The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Local & State http://www.pressherald.com Tue, 30 Aug 2016 08:00:57 +0000 en-US hourly 1 http://wordpress.org/?v=4.3.5 Some say they’ll remain in homeless camp despite Portland police deadline http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/30/some-say-theyll-remain-in-homeless-camp-despite-portland-police-deadline/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/30/some-say-theyll-remain-in-homeless-camp-despite-portland-police-deadline/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1036154 Two men and two women sat at a table under a Maine Turnpike overpass near the Portland-Westbrook line late Monday morning, making it clear they’re in no hurry to leave.

Each had a 25-ounce Natty Daddy, a high-alcohol beer, as they played a game of Trouble. Nearby, three tents were set up near a graffiti-covered wall. A mattress lay on the ground.

“We have nowhere to go. Nowhere,” one of the women said as the highway traffic roared overhead. “We’ll probably all go to jail.”

Portland police have given people staying on nearly 30 acres of land off Brighton Avenue until Wednesday to clear out. It’s unknown how many occupants of the encampment have left or intend to do so by Wednesday.

But the four people sitting beneath the highway said they have no plans to go anywhere.

It’s unclear exactly how many people are staying on the privately owned land, which sits behind Lowe’s and Jo-Ann Fabrics. But it’s apparent that the encampment has been there for years, with well-trodden paths connecting a network of campsites and piles of garbage. Some camps have wooden structures and fire pits, and others have gardens, including one with tomatoes, squash and watermelon.

None of the four occupants interviewed Monday wanted to be identified or would give their full name. Only Andy, a 36-year-old native of Waterville, would give a first name.

Homeless people play a board game Monday under a turnpike overpass where they have set up tents and hope to remain. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Homeless people play a board game Monday under a turnpike overpass where they have set up tents and hope to remain. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Andy estimated that there are more than two dozen people living in what some people have called Tent City, or the Pine Tree Camp. Some have camped there for nearly a decade, he said.

“Don’t call it ‘Tent City,’ ” Andy said. “We call it home.”

Fliers have been popping up around the city to “Save Pine Tree Camp,” saying that “homelessness is not a crime.” Although the fliers call for a halt to any enforcement action, police say they plan to follow through with the order and clear the campsites this week.

Police issued trespassing notices to most of the campers this month, after seeing an increase in service calls to the area for incidents such as domestic violence, arson and individuals with outstanding warrants. That was before a man living in the encampment was stabbed by a fellow camper last week, police said.

Police Chief Michael Sauschuck said officers will visit the area Tuesday to assess the situation. If any campers remain Wednesday, they will be issued a trespass notice, Sauschuck said. If they don’t clear out by Thursday, they could be cited for criminal trespassing and face either a summons to appear in court or possible arrest, he said.

Sauschuck hopes campers will take advantage of shelters and other services being offered by social workers.

“It’s unfortunate that this situation is occurring, but folks are trying to reach out and to give these folks the assistance they need,” he said.

Case workers from the city and nonprofit groups such as Milestone and Preble Street have been conducting regular outreach to the campers. The goal is to use housing vouchers or bring campers into the shelter system.

A campsite in the 30 acres off Brighton Avenue where homeless people stay contains a tent and other items. Some camps have wooden structures, fire pits or gardens. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

A campsite in the 30 acres off Brighton Avenue where homeless people stay contains a tent and other items. Some camps have wooden structures, fire pits or gardens. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

However, Portland’s tight rental market is making it difficult to find housing, even when someone has a voucher, said Donna Yellen, chief program officer at Preble Street, a social services agency that operates a soup kitchen and day shelter in downtown Portland.

“There just isn’t enough affordable housing,” Yellen said. “The housing crisis in Portland is so severe that they are forced to make their homes outside.”

Portland’s emergency shelters are bursting at the seams, forcing the city to open it’s General Assistance office as an overnight “warming center” where people have to sit upright in plastic chairs.

Yellen said there are about 118 people in Portland who would rather camp out than stay in shelters or sit in chairs.

It’s unclear who owns the property where the campers are staying. Efforts to contact a possible owner have been unsuccessful.

City officials previously said it was owned by Emery-Waterhouse Co., which is located across Rand Avenue, and the Inn at Portland, which is adjacent to the site. On Monday, however, city officials pointed to three parcels owned by Centro Heritage SPE 4, LLC. The city mails its tax bills to an accounting firm in Arizona and could not provide further information about the owner or manager of the property.

Back under the bridge, the four adults said they weren’t interested in entering the overcrowded shelter, citing concerns about bedbugs, lice and scabies. Instead, they are content to wait out the police deadline and see what happens.

“I’ll take this over snoring and farting any day,” Andy said.

 

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Maine Mall founder Robert J. Dunfey Sr. dies at 88 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-mall-founder-robert-j-dunfey-sr-dies-at-88/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-mall-founder-robert-j-dunfey-sr-dies-at-88/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2016 03:38:59 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-mall-founder-robert-j-dunfey-sr-dies-at-88/ Robert J. Dunfey Sr., who founded and developed the Maine Mall shopping center in South Portland, once owned the former Eastland Hotel in Portland, and was a prominent backer of Democratic politicians, died last week. He was 88.

A former resident of Cape Elizabeth, Dunfey died Aug. 23 in Dover, New Hampshire, following a long struggle with Parkinson’s disease, a progressive disorder of the nervous system that affects movement. More recently he had resided in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

“I still remember the time my father took me for a ride on Payne Road past a pig farm in South Portland. He said to me, ‘There is going to be a mall there, and I said, Dad, what’s a mall?’ ” his son Robert J. Dunfey Jr. of Cape Elizabeth recalled Monday. The Maine Mall, which opened in 1971 with anchor stores Sears and Jordan Marsh, has become the largest shopping mall in Maine. It now features 119 stores.

Dunfey also helped create some of the mall’s adjacent commercial developments, including the Doubletree Hotel – formerly a Sheraton – and the retail complex at Clarks Pond in South Portland.

“He was a true visionary,” his son said. “I learned a lot from him.”

Dunfey also acquired the former Eastland Hotel in downtown Portland in 1960 and helped establish it as one of the best lodging and dining facilities in the city.

Dunfey proved to be an astute businessman throughout his career, co-founding the chain of Dunfey Hotels now known as Omni Hotels.

The younger Dunfey said his father played a significant role in creating peace in Northern Ireland and traveled to Oslo, Norway, with John Hume and David Trimble – prominent Northern Ireland leaders – when they were awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1998 for their efforts to find a peaceful solution to the conflict in Northern Ireland.

In 1980, acting on behalf of then-Maine Gov. Joseph Brennan, Dunfey asked U.S. District Judge George Mitchell to fill the Senate seat of Edmund Muskie, who had been appointed secretary of state by President Jimmy Carter.

Dunfey went on to become good friends with Mitchell, whom he accompanied on a fact-finding mission to Northern Ireland.

Dunfey was also a very political person. He served as the Maine state coordinator for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Robert F. Kennedy in 1968. Dunfey Jr. said Kennedy would call his father every Sunday for campaign updates.

Not all of his accomplishments were popular.

Dunfey led a controversial campaign in 1966 to allow Maine restaurants, lounges and hotels to sell alcoholic beverages on Sunday – something that had never been allowed.

“An opponent put sand in his gas tank,” his son recalled. “Knowing my father, he probably took it in stride.”

Though he was a savvy businessman, Dunfey also had a big heart, his son said.

He said he learned after his father’s death through posts on Facebook that Dunfey paid college tuition for the child of one of his workers at the Eastland, and paid the tuition for the child of a housekeeper to attend Cheverus High School.

He was co-founder of Camp Susan Curtis, which was established in memory of former Maine Gov. Kenneth Curtis’ daughter, who died while Curtis was in office. The camp serves economically disadvantaged youths from Maine, providing them with a tuition-free outdoor camping experience.

“My father was a humble person. He didn’t seek any publicity for his accomplishments or his good deeds,” the younger Dunfey said.

Dunfey is survived by his wife, five children, and four siblings. A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. Sept. 10 in St. John Evangelist Church in Portsmouth, New Hampshire.

 

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Gardiner forum on substance abuse focuses partly on reducing stigma http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/forum-deals-with-substance-abuse-risks/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/forum-deals-with-substance-abuse-risks/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2016 01:41:46 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/forum-deals-with-substance-abuse-risks/ GARDINER — More than 30 people spent two hours discussing ways to reduce the impact of substance abuse in local communities during a Monday forum at the Boys and Girls Club of Greater Gardiner.

The forum was part of a three-year project by Healthy Communities of the Capital Area to determine what the greatest health-related problems affecting the area are, as well as how to address them.

“We need to build communities, we need to reduce stigma and we need to teach each other about how we care,” said Joanna Joy, executive director of the Gardiner-based organization.

Police Chief James Thoman said he continues to encourage his officers to be seen throughout the community.

“It’s the old adage of get out of the car and go to events that are occurring, whether that be a Little League game or a concert at the waterfront,” Thoman said after the meeting. “I tell them to be approachable and be a part of the community, and let the citizens get to know you on a first-name basis because that breaks down barriers.

“Good things happen when there are no barriers,” he said.

Reducing the stigma associated with substance abuse was a focus of the meeting.

One way to do that, Joy said, is to increase community understanding of the impact of substance abuse and to educate the community about the impact that adverse childhood experiences and trauma have on substance abuse.

Bob Creamer of Hallowell, who spent more than two decades as a recovery counselor, said stigma is a big part of the problem.

“If we continue to focus on the people and not the problem, we’ll keep having these meetings until we’re all gone,” Creamer said. “Addiction is an illness and that is the problem. The person is the victim.”

Creamer said part of the stigma comes from the language people use when talking about substance abuse, including “clean.”

“You hear someone say they are clean when they aren’t using,” Creamer said. “Well, the other side of that would be someone is dirty if they are using, but we don’t use those words when talking about any other disease.”

Nobody says a person who is in remission from cancer is clean, and when they are fighting the disease they are dirty, Creamer said.

Before the meeting broke into group discussions, Joy shared several alarming statistics from the most recent Maine Integrated Youth Health Survey.

Data showed that 63.1 percent of high schoolers from southern Kennebec County, which includes 18 towns from Wayne to Richmond and on both sides of the Kennebec River, don’t believe that marijuana is harmful and 42 percent of local high school students said they’ve vaped.

Boys and Girls Club of Greater Gardiner program director Nate Mitchell recently spoke to a group of mostly high schoolers and said peer pressure and the desire for attention are among the reasons kids use alcohol and drugs.

The same survey found that 50 percent of area high school students feel like they don’t matter to other people. Later in the meeting, the discussion focused on making community connections by increasing shared activities between students and their parents or guardians and by identifying safe spaces for youths to be with their peers.

Last week, data released by the Maine Attorney General’s Office showed drug overdose deaths continuing to climb in Maine with opioids including heroin, fentanyl and prescription painkillers at the heart of the problem.

There have been 189 drug overdose deaths this year in Maine through June 30, an increase of 50 percent over the same period last year, when there were 126 overdose deaths, according to the data.

Joy said she wasn’t shocked when she read the report. She said her organization has interviewed foster families, local teenagers, Head Start program providers, people in recovery and health care providers in researching ways to reduce the risk factors associated with substance abuse.

The Mayo Clinic says people of any age, sex or economic status can become addicted to a drug, but the health care organization identifies several factors that can affect the likelihood and speed of developing an addiction. Those include lack of family involvement, peer pressure, anxiety, depression and loneliness and having another mental health disorder.

An application is due in September for a grant that would provide $60,000 per year for the organization to continue the community collaboration fostered in these meetings. Joy is confident the Gardiner-based organization will receive the funding.

Healthy Communities of the Capital Area will hold a similar forum at the Buker Community Center in Augusta at 5:30 p.m. Tuesday.

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Falmouth plans to hire consultant for Route 1 North design http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/falmouth-plans-to-hire-consultant-for-route-1-north-design/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/falmouth-plans-to-hire-consultant-for-route-1-north-design/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2016 01:15:54 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/falmouth-plans-to-hire-consultant-for-route-1-north-design/ FALMOUTH — The town plans to hire a consultant to develop a long-term concept plan for part of Route 1.

In a request for proposals issued Monday, the town said it wants to create a 25-year vision and creative plan for Route 1 North, a section between the Maine Turnpike spur and the Cumberland town line.

The area is one of two commercial growth areas in town and is zoned as a business professional district. According to the town, the area is intended for commercial and mixed-use growth and possibly residential development. According to the request for proposals, the consultant would help a town committee and staff to articulate a vision for the area, identify infrastructure improvements and come up with possible amendments to land use regulations.

Falmouth has master plans for commercial areas on Route 1 south of the turnpike spur and Route 100, on the west side of town, but no plan for Route 1 North.

The deadline for proposals is Sept. 29.

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Fairfield police close in on burglary suspects http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/fairfield-police-close-in-on-burglary-suspects/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/fairfield-police-close-in-on-burglary-suspects/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2016 00:55:16 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/fairfield-police-close-in-on-burglary-suspects/ FAIRFIELD — Police are closing in on suspects in a string of car burglaries last year, while dealing with a new spate over the last 10 days.

There have been reports of about 16 car burglaries since Aug. 19 on downtown streets, according to Police Chief Tom Gould. Most are happening late at night and the burglars seem to be targeting unlocked vehicles, he said.

Burglaries occurred on Kelley, High, Main, Savage and West streets. Car windows were broken in some recent burglaries, he said.

Gould said his department just received results from DNA testing of evidence from last summer’s 40 car burglaries and may bring charges within the next two weeks.

The chief said a burglary spree like the recent one isn’t uncommon. It’s the second or third string of car burglaries he’s seen in Fairfield since he became police chief three years ago.

There were a large number of car burglaries last summer in Fairfield and Skowhegan from June to August. The Somerset County Sheriff’s Office worked with Fairfield and Skowhegan police to investigate the dozens of burglaries on Bigelow Hill Road, Six Rod Road and Center Road. Police believed the burglaries were related.

One string of burglaries involved seven cars that were all unlocked and burglarized early on June 17.

Police are reviewing video footage to narrow down the list of suspects in the recent burglaries. Gould said residents and businesses with exterior surveillance cameras should check their footage and call Officer Shanna Blodgett at 453-9322 if they see anything suspicious.

Gould also encouraged people whose cars have been burglarized but have not yet notified police to do so.

He said people should be careful to secure their cars and should report any suspicious activity to the police.

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Portland Democrats to host discussion on racism, inclusiveness http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/portland-democrats-to-host-discussion-on-racism-inclusiveness/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/portland-democrats-to-host-discussion-on-racism-inclusiveness/#comments Tue, 30 Aug 2016 00:40:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/portland-democrats-to-host-discussion-on-racism-inclusiveness/ The Portland City Democratic Committee will host a panel discussion Thursday on racism and inclusiveness, in light of Gov. Paul LePage’s recent repeated comments about the racial makeup of drug dealers in Maine.

The event will be held from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Reiche elementary school.

“When our governor goes on a racist tirade and calls people of color enemies of the state of Maine, you better believe that we’re going to fight hard to hold Gov. LePage accountable,” the committee wrote in an invitation sent Monday.

The discussion will be moderated by Danielle Conway, dean of the University of Maine School of Law. She will be joined by seven panelists from the Portland community: Mayor Ethan Strimling, the Rev. Kenneth Lewis, Rachel Talbot-Ross, Kate Knox, Ekhlas Ahmed, Sean Alonzo Harris and Samuel James.

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Westbrook residents voice support for $27 million school expansion http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/westbrook-council-hears-public-comment-on-27-million-school-expansion/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/westbrook-council-hears-public-comment-on-27-million-school-expansion/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 23:33:18 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/westbrook-council-hears-public-comment-on-27-million-school-expansion/ WESTBROOK — Residents spoke Monday night in support of a $27 million expansion at two Westbrook schools, but repeated their calls for a moratorium on housing development they said could strain the district.

The money would pay for a renovation and 12 new classrooms at Saccarappa Elementary School, as well as 12 new classrooms at Westbrook Middle School. The school committee voted unanimously in favor of the plan this month. The Westbrook City Council will need to have two public hearings before voting on the plan. About 20 residents showed up Monday night for the first; the second is scheduled for September.

If passed by the council, the bond will go to voters on the November ballot.

“Our building project is something that is absolutely necessary for the children who are in our schools right now, and the children who are coming to our community,” newly appointed Superintendent Peter Lancia said.

The city’s two other elementary schools – Congin and Canal — have been renovated in the last decade. City Administrator Jerre Bryant said Westbrook schools are at capacity, but the price tag for the construction might give pause to some in November.

“I don’t think there’s any question of the need for expansion,” he said last week. “I don’t know if they’ll be happy about the number.”

The six members of the public who spoke supported the project.

“I realize it is a big chunk of change, and we are all concerned about our taxes,” Cole Street resident Kathleen O’Neill-Lussier said. “However, education in this country and this city and this state still needs to be a priority.”

Ward 3 Councilor Anna Turcotte listed the challenges her two young children have experienced due to cramming at Saccarappa. Her son sometimes eats lunch in his classroom because the cafeteria can’t accommodate all the children, she said, and her daughter takes the bus to a different school for gym.

“They don’t know what’s not normal about that, because that’s what they’ve lived,” Turcotte said. “I think it does impede their education.”

In 2012, the school department closed Prides Corner School — and its 15 aging classrooms. In 2014, the City Council approved a sale of the building to a condominium developer. Fifth-graders moved to Westbrook Middle School, while elementary students were reshuffled throughout the district.

At the time, Prides Corner was in dire need of repair, and school officials said the district was experiencing a consistent decline in enrollment. From 2003 to 2009, the student population dropped from 2,688 to 2,390. The elementary schools alone shrank by 130 students during that period.

“Part of the rationale is, or was, how many school facilities do we want to maintain?” Bryant said.

That decline in enrollment, however, has reversed since then. For 2014, total district enrollment was back at 2,483. With 1,208 students in 2014, numbers for kindergarten through fifth grade are slightly higher than a decade ago. To accommodate those students, the district has added five portable classrooms at the elementary schools.

Bryant attributed that increase to a growing immigrant community in Westbrook, as well as new construction. Lancia has estimated 331 students could join the district by 2025, which factors in an ongoing housing boom in the city. Neighbors have pushed back on a major subdivision project, citing concern about its impact on already overcrowded schools.

On Monday night, some residents worried the planned expansion wouldn’t be enough to keep up with the city’s growth.

“It’s the dog chasing its tail,” Duck Pond Road resident Dale Perry said. “I think we need to control our growth. Don’t stop it. Just control it.”

Jessica Corriveau, who lives on Austin Street, echoed an earlier request for a 180-day moratorium on residential building permits, which residents have requested in order to revise Westbrook’s process for approving new construction. In particular, she and others advocated for a system of fees on developers to account for future impacts on public infrastructure like schools.

“It’s a Band-Aid on a wound,” she said. “I’m very upset that our city continues to give out permits to keep building when our schools are already overcrowded. … It seems like the city has the opportunity to ask (developers) to chip in.”

Rocco Risbara, president of Risbara Bros., said more than half of 146 apartments at his Blue Spruce Farm development are leased, and none have school-age children. He said charging a fee for an impact that might not exist is “unfair.”

“Our apartments simply don’t produce children,” he said.

If approved by voters, the renovation of the schools would be complete no sooner than 2018. In a report to the City Council, Lancia noted the school department would likely need to hire three new employees as a result of the expansion — an administrative assistant, a custodian and a cafeteria worker.

“Initially, the growth at Saccarappa would be addressed by reassigning teachers from other schools,” he wrote. “Any additional teaching positions would be requested through our annual budgeting process as enrollment increases.”

Documents related to the school expansion are available online as part of the City Council agenda and on the school department website. The second public hearing on the plan will take place during the council’s meeting Sept. 12 at 7 p.m. at Westbrook High School.

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Oil spill response ship pulled from service as Portland pipeline deliveries slow http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-responder-pulled-from-service-as-portland-pipeline-oil-deliveries-slow/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-responder-pulled-from-service-as-portland-pipeline-oil-deliveries-slow/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 23:09:27 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-responder-pulled-from-service-as-portland-pipeline-oil-deliveries-slow/ The Maine Responder, a massive pollution-control vessel that has been moored in Portland Harbor for more than two decades, has been pulled from service because its operator has lost funding and the risk of an oil spill in the region has dropped because of declining tanker traffic to the Portland Pipe Line Corp.

News of the change Monday surprised many who work to ensure the safe operation of the harbor and are concerned about protecting Casco Bay and shipping routes that the vessel has covered from Maine to Massachusetts and beyond.

The Marine Spill Response Corp. of Herndon, Virginia, confirmed Monday that the 210-foot-long vessel, which has docked in Portland since 1995, had been removed from service and its six crew members had been told they will lose their jobs.

Marine Spill Response will keep the boat in the water at Union Wharf and will continue to operate 10 other spill-response vessels, so several shipping companies and other facilities in the area that contract for its services will be able to maintain Coast Guard-approved spill-response plans, said company spokeswoman Judith Roos.

“(The Maine Responder) is being removed from active service as of today,” Roos said in a phone interview while in Portland. “We will continue to be able to meet our customers’ planning obligations in this sector even without the Maine Responder.”

