The Portland Press Herald / Maine Sunday Telegram » Local & State Thu, 08 Dec 2016 00:36:51 +0000 en-US hourly 1 Maine’s top, bottom schools in English, math and science Thu, 08 Dec 2016 00:13:15 +0000 The districts with the highest and lowest percentage of students at or above grade level, according to a statewide assessment released Wednesday:

ENGLISH – Top 10
Falmouth Public Schools, 80.64 percent
Mount Desert CSD, 80.58 percent
Yarmouth Schools, 79 percent
Baxter Academy for Technology and Science, 78.38 percent
York Public Schools, 73.75 percent
RSU 51/MSAD 51 (Cumberland), 72.81 percent
Five Town CSD, 72.66 percent
Scarborough Public Schools, 72.19 percent
Cape Elizabeth Public Schools, 71.8 percent
Penobscot Public Schools, 71.15 percent

ENGLISH – Bottom 10
Indian Township, 18.89 percent
RSU 42/MSAD 42 (Blaine), 27.89 percent
Pleasant Point, 29.76 percent
Lewiston Public Schools, 29.86 percent
Bridgewater Public Schools, 30.3 percent
Cornville Regional Charter School, 30.77 percent
Charlotte Public Schools, 31.43 percent
RSU 41/MSAD 41 (LaGrange), 32.03 percent
Deer Isle-Stonington CSD, 32.64 percent
Princeton Public Schools, 32.76 percent

MATH – Top 10
Yarmouth Schools, 74.26 percent
Falmouth Public Schools , 72.55 percent
South Bristol Public Schools, 68.42 percent
Bar Harbor Public Schools, 67.06 percent
Chebeague Island Public Schools, 65.52 percent
Marshfield Public Schools, 62.5 percent
RSU 51/MSAD 51 (Cumberland), 62.29 percent
Cape Elizabeth Public Schools, 62.28 percent
Hope Public Schools, 61.06 percent
RSU 21 (Kennebunk), 59.11 percent

MATH – Bottom 10
East Machias Public Schools, 12.59 percent
Indian Township, 14.44 percent
Harpswell Coastal Academy, 17.70 percent
Cornville Regional Charter School, 17.95 percent
Cherryfield Public Schools, 18.82 percent
RSU 03/MSAD 03 (Unity). 19.25 percent
RSU 45/MSAD 45 (Washburn). 19.35 percent
RSU 42/MSAD 42 (Blaine). 20 percent
RSU 04 (Litchfield). 20.25 percent
RSU 41/MSAD 41 (LaGrange). 20.61 percent

SCIENCE – Top 10
Bar Harbor Public Schools, 87.06 percent
Cape Elizabeth Public Schools, 86.63 percent
RSU 51/MSAD 51 (Cumberland), 83.15 percent
Yarmouth Schools, 82.80 percent
Great Salt Bay CSD, 82.22 percent
Falmouth Public Schools, 80.72 percent
RSU 26 (Orono), 78.26 percent
Scarborough Public Schools, 77.7 percent
Bristol Public Schools, 76.92 percent
RSU 78 (Rangeley Lakes), 75.56 percent

SCIENCE – Bottom 10
Indian Township, 27.78 percent
RSU 85/MSAD 19 (Lubec), 31.25 percent
RSU 88/MSAD 24 (Van Buren), 35.71 percent
Lewiston Public Schools, 36.29 percent
RSU 23 (Old Orchard Beach), 40.67 percent
RSU 41/MSAD 41 (LaGrange), 42.86 percent
Machiasport Public Schools, 44 percent
MSAD 27 (Fort Kent), 45.86 percent
RSU 17/MSAD 17 (Oxford Hills), 46.09 percent
RSU 42/MSAD 42 (Blaine), 46.67 percent

Source: Maine Department of Education

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Former astronaut, Sen. John Glenn hospitalized in Ohio Thu, 08 Dec 2016 00:10:07 +0000 COLUMBUS, Ohio — An Ohio State University official says former astronaut and U.S. Sen. John Glenn has been hospitalized for more than a week.

Hank Wilson with Ohio State’s John Glenn College of Public Affairs said Wednesday that Glenn, 95, is at the James Cancer Hospital, but that doesn’t necessarily mean he has cancer.

Wilson said he didn’t have other information about Glenn’s condition, illness or prognosis.

In 1962, Glenn became the first American to orbit the Earth. He served as a U.S. senator from Ohio from 1974 to 1999.

Glenn apologized for his poor eyesight this year at the renaming of Columbus’ airport after him. He said he’d lost some of his eyesight because of macular degeneration and a small stroke. Glenn had a heart valve replacement in 2014.

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Three charged with operating meth lab in Sherman Wed, 07 Dec 2016 23:41:12 +0000 The Maine Drug Enforcement Agency has arrested three people in connection with a meth lab found inside a home in Sherman.

Arno said the lab was found in a mobile home at 130 Silver Ridge Road in Sherman. Members of the MDEA’s Aroostook County Task Force, U.S. Border Patrol agents and the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office searched the home Tuesday and found materials inside that were consistent with the manufacture of methamphetamine.

Methamphetamine is a synthetic chemical that can be manufactured in makeshift labs. The drug, which creates a false sense of happiness and is highly addictive, can be snorted, smoked or injected.

Officers arrested Gloria Cahill, 50, and Eliza Berberian, 28, both of Sherman. Both were charged with Class A aggravated operation of a meth lab because of prior felony drug trafficking convictions.

Charged with Class B unlawful operation of a meth lab was 31-year-old Shawn Michaud of Sherman. All three were transported to the Aroostook County Jail where they were being held Wednesday evening.

MDEA Commander Peter Arno said in a statement Wednesday that this is the 123rd meth-related incident his agency has investigated this year. That number is more than double the 56 meth labs investigated in 2015.

The MDEA was assisted at the scene by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection and the Sherman Fire Department. Chemicals used in the manufacturing of meth can be corrosive and explosive.

Arno said the investigation is continuing and more arrests are possible.

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

]]> 0 Wed, 07 Dec 2016 19:36:45 +0000
21st Century Cures Act includes funding for opioid treatment programs Wed, 07 Dec 2016 22:23:59 +0000 The U.S. Senate on Wednesday approved the 21st Century Cures Act in a 94-5 vote, which includes $1 billion for opioid prevention and treatment programs.

Both of Maine’s senators, Republican Susan Collins and independent Angus King, voted for the bill, which will now go to President Obama, who is expected to sign it. The House voted to approve it last week.

The $1 billion over two years for opioid programs will be distributed across the 50 states. A funding formula hasn’t yet been determined, so it’s unclear how much money will be coming to Maine.

Maine is in the midst of an opioid epidemic, with a record 286 drug overdose fatalities through Sept. 30, surpassing the 272 deaths that occurred in all of 2015. A large portion of the money is expected to fund medication-assisted treatment therapies, such as Suboxone and Vivitrol, that assist the brain by curbing urges.

While the funding will not enough to solve the problem, it will be helpful in expanding treatment options, said Bob Fowler, executive director of Portland’s Milestone Foundation. Milestone operates a detox program in Portland and a long-term treatment facility in Old Orchard Beach.

Fowler said he appreciates that lawmakers are seeing the “gravity and urgency” of the opioid crisis that is sweeping the nation.

“It’s a significant amount of funding, but it’s not what’s needed,” Fowler said.

About 25,000 to 30,000 in Maine need drug treatment but don’t have access, according to an estimate by the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration.

Collins said during a speech on the floor of the Senate on Tuesday that the funding for opioid treatment is greatly needed.

“I’m distressed when I hear about the lack of treatment options for Mainers who are struggling with drug addiction, particularly in rural areas. As a result of the shortage of treatment alternatives, this epidemic is playing out in emergency rooms, county jails, and on the main streets of my state. I can’t tell you how many sheriffs have come to me pleading for help, telling me that their intake area of their jails looks like a detox center or an emergency room of a hospital. They are overwhelmed by these cases,” Collins said.

King said in a statement that he’s glad Congress is finally funding drug treatment – a bill approved earlier this year to address the opioid crisis included a number of reforms, such as increasing the number of Suboxone patients a doctor can treat – but did not include additional funding.

“The drug epidemic is tearing apart the fabric of communities across Maine, impacting countless people and taking too many loved ones from us too soon – more this year than ever before. While we can’t end the epidemic overnight, we can take crucial steps to fight back,” King said in a statement.

The 21st Century Cures Act is a wide-ranging health bill, and includes $4.8 billion to the National Institutes of Health to fund additional research, including cancer and brain research. The act also accelerates approvals for some drugs, which has come under fire by Sen. Elizabeth Warren, D-Massachusetts and Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders because they say the changes will make it too easy to get under-tested pharmaceuticals on the market. But the bill largely earned bipartisan support in the House and Senate.

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Most Maine students proficient in English, science, new test shows Wed, 07 Dec 2016 20:57:33 +0000 A majority of Maine students are performing at or above grade level in English and science, but less than half of them are proficient in math, according to the results of new statewide tests released Wednesday afternoon.

The results are for math, English and science tests for all students in third through eighth grades, and SAT results for juniors in high school. The average results across all grade levels showed:

• 50.6 percent of Maine students were at or above grade level in English;

• 38.3 percent of Maine students were at or above grade level in math;

• 61 percent of Maine students were at or above grade level in science.

Individual school and grade level results are available at the Department of Education website.

Because it’s the first time the state has used this particular test, known as the eMPowerME test, the results cannot be compared to previous years.

The same thing happened last year when the state used a different standardized test for only one year.

That means it will be at least three years before the state has test results data that can be compared year-over-year to track students’ academic performance.

The results from last year’s Smarter Balanced statewide test showed that 36 percent of all Maine students tested were considered proficient in math and 48 percent in English.

In Portland, the state’s largest school district, the scores were slightly higher than the statewide average in math (38.4 percent) and English (51 percent), and six percentage points lower in science (55 percent).

“We are encouraged by those results,” said Portland Schools Superintendent Xavier Botana. He said the district needs to focus on closing the gap between high- and low-performing students, while preserving “programs and services that enable many of our students to reach the highest levels of performance.”

Test scores usually mirror economic differences, with students in wealthier districts performing better than students in economically challenged districts, experts say. Botana said Portland’s economically disadvantaged students were about equal with state averages for that group, but middle class students fared better than their economic peers.

“They outperform the comparable group of students in the state by 10 percentage points in both mathematics and (English),” Botana said.

The Maine Department of Education signed a $4.14 million contract last year with New Hampshire-based Measured Progress Inc. to develop and administer the new tests, known as eMPowerME, which replaced the Smarter Balanced test that was used for only one year and cost about $3.5 million to administer.

Officials noted that participation was up this year – last year, 30 percent of juniors didn’t take the SAT. This year, the state had a 97 percent participation rate overall for math and science, which included the SAT results.

Maine’s results cannot be compared to other states, because the test was developed just for Maine. One goal of the multi-state Smarter Balanced consortium was that the member states could compare results, but the state Legislature voted to drop the Smarter Balanced test after educators and parents said it was flawed and difficult to administer and take.

The pushback against the Smarter Balanced test was tied up in the anti-Common Core movement that swept the nation several years ago, and remains an issue today. President-elect Donald Trump has vowed to end Common Core.

Critics said the standards are developmentally inappropriate and part of federal efforts to nationalize education. The Common Core standards, an education initiative developed by states in collaboration with each other, spell out exactly what students in each grade level are expected to know, such as the coordinate system in fifth-grade math.

Advocates said having a common set of academic standards across multiple states would benefit students and better prepare them for college or a career.

Although Governor Paul LePage has criticized Common Core, Maine’s math and English standards are still aligned with Common Core.

The head of the state’s teachers’ union said this year’s test posed fewer problems in the classroom than the Smarter Balanced test.

“There were way fewer complaints,” said Lois Kilbey-Chesley, head of the Maine Education Association. The pressure around testing has eased as well, as rigid “No Child Left Behind” federal rules have eased under new “Every Student Succeeds Act” rules signed by President Obama.

“I think we’ve all learned a lot about assessment in the last decade, and in Maine these last four years, as we’ve tried all these different tests,” she said.

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Religious leaders gather at USM to ‘choose to stand together’ Wed, 07 Dec 2016 20:36:53 +0000 About a month after graffiti considered to be anti-Muslim was found scrawled in the student government offices of the University of Southern Maine, representatives of more than a dozen religious faiths called Wednesday for greater inclusiveness and less mistrust in the campus and wider community.

“We stand with our neighbors and send a message that we will not stand for discrimination, intolerance and hate,” said Reza Jalali, coordinator of the university’s Office of Multicultural Student Affairs and a Muslim adviser at Bowdoin College in Brunswick.

Jalali, who helped organize the event, which drew about 75 people, said the call for tolerance and acceptance was driven by both the graffiti incident and a divisive national election.

“As a nation, we are at a crossroad,” Jalali said at the event, held in the USM’s Woodbury Campus Center, in choosing between “building a wall that will separate us and dismantling the wall that surrounds our hearts. We can choose to stand together, as we do today, or stand on each other’s necks.”

The Southern Poverty Law Center, which has been tracking reports of possible hate crimes against marginalized groups, reported eight hate incidents in Maine in the 10 days after the election, out of 867 reported nationwide, but had no specifics on the incidents Wednesday afternoon.

In Portland, a woman whose car displayed an anti-Donald Trump sticker reported that her vehicle had its seats slashed and “TRUMP” carved into the dashboard about two weeks after the election and several Somali residents of Lewiston said they were harassed in the weeks following the election.

The graffiti at USM, which occurred just a few days before the election in early November, used the Latin phrase “Deus Vult,” or “God Wills It.” That phrase was used by Christians during the Crusades and more recently has been adopted by some in the so-called alt-right political movement as an anti-Muslim insult.

In the USM case, two student senators subsequently resigned and apologized after they said on social media that the graffiti should have been cleaned up but not reported to campus police.

Robert Stein, spokesman for USM, said the student accused of writing the graffiti was identified and the case was handled through the college’s student conduct system. He said that system is confidential and neither the student’s name nor the outcome of the process will be released publicly.

Stein said campus police also forwarded their report to the Cumberland County District Attorney’s office for review and possible charges. Stein said USM officials haven’t gotten any word from the DA’s office on whether charges will be filed.

Wednesday’s event featured representatives from more than a dozen religions, from Christian, Jewish and Muslim to Buddhist and Sikh.

“We stand here shoulder-to-shoulder,” said Jane Field, executive director of the Maine Council of Churches. “We say ‘no’ to hatred and racism and bigotry.”

Nearby, a table displayed placards showing how many religions have celebrations near the beginning of winter, from the Christian Christmas and Jewish Hanukkah to Diwali, a festival of lights associated with Hinduism and Sikhism.

The Rev. Lawrence B. Weeks, priest-in-charge at St. Peter’s Episcopal Church in Portland, recalled the Christmas story when, he said, all are called on “to make room in the inn of our lives” for immigrants and other new Americans.

And USM’s president, Glenn Cummings, said Mainers and others shouldn’t be afraid to look for help in dealing with both the challenges facing the country and the personal challenge of being welcoming to all.

“We have to appeal to our higher angels,” he said. “We’re going to need a big universe to help us.”

