “high bush,” blueberries are traditionally a fresh market fruit. Wild, or “low bush” blueberries are tradiontially a processed fruit. They say other countries have recently boosted cultivated berry efforts, which are now competing with wild berries.

Maine growers say they’re cutting workforce, fertilizer and bees, among other things.

]]> 0 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 14:33:55 +0000
Massachusetts developer poised to buy Scarborough Downs for project that may include racetrack Fri, 24 Mar 2017 17:32:58 +0000

Scarborough Downs with horse barns in foreground, in 2001. File photo/Gordon Chibroski,

SCARBOROUGH — Scarborough Downs, the struggling center of Maine’s harness racing industry, is under contract to be purchased by a Massachusetts developer who specializes in distressed properties and mixed-use projects.

Thom Powers of Cohasset is leading a group of investors from the Boston area and Maine who are interested in redeveloping the 483-acre tract in the center of town for residential, commercial and recreational uses.

Though Scarborough Downs has been for sale for years, and other developers have shown interest, this is the first time the owners have signed a purchase agreement to sell the entire property, said Mike Sweeney, spokesman for the Downs.

Powers said he’d like to keep the racetrack operating if he can make the numbers work, but he has no interest in trying to develop a casino there. Several legislative and referendum efforts to get slot machines and game tables at the Downs have failed.

“We are not chasing the whole casino angle,” Powers said by phone Friday. “That has been the Achilles’ heel historically.”

The property was listed for $7.5 million. Powers declined to say what he has agreed to pay for it.

Stretching from Route 1 to Payne Road, near Exit 42 of the Maine Turnpike, Scarborough Downs is owned by Sharon Terry, widow of former owner Joe Ricci, and operated by her daughter Denise Terry.

When the Terrys decided last fall to sell the entire property, Denise Terry told the Press Herald that the racetrack was being snuffed out by dwindling profits and attendance, increasing competition from casinos and online gambling, crumbling facilities that have drawn recent scrutiny from government officials, and continuing controversy with horse owners and trainers.

“I feel like I’m being held underwater,” she said in November. “How long can you survive without breathing?”


Powers formed Scarborough Downs Development LLC in Maine in January and signed the purchase agreement on March 1. He’s been living here weekdays while he does the due diligence necessary to complete the purchase. He has met with city officials and local residents to assess the property’s potential.

“It’s a big deal and it’s complicated and we’re just getting started,” Powers said. “We’re very interested by it, but it’s too preliminary to talk about it in much detail at this point.”

Drivers pick up the pace at the start of a harness race at Scarborough Downs in 2016. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

Town Manager Tom Hall said Powers has met with him and several other town officials to learn about the planned development zone that the town passed for the Downs property in 2013. The special zoning allows a wide variety of private and municipal uses in the hope of creating a village center in a town that doesn’t have one. It also requires the developer to submit a master plan for town approval.

“It’s very exciting to have the entire property under contract rather than see it developed piecemeal,” Hall said Friday. “I do get the sense that something is different about this developer.”

Powers’ company, Powers Realty, Development & Consulting, is an independent firm that specializes in distressed asset recovery, acquisition, construction and property management.

His projects include Old Colony Square at Cohasset Station, a mixed-use, pedestrian-friendly property that was developed in 2010 beside a new rail station about 20 miles south of Boston. The $15 million project featuring 16 luxury apartments above 32,000 square feet of first-floor retail space incorporated design elements of a New England main street.

“This is really the sort of thing Thom Powers does,” Powers said.


Powers acknowledged that the Downs property could meet a variety of needs for the wider community, including housing and recreation. He also noted that about a quarter of the parcel is wetlands, and the racetrack, grandstand, horse barns and other facilities are suffering from “functional obsolescence and deferred maintenance.”

Foot traffic is light in the lower grandstand at Scarborough Downs during a live racing card in November. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“It’s the center of the town and it’s been neglected for a long while,” Powers said. Keeping the racetrack going likely would require a significant investment in capital improvements, he said.

Tim Powers, who is president of the Maine Harness Horsemen’s Association and no relation to the developer, told WCSH6-TV Friday that he hopes racing will continue at the track, but he said group members are making contingency plans in case it doesn’t.

Sweeney, the Downs’ spokesman, said the owners also hope Powers will maintain the racetrack, which opens for the 2017 season Saturday. It will host eight races each Saturday and Sunday through the first week in December, with a 1:30 p.m. post time each day.

“Our focus will continue to be on live harness racing,” Sweeney said.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at 791-6328 or at:

]]> 0 pick up the pace at the start of a harness race at Scarborough Downs in 2016.Sat, 25 Mar 2017 00:32:50 +0000
Maine’s cod fishermen have worst year ever Fri, 24 Mar 2017 15:23:26 +0000 ROCKPORT — The cod isn’t so sacred in New England anymore.

The fish-and-chips staple was once a critical piece of New England’s fishing industry, but the catch is plummeting to all-time lows in the region. The decline of the fishery has made the U.S. reliant on foreign cod, and cod fish fillets and steaks purchased in American supermarkets and restaurants are now typically caught by Norway, Russia or Iceland in the North Atlantic.

In Maine, which is home to the country’s second-largest Atlantic cod fishery, the dwindling catch has many wondering if cod fishing is a thing of the past.

“It’s going to be more and more difficult for people to make this work,” said Maggie Raymond, executive director of the Associated Fisheries of Maine.

State records say 2016 was historically bad for cod fishing in Maine. Fishermen brought less than 170,000 pounds of the fish to land in the state last year.

The haul was below the previous record low of about 250,000 pounds a year earlier. Maine’s record year for cod was 1991, when fishermen brought more than 21 million pounds of cod to the docks, according to records that date to 1950.

The Sacred Cod is the nickname of a wood carving of the fish that hangs in the Massachusetts State House. That state remains the center of the nation’s Atlantic cod fishery, but the business is in jeopardy there, too. Catch fell from nearly 100 million pounds in 1980 to less than 3 million in 2015.

The catch of cod in Maine, and elsewhere in New England, has fallen in the face of increasingly meager quotas allowed by the federal government. The government’s catch limit in the Gulf of Maine has fallen from more than 18 million pounds in 2011 to about 1 million pounds last year.

New Hampshire fishermen brought more than 2 million pounds of cod to land in 1997. That dropped to 44,701 pounds in 2015. Rhode Island’s total dropped from 474,908 pounds to 138,891 pounds from 1997 to 2015.

The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration released an assessment of the Gulf of Maine cod stock in 2014 that said the spawning population was at its lowest point in the history of the study of the fish. Scientists have cited years of overfishing and inhospitable environmental conditions as possible reasons for the decline.

A new assessment is taking place this year, said Jamie Cournane, groundfish plan coordinator for the New England Fishery Management Council, which regulates fisheries under NOAA.

Cod are considered groundfish, which are fish that live near the ocean bottom. Several types of groundfish, including haddock, sole and halibut, have high economic value. The low quotas for cod are problematic for New England fishermen because they must also stop fishing for other valuable species once they reach their cod limit.

U.S. fishermen primarily fish for cod in the Gulf of Maine and Georges Bank, which are major fishing areas off of New England. Georges Bank has also seen steep cod quota cuts in recent years.

“We did not see any positive news for recruitment, which led to those reductions that industry is facing right now,” Cournane said.

]]> 0, 24 Mar 2017 18:16:07 +0000
Maine’s unemployment rate drops to 3.2 percent, lowest since December 2000 Fri, 24 Mar 2017 14:55:46 +0000 Maine’s February unemployment rate of 3.2 percent was the lowest since December 2000.

The most recent jobless rate was released Friday by the Maine Department of Labor.

It shows that the preliminary seasonally adjusted unemployment rate of 3.2 percent was down from 3.5 percent in January and 3.7 percent one year ago.

The report said the rate was below 4 percent in 13 of the last 16 months, only the third time there’s been such a run in the last 40 years.

Nationally, the unemployment rate of 4.7 percent was little changed from 4.8 percent in January and 4.9 percent one year ago.

In New England, the unemployment rate averaged 3.7 percent. Rates for other states were 2.7 percent in New Hampshire, 3.0 percent in Vermont, 3.4 percent in Massachusetts, 4.5 percent in Rhode Island, and 4.7 percent in Connecticut.

]]> 0 Illinois Department of Employment Security office in Springfield, Ill. The Labor Department reported on state jobless rates for February on Friday.Sat, 25 Mar 2017 00:18:38 +0000
Ignoring climate concerns, Trump approves Keystone XL, touts job creation Fri, 24 Mar 2017 12:31:12 +0000 WASHINGTON — The Trump administration issued a permit Friday to build the Keystone XL pipeline, reversing the conclusion of the Obama administration and clearing the way for the $8 billion project to finally be completed.

The decision caps a yearslong fight between environmental groups and energy industry advocates over the pipeline’s fate that became a proxy battle over global warming. It marks one of the biggest steps taken to date by the Trump administration to prioritize economic development over environmental concerns.

The State Department, responsible for reviewing the project because it crosses an international border, determined that building it serves U.S. national interests. That conclusion followed a review of environmental, economic and diplomatic factors, the department said.

It wasn’t immediately clear what, if anything, had changed since the State Department reached the opposite conclusion two years ago. President Donald Trump planned to address Keystone during an announcement on Friday morning, White House spokesman Sean Spicer said on Twitter.

Keystone XL pipeline route. Source: Transcanada

TransCanada, the Calgary-based company that first applied for a presidential permit in 2008, called the decision a “significant milestone.”

“We greatly appreciate President Trump’s administration for reviewing and approving this important initiative,” said TransCanada CEO Russ Girling. “We look forward to working with them as we continue to invest in and strengthen North America’s energy infrastructure.”

The 1,700-mile pipeline, as envisioned, would carry oil from tar sands in Alberta, Canada, to refineries along the Texas Gulf Coast, passing through Montana, South Dakota, Nebraska, Kansas and Oklahoma. The pipeline would move roughly 800,000 barrels of oil per day, more than one-fifth of the oil Canada exports to the U.S.

Yet even with a presidential permit, the pipeline still faces obstacles — most notably the route, which is still being heavily litigated in the states. Native American tribes and landowners have joined environmental groups in opposing the pipeline.

TransCanada said Friday it would continue engaging with “neighbors throughout Nebraska, Montana and South Dakota to obtain the necessary permits and approvals to advance this project to construction.”

In an unusual twist, the presidential permit was signed by Tom Shannon, a career diplomat serving in a senior State Department role, rather than by Secretary of State Rex Tillerson. The former CEO of oil company Exxon Mobil recused himself after protests from environmental groups who said it would be a conflict of interest for Tillerson to decide the pipeline’s fate.

Oil industry advocates say the pipeline will improve U.S. energy security and create jobs, although how many is widely disputed. Calgary-based TransCanada has promised as many as 13,000 construction jobs — 6,500 a year over two years — but the State Department previously estimated a far smaller number. The pipeline’s opponents contend the jobs will be minimal and short-lived, and say the pipeline won’t help the U.S. with energy needs because the oil is destined for export.

President Donald Trump has championed the pipeline and backed the idea that it will prove a job creator. In one of his first acts as president, he invited pipeline company TransCanada to resubmit the application to construct and operate the pipeline. And he had given officials until next Monday to complete a review of the project.

A Trump presidential directive also required new or expanded pipelines to be built with American steel “to the maximum extent possible.” However, TransCanada has said Keystone won’t be built with U.S. steel. The company has already acquired the steel, much of it from Canada and Mexico, and the White House has acknowledged it’s too difficult to impose conditions on a pipeline already under construction.

Portions of Keystone have already been built. Completing it required a permit to cross from Canada into the U.S.

Environmental groups also say the pipeline will encourage the use of carbon-heavy tar sands oil, which contributes more to global warming than cleaner sources of energy. President Barack Obama reached the same conclusion in 2015 after a negative recommendation from then-Secretary of State John Kerry.

TransCanada first applied for a permit in 2008. Years of politicking, legal wrangling and disputes over the pipeline’s route preceded Obama’s decision to nix the project. The various delays meant Hillary Clinton never issued a recommendation during her four years as secretary of state.

In rejecting Keystone, the Obama administration argued it would undercut U.S. efforts to clinch a global climate change deal that was reached weeks later in Paris. Kerry’s recommendation against the permit came after lengthy State Department reviews, and it was unclear what justification the agency might now use to explain the change of position.

The Trump administration has dropped fighting climate change as a priority and left open the possibility of pulling out of the Paris deal.

]]> 0, 24 Mar 2017 17:57:18 +0000
Early job woes, early death? Maybe Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:58:53 +0000 Sickness and early death in the white working class could be rooted in poor job prospects for less-educated young people as they first enter the labor market, a situation that compounds over time through family dysfunction, social isolation, addiction, obesity and other pathologies, according to a study published Thursday by two prominent economists.

Anne Case and Angus Deaton garnered national headlines in 2015 when they reported that the death rate of midlife non-Hispanic white Americans had risen steadily since 1999 in contrast with the death rates of blacks, Hispanics and Europeans. Their new study extends the data by two years and shows that whatever is driving the mortality spike is not easing up.