Roos said the harbor has a “lower risk profile” because “trading patterns have shifted” in recent years, but she declined to draw a direct connection to the dwindling flow of the Portland Pipe Line, which delivers foreign crude from its ocean terminal in South Portland to refineries in Montreal.

“There are fewer tanker vessels trading into this area,” Roos said. “The (Maine Responder) will be deactivated with the potential to be reactivated should trading patterns change.”

Roos wouldn’t say how much it cost to operate the Maine Responder.

Peter Milholland, longtime staff member at Friends of Casco Bay, called the decision to suspend the service “shocking.” As pilot of the organization’s baykeeper’s boat, Milholland has participated in numerous spill-response drills and assisted in the cleanup after the 1996 crash of the tanker Julie N, which dumped 170,000 gallons of oil into the harbor after striking the former Portland Bridge.

“It will be a big loss to our area,” Milholland said. “There are a lot of other threats to our waters. There are other vessels that come through with other (petroleum) products, and lots of other boats with the potential for having problems, including cruise ships.”

CRUDE OIL DELIVERIES FALLING

The pipeline has nearly shut down in recent months as demand for foreign crude has fallen in the wake of booming tar sands oil production in Alberta, Canada. The pipeline received no oil deliveries from January through May this year, then took in nearly 1.4 million barrels in June, according to the latest data available from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

Pipeline officials declined to provide recent shipping data, so it’s unknown whether additional crude deliveries arrived in July and August. The pipeline transported more than 22 million barrels in 2015, down from 32.6 million barrels in 2014, according to the DEP.

“(The pipeline) remains open for business, supporting its customers, the community (and) employees … and continuing the safe and excellent operation it has long been known for,” spokesman Jim Merrill said in a prepared statement.

Merrill noted that the pipeline company has filed a federal lawsuit against the city of South Portland, challenging its 2014 ban on crude oil exports, a measure intended to protect air quality that also effectively stops the pipeline company from possibly reversing its flow in order to export tar sands oil from Canada.

The Marine Spill Response Corp. is a nonprofit, Coast Guard-classified “oil spill removal organization,” according to the company’s website. It was formed after the Oil Pollution Act of 1990, which was passed by Congress following the Exxon Valdez oil spill in Alaska. It is the largest emergency response organization of its kind in the U.S., offering oil spill cleanup services that mitigate environmental damage.

Shipping and trading companies that belong to the Marine Preservation Association, a separate nonprofit membership corporation, contribute a certain percentage of their receipts to operate the company and meet its capital needs.

HONORING LEASE AT UNION WHARF

Marine Spill Response has held a lease at Union Wharf for 21 years, said Charlie Poole, president of the Proprietors of Union Wharf.

Poole declined to comment on the company’s plans for the Maine Responder, other than to say that “they have a lease and they have honored their lease.”

The Maine Responder is one of 15 responder-class oil spill vessels operated by the Marine Spill Response Corp. across the U.S. In addition to a helipad, it has radar technology and infrared cameras that can detect oil in the water, hauls a 2,640-foot oil-containment boom and is capable of skimming and recovering 444,000 gallons of oil and water per day. The nearest vessel of its kind is in Perth Amboy, New Jersey, also operated by Marine Spill Response.

Crew members of the Maine Responder could fill job openings elsewhere in the company, Roos said. The company will keep five staff members in Portland. Vessels still operating out of Union Wharf include an MSRC 620 skimming barge and a 30-foot Kvichak Marco skimming vessel.

Wyman Briggs, the spill response preparedness specialist with the Coast Guard in South Portland, was among several local officials who were surprised to learn about the Maine Responder’s fate.

“It’s an unfortunate loss,” Briggs said. “It’s a very capable vessel. There’s not another one of its size in this area. Obviously we always prefer to have more response capability.”

Briggs said the Coast Guard will likely review the spill response plans of companies who have contracted for the services of Marine Spill Response.

Milholland noted that several other agencies also provide spill-response services, including the Coast Guard, the DEP and private contractors, such as Clean Harbors.

Acting Harbor Master Kevin Battle and South Portland Fire Chief Jim Wilson also were surprised to learn that the Maine Responder was being pulled from service.

Wilson said regional officials were scheduled to hold a tabletop spill-response drill Sept. 7. Now they’ll have a new factor to consider.

“Anytime you reduce a capability to respond, you have to make sure you can still respond adequately,” Wilson said. “We’ll probably get a good idea of the change in our capability when we meet next month.”

Staff Writer Penelope Overton contributed to this report.

 

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Maine man makes court appearance after being bitten by police dog http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-man-makes-court-appearance-after-being-bitten-by-police-dog/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-man-makes-court-appearance-after-being-bitten-by-police-dog/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 22:57:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-man-makes-court-appearance-after-being-bitten-by-police-dog/ AUGUSTA — A man who fled into the woods in China late Saturday after allegedly threatening to kill family members with a screwdriver went before a judge Monday via video from the Kennebec County jail.

Dwayne A. Kuse, 46, was arrested in the woods near the home after a police dog tracked him and bit him.

Kuse was treated at the Augusta hospital for bite wounds before being brought to the Kennebec County jail early Sunday.

According to an affidavit by Sgt. Jacob Pierce of the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, police responded to a Mann Road address after a woman reported that her ex-boyfriend was intoxicated, pushed her and “threatened to stab everyone at the residence with the screwdriver and that he was holding it in a threatening manner.” There were seven people at the home, including Kuse.

The woman called again to say Kuse was hollering in the driveway “that he was going to kill everyone and to ‘come find me.'” Later, she called to say he was yelling, “I’m going to slice your throats tonight.” She also said there was a loaded handgun in the home.

Kuse then fled into the garage and finally into the woods.

He was located in the woods, according to the report, and was bitten by Maine State Police Trooper G. J. Neagle’s dog, Draco.

Kuse was treated on site for the bite wounds and then taken to MaineGeneral Medical Center.

State police Sgt. Scott Dalton, who runs the K-9 Training Center at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy, said Monday, “Apprehension canines are trained to bite and hold suspects.”

Pierce wrote that Kuse hollered at him during the ride to the jail and again threatened to kill people, including Pierce, after he was released.

“He threatened to kill the officer by putting a bullet between his eyes,” Assistant District Attorney Alisa Ross told Judge Evert Fowle at Monday’s hearing in the Capital Judicial Center, adding, “Alcohol was certainly a factor.”

Attorney Dennis Jones, serving as lawyer of the day, represented Kuse at the hearing and said, “There’s no question alcohol was involved. I believe there was serious intoxication.”

However, Jones sought a lower bail amount of $1,000 cash with a Maine Pretrial Services contract, saying Kuse hopes to get admitted to a detoxification unit at the VA Maine Healthcare System at Togus.

Jones said Kuse is a longtime employee of Togus, a homeowner and previously completed a probationary period successfully.

Kuse was held without bail over the weekend. On Monday, Fowle set bail at $5,000 cash or alternatively at $1,500 cash with a Maine Pretrial Services contract. Bail conditions prohibit Kuse from contact with his ex-girlfriend, from being anywhere in the town of China, and from using alcohol and illegal drugs.

Kuse did not answer to the charge of domestic violence criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, a felony which would have to be presented to a grand jury. He pleaded not guilty to two related misdemeanor charges, domestic violence assault and domestic violence terrorizing.

Newspaper records indicate Kuse graduated from the Co-Occurring Disorders and Veterans Court, a specialty court aimed at helping defendants with mental health and substance abuse problems, in December 2014. He was admitted to the veterans court program, which operated out of Kennebec Superior Court, on Oct. 18, 2013, about eight months after he was charged with assault in South China.

After successfully completing that program, he was sentenced in January 2015 to 364 days in jail with all but 10 days suspended, to be served in the alternative sentencing program, and one year probation.

Betty Adams can be contacted at 621-5631 or at:

badams@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @betadams

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Developer scales back plans for Blue Spruce Farm subdivision in Westbrook http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/developer-scales-back-plans-for-westbrook-subdivision/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/developer-scales-back-plans-for-westbrook-subdivision/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 22:56:39 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/developer-scales-back-plans-for-westbrook-subdivision/ A developer will scale back plans for a controversial housing complex in Westbrook because of a legal conflict with a landowner.

Risbara Bros. is already building nearly 200 single-family homes and apartments at Blue Spruce Farm on Spring Street. In response to high demand, the company applied to extend the subdivision by more than 300 units, mostly apartments.

Worried that the housing boom might strain the city’s roads and schools, some neighbors have called for a 180-day moratorium on residential building permits. Despite those concerns, the second phase of Blue Spruce Farm was on track for approval by the Planning Board this fall.

On Friday, however, company president Rocco Risbara penned a letter to the city to withdraw the current layout. “We will not be moving forward with the project as presented,” he wrote.

The land for the proposed second phase is owned by two separate entities – Westbrook Land Co. and resident Daniel Chick. Westbrook Land Co. is tied to a property management group in Massachusetts, according to property records.

Both properties are under option to Risbara Bros., but the company’s letter to the city suggests Westbrook Land Co. has backed out of the deal for its 29 acres. It is unclear what has caused the dispute, or whether it is related to concerns from residents.

“Due to the fact that the sellers of the Westbrook Land Company have breached the contract by refusing to close, we have been forced to file a lawsuit to compel their performance,” Risbara wrote.

That legal battle could take months or even years. If the land does become available, Risbara wrote that the company would consider it for additional development.

In the meantime, Risbara said development will move forward on the Chick parcel, which abuts the existing neighborhood. While the original proposal included 13 single-family homes, 40 condominiums and 250 market-rate apartments, the revised plans could include slightly more than 100 apartments. The new plans will likely call for nine buildings on 13 acres of land, according to Risbara’s letter.

The developer said redrawing the plans will allow Risbara Bros. to address some of the neighbors’ concerns, including cutting out a proposed public road.

“Buffering to existing neighborhood areas will be increased and easier to achieve with this plan as well,” Risbara wrote.

Bill Risbara, one of the company’s owners, did not return a call for comment Monday. The company will submit new plans to the city in coming weeks.

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Puppy retrieved 3 weeks after East Madison crash, scrawny but alive http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/puppy-retrieved-3-weeks-after-east-madison-crash-scrawny-but-alive/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/puppy-retrieved-3-weeks-after-east-madison-crash-scrawny-but-alive/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 21:16:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/puppy-retrieved-3-weeks-after-east-madison-crash-scrawny-but-alive/ A Labrador retriever puppy that was thrown from his owner’s car during a crash on U.S. Route 201 has been found and reunited with his family after surviving more than three weeks in the woods of East Madison.

Tucker, the 7-month-old puppy, was rescued Friday with the help of volunteers from Maine Lost Dog Recovery who set a live trap for the dog, said Chief Deputy James Ross of the Somerset County Sheriff’s Office.

Ross said Tucker was on the verge of starvation when he was found, and pictures on the Maine Lost Dog Recovery Facebook page show a very skinny dog with his ribs showing. Maine Lost Dog Recovery did not immediately respond to requests for details Monday.

The nonprofit organization works with families of lost dogs, shelters, animal control officers and people who find lost dogs to help reunite them with their owners, according to the Facebook page.

Tucker’s owner, Shanya Pottle, 20, of South China, was seriously injured in the Aug. 9 crash that took place about a mile north of the Lakewood Golf Course. The dog was reportedly thrown from the vehicle during the crash and had been missing since.

Pottle was taken by ambulance to Redington-Fairview General Hospital in Skowhegan and later transferred to Maine Medical Center in Portland.

A hospital spokeswoman at Maine Medical Center said Monday that she did not have a record of anyone with Pottle’s name at the hospital.

Pottle could not be reached for an interview Monday.

A truck driver who Pottle passed immediately before the crash told police she was on her cellphone, and police said at the time the crash may have been because of distracted driving.

Ross said Monday that he did not have further information on the cause of the crash or Pottle’s condition. He said it is unlikely there will be criminal charges.

“Under the circumstances it would be really hard to prove (that there was distracted driving),” Ross said. “That’s what it appeared to the truck driver who passed her, but being able to convert that into something you can prosecute is hard.”

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Portland police release images of car wash robber http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/portland-police-release-images-of-car-wash-robber/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/portland-police-release-images-of-car-wash-robber/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 20:50:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/portland-police-release-images-of-car-wash-robber/ Police in Portland have released new images of an Aug. 20 robbery at the ScrubaDub car wash and are asking the public to help identify the robber.

The man entered the business about 9:15 p.m. and demanded money, threatening a clerk with a large knife. The business also serves as a gas station and small convenience store.

The man then ran off.

Surveillance video shows a light-skinned man in his 30s or 40s. He was wearing a blue Red Sox baseball cap, a red hooded sweatshirt with a design on the chest, jeans and tan work boots. He was seen riding a bicycle in the parking lot just prior to the robbery.

Police continue to investigate a similar robbery of Bimbo’s Bakery at 1037 Forest Ave. that occurred on Aug. 23. In both incidents, the robber was armed with a large knife.

Anyone with information about the robber or either robbery should contact Portland police at the anonymous tip line at 874-8584.

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Stephen King tweets LePage is a ‘bigot, homophobe, racist’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/stephen-king-tweets-lepage-is-a-bigot-homophobe-racist/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/stephen-king-tweets-lepage-is-a-bigot-homophobe-racist/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 18:41:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/stephen-king-tweets-lepage-is-a-bigot-homophobe-racist/ AUGUSTA — Maine author Stephen King is chiming in on recent controversial remarks by Gov. Paul LePage, saying the Republican is “a bigot, a homophobe and a racist.”

King made the comments on Twitter this weekend.

Last week, the governor said blacks and Hispanics make up the majority of drug arrests in the state. He also left an obscenity-laced tirade on a Democratic lawmaker’s voice mail, calling him a vulgar name that can also be used as a gay slur.

LePage said he believed the lawmaker had called him a racist, which the lawmaker denies. LePage says he takes it “very seriously” when someone calls him a racist.

Last year, King told the governor to “man up and apologize” after LePage said states without income taxes had lured away Maine residents including King.

King maintains his Bangor residence.

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Lockdown lifted at Corinna school; man in protective custody http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/lockdown-lifted-at-corinna-school-after-man-taken-into-protective-custody/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/lockdown-lifted-at-corinna-school-after-man-taken-into-protective-custody/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 18:37:19 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/lockdown-lifted-at-corinna-school-after-man-taken-into-protective-custody/ The Corinna Elementary School was in lockdown for about an hour and a half Monday afternoon following a report of a suicidal man in the area who was taken into protective custody shortly before 2 p.m., according to reports.

Police were responding to a report of a man who had threatened to harm himself with a knife in an apartment or residence about 200 to 300 yards away from the school, according to Lt. Mark Brooks of the Maine State Police. The man was reportedly taken into protective custody shortly before 2 p.m. when the lockdown was lifted, but police were not immediately available to confirm that.

The school was in lockdown starting at around 12:15 until just before 2, according to Principal Ellen Surprenant.

“We have resumed all normal activity,” Suprenant said around 2 p.m., adding that there was no threat to safety at the school.

At around 1 p.m., Brooks said troopers were at the scene talking with the man and trying to get in touch with his family to get him help. Brooks said the man had only threatened to hurt himself and had not made threats against others.

“Anytime you have something like that happening so close to a school they advise the school to go into a lockdown to make sure nobody goes in or out until they resolve the situation,” Brooks said.

Additional information was not immediately available from police.

This story will be updated.

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Rumford drug felon gets 4 years in prison for gun possession http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/rumford-man-sentenced-to-federal-prison-for-gun-possession/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/rumford-man-sentenced-to-federal-prison-for-gun-possession/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 18:24:52 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/rumford-man-sentenced-to-federal-prison-for-gun-possession/ A 27-year-old Rumford man was sentenced to four years in federal prison on Monday for possession of a firearm after having been convicted of a felony.

Troy Blanchard was arrested Jan. 19 by police in Rumford after he was spotted walking along a road in town with a shotgun.

When police pursued him, Blanchard dropped the gun and went into a nearby residence, where he was arrested without incident.

Blanchard has been prohibited from possessing a firearm because of a 2014 conviction in Oxford County for drug trafficking. He was sentenced by District Court Judge D. Brock Hornby.

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Maine Maritime Museum honors Eimskip for ‘extraordinary’ impact http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/eimskip-honored-by-maine-maritime-museum/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/eimskip-honored-by-maine-maritime-museum/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 18:18:50 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/eimskip-honored-by-maine-maritime-museum/ Shipping company Eimskip USA was honored by the Maine Maritime Museum last week for its “extraordinary contributions” to the state’s maritime heritage and its impact on Maine’s culture and economy.

The company, which is based in Iceland but operates its U.S. headquarters in Portland, received the museum’s annual Mariners Award at a ceremony Wednesday.

“The Icelandic shipping company’s decision in 2013 to make Portland its primary U.S. port of call has had – and will continue to have – a transformative effect on Maine’s economy,” according to a release from the museum announcing the honor.

It cited the company’s involvement in getting Maine to become an active member of the multinational Arctic Council, an intergovernmental forum for discussing sustainable development and environmental protection and other issues in the Arctic. Portland will host an Arctic Council forum in October, drawing representatives from countries all over the world.

John Henshaw, executive director of the Maine Port Authority, provided the keynote address, and Eimskip USA’s Managing Director Larus Isfeld accepted the award on the company’s behalf.

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LePage considers ‘corrective action’ after Republicans intervene http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-republican-leaders-say-they-want-to-meet-with-gov-lepage-to-discuss-corrective-actions-for-his-statements-about-a-westbrook-lawmaker/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-republican-leaders-say-they-want-to-meet-with-gov-lepage-to-discuss-corrective-actions-for-his-statements-about-a-westbrook-lawmaker/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 16:58:52 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-republican-leaders-say-they-want-to-meet-with-gov-lepage-to-discuss-corrective-actions-for-his-statements-about-a-westbrook-lawmaker/ AUGUSTA — Top Republicans in the Maine Legislature met Monday night with Gov. Paul LePage and were told he planned to speak with his family and advisers to decide how he’ll respond to the outrage over statements he made last week threatening a Democratic legislator and identifying blacks and Hispanics as “the enemy” in Maine’s war against drug addiction.

Senate President Mike Thibodeau of Winterport and House Minority Leader Ken Fredette of Newport spoke with the governor at the Blaine House for about 90 minutes, said Thibodeau spokesman Jim Cyr.

“The governor told leadership he was going to be speaking with his closest friends and family about the corrective action that Thibodeau was talking about (earlier in the day) and he would get back to leadership (Tuesday),” Cyr said.

After the meeting, which also was attended by House Assistant Minority Leader Ellie Espling of New Gloucester, Thibodeau told television reporters, “The ball is now in the governor’s court.”

Fredette, in a telephone interview after the meeting, said House Republicans will hold a caucus Tuesday evening to discuss the events of the past few days involving the governor. The caucus will take place at 6 p.m., but the location has not been determined.

Fredette declined to speak about what happened at the meeting with LePage and said the Legislature and state government need to focus on issues such as dealing with the state’s drug crisis, welfare reform and reducing high energy costs.

“Those are some of the issues that the people of Maine really care about. Personality differences are not going to solve any of those problems,” he said.

Espling said the meeting with LePage went well.

“It was proactive and productive. Us being able to have the time to sit down with the governor is a really good thing. We were able to air a lot of our concerns,” Espling said.

Rep. Drew Gattine, the Democratic legislator from Westbrook who received LePage’s obscenity-laced voice mail last week, appeared Monday night on MSNBC to discuss the governor’s actions and the national attention they have drawn.

“The governor’s behavior becomes more erratic and bizarre, calling into question whether he’s fit to serve,” Gattine said in response to questions from host Chris Hayes.

Gattine, in a telephone interview Monday evening with the Portland Press Herald, said two members of the board of directors for the My Place Teen Center in Westbrook told him that the board voted Monday to cancel the governor’s town hall meeting there, which had been scheduled for Wednesday evening.

Donna Dwyer, the center’s president and CEO, said in an email that LePage spokeswoman Adrienne Bennett had been notified that the center did not have the capacity to host the town hall.

Bennett and other LePage representatives did not respond to messages seeking comment Monday.

Democratic leaders commended Republicans for taking the matter seriously, but said a possible legislative censure was not enough and that LePage should step down.

After a short closed-door meeting Monday morning with a handful of House and Senate Republicans, Thibodeau said he had spoken with Sen. Amy Volk, R-Scarborough, who posted a statement Sunday on Facebook saying a legislative censure of LePage might be appropriate, and suggesting that LePage may have a substance abuse or mental health problem that requires professional intervention.

Thibodeau said many other Republican senators share her concern.

“She is not on an island here,” Thibodeau said of Volk. “Look, if anybody did this, that was an employee of any corporation in our state, there would be ramifications.”

But Thibodeau and Fredette refused to speculate on what those ramifications might be for LePage or what “corrective action” he needed to take.

After leaving the profane voice mail for Gattine last week, LePage then told reporters he was so angry at Gattine he wished it were 1825 and the two men could duel over their disagreement.

“When a snot-nosed little guy from Westbrook calls me a racist, now I’d like him to come up here because, tell you right now, I wish it were 1825,” LePage said. “And we would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be (Alexander) Hamilton. I would point it right between his eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.”

