Ferry operator settles on speedy vessel for Nova Scotia route

The new operator of the Portland-Nova Scotia ferry service has finally landed a vessel to run the route and will begin its season no later than June 15, making the trip in 5½ hours – about half the time of its predecessor, the Nova Star. Bay Ferries Ltd. announced Thursday that it will lease a high-speed catamaran, the USNS Puerto Rico, from the U.S. Navy and will rename it The Cat. That was the name of the high-speed ferry the company ran between Maine and Nova Scotia from 2006-2009 before losses led it to drop the run. Canadian officials have said the new Cat can hold 280 vehicles and about 700 to 750 passengers. A preliminary sailing schedule calls for the ferry to leave Portland at 2:30 p.m. and stay overnight in Yarmouth before departing for the return trip at 8 a.m. Fares haven’t been decided yet. Read the story.


Thompson’s Point plan advances

A propane distribution company has filed plans to move from Thompson’s Point to Riverside Street, clearing the way for redevelopment of the former industrial area on the Fore River. Moving Suburban Propane to a city-owned parcel on Riverside Street has been a key goal of Thompson’s Point developers. It will free up a valuable rail-side parcel where developers want to build a new event center and an expanded transportation center to replace the existing bus and rail terminal just to the north. The city Planning Board would have to approve the move. Ultimately, developers want to turn the 30-acre peninsula near Interstate 295 into a mixed-use neighborhood with a hotel, restaurants, residences and office buildings, in addition to the event center. Read the story.


Lobster season expected to launch in June

The odds are growing even stronger that this year’s prime lobster season will start extremely early, researchers said Thursday. In an updated forecast, researchers at the Gulf of Maine Research Institute said an extremely early start – a month or more before the typical start of the first week of July – is now 68 percent likely. That’s up from a 53 percent likelihood in the last forecast, issued on March 16. The chance of a very early start – around June 19 to June 26, is now pegged at 31 percent, the researchers said. The chance of an early start between June 26 and July 3 is just 1 percent and there’s no chance of a normal or late start, the researchers forecast. The researchers base their projections on water temperatures in the Gulf of Maine, which have been running well above normal this winter, one of the warmest on record for most of the eastern United States. Read the story.


Failed Biddeford restaurant financing sparks suit

Documents filed as part of a court case aimed at recovering more than $125,000 in business loans to failed Biddeford restaurateurs Harold Royals and Peter Powers allege that they spent thousands of dollars on personal expenses, including a $10,000 check made out to Powers’ mother. The court action was filed Feb. 12 in Cumberland County Superior Court by the Biddeford-Saco Area Economic Development Corp. The quasi-governmental agency, which is partly funded by Biddeford and Saco, seeks to recover more than $125,000 for three loans it issued to Royals in October 2015 to finance the opening of a Biddeford restaurant that was to be called Steer N Stein Pub & Grill. The restaurant never opened, and Royals never made his loan payments, according to the case. Included in the filing are copies of several bank statements for Burger, Beef and Brews LLC, the Saco-based parent company of Steer N Stein. The statements indicate that the company depleted its entire bank account of more than $121,000 via hundreds of withdrawals between Oct. 6 and Feb. 8. The withdrawals listed are for a wide variety of purchases such as groceries, restaurant meals, gasoline, eye care and even dog washing at You Dirty Dog in South Portland. Read the story.


State sought receivership of troubled co-op

A bid by Maine’s insurance superintendent to put Community Health Options, the state’s only nonprofit cooperative insurer, into receivership and trim its losses by terminating thousands of individual policies was rebuffed by the federal agency that oversees implementation of the Affordable Care Act. Eric Cioppa, the state’s insurance regulator, said his plan to pursue a court order to take over temporary control of the troubled Lewiston-based insurer was approved this year by the board and management of the cooperative. The organization lost $31 million in 2015 and already has put $43 million into reserves for anticipated losses this year. Community Health Options has more than 84,000 policyholders in Maine and New Hampshire. Cioppa said federal officials turned down the takeover plan in February, before he and Community Health Options officials had been able to agree on the number of policies they would have terminated. He estimated that 15 percent to 20 percent need to be dropped to make a significant dent in the co-op’s losses. Cioppa, in a March 14 letter to the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which oversees the Affordable Care Act, complained that federal officials rejected the plan because it would have violated a provision that guarantees that ACA health care policies will be renewed. The co-op is under enhanced oversight by the bureau, but Cioppa said that doesn’t suggest it is in danger of collapsing. Read the story.


Unemployment rate reflects fewer jobs

State Labor Commissioner Jeanne Paquette announced on Friday that Maine’s seasonally-adjusted unemployment rate in February was 3.6 percent, down from 4.7 percent in February 2015 and at its lowest level since March 2001. However, detailed data from Maine’s Center for Workforce and Information suggests that the unusually low unemployment rate may be masking deeper problems in Maine’s labor force. Maine’s total number of employed workers actually went down between February 2015 and February 2016, indicating that the decline in the unemployment rate is due solely to an even larger decline in the number of Mainers who are working or looking for work. In February 2015, 652,952 workers were employed in Maine, out of a civilian labor force of 685,355, according to state data. But in February 2016, only 649,746 workers were employed in Maine – a loss of 3,206 jobs over the course of the year. Over the same period, the size of Maine’s labor force declined even more precipitously, to 673,786 in February 2016 – a loss of 11,569 potential workers over the course of the year. Because this figure declined faster than the decline in jobs, the ratio between the two – the unemployment rate – also declined. Read the story.

Maine personal income growths lags nation

Mainers’ income grew sluggishly in 2015, lagging both the national average and most of the states in the region. Personal income in Maine last year was $42,077, up 3.2 percent over 2014. The national average per capita income was $47,669, up 4.4 percent over the year before, according to a report released Thursday by the Bureau of Economic Analysis. Maine’s growth rate in personal income ranked 37th among the states. In New England, where income growth averaged 4.0 percent, Maine ranked No. 4. Connecticut’s 3.1 percent increase and Vermont’s 3.0 increase were worse. Massachusetts was best in the region with a 4.7 percent increase. Income growth in Maine was strongest in health care and social assistance, contributing .29 percentage points of the total growth. Read the story.


Futuristic Weapon system considered for BIW ship

The Navy is still considering putting an electric-powered gun aboard a Maine-built destroyer, but the futuristic weapon would be installed after the ship is built, a top Navy officer said. The construction schedule is too far along to install an electromagnetic railgun aboard the Lyndon B. Johnson at Bath Iron Works, “but it’s certainly an option after the ship leaves the yard,” said Rear Adm. Pete Fanta, director of surface warfare. Fanta has proposed skipping the step of putting a prototype weapon aboard another ship this year and instead putting an operational gun aboard the Lyndon B. Johnson. But no decisions have been made. Railguns use pulses of electricity to fire projectiles at six to seven times the speed of sound, producing enough kinetic energy to destroy targets. It’s one of several technologies the Navy is considering to increase firepower at a lower cost than missiles. Read the story.


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