The two Princeton professors say the trend affects whites of both sexes and is happening nearly everywhere in the country. Education level is significant: People with a college degree report better health and happiness than those with only some college, who in turn are doing much better than those who never went.

Offering what they call a tentative but “plausible” explanation, they write that less-educated white Americans who struggle in the job market in early adulthood are likely to experience a “cumulative disadvantage” over time, with health and personal problems that often lead to drug overdoses, alcohol-related liver disease and suicide.

“Ultimately, we see our story as about the collapse of the white, high-school-educated working class after its heyday in the early 1970s, and the pathologies that accompany that decline,” they conclude.

The study comes as Congress debates how to dismantle parts of the Affordable Care Act. Case and Deaton report that poor health is becoming more common for each new generation of middle-aged, less-educated white Americans. And they are going downhill faster.

In a teleconference with reporters this week, Case said the new research found a “sea of despair” across America. A striking feature is the rise in physical pain. The pattern does not follow short-term economic cycles but reflects a long-term disintegration of job prospects.

“You used to be able to get a really good job with a high school diploma. A job with on-the-job training, a job with benefits. You could expect to move up,” she said.

The nation’s obesity epidemic may be another sign of stress and physical pain, she continued: “People may want to soothe the beast. They may do that with alcohol, they may do that with drugs, they may do that with food.”

Similarly, Deaton cited suicide as an action that could be triggered not by a single event but by a cumulative series of disappointments: “Your family life has fallen apart, you don’t know your kids anymore, all the things you expected when you started out your life just haven’t happened at all.”

The economists say that there is no obvious solution but that a starting point would be limiting the overuse of opioids, which killed more than 30,000 Americans in 2015.

The two will present their study on Friday at the Brookings Institution.

“Their paper documents some facts. What is the story behind those facts is a matter of speculation,” said Adriana Lleras-Muney, a University of California at Los Angeles economics professor, who will also speak at Brookings.

She noted that less-educated white Americans tend to be strikingly pessimistic when interviewed about their prospects. “It’s just a background of continuous decline. You’re worse off than your parents,” Lleras-Muney said. “Whereas for Hispanics, or immigrants like myself” – she is from Colombia – “or blacks, yes, circumstances are bad, but they’ve been getting better.”

Whites continue to have longer life expectancy than African-Americans and lower death rates, but that gap has narrowed since the late 1990s. The picture may have shifted again around the Great Recession, however: Graphs accompanying the new paper suggest that death rates for blacks with only a high school education began rising around 2010 in many age groups, as if following the trend that began about a decade earlier among whites.

Case and Deaton play down geography’s role in the epidemic. Yet they note that white mortality rates fell in the biggest cities, were constant in big-city suburbs and rose in all other areas.

]]> 0 economists Angus Deaton and Anne Case continue to report on sickness and early death among white, middle-aged, working-class Americans. Yana Paskova for The Washington PostFri, 24 Mar 2017 08:16:47 +0000
Outdated computer system led Maine labor department to contractor that got hacked Fri, 24 Mar 2017 01:00:57 +0000 The Maine Department of Labor’s antiquated computer system had an indirect role in exposing thousands of Mainers’ Social Security numbers to a computer hack.

While the department’s computer system was not breached, its age and lack of compatibility with modern systems made it incapable of performing certain federally mandated steps in the processing of new unemployment benefit claims, prompting the department to outsource the work to a firm that was hacked.

“It’s 40 years old and written in COBOL,” department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said, referring to the programming language developed in the late 1950s that is used by the agency’s computers.

The department contracted in July to have the work done by Kansas-based information technology consortium America’s JobLink. The consortium announced Wednesday that it had been hacked, and that up to 4.8 million user accounts were compromised.

America’s JobLink, which provides a variety of information technology services to state labor departments and employment offices, said the hackers stole the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of a still-unknown number of job-seekers in up to 10 states. The states include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, Vermont and Maine.

Maine eliminated its Maine Job Bank service within the Department of Labor in July and outsourced the job-matching service to America’s JobLink, along with vetting and reporting of new unemployment benefits applications required by the recently amended federal Workforce Innovation and Opportunity Act. One of the requirements is to cross-check applicants against other databases containing information such as criminal history and immigration status, which requires the applicant’s Social Security number. The department’s outdated computer system isn’t capable of performing that required step.

Roughly 12,650 Maine residents have created JobLink accounts since July. Because cross-checking requires a Social Security number, those making initial claims for unemployment benefits were required to provide it to JobLink.

Because of the hacking incident, those account holders are now vulnerable to identity theft.

“Our own employees are affected by this, and we are very concerned about it,” Rabinowitz said.

Following the data breach, Mainers seeking unemployment benefits no longer will be required by the state to enter their Social Security number to receive unemployment benefits, she said, and those who already have done so can log in to their account and delete it.

Rabinowitz said emails would be sent no later than Friday to JobLink participants who were potentially impacted by the hacking incident. The email will advise recipients about the situation, explain how to put a freeze on their credit reports or take other credit report protection steps, and provide a telephone number for a national call center.

All available resources at the Department of Labor are focused on addressing the data incident, she said, adding that the department is working with the other nine states and the FBI.

“We collect a lot of personally identifying information in most of our programs,” Rabinowitz said. “The unemployment system is full of personally identifiable information and confidential tax information, and also the information that we have on clients in our programs and also in vocational rehabilitation has a lot of confidentiality around it, so we take this very seriously and we are very concerned to make sure we do the right thing for the people who are affected by this.”

Rabinowitz said America’s JobLink notified the state about the suspected hack late on March 15 or early on March 16, but there was no confirmation at that time that any Maine residents were affected. It wasn’t until late Tuesday night that the Department of Labor received confirmation that Maine participants might have been affected.

She said the state has temporarily deactivated the crosslink between Maine’s unemployment system databases and the Maine JobLink website that used Social Security numbers to link records in the two systems. Rabinowitz said the department’s internal unemployment systems were not compromised by the hacker.

“There will be no effect on unemployment benefits because of this,” she said.

The Department of Labor is working on a system upgrade that will solve the problem for the long term, but it isn’t expected to go live until October. In the meantime, the department hopes to come up with a way to meet the federal vetting and reporting requirements without requiring new applicants to enter their Social Security numbers into JobLink.

“All the options are on the table,” Rabinowitz said.

Rabinowitz said the 10 states are still negotiating with JobLink about what obligations the consortium has to the hack’s potential victims. One of the issues being discussed is whether affected JobLink users could be provided with the type of free credit monitoring offered by retailers following a data breach, she said. Under state law, Maine residents can receive annual credit reports and temporarily freeze their credit report at no cost.

In the meantime, job-seekers can continue to use JobLink to help them find jobs.

“The Maine JobLink is still active,” Rabinowitz said. “The security breach has been repaired and individuals can go in and remove their Social Security number from their account.”

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

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 0, 24 Mar 2017 20:47:55 +0000
Ruling: Washington hotel won’t benefit Trump while he’s president Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:23:01 +0000 WASHINGTON — Government officials overseeing the Trump International Hotel’s lease with the federal government have determined the deal is in “full compliance” despite a clause in the agreement barring any “elected official of the government of the United States” from deriving “any benefit.”

In a Thursday letter to Eric Trump, the president’s son now overseeing the hotel, the project’s contracting officer found the company met the terms of the lease because the president had resigned from a formal position with the company and the organization had restructured an internal operating agreement so he received no direct proceeds from the Washington hotel business.

“In other words, during his term in office the president will not receive any distributions from the trust that would have been generated from the hotel,” said the contracting officer, Kevin Terry.

Terry also praised the project for turning a partly empty government office building into a hotel that had already generated $5.1 million for the government by the time it opened in the fall. “Thus the lease turned a building that had been costing taxpayers millions of dollars per year into a revenue-generating asset,” Terry wrote.

The announcement by the General Services Administration allows Trump’s company, which he still owns, to continue to benefit from a contract ultimately overseen by his administration, a situation that ethical experts have called unprecedented and a conflict of interest that puts the president’s personal financial situation ahead of taxpayers.

Trump signed a 60-year lease for the government-owned Old Post Office Pavilion on Pennsylvania Avenue in 2013, then spent more than $200 million turning the project into a luxury hotel.

The Trump Organization issued a statement thanking the GSA “for their diligent review of this matter.”

“We are immensely proud of this property and look forward to providing our guests with an unrivaled luxury experience for years to come,” the statement said.

Since the election, Democrats on Capitol Hill have constantly pressed the agency to address concerns raised by Trump’s profiting from the lease deal. Some members of Congress worry that Trump could appoint new leaders who will renegotiate the terms of the lease to eliminate any legal entanglements, especially after a civil servant overseeing public buildings for the agency, Norman Dong, announced his departure recently.

Trump has not yet appointed an administrator for the GSA. Agency veteran Timothy Horne is serving as acting administrator.

]]> 0 - In this Dec. 21, 2016 file photo, the Trump International Hotel in Washington. The federal agency overseeing Donald Trump's lease for a luxury hotel in Washington has ruled his election as president doesn't violate the terms of his agreement barring government officials from profiting from the property. (Associated Press file/Alex Brandon)Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:23:01 +0000
Report: Pot industry growth to stay robust no matter what position White House takes Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:19:33 +0000 America’s cannabis industry will continue growing at double-digit rates over the next four years – even with ambiguity emanating from the White House – as the drug gains in popularity, according to a leading marijuana-research firm.

Legalized pot in North America will continue to grow at a compound annual rate of 27 percent through 2021, according to an Arcview Market Research report released Thursday. The momentum of the past few years won’t be stopped by the Trump administration, said Chief Executive Officer Troy Dayton.

While President Donald Trump has gone back and forth about his stance on marijuana, Attorney General Jeff Sessions has been a clear opponent and has vowed to enforce laws against drug use, including cannabis. But Dayton and others in the industry say a crackdown is unlikely because of the popularity of the movement and the funds it would take to renew the war on the drug.

“It’s just so politically unpopular it would be silly,” he said.

About 71 percent of voters say “the government should not enforce federal laws against marijuana in states that have legalized medical or recreational use,” according to a recent poll from Quinnipiac University.

The federal government’s hands are also tied by legislation, Dayton said. Sessions has said he agrees with parts of the Obama administration’s Cole Memorandum, the document that allowed states to develop markets without federal interference. Even if Sessions were to rip up the memo, Congress passed an amendment to an appropriations bill in December 2014 that makes it impossible to use Justice Department funds to interfere with state implementation of medical marijuana.

In North America, consumers spent $6.7 billion on legalized weed in 2016, according to the Arcview report. That’s up 34 percent from the prior year. Growth may slow this year because states that voted in favor of legalization in November largely won’t begin sales until 2018, Dayton said.

The report also shows that illicit cannabis sales declined in states with legal programs.

]]> 0 researchers say the Trump administration's non-embrace of legalized marijuana won't curb its double-digit sales growth of the last few years.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:50:43 +0000
Planning for Trump hotel growth at ‘full steam ahead’ despite criticism Fri, 24 Mar 2017 00:04:40 +0000 NEW YORK — You might have expected the Trump Organization to tap the brakes on expansion plans, given all the criticism over potential conflicts of interest while its owner sits in the Oval Office.

It’s hitting the accelerator instead.

The company owned by President Trump is launching a chain of new hotels with plans to open in cities large and small across the country. Called Scion, they will be the first Trump-run hotels not to bear the family’s gilded name. The hotels will feature modern, sleek interiors and communal areas, and offer rooms at $200 to $300 a night, about half what it costs at some hotels in Trump’s luxury chain.

The company has signed letters of intent with more than 20 developers to build the hotels, said Trump Hotels CEO Eric Danziger. The last three were signed in just one week this month.

“It’s full steam ahead. It’s in our DNA. It’s in the Trump boys’ DNA,” said Danziger. The “boys” are Eric and Donald Jr., who are running their father’s company while he is president.

The bold expansion plan raises some thorny ethical questions.

The Trump family won’t be putting up any money to build the hotels. Instead, it plans to get local real estate developers and their investors to foot the bill, as do most major hotel chains.

One of the first few hotels could be going up in Dallas. A development company there originally planned to raise money from unidentified investors in Kazakhstan, Turkey and Qatar, but recently told the Dallas Morning News that it now will tap only the company’s U.S. partners.


Government ethics experts say turning to outside money, whether foreign or American, raises the specter of people trying to use their investment to gain favor with the new administration – like contributing to a political campaign, but with no dollar limits or public disclosure.

“This is the new version of pay-to-play – ‘Get in there and do business with the Trump Organization,’ ” said Richard Painter, who was the chief White House ethics lawyer to President George W. Bush.

The Trump family will have to overcome some political obstacles, too. Already, politicians in a few cities mentioned as possible sites have vowed to fight the first family, raising the prospect of a struggle to get zoning and other permits to start building.

The son of German and Polish refugees from World War II, CEO Danziger is no stranger to long odds. He never went to college, instead taking a job as a bellman at a San Francisco hotel at 17. He worked himself up over the decades to CEO spots at several major hospitality companies.

When Danziger led Starwood Hotels and Resorts in the 1990s, he expanded the number of hotels from 20 to nearly 600.

