Local & State – Press Herald http://www.pressherald.com Sun, 26 Feb 2017 12:30:54 +0000 en-US hourly 1 https://wordpress.org/?v=4.7.2 Lawsuits blemish Maine company hired to upgrade state’s courts http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/suits-blemish-company-hired-to-upgrade-states-courts/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/suits-blemish-company-hired-to-upgrade-states-courts/#respond Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1159520 The company hired to bring Maine’s courts into the electronic age has had serious technology problems in other states, including complaints that its software glitches led to dozens of people being wrongly arrested or held in jail longer than their sentences.

Teon Wiley, a 34-year-old man from Memphis, Tennessee, said that was exactly what happened to him.

Wiley was arrested and jailed after a traffic stop last July for violating probation and failing to pay court costs for theft of household items from a Home Depot store in Tennessee. He was due to be released in mid-November, but his release date came and went – and he remained in jail.

Teon Wiley, a 34-year-old from Memphis, said he remained in jail longer than he should have after being arrested for violating probation and failing to pay court costs for theft. Memphis officials said they had problems with computer software used by Tyler Technologies to update court records. Photo courtesy of Teon Wiley

When he asked jail officials why he was still being held past his release date, he said he was told that they were having computer problems and he would “have to wait until the system comes back up” before they could let him go. He was finally released in late November, after serving two weeks longer than his sentence dictated.

That extra time in jail “was worse than the (original) four months,” Wiley said. “I was ready to go home and those two weeks were like a whole year.”

Wiley’s was not an isolated case. Dozens of defendants in at least three different states have been wrongly arrested or been held in jail longer than their sentences called for, and officials have blamed problems with Tyler Technologies’ Odyssey computer program, which manages cases and facilitates electronic court filings for court systems all over the country. It is the same program that will be installed in Maine courts over the next five years.

Lawsuits have been filed across the U.S. on behalf of those defendants, both against law enforcement agencies that use Odyssey, and against Tyler Technologies itself.

In California, the public defender for Alameda County cited dozens of defendants who were victims of computer problems after Odyssey was installed, including one who was held for 16 days after the computer system erroneously said he was to be held without bail. In another case, a sentence was improperly entered into the system and a defendant had to spend 20 extra days in jail. In yet another, a warrant that was supposed to be recalled was not, leading to the defendant being arrested erroneously.

In each case, the public defender blamed incomplete case files that had not been updated or had missing documents.

“Minute orders, filings and other documents are frequently missing from the paperless files,” according to a motion filed by Brendon Woods, the public defender in Alameda County, in November. “The calendars generated by the system are also persistently incomplete and … regularly conflict with the calendars produced by the sheriff, the public defender and the district attorney. This appears to be the result of both inputting errors and Odyssey’s inability to interface with other case management systems.”

COMPANY EMPLOYS HUNDREDS IN MAINE

Lawsuits in Tennessee, Indiana and Kentucky cite similar issues involving hundreds of defendants, all complaining of problems with the Odyssey program.

Wiley, the Tennessee man, is now part of one of those lawsuits, a class-action lawsuit against the Shelby County sheriff’s office in Tennessee, on behalf of him and other inmates who faced the same situation. Another class-action suit in Shelby County names Tyler Technologies as a defendant.

Tyler’s niche is creating software for local governments, including the city of Portland, which just signed a contract with the company for an upgrade of the software it uses in City Hall.

The company is headquartered in Texas, although its chief executive officer lives in Maine and the company has more than 650 employees in Falmouth and Yarmouth and is expected to expand here in coming years. The Maine operations focus primarily on creating software for administering school districts, while the court software was developed in and is managed from Texas.

Late last year, Maine signed a $16.9 million, five-year contract with Tyler to provide electronic services to Maine courts. The project will enable all state courts to allow attorneys to file lawsuits and briefs electronically and the public will be able to track cases online, instead of having to search through paper records at individual clerks’ offices in each courthouse. Judges’ orders will also be entered electronically, and data such as bail terms and jail sentences will be stored online, so county officials know when prisoners are supposed to report and when they are to be released.

But that’s where officials in other states said Tyler’s software failed to perform. The lawsuits say erroneous records are filed in the computers or no information at all is entered until long delays have already developed.

The incidents vary, but most involve either incorrect information entered into the system or allegations that the system fails to stay up to date.

In Alameda County, California, the public defender’s office is asking the court to order officials to make changes to ensure that record-keeping is up to date. The proposed order cites more than two dozen cases in just over three months in which people have been held in jail too long, were arrested on warrants issued erroneously, remained on probation too long or had misdemeanor convictions listed incorrectly as felony convictions.

In a court filing, Woods, the public defender, said all the problems occurred since the Odyssey system went online last August.

In addition to the lawsuits in Tennessee, county officials have been sued in Indiana over similar allegations. The lawsuits generally target county officials, since they are responsible for making sure court and jail records are accurate and up to date. Only one Tennessee suit names Tyler.

Joshua Spickler, an attorney with Just City, a criminal justice reform advocacy group in Tennessee, said the courts and jails in Memphis operated well until Odyssey went online there in November.

“That’s when everything fell apart,” he said.

‘THEY HAVE NOT FIXED IT’

Wiley, the Memphis man who was held in jail two weeks longer than his sentence, said jail officials threatened to charge him with inciting a riot when he insisted that he be allowed to see a judge to be released. He said other inmates told him that they, too, were being held longer than they were supposed to be jailed.

Tales like Wiley’s “are the story, over and over,” Spickler said. “I still get calls weekly. They have not fixed it.”

Spickler said county officials point the finger at Odyssey, while Tyler officials blame antiquated government computers and electronic systems and a poorly run interface between the Tyler software on court computers and jail systems.

John Marr, Tyler’s CEO and chairman, said the Odyssey system has been rolled out in 21 states, including 11 where it is used statewide, as it will be in Maine.

“They’re all successfully implemented,” he said, adding that problems other states are seeing are due largely to difficulties that localities have had in linking court and jail systems. Odyssey is only installed on court systems, he said, and doesn’t run the jail systems, even though they are often linked.

“We’re not at the root or cause” of those issues, he said. “We are not the jail system or the integrator between the jail and the court system. These are things that happen in our industry, although we certainly take them very seriously.”

Mary Ann Lynch, spokeswoman for the Maine Judicial Branch, said the committee that selected Tyler for the state project was aware that problems had been reported elsewhere. She also said state officials are going into the project with their eyes open and know that there will be some difficulties along the way, given the scope of the project.

“We have done our best to learn from the experiences, both good and bad, of other court systems,” she said. “I think it would be the height of either naiveté or arrogance, or both, to suggest we will be immune from hitting some bumps in the road as we implement an entirely new way of doing business. ”

She said that Maine may actually be better off going into the project now, after problems already surfaced elsewhere, because that may allow Maine and Tyler to anticipate any issues here and either head them off or know how to correct them using fixes developed elsewhere.

“We do believe we will benefit from the experiences of other courts, and those ‘problems’ are learning opportunities for us,” Lynch said. “Sometimes it helps to be at the back of the queue in implementing change. We are taking to heart the experiences of others.”

TYLER WON BID BY ‘A LARGE MARGIN’

Tyler’s bid of $16.9 million fell in the middle of six that the state received to convert the courts to electronic filing. The low bid was $9.8 million from Journal Technology, and Thomson Reuters was at the top end, with a bid of $33.6 million.

Lynch said Tyler scored a few more points on the scoring scale used by the six-member selection committee because it already has operations in Maine, but she said the difference was minimal – only a maximum of 50 points on a 1,000-point scale. Lynch said she didn’t have the final scores of the committee, but the points for local operations did not tip the balance.

“I am told that Tyler won by such a large margin that this was not a determining factor,” she said.

She also said the state consulted with the National Center for State Courts on the project and also will benefit from having a unified court system, rather than a system of independently operated county or municipal courts that are sometimes used in other jurisdictions. That can result in systems with different computer backbones and inconsistent funding for the conversion to an electronic format, Lynch said.

Marr said Tyler will learn from issues encountered in other states to try to make Maine’s implementation smoother. And, Marr said, he’s taken a slightly stronger interest in the Maine project because he lives here – for instance, he sat in on the presentation his company made to the selection committee.

“I’m a Mainer, been here virtually my whole life,” he said. “To have an opportunity here in our home state, we’re excited to make Maine a showplace.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/suits-blemish-company-hired-to-upgrade-states-courts/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/240875-TeonWiley.jpgTeon Wiley, a 34-year-old from Memphis, said he remained in jail longer than he should have after being arrested for violating probation and failing to pay court costs for theft. Memphis officials said they had problems with computer software used by Tyler Technologies to update court records.Sun, 26 Feb 2017 07:30:54 +0000
In today’s world, no voice is too small to protest http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/a-protest-lesson-no-voice-is-too-small/ Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1159523 Chris Teret found it surprisingly easy to explain to his 4-year-old daughter, Phoenix, why people want to march and protest the words and actions of President Trump.

“She’s in preschool and they talk a lot about respectful behavior, not bullying, not calling people names. So we told her some of the things (Trump) had done and said,” said Teret, 39, of Portland. “She said (Trump) would do well to learn the things she learned in preschool.”

When Phoenix marched with her family in the Women’s Walk Portland on Jan. 21, where the estimated crowd of more than 10,000 included many children, she carried a small sign that read “Send Trump to Preschool.” She carried it again on Feb. 1 at a rally at Portland City Hall to protest Trump’s banning immigrants from seven Muslim-majority countries. That rally attracted about 1,500 people, including dozens of children.

Since Trump’s election and inauguration, protests in Maine and nationally have become family affairs, with children and teens as visible at rallies as pink pussycat hats and “Love Trumps Hate” signs. Experts say this is one of the few times in recent American history when children have been such a large part of protests, with the civil rights movement of the 1960s and the immigrants’ rights rallies of 2006 being other examples.

Six-year-old Caleb Eng and Melanie Maudlin, 5, attend a demonstration against President Trump’s immigration ban recently at Portland City Hall with their parents. Caleb’s mother, Renee Bourgeois of Portland, said this issue in particular “is so much a part of our family’s story.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

The influx of young protesters, say parents and activists, can be linked to the fact that people are protesting such a broad range of topics, most of them directly affecting families, including Trump’s personal remarks about women, his efforts to ban people from Muslim-majority countries and his administration’s efforts to roll back protection for transgender people. Past protest movements often were focused on one topic. Parents also say that, in this time of bitterly divided politics, it’s important to show children firsthand the power of peaceful protest and resistance.

Some political scientists have already begun studying the current wave of protests, including surveying participants of the massive Women’s March in Washington, D.C., in January. But most of the people surveyed there were of voting age, so experts say it’s hard to quantify the number of children involved. Still, the photographic and anecdotal evidence suggests that the ongoing protests are multigenerational, the kinds of protests that historically get the attention of politicians and the public. Images of children facing off with police dogs during the civil rights movement, for example, helped build support for the cause.

“It’s an interesting moment because so many people, across generations, seem to be turning out in solidarity with so many different communities. (Multigenerational efforts) are the movements more likely to get a hold on the public consciousness,” said Sasha Costanza-Chock, a professor of civic media at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology in Cambridge, Massachusetts. “We’ll probably see the impact of this for many years. This involvement (by children and teens) will create lots of opportunities for mobility on so many issues.”

MAKING SIGNS, PACKING FOR PROTEST

Some of the children going to rallies, like Phoenix, come from families where activism is frequent and they’ve seen it all their lives. Phoenix’s father is an electrician and union member, and she has stood on picket lines with him and heard political talk since she was a baby.

But many young protesters are the children of people who had never participated in a protest before, but who now feel called to act and to get their children involved.

Chris Teret, 39, of Portland is joined by his 4-year-old daughter, Phoenix, at a recent rally outside City Hall. “She said (President Trump) would do well to learn the things she learned in preschool.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Though she has always voted, Renee Bourgeois, a 44-year-old veterinarian from Portland, had not been politically active before attending the Portland rally in support of immigrants. She brought her 6-year-old son, Caleb Eng, to the rally because his great-grandparents had immigrated from China and faced harsh anti-Chinese laws and bias.

“This is so much a part of our family’s story. To me it seems less about political things and more about how to be kind to people. That’s how my husband and I talk to Caleb about it,” she said.

Ellen Okolita, a maker of children’s costumes from Gray, had not been to a political rally since college before attending the Portland rally for immigrants with her two daughters, Olive, 5, and Ivy, 7. Both girls worked hard on their signs beforehand. One said “Meow for Peace” over the image of a winged cat and another said “Howl for Peace” near the image of a wolf. Okolita had arranged to meet four other parents at the rally, and together they had a total of eight children with them.

The rally started at 4 p.m., with temperatures around 30 degrees. From the top of the City Hall steps, a half-dozen immigrants gave passionate speeches, their words sometimes hard to hear through loudspeakers, and led chants like “This is what democracy looks like.” Some children stood on snowbanks to see better, and many joined the chants. About a half-hour into the rally, Olive and Ivy said their hands were cold and someone in the crowd passed them hand warmers.

Okolita, 35, said the administration’s attempt to ban immigrants from Muslim-majority countries pushed her to act. And she knew immediately she wanted to involve her children. She and her husband have talked to the children about how Trump’s immigration policy might affect families like one they know from Syria. The discussion turned to the idea of equality, and that it’s important to stand up for equal rights for all people. When they were considering going last month to the Women’s March on Maine in Augusta, Okolita asked her daughters if they thought women should have equal rights. “Of course, Mom” was their answer.

“To me, it’s a no-brainer they’d come with me, as long as they want to. We give them the option,” said Okolita. “It’s their country, and these are big times right now.”

Okolita said Ivy was especially excited to attend the Portland rally on immigration and chose it over rehearsal for a play she’s in. Afterward, Okolita said, she talked with her daughters about what to put in the backpack for the next rally, to stave off cold, hunger or thirst.

Ellen Okolita is joined by one of her daughters, Ivy, 7. “To me, it’s a no-brainer they’d come with me,” Okolita said of her kids. “It’s their country, and these are big times right now.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

FAMILY-FRIENDLY PROTESTS

Young people have long been involved in protest movements, said Costanza-Chock, but often they’ve been at least high-school-age, if not in college. Dating back to the Vietnam War, “student protest” has been a familiar term. Recent movements that have included teens and young adults include Black Lives Matter and Occupy Wall Street.

Both of those movements embraced millennials, people born roughly between 1980 and 2000, a generation that has been active in a variety of social causes. (The 2016 Millennial Impact Report by the Case Foundation, based on surveys of 75,000 people, found that more than half of millennials identify as conservative, and only 43 percent as liberal, and the political areas of most interest to the group as a whole are education, health care and the economy.) While there are certainly millennials involved in the current wave of protests, it also involves younger children, brought by parents.

“This is entire families, like during civil rights, with mothers and fathers bringing their young kids,” said Costanza-Chock. “That, I think, makes this period (of protests) different than many others.”

Civil rights leaders in the 1960s were sometimes criticized for having children attend rallies and marches, said Erica Chenoweth, a professor of international relations at the University of Denver who has researched the history of civil resistance. But bringing children to a march or rally helps designate the events as “family-friendly” and might deter violent outbursts, Chenoweth said. From a practical standpoint, sometimes bringing children is the only way for parents to participate. And much of the protesting now involves women who may be primary caregivers for their children, said Chenoweth.

“It was so eye-opening,” said 13-year-old protester Hannah Elizabeth Little, “to be in the midst of so many people who are trying to make this country better.” Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

While many younger children attended the Maine women’s marches and the Portland rally for immigrants with their families, some tweens and teenagers have decided on their own to protest. Hannah Elizabeth Little, 13, asked her father to drive her to the Portland rally for immigrants. He was sick, or he would have stood with her, she said. The immigration issues being raised felt “very personal” to her, since she has friends at Lincoln Middle School in Portland from Somalia and other countries.

“It’s hard to hear all this, to hear such hate toward (her friends) from our government. They were being demonized, and it made me furious,” said Hannah, who is in the eighth grade.

Even before the rally for immigrants, Hannah had become moved to act by what she’d heard about Trump. She considers herself an “intersectional feminist,” a term that relates to how women’s race, class, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation can affect their experiences with and treatment by society. She and her father went to the women’s march in Washington, D.C., in January, and the two of them stood for hours among hundreds of thousands of like-minded people.

“It was so eye-opening, to be in the midst of so many people who are trying to make this country better,” Hannah said. “But it was a little mournful, because of the things that brought us out.”

Hannah’s mother, Jenna Little-Armstrong, said that her daughter has always been interested in helping others. She’s distributed blankets to homeless people and as a Girl Scout volunteered at a teen shelter. Plus, she knows many immigrant families who have less than hers.

“Hannah’s always been interested in the bigger picture of what’s going on, and we’ve tried to help her act on that. Instead of simply feeling badly about somebody, give of yourself to them,” said Little-Armstrong, 50.

“I’m planning to do a lot more (than protest),” said Hannah. “I want to get on the ground and start helping people.”

At left, Hannah Johnson, 13, of Cape Elizabeth traveled in January to the Women’s March on Washington with her mother, Jessica Johnson, second from left, and both grandmothers, Cindy Guertin of Yarmouth and Therese Johnson of Bridgton. Children like Hannah “are the next generation,” her mother said. Photo courtesy of Jessica Johnson

PASSING ON INFLUENCE

All children learn from their parents, pick up habits and ideas, including ideas of right and wrong. That’s why many activists and scholars think these multigenerational protests could be powerful.

When Hannah Johnson of Cape Elizabeth, 13, traveled to the Washington, D.C., women’s march in January, she drove down with her mother and both her grandmothers. Her mother, Jessica Johnson, persuaded her to come and see democracy in action.

Children like Hannah “are the next generation,” said Jessica Johnson, 45, an architect. “I think it’s important they understand this country is what it is because we are allowed to protest things peacefully.” Johnson had never been to a rally or march before, though she grew up with parents who had. Johnson’s mother, Cindy Guertin, said that in her Jewish-Catholic household politics and social justice were discussed and her children always knew she was strongly in favor of civil rights.

Guertin, 74, of Yarmouth, protested against the war in Vietnam in Washington, D.C., in the late 1960s or early 1970s. Going to the women’s march in January was very different.

The Vietnam protest “was scary,” she said. “There were troops everywhere making sure we didn’t get together in large groups.” But the march in January was peaceful, with no troops in sight. It had a different feel, too, since it was more about a resistance to the perceived rollback of civil rights for millions of people, not focused on one military action.

Guertin, a retired art teacher, is glad her granddaughter participated. She thinks young people need to learn about the power of protest and resistance and its place in our democracy.

“Protests have been a part of life in this country for a long time, and I don’t know if young people know that, or that there was a time here when women couldn’t vote,” Guertin said. “I think young people need to know that.”

