Website allows comparing medical procedure costs

A state-run database that compares average prices and patient satisfaction levels for dozens of procedures and tests performed at Maine health care facilities has been updated to give consumers more information. The information that’s now available at helps Mainers become better consumers of health care in a state where the total cost of a common procedure such as a colonoscopy can range from $850 to more than $4,000. Thursday’s changes represent the fourth major update to the website since it was launched in the fall of 2015 by the Maine Health Data Organization and Maine Quality Forum. Among the updates are new indicators of the average quality of care, and updated pricing through the end of 2016. As of Thursday, the site allows Mainers to compare prices for about 200 common medical procedures at roughly 175 health care facilities throughout the state. It is the product of over 1 billion health care records collected by Maine Health Data as allowed by state statute. Read the story.


FAA, jetport address South Portland noise complaints

Portland International Jetport and Federal Aviation Administration officials attempted Thursday to clarify the reasons for an increase in airplane noise complaints this summer.

More than 20 residents, many from South Portland, packed a small conference room at the airport during a regular meeting of the Jetport Noise Advisory Committee seeking an explanation for an increase in the number of low-flying planes over their neighborhoods and asking officials to do something about it. A combination of airport construction, runway maintenance and scheduled radar outages contributed to the problem, according to officials. Read the story.

Downeaster rail service planned for Rockland

Seasonal passenger train service could return to Rockland. The Northern New England Passenger Rail Authority announced Monday at its annual meeting that it will “explore implementation of service on the Rockland Branch.” The Downeaster Coastal Connection pilot program would be an extension of existing schedules, using existing equipment. This seasonal and weekend-only service would provide Downeaster transportation to Bath, Wiscasset, Newcastle, and Rockland. Details, including a schedule of public meetings to gather input from communities along the line, will be announced soon, according to the organization’s website. Read the story.


Project delays could affect natural gas prices in Maine

Continued delay in building a new pumping station in Massachusetts for natural gas bound for Maine could lead to higher prices for heat and electricity, if the station isn’t finished before the 2019 heating season. Plans to fully open the Atlantic Bridge pipeline project next month and send lower-cost gas from Pennsylvania north have been stalled by ongoing opposition to building a large compressor station in Weymouth, Massachusetts. The compressor is needed to maintain sufficient pressure for delivering gas to customers in Maine and the Maritimes, according to Enbridge Inc. The project is intended to expand capacity along existing pipelines. Service in Maine and Atlantic Canada is expected in the second half of 2018. That’s a year later than targeted for the $1 billion project. The compressor dispute is now in federal court, and if the compressor fight drags on another year, experts say, the region may need to bring in gas over other pipelines and through additional overseas deliveries of liquefied natural gas. Both alternatives would be more expensive and would cost customers more money, although there’s no way now to know how much. Read the story.


Report offers affordable housing recommendations

With housing affordability at the forefront of the Nov. 7 elections in Portland, a City Council subcommittee on Thursday will review a new report that details the city’s ongoing efforts to address housing issues and recommends additional steps, such as providing more funding for affordable housing and tightening up rules for converting apartments into condominiums. The report, which says there is “no silver bullet” for Portland’s housing woes, was prepared by city staff and comes less than two weeks before voters consider a citizen initiative that would regulate rent increases, make it more difficult for landlords to evict tenants and establish a rent board to mediate landlord-tenant disputes. The report includes 15 new policy recommendations for future consideration. One recommendation would establish a “Housing Advisory Board” of housing professionals, renters and landlords to inform city decisions on housing policy. Read the story.

Augusta Shaw’s shopping mall plaza sells at auction

Shaw’s Plaza in Augusta was sold, sort of, at auction Wednesday. The winning bid of $15 million for the prominent Western Avenue shopping center that is home to Shaw’s supermarket, Big Lots, PetLife, Applebee’s and several other stores came from the lender that already held the debt and had initiated the foreclosure auction on the property, LNR Partners of Florida. A lawyer for LNR Partners, Stephanie Williams, made the $15 million winning bid. She said the company had no comment on its plans for the shopping center. Read the story.


Seaweed company wins $100,000 USDA grant

Maine’s two U.S. senators say the U.S. Department of Agriculture is awarding $100,000 to a Buxton seaweed harvesting and processing company. The senators say the money is going to VitaminSea to fund a concept study for larger scale commercialization of its seaweed products. VitaminSea harvests seaweed to create health products such as nutritional supplements, plant fertilizers and skin care products. It also uses it to make animal feed. The company intends to use the grant money to look into market potential of kelp as a nutritional supplement and preservative. Read the story.


Fate of legalized weed now in hands of governor

Gov. Paul LePage has until Nov. 3 to decide whether to sign a marijuana bill adopted by state legislators in special session Monday. The two-term Republican has sent mixed messages on the measure that passed in both houses but fell shy of the two-thirds majority required to override a gubernatorial veto. Now people on both sides of the marijuana debate are waiting to see whether LePage will sign the bill, veto it or let it become law without his signature. LePage is a staunch marijuana critic, calling it a “deadly” gateway drug, but occasionally he has suspended that opposition, or put limits on it. As of Friday, he had not issued a veto. Read the story.


Westbrook eatery notifies customers of data hack

Corsetti’s, an Italian restaurant in Westbrook, is notifying customers that its payment-processing system was hacked and customer card data likely stolen between May and September. Corsetti’s said in a written statement that its card-processing software was hacked by an outside source, and that a virus was installed in the system. The restaurant said it is working with law enforcement and the provider of its point-of-sale system to determine the scope of the breach and identify and apprehend the perpetrator. The system has been secured and is no longer at risk, it said. In the meantime, it is urging customers who may have been affected to contact their bank to request new credit or debit cards, change any personal identification numbers associated with those cards, and review their bank account statements closely. Read the story.

Boothbay research lab appoints new CEO

Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in East Boothbay said Wednesday that its board of trustees has appointed Deborah Bronk to be the next president and CEO. Bronk will assume her new role at the nonprofit marine research institute March 1. Bronk is currently the Moses D. Nunnally Distinguished Professor of Marine Sciences and department chair at Virginia Institute of Marine Science in Gloucester Point, Virginia. She previously served as division director for the National Science Foundation’s Division of Ocean Science and as president of the Association for the Sciences of Limnology and Oceanography. Bronk will succeed Graham Shimmield, who held the position for nine years before his death in December 2016. Read the story.