The 62-year-old executive has similar ambitions for the Trump family. He said he hopes to open 50 to 100 Scions in three years, and is planning to add to Trump’s existing line of luxury hotels.

Danziger took over Trump’s hotel business in August 2015 with hopes of adding to the company’s string of properties abroad. A review of trademark databases by The Associated Press shows the Trump family has applied for rights to use the Scion name in several countries, including China, Indonesia, Canada and 28 nations in Europe. An application for trademark rights in the Dominican Republic was approved as late as December.

Then President Trump held a news conference the next month and basically killed the international plans. A week before he took office, he pledged that his company would strike “no new foreign deals” while he was president to allay concerns that foreigners might try to influence U.S. policy by helping his business abroad.


Critics note that hasn’t stopped his company from expanding one of its Scottish resorts, pursuing two Indonesian projects that are largely unbuilt and looking to revive an old deal for a beachfront Dominican Republic resort that appeared dead years ago. The company has said these were already in the works, so they don’t fall under the president’s pledge.

At a panel discussion at a recent hotel industry conference, Danziger said the U.S. offers plenty of opportunity for expansion. As possible cities for new hotels, he mentioned Seattle, San Francisco, Denver and Dallas.

That didn’t go down well with some local power brokers.

Mark Farrell, a San Francisco supervisor who heads the land use committee, scoffed at the idea of a Trump hotel getting permission to build in his city, telling a CBS affiliate “Good luck with that.”

In Seattle, council member Rob Johnson told the AP he’d be “shocked” if any Trump hotels got built, calling his city “ground zero” for Trump resisters. In January, thousands took to the streets there to protest the president’s first attempt at a travel ban and the City Council passed a unanimous resolution denouncing it.

St. Louis, another possible Scion target, may prove a tough sell, too. A few days after the presidential election, protesters marched in front of a building that had been rumored as the site of a new Trump hotel as they chanted “No to Trump Tower.”

The developer of the St. Louis project, Alterra Worldwide, is also the company behind the possible Scion hotel in Dallas. It announced soon after the St. Louis protest that it would use the building there to open a hotel under the Marriott name.

Despite the St. Louis trouble, Alterra President Mukemmel “Mike” Sarimsakci said he expects no trouble with his Dallas project.

For starters, he appears to have much of the local approval needed to move forward. Both Sarimsakci and a Dallas city hall spokeswoman said Alterra is not seeking rezoning or tax incentives, which will avoid any need for a vote of the City Council to approve the hotel.

Sarimsakci doesn’t think anti-Trump sentiment will hurt the Scion chain.

“I think it’s passed. I think people had really strong feelings prior to the election,” he said. “I don’t see that as being an issue moving forward.”

Sarimsakci spoke to the AP last month. He did not respond to requests to confirm that he no longer plans to use foreign investors.


Danziger also shrugs off the danger from anti-Trump folks. Stopping a Scion from opening would hurt a city, he said, just as surely as it would hurt the Trumps.

“Why would a city, because of political views, a city councilman’s views, prohibit tax revenue from coming to the city and employment to the people?” Danziger said. “It doesn’t make sense.”

He also expressed confidence that Scion will avoid ethical trouble. He said any new investors in Scion go through an “exhaustive, thorough” review to make sure, for instance, they’re not offering sweetheart deals to the Trump family to curry favor with the president.

Before Trump took office, he hired an outside lawyer to vet his deals for conflicts. Critics say his company shouldn’t be striking any new deals at all and that he should follow the precedent of modern presidents by selling his interest in the company. He has refused to do so.

Politics aside, Trump’s new chain faces stiff business challenges.

The U.S. president is a tiny hotel operator, with just 14 properties that he either owns or licenses his name to or manages for others, according to his company’s website. This puts it at a disadvantage compared with, say, Marriott International, which has more than 6,000 hotels and can get deeper discounts when purchasing insurance and food and linens. The bigger companies have powerful loyalty programs to lure travelers, too.

“Why do people stay at Marriotts all the time?” said Bjorn Hanson, professor of hospitality and tourism management at New York University. “They’re earning points.”

Danziger won’t name the developers with whom he has letters of intent, or where they hope to build, noting that they’re tentative deals that could easily fall though. Pressed, though, he rattled off a long series of cities seemingly at random, including Cincinnati, Milwaukee and Louisville, Kentucky.

“The list of places Scion can go,” he said, “is virtually limitless.”

]]> 0 Hotels CEO Eric Danziger, in his office at Trump Tower in New York, says the new Scion hotel chain will try to screen out any investors offering sweetheart deals to the Trump family to curry favor with the president.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:04:40 +0000
Bill to help N.H. dairy farmers moves ahead Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:54:14 +0000 CONCORD, N.H. — An effort to provide financial relief to New Hampshire’s dairy farmers strained by last year’s drought survived a challenge in the House on Thursday, with some opponents calling it a taxpayer funded bailout.

The drought forced many farmers to spend more on livestock feed, and some reduced their herds to save money. The state had 115 licensed cow-only dairies in October, down from 123 in January 2016.

“Many have slaughtered young calves along with milking cows, delayed repairs to farm tractors,” said bill supporter John O’Connor, a Republican from Derry. “Spouses have taken on second jobs to sustain them and have done all they can to get through the winter. The forage and hay they are purchasing comes from the Midwest or Saskatchewan, at an extremely high price.”

House members voted to adopt a committee recommendation that up to $2 million for dairy farmers be distributed through a formula. They also approved an amendment from Republican Rep. Neal Kurk, of Weare, allowing farmers to choose whether 2014 or 2015 was worse, and avoid “double-dipping” if they already receive crop insurance. Proposals to table the bill or replace it with a measure asking for donations for the farmers failed.

Kurk was part of a task force that worked on a plan to help the state’s dairy industry. He also chairs the House Finance Committee, which would normally take up the bill next. Kurk, instead, invoked a legislative rule allowing it to head back to the Senate, where it originated.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:54:14 +0000
Democrats grill nominee to head SEC on corporate ties Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:50:56 +0000 For years, Jay Clayton has helped Wall Street weather run-ins with its regulators. On Thursday, he told lawmakers that he should be the one to regulate them.

“I have zero tolerance for bad actors,” Clayton told the Senate Banking Committee during his nomination hearing to lead the Securities and Exhange Commission. If confirmed, Clayton said, he would make sure “our markets are fair, open, orderly, and efficient and … that investors are protected.”

But the New York lawyer’s deep connections to big banks, particularly Goldman Sachs, and inexperience in prosecuting corporate wrongdoing drew skepticism from Democrats who questioned whether he would protect investors, or Wall Street, in the powerful job.

“You’ve spent your career protecting some of the biggest names on Wall Street, and those relationships pose a host of conflicts for this position,” Sen. Sherrod Brown, D-Ohio, ranking Democrat on the Senate Banking Committee, said at the hearing. “I’m concerned that you may need to recuse yourself too often at a time when we need a strong, independent SEC chair on the front line of enforcement, not watching from the sideline.”

As a partner at the prestigious New York law firm Sullivan & Cromwell, Clayton has helped online retailer Alibaba stage the largest initial public offering in history, assisted in the sale of the NBA’s Atlanta Hawks and worked closely with hedge fund tycoons.

Republicans said that type of experience will be valuable for the head of the SEC, which is charged with protecting investors, prosecuting financial crime and ensuring stock markets are run fairly.

But it’s Clayton’s 15-year relationship with Goldman Sachs that has drawn the most attention from critics. (He is also married to a Goldman Sachs wealth manager.)

In 2008, Goldman Sachs was facing a potential disaster: Its profits had started to wane and its stock price was tumbling. Facing doubts about whether it could survive the turmoil, Goldman launched a plan to turn itself into a traditional commercial bank.

Advising on the deal was Clayton. A year later, Clayton helped the bank again when it wanted to start paying back the $10 billion loan it had received from a taxpayer-funded bailout program.

Clayton, who made more than $7 million last year, was warmly received by Republicans on the committee, who praised his financial industry experience. It should be easier, and cheaper, for companies to sell stock on the public markets, Clayton told them.

Democrats repeatedly questioned whether Clayton would be tough on Wall Street. Clayton dodged questions about the best ways to hold corporate leaders responsible for wrongdoing whether they knew about the bad behavior conducted by lower level employees or not.

“I think individual prosecutions, particularly in the white collar area, has a significant affect on behavior,” Clayton said. “I want to be clear: Companies should be held responsible.”

In a heated exchange, Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Mass., noted that Clayton would be forced to recuse himself from cases involving former and current clients of his former law firm, Sullivan& Cromwell. In those cases, she said, if the rest of SEC’s four commissioners split along partisan lines, the investigations would stall and the firms could escape being held responsible.

“With you as SEC chair it looks like Wall Street can breathe a little easier,” Warren said.

If confirmed, Clayton would also play a key role in President Donald Trump’s efforts to roll back regulations on the financial industry, particularly 2010’s Dodd Frank law. “I don’t have any specific plans for attacks,” on the law, Clayton told the panel. But “I do believe Dodd Frank should be looked at.”



Keywords: Jay Clayton, SEC, Donald Trump

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:50:56 +0000
FCC proposes new rules to block robo-calls Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:32:51 +0000 The nation’s top telecom regulator is moving further to thwart illegal robo-calls that have annoyed countless consumers at dinnertime and scammed millions of Americans.

The Federal Communications Commission on Thursday proposed new rules that would allow phone companies to target and block robo-calls coming from what appear to be illegitimate or unassigned phone numbers.

The rules could help cut down on the roughly 2.4 billion automated calls that go out each month – many of them fraudulent, according to FCC Chairman Ajit Pai.

“Robo-calls are the No. 1 consumer complaint to the FCC from members of the American public,” he said, vowing to halt people who, in some cases, pretend to be tax officials demanding payments from consumers, or, in other cases, ask leading questions that prompt consumers to give up personal information as part of an identity theft scam.

More than 1 in 10 U.S. adults has been a victim to phone scams, said FCC Commissioner Mignon Clyburn, citing a December study by the call-blocking company CPR Call Blocker.

Even some major firms have faced a backlash for relying on robo-calls. In 2015, PayPal drew criticism when it effectively forced many of its users to agree to receive robo-calls from the company. Amid letters from lawmakers and complaints from the public, PayPal reversed its decision.

Still, what Pai has called a “scourge” of robo-calls has continued. Many robo-callers deliberately “spoof” their phone numbers, he said, to hide the true origins of their call. Phone companies are largely supportive of the FCC’s campaign; last year, AT&T helped form an industry group to devise ways to fight robo-calls and spoofing.

“Millions of Americans are harassed by … telemarketers and others who often disguise their caller identification information to circumvent ‘do not call’ lists and anti-robocall tools,” said Verizon in a statement. “It needs to stop.”

The public will now have an opportunity to submit feedback on the proposal, which could be finalized later this year.

“Americans have run out of patience with robo-calls that ring at all hours of the day,” said Maureen Mahoney, a policy analyst with the advocacy group Consumers Union.

]]> 0, 23 Mar 2017 19:32:51 +0000
Senate votes to block start of new protections for consumers’ internet data Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:24:28 +0000 Senate lawmakers voted Thursday to repeal a historic set of rules aimed at protecting consumers’ online data from their own internet providers.

The rules, which prohibit providers from abusing the data they gather on their customers as they browse the web on cellphones and computers, had been approved last year over objections from Republicans who argued the regulations went too far.

Now a joint resolution from Sen. Jeff Flake, R-Ariz., seeks to roll back the Federal Communications Commission’s privacy rules, preventing them from going into effect and barring the FCC from ever enacting similar consumer protections.

U.S. senators voted 50-48 to approve Flake’s resolution. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, voted for the bill and Sen. Angus King, a Maine independent, voted against it. The bill now heads to the House.

Industry groups welcomed the vote.

“Our industry remains committed to offering services that protect the privacy and security of the personal information of our customers,” said the Internet and Television Association, a trade group representing major cable providers. “We support this step towards reversing the FCC’s misguided approach and look forward to restoring a consistent approach to online privacy protection that consumers want and deserve.”

The FCC’s rules are being debated as internet providers – no longer satisfied with simply offering web access – race to become online advertising giants as large as Google and Facebook. To deliver consumers from one website to another, internet providers must see and understand which online destinations their customers wish to visit, whether that’s Netflix, WebMD or PornHub.

With that data, internet providers would like to sell targeted advertising or even share that information with third-party marketers. But the FCC’s regulations place certain limits on the type of data internet providers can share and under what circumstances. Under the rules, consumers may forbid their providers from sharing what the FCC deems “sensitive” information, such as app usage history and mobile location data.

Opponents of the regulation argue the FCC’s definition of sensitive information is far too broad and that it creates an imbalance between what’s expected of internet providers and what’s allowed for web companies such as Google. Separately from Congress, critics of the measure have petitioned the FCC to reconsider letting the rules go into effect, and the agency’s new Republican leadership has partly complied. In February, President Trump’s FCC chairman, Ajit Pai, put a hold on a slice of the rules that would have forced internet providers to better safeguard their customer data from hackers.