Ray Routhier can be contacted at 791-6454 or at:

rrouthier@pressherald.com

Twitter: RayRouthier

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http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/1159523_246431-20170201_Kids-Prot4.jpgKaye Harrington, 3, attends a rally against the president's travel ban. Her mom, Sarah Harrington, told her they were going to show their Muslim friends that we love them.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 21:32:15 +0000
Jerusalem wedding unites Portland rabbi and his bride http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/from-portland-to-jerusalem-a-rabbi-and-his-bride-realize-their-dream/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/from-portland-to-jerusalem-a-rabbi-and-his-bride-realize-their-dream/#respond Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1159302 JERUSALEM — As destination weddings go, it wasn’t too shabby.

Overlooking Judaism’s holiest site, the 2,000-year-old Western Wall in Jerusalem’s Old City, some 30 Portland-area residents gathered on a brisk Tuesday evening to do the Israeli circle dance known as the hora and celebrate the wedding of two Cape Elizabeth residents.

Gary Berenson and Sindee Gozansky, who have been dating for more than seven years, were married in a traditional Jewish ceremony conducted by Rabbi Moshe Wilansky, the Portland-based director of Chabad Maine, from a balcony with a stunning view of the retaining wall of the Second Temple, which existed between 516 B.C. and 70 A.D.

The plaza below was scattered with worshipers and tourists eager to touch the awe-inspiring wall or place folded notes in its crevices that, according to tradition, reach the eyes and ears of God. It’s a location that Jews have flocked to ever since Israel gained control of the Old City in the 1967 Six-Day War, and it provided the ultimate hook in Berenson’s ongoing efforts to betroth Gozansky.

“I have been asking her to get married for the last few years, and she always said no,” said the jocular Berenson, 64, the rabbi of Portland’s Etz Chaim Synagogue.

Gary Berenson and Sindee Gozansky stand under the huppa, a canopy used in traditional Jewish wedding ceremonies. The pair decided to marry on a trip to Israel at a location near the Western Wall and invited all the other people on the trip to attend. Photos courtesy of David Brinn

However, after organizing a 10-day trip to Israel in February for his congregants and the Portland Jewish community, Berenson had an inspirational idea.

“We had visited Israel last year – her first trip – and she fell in love with it. It was my fourth trip, so I already loved it,” Berenson said during a food-and-drink-laden wedding reception at the Simchat Hall, whose picture windows revealed an unparalleled view of the Western Wall plaza and the shining Dome of the Rock looming on the horizon.

“I told Sindee, ‘Look, I’m not going to ask you anymore to get married, but if we were to get married, wouldn’t it be amazing to do it at the Kotel (Hebrew for “Western Wall”)? So if we’re going to get married, let’s do it on this trip.'”

Gozansky, 51, said the offer gave her “a very long pause.”

“I knew it would be hard to resist. Jerusalem is so special to both of us, so when he asked me to get married there, I was really overcome with emotion,” said Gozansky, a psychotherapist in Portland. After a couple of weeks of deliberation, she presented Berenson with a card with a heart on it and inside a written word: “yes.”

“I’m standing there listening to the words that have been said to Jewish brides and grooms for thousands of years … How could it not be emotional?” Berenson said.

The couple organized the wedding online with suggestions from friends. Getting the guests there proved just as easy.

“About two months ago, I sent an email to all of the participants who had signed up for the trip, and said: ‘You don’t have to come. It’s an optional free night on the tour. But if you want to come and celebrate our marriage, we’ll have a great time,’ ” Berenson said. “And everyone said yes.”

So after four days of touring and bus travel from the shore of the Mediterranean in Tel Aviv to the northern expanses of the Golan Heights, the group arrived in Jerusalem on Tuesday with just enough time to check in to their downtown hotel, change into their informal wedding garb and make the half-mile trek to the Old City. Another dozen guests, including the groom’s daughter from a previous marriage and family from Boston, and sister and brother-in-law from Florida, flew in especially for the event.

Instead of risotto and prime rib, the guests dined on Mediterranean dishes such as couscous and spicy eggplant, and the background music included traditional Yiddish tunes. The non-American and more informal vibe seemed to delight the guests.

“Not only did everybody from the group come, but everybody wanted to come, because they’re such lovable people,” said Gary Koocher of Portland, who has known Berenson for 30 years. Koocher was last in Israel 10 years ago with his long-term partner, Roz Siegel, and when they heard about the February trip they signed up unaware about the special nuptials.

“The wedding was definitely a bonus, the cherry on top of an amazing trip,” she said.

Neither of them had ever attended a wedding so far from Maine before.

“We’re going to a destination wedding in Florida in April,” said Koocher. “But I would call this is the ultimate destination wedding.”

That sentiment was echoed by the other guests and, of course, the main players.

“I tend to joke around a lot; I’m very lighthearted. But under the huppa (wedding canopy), I had to stop myself a couple times because I was getting so choked up,” Berenson said. “I’m standing there listening to the words that have been said to Jewish brides and grooms for thousands of years, and here am I standing 100 yards away from the Western Wall with the bride of my dreams. How could it not be emotional?”

“It was like having our own community from Portland here in Jerusalem,” Gozansky added. “And for them to experience a wedding at the Kotel made me so happy inside.”

David Brinn, a Portland native, is the managing editor of the Jerusalem Post.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/from-portland-to-jerusalem-a-rabbi-and-his-bride-realize-their-dream/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/1159302_868864-L1000779.jpgGary Berenson and Sindee Gozansky are married in a traditional Jewish ceremony on Tuesday night in Jerusalem's Old City. After dating more than seven years the pair decided to tie the knot on a trip to Israel.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 19:02:34 +0000
Voters target Sen. Collins with pressure to hold town hall http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/voters-pressure-collins-to-hold-town-hall/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/voters-pressure-collins-to-hold-town-hall/#respond Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1159531 Sen. Susan Collins was expecting to see dozens of protesters when she stepped out of a Bangor radio studio Wednesday, as they’d been there chanting “Town hall!” when she arrived, a call for her to hold an open public forum. What she may not have been expecting was that they’d be just standing silently, watching her as she and her aides walked the gantlet back to her car.

“The thinking was that we wanted to show what it’s like to walk by people who are silent, and I’d have to say it was eerie,” said Jeanne Curran of Bangor, one of the organizers of the protest outside Maine Public’s studio. “Mainers have wanted a town hall for her to listen to all of us en masse so she gets the feeling of how extensive our fear and our anger is.”

Like many other Republicans in Washington, Collins has been feeling the heat from opponents of President Trump while home for the February recess. From Salt Lake City to rural Arkansas, members of Congress have been confronted by angry, overflow crowds of constituents upset about the slow pace of investigations into the Russian influence in the 2016 election and Trump’s Cabinet picks, or fearful that they will lose their health insurance if the Affordable Care Act is repealed.

Collins hasn’t held town hall-style meetings since her first years in the Senate, preferring instead to schedule private meetings with constituents. She says she finds them more effective than a big open forum, as does her Senate colleague, Angus King.

“What happens is usually a few people dominate the discussion, and those who are more reserved or less comfortable with speaking in public don’t get to talk to the officeholder directly,” she said in a written statement. “I think that’s why Maine senators have had a tradition of meeting with groups of constituents or having staff meet with them rather than holding these huge town halls where very few people get to speak and the level of civility is not that high.”

Sen. Susan Collins says large town hall forums are less effective than private meetings with constituents.

‘SHE IS A LITTLE BIT OUT OF STEP’

Throughout the past week, protesters have targeted Collins in cities across Maine, including a pro-ACA demonstration in Biddeford, “open-air town halls” in Lewiston, Bangor and Portland, and the “silent protest” outside Maine Public.

“I’m sure you will also be doing other protests for all the other members of the delegation,” Collins said outside the radio station, just before closing her car’s door, a reference to the fact that independent King, Democratic 1st District Rep. Chellie Pingree and Republican 2nd District Rep. Bruce Poliquin have not faced similar protests.

Protest organizers say there’s a reason for that. “All my protest activities are based on my principles of tolerance and inclusiveness, and to the extent a member of Congress does not adhere to those principles, I protest them,” said Tracy Jalbuena of Camden, who attended the Maine Public protest and co-founded Midcoast Indivisible, an anti-Trump resistance group. “At this point, Susan Collins is disregarding those principles the most.”

That’s true, says Bryan Duff, head of the political science department at the University of New England in Biddeford.

“They’re not pressuring Angus King and Chellie Pingree because they are doing what they want and Susan Collins is not and that’s the simplest thing,” he said. “Bruce Poliquin, he’s doing what everyone expects him to do and represents the most conservative part of the state. Collins is a statewide rep, and this is a state that went for Clinton and for Obama, so every time she votes with Trump she is a little bit out of step with the state.”

Unlike Poliquin, Collins said before the election that Trump was unsuited to be president, describing him in a Washington Post opinion column as a cruel, disrespectful and ill-informed figure who lacked “the temperament, self-discipline and judgment required to be president.”

A crowd participates in a demonstration supportive of the Affordable Care Act last week outside Sen. Susan Collins’ office in Biddeford. While in Maine during Congress’ February recess, Collins has faced protesters at “open-air town halls” in Lewiston, Bangor and Portland, as well as a “silent protest” outside Maine Public’s studios in Bangor. Staff photo by Shawn Patrick Ouellette

AMONG CONSTITUENTS, ‘SENSE OF ALARM’

In interviews and chants, and on the signs they carry, protesters frequently cite Collins’ strong and early support of the confirmation of Jeff Sessions as attorney general – who last week persuaded Trump to overturn an Obama administration executive order protecting transgender students – and her not trying to block education secretary nominee Betsy DeVos’ nomination from being let out of a Senate committee (though she voted against her in the full vote). Concern that the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, won’t be replaced with a comparable alternative and anxiety about the president’s behavior are also top concerns.

“To us on the ground, there is a sense of alarm that Trump is taking some really extreme positions and creating this chaos and diplomacy disasters and we don’t want our elected officials going along with this as if this is business as usual and politics as usual,” said April Humphrey, a co-founder of Mainers for Accountable Leadership, a group created on Facebook that’s been organizing many of the protests. “A town hall meeting or something like it would provide an opportunity for some real back-and-forth conversations with Collins, and that’s what we’re looking for.”

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Collins, like King, doesn’t hold town hall meetings, and Reps. Pingree and Poliquin only hold issue-specific meetings or, in Poliquin’s case, telephone call-in “town halls,” according to their respective spokespeople.

“What I have found works best, and this has been the tradition of Maine Senators – it goes back to George Mitchell, Bill Cohen, Olympia Snowe, Angus King – is that it is more productive and more constructive to have meetings with constituents rather than assembling a large group in an auditorium where very few people get to actually speak,” Collins said in a written statement.

King spokesman Scott Ogden said the senator concurs: “Sen. King has found – as Sen. Collins has and as is in the tradition of former Maine Senators – that these one-on-one meetings are often the most effective way to hear and understand constituents’ thoughts because they allow everyone, and not just the loudest in the room, to express their views.”

REPUBLICAN LEAST LOYAL TO TRUMP

Collins’ office has been frustrated by the protesters’ assertion that she is unavailable to constituents, pointing out that she meets with thousands of them every year in scheduled meetings with groups small and large.

While in Maine last week for the congressional recess, Collins did 15 meetings and interviews, including the hourlong call-in interview at Maine Public and five local television interviews; meetings with six Maine Muslim-American leaders, a small group of Mount Desert Island residents, and a delegation of Maine family physicians; and a 40-minute meeting with eight members of Mainers for Accountable Leadership that was live-streamed on Facebook.

Despite the criticism from Trump opponents, Collins is the Senate Republican who has been the least loyal to the new president. As of Friday afternoon, 84.2 percent of Collins’ votes have been in accord with Trump’s and her party leadership’s wishes since Trump took office, according to a tracker set up by FiveThirtyEight, the data journalism outlet led by Nate Silver.

Forty-eight of her 51 Republican Senate colleagues have perfect 100 percent voting loyalty. (King had a 52.6 percent loyalty rating, making him the fourth most “Trump friendly” member of the Democratic caucus.)

“She’s voted against Trump more than any other Republican in the Senate, but it’s still not enough for people,” Duff observes. “But if you’re a critic of Trump, you get your hopes up, and she doesn’t always fulfill them.”

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/voters-pressure-collins-to-hold-town-hall/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/1159531_875854-20170223_Collins399.jpgHenry Ingwersen, right, of Arundel holds a sign questioning Sen. Susan Collins' stance on Obamacare during the Biddeford demonstration last week. Though she eschews town-hall style gatherings, the senator says she held more than a dozen meetings and interviews with media and her constituents.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 21:43:49 +0000
Bill Nemitz: Police body cameras are useful tools, but they can distort the truth http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/police-body-cameras-are-useful-tools-but-they-can-distort-the-truth/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/26/police-body-cameras-are-useful-tools-but-they-can-distort-the-truth/#respond Sun, 26 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1159314 Three cheers for Portland Police Chief Michael Sauschuck.

“I am saddened, I’m disappointed, and I’ll tell you I’m disgusted by any use of a tragedy to further some kind of political agenda around body cameras,” an angry Sauschuck said Tuesday – one day before a protester at City Hall called him “murderer” to his face.

The source of the chief’s frustration: painfully predictable demands for body cameras on Portland police officers – right now – after last weekend’s fatal police shooting of Chance David Baker in the Union Station Plaza parking lot on St. John Street.

According to police and eyewitnesses, Baker, 22, brandished what looked very much like a rifle. It turned out to be a pellet gun.

Witnesses said he randomly aimed the gun at passing vehicles before putting it down, apparently to adjust his pants. Then, against police orders, he picked up the weapon and was shot in the forehead by Sgt. Nicholas Goodman.

Enter Mayor Ethan Strimling, the American Civil Liberties Union of Maine and the fledgling, shoot-from-the-hip activist group Progressive Portland, all of whom quickly called for the accelerated implementation of an existing plan to put body cameras on every cop in Portland beginning in July 2018.

The implication: Had body cameras been in use last weekend, we’d all know a lot more about what happened and why.

Or not.

Meet Professor Seth Stoughton. He’s a former Special Response Team officer for the Tallahassee Police Department in Florida and now teaches at the University of South Carolina School of Law.

He’s also an avid researcher of body cameras, which he supports with certain caveats, and has shared his expertise in recent years with thousands of judges, prosecutors and others throughout the country.

“I often compare body cameras to hammers,” Stoughton said in an interview Friday. “There are a number of jobs that the hammer is a perfect tool for. If you need to drive a nail, it’s great. If you need to pull a nail out and it has a claw on it, then it’s a pretty good tool.

“But if you’re trying to put a screw through a piece of wood, you’re only going to make things worse using a hammer. It doesn’t work so well.”

Meaning?

“What worries me about body cameras is the tendency that we have to assume that they will be a perfect tool to solve a large number of problems in a very holistic way,” Stoughton continued. “And just like a hammer, body cameras are limited tools. They’re really good for some things, and they’re not going to be very good for some things.”

Stoughton has produced a series of videos – shot close up from a body camera and simultaneously from a distance – to demonstrate his point.

In one, the “officer” (played by Stoughton) approaches a vehicle occupied by a noticeably agitated African-American man.

Without warning, the driver’s door suddenly swings open. The man jumps out and runs. The officer falls to the ground. It’s all over in seconds.

The body-camera angle suggests that the man knocked the officer down and fled. But the footage taken from a distance shows that neither the man nor the car door touched the officer, who simply fell down.

And the reason the man was so freaked out in the first place?

There was a bee in the car. (If you listen closely as the officer first approaches, you can hear the man hollering, “Bee! Bee! Bee!”) He’s simply trying to avoid getting stung.

In another body-camera video without audio, the officer and a man appear to be engaged in a violent confrontation inside a parking garage.

From a distance, it turns out they’re dancing to salsa music.

Then there’s the body-camera video Stoughton did with Jeff Rossen of NBC News. It shows the officer approaching a despondent Rossen and suddenly, for no apparent reason, wrestling him to the ground.

In reality, as the longer-range shot shows, there was a darn good reason for the takedown. Outside the narrow range of the body camera, Rossen had a fake handgun and stuck it point-blank into the officer’s abdomen.

Stoughton maintains that the closer a body camera gets to the person being confronted by a police officer, the less useful it becomes.

“As soon as there’s physical movement, so that the camera is bouncing around on the officer’s clothing, you effectively lose all or almost all of the value of that camera,” he said. “In the wrong set of circumstances, body cameras can be misleading. It can give people a false perception about what happened.”

And it’s not just commotion that can distort the real picture.

Because body cameras are worn on the chest, the viewer typically looks up at the person in front of the officer. That often makes the subjects look much bigger than the officer – even when they’re of similar size.

“When you look up at someone, they look taller, they look broader, and that’s more threatening,” Stoughton said. “So if all we had was the (body camera) video, people would say, “Wow, this guy’s much, much taller than the officer.’ And they would be very confident of that. They’d be wrong, but they’d be confident of that.”

Which brings us to one final concern: Videos, unlike written statements or court testimony, powerfully impact the viewing public to the point where they consider themselves actual eyewitnesses to an event.

And to that elevated status each of us brings all of our own biases – including support or suspicion of our local police.

Thus, cautions Stoughton, “it’s important to recognize the limitations of the information the video can actually provide. And it’s also important to recognize the limitations of our ability to interpret the information provided via the video.”

Equally if not more important, Stoughton said, is for police departments to take the necessary time to carefully develop policies – with ample input from the community, the courts, prosecutors, private attorneys and police officers themselves – on exactly how and when to use body cameras.

(And then to make those policies public – a lesson learned the hard way last month by South Portland’s police department when it initially kept its body-camera policy secret. After a loud outcry, the four-page policy was released.)

Stoughton believes such policies should reflect the delicate balancing of three benefits: signaling to the community that a police force is striving to be open and transparent; using body cameras to promote greater civility among both police and the public; and providing evidence, however useful it may or may not be, that otherwise would not exist.

Add to that, he noted, stringent enforcement of the policy once the body cameras have actually been deployed.

All of which takes time.

“It is much more important to do it the right way than it is to do it quickly,” Stoughton said. “If you do it quickly and you do it the wrong way, not only will it not have short-term benefits, but it can have long-term costs.”

Clearly, Chief Sauschuck intends to do this the right way, starting with a pilot program to be launched this summer.

That’s one reason why, shortly after he was called a murderer by one of a dozen young protesters who see the world only in black and white, the Portland City Council on Wednesday applauded Sauschuck for being named Maine’s 2107 Police Chief of the Year.

He’s more than earned it.

And knee-jerk reactions aside, Portland is lucky to have him.

Bill Nemitz can be contacted at:

bnemitz@pressherald.com

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Missing Portland teen found safe http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/portland-police-seek-missing-teen-haley-roberts-13-was-last-seen-saturday-evening-near-her-anderson-street-home/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/portland-police-seek-missing-teen-haley-roberts-13-was-last-seen-saturday-evening-near-her-anderson-street-home/#respond Sun, 26 Feb 2017 00:58:29 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/portland-police-seek-missing-teen-haley-roberts-13-was-last-seen-saturday-evening-near-her-anderson-street-home/ A teenage girl reported missing in Portland’s East Bayside neighborhood has been returned home.

Portland police said Haley Roberts, 13, was located at around 9:20 p.m. Saturday. Roberts was safe and was brought home, according to an announcement on the Portland police Facebook page.