LePage was reacting to Gattine’s response to statements the governor made Wednesday at a town hall meeting in North Berwick, where he told a member of the audience that more than 90 percent of those arrested for drug trafficking in Maine since January were black or Hispanic.

LePage also said he kept a three-ringed binder with booking mugshots of those charged with drug crimes as proof. That statement prompted Gattine to say LePage’s comments were “racially charged.”

On Friday, LePage met with reporters again for nearly 40 minutes, apologizing for the language he used in his message to Gattine but not apologizing for saying it. He also reiterated his position that drug-trafficking crimes in Maine are largely perpetrated by people of color.

“Look, the bad guy is the bad guy, I don’t care what color he is,” LePage said Friday. “When you go to war, if you know the enemy and the enemy dresses in red and you dress in blue, then you shoot at red.”

LePage then turned to Fredette, who was at the news conference and serves as a military lawyer in the Maine Air National Guard. “Don’t you – Ken, you’ve been in uniform – you shoot at the enemy. You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”

Federal statistics on drug trafficking arrests in Maine show that is not true. The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service reported that in 2014, 1,211 people were arrested for selling or making drugs in Maine, and of those, 170 – or 14.1 percent – were black.

LePage was in Boston earlier Monday discussing energy and other issues at the 40th Conference of the New England Governors and Eastern Canadian Premiers. During the event, the governor again turned to the theme of the race of drug dealers involved in heroin and fentanyl arrests in Maine.

“They’re Hispanic and they’re black and they’re from Lowell and Lawrence, Massachusetts, Waterbury, Connecticut, and the Bronx and Brooklyn,” LePage said, according to a State House News Service report quoted in Boston Magazine. “I didn’t make up the rules. That’s how it turns out. But that’s a fact. It’s a fact. What, do you want me to lie?”

Thibodeau said that while Republican leaders had a range of ideas on what should take place after their Monday meeting with LePage, they had not settled on a plan.

“I think there is a whole bunch of different ideas about what the right thing to do is, but I don’t think there was anybody that thought what has transpired is appropriate,” Thibodeau said. “And I would hope that we could come up with something that ends well for the governor as well as the people of the state of Maine.”

LePage’s comments triggered national media attention and were the focus of intensive coverage on MSNBC, CNN, ABC and CBS news and a host of other online, print and television outlets. Many broadcast audio recordings of LePage’s inflammatory voice mail to Gattine, with the obscenities bleeped out.

Rep. Kevin Battle, a Republican from South Portland, told the Associated Press that LePage felt provoked, though that didn’t excuse him from failing to control himself. “There’s some very upset people and rightfully so,” said Battle, who won’t be able to caucus Tuesday. “There needs to be a professional approach.”

Fredette said he and other lawmakers are frustrated by the distraction that LePage’s behavior causes, saying it is keeping them from working on important policy issues, including the state’s opioid drug crisis.

Democratic leaders issued a statement Monday reiterating their position that LePage needed to resign.

Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, assistant majority leader in the Maine House, said Democrats were trying to give their Republican colleagues the space and the time they need to address LePage’s actions.

“Republican leadership needs to take care of the problems that are going on with their chief executive, with their governor, and I think by having that meeting they are showing they want to do that,” Gideon said.

She said she did not know what “corrective action” means, but for Democrats there were only two options for LePage.

“We’ve all been very clear in what we are looking for,” Gideon said. “We feel that the governor has really demonstrated behaviors, and it’s not just that it’s not appropriate for a governor, it shows that he is not in control of either his emotions or his actions, and yes, we have called for his resignation. We think it should be nothing short of that.”

Gideon also echoed some of Fredette’s frustration about LePage’s actions being a distraction for lawmakers.

“We all know we have so many challenges in this state to address, and the really interesting and sad thing about this is (that) all of this sort of arose from one of our greatest challenges, which is this drug abuse and addiction challenge we have in this state,” she said. “It is really just crazy that we are not working together and working on this instead find ourselves embroiled in what is not productive, and quite destructive, actually.”

To vote on a censure of LePage or take any other official action against him, the Legislature would have to convene in a special session. In order to do so, a majority of the members in the Republican and Democratic caucuses in both the House and the Senate would have to agree.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

 

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Driver suffers medical problem, hits Macy’s at Maine Mall http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/elderly-driver-strikes-macys-at-maine-mall/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/elderly-driver-strikes-macys-at-maine-mall/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 16:32:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/elderly-driver-strikes-macys-at-maine-mall/ A pickup truck whose driver suffered a medical emergency crashed into Macy’s department store at the Maine Mall on Monday morning.

The driver and a passenger were both taken to a local hospital with minor injuries, according to South Portland Police Lt. Todd Bernard.

The crash occurred when the driver experienced an unspecified medical emergency while behind the wheel. The pickup took out a fire hydrant before it struck the side of Macy’s, causing minor damage to the building.

The hydrant will have to be replaced, Bernard said.

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Citing lack of capacity, hosts say ‘no’ to LePage’s planned town hall event in Westbrook http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/embroiled-in-controversy-lepage-to-host-town-hall-in-westbrook/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/embroiled-in-controversy-lepage-to-host-town-hall-in-westbrook/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 16:09:08 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/embroiled-in-controversy-lepage-to-host-town-hall-in-westbrook/ The board of the Westbrook teen center where Gov. Paul LePage planned to hold a town hall meeting Wednesday night has voted to cancel the event.

The move follows growing condemnation of the governor’s recent actions, including inaccurate comments he made that drug traffickers arrested in Maine are predominantly black and Hispanic, and an obscenity-filled voice mail he left Drew Gattine, a Democratic state representative from Westbrook.

Westbrook leaders last Friday, in an open letter defending Gattine, said LePage had “humiliated himself and the office” with his latest actions.

However, LePage told his staff last Thursday, while several reporters were present for a meeting with him, that he wanted his next town hall to be in Westbrook.

Donna Dwyer, president and CEO of My Place Teen Center in Westbrook, confirmed Monday night that LePage’s planned town hall meeting had been canceled because the teen center lacked the capacity to host it.

Wednesday’s event was to be held just one week after a town hall in North Berwick during which LePage disclosed that he has been keeping a three-ring binder of photos of suspects charged with selling drugs in Maine. He said that 90 percent of the photos were of black or Hispanic suspects, prompting many to criticize the governor for focusing on race. LePage previously had made comments about black drug dealers from out of state coming to Maine and impregnating “white girls.”

Among those who criticized LePage for his latest comments was Gattine, who as chair of the Health and Human Services Committee has tussled with the governor.

Told Thursday, the day after the North Berwick town hall, that Gattine had questioned his comments about race, LePage responded angrily to reporters and then left an expletive-filled voice mail on Gattine’s cellphone. He later told reporters that he wished it were 1825 so he could challenge Gattine to a duel.

Gattine has denied calling the governor a racist, but said he was troubled by LePage’s racially charged language.

LePage met with reporters later Thursday after leaving the voice mail and again on Friday in an effort to further explain himself, but he did not apologize to Gattine and did not back off his claims about race and drug dealers. In fact, he took his comments further.

Referring to the fight against drug traffickers as a war, he said: “You try to identify the enemy and the enemy right now, the overwhelming majority of people coming in, are people of color or people of Hispanic origin.”

Since Friday, many lawmakers, including a growing listnumber of Republicans, have called on the governor to seek professional treatment. Democratic leaders have asked him to resign. Senate Republican leaders said Monday that they met with the governor to discuss “corrective action.”

Westbrook’s Mayor Colleen Hilton, a Democrat, was among many who condemned the governor’s recent words and actions. Along with City Council President Brendan Rielly and School Committee Chairman James Violette, Hilton last week addressed an “Open Letter to the People of Maine.”

“Once more Governor LePage has humiliated himself and the Office of the Governor,” it read. “He continues to again embarrass the citizens of this wonderful state. Unfortunately, the current target of his inappropriate outbursts is Drew Gattine, a respected member and leader of our community, the City of Westbrook, and a highly respected member of the Maine State Legislature.

“Drew Gattine is what we want in a Maine leader. He is totally dedicated to helping others, has integrity and a strong ethical compass, is willing to lead with humor and humility, is articulate and is open to dialogue with those who disagree with him.”

Rielly also confirmed that the town hall had been canceled and said that a rally for decency was scheduled for Riverside Park at 6 p.m. Wednesday.

Westbrook, a mostly blue-collar mill city of about 18,000 residents, has seen its demographic makeup shift in recent years. Many immigrants and refugees have settled in the city, in large part because of affordable housing, and recent events have created racial and ethnic tension.

After it was learned this month that Adnan Fazeli – an Iranian refugee who became an Islamic State radical – had lived in Westbrook, Muslims in the same housing complex were targeted with anonymous typed notes that read, “All Muslims are Terrorists should be Killed.”

Westbrook, like many communities, also has been hit hard by the heroin and opiate epidemic. Following a rash of overdose calls, the city’s police department accepted an offer by Maine’s attorney general to equip officers with more doses of the life-saving drug Narcan.

In 2014, Westbrook had 11,770 registered voters, made up of 38 percent Democrats, 22.9 percent Republicans, 4.5 percent independent and 34.6 unenrolled,according to the secretary of state. When LePage was re-elected in 2014, he received 41 percent of the votes cast in Westbrook.

House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe, D-Skowhegan, criticized LePage for wanting to schedule the town hall event in Gattine’s hometown.

“It’s unbelievable that the governor plans to hold a town hall in Westbrook on the heels of his threats toward Rep. Drew Gattine. He doesn’t seem to be in touch with reality here. He keeps making bad decisions in the wake of his meltdown last week. This erratic behavior is why we and many Republicans do not have faith in his ability to hold his office.”

LePage previously held a town hall forum in Westbrook in February 2015, during which he talked mostly about his proposed budget. That event, one of his first town halls, was held at the city’s Performing Arts Center, located at the middle school.

Staff Writer Dennis Hoey contributed to this report.

 

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Madawaska backs off proposal to drug-test welfare recipients http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/madawaska-backs-off-proposal-to-drug-test-welfare-recipients/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/madawaska-backs-off-proposal-to-drug-test-welfare-recipients/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 15:57:49 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/madawaska-backs-off-proposal-to-drug-test-welfare-recipients/ MADAWASKA — The town manager in Madawaska says he is backing off a proposal to drug test welfare recipients.

Madawaska Town Manager Ryan Pelletier said earlier this summer that such new rules could apply to the town’s use of state General Assistance money. He said on Monday that he is not moving forward with a random drug testing policy.

Instead, Pelletier is recommending that the town follow the state’s lead with drug testing requirements for convicted felons. He says he will tell the town’s Board of Selectmen on Monday night that the local charter commission should explore the adoption of a similar policy.

The General Assistance program provides money for things like food.

The ACLU had raised questions about the legality of the plan to drug test welfare recipients.

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Firefighters extinguish blaze at Old Orchard Beach apartment complex http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/fire-at-old-orchard-apartment-complex-reported-monday/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/fire-at-old-orchard-apartment-complex-reported-monday/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 15:05:07 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/fire-at-old-orchard-apartment-complex-reported-monday/ A fire at an apartment complex in Old Orchard Beach damaged two units Monday and caused $100,000 in damage, the fire chief said.

Alarms sounded about 10:30 a.m. after a kitchen stove fire triggered the building’s sprinkler system, said Old Orchard Beach Fire Chief Ed Dube.

Fire crews responded to find smoke coming from the building at 18 Smithwheel Road, but the flames were already extinguished by the sprinkler, Dube said. No one was injured.

Water damaged the third-floor unit where the fire began and damaged one below it.

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Maine’s education reform panel to accept fine for closing meeting http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/education-task-force-wont-challenge-meeting-complaint/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/education-task-force-wont-challenge-meeting-complaint/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:22:16 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/education-task-force-wont-challenge-meeting-complaint/ WELLS — An education reform commission accused of meeting illegally in closed session won’t challenge a legal complaint from the Maine Attorney General’s Office and will pay any fine the court sets, the panel decided in a unanimous vote Monday.

Eight members of the 15-member education finance reform commission voted without any discussion, declining to meet in closed session with an attorney hired to represent it in court. The lawyer was in the audience but did not address the commission.

One Democrat on the Legislature’s Education Committee said she was glad the commission dealt swiftly with the legal complaint.

“It was definitely a distraction and started the commission on a bad note,” said Sen. Rebecca J. Millett, D-Cape Elizabeth, who was in the audience. “I’m glad the commission can move forward.”

Commission Chairman Bob Hasson, a Maine Department of Education employee, proposed the motion as the commission met in public for the first time. Several dozen people were in the audience, including education lobbyists, education officials and lawmakers.

One of the commission members, House Minority Leader Kenneth Fredette, R-Newport, did not attend. Rep. Michael McClellan, R-Raymond, took his place. McClellan voted to pay the fine, but his vote did not count.

Hasson said the vote would help the commission “put (the issue) behind us” and allow members to focus on education issues.

Deputy Education Commissioner Bill Bearsdley agreed. “I’m ready to move on,” he said during a break in the meeting.

After the vote, the commission immediately moved into a discussion of how it would operate and communicate, and Hasson asked members to suggest “big ideas” for education reform.

The commission, created by L.D. 1641, is charged with evaluating the state’s current education funding model and reporting back to the Legislature with “recommendations for action to reform public education funding and improve student performance in the state.” The commission is expected to meet through July 2018.

On Monday, members tossed out more than a dozen ideas for possible focus areas. Some of the ideas were familiar to education specialists: the benefits of universal pre-K instruction, satisfying the 55 percent state funding for education mandate, improving teacher training and increasing teacher pay. Other ideas, not as widely discussed previously, included moving to a year-round school calendar, adopting a common statewide school calendar, shifting sports away from schools to municipalities, and having a single statewide teachers contract.

Documents, past reports and meeting materials are all available at the Maine Department of Education website, Hasson said.

“I’m encouraged that (Gov. Paul LePage) said that whatever comes out of the commission, he will seriously consider it,” Hasson said.

LePage’s education adviser, Aaron Chadbourne, had no comment on the commission’s vote.

The Attorney General’s Office filed its complaint in Kennebec County Superior Court over whether the LePage administration violated the state’s open meetings law when the reform commission held a session closed to the public on April 25. The court date for the hearing is Sept. 12.

Maine law requires most meetings by elected bodies to be open to the public. The law provides for a civil penalty of up to $500 for a knowing or intentional violation.

Three days before the meeting, an assistant attorney general told Beardsley that the meeting needed to be open to the public under Maine’s Freedom of Access Act, according to the court complaint.

After getting the opinion, the administration changed the description of the meeting and relocated it to the Blaine House, but kept it private. The governor’s office described the three-hour meeting as an informal, invitation-only, getting-to-know-you session, even though an agenda described it as the commission’s first meeting.

On the day of the meeting, members of the governor’s staff exchanged a flurry of texts when lawmakers and members of the public objected that they were not being allowed to attend.

The texts violated the governor’s policy against communicating via text messages.

In the wake of the controversy, LePage removed himself from the commission and appointed Beardsley as the governor’s representative. In turn, Beardsley named Hasson the Education Department’s representative and the commission chairman.

Hasson oversees certification, educator effectiveness and higher education for the department.

 

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Six-vehicle crash on I-295 cleared, traffic flowing again http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/multi-car-crash-halts-traffic-on-interstate-295-in-yarmouth/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/multi-car-crash-halts-traffic-on-interstate-295-in-yarmouth/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:19:34 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/multi-car-crash-halts-traffic-on-interstate-295-in-yarmouth/ Officials have cleared a multi-vehicle crash that brought traffic to a standstill on Interstate 295 in Yarmouth Monday morning, but traffic in the area is still slow, authorities said.

The accident involved at least six vehicles in the southbound passing lane near Exit 17, according to state and local authorities.

It was unknown whether anyone was injured in the crash, a dispatcher said.

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Paris fire chief retires with gripes against selectboard http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/paris-fire-chief-retires-with-gripes-against-selectboard/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/paris-fire-chief-retires-with-gripes-against-selectboard/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 13:07:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/paris-fire-chief-retires-with-gripes-against-selectboard/ PARIS, Maine – Citing a perceived lack of support from the Paris Board of Selectmen, the Maine town’s fire chief has decided to retire early after 53 years in the fire service.

The Sun Journal reports Chief Brad Frost has notified Paris officials that his last day on the job will be Wednesday.

Frost says he’s “truly saddened” by the selectboard’s lack of support for town employees, which he claims is driven by person agendas that have created a hostile work environment for all employees.

Frost says he’s invited selectmen to many fire department events in the past and none have shown up.

The 77-year-old says he planned to remain fire chief through the fall, but he can’t put up with the selectboard’s “bashing and negativity” any longer.

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Riding new trends, University of Maine welcomes largest-ever incoming class http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/university-of-maine-welcomes-largest-ever-incoming-class/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/university-of-maine-welcomes-largest-ever-incoming-class/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 10:14:03 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/university-of-maine-welcomes-largest-ever-incoming-class/ ORONO — The University of Maine is welcoming the largest incoming class in its history this fall.

The Orono university’s new class will have 2,300 students. The fall semester for the class of 2020 starts on Monday.

The university says the incoming class is 56 percent Maine residents and the rest are from elsewhere. The school says the number of in-state students is comparable to last year, and the number of out-of-state students has been growing.

The University of Maine is also seeing an increase in students attending masters and doctoral programs. Masters students are up 20 percent and doctoral students are up 4 percent.

The school says its total enrollment will be more than 11,000, with more out-of-state students than ever. They will make up 30 percent.

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Maine making up for lost ground in personal income growth http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-making-up-for-lost-ground-in-personal-income-growth/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/maine-making-up-for-lost-ground-in-personal-income-growth/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1034662 Growth in personal income in Maine has lagged behind most of the rest of the country since the Great Recession began in 2007, but jumped ahead in the past year, an economic analysis indicates.

The study, by the Pew Charitable Trusts, found that the average annual increase in personal income was just 1.0 percent in Maine from the final quarter of 2007 to the first three months of this year. That increase exceeded personal income growth in only two states – Nevada and Illinois – and was less than the national average growth rate of 1.7 percent. Two other states – Connecticut and Arizona – matched the personal income growth in Maine during the period.

North Dakota had the strongest personal income growth during the recovery, posting an average annual increase of 4.7 percent, but like Maine, reversed course over the past year: While Maine’s income growth over the last year was the second strongest in the country at 4.6 percent, North Dakota was one of only three states to see personal income drop, declining 3.9 percent for the year. Falling oil prices hurt employment in that state and caused the decline in personal income growth. Three other poor-performing states – Wyoming, Oklahoma and Alaska – were also likely affected by the declining fortunes of the mining sector, which includes coal, natural gas and oil production.

Maine’s personal income growth for the past year trailed only neighboring New Hampshire, where personal income grew 5.4 percent.

Charles Lawton, an economist with Maine-based Planning Decisions and a columnist for the Portland Press Herald, said the income figures reflect a recovery that has been uneven throughout the country.

“The primary reason for this variation is regional specialization,” he said, pointing to states in the oil patch. Those states came back strong once the recession ended, but have been hit hard by the sharp decline in oil, natural gas and coal prices over the last two years.

Lawton said states with large metro areas have also benefited from a continuing migration from rural areas to bigger cities.

Maine’s state economist agreed, and also pointed out that the comparison of the first quarter of this year to the first three months of 2015 might paint a more positive picture for Maine.

That period in early 2015, Amanda Rector said, “was a weak quarter nationally and particularly bad in New England, where we had a harsh winter.” By comparison, the beginning of 2016 was much milder, which meant lower heating bills and more disposable income. That, along with low inflation, has helped the state economy this year, she said.

But both Lawton and Rector said Maine still has economic problems that will limit future growth.

“Without robust population growth, the aging of Maine’s existing population will lead to fewer available workers, meaning wages and salaries might start to see higher increases as businesses seek to attract workers,” she said in an email, but “if Maine is to see continued personal income growth, policymakers will need to address those things that have contributed to the below-average growth over the past few years. This includes attracting more people to the state (workers, business owners, investors).”

Lawton agreed.

“Longer term, we remain limited by our demographic imbalance,” he said. “To maintain earned income growth, as opposed to property and transfer income, we need more people, increasing the availability of cheaper alternative energy sources for heating and transportation, and making Maine a place where a variety of industries can thrive – especially those with higher average wages.”

 

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That Moment: In face of fatal illness, resilience and a ‘celebration of brains’ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/that-moment-in-face-of-fatal-illness-resilience-and-a-colorful-burst-of-creativity/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/that-moment-in-face-of-fatal-illness-resilience-and-a-colorful-burst-of-creativity/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1034689 Wearing a denim jacket bedazzled with purple studs, Sam Koenigsberg looked out at more than 100 people assembled for his 33rd birthday party, and then up at the larger-than-life tumor on the projection screen.

“So yeah, I have brain cancer,” Koenigsberg said.

Sam Koenigsberg pauses after dancing at his 33rd birthday party last week. He threw the celebration partly to bring his friends and family into the world of his "purple visions."

Sam Koenigsberg pauses after dancing at his 33rd birthday party last week. He threw the celebration partly to bring his friends and family into the world of his “purple visions.”