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

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 17:01:36 +0000
At Portland’s Pearl Harbor commemoration, veteran recalls thinking, ‘What’s happening to us?’ Wed, 07 Dec 2016 19:40:27 +0000 John McLeod, 93, said he knows there aren’t many World War II veterans like him left, and he was the only veteran of the 1941-45 war listening to the speakers at the Pearl Harbor commemoration in Portland on Wednesday.

The 15-minute ceremony was held at Fort Allen Park on the Eastern Promenade, the home of the mast of the USS Portland, a Navy ship that participated in numerous battles and accepted the Japanese surrender at Turk on Sept. 2, 1945.

Wednesday marked the 75th anniversary of the surprise Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor in Hawaii that drew the United States into the war. McLeod, a Portland native who served in the Marines and participated in the battle of Okinawa in April 1945, said he was working for the New Deal’s Civilian Conservation Corps in Bar Harbor as a hospital orderly when he and his co-workers heard the news about Pearl Harbor.

“We thought, ‘What’s going on? What’s happening to us?'” said McLeod, wearing his navy blue “World War II veteran” baseball cap. “None of us even knew where Pearl Harbor was.”

The Japanese attack of the U.S. Navy base destroyed eight battleships, more than 300 airplanes and killed more than 2,000. Within days, the U.S. had declared war on Japan, Germany and Italy. Shipyards in South Portland and Bath were building “Liberty” ships at a furious pace for the Navy in the leadup to Pearl Harbor and afterward, helping to prepare the military for the worldwide conflict.

McLeod enlisted in the Marines in 1943 and was assigned to protect one of the “Navajo Code Talkers” a group of 400 Navajos who developed a secret code based on the Navajo language that was used for war communications. McLeod would sometimes help deliver the coded messages to commanding officers.

Okinawa was one of the bloodiest battles of World War II, with an estimated 82,000 killed in action during the 82-day battle. McLeod said he served far behind the front lines, and his landing crew didn’t face opposition.

“I didn’t really see any action,” McLeod said. “A mortar shell landed near me one time and I got a concussion.”

McLeod said he remembers hearing bombs exploding as he was approaching Okinawa and marveling at seeing hundreds of ships around the island. McLeod, who rose to the rank of corporal, said he was shipped stateside to the Pacific in November 1944. He recalls being on the Solomon Islands, Pavuvu island and Guadalcanal as part of support operations, not during battles, leading up to Okinawa. McLeod also served in China after the war before being shipped home in 1946.

Wednesday’s Pearl Harbor ceremony, hosted by AMVETS Post 25, included brief remarks, a gun salute and the playing of “Taps.”

McLeod said it’s important to remember the beginnings of World War II, even as people old enough to remember or fight in the war grow old and die.

About 620,000 World War II veterans were alive in 2016, out of the 16 million who served in the conflict, according to the National World War II Museum in New Orleans.

“Years ago, we used to get a big crowd here (for Pearl Harbor day), but now it’s not so big,” McLeod said. “We’re getting old.”

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 16:30:33 +0000
In central Maine, vandals release more cows from their farm pens Wed, 07 Dec 2016 18:22:39 +0000 Reports of cows being released from their pens at two farms in China are under investigation by the Kennebec County Sheriff’s Office, which is probing whether the incidents are related to vandalism that occurred in Clinton last week.

According to sheriff’s Deputy Aaron Moody, a farmer on Stanley Hill Road in China discovered some of his cows had been released from their pen. One lock was broken and another lock was missing, Moody said. The incident was reported to police at 9:10 a.m. Tuesday.

Moody said he didn’t recall how many cows had been let out, but said it was “enough to cause concern,” but not nearly as many as the hundreds of cows that were let out at Misty Meadow Farm in Clinton last week.

In Clinton, two incidents occurred on the same night involving cows. According to Clinton Police Senior Patrol Officer Karl Roy, the first incident occurred on the night of Nov. 29 or early in the morning of Nov. 30, when about 150 milking cows were released from their pen at Misty Meadow. The cows were discovered by workers and returned to their pen.

Then, a few hours later, about 500 cows were released from their pen at the same farm. One cow fell into a drainage hole, broke its neck and died. The culprits in that case also stole two headlights from a truck in a garage, meat from a freezer and a BB or pellet gun, which they likely used to shoot out a trailer window. They also turned off stainless steel cooling tanks for milk. The tanks were turned back on and the milk saved. Had the milk spoiled, it would have been a loss worth about $10,000 to the farm.

Clinton police believe the vandals then went to a nearby farm and shot out four streetlights and moved a tractor.

Moody said authorities have not ruled out the possibility the China and Clinton cases are related and said law enforcement agencies are working together.

Moody said this is similar to an incident that occurred on a farm on Pleasant View Ridge Road in China “in the last week or so.” He said an unspecified number of cows were released from their pen as well.

“We don’t think it’s an isolated incident at this point,” Moody said, adding they were looking into possible suspects and motives.

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Teen driver cited for speed in one-car crash in Arundel Wed, 07 Dec 2016 16:57:38 +0000 A 17-year-old driver has been issued a summons after a one-car crash on Sinnott Road in Arundel on Tuesday.

The crash happened about 1:35 p.m., when a sedan driven by an Arundel teenager went off the road and hit a utility pole as he headed to Kennebunkport.

York County Deputy Gregg Sevigny responded to the crash on Sinnott Road. The car broke the pole and rolled onto its side, with wires landing on top of it.

The two teenagers inside were able to crawl out. The driver was taken to a hospital by his family for a cut on his hand. The passenger was not injured.

Arundel Fire and Rescue responded to the scene. Electrical service was disrupted and the road was closed for about three hours while Kennebunk Light and Power replaced the pole and reconnected the power lines.

The driver, who has not been named, was summoned on a charge of driving at an imprudent speed and for a seatbelt violation.

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LePage urges lawmakers to alter voter initiatives on minimum wage and tax surcharge Wed, 07 Dec 2016 16:07:27 +0000 AUGUSTA – Gov. Paul LePage swore in members of the 128th Legislature on Wednesday, but not before urging lawmakers to change two referendum measures passed by Maine voters in November.

LePage said the ballot initiatives to raise Maine’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 and to impose a 3 percent tax surcharge on residents earning more than $200,000 a year will hurt the state’s economy. He said the tax surcharge, which will fund education programs, is already prompting wealthy Mainers to explore moving to income tax-free New Hampshire while the minimum wage hike will harm small businesses and elderly residents living on a fixed income.

“We all accept the will of the people. But first, as sworn elected officials, we must not do harm to our economy,” LePage told newly elected senators.

LePage’s remarks, which he delivered even before administering the oath of office to lawmakers, added a political edge to a largely ceremonial day when lawmakers pose for pictures with their families and elect leaders and key legislative staff. They also underscored the especially unpredictable nature of the session, in part because of ramifications from the Nov. 8 referendum votes.

LePage said he will introduce legislation to delay the implementation of the wage increase and to keep the so-called “tip credit” for restaurant workers, which would be phased out under the ballot initiative approved by 55 percent of voters. LePage warned that elderly and disabled Mainers will be unable to afford the higher costs of goods that he predicted will result from the higher minimum wage, causing “a real death spiral to our elderly.” LePage repeatedly made similar claims during the campaign.

The Republican also said eliminating the tip credit – which allows employers to pay employees 50 percent of the minimum wage as long as their tips make up the difference – will harm Maine’s critically important food service industry.

“I’m asking you to work with me to try to find a system that will work for everyone and that will do no harm to our economy, but most importantly to our elderly, to our disabled and to our mentally ill,” LePage told the House. Some business leaders are also lobbying lawmakers to adjust the planned increase.

Maine’s minimum wage is slated to increase from $7.50 an hour to $9 an hour on January 1 under the timeline laid out in Question 4 on the November ballot. Wages will then increase annually by $1 until the minimum hits $12 in 2020, after which the wage will be pegged to increases in the federally calculated cost of living. The tip credit, meanwhile, will not be phased out until 2024.

A leader of the Question 4 campaign to increase the minimum wage, Mike Tipping with the Maine People’s Alliance, said he doesn’t expect to see the Legislature vote to roll back a wage increase that won such strong support at the polls.

“Obviously his motivation is to use an opportunity like this, where he can’t be asked questions, to put forward lies about the minimum wage – things like the effect on seniors and on restaurant workers,” said Tipping, who is himself a frequent target of LePage. Tipping said that one in three Mainers over age 65 will see their wages increase because they are still working and said the dramatic price hikes predicted by LePage and other opponents have not happened in other states that recently increased the minimum wage or in Maine during previous increases.

“The people voted overwhelmingly for it,” Tipping said. “It was a very clear question. I don’t think people misunderstood what they were voting for.”

Sen. Mike Thibodeau, a Winterport Republican who was elected to his second consecutive term as Senate president on Wednesday, said lawmakers face substantial issues in the coming session but did not single any out during his first official remarks to the chamber.

“This means we are going to have to work together and find common ground that we don’t even know exists,” Thibodeau, noting that their constituents voted for lawmakers to get things done not because they are good at “partisan bickering.”

Newly elected House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, set a similar tone as she pledged to lawmakers that she will “always work together to find common ground.”

“We will always remain at the table, we will not walk away so long as we have a willing partner who is negotiating in good faith on the other side,” Gideon said. “When we work together we are capable of great things.”

Gideon told reporters following her election as speaker that the Democratic agenda is simple. “Number one, more jobs, and number two, help get Maine people in a better place,” Gideon said.

During her floor speech Wednesday she that, while a lot of progress has been made in recent years, there is more work to do.

“More work to give our children and grandchildren the quality education the deserve, more work fix our crumbling roads and bridges, more work to create the basic infrastructure of modern broadband that is so necessary for our economy, more work to make Maine more energy independent, more work to fight back against this devastating opioid epidemic that continues to take lives, more work to provide health care, child care and elder care to those in need…” Gideon said.

Gideon also praised two Republican members for work they did to increase access to the opioid overdose antidote, naloxone, known commonly by its brand name Narcan.

She said Reps. Deborah Sanderson, R-Chelsea, and Rich Malaby, R-Hancock, were instrumental in pushing legislation forward in 2016 despite LePage’s opposition.

“And though increasing access at first seemed like it could fall into the partisan abyss, both Rep. Sanderson and Rep. Malaby became the leaders who changed the conversation, helped bring us all together and ultimately saved hundreds of lives since,” Gideon said.

Thibodeau and Gideon will have to work closely with lawmakers from both sides of the aisle in order to accomplish anything substantial during the legislative session. Not only are the two chambers controlled by different parties, the margins in both chambers are razor thin: Republicans hold a mere one-seat majority in the 35-member Senate while Democrats outnumber Republicans 77 to 72 in the House with two independents.

LePage will likely continue to serve as the wildcard, as he has in previous legislative sessions when he vetoed budgets – and hundreds of other bills – and occasionally sparred with legislative leaders of his own party.

In addition to spearheading attempts to rollback aspects of the minimum wage ballot initiative, LePage has made clear that he plans to introduce a budget that will contain another round of income tax cuts aimed, in part, at counter-acting the 3 percent tax surcharge assessed on incomes above $200,000 under Question 2. He has indicated that he will propose significant spending reductions to pay for the tax cuts.

“These folks already pay most of our taxes,” LePage said Wednesday. “If they leave and take their income with them it will result in less money for education, less revenue for property taxes, less sales tax and less excise tax.”

Lawmakers in both chambers listened quietly – and intently – as the governor spoke. While LePage clearly sought to set the agenda for the upcoming session with his remarks, Senate Minority Leader Troy Jackson questioned whether legislators will be willing to tinker with issues clearly endorsed by voters.

“I’m always happy to listen and to work with the governor but, at this point, I don’t see how it can be changed at all,” said Jackson, D-Allagash. “I appreciated his tone, though. I didn’t think it was over-the-top. But I think there are a lot of ways to make this economy move and those are the things we should be focused on.”

Likewise, Gideon said Democrats were not interested making any dramatic changes to the intent of the laws passed by voters, especially the minimum wage increase.

“We’ve been talking about this for two weeks and my answer is the same, the priorities for Democrats is making sure that when people are working full time they can actually put food on the table and pay the rent,” Gideon said. “That’s why we had a minimum wage ballot question in front of us, the Legislature failed to act repeatedly, the people said, ‘We need this to get done.’ They spoke loud and clear and we are going to honor that.”

Later Wednesday, House and Senate members will vote to fill the constitutional officer positions of attorney general, treasurer and secretary of state.

This story will be updated.

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Maine records lackluster growth in second quarter Wed, 07 Dec 2016 15:25:32 +0000 Maine’s economy grew a lackluster 0.6 percent during the second quarter this year, lagging behind much of the nation and the region during the April-June period.

The federal Bureau of Economic Analysis said Wednesday that the U.S. economy as a whole grew 1.2 percent during the quarter. New England’s regional economy expanded at a 1.5 percent rate during the period.

Maine’s growth in gross domestic product, a measure of the output of all goods and services in the state, was 35th among the states nationally and exceed only Rhode Island – up 0.2 percent – in the six-state New England region during the quarter.

The BEA said the state’s economic output was led by the agriculture, forestry, fishing and hunting and the health care and social assistance sectors, both of which contributed 0.4 percentage points to Maine’s economic growth during the quarter.

Major drags on the economy were construction, which accounted for a 0.68 percentage point decline in economic output, and the retail trade, which accounted for a drop of 0.29 percentage points in the GDP.

The second quarter’s performance was in contrast to the first quarter, when a milder-than-usual winter helped propel Maine’s economy in the first three months of the year. Then, Maine’s 2.3 percent growth was enough to put it into the nation’s top 10 in economic performance.

Overall, the Maine economy grew from $58.7 billion during the first three months of 2016 to $59.1 billion during the second quarter.

Nationally, Nebraska posted the biggest increase in GDP, growing by 4.3 percent, while North Dakota had the biggest decline of 5.6 percent.

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Augusta man convicted of killing partner dies in prison at 45 Wed, 07 Dec 2016 14:57:47 +0000 An Augusta man who was serving a 12-year sentence in the Maine State Prison in Warren for the stabbing death of his domestic partner died early Wednesday morning, authorities said in a news release.

Michael T. Young, 45, died around 6 a.m. Wednesday, said Joseph Fitzpatrick, commissioner of the Department of Corrections, in the news release.

The department did not announce the cause of Young’s death immediately, but a spokesman for the Department of Public Safety said that Young had been sick and that the death did not appear suspicious.

“He had been ill for quite some time,” Stephen McCausland said.

McCausland did not know the nature of that illness, but in 2011 Young told police he suffered from anemia and said that on the day of the stabbing he was sick because of repeated blood tests.

The state medical examiner also is reviewing the cause of the death in accordance with corrections department policy and the attorney general’s protocols, Fitzpatrick said.

Young’s earliest possible release date was Sept. 6, 2017, according to the corrections department website.

He had served four years of a 12-year sentence — all but six years suspended with four years of probation — for the stabbing death of David Cox, a man he was living with in June 2011. In December 2012, Young pleaded guilty to a charge of manslaughter in Kennebec County Superior Court, but he did not admit to killing Cox, a 46-year-old Army veteran. Rather, Young entered a plea in which a defendant essentially pleads guilty without admitting guilt.

