Mainers’ incomes tick up

Maine’s household income rose faster than the national average last year. Overall, Maine’s economic gains were modest as reflected in the American Community Survey, produced by the Census Bureau and released Thursday. But they still represented a positive sign and allowed Maine to move up in the state-by-state rankings of household income. Last year, Maine’s median household income rose 3.07 percent from 2015 to 2016. Nationally, the increase was 2.38 percent. The increase was strong enough to place Maine 33rd in income growth among the 50 states. Read the story.

Casino backers promise big returns

The campaign behind the York County casino referendum said Thursday that the project would create thousands of jobs and boost the state’s economy. Progress for Maine released an economic analysis late Thursday afternoon prepared by the Florida-based consulting firm Evans, Carroll & Associates that says voter approval of the casino in November would result in 2,165 permanent jobs and 2,767 construction jobs; $6.1 million from lodging in the 150-room hotel in the first year; $64.4 million in new household earnings from operation of the casino, and more than $100 million in household earnings from construction; and at least $45 million a year in tax revenue for the state. State officials have estimated that a voter-approved license to build a casino in York County would be worth as much as $200 million to the man who would receive it. The referendum in November would give exclusive rights to develop a casino in York County to international gambling entrepreneur Shawn Scott or a company owned by him. Read the story.

Caron resigns from Envision Maine to pursue public office

Envision Maine, a nonprofit supporting small businesses, is temporarily shutting down after Alan Caron resigned as the organization’s president to run for public office as an independent. Caron was “clearly the founder, the driving spirit, the connector and chief doer for Envision Maine,” Sam Fratoni, chairman of the group’s board of directors, said in a statement. Caron, also a former freelance columnist for the Maine Sunday Telegram, recently announced he intended to run for a “major office in Maine.” He has not confirmed that he may run for governor in 2018. Read the story.


Consumer advocate to step down

Emily Brostek is stepping down as executive director of the Augusta-based advocacy group Consumers for Affordable Health Care. Brostek, who has led the organization since 2014, announced her resignation in a letter Wednesday. Her last day will be Nov. 3, she said. Under her leadership, the group has boosted its fundraising efforts and successfully lobbied for several bills, including new protections for consumers facing surprise medical costs, and legislation requiring the state Department of Health and Human Services to contract with a Maine nonprofit to provide advocacy services to people who receive MaineCare benefits. Consumers for Affordable Health Care also has been a vocal opponent of double-digit increases in individual insurance premiums under the Affordable Care Act, appearing at rate hearings and arguing on behalf of consumers. Read the story.


Marine operators, fishermen fear being squeezed out of Portland waterfront

A spurt of hotel, office and shopping developments planned for Portland’s waterfront is rekindling concerns that space for fishermen and other traditional marine businesses is disappearing as Commercial Street becomes a shopping and dining mecca. Commercial fishermen who have unloaded lobster and groundfish on Portland’s wharves for decades see the changes as the next step in a long process to change the face of the waterfront, to their disadvantage. Some report rising parking costs, the loss of berths to yachts and downtown traffic jams that threaten shipments of perishable food. There also is a perception that City Hall is siding with developers and overlooking the traditional waterfront’s economic impact, which the fishermen estimate is well over $100 million a year. In a petition sent to the Portland Planning Board in July, more than 90 lobstermen, fishermen and waterfront business owners said that four new developments planned for Commercial Street would put the entire working waterfront in jeopardy. Read the story.


Draft of pot law sketches regulations for new industry

A draft bill released Monday would let Maine’s eight licensed medical marijuana dispensaries apply for a license to sell recreational cannabis, but they could not sell medical and recreational products at the same counter, said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the state marijuana committee tasked with crafting new adult-use regulations. Like Colorado, Maine would require separate medical and adult-use entrances to a dual-licensed dispensary. State-certified caregivers also could apply for a recreational retail-sales license, as long as they don’t sell their adult-use products at the same counter or point of sale as their medicine, Katz said. Medical marijuana would be taxed at a lower rate than recreational marijuana – 5.5 percent compared with 20 percent – and generally has lower levels of THC, the psychoactive agent in cannabis. The Legislature’s Joint Committee on Marijuana Legalization Implementation will hold a public hearing on the proposed bill Sept. 26. The committee plans to meet at least twice more to incorporate public comment into the bill before it submits a final draft to the full Legislature, which will reconvene next month for a one-day special session to consider the marijuana bill and the ranked-choice voting law. Read the story.

Case tests medical marijuana and workers’ comp law

The Maine Supreme Judicial Court grilled attorneys about the dangers, cost and legality of using medical cannabis instead of prescription opioids in a landmark workers’ compensation case Wednesday. The case of Gaetan Bourgoin, a 58-year-old paper mill worker who hurt his back in a 1989 work accident, has forced the state’s highest court to consider whether an employer in Maine, where medical marijuana is legal, must reimburse an injured worker for a drug that remains illegal under federal law, especially when prescription painkillers had failed him miserably. The Maine Workers’ Compensation Board had sided with Bourgoin and ordered Twin Rivers Paper Co., which owns the mill where Bourgoin had worked as a paper machine operator, to cover his $350 monthly medical marijuana costs. Twin Rivers claims it can’t do that without breaking federal law, even if pot is cheaper than the $1,500-a-month opioid prescription that left Bourgoin hooked and suicidal. Twin Rivers is asking the Supreme Judicial Court to overturn the board’s ruling forcing the company to reimburse Bourgoin for his marijuana treatments. A decision is not expected for a few months. Read the story.


Invasive pest claiming more ash trees

Five prominent species of ash tree in the eastern U.S. have been driven to the brink of extinction from years of lethal attack by a beetle, a scientific group says. Tens of millions of trees in the U.S. and Canada have already succumbed to the emerald ash borer, and the toll may eventually reach more than 8 billion, the International Union for Conservation of Nature said Thursday. Ash trees are a major part of eastern forests and urban streets. In Maine, ash represents about 2 percent of the trees in the state’s 17 million acres of forest, and white ash is commercially valuable for making things like snowshoes and canoe paddles. The emerald ash borer has not been detected in Maine forests, although a small infestation has appeared in New Hampshire trees, said Dave Struble, the Maine state entomologist. State and federal agencies have set about 1,100 traps for the beetle in Maine, hoping early detection can mitigate or help control its spread. Read the story.


LePage home on the market

The Boothbay home Gov. Paul LePage and his wife, Ann, bought three years ago is back on the market. Coldwell Banker Plourde Real Estate has listed the three-bedroom home on Firth Drive in Muirgen, a private development off Back Narrows Road, for $409,000. The listing doesn’t name the owners, but the 2018 Boothbay tax bill lists Ann LePage as the owner. The couple’s primary residence is the Blaine House in Augusta, the governor’s official residence. The listing is almost twice what the LePages paid for it in 2014. They bought the colonial for $215,000 from a bank that had been asking $329,900 for the property after taking it from its previous owner in a foreclosure proceeding the year before, records show. At the time they bought it, the average house value in Muirgen was about $700,000. Read the story.