He chuckled, a little nervous. A few guests laughed with him.

Last November, Koenigsberg had his first seizure. Soon, he was having as many as 12 seizures in a day. In January, an MRI uncovered anaplastic astrocytoma – a rare malignant brain tumor. Koenigsberg immediately underwent surgery to remove about 70 percent of the mass, and in the months since, he has undergone radiation and chemotherapy treatment. He has taken steroids to prevent dangerous swelling in his brain and medical marijuana to treat his nausea and fatigue.

His prognosis is uncertain, but his doctors have predicted he could live between two and eight years.

Koenigsberg had planned this party for months in particular detail, from the purple contact lenses he was wearing to the slideshow of images he was narrating. A picture of the radiation machine. A picture of himself on the table for treatment, wearing a white netted mask over his face. A picture of the red beams from the radiation machine targeted at his head.

“Now when I’m talking to a person, every individual, I think about their individual brain,” he told the guests. “Your heart, your liver, everything that is you, your identity, is in your brain, and it’s crazy.

“This is a celebration of brains.”

A PURPLE CONNECTION EMERGES

Purple was never one of Koenigsberg’s favorite colors.

“I didn’t even have any purple shirts,” he said.

Koenigsberg isn’t sure how it started – maybe radiation, maybe his combination of medications, maybe fate, maybe his own mind. But suddenly he was drawing purple connections through the past and the present, out of his life and into his cancer treatment.

Sam Koenigsberg smokes prescribed medical marijuana at his home. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

Sam Koenigsberg smokes prescribed medical marijuana at his home.
Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

The lavender farm he visited in New Mexico before starting radiation. Prince, one of his favorite musicians. A song he liked by R&B artist Tinashe from her album “Amethyst.” The title of his high school yearbook, also “Amethyst.” The quartz itself, which is often connected with sobriety and enlightenment in mythology and Buddhism. Its deep purple color, which can be attributed to natural radiation in the earth.

He felt exhilarated, not cancerous.

“It was keeping me inspired,” Koenigsberg said. “I started making what was initially this horrible, horrible diagnosis be something really fun and artistic.”

He started bringing a CD player to radiation treatments, where the technicians would play the Tinashe song on repeat for him while he held an amethyst. His stepmother painted all the doors on her house purple – a shade called “Purple Rain,” in homage to Prince. He created a mural on his living room wall with purple paint swatches and doctors’ business cards, a purple pot leaf and a sprig of lavender. And he decided to throw an amethyst-themed birthday party to celebrate with loved ones and help them see what he called a “purple vision.”

“I don’t know how long I have to live, but sometimes it can be a great thing,” Koenigsberg said. “It can really open your eyes in a certain way. We all think about it. This is something we’re all going through in our own way at different rates. This is really no different for anyone else, but it’s sort of sped up for me.”

FRIENDS, RELATIVES PITCH IN

Almost entirely with donations from friends and family, Koenigsberg rented O’Maine Studios on Danforth Street in Portland. His sister Liz Koenigsberg, one of the owners of Petite Jacqueline in Portland, organized catering. When he imagined an art installation, friends from across the country created pieces for him to display.

At his bathed-in-purple birthday party, Sam Koenigsberg dances with his grandmother Jaqueline McLain.

At his bathed-in-purple birthday party, Sam Koenigsberg dances with his grandmother Jaqueline McLain.

A Portland native, Koenigsberg was voted “Most Artistic” in his class at Deering High School. At Carlton College in Minnesota, he studied English and wrote short stories. He lived in the Midwest after graduation, in part trying to produce a feature-length film with friends. He and his friends once built an ice-fishing house on a frozen lake as part of a winter art festival.

His friends reeled at the news of his diagnosis.

“It made me think about what it means to live your life without knowledge when it will end,” said Arielle Adams, a longtime friend. “If there’s anybody who would be good at that, it would be Sam.”

AN EXPRESSION OF CREATIVITY

Last Thursday evening, Koenigsberg set up chairs and purple lights and left bars of amethyst soap as party favors. He checked every detail and greeted every guest.

“Sam has not had a vehicle to express his creativity in a long time,” said Gretchen Larman, his mom. “He has all this artistic energy, and this has been a vehicle for that. It’s not just a party. It’s a piece of art.”

The partygoers gathered around the projection screen for the slideshow, then three short films by friends. One was set to the sounds from an MRI machine. Another was based on a surreal short story that Koenigsberg wrote about swallowing gum. The third was footage from the movie he once hoped to make with friends in Minneapolis. When her son – almost 10 years younger, his head not yet shaved – appeared on the screen, Larman wiped tears from her face. Koenigsberg interjected through the film, trying to explain its abstract inspiration to slightly puzzled viewers.

“This is about a great architect who wants everything to stop building,” he said.

FRUITLESS TRIP, FANTASY PARTY

As the films gave way to music, Koenigsberg and his girlfriend, Molly Adams, guided a group of friends to his apartment, where he pointed to the radiation mask tacked up on his living room mural. He clicked “play” on a Six Three Mafia rap song, then stepped onto the deck to exhale sweet marijuana smoke into the night air.

Bouncing quickly into the next room to check on his guests, Koenigsberg ushered them back to the party. He interrupted the dancing to tell everyone a detail he forgot during his slideshow – he had traveled to Minneapolis to invite Prince to the party, only to find out the musician had died that day.

While his friends retook the dance floor, Koenigsberg took over as DJ. His dad, Steve Koenigsberg, paused to kiss his son on the cheek.

Bouncing as he selected the next track, the anxious host finally relaxed. He turned the music over to a friend. The studs on his jacket shone as he ran to the dance floor.

In the purple light, he jumped up and down to the beat.

A picture of the late musician Prince, made using photos of Sam Koenigsberg's cancer cells, hangs on the wall at his party. Prince and the color purple have played a big part in Koenigsberg's life, especially since his diagnosis.

A picture of the late musician Prince, made using photos of Sam Koenigsberg’s cancer cells, hangs on the wall at his party. Prince and the color purple have played a big part in Koenigsberg’s life, especially since his diagnosis.

 

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HVAC school offers a lifeline to workers in dying Maine industries http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/hvac-school-offers-a-lifeline-to-workers-in-dying-maine-industries/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/hvac-school-offers-a-lifeline-to-workers-in-dying-maine-industries/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1034818 In the weeks leading up to the Bucksport paper mill closure in 2014, Verso worker Curtis Hamilton realized he needed to change careers.

The 34-year-old Belfast resident did some research and decided that his best option was to join the growing industry that installs and repairs heating, ventilation and air-conditioning systems.

Trevor Rollins, 28, left, discusses options for venting a furnace with senior instructor Bryan Champagne. Rollins already works in HVAC and enrolled at the technical center to take specific courses to expand his areas of expertise.

Trevor Rollins, 28, left, discusses options for venting a furnace with senior instructor Bryan Champagne. Rollins already works in HVAC and enrolled at
the technical center to take specific courses to expand his areas of expertise.

But Hamilton had no prior experience in the field known as HVAC, so with financial help from a state program, he enrolled in a three-month crash course at a Brunswick school funded in part by Maine energy companies.

Four weeks before his graduation in May 2015, Hamilton already had a job lined up with Maritime Energy in Montville, about 18 miles from his home.

“I was working for Maritime about two weeks after I finished school,” he said.

For Maine workers in declining industries, it can be difficult to find a new career with comparable pay that doesn’t require years of college. The challenge is even greater for those living in rural communities.

But since 2004, the Maine Energy Marketers Association has been operating a school in Brunswick to train workers in HVAC job skills. Graduates can obtain certifications to install, maintain and repair oil, electrical, propane and natural gas heating systems, as well as air-conditioning and refrigeration systems.

According to the U.S. Department of Labor, the HVAC industry is poised for “extremely high” job growth of 14 percent over the coming decade, making it an ideal second career for displaced workers in declining industries such as forest products.

“Companies right now are looking for new apprentices to bring into the trade,” said Bryan Champagne, senior instructor at the Maine Energy Marketers Association’s Technical Education Center.

The school, known as MTEC, graduated about 400 students in 2015, said Jamie Py, president of the association. Roughly one-third of those graduates were referred to the school by the state Department of Labor’s Career Centers and Rapid Response programs for displaced workers from other industries.

Steven Sweet works on a gas furnace. Strong job growth is forecast for the HVAC industry.

Steven Sweet works on a gas furnace. Strong job growth is forecast for the HVAC industry.

 

HVAC jobs are desirable because they offer relatively high wages without requiring a four-year college degree. According to the U.S. Labor Department’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, the mean annual wage for HVAC workers in the U.S. is $47,830.

And most importantly, HVAC companies in Maine are hiring.

“If someone has an HVAC license, they can pretty much go out and find another job right now,” said Ed Upham, director of the Maine Department of Labor’s Bureau of Employment Services.

Upham, who oversees the state Career Centers and Rapid Response program for displaced workers, said MTEC is one of several state-approved schools for worker retraining. In addition to HVAC, other common career moves for former mill workers include health care, information technology, and precision machining and manufacturing.

“A lot of it depends on where you live,” Upham said. “If you live in the Portland area, obviously your opportunities are a lot more diverse.”

In most cases, workers in Maine who have been laid off because of a facility closure can get the cost of their job retraining partly or fully subsidized by the state. Hamilton said the cost of his $8,500 MTEC tuition, tools and living expenses were fully covered through Rapid Response and another program for veterans.

Upham said the most important criterion for the Department of Labor’s approved schools list is the school’s ability to help place graduates in a new career. On that score, he said, MTEC has an excellent track record.

Wrenches and rags are tools of the trade at the Technical Education Center in Brunswick.

Wrenches and rags are tools of the trade at the Technical Education Center in Brunswick.

“The whole purpose of these programs is re-employment, so there has to be a job at the end of it,” Upham said.

Other students enrolled in MTEC said they are seeking a better-paying career with greater opportunities for advancement.

Brunswick resident Sara Myers was working in day care when she decided to enroll in the school. Now, with two weeks left until graduation, she already has job interviews lined up.

Although she had no prior HVAC training before enrolling in MTEC, the 22-year-old Myers said it seemed like a good fit for her interests.

“Ever since I was little, I’ve always liked working with my hands,” she said.

Other MTEC students, including 28-year-old Trevor Rollins, already work in HVAC and are taking specific courses to expand their areas of expertise. Rollins, who works for Branch Brook Fuels in Arundel, said he is licensed in oil heating systems but came to MTEC to learn propane systems and appliances.

“It gives you the basics,” Rollins said. “The company is paying me to attend.”

Hamilton said the three-month course at MTEC is intense and requires students to study hard and learn quickly. He said it could easily be expanded to six months with all of the material that is covered.

Still, he said those willing to put in the effort will acquire the foundation they need to go out and train as apprentices in HVAC. It’s a challenging but rewarding career, he said.

“You’re going to be working long hours, weekends,” he said. “The colder it is, the more you work.”

 

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Special education teacher shortage worsens at Maine schools http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/special-education-teacher-shortage-worsens-at-maine-schools/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/29/special-education-teacher-shortage-worsens-at-maine-schools/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1034971 Deb Alden had to find five special education teachers this summer, and she had to find them fast.

“It’s been such a crazy shortage. I thought other years it was tough, then I got to this year,” said Alden, special education director in SAD 52, which serves students in Turner, Greene and Leeds.

Typically, she might have one or two openings among the 28 special education teacher slots across six schools. But trying to fill five of them has set off ripple effects throughout the district.

Alden said she begged one retired teacher to come back, but that means the school’s administrative assistant will have to help her out with unfamiliar technology and paperwork. A special education teacher moved from the high school to the middle school, so now all of the high school teachers will have to take on one more class. Alden herself will be the case manager for 15 special education students, and some students in the day treatment program will be moved into mainstream classes.

“There’s not one person in our district that won’t work harder because of this,” Alden said. “They will, because they want to do what is best for the kids. But we will all feel it.”

LONG-TERM PROBLEM GETS WORSE

Maine has long had a shortage of special education teachers, but this year hiring has been harder than ever, according to teachers, superintendents and state officials.

Several factors led to the shortage. For one, there are fewer education graduates in the state to fill entry-level jobs. Entry-level teacher pay, negotiated by local districts, is low, particularly in the northern part of the state, and there are no extra incentives to go into special education, which specialists agree is a difficult, complicated job. Special education teaching positions are frequently filled by first-time teachers, as an entry into general education, and many teachers move on within a few years, creating more turnover than in other specialties.

The shortage is likely to get worse next fall, when new federal rules will start requiring districts to hire only fully certified special education teachers for those students.

Currently, less-than-fully-certified teachers are allowed to be special education teachers in Maine for up to three years while they pursue full certification. Statewide last year, there were 256 of those less-than-fully-certified teachers working, along with 4,504 fully certified special education teachers, according to the Maine Department of Education.

It’s not a new problem, according to the U.S. Department of Education, which has put out an annual nationwide teacher shortage list going back to 1990.

In the early 1990s, Maine listed only special education and foreign languages as shortage areas. Last year, both those categories were still on the list, along with math and science, English as a second language, gifted and talented, industrial arts and librarians.

In Lewiston, Michelle Winslow said she noticed the drop in applicants as the special education director for Geiger Elementary School this summer.

“Oh yes, I live that on a daily basis,” said Winslow, who is now assistant principal at Geiger. She said other special education directors in the state also reported difficulty finding candidates.

“I feel like we’re all in the same boat,” she said.

In the classrooms, there are more special education teachers for fewer special ed students than five years ago, but the numbers don’t tell the whole story because each special education student has different needs, said Jill Adams, executive director of Maine Administrators of Services for Children with Disabilities, or MADSEC. Adams works with special education directors in districts all over the state.

The number of special education students has dropped about 2 percent since 2009-10, while overall enrollment has decreased 4.5 percent, according to state data. At the same time, the number of special education teachers in Maine has increased 4 percent and the number of education technicians, who work closely with special education students and assist special education teachers, has increased 2 percent.

Special education students run the gamut from low-level needs, such as having an extra 20 minutes of specialized help each week, to intense one-on-one instruction and care for severely emotionally, physically or mentally challenged students.

DIFFICULT JOB, FEWER GRADUATES

Generally, most special education students are mainstreamed, which means they are in regular classrooms. The classroom teacher leads the entire class, while a special education teacher or ed tech may also be in the classroom depending on the students’ needs. When a classroom has several high-needs special education students in it, there can be multiple adults in the room.

At the farthest end of the needs spectrum, students with significant disabilities who are not ready to be in a mainstream classroom are educated in a public school day program or a public regional program. If a district doesn’t have the resources to care for those children, they may be placed out of district in a private school.

Teachers have to evaluate each student, write up an individual plan, teach the students, oversee ed techs or less-than-fully certified colleagues, fill out state and federal paperwork and meet regularly with students and parents.

“I think it’s a very tough job,” Adams said.

There are also fewer students in colleges studying education, and special education in particular, she said.

There are multiple teacher training colleges in Maine. One of the largest, the University of Maine System, has seen a steady decline in education graduates. Systemwide, the number of degrees in education peaked in 2006-07, with 1,222 graduates. Last year there were 787 education graduates, a decline of 36 percent in under a decade.

In addition to a shortage of special education teachers, districts struggle to hire for other positions related to special education, from education technicians to occupational therapists, speech therapists and other specialists. Adams said many districts have resorted to hiring online services for tele-therapy.

While special education teachers are paid at the same rate as other teachers, negotiated at the local district level, some districts offer financial incentives for certain special education positions that require more specialized skills, such as working at a day treatment facility with the most seriously affected children.

Lewiston Superintendent Bill Webster said his district’s new ed tech contract, approved this summer, increased starting wages and added vacation days.

“That’s put us in a stronger position,” Webster said. The district just created a new districtwide special education program to offer special education services to students who were previously placed out of district in private schools. He said that will allow the district to cut costs, from paying about $50,000 per student for out-of-district care to about $30,000 per student under the new program.

The district also hired about 50 special education teachers, drawing some teachers from elsewhere in the state.

Special education costs also have increased. According to state Department of Education data, total special education costs were 15.6 percent of total school expenses statewide in 2014-15, up from 13.5 percent a decade earlier, when there were more special education students to serve. That’s because the kind of needs have increased. Instead of students with dyslexia, there are more students with autism or multiple disabilities, which require more resources – and money – for school services.

STATE WORKING TO ADDRESS ISSUES

Kathy Yardley, dean of education at the University of Maine-Farmington, said Maine faces a looming teacher shortage in many areas. Statistics show that about 30 percent of Maine teachers will retire within the next decade, and she can see the shortage in math and science teachers in her graduating classes.

Farmington had no secondary math graduates this year, she said, and the incoming class has only two students going into math.

“It really is in particular content areas,” Yardley said of the shortage. “English, social studies, elementary education – we have plenty of students. There’s no shortage there.”

But even though there is no shortage, there are fewer qualified teachers even in those areas, she said.

“Schools will tell us that they used to have a couple hundred elementary education applicants, and now it has dropped to 80. They are still getting a large number of applications, but not as many as they used to,” she said.

“The pool (of applicants) was much deeper even 10 years ago,” said Bob Hasson, a former Maine schools superintendent who heads up certification for the state Department of Education.

State officials are working now to come up with a plan to bring all special education teachers to full certification to meet the new regulations next fall.

A multipronged approach could be part marketing – using social media to tell millennials and out-of-state teachers about the teaching jobs here – and targeted recruiting of special education teachers elsewhere, Hasson said.

To fill the gap, the state Department of Education is working with Maine colleges to make it easier for students to get full certification, and the state needs to find “creative ways to grow our own” and retain teachers, said Jan Breton, the department’s director of special services. That might include financial incentives for working in rural locations, loan forgiveness after working in the state for a period of time, or helping pay up front for certification.

“It’s an issue everywhere,” she said. The state has to do “whatever it takes.”

 

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New book stirs old memories of Maine fires http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/new-book-stirs-old-memories-of-maine-fires/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/new-book-stirs-old-memories-of-maine-fires/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 02:20:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/new-book-stirs-old-memories-of-maine-fires/ In the book “Kindling,” the fictional town of Chaldea, Maine, is terrorized as a 15-year-old boy burns his high school to the ground and then goes on a fire-setting spree through town, trying to destroy the nearby junior high, homes and a business.

The story is fiction, but it’s a reality that many Madison residents know all too well.

In October 1986, Madison High School was destroyed in an early morning fire that tore through classrooms, books and band instruments and displaced more than 400 students.

Two weeks later, an attempt was made to burn Carrabec High School in Anson, where the Madison students had been sent. In following weeks, attempts were made to burn Madison Junior High, including one that destroyed the principal’s office.

And in December, three homes and a dairy business on Jones Street were set on fire. The dairy was leveled, and one of the homes was no longer inhabitable.

Town residents were on edge, forming a neighborhood watch and sitting up nights wondering if they were next.

“It was very unnerving, especially when homes started to burn,” said John Krasnavage, principal of Madison Junior High at the time and now a member of the Madison school board. “People didn’t know who it was, and all of a sudden homes would go up (in flames). I think it’s one of the most traumatic things Madison has ever seen.”

Weeks went by with no one charged.

Then, shortly after the fires on Jones Street, investigators linked evidence at the Carrabec scene to fingerprints left at Madison Junior High and footprints in the snow that tracked back to the home of 15-year-old Toby Thibeault. Thibeault lived on Jones Street, and his house was one of those burned on the night of Dec. 1.

Thibeault was convicted in April 1987 on charges of arson and attempted arson and was sentenced to three years in the Maine Youth Center in South Portland followed by two years of probation – the maximum penalty allowed for a juvenile at the time.

The fires 30 years ago this fall would be a distant memory for many Madison residents if not for the recent release of “Kindling,” a novel by former Madison High School English teacher David Cappella.

The book, self-published by Cappella and released in January, follows 15-year-old Zeke Titcomb through his incarceration at the youth center with flashbacks to fires that Titcomb set in Chaldea – a western Maine mill town where the school colors, like Madison’s, are blue and white and the local newspaper is the Sentinel.

In a phone interview last week, Ercell Thibeault, Toby Thibeault’s father, said his son, who runs a machinery business with him in Tennessee, has stayed out of trouble since the family left Maine several years ago. He said they hadn’t heard that a book based on the fires had been published.

Thibeault said Toby, who has a son of his own, wouldn’t want to comment on the fires.

“I don’t believe he did it,” Ercell Thibeault said. “He’s never said he did or didn’t do it, and I don’t ask the question. I didn’t believe it then, and I don’t believe it now. It’s all behind us.”

INTO THE FIRE

Cappella is a poet and professor at Central Connecticut State University. At a book reading Thursday at Madison Junior High, built since the fires on the site of the old Madison High School, Cappella stressed that his book is fiction. While he knew who Toby Thibeault was, he didn’t have the teenager as a student.

But some at the reading said it is eerily true to the actual events.

“That all happened,” said Julie Forbus, a Madison librarian and member of the Madison High class of 1985. “I think there’s a real difference among people who lived through this and have read the book and those that didn’t. For those of us that lived through it, the fires were one of those before and after moments in people’s lives.

