REAL ESTATE & DEVELOPMENT

Rufus Deering redevelopment project gets planners’ OK

The Portland Planning Board has given the go-ahead for a hotel and condominium project at the site of a former lumber yard on Commercial Street after the developers made some concessions on traffic concerns. Board members on Wednesday unanimously approved a master plan from Reger Dasco Properties at 383 Commercial St. that includes a 139-room hotel and conference center, 211 residential units, street-level commercial and retail space and parking. The project will be developed in three phases, beginning with the hotel and a 117-unit residential building, according to plans submitted to the city. To get approval, Reger Dasco agreed to pay $45,000 toward a traffic corridor study on Commercial Street, preserve parking for waterfront workers during construction and help pay for traffic signal at the intersection of Commercial and High streets. Read more.

MARIJUANA

Medical marijuana processors in state’s crosshairs

Maine plans to start cracking down on the growing number of labs and kitchens that specialize in turning cannabis into a product that doesn’t have to be smoked. The state Department of Health and Human Services says processors, labs and kitchens that turn caregiver cannabis into manufactured products such as foods, oral tinctures, topical salves and vaporizer waxes for medical marijuana caregivers are breaking state rules and will face harsh penalties, such as losing their caregiver license or referral to law enforcement. Inspectors are warning caregivers that the crackdown will begin Feb. 1. Processors, caregivers and patients want to fight the crackdown, saying it would end a startup industry that makes high-quality, potent concentrates that helps patients who don’t like to smoke their medicine. They may ask a legislative committee that will have to sign off on rule changes to amend or overturn the processing ban. Read more.

Lawmakers dive into next attempt on recreational pot law

State lawmakers are launching a new effort to overhaul Maine’s recreational pot law in January, hoping to find a political compromise to avoid another gubernatorial veto. The committee charged with launching the state’s commercial adult-use market already has reintroduced the bill that Gov. Paul LePage vetoed last month, changing just a few of the dates to reflect the delay caused by the veto. The committee will hold the first hearing on the bill on Jan. 5 and use that testimony to help decide what other parts of the old bill need to be changed, said Rep. Teresa Pierce, D-Falmouth, the committee’s House chair. Read more.

Yarmouth considers permanent ban on retail pot

The Town Council will vote Dec. 21 on whether to permanently ban retail marijuana establishments and social clubs. In August, the town approved a six-month moratorium on all retail marijuana establishments, which is set to expire in February. The proposed ordinance would make that moratorium permanent. Town Manager Nat Tupper said the ban wouldn’t affect medical marijuana distribution or possession in small, legal doses. Read more.

TRANSPORTATION

State using private contractors to help fill plow driver gap

The state is paying private contractors to drive plow trucks and work on road crews in an effort to overcome a chronic shortage of full-time transportation workers in southern Maine. Roughly 24 contractors are expected to work for Maine Department of Transportation road crews in Freeport, Alfred and Yarmouth through October 2018. The department has had difficulty recruiting and keeping workers in York and Cumberland counties, where a strong economy is siphoning current and potential employees into better-paying municipal and private-sector jobs. The department has about 50 openings. First Vehicle Services, based in Cincinnati, Ohio, was awarded a contract in September to provide 10 year-round hourly workers in both Freeport and Alfred, with a provision to expand to 40 more workers. The department has already asked for four more workers based in Yarmouth. Read more.

ENERGY

PUC opens inquiry into CMP, Emera’s storm response

The Maine Public Utilities Commission voted Tuesday to open an inquiry into responses by the state’s electric companies in restoring power after October’s destructive storm. It asked Central Maine Power Co. and Emera Maine to file reports detailing their responses and lessons learned in 30 days. It also said it wanted to know how electric utilities and regulated phone companies worked together after the storm and whether changes need to be made. The PUC’s inquiry will complement reviews set to be undertaken by the Office of Public Advocate and the Maine Legislature. Read more.

Governor’s office seeks public input on energy policy

The Governor’s Energy Office is asking Mainers for their input in developing an Energy Planning Roadmap, aimed at advancing the state’s energy, economic development and environmental goals. The road map will use the 2015 state comprehensive energy plan update as a starting point. It has broad objectives: achieve energy and cost savings in the residential, commercial, industrial and transportation sectors; reduce pollution and greenhouse gas emissions; and support the growth of a robust state and regional energy market and workforce. The office is working with the Environmental & Energy Technology Council of Maine, known as E2Tech, to hold public hearings on how to target strategies to meet these objectives. Read more.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Lobster marketing group gets funding endorsement

Despite grumbling from lobster dealers, the state Lobster Advisory Council voted unanimously Thursday to continue funding the Maine Lobster Marketing Collaborative. The collaborative is about to begin the final year of its five-year mission to promote the state’s signature product. It wants the Legislature to renew its authorization, and its $2.2 million a year budget funded by surcharges on state-issued lobster licenses. But it needs the support of the people that its work is serving – the individual lobster zone councils and the Lobster Advisory Council that oversees it all. Thursday’s endorsement from the statewide council gave the organization a perfect scorecard with local lobster regulators, having already won approval from all seven lobster zone councils. The state Department of Marine Resources and the Maine Lobstermen’s Association also support the organization, praising and defending the agency in front of the very legislative committee that will be tasked with its reauthorization next year. Read more.

MANUFACTURING

Report tags Poland Spring’s economic contribution above $200 million

Poland Spring added more than $200 million to the state economy and employed 860 workers in Maine in 2016, according to an economic impact report released by the company Tuesday. That makes Poland Spring the fifth-largest manufacturer in Maine and an important source of employment and economic growth in rural parts of Maine, where natural resource industries such as pulp and paper manufacturing are declining, said report author Charles Lawton, who also writes a column for the Portland Press Herald. The company’s overall economic effect, including employee spending, is closer to $391 million, acording to the report. The bottled water company, a subsidiary of the Swiss food and beverage giant Nestle S.A., commissioned the report in advance of building a new bottling plant to keep up with heavy demand.It expects to annoucen the location of the new plant in early 2018. Read more.

BANKING & FINANCE

KeyBank donates $450,000 to finance small business growth

KeyBank Foundation has donated $450,000 payable over three years to Coastal Enterprises Inc. to support small business growth and job creation in Maine’s rural counties, the financing organization said Thursday. The grant, approved as part of KeyBank’s $16.5 billion National Community Benefits Plan, will provide new support for CEI’s small business lending and advisory services, and partnerships with local organizations to help grow economic opportunity and quality jobs in rural Maine, it said. With KeyBank’s investment of $150,000 per year for three years, CEI expects to provide lending and business advisory services to 1,400 aspiring and current small business owners and help create and retain 300 jobs in the region in the next three years, the release said. Read more.

MTI awards $1.7 million in grants

The Maine Technology Institute said Thursday that it has awarded nine grants totaling more than $1.7 million to a variety of marine-related businesses and organizations. The grants, from the the Marine Economy Capital Grants Program and Cluster Initiative Program, were awarded in partnership with the Alliance for Maine’s Marine Economy, MTI said in a news release. Projects to be funded by the grants include value-added seafood processing, seaweed aquaculture and shellfish aquaculture, taking place down Maine’s coast from Washington to York counties. Read more.