COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Lobstermen appeal for exemption from coral protection zone

The financial toll of a lobster fishing ban near deep-sea coral gardens in the Gulf of Maine could top $8 million a year, almost double what was originally projected by the regional regulatory group that is considering the ban, a Maine fishing representative said Thursday. The 50 Maine lobster boats that fish Outer Schoodic Ridge and Mount Desert Rock – the areas where fragile coral colonies have been found – drop more traps there for more months of the year than originally estimated, said Patrick Keliher, Maine’s top fisheries official. The New England Fisheries Management Council originally had estimated that Maine fishermen likely landed about $4.2 million worth of lobster from the 49 square miles under consideration for coral protection. Regulators will make a final determination on the exemption in June. Read the story.

Red tide closes clam flats

A large segment of the Maine coastline between Old Orchard Beach and Harpswell was declared off-limits to clam harvesting this week because of red tide, adding further restrictions to a much larger area that has been under a shellfish harvesting prohibition for more than a month. The Maine Department of Marine Resources and its Bureau of Public Health made the announcement on Monday, warning that the ban on clam harvesting takes effect immediately because of the threat of paralytic shellfish poisoning caused by red tide. According to the department’s announcement, it is unlawful now to dig for clams in the area between Old Orchard Beach and Harpswell. Staff from the state’s Marine Resources Biotoxin Monitoring Program will test shellfish areas for red tide, and once clams flats are deemed safe, they will be reopened. Read the story.

 Green crab threat strong for 2017 clamming season

Clammers face a shrinking harvest again this year after predator green crabs survived the mild winter, but one scientist may have an answer – aquaculture. The second mild winter in a row means Maine’s tidal flats will likely be overrun by large, ravenous invasive green crabs this summer. That’s bad news for the state’s already weakened soft-shell clam industry. One green crab can consume 40 half-inch clams a day and will dig 6 inches to find clams to eat. In 2016, clam landings fell 21 percent, from 9.3 million to 7.3 million pounds, the lowest total reported since 1991, according to the state Department of Marine Resources. Some researchers suggest clammers consider farming clams in small plots of carefully protected flats, possibly leased from the landowners who control access to the upper tidal flats, to keep the industry alive. Read the story.

 REAL ESTATE & DEVELOPMENT

Libra Foundation begins effort to revitalize Monson as hub for artists

The Libra Foundation has launched an effort to revitalize the town of Monson by creating a hub for artists. The Portland-based philanthropic foundation already has purchased about 12 downtown properties and is renovating them into artists’ residences and studios. The hope is that once an artists’ community is populated, it will draw economic investment into the poorest county in Maine, Piscataquis. The foundation decided to concentrate its efforts on Monson’s downtown, which has borne the scars of shuttered factories and a declining population. In addition to rehabbing the buildings and recruiting artists, Libra also is hoping to make investments in local agriculture and in recreation. Read the story.

Volume of April home sales slows while prices inch up

Low inventory of existing single-family homes contributed to a 13.9 percent decrease in sales volume across Maine in April compared with a year earlier, according to the Maine Association of Realtors. The group reported Wednesday that 1,106 homes changed hands in April, compared with 1,285 homes in April 2016. The median sale price for those homes rose 2.8 percent from a year earlier to $185,000, it said. During the three-month period ending April 30, home sales were down 5.9 percent compared with the same period of 2016, and the median price was up 5.1 percent to $185,000. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Former Portland chamber CEO takes job at Greater Portland Council of Governments

Former Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce CEO Chris Hall has joined the Greater Portland Council of Governments as director of regional initiatives. Hall’s responsibilities will include “forging partnerships between public, private, social service and education leaders to grow our economy,” council Executive Director Kristina Egan said in a news release Thursday. Hall told the Portland Press Herald in February that he had decided to resign from his leadership role at the chamber to pursue new opportunities. He worked for the Maine State Chamber of Commerce for 17 years before joining the Portland chamber in 2006. He had been CEO since 2013. Read the story.

Mill equipment up for auction

The new owners of the shuttered Madison Paper Co. mill will hold a three-day online sale of more than 3,000 pieces of paper mill equipment next month. The 550,000-square-foot facility closed last May after 35 years on the banks of the Kennebec River, leaving 214 mill workers without jobs. New Mill Capital Holdings of New York City, in partnership with Perry Videx, of Hainesport, New Jersey, and Infinity Asset Solutions, of Toronto, acquired the mill property in December. The 3,000-item sale, to be held June 13-15, will feature items such as debarking equipment, log grinders, vacuum pumps and other industrial equipment, the company said Tuesday in a written statement. The Valmet paper machine, which was upgraded in 2012, is also for sale via private negotiation. Read the story.

LABOR

LePage initiates alternative minimum wage bill

The LePage administration asked lawmakers Tuesday to rein in the multi-year minimum wage increase passed by voters in November in hopes of “retaining businesses and jobs” in Maine. But Gov. Paul LePage’s proposal, which one union leader described as “deeply contemptuous to democracy,” is unlikely to find much traction among Democrats, who control one chamber of the Legislature. Under the ballot initiative endorsed by 55 percent of Maine voters last year, Maine’s minimum wage rose from $7.50 to $9 an hour on Jan. 1 and will increase by $1 annually until it hits $12 an hour in 2020. LePage’s bill would increase the minimum wage in annual 50-cent increments until it reaches $11 an hour in 2021. Additionally, the governor wants to eliminate the annual cost-of-living adjustments – known as “indexing” – beginning in 2020 and restore the so-called “tip credit” in which tipped workers are paid less than the minimum wage as long as tips cover the difference. LePage’s bill, L.D. 1609, is also one of several pending in the Legislature that would allow employers to pay lower “training wages” to workers under 20. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Committee rejects LePage plan to merge turnpike authority with DOT

A legislative committee Thursday rejected LePage administration proposals to merge the Maine Turnpike Authority with the Department of Transportation and move toward a single highway toll in York. The unanimous vote came moments after an hour-long public hearing during which opponents urged the Transportation Committee to preserve the quasi-independence of an agency that manages what some described as “the gateway to Maine.” Under Gov. Paul LePage’s bill, the Maine Turnpike Authority would have until late 2027 to pay off its debts and to submit a plan to the Legislature to transfer all authority for the 109-mile highway to the Maine Department of Transportation. The bill, L.D. 1617, would also have required the Maine Turnpike Authority or DOT to close all toll facilities along the highway except one in York. The turnpike authority is already planning a new toll plaza in York to replace the existing one. Read the story.