“I’d say (the book) is pretty accurate,” said Forbus, who was in her freshman year at Colby College in Waterville, commuting from Madison, when the high school burned. She was scheduled to take a French test the day of the fire, but skipped it.

“When your school burns down, that’s a day you don’t go to class,” she said.

At the book reading, which was part of the Madison-Anson Days celebration held Thursday to Saturday, Ross Turcotte, a former student of Cappella’s, said he feels the book is “99 percent” true to events.

“Everything was just spot on,” said Turcotte, 50, who worked at Madison Paper Industries before it closed in May. “I don’t read a lot of books, but I just had to pick this up. I could relate to it, too.”

In the early morning of Oct.14, 1986, fire tore through the high school, causing an explosion and canceling classes for the rest of the week.

Krasnavage, the junior high principal at the time, got a phone call in the middle of the night telling him that the school next door to his was on fire. The old junior high building, which survived two subsequent attempts at a fire, has since been demolished and replaced by a playground.

“I remember seeing the high school was totally engulfed in flames,” Krasnavage said last week. “There was fire coming out everywhere. You couldn’t really get close to anything because the heat was just tremendous.

“It was really something because there was a big trophy case in the auditorium with all kinds of old trophies and mementos from Madison and Skowhegan games from, you know, the very first one, pieces of goalposts, that kind of thing. All of that history was lost,” he said.

RESIDENTS REMEMBER

Al Veneziano, a longtime science teacher at Madison Junior High and current chairman of the Madison Board of Selectmen, was in his first semester teaching at the school when he learned about the fire.

“I remember being called and told it was happening in the early morning hours,” Veneziano said in a telephone interview. “Obviously when something like that is happening in a small town, you kind of run to it.”

Chris LeBlanc, the high school’s current athletic director, was a freshman in the fall of 1986.

“All of a sudden it was, ‘Where are we going to go to school?'” said LeBlanc, 44. “What are we going to do? That type of thing. Even as a kid, I think that was more of my thought process as opposed to, ‘Hey, we have a fire. Hooray! We don’t have to go to school.’ I don’t think that was in my thoughts.”

Fire departments from Madison, Anson, North Anson, East Madison and Starks all rushed to the scene.

The fire caused an explosion that knocked a janitor 40 feet when the school’s library windows blew out, the Morning Sentinel reported at the time.

Firefighters saved the gymnasium, which is part of Madison Junior High today, but the rest of the building was destroyed.

The school lost its library collection – about 7,500 books – as well as practically all of the band instruments, prompting pleas for donations.

Construction had already started that fall on the new high school at 205 Main St., and the district worked out an agreement with the school district in Anson to send its students to Carrabec High for the rest of the school year.

By late November, there was no suspect in the fire or the attempted one at Carrabec High when there was a second fire at Madison Junior High. It damaged the principal’s office and caused smoke and water damage to other areas.

Then, on Dec.1, the homes on Jones Street and a storage building used for a milk-distributing business were set ablaze. All three homes were damaged and the dairy was destroyed.

‘YOU DON’T FORGET IT’

“I remember everything,” Ellen Parker said last week in a telephone interview. Her home was one of those set on fire. “When you almost lose your house and your son, you don’t forget it.”

Parker, who still lives in the house, described the scene as a war zone. She had been planning on going out, but in a last-minute change of plans stayed home to do crafts with a friend. She thinks the decision saved the life of her 16-year-old son, Chris, who was home but had headphones on and probably wouldn’t have heard the smoke detectors, she said.

Other houses on the street were already burning.

“The fire department didn’t believe we were on fire,” Parker said. “They were so concentrated on these other two buildings (down the street) that you couldn’t see past all the flames.”

Louis Fourcaudot’s home on Jones Street wasn’t one of those that burned, but he said Thursday that he remained on edge throughout the days that followed and helped start a neighborhood watch to patrol the streets at night.

“You wouldn’t sleep real soundly,” said Fourcaudot, 59. “I would sleep downstairs, and anytime you’d hear anything outside, you’d get up and you’d look.”

Fourcaudot is pictured in a photo in the Morning Sentinel, holding his 6-year-old son, Marcel, in one arm and a shotgun in the other. He told the Sentinel he slept on the couch armed with a shotgun and a fire extinguisher.

He asked Ercell Thibeault if he and Toby wanted to be in the watch group. Thibeault said they didn’t.

David Crook, the Somerset County district attorney, said in mid-December 1986 that Thibeault was a prime suspect in a total of 10 fires, but no charges were brought for most of them.

Crook, who is retired, said in a telephone interview Friday that the judge who oversaw the juvenile hearing to resolve Thibeault’s case did not allow the state to use a pattern in the way the fires were set as evidence that they were connected.

The state had strong evidence for the two fires that Thibeault was ultimately convicted of being responsible for – the arson at the junior high and attempted arson at Carrabec – based on fingerprints and footprints found around the junior high and a matching footprint that was found in the urinal of the boys’ bathroom at Carrabec, where Thibeault had stepped in order to put two bottles of gasoline above the ceiling tiles for use as an accelerant.

Crook couldn’t remember the details of why charges weren’t brought in the Madison High fire, but said it “did not matter, because he was obviously a sick kid and the punishment could not have been increased.” A New York Times story at the time said that Crook directed Madison police to close its investigation of the other fires upon Thibeault’s conviction.

Krasnavage said there was too much damage to the high school for any evidence to be recovered.

Thibeault was also charged with burglary for break-ins Oct. 27 and 30 at the dairy that later burned, according to a Sentinel story at the time. He was apparently never prosecuted on those charges.

Thibeault’s parents testified in the four-day trial that their son was in bed asleep when they went to bed on the night of the junior high school fire and he was there when they awoke the next morning, according to the Times.

Thibeault was found guilty on April 3, 1987, and sentenced to confinement at the Maine Youth Center in South Portland until he turned 18 and to probation until age 21, the maximum sentence for a juvenile. Crook said he served the entire sentence and was only arrested once that he knew of after that for a burglary in Vassalboro.

Authorities estimated the fires did more than $2 million in damage, according to the Times.

‘IT’S A HORROR’

The fires were the subject of widespread interest at the time and generated several stories in The New York Times describing the nightly police patrols, the rarity of such a crime in a small Maine town and an atmosphere that one church administrator likened to terrorism.

Part of the aim of “Kindling,” Cappella said, is to explore the psychology of pyromania, which he said is rooted in psychosexual desire. The other aim of the book is to show the effects that a traumatic event can have on a small town.

“It’s a horror,” he said. “People in small towns have integrity. They survive. But it’s a scar and a wound they have to live with, and often times they keep it to themselves.”

Cappella said he got the idea for the book in 2008, honing in on the voice of 15-year-old Zeke Titcomb. The introduction to “Kindling” says Zeke was bullied at school, didn’t have real friends and was stifled by an overbearing father.

The book opens with the line “I like flames.”

A psychologist interviewed by the Morning Sentinel said whoever was setting the fires was on “a real power trip.”

“If there’s a burglary, the police are going to show up,” David Staples of Kennebec Valley Mental Health Center said in the Dec. 7, 1986 Sentinel. “But if there’s a fire, everyone comes … Dramatic things happen.” He also said the arsonist was probably an extremely angry person who felt misused by society rather than a “chronically mentally ill person who sees things and hears voices.”

He said arsonists he’d treated had in common that they were angry over perceived mistreatment at the hands of family or society.

Ken Quirion, who investigated the fires for the state Fire Marshal’s Office, said there are different reasons for arson, but that with Thibeault he felt there were issues going on, probably at home, for him to cause that much damage.

For instance, evidence that Thibeault allegedly set his own house on fire led Quirion to believe it was set in anger. Thibeault, who was home alone, told firefighters that night he had just finished eating dinner when the blaze started. Quirion said that when he studied the damage to the house, he found a barely touched TV dinner on the floor.

“I think there was something going on and he was home alone again,” Quirion said. “I think he threw the dinner down and just up and burned his own house. I think there was a lot of anger. I don’t know if anybody ever addressed that.”

Krasnavage said that while no one was ever charged in the high school fire, most residents in Madison “were pretty well convinced the fires were all connected.”

Like others, he said he isn’t sure what prompted Thibeault to try to set the junior high and Carrabec High on fire and possibly set other fires. Over the years there has been no shortage of speculation, though ultimately many of Thibeault’s teachers and neighbors said they were puzzled.

“He was a good kid,” Fourcaudot recalled. “He helped me do work around the house one day. He wasn’t a bad kid at all, other than that he liked to light fires.”

Quirion said he was on a late-night watch in a marked police car outside the boy’s home one night after Thibeault had been identified as a suspect in some of the fires and Thibeault brought him coffee and doughnuts.

Crook said he thinks the fires were the result of “psychological issues,” and that Thibeault was seeking attention from his parents.

“If you were to look at him in terms of his school performance … the opinion people held of him at that time, he was a most unlikely candidate,” Crook said. “But as the evidence mounted, it was like one piece of evidence was a string and when you put all the strings together it becomes a very strong rope.”

 

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Windsor Fair comes into bloom with annual Gladiolus Show http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/windsor-fair-comes-into-bloom-with-its-annual-gladiolus-show/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/windsor-fair-comes-into-bloom-with-its-annual-gladiolus-show/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 00:57:22 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/windsor-fair-comes-into-bloom-with-its-annual-gladiolus-show/ WINDSOR — Tall spikes of ruffled and smooth gladiolus in riotous and delicate colors gained the admiration of Joline Frecker of Augusta, who couldn’t resist softly touching a flower because of its velvety-looking texture.

The large round table held the “People’s Choice,” where Windsor Fair attendees could select and then vote for their favorite among the numbered but otherwise unidentified varieties of gladiolus.

Along the Exhibition Hall walls and down the center aisle, more gladiolus bloomed, some as single spikes, others as identical trios, still others fashioned into baskets or serving as centerpieces for holiday-themed arrangements.

The Gladiolus Show and competition Sunday afternoon was one of the many features of the opening day of the Windsor Fair, which runs daily through Labor Day.

Thomas Foster, president of the fair’s executive committee, said he’s hoping for another banner year like last year, where he estimated 100,000 people attended.

“I hope it’s even more,” he said. “We have lots of harness racing and entertainment daily.”

He also noted that fireworks will be Wednesday this year, immediately following the performance by Yellow Brick Road, the Elton John Tribute Band. New to the fair this year is a moose-calling contest set for 5-6:30 p.m. Friday.

Back at the annual Gladiolus Show sponsored by the Maine Gladiolus Society, Frecker said she and Dawn Charest, also of Augusta, vote for a favorite gladiolus every year. Charest was enamored with the smaller, purple ones and trying to choose among them.

“I have some in my garden out front,” Frecker said. “They haven’t done well this year.”

The bulk of the spikes on exhibit came from Cates Family Glads in East Vassalboro, a commercial grower that also produces other flowers along with 150,000 gladiolus annually.

“It’s a dying art,” said Paul Cates, 91, the family patriarch, “but we try to keep going.”

He got his start through an uncle who was a florist in the ’20s and ’30s. “I raised my first glads when I was 10,” he said, pointing out the rose-colored gladiolus that was his mother’s favorite.

In the early 1960s, while working in Germany where he had a gladiolus farm that backed up against the Berlin Wall, he met the woman who later became his wife, Elisabeth Cates. She grew up in what was then East Germany and already had a love of gladiolus.

“In East Germany we had sandy soil and we didn’t have flowers like these here,” she said on Sunday as she reached into a tall container to select another spike to display.

Audrey Pottle of Benton brought her gladiolus as well. She grows eight 50-foot rows of them, selling some at her roadside stand.

Arthur Mosher, whose family raises about 10,000 bulbs on their farm on the Liberty/Palermo line, said the fairy glads are the smallest, where a blossom is almost as small as a dime. Others grow much larger. “I’ve had them up to 500 across,” Mosher said, using glad-speak for flowers that can be 5 inches in diameter. Some of the spikes reach to 6 feet.

By 5 p.m., they all would be gone, whisked away so another exhibit could come in.

 

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Convicted Maine killer gets new lawyer for review http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/convicted-maine-killer-gets-new-lawyer-for-review/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/convicted-maine-killer-gets-new-lawyer-for-review/#comments Mon, 29 Aug 2016 00:13:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/convicted-maine-killer-gets-new-lawyer-for-review/ The former Industry man sentenced in 2012 to 70 years in prison for the murder of Rita St. Peter in 1980 has been assigned a new lawyer by the court in his bid for post-conviction review.

Jay Mercier, 61, is challenging his murder conviction, saying there were flaws in the delivery of evidence during his trial and that his court-appointed attorneys since he was convicted did not assist him adequately in appealing his case.

Mercier even points a finger at another man, whom he said dated St. Peter at the time of her death and who has since moved to another state, as the person who killed her.

Post-conviction review comes after an unsuccessful appeal and is usually the last resort.

Defense attorney George Hess of Auburn has been assigned to represent Mercier in the review. Mercier and the attorneys are scheduled for a telephone pretrial conference at 3 p.m. on Sept. 19.

Mercier’s appeal was denied by the Maine Supreme Judicial Court in 2014. Another appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court to return the case to the lower court also was denied.

The St. Peter murder was the oldest cold case on the books in Maine until Mercier was arrested in September 2011. Mercier was found guilty in a jury trial in Somerset County Superior Court in September 2012.

Mercier denied killing St. Peter, who was 20 when she was last seen walking across the bridge over the Kennebec River that connects Madison and Anson late on July 4, 1980. Her bloody and battered body was found the next morning on a field trail off Campground Road in Anson.

Mercier sexually assaulted St. Peter, beat her with something like a tire iron, then ran her over with his truck, according to prosecutors. Sex assault charges were never brought against Mercier, a point he raises in his request for post-conviction review.

Trying a case that was decades old had its challenges, Assistant Attorney General Andrew Benson, now a District Court judge, said after the verdict.

“Many pieces of evidence were lost, but in this case, fortunately, all the most important pieces of evidence remained and that was very important to the jury,” Benson said. “Because of the age of the case it was a difficult trial.”

The pieces of evidence that were lost are at the heart of Mercier’s post-conviction review. He says there are photos from the crime scene that are missing and that “blood spatter” evidence was never introduced in his defense.

Mercier contends that there were items of clothing that were either soaked in blood or had blood on them at the scene and were not properly examined. He says there may have been other DNA evidence with genetic material from someone other than him also at the scene.

He offers alternative theories in documents filed in Somerset County Superior Court in Skowhegan, including that St. Peter was urinating next to a motor vehicle that ran her over and a second one, apparently unrelated, that a boyfriend at the time confessed to killing her. He doesn’t say what the man, who now lives out of state, confessed to or offer other details.

Mercier also contends that there was “some sort of paint” or other material on or inside St. Peter’s skull that was never identified.

Mercier also contends that Benson improperly influenced the jury by repeatedly showing images of St. Peter’s body. He also says she was not sexually assaulted.

The tire iron-like weapon Mercier was said to have used to kill St. Peter was never found, but tire tread evidence from Mercier’s pickup truck matched photographed tire treads at the scene.

Tire impressions taken from the scene in 1980 were consistent with the unusual tires Mercier had on his vehicle at the time, according to documents.

DNA evidence taken from St. Peter’s body also matched Mercier’s DNA.

Mercier had been a suspect from the beginning, but the case had hit a dead end.

In 2005, Maine State Police Detective Bryant Jacques and Maine State Police Crime Lab forensic analyst Alicia Wilcox began their investigation of the cold case.

Mercier was arrested in September 2011.

 

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Mussel population loses strength in Gulf of Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/mussels-fading-from-new-england-waters/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/mussels-fading-from-new-england-waters/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 23:35:31 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/mussels-fading-from-new-england-waters/ New England is running out of mussels.

The Gulf of Maine’s once strong population of wild blue mussels is disappearing, scientists say. A study led by marine ecologists at the University of California at Irvine found the numbers along the gulf coastline have declined by more than 60 percent over the last 40 years.

Once covering as much as two-thirds of the gulf’s intertidal zone, mussels now cover less than 15 percent.

“It would be like losing a forest,” said biologist Cascade Sorte, who with her colleagues at the university conducted the study and recently published their findings in the Global Change Biology journal.

The Gulf of Maine stretches from Cape Cod to Canada and is a key marine environment and important to commercial fishing. Blue mussels are used in seafood dishes and worth millions to the economy of some New England states, but are also important in moving bacteria and toxins out of the water.

“It’s so disheartening to see (the loss) in our marine habitats. We’re losing the habitats they create,” Sorte said.

Disheartening, and also sometimes a smelly nuisance. Thousands of dead mussels washed up last week on the shores of Long Island, New York, and a Stony Brook University professor said the die-off could be attributable to warm water temperature.

The Sorte study focused on 20 sites along the gulf, using historical data to compare today’s mussel populations to those of the past. She said the decline of mussels isn’t from just one factor – warming ocean water, increases in human harvesting and the introduction of new predatory invasive species all appear to play a role.

The marine environment will suffer, she said, if they continue to decline, and it’s possible they could become extinct in some areas.

Scott Morello, a researcher who has studied mussels with The Downeast Institute for Applied Marine Research & Education in Maine, said Sorte’s work reflects observations that people who work on the water have made in recent years.

“It’s not just scientists,” he said. “I can tell you that most residents I’ve talked to, most fishermen I’ve talked to, will point out the same dramatic decrease in mussels.”

The nationwide value of wild blue mussels has reached new heights in recent years, peaking at more than $13 million at the dock in 2013 – more than twice the 2007 total.

They were worth more than $10 million in 2014, when fishermen brought nearly 4 million pounds of them ashore.

Maine and Massachusetts are by far the biggest states for wild mussel harvesting, and many are also harvested in Washington state. They are also farmed in aquaculture operations. The vast majority of the mussels that people eat are farmed, and most that are available to U.S. consumers are imported from other countries, such as Canada.

Mussel farming is dependent on wild mussels, which produce the larvae needed for the farmed shellfish to grow.

Andrew Pershing, chief scientific officer of the Gulf of Maine Research Institute, said the loss of wild mussels is troubling for aquaculture because if wild populations decline further, it could constrain the growth of the industry.

Pershing also said Sorte’s study shows there is a need to get better data about the abundance of mussels and how they are affected by warming waters and commercial harvesting.

“If we had a record of how mussels changed from year to year, it would be possible to see whether declines were more pronounced during particularly warm years or are related to some other event or process,” he said.

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Pressure is building on LePage over his behavior http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/censure-may-be-in-order-for-lepage-republican-state-senator-says/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/censure-may-be-in-order-for-lepage-republican-state-senator-says/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 23:06:46 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/censure-may-be-in-order-for-lepage-republican-state-senator-says/ The political pressure on Gov. Paul LePage over his recent controversial comments and threats grew over the weekend as Democratic legislative leaders suggested that Republican leadership persuade him to resign, a Senate Republican said a censure of him by the Legislature seemed appropriate, and an online petition signed by thousands of people urged him to step down.

A Democratic state legislator from Portland, meanwhile, said he will start exploring whether there is legislative support for impeachment proceedings against LePage, and a therapist and lobbyist from Hallowell is urging the public to attend a rally Tuesday in Augusta to support having the governor step aside or seek professional help.

Democratic legislative leaders sent a letter Saturday evening to Republican legislative leaders asking them to condemn LePage’s crude and threatening comments to and about a state representative, and urging that they get him professional help or encourage him to step down.

House Speaker Mark Eves and Senate Minority Leader Justin Alfond were among five Democratic leaders who signed the letter dated Saturday calling on Republican leaders to condemn LePage’s actions and comments toward Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook. Last week, LePage left Gattine an obscenity-laced voice mail message and made an apparent threat of violence against Gattine for allegedly referring to him as a racist.

Gattine has denied calling the governor a racist, and although LePage apologized to Maine residents for his comments, he has not apologized to Gattine.

“Such behavior is inappropriate for a governor and he appears to be unfit to hold office at this time. His actions have become increasingly erratic over the last several years, but he has now crossed a line and we must act,” Democrat leaders said in the letter.

“As leaders, we cannot stand by and allow the governor to operate in such a reckless and irresponsible manner,” they wrote. “After all, as the chief executive of our state, he needs to be able to make critical and responsible decisions every day, and he has clearly demonstrated by his latest behavior that he is not capable of sound judgment at this time.”

Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, also signed the letter and previously had called on LePage to resign.

“It’s clear from the governor’s threats that he is not mentally or emotionally fit to hold this office,” Gideon said in a statement Friday. “I am calling on the governor to resign, acknowledge the real problems with his behavior and take appropriate steps to get help.”

Jim Cyr, spokesman for Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, texted a reply Sunday evening in response to a query from the Portland Press Herald about the Democrats’ call for intervention.

Thibodeau “won’t have anything to say until Tuesday when he’ll likely have a news conference,” Cyr texted.

Republican State Sen. Amy Volk of Scarborough, who is facing re-election in November, told her constituents in a Facebook post Sunday that she shares their “deep concerns” about LePage’s recent behavior and said it may be appropriate for the Legislature to censure him.

Volk said she had received numerous emails and phone calls from people who told her they were disturbed by the governor’s behavior.

“What I do not know is whether it is due to substance abuse, mental illness or just ignorance,” Volk wrote on Facebook, referring to his behavior. “I certainly hope that his family and small circle of close staff are considering how best to address the issue. Things definitely appear to be out of control.”