The congressional resolution could make any further action by the FCC to review the rules unnecessary; Flake’s measure aims to nullify the FCC’s privacy rules altogether. Republicans argue that even if the FCC’s power to make rules on internet privacy is curtailed, state attorneys general and the Federal Trade Commission could still hold internet providers accountable for future privacy abuses.

But Democrats said Wednesday night that preemptive rules are necessary to protect consumers before their information gets out against their will.

“The Federal Trade Commission does not have the rulemaking authority in data security, even though commissioners at the FTC have asked Congress for such authority in the past,” said Sen. Bill Nelson, Fla., the top Democrat on the Senate Commerce Committee.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 19:24:28 +0000
Recruiters hop bus to Boston to find new hires Thu, 23 Mar 2017 23:05:18 +0000 Employers with open set out to sell Maine’s appeal.

A busload of Maine entrepreneurs and other businesspeople set off for Boston on Thursday afternoon, prospecting for new hires.

The group of 50 was scheduled to meet with about 150 Boston-area workers Thursday night to talk up business and Maine’s amenities over Maine-brewed beer and Maine-sourced food, said Nate Wildes, director of Live + Work in Maine, a group that promotes the state to job seekers.

It was the latest attempt by Maine employers frustrated by their inability to fill job vacancies, particularly for skilled workers, such as those with technical skills or college degrees.

With its workforce getting older and several key industries, such as papermaking, shrinking, Maine’s labor force is in decline. The number of people either working or looking for work in Maine has shrunk from nearly 710,000 in mid-2013 to just over 690,000 in 2016. With Maine’s unemployment rate at a low 3.9 percent last year, growing companies are finding it difficult to hire workers.

Wildes said large employers such as Bangor Savings Bank, Wex and Idexx were represented on the bus, and those companies teamed up with smaller companies to lure more skilled workers to Maine.

“Instead of fighting over slices of the pie” in looking for employees, “we’re going to grow that pie,” Wildes said.

Maine isn’t a hard sell, he said. In addition to a growing base of potential employers, the state offers a range of outdoor recreation opportunities, cultural activities and a nationally acclaimed restaurant scene.

But still, he said, it doesn’t hurt to remind Bostonians that all that Maine offers is less than two hours away from their current base.

“Employers are actively promoting the Maine quality of life as a recruiting advantage,” he said.

The event was organized by Live + Work in Maine, Maine Startup and Create Week, Red Thread, a company that designs and equips workspaces, and Knack Factory, a media company. Thursday’s gathering was held in Red Thread’s showroom in Boston.

Edward D. Murphy can be contacted at:

]]> 0 from Maine companies board a bus in Portland and head to Boston to search for new hires on Thursday. They planned to promote Maine's quality of life as a recruiting advantage and met with workers over beer and food sourced in Maine.Fri, 24 Mar 2017 11:07:40 +0000
Budget analysis finds latest health care bill would still leave millions uninsured Thu, 23 Mar 2017 21:50:43 +0000 WASHINGTON — Changes that House Republicans have made to their health-care legislation would reduce savings in federal spending by half as much as their original plan and would still cause 24 million more Americans to be uninsured, according to congressional budget analysts.

The estimates by the Congressional Budget Office arrived late Thursday afternoon as House Speaker Paul Ryan, R-Wis., and the Trump administration were scrambling to corral enough support to put the legislation that erases major parts of the Affordable Care Act to a vote.

According to the CBO’s projections, a set of amendments that House GOP leaders agreed to support Monday night would cut the federal deficit by $150 billion between 2017 and 2026. The original version of the American Health Care Act, as the bill is called, would have curbed the deficit by an estimated $337 billion in that period.

The changes would have less impact on savings because they would make it easier for Americans to deduct the cost of medical care from their income taxes and would accelerate by a year the repeal of several taxes that help pay for the ACA, including taxes on insurers, hospitals, high-income adults and tanning beds.

Other changes to the bill would increase federal spending for Medicaid, the estimate says, in part by altering payments states receive for their most expensive enrollees – people who are elderly or disabled.

The fresh analysis says the amendments would not affect the number of Americans who would be uninsured if the bill were to become law. Compared with the current law, the CBO projects that 14 million more people would be uninsured next year and 24 million more by 2026. Those were the same figures as in its first, much-anticipated report, issued last week, on the House GOP plans.

Nor would the amendments make much difference to the typical cost of health plans. For the next two years, insurance premiums for individuals buying coverage on their own would increase by 15 to 20 percent compared with the ACA – only marginally different than the 18 to 20 percent rise predicted for the bill’s original version. In 2026, both plan versions would lead to a 10 percent reduction in average premiums, the CBO said.

The new forecast does not take into account any of the ideas for tipping federal health-care policy even further in conservative directions – which are being advanced by members of the House Freedom Caucus. The caucus, the chamber’s faction on the hard right, is lobbying to eliminate a requirement that insurance plans include 10 basic health benefits in the policies sold to individuals and small businesses.

The updated analysis elicited no immediate response from Ryan or the GOP leaders of four House committees that have raced in recent weeks to assemble and approve the legislation.

Rep. Steve King, a conservative Republican from Iowa, put the deficit number in a broader context. “None of us that want to save money are happy about the direction that’s going,” King said, “but as a matter of principle, it’s more important that we eliminate mandates than it is that we [save] $200 billion over 10 years.”

Last week, Ryan talked up the portion of the first CBO analysis that predicted the large reduction in the federal deficit, while White House officials sought to tar the report’s accuracy. The Freedom Caucus has complained that the legislation would still devote too much federal money to health spending.

Caucus members had not commented Thursday evening on the updated analysis and its finding that adjustments to the bill would leave the deficit in worse condition than the original version.

The bill is intended as a first stage in fulfilling Republicans’ years-long pledge to unwind the 2010 law adopted by a Democratic Congress – and to replace all but its most popular parts with conservative policies. This stage focuses on the spending parts of the current law because congressional leaders are relying on a budget strategy called “reconciliation.” If the House passes the bill, the strategy would allow the Senate to adopt it with a simple majority.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:03:52 +0000
Wales man arrested – again – on charge of stealing electricity Thu, 23 Mar 2017 20:44:03 +0000 A Wales man was arrested for the second time in just over two months and charged with stealing electricity from Central Maine Power by climbing a utility pole and connecting to a transformer with jumper-like cables attached to a line leading to his house.

Maine State Police put Nicholas Gagne, 36, under surveillance Thursday after receiving a tip that he was stealing electricity again just over two months after he was arrested and charged with the same crime.

Trooper Tyler Plourde watched as the alleged serial power thief climbed a CMP utility pole near his home at 237 Oak Hill Road “possibly to disconnect” the wires he had attached to the transformer at the top of the pole.

Steve McCausland, spokesman for the Department of Public Safety, said that when Gagne saw the state trooper, he scrambled back down the pole and fled into an outbuilding. Gagne eventually emerged and surrendered peacefully.

He now faces charges of theft, criminal mischief and violation of his bail – the latter charge stemming from the alleged theft of electricity from the same utility pole that resulted in his arrest in January. Gagne was being held without bail at the Androscoggin County Jail in Auburn on Thursday night.

A jail supervisor said it was not possible to interview Gagne by telephone Thursday night. He is tentatively scheduled to make his initial court appearance Friday.

“I don’t know the reason why he did it,” McCausland said Thursday night. “To say it’s bizarre is an understatement.”

A CMP crew was called in Thursday and confirmed that Gagne had rigged an illegal connection using a piece of equipment that resembled a car jumper cable. The cable transmitted electricity from the transformer to a wire that ran from the utility pole to Gagne’s home.

The makeshift setup could have electrocuted him or started a fire, posing a danger to passers-by, CMP officials said.

“What he did was incredibly dangerous. He posed a danger not only to himself, but to the line workers who responded,” CMP spokeswoman Gail Rice said. “The crew said the lines were extremely hot to the touch, which means they were overloaded and could have caused a fire. It was not a smart thing to do.”

In January, Gagne was arrested and charged with stealing large amounts of electricity from CMP by climbing up the power pole outside his home and using the jumper-cable setup to connect to the transformer and direct power to his house.

CMP went to his home twice to disconnect the power after the company became aware he was siphoning off electricity, but Gagne kept reconnecting it, the company said. Finally, CMP contacted police and asked for an escort to his house. State police said CMP estimated that Gagne stole power valued at more than $3,000.

“When someone steals something from any company, it only raises the cost of the product for all its honest customers,” Rice said.

Gagne has a criminal record that includes two misdemeanor charges in 2006, for refusing to submit to arrest and disorderly conduct in Lewiston, according to records obtained from the Maine State Bureau of Identification. The refusing to submit to arrest charge was dismissed after Gagne pleaded guilty to disorderly conduct.

After his arrest in January, Gagne was charged with theft of services, a Class C felony offense, and reckless conduct, a Class D misdemeanor.

Molly Hall is executive director for the Illinois-based Energy Education Council, which has the mission of saving lives by providing consumers and public utilities with information about electrical usage. Its educational outreach program, which can be accessed on, was created to promote the safe use of electricity.

Although she was unable to provide specific data, Hall said people across the United States have been seriously injured or killed by tampering with meters and using jumper-cable connections to steal power – a practice known as tapping a power line.

“Unfortunately, theft of power is a widespread problem in the U.S. and other countries,” Hall said. “Thieves sometimes think of it as a crime that won’t hurt anybody, but it costs everyone in lots of ways … power outages, dangerous conditions on the electrical system, not to mention the costs to all consumers. Any attempt to tamper with an electric meter or connect to equipment to steal power is not only illegal, it can be deadly.”

Jim Miles, a former utility company lineman who serves as the manager of safety and loss control for the Illinois Electrical Cooperatives, speculated that Gagne might have some basic knowledge of electricity and power lines, but he said “he could easily have burned his own house down,” because of the huge amount of voltage flowing from the transformer into the makeshift cable.

“It’s a very deadly situation for those folks to be in,” Miles said. “Most people who steal power don’t understand the dangers they are creating.”

Dennis Hoey can be contacted at 791-6365 or at:

]]> 0, 24 Mar 2017 06:12:34 +0000
Unum donated $3.7 million in 2016 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 17:32:29 +0000 Insurance provider Unum contributed more than $3.7 million last year to nonprofit organizations in Maine.

Employees of the Portland-based company also volunteered more than 32,000 hours with local charities, valued at more than $740,000, according to a press release from the company.

Unum primarily focuses its charitable efforts on supporting public education, as well as health and wellness initiatives and arts and culture. It also makes corporate donations to United Way.

The company, based in Chattanooga, Tennessee, employs about 3,000 workers in Maine.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 13:32:29 +0000
Clark Insurance announces new hire, four promotions Thu, 23 Mar 2017 16:00:00 +0000 NEW HIRES
Kelly Michaud joined Clark Insurance as an account manager in the business insurance department.
Michaud, of Falmouth, has been in the insurance business since 1994. She also volunteers for a local health care nonprofit.

Clark Insurance announced four promotions.
Tricia Spencer was promoted to business insurance department coordinator.
Spencer, of South Hiram, joined the agency in 2012.


Sandy Trottier of Biddeford was promoted to coordinator of administrative support and facilities.



Deborah Wentworth was promoted to vice president of business and employee benefits services.
Wentworth, of Falmouth, joined the agency in 2011 and brings more than 20 years of experience.



Diana Miville was promoted to director of human resources and training.
Miville joined Clark Insurance in 2014 with more than 20 years of insurance experience.


MMG Insurance promoted Steve Morgan to casualty claims manager.
Morgan joined MMG in 2014 as the department’s assistant manager. He brings a diverse and extensive claims background that spans more than 30 years.

Lee Ramsdell, a senior vice president of Clark Insurance, was elected to the company’s board of directors.
Ramsdell, of Scarborough, joined the agency in 1986 and became a stockholder in 1989. He also has served as secretary of the corporation since 2011.

]]> 0 WENTWORTHThu, 23 Mar 2017 11:50:02 +0000
Mortgage rates fall back as investors’ concerns mount Thu, 23 Mar 2017 14:57:56 +0000 Mortgage rates retreated this week after a one-week spike following the Federal Reserve’s decision to raise its benchmark rate.

According to the latest data released Thursday by Freddie Mac, the 30-year fixed-rate average fell to 4.23 percent with an average 0.5 point. (Points are fees paid to a lender equal to 1 percent of the loan amount.) It was 4.30 percent a week ago and 3.71 percent a year ago.

The 15-year fixed-rate average dropped to 3.44 percent with an average 0.5 point. It was 3.50 percent a week ago and 2.96 percent a year ago. The five-year adjustable rate average slid to 3.24 percent with an average 0.4 point. It was 3.28 percent a week ago and 2.89 percent a year ago.

“This marks the greatest week-over-week decline for the 30-year mortgage rate in over two months, a stark contrast from last week’s jump following the FOMC announcement,” Sean Becketti, Freddie Mac chief economist, said in a statement.

Financial markets had been betting on fiscal stimulus through tax cuts and infrastructure spending. Instead, President Donald Trump has been bogged down by the health care overhaul bill. Anxious investors worry that health care reform will tie up Congress and delay implementation of Trump’s other policies.