Roberts, of Anderson Street, was reported missing at 5:30 p.m. She left to go to a nearby store and did not immediately return.

Police did not release any details about where Roberts was found.

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Maine lobstermen’s union votes to buy Hancock County lobster business http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maine-lobstermens-union-votes-to-buy-wholesale-lobster-business-in-lamoine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maine-lobstermens-union-votes-to-buy-wholesale-lobster-business-in-lamoine/#respond Sun, 26 Feb 2017 00:04:56 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maine-lobstermens-union-votes-to-buy-wholesale-lobster-business-in-lamoine/ The Maine Lobstering Union voted Saturday to buy a wholesale lobster business near Mount Desert Island to help its fishermen net a bigger share of the profit in the booming, $1.5 billion-a-year industry.

At a closed-door meeting in Rockport, members voted 63-1 to buy the wholesale side of the Trenton Bridge Lobster Pound, which includes a tank that can hold up to 180,000 pounds of lobster, for $4 million, said Local 207 President Rocky Alley.

“We can’t wait to start buying and selling our own lobsters,” Alley said. “Right now, fishermen sell at the dock, and we get what we get, with no control. But there is lots of money made off lobsters after they leave the dock, and some ought to stay with us fishermen.”

The vote enables the Maine union to borrow money from a Kansas City bank and to borrow $1.1 million from fellow locals in the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers as far south as Maryland to purchase the Lamoine-based wholesale business.

Rocky Alley of Jonesport listens to Marine Resources Commissioner Patrick Keliher during a 2014 meeting about the state of the lobster industry. Staff photo by Gabe Souza

The Trenton Bridge manager, Warren Pettegrow, will stay on as the chief executive officer of wholesale operations, as will the employees. The operation will continue to ship live lobsters nationally and abroad, including to the European Union and Asia.

Pettegrow said he wasn’t looking to sell Trenton Bridge, a pound that’s been in his family for four generations. When he started talking to the union about two years ago, Pettegrow said it was “all about how to help better the lobstermen’s position in the industry.”

“This really is all about putting lobstermen in the best position to secure their future and their way of life for future generations,” said Pettegrow, who operates a boat that transports lobsters and has been buying MDI lobsters for years.

Eventually, the lobstering union expects to buy Pettegrow out, officials say, but he will still be owner of the family’s well-known retail operation on Route 3 in Trenton, located just over the bridge on the drive to Mount Desert Island.

When the purchase is finalized, union lobstermen from Jonesport, Mount Desert Island and Vinalhaven can sell their lobsters directly to the union cooperative, which was established in 2013, for storage at the Lamoine facility and eventual sale.

Union fishermen who sell to the co-op will get market price for their lobster, but they will also receive a share of cooperative profits, or a dividend, at the end of the year once operational costs, like trucking and employees, are covered.

In time, the union hopes to expand its buying territory to the whole Maine coast.

Reached after the vote, Alley said he wanted to thank IAM president Robert Martinez and the executive board for believing in the lobster fishermen of the state of Maine. “This has been a dream of ours for two years, and we couldn’t have done it without them,” he said.

The Maine Lobstering Union formed in 2013 in the wake of an infamous 2012 spring glut that drove boat prices to a season average $2.69 per pound, down from about $4 per pound during recent years and the lowest yearly average in 20 years.

The union has lobbied the Maine Legislature on behalf of its members, and has raised some objections to local projects that would affect their members – such as dredging in Searsport and in Casco Bay – but it has long wanted to launch a statewide cooperative.

Lobstermen often complain about the large gap between the boat price for lobster and what a consumer pays to eat a lobster, even in a Maine restaurant. They don’t understand why rising consumer prices don’t always translate into higher boat prices.

“Now we’ll be able to track how the price system works, and we’ll be able to get a piece of the back end,” Alley said. “It will be huge. This is going to change the lobster industry in Maine. It was our goal from the first day we unionized.”

The union has about 500 members who have been active at some time since its launch, but not everyone pays the $62.70-a-month union dues on time. That is why the vote tally on Saturday was so low, union organizers said.

There had not been a fishing union in Maine in more than 75 years, when efforts to revive an earlier union ran afoul of federal price-fixing laws. But IAM lawyers found a loophole in a 1934 fishing law that allows a union to negotiate prices on behalf of fishermen.

Canadian fishermen have been organized for decades, but most don’t negotiate catch prices. Deep-sea fishermen that work on halibut, sablefish and crab boats off Washington and Alaska have union representation, too.

David Sullivan, the head of IAM’s eastern territory, applauded the results of Saturday’s vote.

“The members of the Machinists Union are proud to stand beside the lobstermen of the state of Maine as they fight to preserve their communities and their way of life,” Sullivan said.

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

povertona@pressherald.com

Twitter: PLOvertonPPH

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maine-lobstermens-union-votes-to-buy-wholesale-lobster-business-in-lamoine/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2016/04/832385_775151-Lobsters-13-e1472011816604.jpgNorth American lobsters, also known as Maine lobsters, crowd a food bin at the Burger & Lobster restaurant in Stockholm, Sweden. Chef Anders Westerholm says the imported crustaceans are highly prized at European restaurants and advocates against an all-out ban.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 22:00:24 +0000
Augusta rally draws 200 in support of health care law http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/augusta-rally-draws-200-in-support-of-health-care-law/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/augusta-rally-draws-200-in-support-of-health-care-law/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 23:41:01 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1159429 AUGUSTA — Phil and Sarah Groman traveled from Union to the capital Saturday to stand with about 200 supporters of the Affordable Care Act.

While they don’t get their health insurance through the program, they have a 27-year-old son with a pre-existing condition who does.

Without the Affordable Care Act, Phil Groman said, his son likely wouldn’t have insurance.

The Gromans weren’t among those carrying signs, but they were among the people across the country who were expected to turn out at rallies Saturday in a show of support for former President Obama’s law that expanded by millions the number of those insured in the United States.

President Trump campaigned on a promise to immediately repeal and replace the law known as Obamacare. Shortly after he took office, Trump signed an executive order intended to ease the path for repealing the act. The Republican-led Congress is considering options to replace the program. Sen. Susan Collins, R-Maine, has collaborated on a plan that would let individual states keep the health insurance exchanges created under the law if they wish.

In Maine, about 80,000 have gained coverage under the Affordable Care Act. About 20 million are covered nationwide.

Augusta Mayor David Rollins and Gardiner Mayor Thom Harnett also attended the rally.

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Dense fog warning issued for most of Maine http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/dense-fog-warning-issued-for-northern-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/dense-fog-warning-issued-for-northern-maine/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 23:25:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1159420 The National Weather Service issued a dense fog warning Saturday night for most of the state.

Road visibility will be down to one one-quarter mile or less at times and may drop to near zero overnight, the weather service warned. The advisory will be in effect until 1 a.m. Sunday in southern, central, western and Down East Maine and 4 a.m. in northern Aroostook and Piscataquis counties.

Visibility will frequently be impaired and drivers are urged to use caution and leave plenty of distance with the car ahead.

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Protesters in Skowhegan rally against Ku Klux Klan http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/protesters-in-skowhegan-rally-against-ku-klux-klan/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/protesters-in-skowhegan-rally-against-ku-klux-klan/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 22:57:55 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/protesters-in-skowhegan-rally-against-ku-klux-klan/ Sam Sanborn remembers protesting war and flashing peace signs back when she was young, she said.

“And now, apparently, we have to do it all over again,” she said.

Sanborn, 69, of Canaan, was one of about 20 who rallied at the Margaret Chase Smith Bridges in Skowhegan at noon Saturday in response to Ku Klux Klan fliers recently found in central and southern Maine.

“This is a community response to the Klan trying to recruit in our state,” said Rob, who organized the rally with his wife, Bria, and declined to give his last name. “They’re not welcome here.”

In late January, residents of the Sand Hill neighborhood in Augusta awoke to find KKK fliers in their driveways purporting to be for a “neighborhood watch.”

Freeport residents also reported finding what appear to be the same fliers near their homes, and at least one flier was reportedly found in a mailbox in Gardiner.

Protesters stand on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridges in Skowhegan on Saturday to protest the Ku Klux Klan. Staff photo by Michael G. Seamans

Michael Moore of Veazie, who attended the rally in Skowhegan, said he was shocked by the fliers.

“I can’t believe people are passing out KKK literature in this day and age,” Moore, 73, said. He went to the March on Washington in 1963 and can’t believe that he’s still protesting the same things, he said.

Nearly everyone in the group had brought a sign – which included lines like “Destroy Fascism,” “No hate in this state” and “Love thy neighbor” – to hold up on the bitter, foggy day.

While passengers in one car at the beginning of the rally flipped off the group, dozens of others beeped in solidarity. One man in a pickup truck stopped to ask what the rally was about, giving a thumbs up when they said they were protesting the Ku Klux Klan.

A Portland Press Herald article in February detailed the history of the Klan in Maine. In the 1920s, membership reached 40,000 and while the Klan targeted small groups of minority communities in the state, it also focused on the large numbers of Irish Catholics and French-Canadian immigrants.

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

mstamour@centralmaine.com

Twitter: madelinestamour

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/protesters-in-skowhegan-rally-against-ku-klux-klan/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/1159395_350624-20170225-KKK-Prote2.jpgProtesters Beatrice Borden, far left, Serena Sanborn, left center and a man who would not identify himself stand on the Margaret Chase Smith Bridges in Skowhegan on Saturday to protest the Ku Klux Klan.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 19:05:37 +0000
Unity Raceway set to open under new ownership http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/unity-raceway-set-to-open-under-new-ownership/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/unity-raceway-set-to-open-under-new-ownership/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 22:26:15 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/unity-raceway-set-to-open-under-new-ownership/ UNITY — The first show of the year at Unity Raceway will open at 11 a.m. on Sunday, March 5, under the new ownership of George and Sherry Fernald, who plan to make a few changes to the more than 150-year-old racetrack that they bought from Ralph Nason in 2016.

George Fernald

But while Fernald hopes to revive the raceway as a center of community for the town of Unity, some people say it is noisy and no longer matches the vision of what Unity is today.

One of those critics is Ken Copp, a local furniture maker who owns Locust Grove Woodworks and is formerly Amish but still lives an Amish-like lifestyle.

“It’s the antithesis to the vision and the majority of the town,” Copp said of the raceway.

But Mary Leaming, chairwoman of the Economic Development Committee, said she thinks the unique blend of interests and diverse generations in town is part of what makes Unity great.

“Some of the things that have put Unity on the map are organizations like (the Maine Organic Farmers and Gardeners Association) and Unity College, and at the same time what used to put Unity on the map was the raceway,” Leaming said. “I think there’s something very neat about having a community that has a diverse drawing of attractions.”

Unity woodworker Ken Copp says he believes the community is defined historically by agriculture and farming and not by enterprises like car racing at Unity Raceway. Staff photo by David Leaming

The opening race on March 5 will feature a “new class” for racing in Maine, George Fernald said: Any two-wheel drive, American-made, four-door car is eligible to race.

“What we wanted was a cheap class to race,” he said. “There’s all kinds of these cars, and they’re cheap to get.”

To fix up a car like an Impala or a Buick for a race would cost around $1,000 if you did it yourself, he said. Each car will have to have a number and a theme so kids can pick their favorites.

This first race will also be on 5 to 6 inches of snow, he said, which he hopes to make an annual event.

“It’s just something different, something to break up the winter,” he said.

Fernald, 53, of Benton, started racing back in 1981, he said.

“I raced over 30 years myself there,” he said. “I just love the place.”

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Thorny skate misses out on endangered species list http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/thorny-skate-misses-out-on-endangered-species-list/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/thorny-skate-misses-out-on-endangered-species-list/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 19:46:39 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/thorny-skate-misses-out-on-endangered-species-list/ The thorny skate’s population may have declined, but not by enough to justify listing it under the Endangered Species Act, the federal government has ruled.

Environmental groups had argued that the thorny skate’s population loss in the northwest Atlantic Ocean was considerable enough to afford it protections set aside for endangered animals. But the National Marine Fisheries Service disagrees.

Documents published in the Federal Register on Friday state that the fisheries service has concluded the thorny skate is “not currently in danger of extinction” in all or a significant piece of its range. The service said the fish is also not likely to become in danger of extinction soon.

The agency agreed with the petitioners that surveys of the skate have declined over time. Recent catch surveys show less than 5 percent of the peak they reached in the 1970s, the report stated.

However, the skates “remain numerous throughout the greater portion of their range, numbering in the hundreds of millions,” the report stated.

The thorny skate ranges from Greenland to South Carolina. Animal Welfare Institute and Defenders of Wildlife called on the federal government to offer the fish Endangered Species Act listing, which could have led to habitat protection or new fishing restrictions.

The skates live in the Gulf of Maine, a key commercial fishing area, and the call to protect them generated some resistance from fishing groups.

Tara Zuardo, an attorney for Animal Welfare Institute, said Saturday that the group is disappointed by the government’s ruling, and disagrees that the skate is not being subjected to overfishing.

“Climate change and other factors continue to impact this species,” Zuardo said.

Fishermen have been prohibited from harvesting the thorny skate commercially since 2003. The fish are sometimes taken as bycatch in other fisheries, including by vessels that seek cod and some that seek other skates.

Skates have commercial value as bait as well as food, with the meat frequently appearing as “skate wing” on menus. It tends to be a little less expensive to consumers than other kinds of fish.

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Maine task force says private investment could help students learn to read http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maine-task-force-says-private-investment-could-help-students-learn-to-read/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maine-task-force-says-private-investment-could-help-students-learn-to-read/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 19:40:14 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maine-task-force-says-private-investment-could-help-students-learn-to-read/ AUGUSTA – A state task force says that help from the private sector could help address Maine’s low third-grade literacy rates.

The task force’s recent report supports a pilot program addressing early childhood program supported by loans from private investors or performance-based contracts.

The idea is to expand early childhood and pre-kindergarten education programs that can help students improve literacy rates and prepare for kindergarten.

About 36 percent of Maine fourth-graders are proficient in reading, according to test scores, compared with 43 percent in New England and 35 percent nationally.

The Harvard Kennedy School Government Performance Lab is offering to help governments figure out what kind of public-private partnership would work best.

The task force wants legislators to apply for the Harvard program.

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Maine banks foreclosed on fewer homes in 2016 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maine-banks-foreclosed-on-fewer-homes-in-2016/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maine-banks-foreclosed-on-fewer-homes-in-2016/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 17:44:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maine-banks-foreclosed-on-fewer-homes-in-2016/ AUGUSTA – Foreclosure filings launched by state-chartered banks are continuing to drop below recession-era levels.

Maine’s financial institutions began reporting a noticeable increase in foreclosure filings in 2008.

A recent state report found Maine’s state-chartered banks and credit unions held 74,000 first-lien mortgages at the end of 2016. Of those, 183 were in the process of foreclosure.

That’s the lowest level in eight years.

The state Bureau of Financial Institutions says it’s been surveying the 31 state-chartered banks and credit unions about foreclosure activity since 2006. That doesn’t include federally-chartered banks and credit unions and licensed mortgage companies.

The number of completed foreclosures actually increased in 2016. But the state bureau said it’s not concerning and may have been a result of earlier confusion about the foreclosure activity process that caused delays.

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Power is mostly restored in Bangor area http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/more-than-4500-in-bangor-area-lose-power/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/more-than-4500-in-bangor-area-lose-power/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 16:14:21 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/more-than-4500-in-bangor-area-lose-power/ A Maine utility says it has restored power to most customers affected by a problem with a transmission line on Saturday.

Emera Maine said the outage has affected 4,672 customers in Penobscot County. The utility said the problem began in the Old Town and Orono area, where the University of Maine is located.

The utility says customers were also affected in Alton, Argyle Township, Glenburn, Hudson and Stillwater.

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Maine’s smelts have bounced back in a big way http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maines-smelts-have-bounced-back-in-a-big-way/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maines-smelts-have-bounced-back-in-a-big-way/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 15:18:15 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/maines-smelts-have-bounced-back-in-a-big-way/ Ice fishing for smelts is a winter tradition in Maine, where the small fish are fried and eaten whole.

Fishermen and fish camp owners say this smelt-fishing season has been a robust one after the mild winter last year produced hardly any smelts. The ice has been thick enough for fishing and smelts have been abundant.

Jim McPherson, owner of Jim’s Camps in Bowdoinham, said the season has been the best for smelt fishing at his camp in at least five years.

The fish came back this year, more than I’ve seen in the last few years,” McPherson said. “A lot of people caught their quota. I think the cycle is coming around and they are on the increase again.”

Smelts are part of many culinary traditions – from the use of their eggs in sushi to the practice among Italian-American families of incorporating them into Christmas Eve dinners. Maine’s rainbow smelts are particularly sought after.

But the nationwide catch has plummeted in recent years. And the stock as a whole in Maine remains far below historical levels, said Michael Brown, a biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources.

Maine bans smelt fishing from March 15 to June 30 along the coast from the New Hampshire border to Owls Head.

Maine also limits how many smelts can be fished along parts of the coast.

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UMaine launches website to help with specialty food products http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/umaine-launches-website-to-help-with-specialty-food-products/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/umaine-launches-website-to-help-with-specialty-food-products/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 15:03:41 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/umaine-launches-website-to-help-with-specialty-food-products/ ORONO – The University of Maine Cooperative Extension is launching a website that it says will be helpful to food manufacturers looking to work in specialty products.

The website has information about Recipe to Market, which is an extension educational program that is designed for food industry professionals and aspirants who want to start specialty food businesses.

It also links to state licensing agencies, testing services and a commercially licensed kitchen that can be rented at UMaine.

Extension professor Louis Bassano created the website along with extension food science specialist and professor Beth Calder and extension economics professor James McConnon.

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PHOTOS: Snow big deal at Old Orchard Beach Winter Carnival http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/photos-snow-big-deal-old-orchard-beach-winter-carnival/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/photos-snow-big-deal-old-orchard-beach-winter-carnival/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 14:46:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1159321 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/photos-snow-big-deal-old-orchard-beach-winter-carnival/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/1159321_878133-20170225_OOB_2.jpgDalton Marin of Salem, N.H., jubilantly speeds over snow at the annual Winter Carnival in Old Orchard Beach on Saturday.Sat, 25 Feb 2017 21:38:54 +0000 Man rescued from Freeport clam flats http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/man-rescued-from-freeport-clam-flats/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/man-rescued-from-freeport-clam-flats/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 14:34:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1159255 A man digging for sea worms was rescued early Saturday from a clam flat as water was rising in Casco Bay near the Harrasseeket Yacht Club in Freeport.

Cameron Blake, 27, was digging for sea worms in the clam flats off Dixon Road about 6 a.m. when the foggy predawn conditions caused him to become disoriented. He became trapped by the chilly waters rising around him, said Deputy Fire Chief Eric Sylvain. Blake is not a Freeport resident but Sylvain did not know what town he was from.

Neighbors heard Blake’s cries for help, dispatched a dinghy and were able to pull him to safety.