Volk said legislative leadership is considering whether to hold a special session of the Legislature to discuss the matter.

“Some sort of censure would seem appropriate and I would welcome the ability to go on the record with a vote,” she said.

Censure would amount to a public reprimand through a vote of the Legislature, Volk explained in a telephone interview.

“It’s very sad that we seem to have sunk to a new low in Maine’s political environment,” Volk said in her Facebook post. “Up until this point I have refrained from publicly criticizing any of the governor’s behavior both out of respect for the office and a desire to preserve a working relationship with him and his staff, but this latest and the unwelcome attention it has brought to our state is a bridge too far for me.”

In his text message, Cyr, Thibodeau’s spokesman, said of Volk’s Facebook post that “it’s safe to say there are ongoing discussions within the Republican Senate caucus.”

Voice mail and email messages left Sunday night with the governor’s press staff seeking comment were not returned.

Representative Ken Fredette, another Republican legislative leader, and Jason Savage, executive director of the Maine Republican Party, could not be reached for comment Sunday night.

Meanwhile, an old adversary of the governor, Rep. Ben Chipman, D-Portland, said the governor’s crude language and apparent threat of violence against Gattine has him reconsidering his previous effort to have the governor impeached.

Chipman, who served three terms in the House, is now seeking election to the Maine Senate. He led an impeachment effort this year that failed due to lack of support.

“I don’t think the governor will resign. I think we have to impeach him,” Chipman said Sunday evening. “I just don’t know if the will is there.”

Meanwhile, a Facebook page calling itself ImpeachGov.LePage has started a petition drive aimed at bringing enough public pressure to bear that LePage will voluntarily step down. The Facebook initiative was created by a group calling itself Mainers for Government Accountability. The names of the people behind the petition effort could not be determined Sunday night.

“We are going to convince Governor LePage to resign. He said that if enough people ask him to leave, he would resign,” the group wrote. “So let’s flood him with signatures demanding he do just that.”

More than 3,200 people had signed the online petition as of late Sunday.

Betsy Sweet, a State House lobbyist and therapist from Hallowell, is asking for Mainers to join her Tuesday evening in Augusta’s Capitol Park for a rally.

The rally, dubbed “Save Our State,” will feature clergy, law enforcement, recovering addicts and people of color who will be invited to talk about standing up to bullying, threats of violence and racism, Sweet said. The rally is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.

In a news release announcing the rally, Sweet, an advocate on mental health issues for 35 years at the State House, called on the governor to resign.

“Maine people will not stand by and do nothing in the face of this behavior from the chief executive,” Sweet said.

Though Volk said she will consider a censure by the Legislature, in her Facebook post she also called on the governor’s staff and family to intervene.

“He has family, he has friends and he has staff. I ask them to intervene as well as they can. I believe in most of the governor’s policies and I always believed his heart was in the right place, but I can no longer remain silent about his behavior and what it is costing all of us,” Volk wrote.

Staff Writer Scott Thistle contributed to this report.

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Giant cruise ship with nearly 5,000 aboard visits Portland http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/one-of-the-worlds-largest-cruise-ships-visits-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/one-of-the-worlds-largest-cruise-ships-visits-portland/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 19:48:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/one-of-the-worlds-largest-cruise-ships-visits-portland/ The largest cruise ship of the season stopped in Portland Harbor on Sunday, sending its thousands of passengers into the streets and creating a festive atmosphere along Commercial Street.

The massive, 1,141-foot-long vessel – the Anthem of the Seas – dominated the harbor. When viewed from the Casco Bay Bridge, the ship obscured much of the city’s waterfront from its berth at the Ocean Gateway, where it was docked for most of the day before departing about 7 p.m. for Bar Harbor.

“It is definitely tremendous,” said Steven Hall of Gray, who peddled his wares along with dozens of other artisans on sidewalks teeming with passengers from the ship.

The Anthem of the Seas was visiting Portland for the first time Sunday. The ship, owned by the Royal Caribbean Cruises Ltd., is one of the largest cruise ships in the world.

The $940 million ship made its maiden voyage out of Southampton, England, in February 2015 to cruise around Europe before heading to Bayonne, New Jersey, for cruises in the Caribbean, the East Coast and Canada.

It is now based in New Jersey. It holds up to 4,905 passengers and features 18 decks, of which 16 are accessible to passengers.

It has 2,090 staterooms, a bumper car facility, a 30-foot rock climbing wall, simulated sky diving and an observation capsule that carries passengers 300 feet over the ocean.

Passengers described the ship as comfortable and vast.

“It is mind-boggling. It is totally high-tech,” said Patricia Hohner of Piscataway, New Jersey.

She and her husband, Walter Hohner, were on their second Anthem of the Seas voyage. “One word: pampered,” said Walter Hohner.

Jerry and Lynn Bowman of York, Pennsylvania, said the ship never feels crowded.

“It is so big you don’t run into people walking around the deck,” Lynn Bowman said. Both couples, who met on the cruise, agreed that the sailing has been smooth. “We haven’t rocked once,” said Patricia Hohner.

The ship’s arrival Sunday kicked Portland’s cruise season into high gear.

The city will have hosted 76 cruise ships before the season ends, with 28 ships due in September and 18 in October.

By the time the last cruise ship sails out, 100,000 passengers and 40,000 crew will have visited Portland, according to Jessica Grondin, the city’s communications director.

The Anthem of the Seas will visit Portland again this year, twice in September and once in October.

 

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Fire destroys Scarborough home http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/fire-destroys-scarborough-home/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/fire-destroys-scarborough-home/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 18:40:30 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/fire-destroys-scarborough-home/ A single-family home was destroyed by fire Sunday morning in Scarborough, a fire official said.

The fire broke out in the mud room of the home on Beech Ridge Road about 9:30 a.m. The owner’s dog alerted her to the blaze, which spread to the house and a detached garage.

No one was hurt. The dog was unharmed but a cat died in the fire, said Scarborough Fire Capt. Andrew Clark.

The cause of the fire, which is not suspicious, is still being investigated.

It took about 40 firefighters from Scarborough, Buxton, Biddeford and Gorham about 30 minutes to put out the fire.

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Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal getting $2.5 million in federal funds http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/over-2-5m-coming-to-renovate-casco-bay-lines-ferry-terminal/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/over-2-5m-coming-to-renovate-casco-bay-lines-ferry-terminal/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 16:52:22 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/over-2-5m-coming-to-renovate-casco-bay-lines-ferry-terminal/ The U.S. Department of Transportation is providing more than $2.5 million to help renovate the Casco Bay Lines ferry terminal in Portland.

The money will help pay for the second phase of a renovation program at the terminal, which provides ferry service to islands off the Maine coast. U.S. Sens. Susan Collins, a Republican, and Angus King, an independent, both applauded the funding.

The Casco Bay ferries service about 1 million people per year. Collins and King called the service a “critical link” between the islands and the mainland. They say the renovation project will curb congestion and improve efficiency.

The second phase of renovations is also designed to improve safety at the terminal.

Collins chairs the transportation, housing and urban development appropriations subcommittee.

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Puppy starts fire that destroys Berwick apartment building http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/berwick-home-burned-early-sunday/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/berwick-home-burned-early-sunday/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 14:12:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/berwick-home-burned-early-sunday/ Five families were displaced and one man seriously burned in a fire that destroyed an apartment building in Berwick early Sunday morning.

Berwick Assistant Fire Chief Bruce Plante said that the fire broke out at about 3:48 a.m. in the first-floor unit of the three-floor building at 4 Berwick Road.

Plante said a puppy in the apartment knocked over a burning candle, which ignited a quilt and mattress and quickly spread.

A man who lived in the first-floor apartment where the fire started was seriously burned. He was taken to Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston. His identity was not immediately available. His injuries were not life-threatening, Plante said.

It took 75 firefighters from 17 fire departments 21/2 hours to extinguish the blaze.

Firefighters rescued a disabled deaf man from his second-floor apartment.

While the puppy was not injured, several cats and dogs were lost in the fire, Plante said.

The American Red Cross is helping relocate the 15 to 20 people displaced by the fire.

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Motorcyclist killed, woman hurt in Durham crashes http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/two-hurt-in-two-durham-crashes/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/two-hurt-in-two-durham-crashes/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 13:03:54 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/two-hurt-in-two-durham-crashes/ An Auburn man has died after his motorcyle crashed in Durham Saturday, one of two back-to-back crashes in the Androscoggin County town.

Kenneth Kilby, 77, of Auburn was riding a motorcycle west on Newell Brook Road at 6:38 p.m. when he crashed. He was not wearing a helmet, police said. He was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where he died overnight, a hospital official said.

Twenty minutes earlier, Hailey Bouchard, 26, of Brunswick was driving a Chevrolet Cavalier north on Rabbit Road when she lost control of the car. Bouchard was thrown from the car when it went off the road and rolled over. She was taken to Central Maine Medical Center by a medical rescue helicopter. She was in stable condition Sunday.

The Androscoggin Sheriff’s Office and Lewiston Police Department are investigating the cause of both crashes.

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Bill Nemitz: LePage, just stick to shooting off your mouth http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/bill-nemitz-lepage-just-stick-to-shooting-off-your-mouth/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/bill-nemitz-lepage-just-stick-to-shooting-off-your-mouth/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1033165 Dear Governor LePage,

Look at you! Getting all historical on us!

Not to mention hysterical.

I’ve got to tell you, Big Guy, I thought the days you could surprise us with your special brand of crazy were long gone.

From the ladies with chemically induced “little beards” to the invasion of the “ziki flies,” from a political opponent’s “black heart” to our “Gestapo”-like Internal Revenue Service, I counted myself among the many Mainers who have developed an immunity of sorts to your endless litany of fluffernutters.

The shrinks undoubtedly would call this a defense mechanism, a way to keep ourselves from going stark raving mad between now and that glorious day you leave office.

But now you want to go dueling.

With pistols.

And you want to shoot your opponent – state Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook – “right between the eyes.”

Go see if your powder is dry while I see if I have this story straight.

On Thursday, one day after you threw another tantrum at a town meeting about all those black and Hispanic drug dealers whose photos you keep in a weird personal scrapbook, you got into spat with a few reporters about critics who reportedly have referred to you as a racist.

Gattine’s name came up, although to date there’s no hard evidence out there that he actually has called you a racist.

No matter. Within minutes, you were on your phone leaving Gattine a voice mail so raunchy that … well … let’s just say if the nuns still could get their hands on you, you’d be speaking in soap bubbles until Labor Day.

Then what did you do? You challenged Gattine to make the message public!

Which he did. And so there the raw recording now sits on the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram website, racking up more clicks than a nude photo of Melania Trump.

I’ve got to hand it to you, Governor. For a guy who hates these newspapers, you sure know how to drive up those page views.

But back to the duel.

You’d no sooner stomped away from those reporters to go have lunch – telling them, paradoxically, “You make me so sick!” – than you summoned them back for a 30-minute chat inside the Blaine House.

There, you said you wished it was 1825 again “and we would have a duel, that’s how angry I am, and I would not put my gun in the air, I guarantee you, I would not be (Alexander) Hamilton. I would point it right between (Gattine’s) eyes, because he is a snot-nosed little runt and he has not done a damn thing since he’s been in this Legislature to help move the state forward.”

Point of information, Governor?

Alexander Hamilton was fatally shot by Aaron Burr in 1804, not 1825.

(Interesting that you should pick 1825, though. It marked the end of the “Era of Good Feelings,” an eight-year stretch during which partisan rancor was at a low ebb under the administration of President James Monroe.)

But back to the issue at hand: Considering that you’re publicly itching for a duel, and that you also warned Gattine in that voice mail, “I am after you,” you’ve now managed to stir more than a few Mainers out of their self-protective slumber. Some even think you’ve committed a crime this time.

They may have a point. Maine state law defines criminal threatening, a Class D crime, as “intentionally or knowingly plac(ing) another person in fear of imminent bodily injury.”

The threat “I am after you” followed by fantasies of an old-fashioned pistol shot between the eyes?

Yeah, I can see that might make someone weak in the knees, especially a “little son-of-a-bitch, socialist (expletive)” Democrat from southern Maine. Your words, Governor, not mine.

Still, for all the hoopla you’ve generated – CNN, Politico, that obsessive Rachel Maddow on MSNBC – we’ve been down this road before, haven’t we, sir?

You’ve grumbled in the past about assassinating legislators from Lewiston, bombing the Press Herald and shooting a political cartoonist from the Bangor Daily News.

Heck, you even once said you were “about ready to punch” then-Maine Public Broadcasting Network reporter A.J. Higgins, who shrugged it off and went on about his business.

Gattine, much to his credit, appears to be doing the same.

“Obviously that message is upsetting, inappropriate and uncalled for,” Gattine told Press Herald reporter Scott Thistle. “It’s hard to believe it’s from the governor of the state of Maine, but … we need to stay focused on the drug problem we are facing here in Maine and cannot allow this story to be about the governor’s inappropriate and vulgar behaviors.”

Bummer, huh, Big Guy? Looks like no duel after all.

By Friday, in fact, you were in full retreat – or what passes for it in LePage Land.

You apologized to “the people of Maine” for your potty mouth. (Can’t you just see all those chortling young kids from Kittery to Fort Kent, playing that voice mail over and over and over on their smartphones while their parents throw up their hands in despair?)

But you offered no such apology to Gattine, who’s sticking to his guns (no, sir, he’s never dueled) that he didn’t, nor would he ever, call you a racist in the first place.

In fact, at a press gathering on Friday, you doubled down on Gattine, claiming that the voice mail was “intended for his ears and his ears only” and that “he chose to put it on the Portland Press Herald.”

Let’s go back to the tape, Governor. The part in which you say, “I want you to record this and make it public.” Ring a bell?

I watched the whole 36-minute video of Friday’s press conference and I’ve got to say, Big Guy, there were times when I swore you were channeling the late Richard M. Nixon in those dark, final days of his failed presidency.

The way you railed about how all those legislators upstairs are out to get you, the way you fumbled through your drug-dealer scrapbook as if it held the answers to all life’s difficult questions, I half-expected the ghost of Alexander Haig to walk in and order the room cleared in the name of national security!

But alas, you won’t quit like Nixon did, will you?

Nor will you take any responsibility for this latest mess, starting with an honest answer to this most basic of questions: Why does the race of all those drug dealers matter in the first place?

You mention it repeatedly, you told reporters, “because it’s a fact.”

Actually, Big Guy, it isn’t. But grab ahold of this fact:

A modern-day cellphone has a much wider range than a 19th-century dueling pistol.

And the entire country can hear you now.

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Politics overshadow solar’s potential in Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/a-question-of-scale/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/a-question-of-scale/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1033201 On a former landfill in Springfield, Massachusetts, 12,980 solar panels produce enough electricity to serve 850 homes. The Cottage Street project is one of three solar arrays in western Massachusetts that provide power to customers of the regional utility, Eversource Energy.

Taken together, these three projects produce more power than 40 percent of the entire installed solar capacity in the state of Maine.

Solar power is emerging as a key strategy to combat climate change and lower New England’s dependence on fossil fuels. Massachusetts has become a national leader in solar, while Maine is a middle-of-the-pack laggard.

For example: Massachusetts ranks first in the country this year for having the best financial and policy incentives for solar, according to Solar Power Rocks.com, an advocacy website for homeowners. Maine is ranked 28th, tied with Indiana.

Massachusetts is rocking the solar world in part because it encourages big projects that can produce lower-cost power, including some utility-owned generation that’s sold directly to customers. Maine law bans utility-owned generation, including solar.

In Maine, the ongoing debate over the future of solar energy is concentrated on small-scale, rooftop units and the rights of homeowners.

The potential benefits of big solar projects are overshadowed by the battle ramping up now at the Maine Public Utilities Commission over how to handle net energy billing, the decades-old practice of paying homeowners the full retail price of the surplus power they send to the grid. Sometimes called net metering, this practice is the key financial incentive that helps make solar electricity affordable to homeowners.

Whatever happens at the PUC, the outcome won’t do much to advance Maine’s overall solar standing.

In Massachusetts, nearly two-thirds of solar electricity is generated by commercial and utility-scale projects, according to data from the Solar Energy Industries Association. And since 2013, four times more solar output is coming from these larger projects than from home installations, figures from the Massachusetts Department of Energy Resources show.

These facts highlight an important perspective that’s largely missing in Maine, where the future of solar has deteriorated into a political spat between Democrats and Republicans over rooftop panels.

Utilities and Gov. Paul LePage say net metering forces other electric customers to subsidize solar for homeowners, a cost that will grow as more rooftop solar is installed. This view was at the core of LePage’s veto of a hard-fought solar energy bill last spring in the Maine Legislature, a veto upheld largely with the help of Republicans.

Solar advocates and their Democratic allies, though, point to studies that show net metering in its current form actually saves more than it costs. One of those studies was done for Maine’s PUC, and recently updated.

This dispute is happening in states across the country. Meanwhile, falling panel prices, government clean-energy policies and mounting evidence of climate change are leading to explosive solar growth in the United States.

As of March of this year, 27,455 megawatts of solar capacity were installed nationwide, according to the SEIA trade group. That’s enough electricity to serve 5 million average homes. More than half of it came from utility-scale projects. A quarter came from commercial, community and institutional-size projects. A final 23 percent was generated at residential installations.

In Maine, there’s plenty of political muscle behind the sector with the smallest capacity.

National solar installers that have built their business models on residential rooftop have emerged as active lobbyists in Maine’s net metering war. Sunrun Inc., a noteworthy donor to Maine political action committees, as well as Solar City, through a recently formed group called Energy Freedom Coalition of America, are key participants in the PUC case. The state’s solar installers also rely heavily on residential rooftop installations. They are backed by influential environmental groups, led by the Natural Resources Council of Maine.

The PUC has received more than 260 public comments on its case docket. Many come from residents who have installed panels on their homes or want to, citing concern for climate change and the environment. Many are form letters that begin: “Please reject any attempt to get rid of net metering in Maine.”

CONSTRICTED INVESTING

Maine’s 16-year-old electric industry restructuring law bans private utilities from generating any power, effectively keeping the well-financed parent companies of Central Maine Power and Emera Maine out of solar.

This policy has consequences, according to John Carroll, a spokesman for Avangrid, which owns CMP. Avangrid has 53 wind farms in 18 states and solar farms with a combined capacity of 50 megawatts in Colorado and Arizona. But a continuing legal challenge in Maine over the conditions under which utility affiliates could own generation is keeping Avangrid from directly investing in solar here, he said.

“Who are you benefiting by keeping out one of the largest, best-capitalized players?” Carroll asked.

Maine has 19.4 megawatts of installed solar capacity. One utility-scale project, Carroll said, could double Maine’s output.

“The problem is, we don’t have enough solar, not that we don’t have enough rooftop solar,” he said. “That’s why we’re lagging behind other states. We’re arguing about the best way to protect a really inefficient solution.”

The vast majority of the larger-scale projects being built or proposed in Maine are by private companies that have signed power purchase agreements to sell the electricity to specific customers or utilities, either here or out of state.

For instance: Publicly owned Madison Electric works has contracted for a 4.8 megawatt solar farm that can serve 880 homes. It will be built and financed through a partnership and power-selling contract that includes IGS Energy of Dublin, Ohio, and Pittsfield-based Cianbro Corp.

Ranger Solar, a Yarmouth-based startup, has submitted proposals for a giant, 50-megawatt solar farm in Sanford. The power would be sold in Connecticut, but the project is contingent on Ranger winning a regionwide, clean-energy bidding competition.

Dirigo Solar, which has an office in Westbrook, says it’s hoping to finalize power purchase agreements by year’s end with CMP and Emera to build solar arrays ranging from five to 20 megawatts. It won PUC approval to install up to 75 megawatts of capacity, enough to power 10,000 homes.

Community solar farms, in which homeowners buy a share of the generation from a big solar array, are another way solar could grow. But Maine law currently limits farm shares to 10 customers. An attempt to increase the number died with the failed solar bill.

ECONOMIES OF SCALE

While big solar tries to get a footing in Maine, a law in Massachusetts, updated last spring, allows utilities to generate up to 35 megawatts of capacity from the sun.

In addition to the 3.9 megawatt Cottage Street project, Eversource Energy owns the 2.3 megawatt Indian Orchard Solar project, which can serve 500 homes. It also is located on a former landfill in Springfield, and has 8,200 panels.

The oldest project is 1.8 megawatt Silver Lake Solar, located on formerly contaminated industrial land in Pittsfield, Massachusetts. The 6-year-old array has 6,500 panels and can serve 300 homes.

Eversource has plans under the revised law to build 70 megawatts of solar on company-owned land that will help lower customer rates, according to James Daly, the vice president for energy supply at Eversource. Daly said the company can build big solar arrays at an installed cost of $3 a watt, compared to $4.50 a watt for small rooftop installations.

“The biggest economies are the economies of scale,” he said.

It’s less costly to buy panels by the thousands, Daly said, and it’s cheaper to install them on the ground, rather than a roof. Eversource also realizes investment tax credits and can receive special capacity payments from the region’s grid operator.