Because of these concerns, they have been moving from stocks to bonds, driving down yields. The yield on the 10-year Treasury has plummeted 22 basis points – a basis point is 0.01 percentage point – since March 13.

Mortgage rates tend to follow the movement of long-term bonds. When the yield on the 10-year Treasury falls typically so do home loan rates.

]]> 0 Thu, 23 Mar 2017 10:57:56 +0000
Maine searches for opportunities in offshore wind power Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 Gov. Paul LePage’s opposition to the cost of renewable energy has stalled Maine’s chances of developing an offshore wind power industry. But this month, his acting energy director went to England to learn about the economic development and government policies around offshore wind that are creating thousands of jobs and attracting billions of dollars in investment.

Angela Monroe said that while offshore wind would still be more expensive than other energy sources for Maine, wind farms planned off the coast of Massachusetts, New York, Rhode Island and other states could hold promise for Maine companies.

“This trip was a great opportunity to learn from those directly involved about the opportunities and challenges they have faced from this large deployment,” she told the Portland Press Herald.

Representatives of Maine’s construction sector had a mixed reaction to news of the trip. They were glad the LePage administration is exploring options, but lamented that the state gave up an earlier bid to become a staging area for a new manufacturing and service sector.

“To the extent our state government is getting educated about the business opportunities, that’s a good thing,” said Steve Von Vogt, managing director of the Maine Composites Alliance. “It may be ironic that we’re going to England to get it.”

Monroe was the second Maine official to take the trip in the past six months. Bruce Williamson, one of Maine’s three Public Utilities Commission members, went last fall after Patrick Woodcock, the governor’s former energy director, was unable to attend. Woodcock resigned in November.

Monroe was part of a nine-member American delegation that visited Hull, England, in early March. The city includes an area along the Humber River branded as the Humber Energy Estuary. The trip was paid for by the British Embassy in Washington, D.C., and co-sponsored by the Team Humber Marine Alliance, a 200-member group of businesses that include shipping, manufacturing and ocean services.

Among the companies active in the area is the Norwegian energy conglomerate Statoil.

Statoil developed the world’s first floating wind turbine, off Norway in 2009. In 2012, it proposed a $120 million demonstration project off Boothbay Harbor.


But Statoil left Maine after LePage forced the PUC to revisit a power purchase agreement it had approved with the company. The deal would have increased typical home electric rates by 75 cents a month, and LePage said he wanted to promote a competing project based at the University of Maine. That project, Maine Aqua Ventus, plans to test two commercial-scale floating turbines off Monhegan Island in 2019.

Put off by the politics, Statoil took its floating technology to the United Kingdom. Hywind Scotland, the world’s first floating wind park, is set to produce power this year.

Statoil also is a partner at the Dudgeon Offshore Wind Farm in England, which will have the capacity to power 410,000 homes. Blades for this project and others are being made in Hull, at a $382 million factory built by Siemens, the German diversified technology company. More than 700 people work there.

During her visit, Monroe’s delegation went to a city square to see a 246-foot wind rotor blade built by Siemens. It’s meant to symbolize the scale of Hull’s renewable energy industry. The visit received coverage in a local newspaper, the Hull Daily Mail, and Monroe and the others were photographed next to the blade.

The activity along the Humber River is part of the U.K.’s wider embrace of ocean wind power.

The country is on track to build enough offshore wind capacity to meet up to 10 percent of its electric needs in 2020, according to a briefing paper presented by Thomas Simchak, a British Embassy energy policy adviser.

The industry represents an investment of between $24 billion and $32 billion and will create an estimated 6,830 full-time jobs.

Simchak, who led Monroe’s tour, declined to be interviewed by the Press Herald. But a representative for the British Consulate General in Boston said New England states are looking to the UK to help develop offshore wind because of the experience gained since 2000.

“We want to share that expertise with partners like Maine because we can both benefit from cheaper, cleaner and more secure energy infrastructure,” British Consul General for New England Harriet Cross said in a statement.

After years of false starts, New England and the East Coast seem poised to develop an offshore wind industry.

The first offshore wind farm in the United States was built last year, in Rhode Island, with a second phase planned for 2019. Massachusetts lawmakers passed a bill requiring utilities to seek contracts for a massive amount of offshore wind, through a bidding process set to begin this spring. Last week, the U.S. Bureau of Ocean Energy Management announced unsolicited lease requests from two developers for offshore wind sites in New York and Massachusetts. One of them was Statoil.

These projects are targeted for shallow water, where turbine towers are set in the seabed. That’s what was built in Rhode Island, using a conventional method pioneered in Europe. These wind farms wouldn’t involve the experimental, floating technology that was proposed in deepwater off Boothbay Harbor by Statoil, or being developed now by the Aqua Ventus team at UMaine.

But if Statoil had moved ahead in Maine and developed a supplier network in 2012, Von Vogt said, it might have given the state a leg up over our competitors to the south.


Von Vogt said Maine companies already are working on offshore wind planning and development in southern New England and New York, and getting prequalified to bid into the Massachusetts process. His company, Maine Marine Composites, did some work for the Rhode Island wind farm.

“I think we missed a great opportunity here,” he said. “My goal is not to miss them going forward.”

Matt Marks, chief executive officer for Associated General Contractors of Maine, wasn’t aware that state officials had been overseas to study offshore wind, but was happy they were exploring those options. He noted Cianbro Corp. is a partner in Aqua Ventus and that several members, including Reed & Reed, have years of experience with land-based wind projects.

But Marks also said he’d like to see more leadership from the governor’s office in helping companies participate in wind power development. LePage didn’t respond to a request for comment on this story sent through his spokeswoman.


Williamson said he hasn’t spoken to LePage about his experience in England, but he came back with some strong impressions.

One is that Maine should be realistic about what it can gain. In Hull, he said, he learned that Siemens changed earlier plans to build turbines in the city, in favor of Germany. Based on discussions, he suspected that Statoil would have kept turbine manufacturing in Norway, despite hopes in Maine that the expensive components could have been produced here.

Traveling with officials from Massachusetts and Maryland, he also came to understand how they were preparing for offshore wind in their backyards. It will be an uphill climb, he said, for Maine businesses.

“Maine has to compete with states that are just as eager to get these jobs,” he said. “So my lesson was, don’t be naive or uninformed. Look at what other states are doing.”

Tux Turkel can be contacted at 791-6462 or


]]> 0 developed the first floating wind turbine, off Norway in 2009. In 2012, Statoil proposed a $120 million demonstration project off Boothbay Harbor. But it left Maine after Gov. LePage forced regulators to revisit a deal.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:03:22 +0000
Former pharmacy owner convicted of racketeering Thu, 23 Mar 2017 01:59:11 +0000 BOSTON — The former head of a Massachusetts pharmacy was acquitted Wednesday of murder allegations but convicted of racketeering and other crimes in a meningitis outbreak that was traced to fungus-contaminated drugs and killed 64 people across the country.

Prosecutors said Barry Cadden, 50, ran the business in an “extraordinarily dangerous” way by disregarding unsanitary conditions to boost production and make more money.

Cadden, president and co-founder of the now-closed New England Compounding Center, was charged with 25 counts of second-degree murder, conspiracy and other offenses under federal racketeering law.

After five days of deliberations, the jury refused to hold Cadden responsible for the deaths and cleared him on the murder counts. He was found guilty of racketeering, conspiracy and fraud and could get a long prison term at sentencing June 21.

The 2012 outbreak of fungal meningitis and other infections in 20 states was traced by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to contaminated injections of medical steroids, given mostly to people with back pain. In addition to those who died, 700 people fell ill. Indiana, Michigan and Tennessee were hit hardest.

Joan Peay, 76, of Nashville, Tennessee, suffered two bouts of meningitis after receiving a shot for back pain. She wept upon learning the verdict.

“He killed people and he’s getting away with murder. I am furious,” she said. She said that she got so sick from meningitis “I didn’t care if I died,” and that she still suffers from hearing loss, memory problems, a stiff neck and low energy.

Alfred Rye, 77, of Maybee, Michigan, said: “I wish I could give him the same shot he gave me. I think they should pay for their crime.”

Rye fell ill after getting an injection in his lower back 4½ years ago. He said he continues to suffer from a loss of balance and other ill effects.

“Life has been totally hell,” he said.

The racketeering charge and the 52 counts of fraud carry up to 20 years in prison each, but federal sentencing guidelines typically call for far less than the maximum.

Companies charged with selling contaminated drugs often reach settlements with the federal government and agree to pay large fines. The case against the New England Compounding Center stands apart because of the large number of deaths and serious illnesses and because of evidence that Cadden was aware of the unsanitary conditions, said Eric Christofferson, a former federal prosecutor in Boston.

The scandal threw a spotlight on compounding pharmacies, which differ from ordinary drugstores in that they custom-mix medications and supply them directly to hospitals and doctors. In 2013, in reaction to the outbreak, Congress increased federal oversight of such pharmacies.

Federal prosecutor Amanda Strachan told the jury during the two-month trial that the deaths and illnesses happened because Cadden “decided to put profits before patients.”

NECC used expired ingredients and falsified logs to make it look as if the so-called clean rooms had been disinfected, prosecutors said. After the outbreak, regulators found multiple potential sources of contamination, including standing water and mold and bacteria in the air and on workers’ gloved fingertips.

Cadden’s lawyer, Bruce Singal, told the jury Cadden was not responsible for the deaths and pointed the finger at Glenn Chin, a supervisory pharmacist who ran the clean rooms where drugs were made. Chin has pleaded not guilty and is awaiting trial.

After the verdict, Singal said it was a “disgrace” that prosecutors brought murder allegations against Cadden.

“We’re very pleased that the jury acquitted Barry on all 25 of the murder charges and that he can now go home and tell his children that he’s not a murderer,” Singal said. “At the same time, it is Barry’s fervent wish … that people still remember the victims of this terrible public health outbreak.”

NECC filed for bankruptcy after getting hit with hundreds of lawsuits. NECC and several related companies reached a $200 million settlement with victims and their families.

The son of Kentucky Judge Eddie C. Lovelace, who died after receiving injections to treat neck and back pain, said the outcome had shaken his family’s faith in the medical and legal systems.

“Dad always ensured that the defendants were treated justly and fairly. He did that in life, and in death, I feel like he wasn’t afforded either justice or fairness,” Chris Lovelace said.

“As of today, criminally no one has been held responsible or held accountable for my father’s death,” he added. “The only mistake, if you want to call it a mistake, that my father made was he sought out relief from back pain from the medical profession and the consequence of that decision for him was death.”

]]> 0 CADDENWed, 22 Mar 2017 21:59:11 +0000
Airbnb doubling its investment in China Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:56:16 +0000 Airbnb Inc. is showing China some love.

The U.S. home-sharing giant is adopting the name Aibiying in China, one that translates as “welcome each other with love,” as it doubles investment in the country and triples its local workforce to serve the world’s largest population of travelers.

The startup intends to ramp up its Chinese business after more than doubling listings in the country to about 80,000 in 2016, CEO Brian Chesky said. This year, it plans to offer customers in Shanghai its fledgling Airbnb Trips service – a menu of options that can include concert tickets and restaurant reservations.

It’ll begin to market “Experiences,” a feature that will let visitors to the eastern Chinese city book local-led excursions – including going behind the scenes of a traditional folk opera and learning about dough figurines.

“There’s a whole new generation of Chinese travelers who want to see the world in a different way,” Chesky told a news briefing in Shanghai. “We hope that Aibiying and our Trips product inspires them to want to travel in a way that opens doors to new people, communities and neighborhoods across the world.”

Airbnb, last valued at more than $30 billion, is accelerating its drive into Asia after recently turning profitable for the first time, according to people close to the company. Since its start in 2008, the company has raised more than $3 billion to pursue its goal of becoming a full-service travel company and expand its business around the world.

While Airbnb’s established in Asian markets such as Japan, it’s made slower gains in China. The country is dominated by local rivals almost two years after Chesky told Bloomberg News he was “getting really serious” about getting in. Still, it’s a market of 300 million millennials starting to explore solo travel that co-founder Joe Gebbia has described as “on fire.” On Wednesday, Chesky said Airbnb’s total Chinese guests jumped 146 percent in 2016.

“They don’t want tour buses. They don’t want tour packages. They don’t want tourist areas. Instead they want local experiences,” Gebbia said in an interview last week. “It couldn’t be more exciting to think about this wave of Chinese millennials that are starting to earn incomes now.”

Airbnb has taken its time building relationships with Chinese movers and shakers – it still hasn’t named a local CEO. A 2014 partnership with Alibaba Group Holding Ltd. made it easy for Chinese users to pay for Airbnb rentals with Alipay, the local equivalent of PayPal.

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:56:16 +0000
Major advertisers boycott YouTube Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:24:02 +0000 SAN FRANCISCO — AT&T, Verizon and several other major advertisers are suspending their marketing campaigns on Google’s YouTube site after discovering their brands have been appearing alongside videos promoting terrorism and other unsavory subjects.