Blake was taken by Freeport ambulance to Maine Medical Center for treatment of a mild case of hypothermia, Sylvain said.

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Flare over Portland Harbor triggers second search http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/flare-over-portland-harbor-triggers-second-search/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/flare-over-portland-harbor-triggers-second-search/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 14:16:05 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1159253 A flare spotted in Portland Harbor by a bystander Friday night triggered a search by the U.S. Coast Guard.

The search was called off Saturday morning when a crew aboard a U.S. Coast Guard boat failed to find any problems or signs of someone in distress.

Chief Petty Officer Aaron Clendaniel said the bystander, standing on the Portland side of the harbor, reported spotting the flare near the Coast Guard station in South Portland at about 7:30 p.m.

A flare sighting was also reported Friday night from Rye Beach in New Hampshire.

The search crew in Portland was out for three-and-a-half hours Friday night and returned at first light on Saturday.

The search was called off when the team once again found no signs of a problem, Clendaniel said.

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With sap flowing early, it’s ‘full steam ahead’ for Maine’s maple syrup makers http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/sap-flowing-early-in-southern-maine/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/25/sap-flowing-early-in-southern-maine/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1159123 Working among rain showers in the morning and a warming sun in the afternoon, Michael Bryant spent most of Friday collecting sap from his free-flowing maple trees.

With 1,200 taps, he and his brother Mark, who own Hilltop Boilers in the York County town of Newfield, spend the daylight hours collecting sap and work through the night into early morning boiling it for syrup.

He’s confident that Maine maple producers are in for a good spring.

“The sap is running like it should be,” he said. “I’m very optimistic. It’s looking very nice.”

The story is much the same around Maine, where farmers have been tapping trees just a bit early this year. A mild spring means long workdays in the snow-covered woods for the men and women who collect the sap and turn it into liquid candy. These are critical days and weeks, because the window for making maple syrup closes quickly. Warm days and cool nights create ideal conditions – and a sense of urgency with temperatures touching 60 in some parts of York County on Friday.

Lyle Merrifield of Gorham, president of the Maine Maple Producers Association, said he expects a better-than-average season in yield and quality, if the weather conditions remain favorable statewide.

“Everything is in line for a very good season right now,” he said. “The sap is really taking off in the southern part of the state, and it’s started in central Maine as well. As far as I can assess it right now, the sap flows are good and sugar content is good.”

Bryant has been boiling sap for a few days, which is a little earlier than usual, but only by a few days. “The end of February or the first week of March is fairly common. The average start day is the last day of February over 30 years. So I’d say we’re right on schedule, or just a little ahead. I’m just amazed how much snow we got in two weeks and how fast it melted in the woods,” he said.

The fast-melting snow made his job easier, because he didn’t have to use snowshoes to get to each of his 1,200 taps.

Nate St. Saviour of Sap Hound Maple Co. in Brownfield, vice president of the Southern Maine Maple Sugarmakers Association, said he got off to an unusually early start this season. He started installing 1,400 taps on Jan. 20 and has already made about 100 gallons of the 700 gallons of maple syrup he hopes to produce this year.

“We’re running full steam ahead. Any time you’re doing anything in January, that’s considered early,” he said. “The middle of February is when people get ramped up.”

At an association meeting last week, about half of the members said they already started tapping and making syrup, while the other half planned to begin soon, St. Saviour said. Traditionally, producers didn’t start boiling syrup until March, but in recent years early thaws have created ideal conditions for a sap run in January and February. Last year, producers in southern Maine were tapping in January, the earliest many could remember doing so.

“Years ago, we were all driven by the calendar,” Merrifield said. “Even if we had warm days in January, we wouldn’t think of tapping trees (this early). But that’s all changed now.”

Perfect conditions for a sap run occur when temperatures drop into the 20s at night, then rise into the 40s during the day. St. Saviour said a heavy snow pack in some parts of the state likely will contribute to a long season because it keeps the ground cold and prevents trees from budding early.

“All indications are it’s going to be a good season,” St. Saviour said. “You never know until it’s all said and done.”

Frank Boucher of Giles Family Farm in Alfred said he started tapping trees Tuesday, which is about the time he starts every year. The farm will install about 3,000 taps and would like to produce around 1,000 gallons of syrup. But, he said, that all depends on the weather.

“These 40-degree days are nice. It’s the 60s that mess us up, because it gets too warm too quick,” he said. “It’s all up to Mother Nature.”

Trees store starch in their trunks during the freeze of winter. The starch changes to sugar, which rises in the sap as the winter days warm. After collecting the sap – some farmers use buckets, others collect it in tubes and pipes – processors boil it to evaporate the water. What’s left is the syrup, which is perfect on blueberry pancakes and French toast.

The frantic dance among the trees will continue as long as the sap flows, culminating with Maine Maple Sunday, a statewide celebration of all things maple, when processors opens up their operations to the public. This year’s event is March 26, although many farms create weekend-long events.

Gillian Graham can be contacted at 791-6315 or at:

ggraham@pressherald.com

Twitter: grahamgillian

Bob Keyes can be contacted at 791-6457 or at:

bkeyes@pressherald.com

Twitter: pphbkeyes

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Group asks Waterville area residents to step up for 5 African refugees http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/group-asks-waterville-area-residents-to-step-up-for-5-african-refugees/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/group-asks-waterville-area-residents-to-step-up-for-5-african-refugees/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 04:57:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/group-asks-waterville-area-residents-to-step-up-for-5-african-refugees/

Annick Munezero, a refugee from Burundi, listens to questions from residents during a gathering Thursday at the Waterville Public Library hosted by the Waterville Area New Mainers Project. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

WATERVILLE — On the fourth floor of the Waterville Public Library, five African refugees who just a few months ago came to the United States from Burundi were surrounded by a group of people interested in helping them out – and taking a stand.

The Munezero siblings – three sisters and two brothers ranging in age from 20 to 30 – originally fled the war-torn Democratic Republic of Congo when they were younger and resettled in Burundi. They are now refugees living in Fairfield, in an area of rural Maine where jobs and housing were available. Four of the five siblings work at Backyard Farms in Madison.

The meeting at the library Thursday night – the first of the Waterville Area New Mainers Project – was organized to pool resources and provide help for the Munezero family.

Colby College professor Julie de Sherbinin met the family recently and has been helping them get the things they need, but she wants the community to step up and help as well.

The goal of the first meeting, she said, was for those in the room to begin brainstorming ways they could volunteer to help the African family.

A staggering number of refugees have fled from Burundi, in sub-Saharan Africa, because of political instability, which has resulted in increased violence. According to the Council on Foreign Relations, the conflict in Burundi is worsening, with more than 300,000 people fleeing to other African countries and an estimated 400 people killed since April 2015.

After the library meeting, de Sherbinin said the anti-immigration atmosphere and racist rhetoric across the U.S. has motivated some in the group to “stand up in favor of newcomers.”

“I do believe the political circumstances are driving us to want to take action,” she told the group at the inaugural meeting.

She said that anyone interested in helping the group need not have any political affiliation and “could just be a warm and welcoming community.”

The areas of need, as outlined by the group’s agenda, fall into four categories. The first involves learning English. Each sibling speaks some English, but de Sherbinin said they could benefit from having access to computers and materials that would help them improve their English.

Julie de Sherbinin, right, chats with Annick Munezero during Thursday’s gathering. De Sherbinin is working to help the Munezero siblings, and looking ahead to a time when more immigrant and refugee families come to central Maine. Michael G. Seamans/Morning Sentinel

The second need is transportation. The siblings – whose names are Annick, Salix, Dore, Lyse and Patience – don’t have licenses or a car. They have been relying on Catholic Charities, an organization that helps refugees and immigrants in Maine, for rides to work. But they have other transportation needs, such as getting to the grocery store or to medical appointments, which de Sherbinin said are ongoing. And their rides to and from work aren’t always the most timely.

She said the four siblings who work at Backyard Farms in Madison sometimes have to wait more than an hour before their ride home arrives.

The third need for the Munezero siblings involves social life and athletics. Living in Fairfield, the five are secluded from even the downtown Waterville area. They have their own interests. For instance, Dore likes playing soccer, while Salix likes basketball.

The fourth need involves services. At the end of March, assistance from Catholic Charities will end, but the siblings will still need to get to medical appointments. De Sherbinin was hoping to get businesses involved with one-time donations of services.

While the siblings didn’t say much during their introductions Thursday, they made it clear they were grateful for the idea behind the gathering.

“I’m happy to be here and to meet you,” Patience said to the group.

And the idea isn’t just to meet the needs of a single family just one time. Rather, de Sherbinin is looking toward the future, when more immigrant and refugee families come to central Maine.

“We’re helping them over the bridge,” she said.

The group is still organizing. For now, anyone interested in helping should contact de Sherbinin at jwdesher@colby.edu.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

cellis@centralmaine.com

Twitter: colinoellis

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Flare reports prompt Coast Guard searches in Maine, New Hampshire http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/flare-reports-prompt-coast-guard-searches-in-maine-new-hampshire/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/flare-reports-prompt-coast-guard-searches-in-maine-new-hampshire/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 04:55:18 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/flare-reports-prompt-coast-guard-searches-in-maine-new-hampshire/ The U.S. Coast Guard responded to two separate reports of flares Friday night, but they appear to be false alarms.

One sighting came from Union Wharf in Portland. The other was reported from Rye Beach in New Hampshire.

Paul Conner, the search and rescue controller for the Coast Guard, said one motor life boat responded to each report.

“They’ve just completed their search and didn’t find anything,” Conner said around 10:30 p.m.

A second search will take place in each location Saturday morning.

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Suspicious package delivered to Yarmouth home found to be a hoax http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/suspicious-package-delivered-to-yarmouth-home-found-to-be-a-hoax/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/suspicious-package-delivered-to-yarmouth-home-found-to-be-a-hoax/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 03:21:36 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/suspicious-package-delivered-to-yarmouth-home-found-to-be-a-hoax/ A suspicious package delivered to a Yarmouth home Friday turned out to be a hoax similar to several other incidents in Maine.

Yarmouth fire Chief Michael Robitaille said a resident on Oakwood Drive received the package and contacted police around 7:15 p.m. Friday. The delivery contained a test tube of liquid inside a wooden box. An accompanying note made the resident believe the contents were dangerous.

First responders from the Yarmouth police and fire departments were joined by the hazardous materials team from the Brunswick Fire Department, Cumberland County Emergency Management and an inspector from the U.S. Postal Service.

“What we initially felt was a credible threat is probably more of a hoax,” Robitaille said. “The postal service has received similar mail from a similar address and determined them to be hoaxes.”

He could not disclose the return address due to the ongoing investigation. While similar hoaxes have been identified in Maine, Robitaille said this is the first in Yarmouth. The resident appeared to be randomly targeted, Robitaille said.

The package has been turned over to the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

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

mdoyle@pressherald.com

Twitter: megan_e_doyle

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At candlelight vigil, friends remember man killed by Portland police http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/at-candlelight-vigil-friends-remember-man-killed-by-portland-police/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/at-candlelight-vigil-friends-remember-man-killed-by-portland-police/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 02:41:12 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/at-candlelight-vigil-friends-remember-man-killed-by-portland-police/ A homemade pizza. Money for a celebratory meal. A purple stuffed animal. A kind word.

Chance David Baker didn’t have much, but he gave whatever he could.

Armed with a rifle-style pellet gun, Baker, 22, was shot and killed by a Portland police officer Feb. 18 after a confrontation in the parking lot of Union Station Plaza on St. John Street. On Friday night, at least 70 people – friends, former co-workers and strangers – gathered in Monument Square in Portland for a candlelight vigil in his memory.

Baker’s death has fueled a debate about how soon police body cameras should be introduced in Portland, and the shooting is being investigated by the Maine Attorney General’s Office and by Portland police, as is standard practice.

But on Friday night, one person after another focused on Baker himself – and told stories of his unfailing generosity.

Zach Cunningham remembered his time working with Baker at Nickelodeon Cinemas in Portland. Baker had described in detail his favorite pizza combination – a homemade concoction topped with buffalo chicken, cheese and Fritos.

“I think he could see my enthusiasm as he spoke about this pizza,” Cunningham, 24, said. “One day, I come into work and he hands me this ball of tinfoil.”

It was the pizza. Cunningham ate it right there outside the theater.

“He was so happy that I liked it,” he said. “That’s the kind of guy Chance was.”

Paula Dyar remembered the overnight shifts she worked with Baker at the Hampton Inn on Fore Street. She used to tease him by repeatedly singing the Toys R Us jingle – “I don’t want to grow up, I want to be a Toys R Us kid.” So for her birthday, he bought her a purple toy cat from Toys R Us.

“Just knowing he was going through so much and he stopped just to do that for my birthday, I think that probably will stay with me forever,” said Dyar, 40.

Tasha Horton, another co-worker from the Hampton Inn, remembered Baker’s gratitude as well. She would sometimes bring McDonald’s meals into work for him, and she said she has saved his text message orders for Chicken McNuggets.

“He acted like I was bringing him steak from Fore Street restaurant,” she said.

Jillian – a friend of Baker who declined to give her last name – remembered when he heard that a co-worker at Nickelodeon Cinemas got accepted into college. He gave the co-worker money for a celebratory meal at a favorite nearby restaurant.

“The money that he gave him was a lot more than the cost of the meal, and we all know that Chance didn’t have a lot of material goods or money in his life,” she said. “But he asked that person to put (the extra) money in the tip jar of the restaurant.”

Amanda Nobbe, a former general manager at the movie theater, remembered the day Baker applied for his job. She hired him because his charisma outweighed his lack of customer service experience. At the time, Baker was staying at the teen center on Preble Street.

“He worked so hard every day to make his life better,” said Nobbe, 26. “I watched him secure housing, get a second job and work 40 hours or more every single week. He had so much passion for life, for making his life better, and everyone who knew him was a witness to that. Life didn’t give Chance a lot of opportunities, so he made his own.”

An aunt of Baker reached out to Maine news media after Baker’s death. She said his family had not heard from him for six or seven years, since he left his home in Iowa. His mother shared a letter with his friends, which Cunningham read aloud at the vigil.

“Chance was an amazing person with the biggest heart,” she wrote. “He would take the time to lend an ear, to say, ‘Hi, how are you?’ to complete strangers, or just share a smile from ear to ear. So often in this day and time, we forget just how … something so simple can make a huge difference to someone. Please remember this and continue Chance’s kindness throughout your lives.”

 

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Waterville shelter helps youth navigate life http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/waterville-shelter-helps-youth-navigate-life/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/waterville-shelter-helps-youth-navigate-life/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 02:36:33 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/waterville-shelter-helps-youth-navigate-life/ WATERVILLE — For 20-year-old Nicholas Turano, the possibility of moving upstairs is a really big deal.

That’s because the room he would have upstairs is one of the newly constructed units in the new Youth Empowerment Supports program at the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter.

Unveiled on Friday, the 12 affordable housing units at the 19 Colby St. location are designed for homeless youth ages 18 to 24. In addition to housing, the new program provides a number of other services to the young people who will live there, such as career development, financial independence training, pre-vocational skill building, education navigation and others.

The units, which are single occupancy, consist of two one-bedroom units, four efficiency apartments, and a suite with six single bedrooms and a shared kitchen and common area. The units all have new appliances and furniture and cost a total of $1.7 million covered by grants and fundraising.

The cost for the tenants of these new units is 30 percent of their income, shelter officials said.

“Here is amazing,” Turano said, standing Friday in the shared kitchen of the apartment he’s hoping to move into.

Brian Watson, who is on the shelter’s board of directors, said this type of housing is critical, since there aren’t many landlords who want to lease to a person in that age bracket. Applicants must meet requirements set by the Maine Housing Authority, he said, and there is no time limit for staying in the apartments other than an individual aging out.

He said the hope is to start filling the apartments in the coming weeks. Plans for the expansion began three years ago, and it wasn’t until this past October that construction began.

“This was just empty space,” he said Friday afternoon during an open house for the expansion.

The main part of the shelter accommodates about 50 adult beds and an assortment of cribs and toddler beds.

David Sovetsky, program director, said that as part of the youth program, people living there receive navigation services. That means just living there is training them to manage rent payments, sign a lease, work with landlords and coexist with roommates and neighbors. He said while the target is those between 18 and 24, there will likely be some people a few years older living there.

Sovetsky said individuals have to meet United States Department of Housing and Urban Development definitions for homelessness as well as have some level of disability. He said one problem with the HUD definition for homelessness is that if a person is staying with someone else in any capacity, they are not technically homeless.

Sovetsky said a lot of people stay on someone else’s couch or find places to stay temporarily, so the definition needs to change. “That’s a concern,” he said.

Turano helped Sovetsky and others prepare for the grand opening by cleaning up and helping set up furniture. He pointed out that in the six-room unit, each bedroom has the basics, such as a bed and a dresser, and also accessible bathrooms for the disabled. They also are equipped with a small refrigerator and microwave.

Originally from Lewiston, Turano said he became homeless about two weeks ago. After bouncing around some, he settled on the Mid-Maine Homeless Shelter because of the youth options they were building.

Turano said he’s waiting for his application to be approved by the Maine State Housing Authority. While 12 beds might not sound like a lot, he sees it as a huge benefit for homeless youth.

“That’s a lot for youth who need a second shot at life,” he said.

Colin Ellis can be contacted at 861-9253 or at:

cellis@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @colinoellis

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Maine’s $2 million drug treatment plan for uninsured would help, but more is needed, experts say http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/maines-2-million-plan-for-drug-treatment-helpful-but-less-than-whats-needed-experts-say/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/maines-2-million-plan-for-drug-treatment-helpful-but-less-than-whats-needed-experts-say/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:31:54 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/maines-2-million-plan-for-drug-treatment-helpful-but-less-than-whats-needed-experts-say/ A proposal to provide an additional $2 million for medication-assisted addiction treatment for the uninsured is helpful but wouldn’t come close to meeting demand for such programs in Maine, specialists said Friday.

“It’s a nice start, but we shouldn’t be congratulating ourselves,” said Dr. Mark Publicker, a leading addiction expert in Maine. “In proportion to the severity of the problem, it’s lacking by a magnitude of an order of at least 10 times what’s needed.”

The $2 million in state money was announced Thursday by the Department of Health and Human Services as part of a $4.8 million initiative – funded by federal and state dollars – to address the opioid crisis. The other $2.8 million would help ensure access to treatment for those covered by Medicaid.

Steve Cotreau, program manager for Portland Community Recovery Center, a support group for recovering addicts, said he’s happy to see more attention and resources to combat the opioid crisis, but the proposal rolled out Thursday is “not going to move the needle.”

Maine reported a record 378 drug overdose deaths in 2016, up from 272 in 2015. Heroin, fentanyl and prescription opioids accounted for 313 of the 378 deaths last year, according to statistics from the Maine Attorney General’s Office.

The $2 million will help about 250 to 300 additional people without insurance get medication-assisted treatment. Most would be prescribed Suboxone.

