REAL ESTATE & CONSTRUCTION

Maine home sales dip slightly in July

Sales of existing, single-family homes in Maine dipped slightly in July compared with a year earlier, while the median sale price increased by 4.2 percent. Real estate analysts attributed the results to a continued lack of housing inventory in the market. In July, 1,701 existing homes were sold in Maine, a decrease of about 0.5 percent from 1,710 homes sold in July 2016, according to the Maine Association of Realtors. The median sale price for those homes was $206,000, compared with $197,700 a year earlier. Read the story.

ENERGY

Compact agrees to lower carbon emissions

Maine and eight other states that have a regional compact to reduce greenhouse gas emissions have agreed to deeper cuts to carbon emissions over the next decade. The states participating in the Regional Greenhouse Gas Initiative – known as RGGI – are pledging to cut emissions from power plants by at least 30 percent between 2020 and 2030. That’s slightly higher than the current agreement to reduce emissions by 2.5 percent annually. The plan – announced Wednesday – is not yet final, and a meeting is set in Baltimore on Sept. 25 to solicit comment from power companies and others affected by the decision. Read the story.

PUC investigating natural gas billing error

A billing error led Maine Natural Gas to significantly undercharge some of its largest customers, the Public Utilities Commission has discovered, and the agency said Wednesday that it’s opening an investigation into the matter. The PUC wants to determine, among other things, what led to the underbilling, whether the error could have been detected and what the effect may be on other customers. Maine Natural Gas has more than 4,200 customers in Bath, West Bath, Brunswick, Topsham, Windham, Gorham, Bowdoin, Freeport, Pownal, Hallowell and Augusta. After a consumer complaint, the agency found that the billing errors dated back to 2002 and extended to 2016. It found 11 large customers were involved, but the names are protected from public disclosure, the PUC said. Read the story.

RETAIL

Campaign launched for lobster emoji

Lobster entrepreneur Luke Holden started an online petition to create a lobster emoji for electronic messaging. Holden, who operates a chain of lobster-centric restaurants in the U.S., said the aim of his online petition is to impress upon the UniCode emoji committee that thousands would like to see the lobster represented. The Unicode Consortium, the nonprofit governing body responsible for determining which emojis get added each year, announced this month that the lobster is a candidate for release in 2018. Holden said it is among the 67 emojis that will be winnowed down to a list of finalists at the consortium’s annual members’ meeting in October. His campaign on Change.org under the title “Let’s Make The Lobster Emoji Happen” had more than 1,500 signatures within 24 hours. Read the story.

MANUFACTURING

Chip maker hiring as production expands

Texas Instruments is seeking up to 20 manufacturing workers to accommodate a production increase at its South Portland microchip fabrication plant. The Dallas-based integrated circuit manufacturer is hosting a job fair Saturday to screen candidates. A similar job fair was held Thursday. In January 2016, Texas Instruments announced plans to close a manufacturing plant in Greenock, Scotland, and move some of that work to Maine. At the time, the company said it had about 540 workers in South Portland and that it did not expect to add more as a result of the Greenock closure. But on Thursday, one of the job fair’s organizers said “new products and technologies” prompted the effort to seek out more workers in South Portland. Read the story.

 Human error likely cause of McCain crash

A spate of accidents involving the Navy’s Pacific Fleet, including two deadly collisions in just over two months, are likely the result of human error, not mechanical malfunction, analysts and former Navy officers say. The intense tempo of operations and long deployments at sea could mean crews are not getting enough training before being deployed, they said. At least 10 U.S. sailors went when the USS John S. McCain collided Monday with an oil tanker in the Strait of Malacca, near Singapore, one of the busiest shipping corridors in the world. And the USS Fitzgerald was struck off the coast of Japan on June 17 by a much heavier container ship killing seven U.S. seamen. Both destroyers were built by Bath Iron Works in Maine in the early 1990s. One news report speculated that a steering malfunction may have contributed to the USS McCain collision. On Wednesday, the Navy awarded the contract to repair the Fitzgerald to BIW rival Ingall’s shipyard in Pascagoula, Mississippi. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Westbrook drive-in reopens

The Prides Corner Drive-In in Westbrook is back in business, showing feature-length movies shown under starlit skies. After taking last year off, the family-owned drive-in established in 1952 began showing “Despicable Me 3” and “The Mummy” starring Tom Cruise on Friday evening – during a torrential downpour. The drive-in, one of six in the state, will continue to show movies through September, and possibly October, but only on weekends during those months, manager Jeff Tevanian said. Last year, the drive-in closed for the season while the business was restructured and a new digital projector, which cost approximately $75,000, was installed. Read the story.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Marine monument designation likely headed to court

Environmentalists and fishing groups said Thursday they are prepared for a legal battle in the wake of Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke’s decision to preserve the nation’s first Atlantic Ocean marine monument. President Obama designated Northeast Canyons and Seamounts Marine National Monument a little less than a year ago. It’s 5,000 square miles of underwater canyons and mountains off New England’s coast, whose designation had been under review by the Trump administration. Some fishing groups have said the designation was created through an illegal use of the Antiquities Act of 1906 and jeopardizes their industry, and they’ve sued to challenge its creation. But conservationists said the monument protects marine life and celebrated Thursday’s news. The case is almost certainly in for a long court battle, said stakeholders. Read the story.

TRANSPORTATION

Construction projects will reroute downtown traffic

Driving in Portland is going to get a little more challenging in the weeks ahead as the city undertakes major construction projects affecting State Street and Fore Street. On Monday, a section of State Street between Park and Cumberland avenues will be closed to traffic for about three months while construction crews install a new storm drain and replace an existing sanitary sewer. A second construction project starting Monday will affect Fore Street between India and Hancock streets. Traffic will be restricted to one lane eastbound through the end of the year, according to the city. Westbound traffic should avoid that stretch of Fore Street, and drivers are being advised to use Hancock Street to Thames Street as an alternative route. Read the story.