The spreading boycott confronts Google with a challenge that threatens to cost it hundreds of millions of dollars.

YouTube’s popularity stems from its massive and eclectic library of video, spanning everything from polished TV clips to raw diatribes posted by people bashing homosexuals.

But that diverse selection periodically allows ads to appear next to videos that marketers find distasteful, despite Google’s efforts to prevent it from happening.

Google depends largely on automated programs to place ads in YouTube videos because the job is too much for humans to handle on their own. About 400 hours of video is now posted on YouTube each minute.

Earlier this week, Google vowed to step up its efforts to block ads on “hateful, offensive and derogatory” videos.

“We know that this is unacceptable to the advertisers and agencies who put their trust in us,” Philipp Schindler, Google’s chief business officer, wrote in a Tuesday blog post.

As part of Google’s solution to the problem, Schindler promised to hire “significant numbers” of employees to review YouTube videos and flag them as inappropriate for ads. He also predicted YouTube would be able to address advertisers’ concerns through Google’s recent advancements in artificial intelligence – technology parlance for computers that learn to think like humans.

But that promise so far hasn’t appeased AT&T, Verizon Communications and an expanding global list of advertisers that includes Volkswagen, Audi, HSBC Holdings, the Royal Bank of Scotland and L’Oreal.

“We are deeply concerned that our ads may have appeared alongside YouTube content promoting terrorism and hate,” AT&T said in a statement. “Until Google can ensure this won’t happen again, we are removing our ads from Google’s non-search platforms.”

By extending its ban to everything beyond Google’s search results, AT&T is also effectively pulling its ads from more than 2 million other websites that depend on Google to deliver ads to their pages.

Verizon said it decided to pull ads from YouTube to protect its website while it investigates the “weak links” among its digital advertising partners.

AT&T and Verizon are trying to sell more digital ads in their own networks.

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:24:02 +0000
Changes brewing at Starbucks Thu, 23 Mar 2017 00:17:09 +0000 Starbucks CEO Howard Schultz quite literally handed the keys to the company to his successor on Wednesday. Reaching into his pocket during the company’s annual meeting of shareholders, Schultz plucked the door key to Seattle’s Pike Place Market store, the company’s original location, and handed it to president and chief operating officer Kevin Johnson, who will officially succeed Schultz in early April.

“That has been in my pocket for 35 years,” he said.

Schultz has never shied away from turning the usually drab annual investor meeting into a show of its own – a choreographed event that has long mixed emotional video, lofty commentary on the state of the nation and even pop star surprises for its shareholders. Wednesday was no different, with an appearance from Grammy nominee Leon Bridges, a flag presentation by the Seattle Recruiting Battalion Color Guard and the singing of the national anthem by a chorus of green-aproned Starbucks employees. Even the corporate secretary, announcing results of shareholder votes, made a joke about the Oscars.

Yet it was the passing of the torch from Schultz to Johnson that took center stage, the most visible handoff yet of the succession announced in December. The company unveiled a handful of initiatives, from the expansion of veteran and minority youth hiring programs to new food items in its stores. A question from a conservative shareholder think tank prompted Schultz to respond that boycotts over his pledge to hire refugees had “unequivocally” no impact on the company’s business – producing some of the loudest applause of the event.

But the meeting – and in an interview two days before the shareholder event – Schultz sought to reflect on the culture he’d built at the coffee giant and reassure investors about the person who would soon take the reins. “I have so much faith in Kevin’s ability and leadership skills that he’s the right person at the right time,” Schultz said in an interview Monday, comments that he echoed in the meeting Wednesday. “I think he’s better prepared than me to lead the company into the future.”

Still, Johnson will be taking over a company whose sales in the U.S. have not been on a caffeinated high. This year marks the first time since the financial crisis that the stock has been down in the year preceding the annual meeting. As U.S. sales failed to meet analyst expectations five quarters in a row, investors have driven down shares in Starbucks 4 percent over the past year, compared with a 15 percent rise in the S&P 500 stock index. In January, it trimmed its full-year revenue forecast.

Both Johnson and Schultz said they are confident about the company’s growth in China, where it now operates more than 2,600 stores and is opening more than one store a day, as well as new digital efforts to enhance ordering and gift-card sharing and new food and coffee options. Schultz, who will step down from the CEO role but continue on as executive chairman, plans to lead the company’s new high-end Roastery and Reserve brands, as well as focus on the company’s social impact efforts.

He was one of the first non-tech CEOs to speak out against Trump’s first travel ban. He promised to hire 10,000 refugees over the next five years in 75 countries.

]]> 0 Schultz, Starbucks chairman, left, gives incoming CEO Kevin Johnson the key to the original Pike Place Market store Wednesday during the shareholders meeting in Seattle.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 20:17:09 +0000
South Portland asks pipeline company for data to back up tax abatement request Wed, 22 Mar 2017 23:56:14 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — City Assessor Jim Thomas has asked for sweeping documentation of Portland Pipe Line Corp. operations to support its request for a property tax abatement, a move that will delay his decision until mid-June.

One of the largest taxpayers in South Portland, the pipeline company is seeking a 42 percent reduction in the $44.7 million assessed value of holdings stretching over 210 acres, from its oil tanker pier at Cushing Point on Casco Bay to a vacant 72-acre wooded parcel off Highland Avenue.

In its abatement application, the company blamed its reduced property values on shifting economic factors and the city’s Clear Skies ordinance, which the company is challenging in federal court. However, it provided no details to back up the request.

Passed by the City Council in 2014, the ordinance’s ban on crude oil exports has “significantly reduced the value” of the South Portland-to-Montreal pipeline, according to the abatement application. The company, a Canadian-owned subsidiary of ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy, also “suffers from severe economic obsolescence that has not been taken into account in the assessment,” the application says.

In a letter to its lawyers, Thomas asked the company “to state the basis for (its assertion) that the property ‘is substantially overvalued’ and provide copies of any information that supports this assertion.”

Thomas asked specifically for more than 50 types of documents from the last several years, including recent property appraisals, inventories and records of capital improvements; company budgets, financial forecasts and capital plans; and engineering, feasibility and market studies on the potential of shutting down, cleaning up, redeveloping or selling pipeline properties.

Thomas initially was expected to respond to the company’s abatement application by March 14, but its lawyers requested a two-month extension to fulfill the assessor’s request for additional information.

“Given the breadth of your request, Portland Pipe Line’s current staffing levels and the importance of this matter to all parties, (the company) will need an additional 60 days to respond,” wrote attorney Jonathan Block of Pierce Atwood. The company asked for an extension to provide the documentation by May 14 and would give Thomas until June 13 to respond.

The 236-mile pipeline, which has carried foreign crude for 75 years, has largely shut down since refineries in Montreal started drawing oil from western Canada and North Dakota. The Clear Skies ordinance prevents the company from potentially reversing the pipeline’s flow to bring oil from Canada to tankers in South Portland.

If Thomas granted the abatement as requested, the city would lose $331,247 in property tax revenue, adding to the more than $1 million that taxpayers have spent so far defending the Clear Skies ordinance against the pipeline company’s lawsuit.

If Thomas refuses to change pipeline property values, the company could appeal his decision to the city’s Board of Assessment Review and proceed to court if the matter isn’t resolved at the municipal level.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

]]> 0 Pipe Line Corp.'s tank farm off Nutter Road in South Portland.Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:26:25 +0000
Storied retailer Sears could see the end Wed, 22 Mar 2017 22:51:47 +0000 After years of mounting losses, the parent company of Sears and Kmart says there is “substantial doubt” about its financial viability.

“Our historical operating results indicate substantial doubt exists related to the company’s ability to continue as a going concern,” Sears Holdings said Tuesday in its annual report.

The biggest question, the company said, is whether it can raise enough cash to stay afloat. It has $4.2 billion in debt, up from $3 billion a year ago.

Sears Holdings, the parent of Kmart and Sears, Roebuck, & Co., was formed after the March 2005 merger between the two American retail icons. For decades, Sears reigned as one of the country’s largest retailers, with roughly $40 billion in revenue and 2,500 stores in the U.S. and Canada.

But in recent years the company has struggled to keep its footing. The decline of suburban shopping malls and the rise of online retail have dealt a double-whammy to both Kmart and Sears. As a result, the parent company has shuttered dozens of stores and sold off some of its brands.

In Maine, Sears operates regular department stores in Augusta, Bangor, Brunswick and South Portland. The Augusta store is closing this month. Smaller, Sears-branded “Hometown” stores in Belfast, Biddeford, Caribou, Ellsworth, Farmington, Fort Kent, Houlton, Newport and Windham, are operated by a wholly separate company, Sears Hometown & Outlet Stores Inc.

Kmart operates five stores in Maine, according to its website. They are in Auburn, Augusta, Bangor, Madawaska and Waterville. It closed a store in Presque Isle in 2015.

Sears Holdings hasn’t turned an annual profit since 2010. Last year, it reported losses of $2.2 billion. Annual revenue, meanwhile, declined 12 percent to $22.1 billion.

Last month, the company said it was planning a “strategic transformation” by trimming $1 billion in annual costs. It also recently announced plans to close an additional 150 Kmart and Sears stores.

“We believe the actions outlined today will ensure that Sears Holdings becomes a more agile and competitive retailer with a clear path toward profitability,” Edward S. Lampert, the company’s chief executive, said in February.

But six weeks later, Sears executives warned that those efforts may not be successful. Even so, they said, executives will continue to try to raise cash by financing debt and selling off real estate.

“We acknowledge that we continue to face a challenging competitive environment,” the company said in its annual report. “We cannot predict, with certainty, the outcome of our actions to generate liquidity.”

The cautionary language marked the first time Sears has offered such warnings in its filings with the Securities and Exchange Commission.

In a statement released Wednesday, Sears Holdings chief financial officer Jason Hollar, said that media reports about the warnings failed to include “the actions we are taking to mitigate those risks.”

“It is very important to reiterate that Sears Holdings remains focused on executing our transformation plan and will continue to take actions to help ensure our competitiveness and ability to continue to meet our financial obligations,” Hollar said in the statement.

Still, the warning is another setback for Lampert, 54, a Yale-educated billionaire once known for his savvy investments. His magic has not worked at the aging retailer, even after his ESL Investments hedge fund pumped $1 billion into the company. The company has lost $5 billion in the last three years, and has shuttered hundreds of stores.

The company now has about 1,430 Sears and Kmart stores in the United States, down from 3,500 in 2010.

All the while, the share prices have steadily fallen. They plunged more than 14 percent Wednesday after the announcement.

Analysts said the fact that the “going concern” language was contained in management discussion of Sears annual report and not in the letter from the company’s auditor was an important distinction.

“If an auditor puts ‘going concern’ language in its opinion of the company, then that can trigger a default and become more serious,” said Carla Casella, managing director and senior analyst at J.P.Morgan. “Sears lenders could actually be asked to be paid back” if the company is required to “cure” or fix the problem.

“The company saying there could be the event of default is important, but not as serious,” Casella said. “Sears can recover from this if they are able to make good on their restructuring plan, which is to cut costs, and to sell assets, real estate and businesses.”

This story was updated at 12:30 p.m. March 23 to reflect that a separate company owns and operates Sears Hometown and outlet stores.

]]> 0 employee Cal Brown stands in front of the Sears in Augusta that will close this month, leaving regular Sears stores only in Bangor, Brunswick and South Portland.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 12:36:12 +0000
Maine home sales down, values up in February Wed, 22 Mar 2017 19:29:20 +0000 The value of Maine real estate continued to increase in February despite a sharp decline in sales, according to the Maine Association of Realtors.

The association reported a 12.5 percent jump in the median sale price for existing, detached single-family homes in February compared with a year earlier, bringing the statewide median price to $180,000. The median indicates that half of the homes were sold for more and half sold for less.

However, homes sales volume declined by 12.9 percent statewide. Bad weather was a major factor,  association President Greg Gosselin said.

“The February 2017 data was impacted by a 10-day period of record-breaking snow and a comparison to a Leap Year in 2016, adding an extra day of sales back then,” said Gosselin, broker and owner of Gosselin Realty Group in York. “However, the rolling-quarter statistics indicate continuing strong real estate sales and value trends throughout Maine.”

The association tracks changes in home sales volume and median price on a rolling, three-month basis for Maine and its individual counties. Statewide, sales volume was up 3.1 percent from the previous year for the three-month period ending Feb. 28. The median price for the period was $185,000 – up 7.8 percent from a year earlier.

The biggest countywide increase in sales for the three-month period was in York County, where sales volume increased by 27.8 percent compared with a year earlier. The biggest decrease was in Sagadahoc County, where sales were down 22.1 percent.

Somerset County had the biggest increase in median price for the three-month period, up 57.1 percent from a year earlier to $110,000. The only decrease in median price was in Knox County, where the median fell 3.3 percent from a year earlier to $183,750.

According to the National Association of Realtors, sales of single-family homes nationwide rose 5.8 percent in February compared with the previous year. The national median sale price of $229,900 represented a 7.6 percent jump from February 2015.

Regionally, single-family home sales in the Northeast increased by 1.5 percent in February, while the median price rose 4.1 percent to $250,200.