Young called police at 5:15 a.m. on June 11, 2011, frantically begging them to come to their Green Street apartment and help Cox. Young, whose hands and shorts were covered in blood when police arrived, told them he had been ill and in bed and got up after hearing a bang to find Cox in the kitchen, slumped over Young’s bicycle and with a knife in his chest.

The medical examiner later determined that Cox died from a stab wound to the heart.

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 18:41:41 +0000
Toy Fund: New job notwithstanding, young mom struggles to put gifts under tree Wed, 07 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 A young, single mother from the midcoast wrote to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund that she has new hope about being able to support her children, but needs a little more help in the meantime.

“I recently got a job,” she wrote, but at the same time no longer qualifies for public assistance that helped her while she was unemployed. She’s happy to be moving toward financial independence, but worries about the sacrifices her children might have to make along the way. So she turned to the fund to help.

“After child care, expenses and insurance, I will be unable to provide my children with a Christmas this year,” she wrote. “Thank you.”

The Portland Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts is using donations from readers to provide toys to thousands of Maine children who might otherwise not receive holiday gifts because of hardships faced by their parents.

The fund – now in its 67th year – is accepting applications for toys from needy families in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties. Applications can be downloaded at or picked up at the Welcome Center desk on the fifth floor of One City Center in Portland. Call 791-6672 to have one mailed to you.

Donations to help buy the toys can be made on the website or by writing checks to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund and mailing them to the fund at P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112.

For more information and to donate online, go to:

See more stories about the fund at


In lieu of local Christmas cards – Carl & Rachel Akin… $30

The Norris Family… $25

In memory of Jack Hines… $35

In loving memory of Theresa D. Pizzo who loved kids – The Pizzo Family… $25

In memory of Alan Goddard from Rhonda & Ron Green…$50

Tina & John Aresta – To bring some joy to children in need…$15

In loving memory of Scott from Lyndsay… $25

In loving memory of Ricky Emmons Sr. … $25

In memory of Peter DeTroy…$50

Paul and Stephanie Castle $50

Helen Anderson… $25

Tina and Les… $50

Kathleen Potrepka… $25

From Liam, Annie, Ella, Lauren, Kirsten… $50

Warm wishes to all from Pat & Steve… $100

For lost loved ones, from the Fryes… $40

In memory of Stanley & Violet, Oliver & Ethel, Blair… $35

In lieu of Christmas cards – Janice Rogers… $20

The Mastersons… $100

In loving memory of our daughter, Allison Broadbent Beahm… $75

From V and M Pike… $25

The Hendricksons … $50

In memory of Andrew, Matthew and Annette… $100

In memory of my wife, Terri Regan… $50

Elizabeth Goldsmith… $25

Merry Christmas from Russ Lunt Sr. … $20

Diane and Carl Walp… $50

Merry Christmas! – The Capriolas… $50

Patricia Messner… $35

In memory of George, Lucy, Arnie & Mary… $100

Michael Curci… $50

Total to date  $45,435.60

]]> 0 Tue, 06 Dec 2016 22:14:18 +0000
Group seeks private donations to help South Portland fight pipeline lawsuit Wed, 07 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — A local environmental group has ramped up efforts to help the city defend its so-called Clear Skies ordinance in federal court, launching a crowdfunding video campaign Tuesday to raise at least $25,000 toward legal costs that are nearing $1 million.

The professionally produced video, posted on and shared on Protect South Portland’s Facebook page, had raised more than $1,700 by Tuesday evening, drawing support from donors outside the city who favor the ordinance banning oil exports from South Portland.

The unusual appeal for private donations to defend a city in court intends to tap broader concern that the Portland Pipe Line Corp. might reverse its 236-mile pipeline to export Canadian crude oil known as tar sands.

Meanwhile, the city is preparing for oral arguments next week before the Maine Supreme Judicial Court on an appeal aimed at forcing its insurer, a risk pool of Maine Municipal Association members, to cover its legal costs in defending the ordinance against the pipeline company’s lawsuit.

The video campaign comes at a critical and opportune time as the city braces for the pro-petroleum policy changes indicated by President-elect Donald Trump and following the decision this week by the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers to deny an easement for the nearly complete Dakota Access oil pipeline in North Dakota.

The timing of the video campaign, on the heels of victory for thousands of pipeline protesters who camped out for months on the Standing Rock Sioux Reservation, is a “happy coincidence” that Protect South Portland hopes to build on, said Mary Jane Ferrier, spokeswoman for the grassroots group.

“We have two goals,” Ferrier said Tuesday. “To mobilize support, financial and otherwise, for our efforts and to help people realize just how wide that support is. A lot of people believe in our cause.”


Approved by the City Council in July 2014, the Clear Skies ordinance banned the loading of crude oil into tankers on South Portland’s waterfront and effectively blocked the Portland Pipe Line Corp. from potentially reversing the flow of its South Portland-to-Montreal pipeline.

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

The fundraising video, titled “Big Oil’s Wealth vs. Community Health,” targets the Canadian-owned pipeline as a subsidiary of ExxonMobil and Suncor Energy, which operates a refinery in Montreal. The 75-year-old pipeline has been largely dormant for about a year because Canadian refineries have had little demand for foreign crude in the wake of increased tar sands oil production in Alberta. The pipeline’s inactivity has heightened local concern that the company might try to reverse its flow to allow the export of Canadian tar sands oil through South Portland.

Protect South Portland created this video to help support the Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund


The Fundrazr page seeks donations to the city’s Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund, saying “We wish to send a strong message to the courageous city of South Portland that people support the battle to protect our air, water and health.”

The page claims that the company “is suing to overturn an airtight ordinance South Portland passed to protect our air from the toxic fumes that would be spewed out during the burning off of chemicals needed to move tar sands through South Portland for export.”

The company didn’t respond to a call for comment Tuesday.

The city is acting “to protect the health and welfare of its residents and visitors and traditional land use authority to promote future development consistent with the comprehensive plan,” according to court documents. The Clear Skies ordinance cites concerns about air pollution associated with the bulk loading of crude oil into tankers.


Environmentalists have argued that exporting oil from the United States would accelerate global climate change. They particularly oppose the tar sands oil produced in Canada because it requires more energy extract and is more difficult to clean up in the event of a spill. However, petroleum industry representatives have said the oil is no more damaging than other crude oil.

Last month, lawyers for the city and the pipeline company submitted summary judgment motions that could allow U.S. District Judge John Woodcock Jr. to decide the case as early as February, thereby avoiding a trial. However, if any facts are in dispute, the judge could decide that all or part of the lawsuit should proceed to trial in the spring, which some city officials expect to be the result.

Whatever the outcome in U.S. District Court in Portland, the case will likely wind up in the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 1st Circuit in Boston, further driving up legal costs that have worried some city officials and taxpayers from the start.

The city has spent about $750,000 of the nearly $1 million that the council has set aside in the Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund. The city’s defense team includes its local attorney, Sally Daggett of Jensen Baird Gardner & Henry in Portland, and Foley Hoag, a prominent Boston law firm with environmental expertise.


Hoping to reduce the city’s legal costs, Daggett is pursuing a Superior Court complaint, filed in May 2015, that charged the Maine Municipal Association Property & Casualty Pool with breaching its duty by refusing to pay for the Clear Skies defense. In February, the court decided in favor of the MMA pool, made up of municipalities across Maine, finding that it had no duty to defend the ordinance because the pipeline company isn’t seeking damages.

The city appealed the decision to the state’s highest court. Daggett and MMA attorney James Bowie are scheduled to deliver oral arguments on the appeal next Wednesday before the Supreme Judicial Court in Portland.

Daggett declined to comment on the appeal. Bowie said the MMA risk pool is set up to cover legal fees related to relatively predictable claims for personal injury and property damage, not lawsuits seeking declaratory judgments or injunctive relief, like the pipeline case.

“The municipalities in the pool aren’t trying to cover each other’s political decisions,” Bowie said. The limits of the risk pool’s coverage have been challenged occasionally in the past, he said, but most municipalities understand that the pool is set up to cover incidents such as a public works vehicle damaging a building or injuring a person.

“The Superior Court correctly ruled that absent a claim for damages (by the pipeline company), the MMA risk pool had no responsibility to assist in the city’s defense (of the Clear Skies ordinance),” Bowie said.


Just over $100,000 of the city’s defense fund has come from non-taxpayer-funded sources, including recent anonymous contributions of $20,000 and $50,000, $718 previously raised by Protect South Portland and $250 from Sebago Lake Anglers, according to the city manager’s office.

The fundraising video, produced by Betsy Carson of South Portland, was made using a $550 anonymous donation and the help of a committee that includes group members Roberta Zuckerman, Meg Braley, Abby Huntoon, Judy Kline, Sarah Lachance and Vanessa Sylvester.

Supporting organizations include Physicians for Social Responsibility, Maine State Nurses Association/National Nurses United, Natural Resources Council of Maine, 350 Maine, Environment Maine, Maine Association of Naturopathic Doctors, Toxics Action Center and Conservation Law Foundation, said Ferrier, of Protect South Portland.

The group is holding a separate fundraiser at 7 p.m. Wednesday with a showing of the film “This Changes Everything” at the Nickelodeon Cinema in Portland. Based on Naomi Klein’s international nonfiction bestseller, the film highlights communities around the globe that are fighting corporate interests to stop carbon pollution and climate change. All donations will go to the Clear Skies Legal Defense Fund.


]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 13:30:55 +0000
Janet Mills, Josh Tardy nominated for Maine attorney general post Wed, 07 Dec 2016 04:55:54 +0000 AUGUSTA — One of the first orders of business for the incoming Legislature when it convenes Wednesday will be to select the state’s constitutional officers: the attorney general, the secretary of state and the state treasurer.

The legislature’s two major party caucuses split in their picks for attorney general and state treasurer on Tuesday, setting up competitive one-day races that will be decided by a joint session of the Legislature that is divided between 90 Republicans, 94 Democrats and two independents.

Republicans selected former state Rep. Josh Tardy, a former House minority leader and lawyer who has served the Maine Republican Party, for the attorney general’s post. Democrats stuck with incumbent Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, a Farmington Democrat who also has served in the Maine House. Mills, often a foil to Republican Gov. Paul LePage, is serving her second consecutive two-year term and has one other two-year term as attorney general under her belt.

Both Mills and Tardy will make their case before the joint convention Wednesday and lawmakers will then cast their ballots. Unlike most states where constitutional officers are selected by voters statewide at the polls, Maine’s constitution calls for the Legislature to elect the state’s top officials for law enforcement, elections and finance.

Democrats and Republicans also split Tuesday in their choices over who should be the next state treasurer, with Republicans sticking with incumbent Terry Hayes, a former Democrat turned independent from Buckfield. Hayes also served four terms in the Maine House. Democrats selected outgoing state Rep. Adam Goode of Bangor for the post. Goode most recently served as the House chair of the Legislature’s Taxation Committee. He served the maximum of four consecutive terms in the House before reaching term limits in 2016.

Democrats again nominated Matt Dunlap, an Old Town Democrat, for secretary of state, while Republicans are offering no opposing candidate. Dunlap has served five terms as Secretary of State. He too, is a former state lawmaker having served four terms in the Maine House.

The votes for the constitutional officers will occur after lawmakers have been sworn into office and have selected their respective chamber leaders in the state Senate and House of Representatives. Incumbent Senate President Mike Thibodeau, R-Winterport, is expected to be reelected to that post in the Republican-controlled Senate, while Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, is expected to be elected speaker of the House, replacing outgoing Rep. Mark Eves, D-North Berwick, who is leaving the Legislature because of term limits.

]]> 0 Wed, 07 Dec 2016 08:10:18 +0000
Turbulent day has companies wary of President-elect Trump Wed, 07 Dec 2016 04:37:38 +0000 The turbulence began Tuesday morning with one of President-elect Donald Trump’s signature tweets of wrath: a public jab at Boeing alleging that the cost of building Air Force One had spiraled out of control.

That came an hour after Boeing’s chief executive was quoted questioning Trump’s stance on trade.

In the afternoon, Trump directed his attention elsewhere, taking credit in a surprise announcement for a Japanese conglomerate’s months-old pledge to invest $50 billion in the United States.

In the raucous hours in between, a top Trump aide announced offhandedly that, months before, Trump had sold his entire stock portfolio, which some ethics advisers had worried could raise questions about conflicts of interest during his presidency.

It was a day of big pronouncements and few details, leaving many wondering whether this would be the unusual and unpredictable way that Trump will govern when he takes office next month.

That style, including his opaque personal financial dealings and his sudden shots at certain companies, has helped unnerve a corporate America that traditionally craves stability. Some business leaders and economists have worried whether executives can speak their minds about the president-elect or his policies without fear of facing Trump’s rage.

“Twisting people’s arms is inherently problematic” for a president, said N. Gregory Mankiw, a professor of economics at Harvard who served as chairman of the Council of Economic Advisers under President George W. Bush.

“The president has so much power, you always wonder if there’s some implicit threat to individuals, and that goes beyond what I think a limited government should do,” Mankiw said.

But some defended Trump’s highly visible way of doing business in his transition to the Oval Office. Lanhee Chen, policy director of Mitt Romney’s presidential campaign who is now at Stanford University’s Hoover Institution, said he was not terribly concerned by Trump’s interactions with individual corporations and chief executives.

“I just assume this is what generally happens,” Chen said. “I don’t think it is that unusual for a president to make appeals to specific companies. What may be unusual is the public nature of the communications. But the activity itself is not uncommon” for presidents or for governors, he said.


Trump has for months targeted companies that, like his own, have shipped jobs overseas. In a string of early morning tweets Sunday, he threatened “retribution or consequence” for companies that move operations out of the country, as well as a 35 percent tariff on goods sold back to the United States.

Trump’s Boeing slam Tuesday, though, was something new. The president-elect criticized the Chicago-based jet manufacturer, alleging that the costs of its federal contract to build a new Air Force One had, as Trump said, spiraled “out of control.”

Trump’s tweets came roughly an hour after the publication of a Chicago Tribune column citing Boeing chief executive Dennis Muilenburg’s suggestion that Trump and Congress “back off from the 2016 anti-trade rhetoric.”

Trump spokesmen did not explain why he had targeted Boeing and did not provide other details. But they contributed to the confusion by claiming Tuesday morning that Trump had in June sold a stock portfolio that by last year was worth up to $40 million.

The sale of Trump’s shares in big banks, oil conglomerates and other companies with business before the government would have netted Trump millions of dollars during his costly presidential campaign. It also could help him tamp down worries over conflicts of interest between his private holdings and public job.

But beyond spokesman Jason Miller’s comments Tuesday to The Washington Post, Trump representatives have not provided records of stock transactions or other details since a financial-disclosure filing released in May.


Over the past five months, Trump campaign officials gave no indication of the stock sale. Trump has also refused to release his tax returns, which would provide more detailed information about his financial holdings.

As president, Trump will be subject to the Stock Act, a 2012 law that requires elected officials, including the president, to publicly disclose any stock transactions worth at least $1,000 within 45 days.

By Tuesday afternoon, Trump had taken a new turn, announcing that a Japanese telecommunications firm, SoftBank, had agreed to invest $50 billion in U.S. startup businesses, a move he tweeted that the company would never have done “had we (Trump) not won the election!”

