State OKs second workers’ comp rate cut in a month

Maine insurance regulators have approved another drop in the state’s workers’ compensation rates — the second in less than a month.

A 3.2 percent decrease announced Nov. 18 was expected to reduce workers’ compensation insurance premiums by $6.1 million in 2012. Maine Insurance Superintendent Eric Cioppa said Friday that another 3.8 percent drop should save Maine companies an additional $7 million.

Cioppa told the Bangor Daily News that he can’t recall seeing two rate reductions in one year.

The first rate cut was attributed largely to employers’ increasing focus on safety.

Cioppa said that the new rate cut came after the Maine Workers’ Compensation Board issued an official medical fee schedule, as required under 1992 overhaul legislation.

Bangor chief gets test kits to identify drug ingredients

Bangor Police Chief Ron Gastia hopes newly available test kits will help officers quickly identify synthetic bath salts, a growing problem for police across the state.

Across Maine, police and hospitals have reported a surge of people becoming delusional and violent after injecting, snorting or smoking so-called bath salts.

Gastia said he ordered 150 kits that will be used to test for two of the most common chemicals found in bath salts. He told the Bangor Daily News that the tests will establish probable cause, but that the results still have to be confirmed by a laboratory.

In Bangor, bath salts incidents increased from three reports in May to more than 100 in September. Possession was outlawed in July and trafficking was made a felony in September.


Memorial Bridge to close to foot, bike traffic next month

Memorial Bridge, which spans the Piscataqua River between Portsmouth, N.H., and Kittery, will close to pedestrian and bicycle traffic next month.

Stephen DelGrosso, project manager for Archer Western Contractors, said the 88-year-old bridge will close for good sometime between Jan. 3 and Jan. 16.

Hourly shuttle service will be provided for pedestrians and cyclists, free of charge, until the replacement bridge is completed in 2012. The new bridge will have a 5-foot shoulder for bike traffic and a 6-foot sidewalk for pedestrians, in addition to lanes for vehicles.

Not everyone is happy with the aesthetics of the new design. A Portsmouth architect is petitioning for a series of cables along the spans to serve as a reminder of the earlier bridge.


USDA awards $3.4 million to health, education efforts

The federal government has awarded more than $3.4 million in funding that aims to improve access to health care and education services in rural Maine.

Sens. Olympia Snowe and Susan Collins, both R-Maine, said the U.S. Department of Agriculture funding will go toward expanding services such as home care for critically ill patients and technical skills training for adults to improve their employment marketability.

The funding is going to educational and school programs in Houlton, Topsham, Waterville and Unity, and health care programs in Lewiston and Caribou.

In addition, the Maine Sea Coast Missionary Society in Bar Harbor is getting nearly $109,000 to upgrade the Sunbeam, the ship used to provide services to island communities.


Ex-secretary of state joins ranks of Snowe challengers

Sen. Olympia Snowe, who has never lost an election or had to win a primary, is suddenly defending her job against a host of challengers from all angles.

At least ceremonially, it grew by one Saturday when Matt Dunlap, a former Maine secretary of state, announced his candidacy in his hometown of Old Town. It’s been known for weeks that Dunlap planned to run against state Rep. Jon Hinck of Portland for the Democratic nomination.

On the Republican side, Snowe faces a primary challenge for the first time, and from two candidates. They are Scott D’Amboise of Lisbon Falls, who lost a Maine congressional election in 2006, and Andrew Ian Dodge of Harpswell, a freelance writer who has acted as a spokesman for the tea party in Maine.

Snowe has trained her verbal guns mostly on Congress.

“She is frustrated with the partisan gamesmanship in Washington and shares the anger Mainers feel about Congress’ inability to get things done,” her campaign says.

So far, Snowe is far ahead of any challenger in campaign funding, with $3.2 million in cash on hand as of Sept. 30, compared to D’Amboise’s $182,000, according to Federal Election Commission filings. The FEC said that Dodge, Dunlap and Hinck had not reported financial activity to that date.


Police seeking three people in Curve Street armed robbery

Police were looking for three people Saturday who robbed a man at gunpoint on Curve Street on Friday.

The Wilton Police Department is searching for Zachary Givens, 20, of Jay, who is described as a person of interest, according to a news release from Chief Heidi Wilcox.

A 27-year-old Curve Street resident called police around 6:30 p.m. Friday to report that two men had just jumped out of a late-model white Subaru. One pointed a handgun at the victim before striking him on the head with it.

The men then took cash from the Wilton man before fleeing in the Subaru, which was being driven by a woman, Wilcox said in the release.

Police did not say whether the man knew his attackers or how much cash they took. But they urged people with any information to call the department at 645-3876.


Seafood company sues over federal contract’s cancellation

A New Hampshire seafood supplier is suing over the cancellation of a contract that supplied lobster to military personnel in Afghanistan.

Orion Seafood International Inc. said it provided hundreds of thousands of pounds of frozen Maine lobster tails from 2009 through the first half of 2011 before the contract was abruptly canceled.

Foster’s Daily Democrat reported that the Portsmouth-based company is suing Supreme Group B.V., a Dutch food distributor contracted with the Defense Logistics Agency.

Orion said it held inspection and packing to a higher standard and was stuck with 750,000 pounds of lobster when a $15 million order was canceled. There was no immediate response from Supreme Group B.V.

— From news service reports