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

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

]]> 0 Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:07:28 +0000
Federal regulators put an end to turbulent season in northern Gulf of Maine scallop fishery Wed, 22 Mar 2017 18:39:39 +0000 Federal authorities are closing the scallop fishery in the northern Gulf of Maine at 12:01 a.m. Thursday after a contentious three-week season that pitted the interests of part-time, small-boat fishermen from Maine against large, full-time scallop operators.

Fisheries regulators announced the closure Wednesday after small-boat fishermen – many of them Maine lobstermen operating 40- to 45-foot boats – met their annual quota of 70,000 pounds. The developments do not apply to the scallop fishery in state waters, which extend to 3 miles from shore.

This year’s federal harvest has been contentious because the large, full-time boats are believed to have caught more than 1 million pounds of scallops in the northern Gulf of Maine scallop fishing area, but owing to a quirk in federal rules the fishery could not be closed until the small vessels caught 70,000 pounds. This month’s storms and unseasonable weather had kept the small boats in port, delaying their ability to meet their annual quota and close the area to the larger vessels, who were permitted to continue harvesting large quantities of scallops under federal rules.

“We have a lot of fishermen who are very happy about it being closed,” said Ben Martens, executive director of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association, which represents many of the smaller boats. “We have boats that were fishing in bad weather they shouldn’t have been in, because they felt they had to meet the quota to close the fishery because they were concerned about the impact to the ecosystem and the sustainability of the larger resource.”

Small-boat fishermen have been protesting the regulatory situation for years, noting that the larger boats have no quota on how many scallops they can catch in the Northern Gulf of Maine scallop zone, a 40- to 50-mile-wide band of federal waters off the coasts of Maine, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. Instead, the larger boats operate with days-at-sea limits, and can use them wherever they wish, both inside and outside the northern gulf zone. The small-boat fleet’s advocates argue the arrangement jeopardizes the scallop stock in the area and with it the economic vitality of Maine’s fishing communities.

“This loophole needs to be closed once and for all,” said Togue Brawn, owner of Downeast Dayboat, a Portland scallop wholesaler and champion of the small-boat fishermen. “It is absolutely critical to the future of the Maine small-boat fleet. In Maine we solely depend on lobster, and we need diversity, to be able to go for other species.”

Last year, Maine’s scallop fishery – from both state and federal waters – was valued at about $7 million, while the lobster fishery exceeded $533 million.

Federal fisheries managers and full-time scallop fishermen say Brawn’s characterization is wrong, that the resource is thriving and that the part-timers in Maine are making a controversy where there isn’t one.

The scallop fleet in the Northeast tends to descend on one place with a high density of scallops on the bottom, dredge them hard and fast, and move on – a “pulse fishing” approach that was a disaster when employed against cod and other groundfish by factory-freezer trawlers in the 1970s and 1980s.

But the pulse approach actually works with scallops, which are thriving and well managed, said John Bullard, administrator of the northeastern regional office of the National Marine Fisheries Service in Gloucester, Massachusetts.

“People identify dense beds of scallops, the fleet moves in and fishes them very heavily, and then they’re closed and they move on,” Bullard said. Because they catch the scallops quickly, the dredges are dragged over a small area, reducing damage to the sea floor and collateral damage to other bottom life. “It’s a very efficient way to fish a lot of scallops, and it’s produced very good results over a long period of time.”

Drew Minkiewicz, a Washington, D.C., attorney for the Fisheries Survival Fund, a coalition of full-time scallopers, agrees. “That’s what we do with rotational access: We allocate troops there, we fish it hard, and when it goes away we close it and it comes back,” he said. “We stole it from agriculture, where they rotate crops or fields.”

“You can’t argue with success,” he says. “We are at abundances in the scallop fishery that were never seen before. This is a well-managed fishery.”


This season the action has been at Stellwagen Bank, which is off Massachusetts Bay and lies within the Northern Gulf of Maine scallop zone. The zone was created in 2008 as a concession to Maine’s part-time scallop fishermen who had not caught enough scallops in earlier years to earn a conventional federal license. They are allowed to fish within the zone using a small dredge with a day limit of 200 pounds. When they meet their annual quota – 70,000 pounds this year – the fishery in the area is closed.

That means both large and small vessels were fishing the same waters, and would continue to do so until the small boats met their quota. But bad weather in March presented an unusual problem: The small boats couldn’t get out while the big ones continued fishing, resulting in more scallops being taken than would otherwise have been the case.

Bullard and his colleagues at the fisheries service – part of the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration – say the fleets probably took about 1 million pounds from Stellwagen Bank this year, about half of the total scallop stock thought to be there. “We don’t think the amount of scallops that will be taken out of Stellwagen threatens its sustainability,” Bullard said Wednesday.

That doesn’t mean there couldn’t have been a problem if the weather had kept the small boats in port for a longer period, Bullard said, but a proposed fix is on its way. Bullard said that Terry Stockwell, a Maine Department of Marine Resources employee who serves as vice chair of the New England Fisheries Management Council, is drafting a motion to put before the council that would put trip limits on the full-time vessels’ access to the zone. In a written statement to the Press Herald, Stockwell confirmed he was preparing a motion that would address “inconsistent management measures between the different scallop permit categories and the need for better science.”

That would be a relief to the small-boat fishermen, who note that if the northern Gulf of Maine scallops are depleted, the big, full-time scallopers can go elsewhere, while they aren’t allowed to fish outside the zone. “Small boats can thrive when they have a diverse fishery to move between, and we in Maine and New Hampshire need to increase and diversify the landings of our fleets of boats,” said Martens of the Maine Coast Fishermen’s Association. “Small boats can’t leave and go to other areas, so the incentive is for them to have sustainable, long-term and growing fisheries there.

“We can’t have booms and busts with this resource.”

Togue estimated there was a core group of about a dozen small-boat Maine fishermen who regularly participated in the federal scallop fishery in the northern gulf. Minkiewicz’s association represents some 200 full-time scallopers from North Carolina to Maine, including Rockland-based O’Hara Co., which operates several large boats.


Maine Department of Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher said he was “very pleased” that federal authorities were closing the fishery. “The current situation was not envisioned 10 years ago when the (northern gulf scallop zone) was established, and we plan to address the management inconsistencies between permit categories through the New England Fisheries Management Council process.”

Members of Maine’s congressional delegation have been pressuring federal officials to address the situation. In a joint letter to Bullard on Friday, Sen. Angus King, an independent, and Rep. Chellie Pingree, a Democrat who represents Maine’s 1st District, expressed concern that overfishing might be taking place and requested further information on measures the fisheries agency was taking to protect the resource.

Both were pleased Wednesday that the fishery is being closed.

“I am glad NOAA has responded to our request for action,” Pingree said in a written statement. “This closure will not only allow the New England Fishery Management Council to consider changes to some of these loopholes, it will allow NOAA to accurately determine the amount of total catch that has been harvested this season.”

King said the closure “will at least result in a temporary respite to the problems caused by the flaws in the current management plan, but it also highlights the continued and critical need to develop a more vigorous strategy that meaningfully and fairly accounts for all harvests in the area and doesn’t pit fishermen against one another.”

Both said they would continue to follow the fishery management council’s deliberations to ensure the resource is properly managed.

Colin Woodard can be contacted at 791-6317 or at:

]]> 0 fishing boats drag for scallops last week in the Gulf of Maine. Maine's small boat fishermen scrambled in bad weather this season to reach their quota so the scallop grounds would be closed to the larger boats, which have no quotas under federal fishing rules.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 08:27:32 +0000
Hack of state’s job-matching vendor puts Mainers’ personal data at risk Wed, 22 Mar 2017 16:03:47 +0000 Nine months after the Maine Department of Labor outsourced its federally mandated job-matching service to an out-of-state vendor, that vendor has suffered a data breach that resulted in the theft of an unknown number of Mainers’ sensitive personal information.

America’s JobLink of Topeka, Kansas, has become the victim of a hacking incident from an outside source in which the names, dates of birth and Social Security numbers of an unspecified number of job-seekers in up to 10 states were accessed, according to a news release. The states include Alabama, Arizona, Arkansas, Delaware, Idaho, Illinois, Kansas, Oklahoma, Vermont and Maine.

Maine eliminated its Maine Job Bank service within the Department of Labor in July and outsourced the work to America’s JobLink, citing cost savings and better technology. Roughly 12,650 Maine residents have used the service since July, although not all of them included their Social Security numbers in their account information, the department said.

The data breach was discovered Tuesday, and America’s JobLink technicians have since patched the security hole that allowed the hackers entry, the release said. New accounts created on or after March 16 were not affected, the state Department of Labor said.

The homepage of the JobLink website sponsored by the Maine Department of Labor.

Department spokeswoman Julie Rabinowitz said Maine officials are awaiting the outcome of an investigation by a digital forensics firm and the FBI to determine how many Maine accounts were compromised.

In July, the department outsourced both its job-matching service and case management for Mainers enrolled in publicly funded training programs to America’s JobLink, which describes itself as “an alliance of workforce organizations partnering to produce high-quality information technology, while maximizing the return on investments for members.”

Rabinowitz said the in-house systems used by the department prior to outsourcing were antiquated and did not meet new federal standards.

“Maine is caught between a rock and a hard place in meeting federal requirements with limited funding, because the federal funding is based on population and unemployment rate,” she said.

Prior to outsourcing, the department paid $650,000 to the state Office of Information Technology to maintain the job bank and case management systems during the 2015 fiscal year, which ended June 30, 2016. Under the outsourcing agreement with America’s JobLink, Maine pays an annual subscription rate of $465,000 a year, plus an additional $136,500 to the information technology office, Rabinowitz said. That’s an annual savings of $48,500.

The department issued a news release Wednesday about the breach and said it plans to post additional information on the job service website,

The department advised users of the service to log into their JobLink account to check whether their Social Security number was listed. It can be removed as long as the job-seeker is not actively filing for unemployment benefits, it said. The department did not explain how removing it now would benefit the user, since the hack already has occurred.

The department recommended that JobLink users put a freeze on their credit report if they had a valid Social Security number in their JobLink account. Maine law allows residents to freeze their credit report for free, which prevents thieves from accessing it. It also is possible to place a free, 90-day fraud alert on credit reports with the three major credit reporting organizations, it said.

Those with questions can call the department at (888) 457-8883.

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

Twitter: jcraiganderson

]]> 0 with the release of emails from the Democratic National Committe through this week's embarrassing leaks of Colin Powell's private emails, foreign agents are trying to influence our election.Thu, 23 Mar 2017 05:46:26 +0000
‘MaineLife’ enters partnership with MaineToday Media Wed, 22 Mar 2017 08:00:00 +0000 A partnership between MaineToday Media and Erin Ovalle, host of “MaineLife,” will give the Maine lifestyle show greater distribution.

Ovalle’s show, now in its second season, will be produced at VSTV in Rockport, a studio owned by Reade Brower, owner of MaineToday and other media franchises.

The partnership means “MaineLife” can be viewed on and websites, as well as on air Sundays at 11:30 a.m. on WCSH-TV in Portland. The show follows Ovalle as she explores Maine places and people.

]]> 0 Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:04:44 +0000
Lawmaker calls for oversight of Maine’s public advocate Wed, 22 Mar 2017 00:48:13 +0000 AUGUSTA — The sponsor of a bill that calls for a board to oversee Maine’s public advocate says that it would take the politics out of the position, and that it’s not solely the product of conflicts between a utility led by his son and the advocate’s office.

But opponents, including Republican Gov. Paul LePage’s acting energy director and the Maine Public Utilities Commission, are urging a legislative committee to kill the bill, which they say would endanger the independence of the public advocate.

Republican Rep. Roger Sherman said he is sponsoring the bill because he’s not always “sure” of decisions made by Public Advocate Timothy Schneider, who represents ratepayers before state, regional and federal regulators. Sherman’s son is the general manager of a municipal water and electric utility that has clashed with the advocate’s office and helped shape Sherman’s bill.

Schneider was appointed by LePage and confirmed by the Maine Legislature in 2013 for a four-year term that expires in May.

LePage has clashed with Schneider on solar policy and has called his appointment “one of the worst, worst decisions ever in my life.”

Schneider’s predecessor, Richard Davies, who was appointed a decade ago, served at the pleasure of the governor and was considered part of the administration. But legislators changed the law in 2009 to make the public advocate form policy positions independent of the governor.

Schneider, a former lawyer who represented electricity and natural gas companies, told the Legislature’s Energy, Utilities and Technology Committee on Tuesday that his office isn’t “totally immune” from political pressure because the governor and the Legislature approve his office’s budget requests.

Still, he said: “I’m reasonably confident that if I did something that upset the governor I would be able to carry out my term because of protections the statute affords me.”

Sherman said his bill would strengthen the independence of the public advocate by forming a three-person board that would appoint the next advocate and provide “policy guidance.” The governor, the Senate president and the House speaker each would appoint one of the board’s members. The public advocate would serve a six-year term, subject to legislative confirmation.

Opponents urged the committee Tuesday to kill the bill at an upcoming work session, and said that changing it to prevent the board from arbitrarily removing the public advocate wouldn’t satisfy their concerns with the bill’s intent.