While the number of uninsured Mainers addicted to opioids isn’t known, about 25,000 to 30,000 Mainers say they are seeking drug treatment but don’t have access to it, according to a survey by the U.S. Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration. How many truly lack access and how many have an opioid addiction versus other drug problems is unknown.

The $2 million for medication-assisted treatment for the uninsured would build on $2.4 million DHHS set aside in December for that use.

“It will only help the tip of the iceberg, but any help is welcome and should be encouraged,” said Dr. Mary Dowd, who treats those with opioid addictions at the Milestone Foundation’s detox center in Portland and through Catholic Charities. “We have so many patients who don’t have insurance.”

Several organizations that offer medication-assisted treatment, which helps curb drug cravings, have said at least 40 percent of people who seek treatment are uninsured, often because they’ve lost jobs and emptied bank accounts because of their addiction.

Because Suboxone combined with counseling – considered the gold standard to treat opioid disorders – can cost $6,000 to more than $10,000 per year, most who lack insurance can’t afford treatment.

A bill submitted by Rep. Karen Vachon, R-Scarborough, and backed by MaineHealth would spend $6.7 million on the uninsured, more than three times the amount announced by the DHHS on Thursday. About 1,000 additional uninsured patients would have access to medication-assisted treatment under Vachon’s bill.

Katie Fullam Harris, senior vice president of government relations for MaineHealth, the parent company of Maine Medical Center, said MaineHealth concluded 1,000 patients was a realistic number. It would have an impact on the problem, but wouldn’t provide funding for more people than existing Suboxone treatment capacity could handle.

The federal government caps the number of Suboxone prescriptions that each doctor can write at 275, to discourage “pill mills,” but recent efforts should increase the number of medical professionals trained to prescribe Suboxone.

Doctors’ groups in Maine are trying to persuade more physicians to be trained to become Suboxone providers. Also, starting this year, nurse practitioners and physician assistants will be able to prescribe Suboxone.

Fullam Harris said MaineHealth is “very encouraged” by DHHS’ plan but will keep pushing for more financial help for the uninsured.

“This is an important first step,” she said. “Will it address the full scope of the epidemic? No.”

Medicaid expansion is expected to be on the Maine ballot this fall. That would increase access to medication-assisted treatment for thousands of additional Mainers who might be added to Medicaid rolls.

At the same time, congressional Republicans are threatening to repeal the Affordable Care Act, which provides funding for Medicaid expansion.

Under the ACA, health plans must include substance abuse treatment coverage. If the ACA is repealed, it’s unclear whether a Republican-written replacement would mandate such coverage.

Dr. Elisabeth Fowlie Mock, a Suboxone prescriber from Holden, said recent moves by the DHHS are a “good start.”

“Anything we can do to increase affordability and access is good,” Mock said. “This is something to build on.”

Joe Lawlor can be contacted at 791-6376 or at:

jlawlor@pressherald.com

Twitter: joelawlorph

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Here is what’s replacing Joe’s Boathouse in South Portland http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/here-is-whats-replacing-joes-boathouse-in-south-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/here-is-whats-replacing-joes-boathouse-in-south-portland/#respond Sat, 25 Feb 2017 00:19:59 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/here-is-whats-replacing-joes-boathouse-in-south-portland/ The new restaurant going into Spring Point Marina in South Portland, former home of Joe’s Boathouse, will be called 43North and will open in late May or early June, according to one of the partners developing the business.

Laura Argitis, owner of the Old Port Sea Grill, said the dockside, two-level 43North is named after the location’s latitude. The chef will be Stephanie Brown, who is now executive chef at the Woodlands Club in Falmouth. Brown previously owned Sea Grass Bistro, a small restaurant in Yarmouth that is now closed.

Argitis said Brown’s menu will change often and focus on American cuisine with French and Italian influences. Seafood will be a fixture on the menu.

Argitis is partnering with the owner of Port Harbor Marine, which operates Spring Point Marina, to develop the new restaurant, next to the Breakwater condominiums.

Joe’s Boathouse closed in late 2015 after 23 years in business, and the 35-year-old, one story building that housed it has been torn down.

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Flood watch in effect for Kennebec River, other parts of Maine, through Sunday http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/flood-watch-in-effect-tonight-for-kennebec-river-other-parts-of-maine-through-sunday/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/flood-watch-in-effect-tonight-for-kennebec-river-other-parts-of-maine-through-sunday/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 20:36:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/flood-watch-in-effect-tonight-for-kennebec-river-other-parts-of-maine-through-sunday/ A recent stretch of mild weather has local officials keeping a close eye on the Kennebec River, which is currently covered by flat sheets of ice that could break up after the above-freezing days.

With warm temperatures expected to continue through the weekend and rain showers forecast for late Saturday, the National Weather Service has issued a flood watch for much of Maine from 7 p.m. Friday through Sunday evening.

The combination of warm temperatures and rain could lead ice on the Kennebec River and other waterways to break up and flow downstream, potentially damming up the river, according to Sean Goodwin, director of the Kennebec County Emergency Management Agency.

“Any time you have a lot of broken ice, ice jams are our biggest concern,” Goodwin said. “For the towns of Hallowell, Gardiner, Augusta, Pittston and Randolph, the level of the river can come up 4, 5, 6 feet easily because of the ice jam. Those things concern us.”

The National Weather Service issued the flood watch for Kennebec, Somerset, Androscoggin, Franklin, Oxford and more northern counties of Maine. It also extended the watch to parts of New Hampshire, where the flood risk is greater because of warmer temperatures.

Last month, the ice on the Kennebec River was up to a foot thick in places, but the recent warm temperatures “could have changed that very significantly,” said Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist at the National Weather Service’s station in Gray. A current measure of the ice’s depth was not available.

A flood watch is in effect for the area through the weekend, including the Kennebec River in Hallowell, shown here on Friday. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

A half-inch of rain is forecast to fall in the Augusta area over the weekend while three-quarters of an inch could fall farther north, Curtis said. With that rain draining into rivers and raising their water levels, Curtis warned that upward pressure could be placed on the river ice, breaking it apart.

“Our main concern here would be the potential for ice jams,” Curtis said. “All those chunks of ice can get hung up in a curve of the river or at a bridge or maybe in a shallower section… People should be very cautious around waterways, as the ice will be getting thinner.”

Goodwin recalled a flood that formed in downtown Augusta several years ago after ice broke up on the Kennebec River and water levels rose above the banks in about eight minutes. On that occasion, Goodwin said, members of the Augusta Fire Department had to pull a man off the river ice to prevent him from being swept downstream.

An ice jam also caused flooding in the Front Street parking lot of downtown Augusta a year ago.

During the current flood watch, Goodwin said, he has asked emergency responders in area towns and cities to keep an eye on the weather and the state of the river.

This photo taken on Friday shows the Kennebec River in Hallowell, which sometimes floods following snow melt and rain. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

To help lower the risk of flooding from ice jams, the U.S. Coast Guard sends ice breaker ships up several Maine rivers. On the Kennebec River, they go upriver as far as Gardiner, but the U.S. Coast Guard is not currently planning to begin those missions until the middle of March, according to Goodwin, who spoke with its members on Friday morning.

An official from the U.S. Coast Guard could not be reached for comment Friday afternoon.

Temperatures in central Maine will dip slightly on Sunday night to around 25 degrees, but they will continue to rise into the 30s and 40s during the day next week, Goodwin said. He hopes those weather patterns will continue, he said, because that would allow the large piles of snow that have accumulated around Maine after recent storms to melt a little each day before refreezing each night.

In terms of flood prevention, the large banks of relatively fresh snow do carry one advantage, Goodwin said: They are capable of absorbing rainfall, preventing it from flowing into local streams and rivers.

Goodwin also mentioned several other inconveniences that can accompany the recent spell of warmer weather. Because many storm drains are covered in ice, lots of snow melt can puddle on the roads, making travel more difficult and causing potholes to become larger.

As snow melts, it can also lead to the creation of ice dams on top of buildings, which can then slide, fall and potentially damage the roof. That recently happened at the Lithgow Public Library, when a large chunk of snow that had frozen solid after the warm weather slid off the roof, ripping out pre-cast concrete pieces and other parts.

Goodwin recommended homeowners either use a rake to remove ice dams from their roofs or hire professionals to safely do the work.

Charles Eichacker — 621-5642

ceichacker@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @ceichacker

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Mother of Acton murder suspect says her daughter endured years of abuse http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/mother-of-acton-murder-suspect-says-her-daughter-endured-years-of-abuse/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/mother-of-acton-murder-suspect-says-her-daughter-endured-years-of-abuse/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 19:26:37 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/mother-of-acton-murder-suspect-says-her-daughter-endured-years-of-abuse/ ALFRED — The mother of the Acton woman accused of killing her ex-husband in front of their children Wednesday said her daughter was pushed over the edge by years of domestic abuse that went ignored by local police.

Linda Griffin of Acton said her daughter, Kandee Weyland, 46, was abused for years by Scott Weyland, 42, but that her daughter’s attempts to seek help were ignored because Scott Weyland’s mother is a retired Sanford police detective. Family members also alleged that the divorce proceedings were tilted in Scott Weyland’s favor because his mother knew the judge.

Griffin, during an emotional statement to reporters outside York County Superior Court in Alfred, where Kandee Weyland made her first court appearance Friday afternoon, said her daughter only sought to confront Scott Weyland at his mother’s house, where he was staying.

“My daughter is not a killer,” Griffin said tearfully. “She told me, ‘I need to go confront him to ask how can you do this to me, take everything from me?’ ”

Scott Weyland, in an August 2016 photo posted on Facebook. Photo courtesy the Weyland family

Griffin said she and one of Kandee’s adult sons tried to talk her out of the confrontation and to leave her children with someone else so she could rest.

“I said,’You go home and sleep,’ ” Griffin said. ” ‘That’s what you should do. If not, go to your counselor, your psychiatrist at CSI, tell them how you’re feeling, and that you need to be put in a hospital.’ And she wouldn’t do that. She didn’t do that.”

Police allege that Kandee Weyland killed Scott Weyland on Wednesday afternoon outside her ex-mother-in-law’s home after learning that a District Court judge in Sanford had awarded primary custody of the couple’s two children to Scott in their divorce. Gay Weyland, Scott Weyland’s mother, said police told her that her son was stabbed to death.

Their 11-year-old son called 911, Gay Weyland said.

An autopsy of Scott Weyland’s remains was scheduled for Thursday, but the state medical examiner’s office did not respond Friday to a request for the official cause and manner of death.

Both children, ages 11 and 7, had lived with their mother since April after the couple’s acrimonious separation, and were with her Wednesday before the killing. A Sanford judge finalized their divorce last Friday. The judgment was mailed to Kandee Weyland, triggering the fatal confrontation Wednesday, relatives on both sides of the family said.

During Kandee Weyland’s first court appearance on the murder charge Friday, Superior Court Justice Wayne Douglas ordered her held without bail pending an indictment.

Weyland arrived in court dressed in a patterned blouse, dark pants and orange Crocs, and appeared forlorn during the brief proceeding. Her attorney, Molly Butler Bailey, waived a reading of the charges and said her client was likely to apply for a court-appointed attorney.

Douglas withheld bail on the homicide charge and set cash bail at $10,000 on a separate count of violating a protection order.

Griffin said that after she tried to talk her daughter out of confronting Scott, Kandee Weyland’s 11-year-old son called Griffin to tell her that his mother planned to go for a drive. But when Griffin heard emergency sirens, she suspected they were related to her daughter.

Kandee Weyland is led into the courtroom Friday for her first appearance before a judge in the killing of her ex-husband. Staff photo by Brianna Soukup

Scott and Kandee Weyland had competing protection from abuse orders against each other since April 2016 that forbade contact with the other.

The couple split that month after an argument that Kandee Weyland said turned physical. She alleged that Scott Weyland had pressed his finger into her throat, causing her to choke, and that he had hit her four times in the previous year and had attended a batterer’s intervention program in Sanford, according to court records.

She sought and was granted a two-year protection from abuse order on April 21.

Scott Weyland was granted his own protection from abuse order against his wife in May. Gay Weyland, Scott’s mother, was also granted a protection from harassment order against her daughter-in-law.

Gay Weyland said Kandee Weyland was issued three summonses for violating the two orders against her. One was dismissed, a second was awaiting an initial court date and a third violation was pending in Superior Court.

In an interview Thursday, Gay Weyland said her daughter-in-law had become emotionally manipulative and unreliable, making baseless accusations and using the children as pawns in the divorce proceeding. On Friday, Gay Weyland, 63, dismissed any notion that her son was abusive to Kandee Weyland or to their children, and said Kandee had been using allegations of domestic violence for years to gain sympathy and control.

“That’s not an excuse to murder someone, even if it did happen,” Gay Weyland said. “But it did not happen. I know my son. He would never lay his hands on a woman. She pushed him to the brink.”

Gay Weyland said that after the April argument, police offered Kandee Weyland opportunities to file a police report but she declined. Gay Weyland said that she knew the judge who presided over the couple’s divorce process in a professional capacity during her previous job as a law enforcement officer, and their past professional relationship was disclosed in court.

During the divorce proceedings, Gay Weyland said Kandee, who represented herself, did not produce any evidence of the multiple accusations she had made against Scott Weyland regarding abuse or neglect.

Matt Byrne can be contacted at 791-6303 or at:

mbyrne@pressherald.com

Twitter: MattByrnePPH

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Maine police seek clarity on White House spokesman’s pot comments http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/police-await-clarity-over-spicers-pot-comments/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/police-await-clarity-over-spicers-pot-comments/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:53:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/police-await-clarity-over-spicers-pot-comments/ Maine police are waiting for clarification of a signal from the Trump administration that it may crack down on states that have legalized recreational use of marijuana.

In a news briefing Thursday, White House press secretary Sean Spicer said he expects states to be subject to “greater enforcement” of federal laws against marijuana use. President Trump sees “a big difference” between the use of marijuana for medical purposes and for recreational purposes, Spicer said. He said that states’ legalization of marijuana for recreational purposes “is something the Department of Justice, I think, will be further looking into.”

As of Friday night, the Justice Department had declined to comment on Spicer’s remarks.

In November, Maine voters narrowly approved legalizing recreational marijuana. Adults 21 and older can now legally possess and cultivate marijuana for personal use, and state and local authorities are developing regulations for retail sales. It’s not clear what effect a federal policy change would have in Maine.

Robert Schwartz, executive director of the Maine Chiefs of Police Association, said the organization will not comment until a change of policy is announced. The chief’s association fiercely opposed legalizing recreational marijuana in Maine, because of concerns that it could expose children to the drug and increase the numbers of impaired drivers in the state.

In the wake of the vote, the association said it would work with lawmakers to make the recreational marijuana law better, and urged the Legislature to establish a blood-level limit to determine a driver’s impairment.

Gov. Paul LePage also opposed the measure and refused to sign a bill to close a legal loophole that allowed possession for minors because lawmakers failed to provide enough funds for rulemaking and disagreed with which state agency should provide oversight. LePage reversed course and signed the bill, and later issued an executive order shifting rulemaking and regulation for the program to the Maine Bureau of Alcoholic Beverages and Lottery Operations.

LePage was attending the Conservative Political Action Conference in Maryland on Friday. His office did not return requests for comment Thursday or Friday.

Maine is among a growing number of states that have legalized recreational marijuana in the past five years, along with Alaska, California, Colorado, Massachusetts, Nevada, Oregon, Washington and the District of Columbia.

But under federal law, marijuana is a Schedule I controlled substance and is considered to have no accepted medical use. Other Schedule I drugs include LSD and heroin. Under President Obama’s administration, the Department of Justice took a hands-off approach to enforcing federal law in states where voters approved legal recreational marijuana.

Reaction to Spicer’s comments was swift Thursday night.

“In Maine, we are working very hard to accommodate the desires of the voters to allow the recreational use of marijuana and the need to regulate its cultivation and distribution in a manner consistent with the health and safety of the public,” Attorney General Janet Mills said in a written statement. “Marijuana has not been the top priority of law enforcement in Maine since we decriminalized the possession of small amounts 40 years ago. It would be an unwise use of federal resources, in my view, to focus on marijuana prosecutions in a state like Maine.”

David Boyer, Maine political director for the Marijuana Policy Project, a pro-legalization group, said the president should leave marijuana laws like Maine’s alone.

“Maine voters have already made their decision on the issue of regulating and taxing marijuana, and we hope this administration will continue to allow states to determine their own policies,” Boyer said in a written statement.

Opponents of legalization applauded Spicer’s comments.

“We welcome strong federal leadership on marijuana that is focused on policies that will protect communities and youth from the harms posed by the increasing commercialization and normalization of the drug,” said Scott M. Gagnon, chairman of Smart Approaches to Marijuana, in a written statement.

“The marijuana industry is already using the Big Tobacco playbook using multimillion-dollar political campaigns to mislead the public with fake data and fake science. We saw that right here in Maine with the Yes On 1 campaign,” Gagnon said.

The Washington Post contributed to this report.

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

mcguire@pressherald.com

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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Barge service from Portland is on transit wish list sent to Trump http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/barge-service-from-portland-is-on-transit-wish-list-sent-to-trump/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/barge-service-from-portland-is-on-transit-wish-list-sent-to-trump/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:50:44 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/barge-service-from-portland-is-on-transit-wish-list-sent-to-trump/ AUGUSTA – A trio of Maine transportation projects is on a wish list that governors have sent to President Trump.

The Sun Journal reported that Maine is seeking $460 million worth of projects to improve bridges and rail lines and barge service between Portland and mid-Atlantic ports.

Throughout his campaign, Trump promised to buttress the nation’s infrastructure with a $1 trillion plan fueled by incentives such as tax credits.

Congressional Democrats have offered their own $1 trillion package, while Republicans have been wary about the price tag.

The American Society of Civil Engineers estimates the nation needs more than triple that amount in investments by 2020.

Independent U.S. Sen. Angus King of Maine has urged Trump to fund rural internet access.

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Troy mother, free on bail, pleads not guilty to manslaughter in infant son’s death http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/troy-mother-free-on-bail-pleads-not-guilty-to-manslaughter-in-infant-sons-death/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/troy-mother-free-on-bail-pleads-not-guilty-to-manslaughter-in-infant-sons-death/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:42:39 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/troy-mother-free-on-bail-pleads-not-guilty-to-manslaughter-in-infant-sons-death/ BELFAST — The Troy woman charged with manslaughter in connection with the death of her infant son pleaded not guilty to the charge Friday afternoon in court.

Miranda Hopkins, 32, has been free on bail after a Waldo County grand jury indicted her on the manslaughter charge, a lesser count than the original charge of murder filed by authorities. Manslaughter is a Class A felony that’s punishable by a period of time in prison not to exceed 30 years, whereas a conviction on a murder charge would have brought a sentence of 25 years to life in prison.

Hopkins was dressed Friday in dark clothing and a beige sweater, no longer in a jail outfit since she was released from Two Bridges Regional Jail in Wiscasset.

Hopkins entered the courtroom about 1 p.m. with her lawyers, Christopher MacLean and Laura Shaw McDonald, with Justice Robert Murray presiding.