But Steve Hinchman, the financing director at Maine’s largest solar installer, ReVision Energy in Portland, said there’s a difference between cost and value. While a variety of incentives may make utility-owned solar cheaper to produce, he said, locally sited solar has a greater value for Mainers.

Homeowners pay the bulk of the cost of installing rooftop solar, Hinchman noted, while ratepayers finance utility-scale projects. He also said customers end up paying the cost of renewable energy credits that utilities receive for producing or buying clean power. Hinchman noted that studies, including the recently updated one for the Maine PUC, show that the value of solar energy greatly exceeds what homeowners are being paid under net metering, especially at times of high electricity demand.

“When you generate power on a summer afternoon, you’re sending out more-valuable power than you are being paid for,” he said. “The utility’s position is ‘solar is only good if we own it.’ That’s a recipe to gouge ratepayers.”

Rooftop solar in Maine supports more than 56 companies and 330 workers who are involved in installing and servicing small-scale solar installations, SEIA data show. Rooftop solar gives homeowners control over their electric rates and a sense of independence. And with gains in battery technology and efficiency, some homeowners see a day coming when they can cut the utility cord and generate all their own power.

A newly formed group of solar installers and customers called the Solar Energy Association of Maine is asking the PUC to extend the net metering rule and protect existing customers. But the threat from climate change is so dire that Maine needs an “all of the above” approach, according to Steve Weems, who heads the group.

“We need a solar policy that supports small scale, intermediate and large scale,” Weems said. “All of it, in the interest in really moving the needle to a much greater penetration of solar.”

 

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http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/a-question-of-scale/feed/ 44 http://www.pressherald.com/wp-content/uploads/2016/08/1033201_4891-indianoceansolar.jpgSat, 27 Aug 2016 18:15:13 +0000
Making the national monument a natural fit for Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/making-the-national-monument-a-natural-fit-for-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/making-the-national-monument-a-natural-fit-for-maine/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1034005 Mark Marston has spent the past several years helping lead the fight against what he considered an unwanted federal land grab in his backyard.

His side lost that battle on Wednesday when President Obama designated 87,500-plus acres the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. But now that the debate is over, Marston and other longtime critics of Roxanne Quimby’s ambitions for her land are pledging to work – if not necessarily become friends – with their new federal neighbor.

“I still don’t think it’s fair, but I’m going to try to work with them,” said Marston, an East Millinocket selectman hoping to land a spot on a committee that will guide the National Park Service’s management of this swath of Maine’s North Woods. “The only reason I would be part of this is to make sure … we have different views from some of the other (members) about traditional access.”

Obama’s executive action effectively ends a debate that has dragged on for years, pitting neighbor against neighbor and even family member against family member over conflicting views on how best to revive the Katahdin region’s ailing economy.

Now the difficult task begins of attempting to bridge those philosophical gaps and implementing a ground plan for a property twice the size of Acadia National Park that has plenty of mountains, rivers and moose, but few roads and almost no infrastructure.

“There are a lot of things to talk about,” said Tim Hudson, the man chosen by the National Park Service to serve as the first superintendent of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

A map of Maine's north woods region showing the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

A map of Maine’s north woods region showing the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument.

WHAT’S NEXT?

Located just east of Baxter State Park, the new monument contains miles of frontage along the East Branch of the Penobscot River and Wassataquoik Stream as well as numerous peaks with views of Mount Katahdin. Visitors to the monument, which is already open to the public, can hike, fish, camp, observe wildlife and canoe/kayak. Snowmobiling and hunting will be allowed in specified areas.

Some see the North Woods national monument as offering an injection of additional tourist traffic to once-thriving downtowns, where today shop after shop sits vacant, victims of the closure of local paper mills. Many opponents remain skeptical that the monument will bring good-paying, sustained jobs.

But now that the dust is settling, both sides in the bitter dispute are asking, “What happens next?”

Jesse Dumais, a Millinocket town councilor, was elected last November on neither a pro- nor anti-monument platform because he had so many constituents on both sides of the issue. Dumais said he feels as if last week’s decision released some of the pressure built up in town.

“Finally, there was some closure and a new direction to move forward,” he said. While tensions remain, “the people that reached out to me that I represent, … they are ready to move on with it and they are ready to make the best from the situation.”

For Dumais, the big issue now is access to the land – and more specifically, road access that goes through Millinocket. Currently, neither of the two primary entrances to Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument – off Route 11 near Stacyville and off Route 159 near Patten – would take visitors through his town.

“My goal is to fight for access that goes through Millinocket … because if we don’t have access, then this whole conversation is moot because we don’t benefit at all from it,” Dumais said.

ON THE GROUND

Back in May, National Park Service Director Jonathan Jarvis gave his personal commitment to a largely skeptical audience of several hundred in East Millinocket that “if this happens, we will be here the next day.”

“We will be on the ground in your community to listen more and to begin to develop that plan – whatever that looks like – to help this area and the entire Katahdin region figure out its future,” Jarvis said.

True to his word, two National Park Service employees showed up in Millinocket on Thursday – one day after the president’s designation – to open the first of two offices in the region. One of them was Hudson, of Bangor, the newly named superintendent.

“I’ve worked in this kind of park most of my career – more natural and recreational parks,” said Hudson, a former chief of maintenance at Yellowstone National Park and for the park service in Alaska. “I have worked with communities before and I’m hoping to continue that here. It’s a great little resource up here.”

Hudson, who most recently oversaw the park service’s $300 million response to the damage caused by Hurricane Sandy in the Northeast, spent much of Thursday greeting visitors and talking with local residents who had been on both sides of the issue. He was also working to finalize details of the first of several public forums to be held in towns around the Katahdin region to gather feedback on planning and operations for the monument.

“This is basically us listening,” Hudson said. “This is not, ‘Here is our plan. What do you think?’ This is a chance to brainstorm and see what’s needed out there.”

Some work is already taking place on the ground in the new monument.

Under an agreement with the park service, Elliotsville Plantation Inc. is working to improve the condition of some of the dirt roads entering the property to make them more passable for passenger cars. The foundation also plans to re-deck a bridge on the property, improve key trails and has a “reserved right” to build structures such as a visitor’s center with the park service’s approval.

“It allows the work to be done more quickly than if it had to be done through the National Park Service process,” said David Farmer, spokesman for Elliotsville Plantation.

LINGERING CONCERNS

Still, legitimate concerns remain.

Some of the most vocal and consistent opposition to Quimby’s plans came from the forest products sector, which remains one of the largest and most influential industries in Maine despite mill closures and other turmoil.

Dana Doran, executive director of the trade group the Professional Logging Contractors of Maine, said they were not surprised but were nonetheless disappointed with the monument designation.

The logging community has a lengthy list of concerns, starting with the potential loss of access to neighboring commercial timberland if the new national monument sparks more development or drives up land prices.

“So first and foremost, the business and economic opportunities they have are certainly at risk and beyond that there is the uncertainty,” Doran said.

But another concern raised repeatedly during public forums and meetings with representatives from Elliotsville Plantation as well as the federal government is the fact that visitors will be accessing the monument over private logging roads.

While many Mainers who routinely travel the state’s labyrinth of private woods roads know the do’s and don’ts of sharing those roads with fully loaded logging trucks, out-of-state tourists may not know that those trucks traditionally have the right of way. And that could lead to disasters, critics warned.

“We have been told that when the National Park Service takes possession of the property, they will deal with it at that point,” Doran said. “But we have never really been given an answer.”

Route 11 in Patten abuts part of the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Visitors to the newly designated federal site can hike, fish, camp, observe wildlife and canoe and kayak on its many waterways.

Route 11 in Patten abuts part of the new Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. Visitors to the newly designated federal site can hike, fish, camp, observe wildlife and canoe and kayak on its many waterways.

THE END GOAL?

While Patten’s board of selectmen opted not to take a stance on the monument issue, town voters opposed Quimby’s plan by a more than 2-1 margin earlier this year. The small town of roughly 1,000 residents is still home to multiple logging, trucking and wood products companies.

The park service is setting up its first Patten office – at least temporarily – in the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum, which is devoted to educating the public about Maine’s storied logging history. Patten Town Manager Raymond Foss interprets that as a good sign.

“It’s definitely part of our present and not just our history,” Foss said of the timber industry. “So it’s good to have them involved as we transition to this new reality.”

So what does Foss think now that the monument is a done deal?

“I think it can and will be a net positive, but only time will tell,” Foss said. “This is a watershed moment and 100 years from now they are going to be looking back at what we did, so I think it is imperative that we make it the best it can be.”

One hundred years from now, Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument would be known by a different name if Quimby’s long-range plan comes to fruition.

Quimby had originally proposed a North Woods national park on the land but was unable to win the congressional support from Maine’s delegation needed to get a bill through Congress. Instead, Quimby and Elliotsville Plantation shifted their focus toward the national monument because presidents can designate them unilaterally.

Elliotsville Plantation transferred ownership of more than 87,500 acres to the U.S. Department of the Interior in order to allow the monument designation to happen. The foundation also plans to create a $40 million endowment – including $20 million up front – to help provide a steady, long-term revenue source to cover operations and maintenance in the monument.

Lucas St. Clair, Quimby’s son, said Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument will look and feel like any national park, down to uniformed park rangers and signs. And St. Clair, who has served as Elliotsville Plantation’s chief lobbyist at the local, state and federal levels in recent years, acknowledged that a national park is still the end goal.

After all, Acadia, Yellowstone, Grand Teton and many other national parks all began as national monuments.

“We hope at some point the congressional delegation will introduce legislation to make it a national park, but that’s down the road,” St. Clair said. “Let’s let the dust settle.”

 

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Maine utility commissioners grappling with net metering http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/maine-utility-commissioners-grappling-with-net-metering/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/maine-utility-commissioners-grappling-with-net-metering/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1033291 A leading financial incentive that’s driving solar power’s growth at home is a 1980s-vintage rule called net energy billing. It requires utilities to pay small energy generators the full retail price for all the electricity they send into the grid. Those payments help recover the investment in solar-electric panels, which can run $10,000 or so at an average home.

But net energy billing, often called net metering, is controversial nationwide. As solar’s popularity grows, utilities say those payments are shifting the cost of serving homes with solar panels onto other customers. Clean-energy advocates counter that the value of this energy actually is greater than the cost. Both sides cite figures and studies to support their claims.

The Maine Public Utilities Commission now is examining this issue. It was triggered this year by part of the net energy billing rule that says the PUC must review the practice, once peak power production reaches 1 percent of Central Maine Power’s installed capacity.

Uncertainty over the future of net metering is having a chilling effect on Maine’s small solar installation industry. Business worth millions of dollars stalled last spring after Gov. Paul LePage vetoed a wide-ranging solar energy bill that included a plan to update net metering. The Legislature failed to override the veto by two votes, pitting LePage and his mostly Republican allies against Democrats.

In June, a group of roughly 30 solar installers, businesses, municipalities and other interest groups asked the PUC to limit the scope of its review, so that lawmakers could take up the issue again next year. They fear that the three PUC commissioners, all of whom were appointed by LePage, will gut net metering.

Their fears were heightened last month when LePage’s energy office filed comments in the case. His office wants to lower the level of compensation for net metering, recommending that current customers get the full retail price for no more than three years. CMP says in its comments that it doesn’t oppose a “reasonable period for grandfathering.” It suggests a maximum of 10 years.

Clean-energy advocates and their political supporters say that failing to fully grandfather these accounts would break faith with residents who installed solar under the current net metering rule.

Advocacy groups including the Natural Resources Council of Maine, as well as national and local solar installers, also say CMP and LePage’s office make unsubstantiated claims about the high impact of net metering. For instance: CMP says lost revenue reached $1.3 million last winter. Solar advocates are asking the PUC to dig into these numbers. They also note that CMP and LePage have failed to provide an analysis of the benefits of solar to ratepayers, laid out in a study done for the PUC and recently updated.

Regulators in roughly two dozen states are reviewing or recently have adjusted net energy billing laws, with vastly different results.

In Nevada, decisions to cut the compensation rate for net metering and add new fees have led to a business exodus, court suits and a recently failed attempt to put the issue before voters. In Massachusetts, Gov. Charlie Baker, a Republican, signed a bill last spring that amounts to a short-term fix for net metering. It raises the generation “cap” from 4 percent to 7 percent for small-scale solar, while lowering the compensation rate for larger projects.

Maine’s PUC has a couple of choices. It could do nothing, and let lawmakers take another crack at a resolution. A more likely option would be to propose some changes. That would lead to a comment period and public hearings this fall, with a decision expected by year’s end.

 

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Funding to fight opiate crisis falls as deaths surge http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/funding-to-fight-opiate-crisis-falls-as-deaths-surge/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/funding-to-fight-opiate-crisis-falls-as-deaths-surge/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1034017 The state’s financial commitment to fighting the heroin and opiate epidemic has decreased during a time when drug overdose deaths have soared into unprecedented territory and as demand for treatment far outstrips available resources.

Maine spent 6.6 percent less, or about $4.5 million, on drug treatment and prevention overall from fiscal year 2014 to fiscal year 2015, according to information provided by the Department of Health and Human Services.

But DHHS Commissioner Mary Mayhew said the numbers provided by her office don’t include all spending and that the amount spent should not be the benchmark for success. She said efforts to combat the crisis have been made even if the results aren’t yet visible, and more is being done every day.

“Certainly, when it comes to substance abuse and when it comes to prioritizing spending, there are a host of spending priorities,” Mayhew said in an interview Friday. “Because it is multifaceted, we need to ask, how do we make sure we’re adequately funding law enforcement, prevention and treatment? We need to ask, what are the most effective ways?”

Much of that drop in spending was in MaineCare reimbursements, which makes sense because Maine no longer allows a category of clients – able-bodied adults without dependents – to access MaineCare. It was Gov. Paul LePage and Republican allies who pushed to cut access to some of the poorest Mainers, arguing that the program was becoming unsustainable.

Mayhew said the state has committed $20 million in funding to the uninsured, but providers have argued that money just isn’t reaching those who need it.

Other than MaineCare, the biggest expenditures come from a federal grant program administrated by the Substance Abuse and Mental Heath Services Administration. Maine received more than $2 million less for the current fiscal year under that program. Also, the state has been using more and more of its federal dollars for preventive programs, rather than treatment programs. Other states with similar populations, however, are doing the opposite.

The modest amount of emergency funding for treatment that the Legislature did approve this spring – billed by both Democrats and Republicans as only a first step – has yet to yield full impact.

‘WE HAVEN’T HAD MUCH ACTION YET’

Meanwhile, there have been 189 overdose deaths in the first six months of 2016, far ahead of last year’s pace, and last year saw the highest number of overdose deaths ever recorded, at 272. The state could not provide updated treatment statistics last week but previous reports indicate that the number of people seeking treatment for heroin addiction alone rose from 1,110 in 2010 to more than 3,500 in 2014.

“I don’t think there is any question that we haven’t done enough,” said state Sen. Anne Haskell, D-Portland. “We can’t just throw money at a problem, but there are few solutions that don’t have a cost, so it’s nonsensical to think that we’re not going to have some investment.”

Sen. Eric Brakey, a Republican from Auburn who co-chairs the Health and Human Services Committee and is a firm proponent of limited government, agreed that more can and should be done to combat addiction.

“It’s easy to say yes to things that don’t cost taxpayers money, and when we talk about programs that do cost money, we should do a cost-benefit analysis,” he said. “But I would happily take dollars away from incarcerating people for drug offenses and put that toward treatment.”

Mayhew stressed it’s the Legislature that approves funding, but the LePage administration has not prioritized increased spending in treatment. Instead, he has focused more attention on beefing up law enforcement resources and attacking the supply of illegal drugs.

Mayhew said the amount of funding for treatment is not as important as how it’s being used. She said the state is committed to identifying best practices and supporting innovative programs, although she acknowledged that there are differing opinions about what constitutes effective treatment programs.

The feeling by some substance abuse providers is that the state simply isn’t moving as quickly as the crisis demands. They have been saying for years now that the state does not have nearly enough detox beds, residential inpatient beds or doctors able to administer medication-assisted treatment such as suboxone. Providers say they are frustrated at having to tell patients that they can’t provide help, knowing that some of them could end up dead without treatment.

Steve Cotreau, program manager at the Portland Recovery Community Center, a support group and resource for those trying to recover from addiction, said he has seen a surge in people seeking help. He said the center tries to connect people with treatment, but many times it’s “almost impossible” because of the lack of resources available in Maine.

“This is very disheartening,” Cotreau said. “There’s been a lot of talk, but talk doesn’t solve anything. We haven’t had much action yet to solve this problem.”

FOLLOWING THE MONEY ISN’T EASY

Tracking the amount of state money spent on the drug crisis is difficult, in part because the LePage administration has provided differing – and sometimes conflicting – numbers.

In early 2014, when the heroin/opiate crisis was taking hold but before it exploded, the state released information that indicated overall spending on substance abuse treatment dropped from about $47 million in 2010 to $43.7 million in 2011.

That $47 million still represented only 3.4 percent of the $1.4 billion total estimated cost of drug and alcohol abuse in Maine, including medical, criminal and incarceration costs.

Last year, the administration pointed out that the annual budget for the Office of Substance Abuse had increased from $18.6 million in fiscal year 2010 to $21.5 million in the 2015-16 fiscal year – an increase of 16.6 percent over a five-year period. What was left unsaid was that in 2012, the Office of Substance Abuse merged with the Office of Adult Mental Health Services.

During that same time last year, LePage said the state had “increased funding for addiction treatment from $7 million to $17 million since I’ve been governor,” beginning in 2011. The administration never explained the discrepancy in those numbers.

The governor said during a radio address that his Department of Health and Human Services had plenty of money available for drug treatment, even for those who are without Medicaid or private insurance.

That revelation came as a surprise to the substance abuse community.

Earlier this year, Mayhew also said that providers were not spending all their contracted money and were not supplying enough data about what methods were effective.

NO NEW FUNDING FOR MEDICATION-ASSISTED TREATMENT

DHHS funding data in June showed that between fiscal years 2012 and 2015, spending on addiction treatment dropped by more than $5 million overall, but by more than $7 million within MaineCare. That was $4.7 million less on counseling, $2 million less on medicated-assisted therapy and $2.6 million less on residential treatment.

Mayhew said the spending figures provided by her office this year were accurate but did not reflect all the state’s efforts. For instance, they didn’t include transportation costs for patients who need to travel for treatment, such as trips to methadone clinics. She also said it doesn’t include the administration’s commitment to supporting behavioral health homes, some of which house people battling substance abuse.

In January, after everyone in the Legislature seemed to agree that the drug crisis was dire and in need of emergency funding, lawmakers passed a bill that authorized $3.7 million in spending: $2.5 million for treatment and the rest to hire new drug enforcement agents. That money came from the state’s medical marijuana fund.

LePage’s focus on law enforcement so far has yielded a sharp increase in the number of drug trafficking arrests in the last few years. But overdose deaths are still skyrocketing, suggesting that the drugs are still getting into Maine.

About $1 million of the extra spending in the bill was to pay for a 10-bed detox facility in Bangor that has yet to open. The state has put the project out to bid twice and changed its mission from a traditional detox to a “social detox” that will not provide medication-assisted treatment. An additional $800,000 was set aside to increase access to residential treatment and outpatient services for the uninsured.

The remaining $600,000 or so was earmarked to establish more peer recovery centers in underserved parts of the state.

No new money has been put into medication-assisted treatment, which experts say is the best and most cost-effective way to treat people with opiate or heroin addiction.

Malory Shaughnessy, executive director of the Alliance for Addiction and Mental Health Services, Maine, said providers feel they are being asked to do more with less. She said the state has been doing more inspections and demanding more paperwork, which takes time away from providing care.

“Our providers already use evidence-based practices,” she said. “They are trying to meet the need coming through their doors.”

EXPANDING ACCESS TO TREATMENT

Over the last five years, the state has applied for and received more than $21 million in federal funding for prevention programs but only about $6 million during that period for treatment.

Meanwhile, other states with similar populations that are dealing with an opiate crisis, including Vermont, Idaho and West Virginia, have sought more federal funding for treatment, because that’s where demand is highest. Idaho, for instance, has spent $21.5 million of its federal dollars on treatment and about $7 million on prevention in the last five years. Vermont has split its federal funds pretty evenly since 2011-12, with $17 million going to prevention and $15 million to treatment.

When asked about Maine’s use of more federal SAMHSA funds for prevention over treatment, Mayhew said she would have to look into that further. But she did say that in the most recent budget, the state repurposed some prevention funding for treatment.

A state task force convened last year by LePage, following a particularly deadly stretch of overdoses, met for several months before producing a report outlining recommendations.

One of those recommendations, perhaps the one that would have the greatest and most immediate impact, is one that does not have support from the governor or the divided Legislature: expanding access to MaineCare, as allowed under the federal Affordable Care Act.

LePage and Republican allies in the Legislature have fought multiple attempts at expanding MaineCare, saying it will be far too costly. Under the ACA, expansion would be paid for almost entirely with federal dollars for the first three years, but LePage and others say the government may not be able to keep that promise and worry about what happens after those first three years.

Sen. Haskell acknowledges that expanding Medicaid is a nonstarter with the governor and most Republicans. But she asked what the alternative would be.