The president-elect made a brief showing in the gilded lobby of Trump Tower to announce the investment, smiling for the cameras and shaking hands with the firm’s chief executive, Masayoshi Son. The deal, however, is not new. The money will come from a $100 billion joint investment fund that Son established in October using money from partners, including Saudi Arabia’s state-owned investment fund.

Francisco-based online lender Social Finance.

Trump’s announcements followed his assertion last week that he had saved 1,100 jobs in Indiana through a deal with air-conditioning company Carrier. The agreement, which includes $7 million in state incentives for the company, will actually keep 800 workers in the state, while 600 jobs will still go to Mexico.

In an interview Monday with CNBC’s Jim Cramer, the chief executive of Carrier’s parent company confirmed that it had made the deal in part out of fear.

“There was a cost as we thought about keeping the Indiana plant open,” said United Technologies chief executive Greg Hayes. “At the same time . . . I was born at night but not last night. I also know that about 10 percent of our revenue comes from the U.S. government.”


After Trump concluded his public events Thursday night at Carrier, he took on a second company that has announced it is moving jobs from Indiana to Mexico. “Rexnord of Indiana is moving to Mexico and rather viciously firing all of its 300 workers. This is happening all over our country. No more!” he tweeted Friday.

Keith Hennessey, director of the National Economic Council under Bush, warned about the impact of Trump’s approach to business and trade, which he said could do “long-run economic harm to the U.S.”

“When a politician rewards his business friends and punishes his business enemies it’s called crony capitalism,” Hennessey wrote in a blog on his personal website Monday. “It creates incentives for other business leaders to spend their time and money trying to get similar political access with elected officials. And a firm leader now knows it can initiate a negotiation with the Trump administration simply by threatening to outsource jobs.”

In his blog, Hennessey urged Trump to stop “trying to tell individual American business leaders how to run their companies.” He said his criticism was aimed at Trump’s maneuvers around Carrier, Rexnord and tariffs, but said he did not want to comment on Boeing.

]]> 0 Wed, 07 Dec 2016 08:10:36 +0000
Ogunquit board ‘making progress’ on status of accused town manager Wed, 07 Dec 2016 04:35:04 +0000 The Ogunquit Select Board tried to reassure residents Tuesday night that it is working quickly to resolve the status of Town Manager Thomas Fortier.

Asked for an update on the board’s progress Tuesday night, Chairwoman Barbara Dailey said the board was working through its legal process and will give out information as soon as it is legally able.

“Nobody’s sitting on anything. We’re making progress,” Dailey said. “I think everyone is looking forward to getting a resolution.”

About 25 people attended the Select Board meeting at the Dunaway Community Center. The meeting spanned a variety of topics ranging from liquor license applications to a presentation on community attempts to combat invasive plant species on the Marginal Way. During the public input section, two people mentioned or posed questions about Fortier.

Fortier, who has earned nearly $124,000 through Dec. 1, according to town records, has been on paid administrative leave since August, when Wells police charged him with misdemeanor theft by unauthorized taking or transfer and official oppression, which involves an official seeking to benefit himself or harm others by committing “an unauthorized act which purports to be an act of office.”

The charges followed allegations that Fortier kept a local parking lot open after hours on the Fourth of July and then pocketed the additional parking fees. Fortier is alleged to have asked underage seasonal workers to staff the lot, which typically closed at 4 p.m.


]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 08:11:28 +0000
Cornville charter school wins approval to add pre-K and high school Wed, 07 Dec 2016 01:29:32 +0000 CORNVILLE — The Cornville Regional Charter School, Maine’s first elementary charter school, has been given state approval to add a high school and pre-kindergarten classes to its program.

Travis Works, the school’s executive director and principal, said the vote Tuesday by the Maine Charter School Commission marks a historic moment, as the school becomes Maine’s first pre-K-12 charter school. The expansion of the school, which has more than 140 students, also would involve school space for high school students in downtown Skowhegan.

“The Cornville campus is going to reap the benefits of the expansion, because with more learners comes more funding,” Works said Tuesday. “We’re overjoyed by the vote. I am ecstatic with the charter (school) commission’s approval to expand our programming.”

Bob Kautz, executive director of the Maine Charter School Commission, said by phone Tuesday that the commission’s review team liked what they saw in Cornville’s proposal.

Kautz said the next steps for the school will include planning for program expansion and obtaining the materials needed to continue its successes, including hiring the additional staff it will need for both programs. The school has applied to the state to become an approved pre-school, which is needed before it can open, Kautz said.

“With notification (of the commission’s expansion approval) for both of them here in December, it gives them a good six to eight months to prepare to bring it all about.”

Works said next year the school will be able to hire a full-time foreign language teacher and a physical education and health teacher.

“As we grow, we will add a music facilitator, guidance counselor and other positions that are challenging with only 144 learners,” Works said. “These new positions will work with all of our learners across the three campuses and therefore strengthen our programming.”

The vote by the six commission members Tuesday was unanimous.

“I am looking forward to seeing the innovative program Cornville has implemented at the K-8 level expanded to pre-K,” Laurie Pendleton, chairwoman of the charter commission, said via email Tuesday. “I’m also pleased that they will now have the ability to provide the continuation of the program to high school.”

A charter school is a public school that receives public money, but is created and operated by parents, teachers and community leaders, free of the rules and regulations of the area school district. Charter schools are open to all regional students, with no additional tuition fees or admissions tests.

Teachers touch on everyday skills, including cooking, knitting, gardening and woodworking, along with classroom lessons based on Maine’s Common Core of Learning. Works said the National Alliance for Charter Schools is conducting a video case study of the Cornville school’s success, and schools from as far away as South Dakota have sent educators to learn how to replicate the model.

The pre-kindergarten students will be housed in the Skowhegan Nursery School on Dr. Mann Road, and the high school will be in the former Holland’s Variety Drug store, with entrances on Water Street and Commercial Street, in downtown Skowhegan. Works said the school is in the process of buying the former drugstore and will convert the building into classrooms and open space, with an eye to restoring the upper floor to its original wood-and-plaster appearance.

“We were just waiting to get the approval from the Charter Commission, so now we can move forward,” Works said. “Our next step is to continue with the Planning Board process and prepare for recruiting high-quality staff.”doesn’t mean they automatically go downtown,” he said.

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 12:47:00 +0000
Three former Colby College students plead guilty to dumpster prank Wed, 07 Dec 2016 01:18:17 +0000 WATERVILLE — Three former Colby College students pleaded guilty Tuesday to criminal mischief in connection with a fire May 22 that damaged a dumpster on campus just hours before a commencement exercise.

The guilty pleas were part of an agreement with the Kennebec County District Attorney’s Office that will defer the criminal mischief charges for a year, and have them dismissed if certain conditions are met. The Colby graduates must volunteer two weeks at Pine Tree Camp in Rome, complete another 50 hours of community service at a location of their choice or donate $500 to a nonprofit organization in Kennebec County, and participate in a forum with law enforcement officials at Colby next spring.

The former students also must pay $1,438 in restitution to the Waterville Fire Department and Waste Management, which owned the dumpster; they must not use or possess alcohol; and they will be subject to random searches and testing, according to the agreement. They also must pay a $100 fine for the civil infraction of burning without a permit, and that infraction will remain on their records.

“This was a stupid prank that, thankfully, didn’t get out of hand, and it was alcohol-fueled,” said Kennebec County District Attorney Maeghan Maloney following the Waterville District Court appearances.

Kate Carlisle, Colby’s director of communications, said Tuesday via email that Colby would have no comment on the case.

The former students – Ryan W. Neville, 23, of Westwood, Massachusetts; Andrew J. Ferraro, 23, of Reading, Massachusetts; and Jesse Eddy, 22, of Cheshire, Connecticut – were represented Tuesday by their respective attorneys, Walter McKee, Richard Berne and Brad Grant.

Maloney said her office will proceed with a criminal mischief charge against one more person in the case.

“Now we have evidence to charge because of these cases being resolved today,” she said.

McKee said afterward that it was a fair resolution and everyone agreed it was the right result.

“These three young men have no criminal record and simply did something stupid the night before their college graduation,” McKee said in an email. “Thankfully no one was harmed. They are each going to perform some community service, stay out of trouble and pay restitution; and in a year, this case will be dismissed.”

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 06:14:56 +0000
Supreme Court refuses to hear DeLorme argument over $6.2 million fine Tue, 06 Dec 2016 23:29:30 +0000 The Supreme Court has rejected a request from Yarmouth mapmaker DeLorme to have a hearing on a $6.2 million fine assessed against it by the U.S. International Trade Commission last year.

The digital and print map-making company, which was sold to Swiss GPS giant Garmin in February, had hoped to get a hearing before the country’s highest court to challenge the fine imposed in the wake of a patent infringement case. DeLorme had been embroiled in a patent dispute for four years with Virginia-based BriarTek over the Maine company’s inReach GPS satellite handsets.

In a ruling in November 2015, a federal appeals court upheld the $6.2 million civil penalty against DeLorme, but it also upheld a lower court ruling that DeLorme had not violated BriarTek’s patents. It was BriarTek’s patent claim that formed the basis for the ITC’s ruling and fine.

DeLorme’s attorney at the time said the decision that upheld both the fine and the ruling that the patents weren’t valid was “Kafkaesque.”

It’s “quite stunning,” said Peter Brann, of Brann & Isaacson in Lewiston, of the seemingly contradictory rulings. The law firm filed the appeal to the Supreme Court.

Among those supporting DeLorme in the action were heavy hitters from some of the country’s largest electronics and digital companies, including Dell, Google, Adobe, HTC Corp. and Vizio.

The Supreme Court grants a full review and oral arguments to only about 1 percent of the requests filed annually.

]]> 0 Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:41:14 +0000
House passes veterans bill with provisions sought by Rep. Pingree and a Maine veteran Tue, 06 Dec 2016 23:25:42 +0000 The U.S. House of Representatives passed a veterans’ bill on Tuesday that includes provisions authored by Rep. Chellie Pingree, D-District 1, and inspired by a sexual assault survivor from Maine.

The Veterans Health Care and Benefits Improvement Act of 2016 aims to address a range of issues, from expanding the time period for widows and widowers of veterans to take advantage of the Post 9/11 G.I. Bill to addressing concerns about the Department of Veterans Affairs’ responsibilities for individuals receiving emergency treatment. The bill also includes language that would increase the VA’s reporting requirements pertaining to disability claims submitted by sexual assault victims.

Specifically, the bill would require the VA to report to Congress annually on the number of sexual assault-related claims that have been denied and approved, the number of pending and appealed claims, and the most common reasons the VA denied those claims.

The provisions were originally included in a broader bill submitted by Pingree, called the Ruth Moore Act, that passed the House last year but was never taken up by the Senate.

The bill is named for Ruth Moore, a Maine veteran who was sexually assaulted twice by a superior officer while stationed overseas. Moore reported the incident but she was subsequently discharged from the Navy under a false mental health diagnosis and never received proper treatment. After decades of silence, Moore went public with her story in 2012, testifying before Congress about her decades-long fight for benefits as well as the physical and psychological problems she endured from the sexual assault.

The VA retroactively awarded Moore disability benefits in 2014. The Milbridge resident now works with other sexual assault survivors.

The veterans bill passed by the House on Tuesday is expected to be taken up by the Senate.

“I’m grateful that language from the Ruth Moore Act was included in this bill, and I hope the Senate takes swift action on the legislation,” Pingree said in a statement. “It will provide the information we need to make sure the VA follows through on its promises to fairly treat our veterans. But there is more to be done. I will continue pushing the VA and Congress to ease the burdensome standards that survivors of military sexual assault must meet to receive benefits.”

]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 10:49:18 +0000
Vandals set hundreds of cows loose at Maine dairy farm and 1 dies, police say Tue, 06 Dec 2016 22:05:46 +0000 CLINTON — A cow broke its neck and died last week after vandals let it and hundreds of other cows out of their pens at the Misty Meadow Farm and also vandalized the Wright Place Farm, police said.

Clinton police Senior Patrol Officer Karl Roy said Tuesday that on the night of Nov. 29 or early in the morning Nov. 30, about 150 milking cows were released from their pen at Misty Meadow. He said the cows were discovered by farm workers who were finishing their shifts. The workers were able to round up all the cows and get them back into their pens.

Then sometime between 2 a.m. and 3:30 a.m., about 500 milking cows were released from their pens. Roy said those cows were discovered by the next shift of workers arriving at the farm. All told there are 1,500 cows on the farm, Roy said. One of the cows that was released fell into a drainage hole and broke its neck.

Roy said the value of that cow was estimated at $2,000 to $2,500.

Workers at the farm also discovered that stainless steel cooling tanks for milk and cream had been turned off. The tanks were turned back on and the milk and cream was saved, but Roy said had those products spoiled, the value of the loss would have been $10,000.

“In order to turn those off, you have to know your way around the farm,” Roy said of those responsible for the vandalism. “It’s somebody with knowledge.”

It was also discovered that two headlights from a farm truck in the garage had been stolen, as had some meat from a freezer in the garage. A pellet or BB gun was also stolen, which probably was used to shoot out a window from a nearby tractor.

Roy said from there, the vandals, who are believed to be in the juvenile to young adult age, went down the road to the Wright Place Farm. The damage was significantly less at that dairy farm. No cows were released or injured.

There were examples of criminal mischief at the Wright Place Farm, though. Four streetlights had been shot out, probably with the gun stolen from the Misty Meadow Farm. Later, a farm worker noticed a tractor had been moved. Roy said that was more evidence that whoever did it “knew their way around” that kind of equipment.

The Clinton Police Department posted a message on its Facebook page on Dec. 1 alerting the public about the vandalism at the two farms and asking the public to help solve the case.

Roy said there had been a “vehicle of interest” seen in the area and that the police have persons of interest in the case, but no charges have been filed. He said the department thinks the culprits are juveniles or young adults because it’s likely they didn’t understand the severity of their acts.

“They think they’re goofing off when it’s actually quite serious,” Roy said, adding that milking cows are on cycles for milking, and when they are removed from those cycles, they may not produce as much milk, which disrupts the business.

“It’s the type of damage done that matches the most likely age category to do this,” Roy said.


]]> 0, 07 Dec 2016 06:35:51 +0000
Two New York men charged in Milford home invasion Tue, 06 Dec 2016 20:26:15 +0000 Two men were arrested Monday for a home invasion in Milford, according to the Penobscot County Sheriff’s Office.

The men, Steven Gadsen, 34, and Gilberto Martinez, 39, both of New York City are suspected in a robbery Monday afternoon in the Pheasant Hill Trailer Park. Officers from the Maine Warden Service and Brewer Police Department stopped the men on North Main Street in Brewer after spotting a vehicle that matched a witness description. Gadsen and Martinez were found with property reported in the robbery and were subsequently taken into custody.

The sheriff’s office said in a statement that their investigation is ongoing and more charges may be forthcoming.

]]> 0 Tue, 06 Dec 2016 17:32:46 +0000
Buckfield wood products company sold Tue, 06 Dec 2016 20:00:26 +0000 A Buckfield manufacturer of wood-based products, including colorful Easter eggs used in White House Easter holiday events, has been bought by new owners.