Following Hopkins’ not guilty plea, Murray ordered a psychological evaluation of the woman.

After the court hearing, McDonald said, “Miranda has never been diagnosed with any mental illness before.”

Assistant Attorney General Leane Zainea, who is prosecuting the case, originally filed a motion for both a forensic psychological evaluation and a competency evaluation, but with rebuttal in the courtroom by MacLean, the lead defense attorney, the competency request was withdrawn.

Forensic psychology involves the study of human behavior as it applies to the law, and in this case, the violent death of an infant.

Zainea said the primary reason she was asking for a forensic psychological examination was to preserve evidence of Hopkins’ state of mind as close as possible to the date the infant died, in case Hopkins’ defense team raised issues of criminal responsibility or abnormal condition of the mind at trial.

“It’s always very helpful to know what the defendant’s state of mind was at the time of the alleged criminal conduct,” Zainea told the justice.

MacLean objected, noting additional “interrogation” would serve no purpose, adding it would be best to wait until a dispositional hearing in April “as a better compromise.”

Murray split the difference, ordering a psychological evaluation to be done on Hopkins by an examiner from the State Forensics Service.

“The evaluation will be impounded from the state until, or unless, she (Hopkins) raises some sort of issue on the issues of abnormal conditions of the mind or criminal responsibility, and we don’t expect that that will happen at this time,” McDonald told reporters outside the courthouse.

A dispositional conference with both sides and the justice has been set for 8:30 a.m. April 24 at the Waldo County courthouse in Belfast.

Hopkins did not speak to reporters following the arraignment. Two friends of the family who attended the hearing declined to comment outside the courthouse.

McDonald said they were happy with the outcome of Friday’s arraignment in superior court.

“Miranda has plead not guilty to a charge of manslaughter, and she’s feeling very confident about going forward and having her day in court,” McDonald said. “Miranda is doing exceptionally well. We’ve been very impressed with her throughout this entire proceeding.”

Hopkins was originally charged with knowing or depraved indifference murder related to the death Jan. 12 of 7-week-old Jaxson Hopkins.

Following her indictment on the manslaughter charge, Hopkins was released earlier this month on $50,000 worth of property and was ordered not to use or possess alcohol or illegal drugs and is subject to random searches and testing. She will be allowed to see her two other sons. McDonald would not say if Hopkins has seen or visited with her two sons.

Hopkins contends in court documents that one or both of her boys, both of whom are autistic, might have caused the death of their infant brother, possible by crushing the child while rolling over in bed.

But police and prosecutors have pointed to Hopkins’ own admission that she had been drinking whiskey and took a dose of the antihistamine drug Benadryl, according to a police affidavit filed with the court. Hopkins told police she must have “blacked out” and was “so drunk that she did not remember,” according to the document.

The baby’s cause of death was listed as blunt force head injuries that included cuts and bruises on the head and skull, rib fractures, and bleeding on the surface of the brain.

Hopkins allegedly told authorities she had awakened to find her baby cold, white and “beat to hell.” The infant was pronounced dead at the scene.

Doug Harlow — 612-2367

dharlow@centralmaine.com

Twitter:@Doug_Harlow

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/troy-mother-free-on-bail-pleads-not-guilty-to-manslaughter-in-infant-sons-death/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/698721_189372_troy_2.jpgThe home of Miranda Hopkins at North Dixmont Road in Troy is seen in January following her arrest in connection with the death of her infant son, Jaxson Hopkins.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:48:50 +0000
Maine House speaker won’t convene ethics probe of tax chairman http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/maine-house-speaker-wont-convene-ethics-probe-of-tax-chairman/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/maine-house-speaker-wont-convene-ethics-probe-of-tax-chairman/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 18:24:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/maine-house-speaker-wont-convene-ethics-probe-of-tax-chairman/ Maine’s Democratic House speaker says she won’t convene a committee to investigate whether the House chairman of the taxation committee violated ethics rules for working for a ballot referendum campaign.

Republican Rep. Heather Sirocki asked House Speaker Sara Gideon to convene the House ethics committee to consider whether Democratic Rep. Ryan Tipping of Orono has a conflict of interest for accepting at least $9,000 from a group that successfully pushed for a new income surtax to fund public schools.

Gideon told Sirocki in a letter Friday she’s confident Tipping will continue to serve as a fair committee chairman. Sirocki, of Scarborough, works in the dental field and Gideon said Sirocki had introduced related bills.

Sirocki didn’t immediately comment Friday.

A state ethics commission cleared Tipping’s employment. Republicans wanted legislators to review his conduct.

Republican Gov. Paul LePage called on Tipping to resign.

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Biddeford man lured Ohio woman to Maine, then stole from her, police say http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/online-posts-lured-ohio-woman-to-maine-where-man-robbed-her-police-say/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/online-posts-lured-ohio-woman-to-maine-where-man-robbed-her-police-say/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 17:59:04 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/online-posts-lured-ohio-woman-to-maine-where-man-robbed-her-police-say/ A Biddeford man lured a woman from Ohio to Maine with her three children, then stole her credit card and abandoned her, police say.

James A. Stone, 45, of 63 Bradbury St., was arrested Wednesday on several outstanding warrants, police said in a news release.

James A. Stone

Biddeford police received a 911 call around 11 a.m. Wednesday from a 23-year-old woman who told them she had dropped off her boyfriend at a bank on Main Street that morning and had not seen him since.

The woman said she had her three children in her vehicle, but was worried about running out of gas while waiting for the man, whom she had not seen since 9 a.m.

Based on her description, police arrested Stone, whose outstanding warrants included receiving stolen property in Gretna, Louisiana; fraud in Erie, Pennsylvania; felony theft by deception in Biddeford; and a parole violation in Topeka, Kansas. Because of the out-of-state warrants, he was charged with being a fugitive from justice. , Biddeford police also charged him with two felony theft counts.

Police say this is the second time Stone has used social media and online dating sites to establish relationships with women, lure them to Maine and take cash and credit cards from them.

He is being held at the York County Jail in Alfred, where he is also awaiting extradition to Kansas.

He has prior convictions for theft, receiving stolen property, forgery and fraud in Kansas, Pennsylvania, Louisiana, South Dakota, Washington and Ohio.

Biddeford police contacted the woman’s family in Ohio to help her and her children return there.

CORRECTION: This story was updated at 10:52 a.m. on Feb. 25, 2017 to correct the woman’s age.

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Opioid addiction treatment, tuition freeze endorsed by lawmakers http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/lawmakers-endorse-4-8-million-for-opiate-treatment-and-35-million-for-rainy-day-fund/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/lawmakers-endorse-4-8-million-for-opiate-treatment-and-35-million-for-rainy-day-fund/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 17:01:22 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/lawmakers-endorse-4-8-million-for-opiate-treatment-and-35-million-for-rainy-day-fund/ AUGUSTA — A legislative committee voted unanimously Friday to endorse a midyear budget that allocates $3 million to a new opiate addiction treatment program while socking away an additional $35 million in the state’s “rainy day” fund.

The supplemental budget also includes $5 million to maintain a tuition freeze at the University of Maine System for in-state students, a $7 million bailout for the Maine Military Authority in Aroostook County and $4.8 million to rehabilitate state fish hatcheries. The budget bill, which will likely receive a vote in the full Legislature next week, provides funding during the budget year that ends June 30.

Lawmakers are working to complete work on the $64 million supplemental budget before beginning a full dissection of Gov. Paul LePage’s proposed $6.8 billion, two-year budget.

On Friday, they approved $3 million in state funds for a new program to address the state’s growing opioid addiction problem through a multifaceted approach that combines primary medical care, counseling and medication-assisted treatment. When combined with $1.8 million in federal matching funds, the additional $4.8 million will enable the state to serve an estimated 400 uninsured and MaineCare participants struggling with addiction to heroin or prescription opiates.

A record 378 Maine residents died of drug overdoses in 2016; more than 80 percent of those deaths involved heroin, fentanyl or prescription opiates.

“It’s the start of, shall we say, a pilot program,” said Sen. James Hamper, R-Oxford, co-chairman of the Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee. “We’ll see if this model works, but it’s a good way to start.”

Democratic lawmakers negotiated with LePage and representatives of the Maine Department of Health and Human Services to insert the additional opioid treatment funding into the budget.

“We are in the midst of a crisis when we are losing more than one Mainer a day to this disease. It was critical that we start to provide the resources necessary to address this epidemic,” House Speaker Sara Gideon, D-Freeport, said in a statement. “However, we know that the road to recovery is long and are committed to doing everything in our power to make sure that every Mainer has access to treatment.”

Committee members left unchanged LePage’s proposal to earmark an additional $35 million to Maine’s Budget Stabilization Fund. That raises the total in Maine’s “rainy day” fund – intended to help soften the blow of economic downturns – to $157 million.

Other expenditures in the proposed supplemental budget include:

• $2 million to expand an early college program at the University of Maine System.

 $150,000 to the chief medical examiner to improve toxicology screenings for opiates during autopsies.

 $155,000 to the Maine Secretary of State’s Office to place a general obligation bond measure on the June 2017 ballot.

 $4.8 million to construct water supply pipelines and update water treatment equipment at the Casco and Grand Lake Stream fish hatcheries.

 $525,000 to the Maine Emergency Management Agency to help cover disaster-related costs associated with a January 2015 blizzard.

 $7 million to the Maine Military Authority.

The LePage administration had originally sought $10 million for the Maine Military Authority; however, the need was later adjusted to $7 million, thereby allowing budget negotiators to fund the opiate treatment program.

The $7 million bailout of the Maine Military Authority – located on the former Loring Air Force Base in Aroostook County – is aimed at helping the quasi-governmental business complete work on a Boston transit bus project and better position it for the future. The authority severely underbid on a contract to refurbish 32 aging transit buses for the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority in Boston, prompting LePage to halt work on the project as administration and Maine Military Authority representatives tried to renegotiate the $19 million contract

Created by the Legislature in 2000, the Maine Military Authority once employed more than 500 people working to refurbish thousands of Humvees and other military vehicles. But work at the Limestone facility fell off when the U.S. drew down its large-scale combat presence in Iraq and Afghanistan. The MBTA bus contract was aimed at helping the authority make the leap to more commercial work, but the two-section, articulated buses proved more complicated and costly to refurbish than anticipated.

The Maine Military Authority owes an estimated $2.2 million to vendors and has a “cash deficit” of $3.4 million, according to figures provided to lawmakers this year. Brig. Gen. Douglas Farnham, head of the Maine National Guard and commissioner of the Maine Department of Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management, testified that taxpayers have never been asked to subsidize the Maine Military Authority before in its nearly 20-year history.

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

kmiller@mainetoday.com

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

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Turner woman dies in 2-vehicle crash in Auburn http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/turner-woman-dies-in-2-vehicle-crash-in-auburn/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/turner-woman-dies-in-2-vehicle-crash-in-auburn/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 16:41:33 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/turner-woman-dies-in-2-vehicle-crash-in-auburn/ AUBURN — A woman died following a two-vehicle crash early Friday near a Maine Turnpike exit in Auburn, police said.

They said a pickup truck collided with a sedan driven by Crystal Hewitt, 48, of Turner. She was taken to Central Maine Medical Center in Lewiston, where she died. A passenger in her vehicle was treated and released from a hospital.

The accident happened on northbound Washington Street at the intersection with Exit 75.

The driver of the pickup, James Bannister, 57, also of Turner, was treated at the scene for non-life-threatening injuries.

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LePage asks Attorney General Sessions to step up drug prosecution http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/gov-lepage-asks-attorney-general-sessions-to-step-up-drug-prosecution/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/gov-lepage-asks-attorney-general-sessions-to-step-up-drug-prosecution/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 16:38:24 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/gov-lepage-asks-attorney-general-sessions-to-step-up-drug-prosecution/ Gov. Paul LePage has asked U.S. Attorney General Jeff Sessions to ramp up prosecution of drug crimes.

LePage told the former U.S. senator that slow federal prosecution is straining Maine’s resources, according to a copy of the letter dated Jan. 26 obtained by the Associated Press.

LePage says the state is forced to prosecute and imprison offenders who break “the most serious” federal laws.

The governor said Maine is being overrun by drug gangs from other Northeastern states, and they’re “decimating” residents in his state. LePage successfully pushed for more state drug enforcement agents and has repeatedly spoken out against heroin traffickers coming into the state.

“Members of these gangs are selling cheap, but very powerful heroin that is killing one Mainer a day,” LePage said.

Sessions has said he’s committed to aggressive enforcement of federal drug laws.

“However, I have been told the U.S. Attorney’s Office has not been active in prosecuting drug crimes despite the fact that these drug dealers cross several state lines on their way to Maine,” LePage said. “I am also told that the U.S. Attorney’s Office is very slow in prosecuting the cases they do decide to take up.”

He called on Sessions to push federal prosecutors “to be more aggressive in prosecuting these criminals.”

The U.S. Attorney’s Office for the District of Maine prosecuted 58 drug cases in 2016, compared with 87 in 2015 and 53 in 2011. Of the 2016 cases, 42 cases involved heroin and OxyContin, up from 20 in 2011.

Spokesman Donald Clark said the office works with the Maine Attorney General’s Office and county prosecutors to determine whether drug cases are appropriate for prosecution in federal or state court.

He said the U.S. Attorney’s Office “is, and has been, firmly committed to working with our state and local partners to combat the opioid problem in Maine on all fronts.”

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills, a Democrat, said the state has “excellent cooperation” with the U.S. Attorney’s Office, which she said has “obtained substantial sentences against major drug traffickers.”

She supplied data showing the state prosecuted 332 heroin cases last year, up from 61 in 2011. Heroin represented 37 percent of drug cases prosecuted last year, up from 6 percent in 2011.

LePage also wrote to previous U.S. Attorney General Loretta Lynch last year asking for more federal prosecutors to tackle the drug crisis and acknowledged the Maine U.S. Attorney’s Office was pressed for resources.

A message was left with Sessions’ office on Friday.

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/gov-lepage-asks-attorney-general-sessions-to-step-up-drug-prosecution/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1135667_Trump_Attorney_General_0333.jpgAttorney General-designate, Sen. Jeff Sessions, R-Ala., testifies on Capitol Hill in Washington on Tuesday at his confirmation hearing before the Senate Judiciary Committee.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 23:23:47 +0000
J.C. Penney to close up to 140 stores http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/j-c-penney-to-close-up-to-140-stores/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/j-c-penney-to-close-up-to-140-stores/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 14:17:54 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/j-c-penney-to-close-up-to-140-stores/ NEW YORK — J.C. Penney is joining its department store rivals in pruning its store numbers in an era of online shopping.

Penney said Friday that it will close 130 to 140 stores as well as two distribution centers over the next several months as it tries to improve profitability. The company said that it would also initiate a voluntary early retirement program for about 6,000 eligible employees.

The news came as Penney posted a profit for the fourth quarter, compared to a loss a year ago. But total sales were down slightly, and a key revenue metric declined a bit as well. The company issued a conservative annual forecast, sending shares down 9 percent Friday.

CEO Marvin Ellison acknowledged that Penney wasn’t strategic with promotions, which hurt profit margins, and said that its level of couponing was “unhealthy.” It plans to use a more data-driven approach to pricing this year after testing the strategy in some categories last year.

The retail chain has six locations in Maine: South Portland, Auburn, Waterville, Rockland, Bangor and Presque Isle.

Representatives at the store in South Portland and with Maine Mall management declined to comment and referred media inquiries to J.C. Penney corporate offices.

The company is due to disclose in mid-March which locations it will shut down. J.C. Penney said the affected stores account for less than 5 percent of total sales, and it expects the closures will result in $200 million of annual cost savings.

Like other department stores, J.C. Penney is trying to adjust to changing shopping patterns. But it is also still recovering from a catastrophic reinvention plan under a former CEO that sent sales and profits freefalling starting in 2012.

Since then, it has focused efforts on its home area, started selling major appliances again and expanded its number of in-store Sephora beauty shops.

While its annual sales still shrank, what’s encouraging is Penney’s profit picture.

Penney pulled in a $1 million profit for the full fiscal year, the first time it earned an annual profit since 2010. The stores it is closing represent about 13 percent to 14 percent of its current store count of about 1,000.

“With a slimmed-down store portfolio, (J.C. Penney) will be able to focus on making its remaining stores more of a destination,” said Neil Saunders, managing director of GlobalData Retail. “This is essential, as while progress has been made on categories like home, other departments still require attention.”

Penney nonetheless still managed to outperform some of its rivals.

Kohl’s Corp. reported a drop in fiscal fourth-quarter profit as total sales declined. Revenue at stores opened at least a year dropped 2.2 percent.

Nordstrom Inc. reported a better-than-expected quarterly profit with help from strong sales online and at Nordstrom Rack. But at the Nordstrom brand, comparable store sales decreased 2.7 percent.

Macy’s, the nation’s largest department store chain, says its earnings for the quarter that includes the holiday period dropped nearly 13 percent, hurt by lower sales, store closures and other costs.

Penney shares fell 9 percent, or 62 cents, to $6.24 on Friday.

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John Andrews, force behind the Eastern Trail, dies at 79 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/force-behind-eastern-trail-dies/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/force-behind-eastern-trail-dies/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1158488 John Andrews, known as the founder of the Eastern Trail and a leader of the Appalachian Mountain Club, died on Monday. He was 79.

Andrews started the Eastern Trail Alliance in 1997 and was the driving force behind the creation of the 65-mile, multi-use trail that extends from Kittery to South Portland. In 2012, the alliance dedicated a pedestrian bridge over Route 1 in Saco to Andrews.

“Without John’s unbelievable energy, enthusiasm, there simply would not be an Eastern Trail today,” said Carole Brush, executive director for the Eastern Trail Alliance.

Andrews is credited with securing funds to complete sections of the trail in the Kennebunks, Old Orchard Beach, Saco, and the trail’s most iconic portion, through the Scarborough Marsh.

Brush said he was persistent, but patient, and made tremendous progress in a short amount of time.

“His enthusiasm was contagious,” Brush said. “He would talk to anyone and everyone sharing his mission, engaging and convincing them to participate. John could work miracles. When times were tough and things were moving slow, he never let up and truly lived his motto of ‘Patience, persistence and politeness’ to overcome obstacles, move forward with this trail, and make the world a better place.”

In December, Town & Country Federal Credit Union donated $100,000 toward filling 1.6-mile gap in the Eastern Trail running through Scarborough. The alliance still needs roughly $600,000 to complete the section. Work on the pathway is expected to begin in 2018. When the section is complete, it will have 16 miles of continuous, off-road access from Bug Light in South Portland to downtown Saco.

Andrews’ passion for the outdoors began as a boy, hunting and fishing in Farmingdale. He passed on his love of the outdoors to his two sons.

“He was an awesome dad,” said Michael Andrews of Croton-on-Hudson, New York. “He always had time for us. Every summer we would go with him to Bar Harbor and go bicycling on the Carriage Roads in Acadia. He was extremely curious. If he saw something, he wanted to find out more about it.”

He was a loving husband to his wife, Marietta Andrews, for 51 years. The couple lived in Saco. She died in 2012.