“What we’ve done has been Band-Aids,” she said. “We’ve done some good work but it’s not enough. We’re nowhere.”

SOME COMMUNITIES AREN’T WAITING FOR HELP

LePage has supported expansion of suboxone and has pushed to adopt some of the most stringent prescription monitoring requirements for doctors, in an effort to keep prescription opiates to a minimum. But the administration also has pushed to change the rules for methadone clinics, which the clinics say could hamper their ability to treat as many patients as needed. Already, many methadone clinics have a waiting list and limits on the number of patients.

Mayhew said her department also is exploring pilot programs to make another treatment drug, Vivitrol, available.

Some communities already have begun to address the problem without waiting for more state funding.

Operation Hope in Scarborough is modeled on a program launched last year in Massachusetts that uses the police department as a conduit to treatment.

Meanwhile, a $1 million plan by a new group – the Greater Portland Addiction Collaborative – aims to use limited resources to expand programs that are already in place rather than attempt to create new programs. The collaborative, which formed in December, includes a group of nonprofit organizations, the city of Portland, Mercy Hospital and substance abuse treatment advocates.

Correction: An earlier version of this story misspelled Malory Shaughnessy’s name and misidentified her organization.

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In battle against drugs, why does race matter? http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/in-battle-against-drugs-why-does-race-matter/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/28/in-battle-against-drugs-why-does-race-matter/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 08:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1034029 Criminal justice and race relations experts say the only value in pointing out the race of a drug dealer – as Gov. Paul LePage has done several times since January – is to inflame the public.

“I don’t think his remarks have any bearing on the real issue, except to deflect and create tensions,” said Shay Stewart-Bouley, executive director of Community Change, a Boston-based organization devoted to fighting racial injustice and a blogger who writes “Black Girl in Maine.” “It does nothing to address the matter of addiction, but what it does do is inflame racial tensions at a time when we need it the least.”

Stewart-Bouley said the governor is using race to distract the public from the real issue – dealing effectively with Maine’s drug epidemic.

LePage first brought up the issue in January, telling a town hall meeting in Bridgton that dealers with names like “D-Money, Smoothie and Shifty” were coming to Maine from Connecticut and New York to sell drugs, adding, “Half the time they impregnate a young white girl before they leave.” He raised it again last week in North Berwick in answering a question about whether his comments have created a “toxic environment” in the state.

The governor said he’s been compiling a binder on drug trafficking arrests since his initial comments and “90-plus percent of those pictures in my book, and it’s a three-ringed binder, are black and Hispanic people from Waterbury, Connecticut, the Bronx and Brooklyn.”

Federal statistics on drug trafficking arrests in Maine, however, suggest a situation nearly the opposite of what LePage described.

The FBI’s Criminal Justice Information Service reported that, in 2014, 1,211 people were arrested for selling or making drugs in Maine, and, of those, 170 – or 14.1 percent – were black.

Criminal justice experts from Maine and across the country speculated that LePage’s comments were intended to divert attention from a larger issue that the governor has been unable to solve – stemming the tide of illegal drugs into the state and finding treatment for those who have become addicted.

WIDESPREAD DISPARITIES IN ENFORCEMENT

The experts agree there is no reason for the governor to be bringing up race when talking about drug addiction. They say there is no value in pointing out the race of a drug dealer other than to inflame the public.

“There are widespread disparities in enforcing laws against communities of color. It’s a problem not just in Maine, but around the country and we’ve seen that play out in a whole range of areas. It sounds like your governor is acting short on facts and heavy on myths,” said Ezekiel Edwards, director of the American Civil Liberties Union Criminal Law Reform Project in New York.

Edwards said the data that the governor claims to have obtained about drug crime as it pertains to race are probably not accurate, which the FBI statistics suggest to be the case.

Edwards said there are plenty of studies that demonstrate that whites are more likely to sell drugs than blacks, but are far less likely to be arrested, and that’s often a function of where police focus. Edwards said that, in Maine, that could mean police officers are less likely to conduct a drug bust at Bates College, Colby College or the University of Maine and more likely to focus on neighborhoods with more black residents.

He said any data that suggest blacks are using and dealing drugs at rates that exceed whites is “just a symptom of where police are directing their resources.”

“I would suspect that in Maine there are many drug sales that are being carried out by white people, just like there are many people that are buying the drugs who are white,” Edwards said.

‘WAR ON DRUGS … RACIALLY SKEWED’

People focused more on race in the early years of the “war on drugs,” said Marc Mauer, executive director of the Sentencing Project, which studies criminal justice, sentencing policies and race.

He said there was a large disparity in arrests and punishment for crack and powder cocaine in those early years, and much of it was based on race. Crack was seen as the drug of choice of African-Americans and powder cocaine was a drug primarily used by whites, and the arrest rates and punishment for crack offenses were much harsher than enforcement and sentences for using powder cocaine.

People see the inequity now, Mauer said.

“It’s taken a long time, but there’s growing recognition that the war on drugs has been racially skewed,” he said, and people are now trying to separate race from the drug problem and enforcement of drug laws. There’s even a move to drop the whole concept of a war on drugs “because you don’t make war on your own people,” he said.

Mauer said he doubts that LePage’s figures are correct, at least on the street level of drug dealing, because people don’t tend to buy drugs from a total stranger if they can avoid it. Because it’s an illegal activity, they prefer to buy from a friend, a friend of a friend, or at least someone they know is from their community to avoid the purchase being a sting operation.

Mauer suggested that the choices of what police focus on in combating drug dealing could skew the numbers because monitoring drug dealing is more discretionary as to where and when you investigate than something like responding to a murder or a robbery.

He agreed with the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine, which last week said it was concerned that LePage’s remarks suggested thatracial profiling was at work in Maine drug trafficking arrests. To have the racial makeup of drug trafficking arrests that LePage said his binder shows, “it would have to be racial profiling gone wild to get up to that level,” Mauer said.

‘YOU’D HAVE TO ASK THE GOVERNOR’

It’s unclear why LePage would bring up race in a discussion of drug dealing.

“I can’t read his mind,” Mauer said. “He’s made many comments over the years that are not based in fact, so I don’t know.”

Stewart-Bouley said she sees no value in raising the race issue and also said only LePage really knows why he brings it up.

“You’d have to ask the governor that question,” she said.

Peter Moskos – a professor at John Jay College of Criminal Justice in New York City who teaches in the department of Law and Police Science – is author of “Cop in the Hood,” a story about his experience as a police officer in Baltimore, Maryland.

Moskos replied by email to a query about LePage’s remarks.

“From a law enforcement perspective, politically incorrect reality shouldn’t be denied. From a treatment standpoint, it might matter. … In a state as white as Maine, if 90 percent of any group is black, that’s certainly eye-brow raising,” Moskos wrote.

“So I do think it’s possible, in some alternate universe, that the governor of Maine could mention this fact and then tell us why it matters – based on his targeted solution,” Moskos added.

Staff Writer Scott Thistle contributed to this report.

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Interior secretary test-drives newest national monument http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/interior-secretary-test-drives-newest-national-monument/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/interior-secretary-test-drives-newest-national-monument/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 01:25:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1033987 TOWNSHIP 5, RANGE 8 — U.S. Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell arrived by canoe at Haskell Deadwater on Saturday afternoon escorted by two guides on stand-up paddleboards.

When she and her flock of five canoes reached the shore, Jewell hopped out and hauled her boat out of the water.

That’s how Sally Jewell rolls – and paddles and hikes and climbs.

“She practices what she preaches,” said Lucas St. Clair, the son of Roxanne Quimby, who donated the more than 87,000 acres of land that became the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument on Wednesday.

Jewell and St. Clair shared a canoe on the 8-mile paddle down the East Branch of the Penobscot River from Matagamon, just north of the monument’s border, to Haskell Deadwater – a wider and calmer section of the river – where they got out to have a lunch of chicken salad sandwiches and chips before taking a hike through the woods. Their picnic area was once the site of a privately owned hunting camp that was removed after Quimby bought the land.

Jewell, 60, will speak Sunday at a ceremony in Millinocket for the newly designated monument – her last stop after a weeklong tour celebrating the 100th anniversary of the National Park Service that included visits to New York City, Arkansas, the Cesar Chavez National Monument in California and Yellowstone National Park.

The trip to Maine was tacked on when it became apparent that President Obama planned to sign off on the national monument. Because Jewell likes having been to a place before she speaks about it, she flew to Bangor on Friday night and drove up to Patten on Saturday morning.

AN EXPERT MOUNTAINEER

A petroleum engineer by trade, Jewell worked for Mobil Oil Corp., then became a commercial banker before joining Seattle-based Recreation Equipment Inc., better known as REI, in her home state. She had served as the company’s chief executive officer for eight years when she was appointed to Obama’s Cabinet in 2013. As interior secretary, Jewell oversees the National Park Service and eight other agencies.

Jewell is also an expert mountaineer and has scaled Mount Rainier seven times.

The canoe trip Saturday wasn’t the first time she and St. Clair had spent time together outdoors. Since she took office, they’ve been to the North Cascades National Park in Washington and to Vicksburg, Mississippi.

On Saturday night, she and her staff planned to camp out with St. Clair and his family by the monument’s Lunksoos Mountain.

But first, they paddled the Penobscot, with her in the front of the canoe and him in the back. The water was flowing faster than it had all summer, allowing her to put down her paddle and interview St. Clair with a GoPro camera. She asked him about what the area is like in different seasons and how it was growing up in Maine. She asked about the campsites they saw along the way and the process of getting the land to where it is today.

They paddled through mild rapids and over Stair Falls, passing by beaver dams and blue herons along the way with the mountains of Baxter State Park as the backdrop.

“Your perspective from the water is so peaceful – spiritual, really,” she said after they pulled the canoe up the shore and tipped it over, dumping out water. “It’s lovely.”

‘FOREVER GIFT TO ALL AMERICANS’

After lunch, they hiked a mile-and-a-half through woods, Jewell and St. Clair each in a rut on either side of the overgrown logging roads that make up much of the monument’s trail system.

With mosses, branches and pine needles underfoot, wild mushrooms growing on the edge of the trail and tiny frogs hopping across it, the density of the forest thickened and thinned, sometimes letting in rays of sunlight or views of the river, whose sound, like static, was always in the background.

Jewell and St. Clair chatted about moose and the Maine work ethic, but mostly about how to make this place something that everyone can appreciate.

Jewell said the National Park Service wants to know where local residents would like to see the visitor center go, where they’d like to have more access and what they don’t want to see change. But she also wants them to know that the wild aspects of the land will be protected – in a way that couldn’t be guaranteed otherwise – and bringing attention to that should change things for the better.

“Business will increase, opportunities will increase,” she said. “I think people will say, ‘Show me.’ “

The hike came to halt at the Grand Pitch Lean-to, one of four shelters built on the site. Jewell picked up a notebook from a ledge in the lean-to and began reading log entries aloud. One was from a group of campers and counselors. Another was from a hiker on the way from Quebec to Key West.

Then Jewell picked up the pen and started writing. As the rest of the group chatted by a picnic table, she kept writing and writing. When she put down the pen, someone asked her what she had written, so she picked the notebook back up.

“Here with Lucas St. Clair and friends celebrating the U.S.’s newest national monument,” she read aloud.

She talked about the paddle with its vistas and wildlife and the weather, though she said she’d like to come back in other seasons.

“Thank you Roxanne Quimby and family for this amazing, forever gift to all Americans and the generations to come,” she said, choking up as she continued speaking. “Now all will have an opportunity to experience the beauty and the bounty of the Maine woods.”

The group left the lean-to and took a turn around the corner, where suddenly a massive wall of whitewater, gushing and churning, appeared. The eyes and mouths of her staffers widened as each came upon the sight, but Jewell just looked on with a smile.

“This is a real thing,” she said. “Amazing.”

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Churches criticize LePage’s racial profiling, lack of civility http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/church-group-decries-lepage-comments/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/church-group-decries-lepage-comments/#comments Sun, 28 Aug 2016 00:29:32 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/church-group-decries-lepage-comments/ The Maine Council of Churches on Saturday decried Gov. Paul LePage’s recent comments on race and his obscenity-laced voice mail message to a state lawmaker as disgraceful – and invited him to sign a pledge to engage in civil discourse.

The group, which represents nine denominations and 550 congregations, said it was “dismayed” by LePage’s statement on race, racial profiling, his “highly offensive language” in the voice mail and his “mention … of a wish to shoot” Rep. Drew Gattine, D-Westbrook.

LePage said Wednesday night that he had a binder full of stories about the arrests of drug traffickers in Maine, and “90-plus-percent” of the suspects were black or Hispanics. After he heard, incorrectly, that Gattine called him a racist for that remark, the governor left a voice mail for the lawmaker filled with profanities, warning him, “I’m after you.”

In an interview Thursday, LePage said he wanted to shoot Gattine “right between his eyes,” and then, in a press conference Friday, the governor effectively endorsed racial profiling, likening black and Hispanic drug dealers to “the enemy.”

“The type of vitriolic personal attack and disrespect in the governor’s voice mail message and interview flagrantly violated the principle of maintaining respectful civility when speaking to or about those with whom one disagrees,” the Maine Council of Churches said in a statement released Saturday. “The words he chose to use in the message and interview were unspeakable – and yet, he spoke them, disgracing the office of governor and dishonoring our state in the eyes of the nation.”

LePage also “violates fundamental principles of civil discourse” by “framing the devastating drug trafficking and addiction problem our state faces as being fundamentally about race when it simply is not, and by promoting racial profiling,” the statement said.

The Maine Council of Churches went on to invite LePage to sign its Civil Discourse Covenant, an agreement it is circulating to all candidates for statewide office to treat one another with respect, avoid personal attacks and untrue statements, and “value honesty, truth and civility” while working toward solutions to Maine’s problems.

Although LePage is not a candidate this year, the Maine Council of Churches said he could sign the covenant “as a sign he intends to change his behavior so as to act in a manner befitting the office of governor of our great state.”

Emails seeking comment from the Maine Council of Churches and LePage were not responded to Saturday night.

The Maine Council of Churches represents the Episcopal, Lutheran, Methodist, Presbyterian, Quaker, Roman Catholic, Swedenborgian, Unitarian Universalist and United Church of Christ denominations.

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After angry signs, Pokemon players help out in Hallowell http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/after-angry-signs-pokemon-players-help-out-in-hallowell/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/after-angry-signs-pokemon-players-help-out-in-hallowell/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2016 23:45:57 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/after-angry-signs-pokemon-players-help-out-in-hallowell/ HALLOWELL — Pokemon Go players from an Augusta-based group picked up trash, cigarette butts and other small debris littering the brick sidewalks along Water Street on Saturday afternoon.

The whole time they walked and worked, they had their phones at the ready, hoping to capture the virtual cartoon monsters that give them points and bragging rights in the game that captured the interest of hordes of smartphone users when it debuted last month.

The community service effort by the group to respond positively after two signs were erected a week ago at 210 Water St., delineating private property and taking digs at Pokemon Go players by calling them “moron” and telling them to “get a real job.”

Adam Patterson, who also operates Timeless Treasures at 140 Water St. in Hallowell, said he paid for and put up those signs after some players failed to stay off his property at 210 Water St., kept bothering his tenants, and blocked their parking spaces despite his repeated pleas not to do so.

At his store Saturday, Patterson said he had nothing more to say about the controversy and that it was too soon to tell if his tenants no longer were affected.

Other storefronts along the street, including the Harlow Gallery, welcomed the players, offering a place to cool off and recharge on the bright, steamy afternoon.

Mike Silva carried an orange bucket, bending to pick up cigarette butts trapped between bricks; Maggie Coffin carried the cellphone and searched for Pokemon Go figures.

Coffin said she was the first person to notice the sign posted along the Water Street sidewalk that called Pokemon Go players morons. She posted a photo of it on the group’s Facebook page, which resulted in all the interest.

Kate Burns Carll, 60, of Hallowell watched some of the those doing the cleanup and said, “God bless them for doing it. They’re awesome kids.”

Matt Behr-Fowler was outside his Hallowell apartment building playing Pokemon Go, initially wondering why there were more characters available Saturday afternoon than usual. However, he had seen one of the controversial signs.

“I don’t think people should be playing on private property,” he said. “You don’t have to get that close to get some.”

However, he also said, “I do wish that the signs were a little friendlier.”

It was easy to see those engaged in the cleanup because of the bright orange buckets they carried – a donation by Home Depot, said Phillip Jones.

Jones said the group might do a cleanup at Mill Park in Augusta for their next event, since that is one of their favorite gathering and gaming sites.

 

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Madrid Township bridge completion celebrated http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/madrid-township-bridge-completion-celebrated/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/madrid-township-bridge-completion-celebrated/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2016 23:05:16 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/madrid-township-bridge-completion-celebrated/ MADRID TOWNSHIP — A steady line of all-terrain vehicle riders and mountain bikers filed down the ITS 84/89 multi-use trail in Madrid Township on Saturday.

The ATVers, hikers, bikers, snowmobilers and Franklin County officials who converged two miles down the trail were out to celebrate completion of a 3-year collaborative effort to replace the Perham Stream Bridge.

“It’s a project that has required a lot of effort by a lot of people and a lot of collaboration,” said Nancy Perlson, a volunteer who worked to bring the project to fruition. “I’m really thrilled to be at this stage of the project.”

The new 80-foot single-span steel girder bridge was completed last month, with the trail closed to the public for a week while construction was done. The bridge, located over the confluence of Perham and Orbeton streams, replaced an existing bridge that was in disrepair.

The $150,000 bridge was a collaborative project carried out by the High Peaks Alliance, the North Franklin Snowmobile Club, the Narrow Gauge Riders ATV club and landowner Mark Beauregard of Rangeley.

A ribbon-cutting ceremony was held Saturday to mark the project’s completion. Members of the organizations involved along with trail users and local government officials applauded the collaborative work that went into the project.

“That’s why this success lays out here, because you did it together,” said Sen. Tom Saviello, R-Wilton.

The bridge is just under 2 miles along ITS 84/89 from Reeds Mill Road. The trail is a major multi-use trail that runs north through Madrid Township toward Perham Junction and Redington Township. The trail, maintained by the North Franklin Snowmobile Club, connects with snowmobile trails from Rangeley, Phillips, Kingfield and Weld, among others.

With the installation of the new bridge ensuring safe passage over the stream for trail users who then travel onto other trails – taking them farther north into Franklin County – the completion of the project was seen as a boon for economic and recreational prosperity in the region.

“For this region, as most of you probably know, backcountry recreation is kind of the backbone of the regional economy. So it’s important to have these kinds of facilities and infrastructures that let people safely and comfortably enjoy what we have to offer,” Perlson said.

“This bridge is actually the connection between one part of the county and the other part of the county, and without it, that economic opportunity would not be here,” Franklin County Commissioner Gary McCrane said.

The project was funded by grants from Maine’s Recreational Trails Program, the Franklin County tax increment financing program, and the Betterment Fund.

The old bridge had been patched together using the remains of materials from the old rail-bed of the Sandy River and Rangeley Lakes Narrow Gauge Railroad, which ran in the location of the Perham and Orbeton stream section of ITS 84/89. The old bridge was rusted and becoming unsafe. In 2011, Tropical Storm Irene washed out a center support from under the bridge.

Ralph Luce, president of the North Franklin Snowmobile Club, said when the trail groomers went over the old bridge with heavy machinery, the bridge’s instability could be felt.

Perham Stream is a protected habitat for several species of fish. Building the new bridge with a center support was not an option, so a single-span bridge was required.

With the bridge completed, it is open for public motorized and nonmotorized recreation, with a recreational vehicle width restriction of 60 inches. Going farther along ITS 84/89 from the bridge, trail users have access to 6,000 acres of recently conserved working forest in Madrid Township, Perlson said.

“It’s a beautiful piece of backcountry,” she said.

 

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Thousands of pogies turn up dead in Portland Harbor, Casco Bay http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/thousands-of-pogies-turn-up-dead-in-portland-harbor-casco-bay/ http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/thousands-of-pogies-turn-up-dead-in-portland-harbor-casco-bay/#comments Sat, 27 Aug 2016 22:28:33 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2016/08/27/thousands-of-pogies-turn-up-dead-in-portland-harbor-casco-bay/ Thousands of pogies turned up dead Saturday in Portland Harbor and Casco Bay, apparently the result of predation by bluefish and stripers.

Kevin Battle, Portland’s acting harbormaster, said the predator fish chase the pogies into shallow water, where some are eaten and others die when the sudden influx of fish exhausts the oxygen in the water.

Battle said the fish die-offs were reported around Great Diamond, Little Diamond, Peaks, Cushing and Long islands. He said he began getting calls early Saturday morning, although there were reports of a lot of fish jumping near the islands Friday night, a sign that they are being chased by predators.

Battle said he investigated to make sure the die-off wasn’t the result of pollution.

“Every indication is this is a natural event,” he said. “No foul play.”

Battle said the last major fish die-off of this nature in the bay and near Portland Harbor was about seven or eight years ago, although it’s happened more recently elsewhere along the Maine coast. He also said there’s no way of knowing whether the die-off is over or will continue for a few days.

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