“This structure intentionally, and transparently, makes the public advocate subject to the influence of the board – a board made up of members who are political appointees,” said Angela Monroe, LePage’s acting energy director.

The next public advocate’s term would begin Feb. 1, 2018.

“We can get someone in there with a little bit of a different view of things,” Sherman told The Associated Press before Tuesday’s hearing.

Sherman, who questioned the viability of wind power and noted that LePage has called for more hydropower and lower electricity costs, said the next advocate should listen to such calls.

“I think he or she really should listen to this: We need power, cheap as we can have it,” Sherman said.

Sherman’s son, Greg, is general manager of the Houlton Water Co., a municipal water and electric utility that recently won permission from the LePage-appointed PUC to leave Emera Maine and connect to the Canadian power grid.

The public advocate opposed the move, questioning the projections of savings and what would happen during a power outage.

In prepared testimony, Greg Sherman told the committee that his father’s bill would “take some politics out of the appointment.”

The younger Sherman said that over the past 15 years, the public advocate has three times reversed support of policies that the utility backed.

In 2014, the Public Advocate’s Office withdrew its opposition to a multimillion-dollar wind venture that the utility opposed.

“We do not know if the governor interfered with the policy change but having the (public advocate) report to a three-person board would allow for different opinions and balanced guidance,” Greg Sherman said.

]]> 0 Tue, 21 Mar 2017 20:49:56 +0000
Judge rules that rockweed harvesters need landowners’ permission Tue, 21 Mar 2017 23:02:11 +0000 A Superior Court judge has ruled against a Canadian rockweed harvesting company in a civil case, saying that harvesters need to obtain a landowner’s permission before they can remove the seaweed growing on private intertidal property.

The March 16 ruling by Justice Harold Stewart II, which could affect an growingexpanding industry in the state, applies to the entire coast of Maine and concludes that rockweed growing in the intertidal zone is privately owned property and is not owned by the state in trust for the public.

The Maine Department of Marine Resources and other opponents say the court’s decision will harm the $20 million rockweed harvesting industry and is almost certain to be appealed to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

“I’m very disappointed in the decision. I plan to continue to manage it as a fishery and will be filing an amicus brief to ensure the court has all the relevant information during the appeal process,” said Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher.

“It is important to note that in making this decision, the court made clear that it does not apply to other fishing activities that take place in the intertidal zone, such as worming, clamming or digging mussels,” Keliher said in a statement.

He said those activities remain protected under Maine law, which establishes that public trust rights in intertidal land include the right to use it for fishing, fowling and navigation.

In his ruling on the lawsuit, Stewart sided with plaintiffs Kenneth W. Ross and Carl E. Ross, who own coastal property on Cobscook Bay and Chandler Bay in Washington County, and a third plaintiff, Roque Island Gardner Homestead Corp. The Ross brothers are Calais natives and still live in Maine, according to their attorney.

Acadian Seaplants Ltd. of Dartmouth, Nova Scotia, was named as the defendant in the lawsuit.

On its website, Acadian Seaplants describes itself as a world leader in marine plant products, employing more than 350 people in eight countries.

The company says its processed rockweed is used in the manufacture of fertilizer, as well as food for people and animals. According to its website, products may include edible sea vegetables, brewing agents like Irish moss, ingredients for dietary supplements, along with cosmetics and personal care products.

Acadian Seaplants President J.P. Deveau could not be reached Tuesday, but he told Maine Public last week that the decision will be appealed to the state’s highest court.

The plaintiffs’ attorney, Gordon Smith of Portland, praised the judge’s decision and agreed with the state that it will not affect clamming or worming.

“The rights to clam, to mussel, to worm, all those are well-settled rights that will be completely unaffected by the outcome of this case,” Smith said.

Smith said that during an appeal, rockweed harvesting will be allowed to continue.

“It was a pretty comprehensive opinion by the judge. He addressed all the legal arguments that the parties were making,” he said. “Judge Stewart did a great job digging into the issues and understanding what was going on, so it was a good decision for us.”

Smith said Acadian Seaplants Ltd. will have 21 days after Stewart enters his final judgment – which had not happened as of Tuesday – to appeal the decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

Jeff Nichols, spokesman for the Maine Department of Marine Resources, said there were 134 licensed seaweed harvesters in Maine in 2016. They landed 13,977,313 pounds of seaweed, of which rockweed represented about 97 percent.

Other seaweed species that are harvested along Maine’s coast include dulse, Irish moss, kelp, nori, sea lettuce and wormweed. The overall landed value of the product – the value paid to harvesters – was $468,105 on 2016, according to Nichols.

In a 2013 report – the most recent data available – the Department of Marine Resources and Maine Sea Grant, a University of Maine research program, estimated that the overall value of rockweed, after it has been processed into retail products, is in the vicinity of $20 million per year, Nichols said.

Staff Writer Mary Pols contributed to this report.

]]> 0 Tue, 21 Mar 2017 20:54:58 +0000
Stocks tumble as Republican health care bill stalls in Congress Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:50:45 +0000 NEW YORK – U.S. stocks took their biggest loss in five months Tuesday as a health care bill backed by President Donald Trump ran into trouble in Congress, which raised some questions about his agenda of faster economic growth spurred on by lower taxes and cuts in regulations.

Banks plunged as bond yields continued to fall, which will mean lower interest rates on loans. Transportation companies including airlines, railroads and rental car companies dropped, and so did materials companies like steel and chemicals makers. The dollar weakened. Small-company stocks, which stand to benefit the most from Trump’s policy proposals of lower taxes and looser regulations, fell more than the rest of the market.

“President Trump promised that this health care bill would be signed, sealed, delivered within the first couple of weeks of him taking office,” said Jack Ablin, chief investment officer for BMO Capital Markets. “All this is doing is pushing the rest of the agenda out.”

The Standard & Poor’s 500 index tumbled 29.45 points, or 1.1 percent, to 2,344.02. That was its biggest drop since Oct. 11. The Dow Jones industrial average fell 237.85 points, or 1.1 percent, to 20,668.01.

The Nasdaq composite surrendered 107.70 points, or 1.8 percent, to 5,793.83. The Russell 2000 index of small-company stocks plunged 37.55 points, or 2.7 percent, to 1,346.55. Four-fifths of the stocks on the New York Stock Exchange fell.

Stocks have fallen for four days in a row, though the previous losses were small. Tuesday’s losses were a reversal of the patterns that have endured since Trump was elected in November, but overall stocks are still sharply higher since then.

On Thursday the House of Representatives is scheduled to vote on the Republican-backed American Health Care Act, and despite support from the president on Tuesday, it’s not clear if the House or the Senate will approve the bill. The administration hopes to get a major tax reform package to Congress by August, and a big infrastructure spending proposal may follow next year.

Banks had their worst day in nine months as bond prices rose. The yield on the 10-year Treasury note declined to 2.42 percent from 2.46 percent. Bank of America fell $1.42, or 5.8 percent, to $23.02. KeyCorp sank $1.18, or 6.5 percent, to $16.90, the biggest loss in the S&P 500. JPMorgan Chase gave up $2.64, or 2.9 percent, to $87.39. Still, banks have done far better than the rest of the market since the election.

Among transportation companies, United Continental lost $2.21, or 3.3 percent, to $65.28 and railroad operator CSX declined $1.26, or 2.7 percent, to $45.62. Hertz Global skidded $1.86, or 8.7 percent, to $19.40. Companies that make steel, chemicals, and other basic materials also slid. AK Steel plunged 86 cents, or 10.4 percent, to $7.51 and U.S. Steel lost $3.34, or 9 percent, to $33.76.

The price of copper also dropped. The metal’s price tends to rise when investors are more optimistic about the economy, and copper has risen 14 percent over the last year. It sank 5 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $2.62 a pound on Tuesday.

Big-dividend companies, especially utilities, did well. Investors often buy those stocks when bond yields are falling. Dominion Resources rose $1.38, or 1.8 percent, to $78.21 and PPL gained 67 cents, or 1.8 percent, to $37.47. Some household goods makers also rose. Jack Daniel’s whisky maker Brown-Forman climbed 47 cents, or 1 percent, to $47.28.

Kate Warne, an investment strategist for Edward Jones, said investors are taking some profits after the market’s long post-election winning streak, but noted that Wall Street is especially eager for the administration’s tax reform proposals.

“I think investors see (corporate tax reform) as more important in terms of supporting the stock market even if it’s not as important in terms of its effect on the economy” as health care, she said.

Food companies fell after General Mills posted a better-than-expected profit but weaker sales. The Cheerios maker faces more competitive pricing and a market that has been shifting demand from processed foods. Its stock dipped 50 cents to $59.76.rose 0.4 percent.

]]> 0 Tue, 21 Mar 2017 19:24:17 +0000
Las Vegas casino owner eyeing $1 million March Madness victory Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:37:22 +0000 ATLANTIC CITY, N.J. – This is March Madness on a whole different level.

A bet between two Las Vegas casino owners will cost one of them $1 million if Michigan wins the NCAA men’s basketball tournament.

Derek Stevens, who owns The D Las Vegas and Golden Gate casinos, plunked down $12,500 on the Wolverines at the Golden Nugget Las Vegas, which was offering 80-to-1 odds before the tournament started.

“It’s a little scary, because they’re only putting up twelve-five, and you’re putting up a million,” said Tilman Fertitta, the Texas billionaire who owns the Golden Nugget. “But that’s the nature of the business we’re in. It’s OK, ’cause he’s a good customer.”

Stevens, a Michigan native and University of Michigan alumnus, bet $11,000 each on all 32 first-round games, but got off to a rocky start, down $109,000 after the opening round. But it’s his wager on the seventh-seeded Wolverines that could turn that tide.

Michigan has advanced to the Sweet 16, bringing Fertitta closer to making a payout 10 times larger than any his casino’s sports book has ever made. Michigan plays No 3 seed Oregon Thursday and still needs four wins to win the national championship.

“Michigan seems to be kind of a darling right now,” Fertitta said. “It’s giving us a good sweat.”

The Golden Nugget could have rejected the bet, but Fertitta personally approved it.

Stevens posted a copy of his betting slip from the Golden Nugget on Twitter.

Fertitta himself is tied for second place in a nationwide charity brackets pool, the Bloomberg Brackets for a Cause March Madness challenge. Picking his own alma mater North Carolina to win it all, he promises to give the $380,000 prize to the Houston Police Foundation if he wins.

Fertitta also owns Atlantic City’s Golden Nugget casino, which he bought from President Donald Trump’s former company, and Landry’s Inc., one of the nation’s largest restaurant companies. He also stars on the reality TV show “Billion Dollar Buyer” on CNBC.

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Group backing South Portland’s Clear Skies ordinance gives city $10,000 Tue, 21 Mar 2017 22:26:38 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — The advocacy group Protect South Portland has raised more than $11,000 through a crowd-funding website to support the city’s fight against a federal lawsuit by the Portland Pipe Line Corp. that has already cost more than $1 million in legal fees.

Group leaders presented a check for $10,000 to the City Council on Monday night, bringing the total for private contributions to the city’s Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund to $135,242.

The group’s fundraising campaign, posted on in December, had raised $11,825 toward its $25,000 goal by Tuesday afternoon.

Group spokeswoman Mary Jane Ferrier said the campaign has received donations ranging from $5 to $500 from people who support the city’s Clear Skies ordinance, which banned the loading of crude oil into tankers on South Portland’s waterfront.

“All of these donations speak loudly of the strong support of South Portland citizens for this ordinance,” Ferrier said in a prepared statement.

Passed by the council in July 2014, the ordinance effectively blocked the pipeline company from potentially reversing the flow of its 236-mile South Portland-to-Montreal pipeline.

It was approved after city voters narrowly defeated a similar proposal in 2013, the Waterfront Protection Ordinance, which would have prevented any new, expanded or rebuilt petroleum facilities on the waterfront.

The company sued the city in February 2015, claiming that the ban is unconstitutional because it interferes with interstate commerce, discriminates against Canadian interests, devalues the pipeline and infringes on areas of regulation.

The Clear Skies ordinance cites concerns about air pollution associated with the bulk loading of crude oil into tankers.

More recently, with Canada refining heavy crude from its western provinces and North Dakota, declining demand for foreign crude slowed tanker deliveries to South Portland’s waterfront to only 11 last year, according to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

The company applied for a property tax abatement in December, blaming the Clear Skies ordinance for a 42 percent reduction in the $44.7 million assessed value of its holdings across the city.

If the city assessor grants the abatement as requested, the company’s annual tax bill will drop from $791,447 to $460,200.

Parties in the lawsuit are awaiting action by U.S. District Judge John Woodcock Jr. to determine whether the lawsuit will go to trial this spring in Portland.

Whatever the outcome, the case is expected to wind up in the 1st U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in Boston and add to the legal costs.

Kelley Bouchard can be contacted at:

]]> 0 lawsuit filed by Portland Pipe Line Corp. challenging South Portland’s oil export ban is being allowed to move forward.Tue, 21 Mar 2017 20:45:06 +0000