Wells Wood Turning and Finishing Inc., which makes housewares, furniture components and promotional items of wood, was acquired by Turning Acquisitions LLC on Nov. 28. Terms of the deal were not disclosed in a press release announcing the sale.

Christian Chandler and Simon Varney, principals in Turning Acquisitions, will operate the company as Wells Wood Turning & Finishing, and the plant will remain at its Buckfield location, with all current employees in place, according to the release.

“Previous owners Tom Wallace and Alan Chesney have done a fantastic job over the past dozen years, building a solid manufacturing operation with high-quality products and a very positive reputation in the marketplace,” said Varney in the release. “We have every intention of continuing their work while looking to expand into new markets and developing new products.”

Wallace said he was happy to be “handing over the reins” to a company dedicated to quality customer service and expanding Wells Wood’s product line and markets.

Founded in 1985, Wells is known for manufacturing rolling pins, which are marketed by partners online and in retail stores across the country. In recent years, the company manufactured multi-colored, collectible Easter eggs used in the annual White House Easter Egg Roll. It also specializes in the custom turning and finishing of a variety of wooden table legs, tool handles, craft parts and mini-baseball bats.

The company employs 30 people.

]]> 0 Tue, 06 Dec 2016 21:34:02 +0000
Medical examiner says Eddington third-grader died from hanging Tue, 06 Dec 2016 18:22:48 +0000 The state medical examiner said Tuesday that Isaiah Perry, 8, of Eddington died by hanging, although whether it was accidental was still undetermined.

The child, a third-grader at Holden Elementary School, died Nov. 23.

“Based upon the circumstances surrounding his death, there is no definite indication of intentional self-harm,” Mark Belserene, administrator for the state Medical Examiner’s Office, said in an email. “Suicidal hanging is extremely rare in this age group. The death more likely represents an accidental hanging; however, since it is not possible to be sure of intent in this case, the manner of death is best certified as ‘undetermined.’ ”

Penobscott County Sheriff Troy Morton said his department is continuing its investigation.

Perry’s death shocked students and staff at Holden Elementary School, where he had entered as a student midway through his second-grade year. He died the Wednesday before Thanksgiving, as many families gathered for the holiday. The Friday after his death, his school held a gathering in his memory and opened for the day, providing grief counselors for staff, students and community members.

“Isaiah’s death is a sad and difficult occasion. … It was unexpected and tragic,” Regional School Unit 63 Superintendent Susan Smith wrote in a message posted to the district’s website. “Hold your loved ones just a bit closer and give them a hug.”

Holden Elementary School Principal Don Spencer remembered Isaiah as an outgoing little boy, a Cub Scout who played soccer and basketball.

“He was a well-liked kid,” Spencer said.

]]> 0 Wed, 07 Dec 2016 00:23:01 +0000
LePage says unit for forensic mental-health patients may be built in Freeport Tue, 06 Dec 2016 18:03:28 +0000 AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage said Tuesday that a proposed new treatment facility for mentally ill patients who have committed crimes may be built in Freeport or somewhere else in southern Maine after a decision last week by legislative leaders that stalled its development on state grounds in Augusta.

LePage told radio show hosts Ric Tyler and George Hale on Bangor-based WVOM that his administration is considering locations in the Bangor area, Freeport and “down south” for the new 21-bed facility. The center is intended to house court-ordered forensic patients who are at the state’s Riverview Psychiatric Center but no longer require a hospital setting for treatment.

The proposal to build the so-called “step down” facility comes from the state Department of Health and Human Services and is aimed, in part, at regaining a federal certification and some $20 million in annual funding for Riverview. The secure state hospital has 92 beds and houses patients with dangerous mental health conditions.

Last week, six members of the outgoing Legislative Council deadlocked on whether to allow the project to move forward on state grounds next to the existing psychiatric center, with Republicans voting in favor and Democrats voting against. The 3-3 vote killed the proposal under an obscure law that requires the Legislative Council to sign off on any new construction on state property in the “Capitol Area” of Augusta, which includes the grounds of the State House and Riverview, which is on the east side the Kennebec River and is often referred to as the East Campus.


Democrats on the council said they voted against the LePage administration’s plan because it deserves a public review, but LePage denounced the Democrats on the council, saying “they just don’t care about Mainers with mental health issues.” In his radio interview Tuesday, LePage said the administration would look for a new location where Democrats could not stand in the way.

“They can only stop me over at the East Campus,” he said. “I’m looking at Freeport and the Bangor area – we are looking down south.”

It was not immediately clear why the administration is exploring those areas or what criteria it is using to identify potential sites. LePage’s communications staff did not respond to a request for information Tuesday.

However, the Democrats who voted against the administration’s plan include a lawmaker from Freeport and another from North Berwick, which lies near Maine’s southern border.

Freeport Town Manager Peter Joseph said the state had not contacted the town about hosting any new mental health facilities.

“There is nothing that’s come to the town that I’m aware of,” Joseph said.

Bangor City Manager Cathy Conlow also said the city has not been contacted about a new mental health facility there. “No, we have not had any contact about that,” Conlow said.


State Rep. Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, one of the three Democratic members of the Legislative Council who voted against the project, shrugged off LePage’s suggestion that her town was in play for a new facility and said the governor was “posturing.”

Gideon said Democrats agree the state needs to build the step-down facility, but they want it to be vetted publicly to ensure that taxpayer funds and patient rights are not going to be abused. She said Democratic lawmakers have unanswered questions about the LePage administration’s proposal to privatize the facility and whether it is intended to be operated as a prison or a mental health facility. Gideon said because patients in the facility would be in state custody, lawmakers want to ensure there will be public oversight.

“Look, we want to get it done too,” Gideon said. “But these are the questions we have and they are not unreasonable ones.”

Republicans have said Democrats were playing politics and simply trying to block the LePage administration from progress on a problem that has plagued the state for over four years.

Last week, DHHS officials told lawmakers the administration would still move forward with the facility, which it intends to have managed by a private contractor. But they said the decision to keep it off state property in Augusta would cause a delay and add as much as $1 million to the cost of the project, currently estimated at $3.5 million, because they would have to pursue building permits and planning board approval in a new municipality.

The Augusta Planning Board approved the project for the Riverview location in October.

“I’m going to get it,” LePage said. “It’s just not going to be next to Riverview and we won’t be able to use the same staff.”


]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 23:45:30 +0000
LePage’s Christmas wish: Dogs named Sustain, Override Tue, 06 Dec 2016 17:35:02 +0000 AUGUSTA — Gov. Paul LePage wants to get two new canine buddies named Sustain and Override for his dogs Jack and Veto.

LePage’s dogs made an appearance on his weekly interview Tuesday on WVOM-FM. The dogs barked in the background as the Republican governor criticized a newly approved 3 percent surtax on Maine individual incomes above $200,000.

LePage wants to cut Maine’s top marginal rate, but said Tuesday he won’t propose a sales tax increase.

The governor laughed as he said he’s trying to get his wife to allow him to get more dogs. His suggested names of Sustain and Override come as a sharply divided legislature makes its way to Augusta.

LePage, Maine’s all-time veto champ, said he picked the name Veto because the Jack Russell terrier’s a “defender of the Maine people.”

]]> 0 Tue, 06 Dec 2016 17:55:26 +0000
Orono company wins $100,000 to develop ‘green’ ceiling tiles Tue, 06 Dec 2016 16:42:34 +0000 An Orono company that is developing innovative products made from the building blocks of wood is among the recipients sharing a $1.3 million award from the Environmental Protection Agency.

Revolution Research Inc. won $100,000 to design the manufacturing process for a bio-based ceiling tile that is durable, non-hazardous and can be composted. The tiles also must have higher insulation properties than conventional tiles, according to a Tuesday press release from the EPA. Twelve other companies were awarded grants of $100,000 under the Small Business Innovation Research program to develop green technology. If the first phase is successful, the companies will be eligible to apply for up to $300,000 to develop and commercialize their technology for the marketplace.

“The 13 businesses we are funding today are producing innovative and creative solutions for our country’s environmental problems,” said Thomas Burke, EPA science advisor and deputy assistant administrator of EPA’s Office of Research and Development, in the release. “Small businesses play an integral role in creating technologies that will help ensure a sustainable future for our country.”

Revolution Research won the 2015 UMaine Business Challenge with its pitch to produce forest-based, environmentally friendly materials for the construction, insulation and food-packaging industries. Founded by Nadir Yildirim, a Ph.D. student at the University of Maine, and Chasse, a 2013 UMaine graduate in civil engineering, the company first developed foam insulation board made from natural resources that is 100 percent recyclable.

It also won $225,000 from the National Science Foundation last year, as well as smaller awards from competitions designed to encourage Maine entrepreneurship, such as the Top Gun program.

Yildirim presented at an October conference in Hiram that explored innovative uses for wood. Maine has 17 million acres of forest and a declining pulp and paper industry.

]]> 0 Tue, 06 Dec 2016 21:35:03 +0000
Freeport’s Drew Taggart, as half of Chainsmokers duo, nominated for 3 Grammys Tue, 06 Dec 2016 15:36:24 +0000 Drew Taggart, whose musical career started with an independent study project at Freeport High School, was nominated Tuesday for three Grammy Awards for his role in the chart-topping duo The Chainsmokers.

The Chainsmokers were nominated for best new artist, and their smash hit “Closer” was nominated for best pop duo/group performance. The group’s song “Don’t Let Me Down” was nominated for best dance recording. The Grammy Awards will be given out Feb. 12 and broadcast on CBS.

Bob Ludwig of Gateway Mastering in Portland also was nominated in the category of best-engineered album, non-classical, for “Are You Serious” by Andrew Bird.

Taggart, 26, tweeted Tuesday after the nominations that he was “really proud of my team right now,” and expanded on that sentiment in an email to the Portland Press Herald.

“I’m feeling very grateful for my team and the people in my life who have helped us get to this point,” he wrote. “It’s a huge honor after growing up watching the Grammys all these years.”

Taggart was at a Dunkin’ Donuts in Boston when he heard of the nominations. He said he’ll probably bring his parents, Mark Taggart and Laura Girr, with him to the Grammy Awards. He’ll ask his mom to be his date.

Although The Chainsmokers have been touring and headlining for a couple of years, the runaway success of “Closer” this year made the group a constant presence on pop radio. It was No. 1 on the Billboard singles chart for most of this fall, and is currently at No. 3. The song features singer-songwriter Halsey sharing vocals with Taggart. It was written by Taggart, Halsey and four other musicians.

Taggart grew up in Freeport and graduated from Freeport High School in 2008. He spent part of his junior year studying in Argentina, where he became fascinated with electronic dance music. When he came back to Freeport High, he created his own electronic dance tracks on a computer for his senior project.

He attended a music business program at Syracuse University, then got an internship at Interscope Records. After college he began deejaying at clubs in New York City, where he met Alex Pall, his partner in The Chainsmokers. The pair began touring and producing music for other musicians.

Their big break came in 2014 with the song “#Selfie,” which poked fun at the self-absorbed types the duo saw in clubs. That song went to No. 1 on Billboard’s electronic dance chart, and the video had some 200 million views on YouTube within six months of the song’s release. It currently has more than 470 million views.

The Chainsmokers’ competition for best new artist includes country singers Kelsea Ballerini and Maren Morris, plus Chance The Rapper and singer/rapper Anderson Paak.

In the best pop duo/group performance category, the field includes “7 Years” by Lukas Graham, “Work” by Rihanna featuring Drake, “Cheap Thrills” by Sia featuring Sean Paul, and “Stressed Out” by Twenty One Pilots. Other nominees in the best dance recording category include “Tearing Me Up” by Bob Moses, “Never Be Like You” by Flume featuring Kai, “Rinse & Repeat” by Riton featuring Kah-Lo, and “Drinkee” by Sofi Tukker.

For the past two years, The Chainsmokers have toured the world, playing festivals, arenas and large theaters. Taggart lives in New York City but has family in Freeport and comes home for visits and gigs. The duo played Portland’s State Theatre in 2015. They are currently doing holiday shows around the country, and in February will begin a tour of Europe.

Ludwig won a 2016 Grammy in the same engineering category he was nominated in on Tuesday, then for “Sound & Color” by Alabama Shakes.

He has won a total of 11 Grammys in various categories. Mastering engineers are only eligible in five of the 80-plus Grammy categories: record of the year, album of the year, best engineered album non-classical, best surround-sound album and best historical album. Mastering is the final step in creating an album, making the last adjustments in sound after all the recording and mixing is done.

Ludwig and his fellow mastering engineer at Gateway, Adam Ayan, usually master several recordings each year that are nominated for Grammys, even if they themselves aren’t named in nominations for each one. Ayan, for instance, mastered more than a half-dozen recordings that resulted in nominations this year, including works by Morris, Tim McGraw, Carrie Underwood and Barbra Streisand.


]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 22:53:33 +0000
Judge rules Community Health Options’ lawsuit against federal government can proceed Tue, 06 Dec 2016 15:17:23 +0000 A federal judge has ruled that a lawsuit filed by Community Health Options, in which the Maine-based health insurance cooperative is seeking to recover millions of dollars from the federal government, can proceed.

The cooperative claims that it is owed $22.9 million from a program designed to help insurers manage costs for the first few years of operation under the Affordable Care Act.

CHO, which is based in Lewiston, paid $2 million into the “risk corridors” pool in 2014, when it was the only cooperative in the country set up after the ACA went into effect to turn a profit. But after making $7 million in 2014, it lost $31 million in 2015 and has set aside a reserve fund of $43 million to cover potential losses this year.

CHO filed its suit against the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services in August, saying it is owed the money to help offset part of the losses it suffered last year.

DHHS had asked a judge in the U.S. Court of Federal Claims to put the CHO lawsuit on hold while it deals with a dozen similar cases from other insurers.

Last week, Senior Judge James F. Merow denied the request, saying that having 13 cases on the same issue “does not strike this court as an overwhelming number of cases.” Merow also said the government would likely be able to press the same legal arguments in all the cases, since the insurers are all seeking money from the risk corridors pool. That lessens the workload on the lawyers representing DHHS, he said, because “the same arguments and legal authority should be applicable to each.”

Merow, however, did give the federal government more time to respond to the CHO lawsuit and the insurer’s request for a summary judgment in the case. He said DHHS needs to file those arguments by Jan. 13.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 11:38:46 +0000
More than 200 Christmas wreaths stolen from York County farm Tue, 06 Dec 2016 11:42:12 +0000 With local farmers offering to pitch in, the Giles Family Farm in Alfred isn’t going to let the Grinch or Grinches who stole more than 200 wreaths derail its annual holiday open house this weekend.

Wreaths valued at about $5,000 and the open trailer on which they were stacked were stolen from the farm some time late Friday night or early Saturday morning, farm co-owner Frank Boucher said.

Police have not said whether they have any leads on who might have taken the wreaths or where they might be now, Boucher said. Police told him that they believe someone in a small pickup truck hooked up the trailer and drove it off the farm, Boucher said. The trailer was parked on a section of the farm away from the main road, he said.

Stephen Gile stands Christmas trees Tuesday at the Giles Family Farm store in Alfred. More than 200 wreaths were stolen there late Friday night.

Stephen Gile stands Christmas trees Tuesday at the Giles Family Farm store in Alfred. More than 200 wreaths were stolen there late Friday night. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

He said the robbery came at a bad time because the farm is getting ready for the open house, which is when it traditionally sells most of its wreaths, trees and other holiday items.