He spent his career working as an electronics design engineer.

According to his obituary, which was published in Thursday’s newspaper, Andrews was granted nine patents for computer chip designs, including one for the world’s first 64-bit semiconductor memory chip.

In the fall of 1981, Andrews and his wife moved from Massachusetts to Saco.

He went to work for Fairchild Semiconductor and retired around 1996.

With time on his hands, Andrews dove into life. In addition to founding the Eastern Trail Alliance, which oversees the trail, he founded the Saco Valley Land Trust and Saco Bay Trails.

Andrews also became a registered Maine guide and was active in the Maine chapter of the Appalachian Mountain Club. Over the years, he led several full-moon paddles to coastal islands and many full-moon ski trips up Cadillac Mountain’s auto road.

Last May, Andrews spent several days riding his bicycle through France. His son said he took a side trip to England to visit friends and flew to Iceland for a couple of days.

“He went indoor skydiving in his late 70s,” his son said. “It was a blast. My daughter was there. She could go to school and brag … ‘I just went skydiving with my grandfather.’ He was like a kid till the end. He was up for anything.”

Melanie Creamer can be contacted at 791-6361 or at:

mcreamer@pressherald.com

Twitter: MelanieCreamer

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/force-behind-eastern-trail-dies/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/1158488_302589-20101126_newtrail2.jpgJohn Andrews points toward Kennebunk as he shows off a new section of the Eastern Trail in Arundel.Thu, 23 Feb 2017 23:37:09 +0000
Bill calls for turnpike spur to ease congestion in Portland suburbs http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/legislators-bill-seeks-to-relieve-worst-traffic-headache-in-greater-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/legislators-bill-seeks-to-relieve-worst-traffic-headache-in-greater-portland/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 09:00:00 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/?p=1158513 A proposed turnpike connection could ease traffic jams in the Gorham-Scarborough area, but for frustrated drivers, relief might be years down the road.

A bill pending in the Legislature would authorize the Maine Turnpike Authority to build a 5-mile toll road linking the turnpike with Route 114 south of Gorham.

The intent is to get drivers off heavily congested roads connecting Gorham, Scarborough, Westbrook and South Portland, said Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, the bill’s sponsor.

“It is just unacceptable in terms of traffic and what we accept living in Maine,” McLean said. “This has been bandied about for eight years. It is time to get the ball rolling.”

Gorham was the fastest-growing municipality in Maine from 2010 to 2013, according to the U.S. Census. Traffic on routes 114 and 22 and local streets like Running Hill Road and Spring Street is notorious, McLean said. During morning and afternoon rush hours, it often takes 45 minutes to an hour to drive 8 miles to downtown Portland, he said.

Local officials and traffic analysts have recognized the need for a way to ease traffic for years. According to a 2012 feasibility study by the turnpike authority, there were 64 high-crash locations in the south Gorham area and seven intersections that were identified as inadequate to handle traffic volumes. The report’s findings were based on traffic data from 2008-09; since then more than 330 residential subdivision lots have been created, according to town data. Population in the four communities is expected to grow by more than 64,000 by 2035, and almost 35,000 units of housing will be added in the area, the 2012 study said.

If those estimates hold, it will magnify current traffic issues, said Peter Mills, the turnpike authority’s executive director. A new limited-used highway is considered the most effective way to reduce congestion, rather than widening existing streets, he said.

“I think it is reasonable to say it is the worst area of traffic congestion in the state of Maine on a daily basis,” Mills said.

IDEA HAS BEEN AROUND FOR A DECADE

The idea of creating a turnpike spur has been considered for almost a decade and has already been studied closely by the authority.

The project would still have to go through the necessary permitting and public process, which could take years, McLean said.

“It doesn’t mean there are going to be shovels in the ground starting in May,” he said.

McLean’s bill has not been released by the revisor’s office and won’t be discussed by the Legislature’s Transportation Committee, which McLean co-chairs, until late March, he said.

According to a draft of the bill, it would give the turnpike authority permission to construct the road and borrow up to $150 million to pay for the project. The money would be repaid with tolls collected on the spur.

The turnpike authority was selected to head the project because the Maine Department of Transportation does not have the resources to fund road construction, Mills said.

“We need legislative authority to go ahead and build it – it is not part of our general mandate,” Mills said. “We just don’t go out and build highways without being told to.”

LINKING BUSY ROUTES TO MALL EXIT

Although there is no road design proposed, the idea would be to link the rotary intersection of routes 114 and 112 south of Gorham to the turnpike at exit 45, near the Maine Mall. The proposed connector was planned when the rotary was built as part the Gorham village bypass completed in 2008.

The Gorham Town Council passed a resolution in support of the project in December, and local governments in South Portland, Scarborough and Westbrook are very supportive too, McLean said.

“We have got to figure out a way to settle traffic congestion, because it is only going to get worse,” he said.

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

pmcguire@pressherald.com

Twitter: PeteL_McGuire

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/24/legislators-bill-seeks-to-relieve-worst-traffic-headache-in-greater-portland/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/1158513_259249_20141202_zoning001-e1487975442336.jpgGorham was the fastest-growing municipality in Maine from 2010 to 2013, according to the U.S. Census. Traffic on state routes 114 and 22 – as seen in 2014, above – and local streets such as Running Hill Road and Spring Street is notorious, says Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham. During morning and afternoon rush hours, it is common for drivers to take 45 minutes to an hour to travel 8 miles to downtown Portland, McLean said. "It is just unacceptable in terms of traffic," he said.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 12:41:26 +0000
Hall-Dale High School robotics team prepares for competition season http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/hall-dale-high-school-robotics-team-prepares-for-competition-season/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/hall-dale-high-school-robotics-team-prepares-for-competition-season/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 02:37:11 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/hall-dale-high-school-robotics-team-prepares-for-competition-season/ AUGUSTA — While some of their classmates were enjoying the February break relaxing on the ski slopes or at the beach, members of the Hall-Dale High School robotics team were hard at work in the lower level of the Ballard Center putting the finishing touches on their robot for this season’s competition.

“We probably did several thousand man hours since January,” said William Fahy, a senior and one of the team’s captains. The first competition will be held in Worcester, Massachusetts, early next month before the team participates in the FIRST New England District Pine Tree Regional on March 30 and April 1 in Lewiston.

Delta Prime Robotics spent most of Tuesday, known in the high school robotics world as Stop Build Day, working on the robot until midnight. The 15-member team worked on programming, electrical design and final building of the robot in their space at the Ballard Center – the former MaineGeneral Medical Center building on East Chestnut Street – which the team uses at no cost. The space features several large rooms, including a full body shop and a 3-D printer.

This year’s game, called “Steamworks,” requires teams to build a robot using specific guidelines provided by the sport’s governing body. During the first 30 seconds of each match, the robot must perform certain tasks autonomously.

Robotics team members from Hall-Dale High School test their robot’s maneuverability Tuesday at the Ballard Center in Augusta. The students are participating in the FIRST Robotics Competition. Kennebec Journal/Elise Klysa

Lead mentor Karen Giles said the game’s object is to gather gears that are loaded onto the robot by a human player. The robot then must take the gears and place them onto spots on an airship in the center of the playing field. Giles said there is also fuel – giant neon yellow whiffle balls – that can be loaded into the robot and shot or dumped into a steam boiler.

“The robot has to have speed and precision and aiming capabilities,” Giles said. “You get extra ranking points for the qualifying round based on how many you get in the boiler.”

In the last 30 seconds of the match, the robot must drive itself to a hanging rope, pull itself up to about 5 feet off the ground, contact a touch pad and hang in place until a buzzer sounds. The team is using a Kevlar rope that can hold hundreds of pounds instead of the rope provided by the tournament organizers.

Fahy, one of the team’s lead programmers, said getting the robot, which doesn’t have a name yet, to do several complicated tasks and movements at the same time is a challenge.

“The robot can’t learn anything just by putting a camera there and seeing stuff, because it has to process the image,” Fahy said. “We have to put it through a bunch of different layers of processing.”

Hall-Dale High School students, all members of Delta Prime Robotics, huddle around their robotic entry Tuesday at the Ballard Center in Augusta with mentor Karen Giles, second from right, in order to finish their work before the competition deadline. Students are, from left, Garmin Dion, Eli Pahn, Michael Crochere, Ean Smith, Bryce Bradgon, Alicia Warm and, at far right, team business and coding captain William Fahy. Kennebec Journal/Elise Klysa

Senior Anna Schaab, who designed the team’s logo and handles its social media outreach, said the robot uses the camera and an encoder that measures how far the wheels have moved and other real-time data.

“We can see how far we’ve gone and where we’re aiming,” Schaab said. “These are difficult things we’re trying to do.”

Giles’ son graduated last year after serving as one of the team leaders during the competition season, but she said she decided to stick around as lead mentor because she loves working with the students and seeing how their minds work. Giles, an artist and former therapeutic horse riding instructor, has made robotics her career as director of the Robotics Institute of Maine, whose mission is to inspire youth to gain a new perspective on science and technology by providing opportunities and resources for robotics programs.

“They are learning so much more than robots,” Giles said. “They learn how to work with other people. They make friends from all over New England and they learn the soft skills employers would look for.”

Giles said she works with a lot of employers who are looking not only for the technological skills these students possess, but also for people who work well with others, who can work as a team and who can jump in and help when something needs to get done.

Gracious professionalism is something stressed by New Hampshire-based FIRST, which stands for For Inspiration and Recognition of Science and Technology. Delta Prime won two gracious professionalism awards last season, and Fahy said helping other teams and helping each other is almost as important as the competition.

“Everyone is there to compete and show that their robot is going to win, but it’s competition with cooperation,” Fahy said. “At any given event, you’ll find teams helping each other.”

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

jpafundi@centralmaine.com

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/hall-dale-high-school-robotics-team-prepares-for-competition-season/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/1158441_168055-robotics-1.jpgFrom left, Bryce Bragdon of Windsor, Michael Crochere of Chelsea and William Fahy of Hallowell put finishing touches on their robot Tuesday at the Ballard Center in Augusta.Thu, 23 Feb 2017 23:24:54 +0000
Brunswick residents sue town over plan to sell 4 waterfront acres http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/brunswick-residents-file-lawsuit-against-town/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/brunswick-residents-file-lawsuit-against-town/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 02:28:15 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/brunswick-residents-file-lawsuit-against-town/ BRUNSWICK — A group of Brunswick residents has filed a lawsuit against the town to try to prevent the Town Council from selling a piece of waterfront property.

The lawsuit calls for the town to accept a petition with more than 1,100 signatures of residents demanding to let voters decide the fate of land at 946 Mere Point Road in a townwide referendum. The roughly 4-acre property was acquired by the town after the previous owner failed to pay property taxes for several years, and some residents want it turned into a park. The property is assessed at about $250,000 and has a derelict building that would have to be torn down by a new owner.

Brunswick’s council previously voted 5 to 4 to sell the property after much debate about whether it should be used for public access to the water. Councilors later voted to reject the petition in a 7 to 2 vote.

The lawsuit was filed shortly before the council’s regular meeting Tuesday, catching councilors and Town Manager John Eldridge by surprise. It asserts that the council did not follow the Town Charter when it rejected the residents’ petition.

“You’ll recall two weeks ago that petitioners did advise the council that they would consider legal actions,” said Robert Baskett, representing the recently formed Brunswick Citizens for Collaborative Government.

The lawsuit came after residents incorporated the citizens group and got donations from more than 40 people to retain legal counsel.

“I think the fact that we’ve been able to form a legal entity, collect funds, hire an attorney, and file this action … is a real testament to how important this issue remains to Brunswick voters,” said Baskett.

A news release by the residents group questions why the council would reject the petition.

“It’s baffling as to why the council would want to limit citizen input,” said Brunswick resident Mark Latti. “There is no other piece of property like it left in Brunswick, and yet the council does not want to put this to a town-wide vote.”

Councilors rejected the petition on the advice of the town’s attorney, Stephen Langsdorf, who had warned petitioners that the Town Charter, in his opinion, did not have a mechanism to allow a direct order of the council to be overturned by petition.

“A petition of this nature is not meant to overturn orders and resolves,” said Langsdorf. “I do not think there are any rights under state law to proceed.”

Despite the lawsuit, councilors at Tuesday’s meeting discussed how the sale of the property would take place. A few initial ideas, such as requiring the residence to be a single-family home and creating an easement for shellfish harvesters, were debated at length.

Councilor Sarah Brayman suggested the town retain a 25-foot strip of property to the waterfront in order to allow access by shellfish harvesters and possible aquaculture operations. Her motion failed 4 to 4, with Councilor Dan Harris absent from the meeting.

In the end, councilors decided to eliminate the requirement for a single-family home, agreeing that anything that meets zoning requirements would be allowed. In addition, an easement for access to the waterfront for clammers was not included in the order authorizing the sale of the property.

Eldridge said he was not worried about the possible lawsuit affecting the town’s plans.

“Clearly there’s going to be a request to stay any action the council wants to do, but until we receive that from the court, council can proceed,” said Eldridge. “We haven’t been served with anything that would prevent us from going forward.”

Chris Chase can be contacted at:

cchase@coastaljournal.com

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Down East Maine community wants nearby prison to stay http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/down-east-maine-community-wants-nearby-prison-to-stay/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/down-east-maine-community-wants-nearby-prison-to-stay/#respond Fri, 24 Feb 2017 00:30:42 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/down-east-maine-community-wants-nearby-prison-to-stay/ Business leaders and politicians in a small community Down East are opposing Gov. Paul LePage’s plan to save $5 million by closing a nearby prison.

Maine Public reports that employers in the sparsely populated community of Machiasport increasingly depend on the labor provided by incarcerated and released inmates.

It’s not the first time the state has considered closing the facility, which holds just 150 inmates.

The Downeast Correctional Facility provides 51 jobs.

The owner of a wreath company says prisoners “volunteer” for work assignments at his company and says they would be hard to replace.

But state corrections officials say that inmates could be housed more efficiently at other institutions, and that some could be released under a monitored ankle bracelet program.

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State accuses supplements seller of fraud, fleecing Americans for millions http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/ag-gets-settlement-in-supplement-fraud-suit/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/ag-gets-settlement-in-supplement-fraud-suit/#respond Thu, 23 Feb 2017 23:25:40 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/ag-gets-settlement-in-supplement-fraud-suit/ Better Health Nutritionals promised customers that its miracle supplements could quickly reduce joint pain, rebuild damaged cartilage and rejuvenate the mind.

But the products were marketed and sold through false promises, deceptive advertisements and phony experts, according to a consumer fraud lawsuit filed Wednesday in U.S. District Court by the Maine Attorney General’s Office and the Federal Trade Commission.

According to the AG’s office, six of the nine defendants named in the lawsuit have agreed to settle the case for a combined $500,000 – a fraction of the $6.5 million they reportedly made from the alleged scam.

Maine Attorney General Janet Mills said in a news release that the scheme misled consumers into thinking they were getting medically proven products to improve their memory and joint health. There’s no indication in the filing of how many consumers were allegedly defrauded.

“The defendants’ products appealed to vulnerable populations who had memory issues and pain and who were taken advantage of by fine print that was not fully disclosed,” Mills said. “Consumers also were misled about the true costs of the products and how they could get their money back. These products offered false promises based on false advertising. These companies fleeced Americans of millions of dollars.”

According to the release, six of the defendants – including a corporation that used a South Portland address – agreed to settlements that will result in over $500,000 in monetary judgments and injunctions that include “a 20-year ban on marketing or selling dietary supplements directly to consumers” for some of the defendants. The judgment was based on the settling defendants’ ability to pay, the release said.

COMPANY USED S. PORTLAND ADDRESS

According to the lawsuit, Better Health was the marketing name for a company called XXL Impressions LLC, owned by co-defendant Jeffrey Powlowsky, that was incorporated in Wyoming but used an address in South Portland as its primary business address. Other defendants named in the complaint include North Dakota-based J2 Response LLC and its owners Justin Bumann and Justin Steinle, Massachusetts-based Synergixx LLC and its owner Charlie Fusco, Illinois-based naturopathic physician Ronald Jahner, and Arizona resident Brazos Minshew, who appeared in Better Health advertisements as “brain scientist” Samuel Brant.

Starting in late 2010, the defendants “employed unfair or deceptive acts or practices” in the advertising, marketing, distribution and sale of two products called FlexiPrin and CogniPrin, the complaint says. The products were sold primarily through radio and print advertising in the U.S. and Canada, resulting in sales of more than $6.5 million, it says.

The complaint said FlexiPrin was advertised as a product to relieve joint pain and rebuild cartilage, and CogniPrin was supposed to “prevent, treat or mitigate cognitive decline.” Both products were sold for prices ranging from $32 to $65 for a bottle containing 60 tablets.

FlexiPrin was marketed in part through a 30-minute radio advertisement disguised as a “cutting-edge health and wellness news” program, according to the complaint. The interviewer and the “pain expert” featured in the program actually were defendants Fusco and Jahner, and the toll-free number given out during the program was to a call center owned by Fusco.

Jahner and Fusco never mentioned during the program that it was an advertisement, or that they were being paid a percentage of FlexiPrin sales revenue, the complaint says.

FALSE CLAIMS OF CLINICAL STUDIES

Print ads for FlexiPrin contained references to “multiple clinical studies” that found FlexiPrin “can improve joint comfort and flexibility in as little as two hours,” the complaint says. However, there were no such clinical studies. The defendants also trained their call center employees to repeat the claims about clinical studies, the complaint says.

CogniPrin was marketed through the same means, except with defendant Minshew playing the role of Samuel Brant, a “brain scientist” and “past director of the Neurological Treatment Center for Tiena Health,” it says.

The complaint alleges that XXL Impressions listed its headquarters as the South Portland address of its shipping vendor, Ship-Right Solutions, but Ship-Right’s owners said XXL Impressions was never actually located there.

Ship-Right’s address also was used as the mailing address for Direct Alternatives and Original Organics LLC, another supplements maker that was sued by the Maine AG’s office in 2016 for $16 million. Ship-Right was not a named defendant in either lawsuit.

Ship-Right co-owners Drew Graham and Todd Flaherty said it is common for companies that ship products to place the address of their order-fulfillment provider on product labels, and that Ship-Right merely handled product shipments for XXL Impressions and Direct Alternatives.

LOCAL SHIPPER HALTED BUSINESS

Graham, Ship-Right’s president, said the company serves about 80 clients across a wide variety of product sectors, including Goodwill Industries and sauce-maker Schlotterbeck & Foss. Ship-Right stopped doing business with XXL Impressions in 2015, he said.

“We don’t own the products; we don’t advertise the products,” Graham said. “We never give anybody permission to use our address as their business address.”

The complaint against XXL Impressions mentions another Maine company, customer service provider Argo Marketing Group, but it is not listed as a defendant.

Argo Marketing CEO Jason Levesque said his company did have a contract with XXL from 2014 to 2015, but he said Argo did not do any sales or marketing work.

“We provided customer service support for people who already had ordered the product through other avenues, and we terminated the relationship in 2015,” Levesque said. “We took the step to terminate the relationship.”

