Agreement reached on Saddleback sale

The Saddleback Mountain Foundation, a group of Rangeley-area businesses and season-pass holders, announced Thursday that it had reached a verbal agreement to purchase the core ski area from the Berry family for $6 million, $2.2 million in cash and a $3.8 million loan financed by the seller, foundation chairman Peter Stein said. The Berry family also would receive royalties from land sales during any development, he said. The $6 million sale would transfer ownership of the 723-acre ski area and another 2,330 acres around it for real estate development, he said. In conjunction with the sale, the Trust for Public Land and the New England Forestry Foundation said they reached a verbal agreement with the Berrys on Wednesday for the purchase of 3,294 acres of working forestland near Saddleback that would provide wildlife habitat and a recreational corridor near the Appalachian Trail. The Berrys announced in July 2015 that unless they secured $3 million for a new chairlift they would close Saddleback. They failed to get the financing and by September 2015 announced they were in negotiations to sell the ski area. Saddleback never opened last winter. Read the story.


Consultant sees huge growth potential for aquaculture

Maine’s farmed oyster, mussel and scallop industries are poised to more than quadruple in value over 15 years, according to a new report from the Gulf of Maine Research Institute. Right now, Maine produces $24 million worth of oysters, mussels and scallops a year, 4 percent of the $700 million national market. Aquaculture accounts for about a quarter of Maine’s shellfish, worth about $6.5 million a year, according to state data. But a market analysis prepared for GMRI by The Hale Group, the Massachusetts-based food and agribusiness consultancy, predicts that Maine’s shellfish aquaculture industry will grow to $30 million by 2030. To hit triple-digit growth, however, farmers and trade groups have to work together to expand geographic coverage, grow the brand equity to support Maine’s market position and premium price, pursue operational efficiencies and invest in winter harvesting capability, the report concludes. Read the story.

Regulators increase pogy quota

Regulators voted Wednesday to increase the annual quota for pogies in 2017, giving Maine lobstermen a welcome boost in the supply of a popular bait fish, but no relief for Maine fishermen who want a bigger share of the national pogy harvest. The Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission has struggled to set its quota for the oily forage fish, also known as menhaden, with members split between wanting to maintain the annual catch at 187,880 metric tons and those who say the stock has rebounded enough to raise the quota. On Wednesday, as the commission gathered for its annual meeting in Bar Harbor, the menhaden board voted 16-2 to increase the annual quota by 6.5 percent, to 200,000 metric tons, with Pennsylvania and the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service holding out for keeping the quota unchanged. Maine voted against maintaining the current pogy catch levels, and seconded the recommendation of a 6.5 percent increase. Terry Stockwell of the Maine Department of Marine Resources called that increase a “workable compromise” for the divided board. Read the story.


Munjoy Hill condo units approved

The Portland Planning Board gave the go-ahead on Tuesday for a new seven-unit development at 30 Merrill St. in the increasingly popular Munjoy Hill neighborhood. The new building will replace an aging two-family home with seven studio units ranging from 750 to 900 square feet. Developer Tom Landry says the new units are intended to appeal to people willing to give up space for proximity to Portland’s many cultural offerings and an opportunity to live in a highly energy efficient development. Landry said he hopes the new development can help ease Portland’s housing crunch and provide more affordable housing options for people wishing to live on the peninsula. He expects to receive permits to start construction in the next few weeks. The units should be available for sale starting next spring or summer and will be listed in the low $300,000s. Read the story


CHO raises out-of-network deductibles to trim costs

Lewiston-based health insurance co-op Community Health Options will increase its deductibles for out-of-network medical care by as much as 472 percent in 2017, hoping to curb its members’ use of the expensive option. The lowest out-of-network deductible, for CHO’s “gold” plan in the Affordable Care Act marketplace, will increase by 472 percent, from $2,500 to $14,300, according to the Maine Bureau of Insurance. At the opposite end of the spectrum, the out-of-network deductible for CHO’s “catastrophic” plan will increase by 168 percent, from $8,000 to $21,450. Deductibles for its four most popular “silver” plans will increase by 186 percent, from $5,000 to $14,300. The dramatic increase in out-of-network deductibles is intended to tamp down an ongoing problem of too many CHO policyholders seeking medical services outside of Maine, said Kevin Lewis, the co-op’s chief executive. Such services are more expensive for CHO, which has been operating at a net loss since 2015. Read the story.

Elective abortions dropped from coverage plans

Lewiston-based health insurance co-op Community Health Options is dropping coverage for elective abortions from all of its insurance plans in 2017. Women’s health advocates in Maine said the decision presents a serious problem for Maine women who get their health insurance under the Affordable Care Act. CHO is Maine’s top provider of individual and small-group health insurance plans, with about 65,000 policyholders. Community Health Options CEO Kevin Lewis said it was not an easy decision to drop abortion coverage, along with adult vision care, for 2017. But he said both coverage areas are considered “non-essential health benefits” under the Affordable Care Act, and that the co-op needed to do everything possible to cut costs in order to remain viable. Harvard Pilgrim Health Care will be the only insurance provider in Maine to offer individual and small-group coverage for elective abortions, according to the state Bureau of Insurance. Anthem will continue to provide abortion coverage for small-group plans, it said. Read the story.


SBA awards $145,000 to boost exports

The Maine International Trade Center received a $145,00 grant to support export growth among small businesses. The grant was awarded by the U.S. Small Business Administration’s competitive State Trade Expansion Program. Wade Merritt, vice president and STEP project director at MITC, said the renewed award has been able to support 97 company projects in overseas markets over the past four years. The support resulted in nearly $7 million in new exports, representing a 26-to-1 return on SBA’s investment of just over $250,000, according to Merritt. Read the story.


Bank’s year-over-year net income up 70 percent

Camden National Bank owner Camden National Corp. reported net income of $10.9 million for the third quarter, up 69 percent from the same period a year earlier. The Camden-based bank holding company’s president and CEO, Greg Dufour, attributed the year-over-year growth in large part to its acquisition of The Bank of Maine owner SBM Financial Inc. in October 2015. Dufour said the acquisition, combined with organic customer growth, is part of a strategy to keep the $3.9 billion company based in Maine despite ongoing consolidation in the banking industry. Camden National reported Wednesday that its third-quarter earnings per share of 70 cents represented an increase of 13 percent over the second quarter. The company’s average return on assets for the third quarter was 1.1 percent. Read the story.