Boucher said workers are busy making more wreaths to replace the stolen ones, and other farmers and wreath-makers in the area have told him he can pick up theirs if it appears Giles Family Farm might run short for the open house at the farm on Route 202.

The open house is set for 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, he said. The farm also sells items from a roadside stand the rest of the week.

Boucher said he hasn’t had to accept any of the offers from other farmers yet, but may need to if workers don’t manage to make enough wreaths before the weekend to replace those that were stolen.

Parts for wreaths lay in the back room at the Gile's Family Farm store, where employees and the owners are prepping for an open house this weekend. On Friday night 200 wreaths were stolen off a trailer behind of the store. (Photo by Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer)

Parts for wreaths lay in the back room at the Giles Family Farm store, where employees and the owners are getting ready for an open house this weekend. Brianna Soukup/Staff Photographer

“We’re just trying to make as many as we can,” he said.

Ann Boucher, his sister, hopes that someone might give police a tip about the whereabouts of the stolen wreaths.

She posted a news story about the robbery on the Giles Family Farm Facebook page, with a note asking people to share the story “so that this ‘Grinch’ can be caught.” “We hope somebody will know something” and the wreaths can be recovered, she said.

Ann Boucher said the farm often works with other farms in the area the rest of the year, so she isn’t surprised that they’ve offered to help out following the robbery. “They’ve been very supportive,” she said.


]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 23:08:08 +0000
Numbers of destructive spruce budworms remain low in Maine Tue, 06 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 Populations of spruce budworm remained low across northern Maine this year, although entomologists caution that simply means the next outbreak of the destructive forest pest is delayed, not avoided.

Landowners, forest managers and entomologists are bracing for defoliation to begin in Maine within the next several years, based on the current outbreak in Quebec. But monitoring programs in both Maine and the province of New Brunswick showed that the average number of budworm moths collected in traps actually fell from 2015 to 2016.

On average, seven moths were captured in each of the 400-plus traps set in northern, western and eastern Maine that use pheromones rather than light to attract the insects. That compares with 26 moths per trap, on average, during the 2015 season, according to statistics compiled by the Maine Forest Service.

Allison Kanoti, an entomologist with the Maine Forest Service, said in an interview Monday that both the 2015 and 2016 numbers are relatively low, so the year-to-year swing is not particularly large or surprising. Light trap surveys from previous decades show “valleys and peaks” leading up to an outbreak.

This year’s lower numbers do not alter the fact that another outbreak is coming.

“Sometime in the next several years we expect to find defoliation caused by spruce budworm in Maine,” Kanoti wrote in an update posted on the website of the Maine Forest Products Council, an industry trade group. “Even after that is found it will be several years before fir and spruce in Maine experience significant impacts to their growth. Managers and landowners with significant (spruce and fir) should use the time they have to continue to prepare for the coming epidemic.”

The spruce budworm is a native species that experiences cyclical population explosions and collapses every 30 to 60 years. During the last major outbreak in Maine during the 1970s and 1980s, budworms destroyed 20 million to 25 million cords of wood – or 21 percent of the spruce and fir stands – and caused millions of dollars in economic damage.

The extensive defoliation prompted landowners and the state to clear-cut large areas or apply huge amounts of insecticides, which in turn led to a public outcry and major changes to Maine’s forest practices laws.

Maine’s forests are more diverse today than the forests of the 1970s and 1980s, with spruce and fir now accounting for roughly 70 million standing cords compared with 130 million cords at the onset of the last budworm outbreak. And technological advances in monitoring as well as a more comprehensive logging road infrastructure give foresters and landowners additional tools.

Kanoti said she also found it reassuring that New Brunswick saw similar trends of lower moth counts this year, although the province did experience one large swarm that raised concerns on both sides of the border. The massive “flight” of budworm moths appeared to originate in a heavily infested area of Quebec and was carried by summer winds and air currents to an area of New Brunswick more than 130 miles away. The moth swarm blanketed cars, trees and the ground in some areas.

Some of those moths did turn up in traps in Maine, more than 100 miles away. But the bigger concern is the steady spread of the major infestation in Quebec.

A forecast map posted on the Maine Spruce Budworm Task Force’s website shows areas of red – indicating heavier presence of budworm larvae – creeping down toward New Brunswick and Maine.

Roughly 17.3 million acres of forests in Quebec – nearly the same size of Maine’s forested land base – has already been defoliated by the spruce budworm since 2003. Kanoti noted that defoliation has nearly doubled in an area of Quebec, Riviere-du-Loup, that is only about 30 miles from the northernmost tip of Maine.

The highest number of moths caught in one trap this year was 49, compared to numerous traps last year with an excess of 150 moths and one with 320. And the fact that most of the traps over the past three years have caught less than 50 moths is another sign the state still has “very low populations.”

A report compiled this year by a task force of state foresters, university researchers and industry representatives estimated that Maine could lose from 247,000 to 494,000 cords of wood annually if active management is not used to reduce the losses. The report estimated the economic impact at between $397 million and $794 million per year, with up to 1,200 job losses annually.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 10:57:41 +0000
UNE researcher discovers potential blood test for aggressive breast cancers Tue, 06 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 An unexpected discovery by a University of New England scientist – working outside of his normal field of study – could eventually lead to early detection of some of the most aggressive and deadly breast cancers.

Srinidi Mohan, assistant professor of pharmacy at UNE, said he had never studied breast cancer before he stumbled across how a molecule could be used to detect the cancers.

The cancers – estrogen negative and triple negative breast cancer – are often a death sentence when discovered, because they are almost never detected early, Mohan said.

Mohan, 37, now has a patent pending on his research and said he is on the verge of a breakthrough that could produce a simple blood test to detect the breast cancers.

The discovery was an accident, Mohan said. He had been studying nutritional supplements when he came across the molecule that may lead to early detection.

Mohan had never previously studied breast cancer, but he said the results are promising. The research is still in the early stages and needs to go through clinical trials, further work on the patent and development of a testing kit.

There are about 50,000 to 60,000 new cases of the aggressive breast cancers per year in the United States, according to the American Breast Cancer Foundation. Young women and African-Americans are most at risk for the hard-to-detect cancers.

Dr. Marc Hurlbert, chief mission officer for the New York-based Breast Cancer Research Foundation, said that while he wasn’t aware of Mohan’s research, scientists are developing blood tests that could help find the cancers.

“We still have a ways to go, but the outlook for early detection and treatment of these cancers is promising,” Hurlbert said. “Within 10 years, we should have better early detection and targeted treatments.”

Hurlbert said some of the most promising early detection methods involve detecting the DNA of tumors found in the bloodstream, or detecting the tumor cells themselves in the bloodstream. The Breast Cancer Research Foundation is spending $57 million on all forms of breast cancer research.

Mohan’s approach is to detect the presence of a molecule in plasma by using a blood test.

Mohan said the discovery began one day in late fall 2014 when he was studying the side effects of a nutritional supplement – the L-Arginine amino acid. L-Arginine is often found in amino acids sold in drugstores as nutritional supplements favored by athletes for strength and boosting the immune system.

During his research, he noticed the relationship between the molecule, a modified form of the L-Arginine amino acid, and estrogen negative breast cancer. It was Mohan’s first “eureka” moment.

“No one had ever connected the dots. Sometimes you get a spark and you can’t explain why you got that spark. I was in the right place at the right time. I don’t know why,” Mohan said, shrugging his shoulders.

But Mohan said he didn’t get too excited.

“I moved on. I’m always thinking ‘What is the next step?’ ” said Mohan, who moved to the United States from India when he was 23. He received his doctorate from Mississippi State University and a post-doctorate degree from the University of Buffalo before moving to Maine five years ago.

Mohan said he needed to prove what he was seeing, and for two months immersed himself in scientific literature. He first proved his hypothesis on one cell line in May 2015. Three months later, he was able to replicate the results by testing dozens of cell lines with African-Americans and Caucasians.

Later, he tested the plasma of Jews, Asians and Hispanics, and all the results were consistent, he said.

Mohan was testing to see whether the molecule – also known as a biological marker – would be found in low numbers in the plasma of patients with estrogen negative breast cancer. In every case, the marker was consistent with his hypotheses that low levels of the molecule would indicate the presence of breast cancer, he said.

Mohan did the research alone, with the help of some students, and the findings were published in the July issue of Amino Acids, a peer-reviewed scientific journal. In September of this year, Mohan received a patent pending from the U.S. Patent Office.

If his work bears fruit, a blood test could be used for millions of women as part of a routine physical examination as soon as five to 10 years from now, Mohan said.

The next step is applying for federal grants, for which UNE is partnering with the Maine Medical Center Research Institute, which is nationally known for its breast cancer research.

Dr. Susan Miesfeldt, a clinician investigator at the MMC institute, said the institute collaborates with other researchers in a “range of studies” including promising cancer research such as Mohan’s.

“Based on results of ongoing studies, (Mohan’s) work may result in the early detection and personalized management of breast cancer,” Miesfeldt said in an email response to questions.

If all goes well, within a few years a clinical trial could be launched, which would be a multimillion-dollar endeavor and attract government research dollars, Mohan said.

Knowing that his test could possibly save thousands of lives one day keeps him focused on research.

“I am a faithful person,” Mohan said. “I think about this every day. I have a purpose in my life.”

This story was corrected at 9:30 p.m. Dec. 6 to show that Srinidi Mohan received his doctorate from Mississippi State University and a post-doctorate degree from the University of Buffalo.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 21:25:47 +0000
Single mother with 2 jobs requests help for kids’ gifts Tue, 06 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 A single mother of two boys in southern Maine is learning that a full-time job is not always enough to pay all the bills and put presents under the tree at Christmas.

She wrote to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund and, for the first time, asked for help.

She was divorced in September, she wrote. “I have full custody of my children and, as the expenses add up, I am left with little or no extra money.”

She has a full-time job for a nearby school district and a part-time job as a cashier in a grocery store. But she and her family are still falling behind, and her children face a Christmas with little or nothing to unwrap.

“I have never had to ask for help with the holidays,” she wrote. “I know my children and I are grateful for the service you provide.”

The Portland Press Herald Toy Fund in the Spirit of Bruce Roberts is using donations from readers to provide toys to thousands of Maine children who might otherwise not receive holiday gifts because of hardships faced by their parents.

The fund – now in its 67th year – is accepting applications for toys from needy families in Cumberland, York, Sagadahoc, Lincoln and Knox counties. Applications can be downloaded at or picked up at the Welcome Center desk on the fifth floor of One City Center in Portland. Call 791-6672 to have one mailed to you.

Donations to help buy the toys can be made on the website or by writing checks to the Portland Press Herald Toy Fund and mailing them to the fund at P.O. Box 7310, Portland, ME 04112.

For more information and to donate online, go to:

See more stories about the fund at


In memory of Andrew Campbell  $100

In loving memory of my parents and husband, who loved Christmas – BSD  $200

Anonymous  $500

Joyce & William Chayer  $200

Carol Grundstrom  $100

With love for children!  $50

Anonymous  $50

Whitney Drake  $200

In honor of Clara  $25

Merry Christmas! Kathleen Wilson  $100

Because I am blessed to have my granddaughter, Sophia  $20

In memory of my wonderful wife, Joyce! E.W. Freeman  $250

In loving memory of Mina & Joe  $50

In memory of our loved ones from Harold Warren & Dolores Carver  $100

In memory of my sister & brother-in-law, Peggy & Bob Jewett – Frances O’Neill  $200

Anonymous  $25

From Pop  $40

In memory of Steven & Brendan Keating  $100

In memory of Norma Lawrence  $50

Lorna Dorsey  $50

In loving memory of Burton D. Bailey, from Faith  $25

The Buttners  $35

In honor of Scarborough bus driver Mike Lavallee, from Amelia Odlin  $25

From the Robert Odlin family of Scarborough  $75

From Katy, Greg & Maggi e $25

Every child deserves a special gift, Kap & Barbara Powers  $100

From Millie & Gillie  $100

In memory of Thad, Marie & Gayle Crapser and John & Lorena Knight – Richmond & Nanone Knight  $50

Anonymous  $100

In loving memory of Susan J. Stevens – miss you so much, Dad, Mom, Rick, Eric & Tim  $100

Gary Dunn  $50

In loving memory of my husband, Earle L. Ingalls  $150

In memory of Rose & Louis Germani & Louise St. Clair  $100

Anonymous  $100

In memory of Elayne K. Page – Love, Bob  $100

Pamela Ferland  $100

Paul Collins  $100

Lowell A. Pease  $25

Tux Turkel  $50

A grateful Mom & Grammy  $500

Anonymous  $100

In memory of Charles Towle Jr.  $250

Total to date  $45,030.60

For more information and to donate online, go to:

See more stories about the fund at

]]> 0 Mon, 05 Dec 2016 20:14:42 +0000
Nonprofits push legislation to reduce waiting lists for adults with intellectual disabilities Tue, 06 Dec 2016 09:00:00 +0000 A group representing nonprofits that deliver services to adults with intellectual disabilities is proposing legislation that they say would shorten record-high waiting lists by raising state reimbursement rates paid to the nonprofits.

By increasing reimbursement rates, nonprofit leaders said they could afford to pay workers who staff the group homes a higher wage, which would in turn make it easier to find and hire qualified candidates. Higher rates also would make existing group homes more financially stable and able to expand, thus reducing the waiting lists, the leaders said.

Waiting lists for the services – which include group homes, in-home help and community programs – have surged, increasing from 111 people on the lists in 2008 to 1,264 in 2016, a period during which reimbursement rates have been slashed.

One in four to five adults with intellectual disabilities, including those with autism, Down syndrome and brain damage, are on a waiting list for services, with some expecting to wait a year or longer, advocates say.

Reimbursement cutbacks for the nonprofits began in 2008 during the Baldacci administration and have continued under Gov. Paul LePage. A proposed funding formula change by the LePage administration that’s currently being considered would cut additional funding and leave the agencies on the cusp of closing many group homes, nonprofit leaders said.

The disintegration of the safety net for developmentally challenged adults has occurred since the late 2000s, more than a decade after the Pineland Center institution in New Gloucester closed in 1996.

The bill that would go before the Legislature in January would hike the reimbursement rate paid to the nonprofits for providing services from the current $22.43 per hour to $29.58 per hour, representing what the 2007 rate would have been had it kept up with inflation, the Maine Association for Community Service Providers said Monday. A separate bill would prevent the funding formula from being altered.

Todd Goodwin, president of the association that represents group homes and agencies that provide in-home and community support services for developmentally challenged adults, said the legislation is needed to reduce the wait lists that have ballooned over the past several years. The proposal would cost state taxpayers an estimated $27 million per year, with an additional $51 million in federal tax money. MaineCare, the state’s name for Medicaid, is funded with a blend of state and federal tax dollars.

Group homes are so financially strapped that they can only afford to pay workers about $10 an hour, Goodwin said. The jobs are a combination of low pay and demanding work, he said, and agencies are having a difficult time finding qualified employees willing to take the jobs. Those who do work as aides often leave within a year.

With an increase, starting wages would probably rise to about $12-$14 per hour, helping the agencies attract and retain employees, Goodwin said.