Levesque declined to explain why Argo Marketing terminated the contract and said he was contractually prohibited from talking about the number of product complaints it received about FlexiPrin and CogniPrin. He said Argo Marketing cooperated fully with the AG’s office and FTC during their investigation.

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

canderson@pressherald.com

Twitter: @jcraiganderson

This story was updated at 10:30 a.m. on Feb. 24 to clarify the relationship between Argo Marketing and XXL Impressions.

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Congressional delegation not backing LePage’s request to abolish Katahdin monument http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/congressional-delegation-members-dont-back-lepages-request-to-abolish-katahdin-monument/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/congressional-delegation-members-dont-back-lepages-request-to-abolish-katahdin-monument/#respond Thu, 23 Feb 2017 22:53:17 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/congressional-delegation-members-dont-back-lepages-request-to-abolish-katahdin-monument/ AUGUSTA — Two members of Maine’s congressional delegation expressed disappointment Thursday with Gov. Paul LePage’s effort to rescind the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, while a third questioned whether President Trump has the authority to reverse the designation.

Sen. Angus King and Rep. Chellie Pingree said there are signs that the monument designation has already started yielding economic benefits for the Katahdin region, six months after President Obama created it. Both disagreed with LePage’s written request that President Trump “undo the designation and return the land to private ownership” or allow the state of Maine to manage the roughly 87,500 acres east of Baxter State Park.

“I am disappointed by the request,” King, an independent, said in a statement. “The monument has already begun to yield real economic benefits to the region, and has done so with no negative impact on Maine’s forest products industry. Rather than reignite controversy in a region that is beginning to heal and move on, I hope we can allow the monument to continue to serve as one important part of a multifaceted economic revitalization strategy which is already underway.”

Pingree, D-1st District, also said that former opponents of the monument are now trying to make the best of the new National Park Service unit in their backyards.

“In the short time since President Obama created the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument, the region has already seen economic benefits,” Pingree said in a statement. “The monument has brought new visitors to the area, boosted sales at local businesses, and is helping the real estate market. In a part of the state that’s eager for good economic news, I don’t think anyone would want to see those benefits undone. It seems that many people who were originally opposed to the project are now focused on making the most out of it. I think the governor and the president should do the same.”

Pingree was a vocal supporter of the proposed national monument – as well as a potential national park – through much of the years-long debate over the issue. King had expressed concerns about a potential designation but ultimately determined that the benefits of a national monument outweighed any detriments.

Republican Sen. Susan Collins had opposed Obama’s use of his executive authority to create the national monument on land donated by conservationist Roxanne Quimby. But speaking on a Maine Public radio show Wednesday, Collins questioned whether Trump could reverse Obama’s actions.

“Once it is issued, there is a real legal question about whether a subsequent president can undo the designation,” Collins said on the Maine Calling radio program. “At this point, I think that many of the towns that are being affected have started to work together to make the best of this situation. So I don’t think the president has the legal authority to rescind it based on work that we had the Congressional Research Service do on that very issue.”

Opponents of national monuments from Maine to Utah are urging Trump to rescind designations made by Obama. But conservation advocates argue presidents only have the authority to create – not abolish – national monuments.

The Antiquities Act of 1906 allows presidents to designate national monuments to protect “historic landmarks, historic and prehistoric structures, and other objects of historic or scientific interest” on federally owned land. National parks, on the other hand, require an act of Congress.

Presidents can modify national monuments created by their predecessors, but a president has never entirely undone a national monument designation. And a 1938 U.S. attorney general’s opinion suggests that only Congress – not the president – has the power to abolish established monuments.

In his letter to Trump, however, LePage urged the president to challenge such naysayers.

“They also never envisioned President Trump,” LePage wrote. “I strongly urge you to undo the designation and return the land to private ownership before economic damage occurs and traditional recreational pursuits are diminished.”

Opponents of the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument had worried that the federal designation would harm the forestry industry, deter future industrial development and negatively affect hunting and snowmobiling. In the months since the designation, however, numerous real estate brokers report rising interest in – and prices for – properties or land in the Katahdin region, while some businesses say they’ve noticed a slight uptick in business from monument visitors.

The Katahdin region’s representative in Congress, Republican Rep. Bruce Poliquin, did not take a position on LePage’s letter or whether Trump should take action, despite his vocal opposition to the national monument before the designation.

“My number one priority in Congress is creating and protecting jobs in Maine,” Poliquin said in a statement. “I want to do everything possible and help foster every opportunity for this to happen. I will be reviewing next steps in helping elevate economic growth in the Katahdin region and look forward to working with all groups and parties to ensure that the priorities and best interests of the local communities are put first, always.”

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

kmiller@mainetoday.com

Twitter: KevinMillerPPH

]]> http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/congressional-delegation-members-dont-back-lepages-request-to-abolish-katahdin-monument/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/01/1134722_811379_20140717_sign_2.jpgMATAGAMON, ME - July 17: A sign near the north entrance to Baxter State Park along Grand Lake Road indicates the start of a scenic byway connected with the Katahdin Woods & Waters recreation area. Photographed on Thursday July 17, 2014. (Photo by Gregory Rec/Staff Photographer)Fri, 24 Feb 2017 00:08:05 +0000 Crews fight fire in barn in Hollis http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/crews-fighting-fire-in-barn-in-hollis/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/crews-fighting-fire-in-barn-in-hollis/#respond Thu, 23 Feb 2017 22:52:12 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/crews-fighting-fire-in-barn-in-hollis/ Several fire departments battled a fire at a home in Hollis on Thursday.

WCSH-TV reported that smoke was seen for miles around as a cloud of flames and black smoke rose into the sky around the property on Old Alfred Road.

The television station reported that the fire may have started in a barn before spreading to the adjacent home. Unconfirmed reports said occupants of the home as well as barn animals got out of the buildings safely.

The fire started around 4 p.m., and fire crews were still at the scene late Thursday night. Sebago, Standish, Windham and Raymond provided mutual aid to the Hollis Fire Department.

The cause of the fire remains under investigation. No other details were immediately available.

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Attorneys clash as landlord in deadly Portland fire seeks new trial http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/judge-hears-portland-landlords-request-for-a-new-trial-in-fatal-fire-case/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/judge-hears-portland-landlords-request-for-a-new-trial-in-fatal-fire-case/#respond Thu, 23 Feb 2017 21:56:41 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/judge-hears-portland-landlords-request-for-a-new-trial-in-fatal-fire-case/

Gregory Nisbet attends the Superior Court hearing Thursday, seeking a new trial or a dismissal of his conviction for code violations related to a fire that killed six people in 2014. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

State prosecutors and the attorneys for a Portland landlord facing jail time in a 2014 fire that killed six young people clashed in court Thursday about whether the state fully disclosed information that may have affected the verdict.

Gregory Nisbet was convicted of a code violation for having third-floor windows too small to qualify as emergency exits, but was acquitted of six counts of manslaughter. His attorneys are seeking a new trial or a dismissal of his conviction. If neither are granted, the judge in the case said Thursday he expects an appeal, a prospect that upset family members of some of the victims.

The accidental fire, Maine’s deadliest in 40 years, was seen as a wake-up call for the city’s landlords. All six victims were under the age of 30: David Bragdon Jr., 27, Christopher Conlee, 25, Nicole Finlay, 26, Maelisha Jackson, 26, Steven Summers, 29, and Ashley Thomas, 29.

Nisbet was sentenced in November to three months in jail for the code violation and ordered to pay a $1,000 fine. He was due to begin serving his sentence Dec. 23, when his attorneys filed their motion for a new trial.

They argued Thursday that the state did not disclose a memo from the state Fire Marshal’s Office regarding concessions for buildings built before 1976. It’s believed that the Noyes Street apartment building was built in the 1920s.

Prosecutor John Alsop presents a diagram of a third-floor window in the apartment house on Noyes Street in Portland where a fire killed six people in 2014. The size and opening of the third-floor windows is the subject of debate in Gregory Nisbet’s bid for a new trial. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

A state prosecutor testified in Cumberland County Superior Court that prosecutors gave defense attorney Sarah Churchill a copy of the memo as soon as they learned about it, shortly after the trial began. But Churchill testified she received it from a different source after Nisbet was sentenced.

Justice Thomas Warren did not issue a decision Thursday. He said attorneys would make their final arguments in writing after they receive a transcript of witness testimony. Once those transcripts are available, the defense will have 14 days to file its argument and then the state will have 14 days to reply.

Warren also said that he was told Nisbet would likely appeal his conviction if the court did not agree to a new trial or decide to dismiss the conviction.

RELATIVES OF VICTIMS IRRITATED

The ongoing legal wrangling and the prospect of an appeal did not sit well with family members of the victims who attended Thursday’s hearing.

Ashley Summers, who lost her husband Steven in the fire, noted that Nisbet and his attorneys claimed during sentencing that he was taking responsibility for his actions.

Ashley Summers, the widow of fire victim Steven Summers, speaks to reporters after Thursday’s court hearing for Gregory Nisbet. She noted that Nisbet and his attorneys claimed during Nisbet’s sentencing that he was taking responsibility for his actions. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“I’m just in a little shock,” said Summers, whose two daughters were left without a father. “The frustration is we’re trying to start moving on. For (Nisbet), it’s going to be a little blip in his life. He’s going to be dealing with the consequence for a short period of time. For us, 20 years from now, I’m still going to be talking to my kids about everything.”

Nisbet’s motion for a new trial is based on a state fire marshal’s memo issued to code officers, firefighters and landlords a year before the Nov. 1, 2014, fire about looser safety requirements for homes built before 1976.

Assistant Attorney General Bud Ellis testifies at Thursday’s hearing to determine whether the state fully disclosed information that may have affected the verdict in last year’s trial of Portland landlord Gregory Nisbet. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

For Nisbet to prevail, the defense must prove, among other things, that the state had the evidence and failed to provide it, that it would have likely changed the outcome, that it was discovered since the trial, and that it is material to the issue.

The size of the third-floor windows is the subject of debate, with witnesses offering varying estimates about how far the windows opened and whether the opening was large enough to meet code.

Assistant Attorney General Bud Ellis said he first learned about the memo shortly after the week-long trial began last October, so it wasn’t part of the 1,073 pages of pre-trial discovery. He said he immediately informed defense attorney Churchill and provided her with a copy, but she didn’t seem that interested in it.

“My recollection is we discussed the memo,” Ellis said. “I remember she didn’t seem that terribly upset or concerned about it.”

MEMO’S VALUE AS EVIDENCE

Churchill, however, offered a different account. She said the memo first came to her attention shortly after Nisbet was sentenced. She could not recall whether Nisbet had forwarded her the memo, or whether she received it from another source. She said she and her legal secretary scoured their files and offices to make sure they did not have a copy before filing the motion.

Churchill said she would have admitted the memo as evidence, since it would have been a counterpoint to testimony by Assistant Fire Marshal Richard McCarthy that allowances were typically made for minor violations.

Superior Court Justice Thomas Warren presides over Thursday’s hearing on Gregory Nisbet’s bid for a new trial. At issue was whether state prosecutors disclosed information that would have helped the defense’s case. Warren did not issue a ruling, giving the defense and prosecution time to make final arguments in writing. Staff photo by Ben McCanna

“I think the example he gave was an eighth-of-an-inch off the measurements, which clearly isn’t correct when you compare it to that memorandum,” she said.

Ellis, however, said the contents of the memo were discussed, even though the memo itself was not referenced. He said it was clear that a window, when opened, needed to have an opening of 24 inches high and 20 inches wide and that the window itself had to measure at least 5 square feet.

McCarthy, who also testified Thursday, said the window on the third floor was still not up to code.

“(The memo) does not change my opinion,” he said. “I don’t think it would have been able to open 24 inches.”

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

rbillings@pressherald.com

Twitter: randybillings

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/judge-hears-portland-landlords-request-for-a-new-trial-in-fatal-fire-case/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/1158180_875327-20170223_nisbet_0166.jpgLandlord Gregory Nisbet attends the Superior Court hearing Thursday where he is seeking a new trial or a dismissal of his conviction for a code violation related to a fatal Portland fire.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 00:28:05 +0000
Teenager denies sexual assault at Westbrook hotel http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/juvenile-charged-with-sexual-assault-enters-denial-plea-in-portland/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/juvenile-charged-with-sexual-assault-enters-denial-plea-in-portland/#respond Thu, 23 Feb 2017 21:45:20 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/juvenile-charged-with-sexual-assault-enters-denial-plea-in-portland/ A juvenile charged with gross sexual assault denied the charge during an initial court appearance on Thursday in Portland Unified Criminal Court.

Ernest Lorange, 16, of Portland, entered a “denial” plea, the juvenile court equivalent of “not guilty” for an assault that allegedly occurred on Feb. 5 at the Super 8 motel in Westbrook. Also charged with gross sexual assault were Rick Powers, 15, of Lisbon Falls, and Garang Majok, 19, of Lewiston. The victim in the case is a 16-year-old girl.

The names of juveniles charged with crimes are not typically released to the public, but they were in this case because they were charged with felonies. Majok, because he is over 18, is charged as an adult.

Christine Thibeault, assistant district attorney for Cumberland County who heads the juvenile division, said that whether prosecutors will seek to charge Lorange or Powers as adults has yet to be determined. Lorange will next appear in court on March 16, while Powers has a March 9 hearing and Majok is due in court April 20.

“There’s still a lot of information that needs to be gathered,” Thibeault said.

No details of the incident are available at this time.

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Augusta’s Lithgow Public Library damaged by snow http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/augustas-lithgow-public-library-damaged-by-snow/ http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/augustas-lithgow-public-library-damaged-by-snow/#respond Thu, 23 Feb 2017 21:38:09 +0000 http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/augustas-lithgow-public-library-damaged-by-snow/ AUGUSTA — Part of the recently expanded Lithgow Public Library was damaged by snow that had accumulated and took out parapets on the roof’s gable ends, prompting the need for repairs and discussions about a way to prevent it from happening again.

With heavy snow in recent weeks, followed by warmer weather, a lot of snow had accumulated and frozen solid on the roof. In particular, the snow stuck in the valleys between the roof peaks on the library, which had reopened in August 2016 after an $11 million expansion and renovation.

Sometime between when the library closed Saturday and when it reopened Monday, snow that had piled up on the Pleasant Street side of the building let go and slid down the roof, apparently in a large, heavy mass. When it came down, it took pieces of the gables from two spots of the roof just above the children’s area of the library with it, ripping down some pre-cast concrete pieces, metal flashing and a little bit of insulation, according to Elizabeth Pohl, library director.

No interior damage occurred and no one was hurt by the falling snow or building materials, Pohl said.

But she said it may take some time to fix the damage, in part because new, replacement pre-cast concrete pieces will have to be ordered and because the masonry work can be tricky to do in cold weather.

For now, both spots are covered by tarps and sealed up to prevent water or snow from getting inside the structure.

Tarps cover spots where masonry and roof flashing are missing Thusday on the west side of the new addition of Lithgow Public Library in Augusta. The roof was damaged recently by sliding ice and snow. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

John Scott, owner of J.F. Scott Construction, the Winthrop-based firm that built the library, said the bricks that were knocked off can be replaced with bricks left over on the job; but some pieces, such as cast-concrete caps, must be specially made, which could take a few to several weeks. Scott said his firm determined the damage was cosmetic, no water infiltrated the building, and there is no real concern about additional damage, so the planned repairs can safely wait.

Pohl said J.F. Scott has had someone assess the damage and begin putting together an estimate of the cost to fix it. She said she believes the repairs will be covered by a warranty, but she wasn’t yet sure.

Scott said they’re still looking into the problem and haven’t determined the exact cause yet. He said if the damage occurred because of a workmanship issue “we’d certainly cover that.” But not yet knowing what caused the damage, he said it is hard to say at this point whether the cost of repair would be covered by a warranty.

Pohl said such an incident could happen again if changes aren’t made, so officials will look at making changes on the roof to prevent snow from sliding off all at once, and damaging the building or potentially even falling on top of someone walking below it.

“We’ll have discussions about how to make sure this doesn’t happen again,” Pohl said.

Scott said part of his company’s analysis of how to repair the damage will include an assessment of what caused it.

“We’ll figure out exactly what let go and, when we put the pieces back in, that we accommodate that potential (snow) load,” Scott said. “As part of the repair, we’ll evaluate what the cause was and make sure it doesn’t happen again.”

Pohl said potential solutions could include modifications to the roof to prevent snow from sliding off all at once, and/or to melt the snow more gradually. She said it isn’t yet known what entity would pay for changes to prevent similar incidents.

She said the roof’s height and pitch would make it unsafe to put a person out on it to shovel it off after snowstorms.

Pohl said snow also built up in similar valleys in the roof on the opposite, State Street side of the new sections of the building, but it didn’t cause damage when it fell off.

Tarps cover up spots where masonry and roof flashing are missing Thursday after sliding snow damaged the west side of the new addition of Lithgow Public Library in Augusta. Staff photo by Joe Phelan

Scott said the area that was damaged is a bit different from the gables on the State Street side of the building, and he doesn’t anticipate there will be problems on those other sections of roof.

The older, original section of the building also has snow build-up on its roof; but that part of the 125-year-old building is made of granite and appears more than able to handle the snow without being damaged.

The area where the snow fell on the Pleasant Street side of the library was blocked off Thursday by cones and yellow tape, and a sawhorse blocked access along the State Street side of the building. The main entrance remained clear and accessible, and Pohl said the roof incident has had “zero” impact on operations at the library this week — a busy, school vacation week.

The library was closed for one day last week when a trained dog found a bedbug in a stack of large-print books directly across from the circulation desk.

Pohl said overall, she, the library staff and library users seem happy with the renovated and expanded library, but there have been some new-building quirks they’re still trying to work out.

They include a software-controlled lighting system, which, in some lesser-used areas of the library, such as within the stacks of books, have sensors that shut the lights off if nobody is in that area. However, sometimes, and inexplicably only on Fridays and Saturdays, Pohl said, the sensors in those areas seem to take control of the lights in the common areas of the library, which are otherwise left on all day, and they shut them off.

Also, the library staff at times has had difficulty getting doors to the library to lock manually when they need to be locked at nonstandard times, such as when the library closes at an unusual time.

“We’ve had no major issues, just some small things that don’t really impact operations,” Pohl said of problems after the expansion and renovation. “This (snow damage) was the first big blip since we’ve been living here. For the staff, it’s such a better place to work, and we’re able to do so much more for the public in this building. It can be fixed, that’s the good news.”

Keith Edwards — 621-5647

kedwards@centralmaine.com

Twitter: @kedwardskj

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http://www.pressherald.com/2017/02/23/augustas-lithgow-public-library-damaged-by-snow/feed/ 0 http://multifiles.pressherald.com/uploads/sites/4/2017/02/698344_281016-20170223_lithgowro4.jpgTarps cover spots where masonry and roof flashing are missing Thusday on the west side of the new addition of Lithgow Public Library in Augusta. The original library building is at right.Fri, 24 Feb 2017 08:37:33 +0000