Goodwin, also the CEO of Community Partners, a Biddeford nonprofit that operates group homes, said his agency has had to turn down clients because it can’t staff the group homes, and that many other nonprofit agencies are facing the same problems.

Samantha Edwards, spokeswoman for the Department of Health and Human Services, did not respond to a request for comment Monday, but on Friday she said that the Legislature’s failure to fund a $46 million proposal by the LePage administration to reduce the wait lists is the reason there is a problem.

“Wait lists exist because there are not enough funded slots,” Edwards said, referring to the total number of people served, “not because the rate paid to providers is inadequate as they are apparently claiming. As additional slots have been funded, providers have continued to serve new individuals.”

But Goodwin said increasing the number of people served doesn’t help if reimbursement rates remain low – and are threatened to be cut further – because the nonprofits can’t afford to provide the services needed.

“Funding the wait lists are effectively a moot point when the rates are so low. The rates are preventing us from taking on clients,” Goodwin said.

Stephen Murphy, an emeritus professor at the University of Southern Maine who wrote a 2011 book about Pineland, said that when the facility closed, the hope was that developmentally challenged adults would receive good care in the community and be better integrated into community life. But he said that hasn’t happened, and instead the state is in danger of backsliding into a system where people are warehoused in group homes, rather than providing services to help improve their lives.

“There’s no recognition of their value to society by the government, which allows the government to continue to erode services and the supports that were given them,” Murphy said.

Rep. Drew Gattine, a Westbrook Democrat who co-chairs the Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee, agreed that reimbursement rates need to be increased, although he’s not sure they need to rise by the amount the nonprofits are proposing.

Gattine said putting money into the wait lists without increasing reimbursement rates, as the LePage administration is proposing, is “throwing money into a broken system.”

About 4,800 adults with intellectual disabilities qualify for assistance under sections 21 and 29 of MaineCare, the DHHS says. Section 21, which has the 1,264-person wait list, covers comprehensive services, including 24-hour care, group homes and often 40 hours per week of day programs. Section 29 offers far fewer services – usually about 10-20 hours per week of in-home or community help – but has no waiting list.

Leslie Sullivan of Freeport, grandmother of 18-year-old Ryan Dufour, who is autistic and on a waiting list for Section 21 services, said increasing the rates would be a “good start,” but it’s difficult to predict how many people would come off the wait list.

Kim Humphrey of Auburn, who started Community Connect, a grass-roots resource for families who have adults with intellectual disabilities, said she’s seen with her adult autistic son how quickly backsliding can occur, and it’s hard to see so many on a waiting list and without professional help.

“They’re putting these people’s lives in jeopardy. It’s just not fair,” she said.


]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 08:34:59 +0000
Skowhegan officer describes ‘feeling of joy’ after rescue of woman and son from fire Tue, 06 Dec 2016 03:51:44 +0000 SKOWHEGAN — Police Officer Tim Williams wouldn’t call himself a hero, saying he was just doing his job when he crawled on his belly through thick smoke into a burning mobile home Friday to rescue a woman and her 4-year-old son.

Williams, 51, said he got a call about the fire and was the first one to arrive. He said he entered the burning house without hesitation and without fear for his own well-being.

He first saw Andrea Curtis, 24, then he said he saw her son, Tyler Curtis-Benson.

“I started pulling — pulling the person out, and as I was pulling the person out, it got to the point where I could see the baby on top of the mother,” Williams said in an emotional interview Monday.

He said he pulled the mother and son out onto the deck of the trailer at 279 North Ave. and began performing CPR, all the while on his radio calling for rescue personnel who arrived within minutes. He said Tyler began breathing on his own while Curtis was still gasping for air as he commissioned neighbors to help him get the mother and son away from the building and into some fresh air. When Tyler started breathing, “it was a feeling of joy,” Williams said.

He said he could see flames and heavy smoke coming out of the home. Williams himself would later be taken to the hospital to be treated for smoke inhalation. He was released at about 3 a.m.

Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard, right, speaks about the recent fires in town on Monday. At left is Skowhegan police officer Tim Williams, who helped drag to safety a mother and son from their burning home on Friday. David Leaming/Staff Photographer

Skowhegan Fire Chief Shawn Howard, right, speaks about the recent fires in town on Monday. At left is Skowhegan police officer Tim Williams, who helped drag to safety a mother and son from their burning home on Friday. David Leaming/Staff Photographer

“The only thing I could think of was to try to get them out as soon as possible,” he said.Skowhegan Police Chief Don Bolduc said he considers what Williams did to be “amazing times two.”

“He initially made access to the trailer, but was pushed back by smoke and heat,” Bolduc said. “His second approach was much lower, and he could see through the smoke the silhouette of a body. He chose to go in and save that person and that is when he discovered there were two. For him to save them both and revive them on his own was simply amazing.”

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 08:26:10 +0000
Waterville gets glimpse of traffic plan Tue, 06 Dec 2016 03:48:16 +0000 WATERVILLE — Residents got a first look Monday at what the downtown would be like if two-way traffic were returned to Main and Front streets.

Vehicle traffic on Main would move through downtown more slowly, there would be areas for pedestrians only, and sidewalks paved with brick-like blocks.

Commuter traffic would be diverted more toward Front Street, and it would be easier for motorists to get through town because they would’nt have to follow the one-way streets.

That was the scenario sketched out for residents Monday by officials from Gorrill Palmer, a consulting firm from Portland that has been working with the city and Colby College on a traffic and parking study.

“It’s actually the beginning of a new chapter of what happens next and how do we turn theory into action,” Mayor Nick Isgro said.

]]> 0 Tue, 06 Dec 2016 00:58:21 +0000
Conference sees uncertain future for farm land access Tue, 06 Dec 2016 02:59:26 +0000 AUGUSTA — There is a conflict within the farming industry, and it’s one that doesn’t have an easy resolution.

Many young farmers are looking for land but finding the costs associated with acquiring acres for farming to be prohibitive, while older farmers wanting to retire are encountering challenges with transitioning their farmland and ensuring it continues to be used as a productive piece of property.

Amanda Beal, president and CEO of the Maine Farmland Trust, said the biggest issue for the state’s farming industry is farmland access. At its second Farmland Access Conference at the Augusta Civic Center on Monday, officials said they expect as much as 400,000 acres of Maine farmland will change hands over the next decade, but officials and farmers alike question whether the land will continue to be farmed.

“There are plenty of people who want to do the farming,” said Brandeis University associate professor Brian Donahue, who gave the keynote. “The big issues are connecting them to the land and giving them the ability to market stuff so that they can survive.”

Beal said there’s an increasing awareness that industry officials need to be engaging in conversations with older landowners earlier in their careers about transitioning. The longer they wait, she said, the less flexibility there is with each decision.

Donahue, who has been farming for about 40 years, said for older farmers, their land is their retirement account.

“They tend to be land-rich and cash-poor,” Donahue said.

Jason Pafundi can be contacted at 621-5663 or at:

Twitter: jasonpafundiKJ

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 21:59:26 +0000
Familiar faces join Westbrook City Council Tue, 06 Dec 2016 02:41:24 +0000 WESTBROOK — A new mayor and two new city councilors took their oaths of office Monday night, but they will start their jobs ahead of the curve.

All three have represented the city’s residents in some capacity or worked for city government in the past. City Administrator Jerre Bryant said they have “a great deal of familiarity” with local government.

“There’s not a whole lot of orientation there,” Bryant said. “It is without question the easiest transition I’ve experienced.”

Michael Sanphy officially began his term as mayor, which he won in a four-way race in November. He succeeds outgoing Mayor Colleen Hilton, who decided not to run for re-election this fall.

Sanphy served five years on the City Council representing Ward 5, and he is retired from a career in the Westbrook police and fire departments.

“While my new title may be mayor, my job remains civil servant,” Sanphy said during his prepared remarks. “I have very proudly served the city of Westbrook for most of my adult life – more than 40 years in the Westbrook Police Department and simultaneously 20 years with the Westbrook Fire Department.

“Service to the community has remained a high priority of my retirement,” he added.

Ann Peoples assumed an at-large City Council seat vacated by Michael Foley, who also decided not to run for re-election. Peoples spent two terms on the council from 1994 to 1996 and 2003 to 2005, and she served on the Westbrook Planning Board from 1996 to 2003.

From 2008 to 2014, she also served in the Maine House of Representatives.

“Hopefully it gives me an understanding of the fact that my major job is to communicate with people and to listen to people,” Peoples said. “So people understand if we make decisions, why we make them.”

Former City Clerk Lynda Adams ran unopposed to fill the City Council vacancy in Ward 5. Adams first worked for the city from 1989 to 1998 as an assistant to the city clerk and then an assistant to the fire chief. She served as city clerk from 2008 to 2014 while it was both an elected and an appointed position.

“I think it will help knowing how each department functions and their roles and responsibilities,” Adams said. “I think that’s going to really help especially when it comes to the budget process.”

Incumbent Councilors Brendan Rielly in Ward One and Victor Chau in Ward 2 held on to their seats, so they were also sworn in for new terms Monday.

Three councilors – at-large member John O’Hara, as well as Anna Turcotte in Ward 3 and Gary Rairdon in Ward 4 – were not up for re-election this year.

Megan Doyle can be contacted at 791-6327 or at:

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 22:27:15 +0000
Contract grants 2 percent pay raises to Portland city workers Tue, 06 Dec 2016 02:36:55 +0000 The Portland City Council on Monday approved a new contract with its largest union that will increase wages $1.1 million over the next three years.

The agreement with the roughly 500 workers in the City Employee Benefits Association, which represents most permanent employees except for firefighters and police officers, provides annual increases of 2 percent.

The contract with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1373 will expire on June 30, 2019.

The council previously granted significant raises to other employees who report directly to the council.

City Clerk Katherine Jones received a 17 percent raise, increasing her annual salary by nearly $14,000 to $92,960. Also, Corporation Counsel Danielle West-Chuhta received an 11 percent raise, increasing her salary by nearly $13,400 to $131,250.

Most of the pay increases were designed to bring the salaries of Jones and West Chuhta more in line with other clerks and attorneys. They also each earned a 3 percent merit raise and a 2 percent cost of living adjustment.

The clerk, corporation counsel and the city manager all report directly to the City Council. City Manager Jon Jennings earns $148,100.

Portland’s current budget authorizes 1,283 employees with a municipal payroll of $72.5 million.


]]> 0 Mon, 05 Dec 2016 22:10:42 +0000
Attorney says former Belgrade man not competent for trial in rape of 11-year-old Tue, 06 Dec 2016 02:08:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — An attorney argued Monday that a 22-year-old former Belgrade man is not competent to stand trial on charges of raping an 11-year-old girl in 2015 and then contacting her early this year by using a fake name on Facebook while he was on bail.

Travis R. Gerrier, most recently of Dixmont and Carmel, has been in custody since February.

Gerrier was in handcuffs as he sat at the defense table during Monday’s hearing at the Capital Judicial Center. He spent almost all the time staring down at the table or at his hands as his attorney, Sherry Tash, questioned a witness and made a closing argument.

Justice Robert Mullen gave both the defense and the prosecution until Dec. 12 to hand in written arguments or other cases supporting their positions before he renders a decision.

Gerrier was indicted in September on charges of gross sexual assault, tampering with a victim, violating a condition of release, unlawful sexual contact and furnishing liquor to a minor. He pleaded not guilty.

In January, police allege that Gerrier violated a condition of his release by contacting the victim via Facebook under a fake name and telling her that she needed to tell police “that he didn’t make her do it,” according to a court affidavit filed by Kennebec Sheriff’s Office Deputy Brittany Johnson.

His attorney, Sherry Tash, said Gerrier lacks the capacity to understand the length of the sentence the state is currently seeking — 20 years. Tash said he has some concept of a year or two.


]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 21:08:32 +0000
Authorities seize 5 pounds of pot in probe of crash Tue, 06 Dec 2016 02:07:00 +0000 AUGUSTA — A Greensboro, North Carolina, couple spent the weekend in the Kennebec County jail on a charge of marijuana trafficking after more than 5 pounds of pot was found in the trunk of their vehicle following a crash Friday afternoon near the Fieldstone Quickstop on Route 3 in China.

Suhaila J. Foteh, 31, and Christopher B. Hipp, 29, were held in lieu of $15,000 bail. Both had initial court hearings Friday at the Capital Judicial Center via video from the jail, and a judge then reduced bail to $7,500 cash each.

In an affidavit filed at the Capital Judicial Center, Maine State Trooper Niles Krech said that Hipp handed him a small jar of marijuana, but the smell around the vehicle remained strong. Krech said that after Foteh and Hipp were taken to the hospital by ambulance, police looked in the trunk and found a duffel with “five large separate bags of marijuana.”

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 21:07:18 +0000
Skowhegan police decry hoax about triple slaying Tue, 06 Dec 2016 02:06:00 +0000 SKOWHEGAN — A Facebook page purporting to be that of the Skowhegan Police Department recently posted a false claim that there had been a triple murder in town, an incident that comes amid growing national attention to fake news and the role of social media in spreading such hoaxes.

“Our page has been hacked and copied at this point, we are working to get this fixed,” the department wrote on its Facebook page Monday.

It appears the Police Department’s page wasn’t actually hacked, but a duplicate page gave the appearance of being the official page.

The hoax posting on the bogus Facebook page appeared with a police car, yellow crime scene tape and the words “body found,” linking to a fake news story reporting that a woman killed her three children in Skowhegan and in other locations.

Skowhegan Police Chief Don Bolduc said Officer CJ Viera is working with Facebook officials to remove the page.


]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 21:06:35 +0000
Maine woman featured in new HBO documentary ‘The Trans List’ Tue, 06 Dec 2016 00:35:14 +0000 A transgender student from Portland was one of 11 people featured in an HBO documentary that aired Monday night.

In the documentary, “The Trans List,” Nicole Maines and other transgender Americans share their insights on transgender rights, the fight for equality, and their own personal struggles.

Maines is currently a student at the University of Maine in Orono. She was born a boy, has an identical twin brother, and began identifying as a girl at the age of 2. Her family’s battle with her elementary school – the Asa Adams School in Orono – over her right to use a girls’ bathroom led to a landmark court ruling in Maine.

Kelly and Wayne Maines, center, knew early on that although their children, Jonas, left, and Nicole were biologically identical male twins, they were very different. Nicole, born Wyatt, has identified as a girl since she was very young and underwent gender reassignment surgery in July.

Nicole Maines, right, with her parents Kelly and Wayne, center, and her brother Jonas. (Photo by Kelly Campbell)

In the 2014 decision, the Maine Supreme Judicial Court ruled 5-1 that the Orono school district violated her rights when it made her use a unisex faculty bathroom instead of the girls’ restroom.

Maines told the National Public Radio show “Fresh Air” on Monday that she felt like she was being punished. The school eventually hired a bodyguard to follow her to make sure that she used the staff bathroom.

“It was annoying. I would get up to go to class to just go to the bathroom and my teacher would have to stop me in front of everybody and tell me to wait for whoever was following me that day,” Maines told NPR. “It was really, really humiliating, so it felt really good to know that my parents recognized what was happening and knew that it was wrong.”

Book cover for "Becoming Nicole," by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amy Ellis Nutt.

Book cover for “Becoming Nicole,” by Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Amy Ellis Nutt.

Her parents are Kelly and Wayne Maines of Portland. The struggle of Maines and her family was explored in a book, “Becoming Nicole,” that was published in October 2015.

Also featured in the HBO documentary, which was directed by Timothy Greenfield-Sanders, are several well known transgender people, including Caitlyn Jenner, formerly known as Bruce Jenner; Buck Angel, an adult film producer; and Kylar Broadus, a transgender rights attorney.

]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 14:34:15 +0000
South Portland inauguration brings calls for respect, inclusion Tue, 06 Dec 2016 00:14:24 +0000 SOUTH PORTLAND — Newly sworn-in Mayor Patti Smith called on city councilors, municipal employees and residents to give “thoughtful consideration of others” as the city navigates potentially contentious issues in the year ahead.

Smith, who was elected by fellow councilors and inaugurated Monday, asked city residents to get involved and to act with compassion and understanding so that decisions made at City Hall are as inclusive as possible.

“Look beyond the obvious,” Smith said in her inaugural address, during which she described various types of people living in the city.

She mentioned senior citizens struggling to pay property taxes; recent immigrants learning to speak English; longtime business owners trying to stay afloat in a changing economy; and older workers retraining at Southern Maine Community College for new careers.

“It is likely that we know many of these people,” Smith said, noting that all are worthy of “respectful listening” rather than snap judgments and preconceived notions.

Smith, who will serve as mayor for one year, mentioned the need for open minds as the council tackles the future redevelopment of the public works facility on O’Neil Street and the creation of a master plan for the west side of the city.

She praised teachers in particular, both professional instructors and those who provide guidance to others in their everyday lives. And she urged councilors and others to embrace the habit of “connecting, sharing and caring through our community service.”

Smith offered thanks to outgoing Mayor Tom Blake, who is leaving the council after serving nine years, including three years as mayor. She presented him with a plaque, a portrait of him to be displayed on a council chamber wall, and a book on Maine history.

Blake delivered a brief farewell speech, describing his nine years on the council as entertaining, exciting, challenging and rewarding. He thanked fellow councilors, municipal workers and other residents for their efforts on behalf of the city and said that he expects South Portland to “stay a progressive and healthy community going forward.”

Laura Moorehead, an organizational consultant who lives in South Portland, delivered a secular invocation before Smith and newly elected councilors Maxine Beecher and Susan Henderson were sworn in by City Clerk Emily Scully.

You are “citizen heroes … for stepping up,” Moorehead said, noting later that “it’s never simple.”

She reminded the council to strive for inclusion and acceptance of difference, and to rely on human goodness in the search for creative solutions to community concerns.

Also sworn in Monday were newly elected school board members Jennifer Kirk and Otis Thompson.

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

Twitter: KelleyBouchard

]]> 0, 05 Dec 2016 20:35:58 +0000
Gorham firefighters battle blaze near downtown Tue, 06 Dec 2016 00:05:16 +0000 Gorham firefighters battled a fire Monday night in the single-family house at 6 Spruce Lane.

The man who owns the home was treated for minor injuries, according to WCSH-TV.

Gorham Fire Chief Robert Lefebvre told the television station that the man had just used a snowblower to clear his driveway. He covered the snowblower and put it in the garage.

Lefebvre said the man believes the cover may have caught fire. The fire started in the garage before spreading to a car and the home.

Spruce Lane is in a residential neighborhood off Route 114 near Gorham’s downtown.

A dispatcher for the Cumberland County Communications Center said the fire was reported at 5:32 p.m.

]]> 0 Mon, 05 Dec 2016 23:36:41 +0000
USM School of Music gets surprise $600,000 donation Mon, 05 Dec 2016 23:01:05 +0000 The University of Southern Maine got an early Christmas present Friday – a $600,000 surprise donation to the university’s School of Music.

And it wasn’t even something university officials asked for.

A representative of the Falmouth-based Bob Crewe Foundation showed up Friday night at the President’s Scholarship Gala, at the Westin Portland Harborview Hotel, and sprung the donation on the 300 guests there, according to a news release Monday from USM.

The donation includes $500,000 from the Bob Crewe Foundation and $100,000 from Dan Crewe, Bob Crewe’s brother.

Bob Crewe, who died in 2014 in Scarborough, was a songwriter and producer who co-wrote many hit songs by Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, including “Big Girls Don’t Cry” and “Can’t Take My Eyes Off of You.” The Bob Crewe Foundation was founded in 2009 by Bob and Dan Crewe, with a focus on helping those in Maine’s arts and LGBTQ communities.

The announcement of the donation was made at the gala Friday by Reid Crewe, Dan Crewe’s daughter. Dan Crewe, who has lived in Maine for many years, was also in the music business and helped found Gateway Mastering Studio in Portland.

The money from the Crewes will be used for scholarships to School of Music students.

The Bob Crewe Foundation has also had a major impact on another southern Maine college, the Maine College of Art in Portland. The foundation gave $3 million to MECA in 2014 to fund the creation of the Bob Crewe Program in Art and Music. The program includes classrooms, studio space, recording equipment and performance space.



]]> 0 Mon, 05 Dec 2016 19:19:35 +0000
Portland mayor extends olive branch – literally – to City Council Mon, 05 Dec 2016 21:30:26 +0000 Portland Mayor Ethan Strimling launched a charm offensive during the inauguration ceremony Monday that ushered in two newcomers to the City Council and ushered out two of his strongest critics.

Strimling offered an olive branch – both literally and figuratively – to councilors who have grown frustrated with his leadership only one year into his four-year term.

Each councilor had an olive branch waiting for him or her on the dais. Later, Strimling delivered a speech complimenting the breadth of knowledge and experience of the council, before directly addressing the tension that boiled over during the end of the last council meeting.

Strimling said tensions at City Hall are partly attributable to genuine policy disagreements, personalities and the city charter, which keeps day-to-day operations in the hands of the city manager. He noted that since city voters created the new full-time mayor’s position in 2011, there have been two mayors, four city managers and 16 different councilors.

“This is the year I hope we can figure it out,” he said. “Together, let us work to fulfill the new charter and realize this more democratic form of government that the people demanded.”

Councilor Justin Costa said after the inauguration that he hopes Strimling is serious about working with the council on issues facing the city. But he also cautioned that it would take more than one speech to win back the trust of the council.

That trust was compromised when Strimling blasted City Manager Jon Jennings’ budget proposal to transition some health care services from a city-run clinic to a nonprofit clinic. Later, Strimling tried to sink two negotiated agreements – a tax break for a local business and a land sale – just before they were approved by the council.

“The substance of his comments were fine, but I think this is really about trust, and trust is only built on action and repeated action,” Costa said. “It’s going to take some period for us to rebuild that, and I look forward to trying to do that.”

Councilor Belinda Ray, who has clashed publicly with Strimling, said the olive branch and the remarks were a “nice gesture.” She and other councilors noted that her olive branch seemed to be the largest.

“I’m hoping for a good year with good dialogue and a lot of collaboration among the whole council,” Ray said.

Strimling’s remarks came shortly after Pious Ali and Brian Batson were sworn in as the city’s newest councilors. Both were greeted with large cheers and a standing ovation, but most of the cameras were focused on Ali, who in 2013 became the first Muslim to hold elected office in Maine when he won a seat on Portland’s school board. On Monday, he became Portland’s first Muslim city councilor.

Ali, a Ghana native who became a U.S. citizen about a decade ago, replaced Jon Hinck as an at-large councilor, while Batson replaced Edward Suslovic as the District 3 representative. Ali, 47, earned about 63 percent of the vote last month in a three-way race, while Batson, 25, earned 53 percent of the vote to edge out Suslovic by about 350 votes.

Strimling celebrated the diversity of the council, saying it was “probably the most diverse council in Portland history – maybe Maine history – from color to ethnicity to religion to class. The nine-member council has three persons of color, one Muslim, two Jews, a Greek, seven men and two women and ages that range from 25 to 65. “Other than gender balance, we currently reflect the city population in a way we never have before, and that is something to celebrate,” he said.

Outgoing councilors Suslovic and Hinck were also honored by the mayor, city staff and their fellow councilors. Both were commended for being fearless when standing up for what they thought was right – regardless of whether it was popular.

Speaking on behalf of the council, Costa described Suslovic as a “full-time councilor” who tirelessly represented the city on regional boards and commissions.

“For those of us who do this work and appreciate the complexity of it and the time and effort it takes, there are few among of us who can say they have given more of ourselves than you,” he said.

Hinck was praised for his commitment to the environment, especially his shepherding a proposal to install a solar farm on an old landfill on Ocean Avenue through council approval. “That solar farm on the landfill on Ocean Avenue is a true testament to your courage and patience,” Jennings said. “You have truly been a shining light for all of us.”

Also Monday, City Councilor Nicholas Mavodones was appointed mayor pro tem, meaning that he will fill in whenever Strimling is unavailable.

The council also tweaked some rules. It will begin its regular business meetings at 5:30 p.m., rather than 5 p.m., and take public comment on all non-agenda items at 6 p.m., rather than 7 p.m.

The council adopted a rule that expressly prohibits the use of signs in council chambers. Although councilors routinely ask attendees not to display signs, the council codified that practice into its rules in order to maintain a welcoming atmosphere, where everyone can feel comfortable expressing opinions.

Striming also made his annual appointments to council committees. The most significant change is reducing the Housing Committee from five members to three members, putting it in line with other committees.

Last year, Strimling appointed five councilors as members to tackle what he described as a “housing crisis.” The committee was stacked with a majority of the nine-member council to highlight the importance of the work and to increase the chances that its recommendations would pass the full council.

Although the committee was tasked with looking at zoning to encourage more housing construction and building new housing for the city’s homeless population, housing insecurity quickly rose to the top of its agenda.

Strimling called on the committee to enact strong tenant protections, including requiring landlords to accept housing vouchers, which is currently voluntary. Instead, the committee and ultimately the council passed modest measures aimed primarily at educating tenants and landlords, while also increasing the notice the landlord must provide when increasing the rent from 45 to 75 days.


]]> 0, 06 Dec 2016 00:24:48 +0000
Sen. King goes to sea on aircraft carrier USS George Washington Mon, 05 Dec 2016 19:39:31 +0000 U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine spent several days on an aircraft carrier and touring a new “supercarrier” under construction in Virginia last weekend.

King visited the USS George Washington – a nearly 1,100-foot-long carrier commissioned in 1992 – while the crew was conducting daytime and nighttime exercises off the coast of North Carolina. A member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, King also had dinner with 10 sailors from Maine while aboard the ship.

King also toured the USS Gerald R. Ford, the first ship in the new Ford-class of carriers. The roughly $13 billion supercarrier is currently under final construction and testing at Newport News Shipbuilding in Virginia, although its delivery to the Navy has been delayed by problems with the ships systems and combat readiness concerns.

“From the destroyers built in Bath to the submarines overhauled at Portsmouth Naval Shipyard, I’ve long known that our Navy has extraordinary capabilities – but this weekend’s embark upon the USS George Washington has reinforced for me the wide range and versatility of our Navy’s operations,” King said in a statement. “Aircraft carriers like the USS George Washington are central to the Navy’s mission to protect our national interests across the globe, and I am grateful to our incredible sailors, including those from Maine who I was fortunate to meet, whose pride and professionalism continue to impress me day-in and day-out.”

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Unions welcome sale of FairPoint in $1.5 billion merger deal Mon, 05 Dec 2016 19:27:22 +0000 Illinois-based Consolidated Communications plans to purchase FairPoint Communications for $1.5 billion in a proposed merger that has been approved by the boards of directors at each company.

Consolidated Communications, a broadband and business communications company, entered into an agreement to buy the North Carolina-based FairPoint in a deal that is expected to close by next year. Consolidated will assume FairPoint’s debt, reported at about $887 million as of Sept. 30.

Bob Udell, Consolidated’s president and CEO, said Monday that the agreement combines two companies serving 24 states.

FairPoint’s largest network is in northern New England. The company serves over 377,000 voice connections, including residential lines, as well as 325,000 broadband subscribers across the country, according to a presentation for investors.

Leaders of the unions representing FairPoint workers in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont said they viewed the sale, which is subject to approval by shareholders and state regulators, with “cautious optimism.”

“It’s clear that the ill-advised sale of (Verizon’s landline business) to FairPoint in 2008 has had a profound negative impact on workers and consumers in Northern New England. Just last month, FairPoint announced another major layoff of nearly 10 percent of its workforce even as regulators continue to investigate their service quality failures,” Peter McLaughlin, business manager of International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 2327 in Maine, said in a written statement Monday.

In an interview Monday afternoon, McLaughlin said members are disappointed with FairPoint and have hoped for a new owner since the Verizon deal. Among other issues, McLaughlin mentioned frustration over delays in service for customers.

“We like being the telephone man, and it hasn’t been that way in recent history,” he said. “We haven’t been good at customer service. When you’re the face of the company, it’s disheartening when you can’t provide a good service to the customer you have to go face-to-face with.”

The Maine Public Utilities Commission has been considering a $500,000 fine against FairPoint for failing to meet minimum service standards for landline customers in 2014 and 2015, and decided last week to expand the investigation to the second quarter of 2016.

FairPoint said last month that it was laying off at least 110 workers, including 35 in Maine, because of a downturn in its traditional telephone service. According to a statement issued Monday by union leaders, those layoffs are expected to go forward as planned.

FairPoint had already laid off 79 line workers and technicians in Maine after a bitter four-month strike that ended in February 2015. Those workers were part of a larger, 260-person layoff across 17 states. About 800 workers in Maine were affected by the 2015 strike.

Don Trementozzi, president of Communications Workers of America Local 1400, also said in a written statement that “our members and our customers have been through the wringer with FairPoint over the last eight years, and our primary concern is that this transaction results in a more stable company that puts a priority on strengthening communities, not enriching Wall Street hedge fund owners.”

Union leaders said they intend to scrutinize Consolidated Communications’ finances, technical capacity and history of labor relations. In particular, they are waiting to hear expert opinions on the company’s financial stability, Trementozzi said in an interview.

“Everybody’s hopeful that anybody but Fairpoint would be better,” he said.

FairPoint provides advanced data, voice and video technologies to businesses and consumers. The telecommunications industry is not regulated in Maine, with the exception of mandated telephone service providers in rural areas.

In 2007, FairPoint bought Verizon’s landline system in Maine, New Hampshire and Vermont, creating its northern New England division, for $2.3 billion. Less than two years later it filed for bankruptcy protection because of crushing debt, emerging from that process in January 2011.

Paul Sunu, Fairpoint’s CEO, was optimistic that the deal would help the company’s shareholders and customers.

“This transaction offers a number of benefits for FairPoint’s shareholders, including the enhanced scale of the combined company, the opportunity to benefit from the realization of synergies and the receipt of an attractive dividend going forward,” Sunu said in a joint statement released by the two companies. “I am confident the new combined company will accelerate our progress and bring numerous benefits to our customers, employees and shareholders.”

The statement said Udell will serve as president and CEO of the combined company if the deal is approved, and one director from the FairPoint board would join the Consolidated Communications board of directors.

The combined company would retain the Consolidated Communications name and be headquartered in Mattoon, Illinois.


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