Panel’s marijuana regulation bill omits licensing of social clubs

State lawmakers who are working to launch Maine’s adult-use cannabis industry have eliminated all references to social clubs from a proposed overhaul of the Marijuana Legalization Act. Voters approved social clubs as part of the legalization referendum in 2016, but lawmakers have repeatedly voted for delays in an effort to keep Maine from being the first state to license gathering places for marijuana users. “No other state has licensed social clubs,” said Sen. Roger Katz, R-Augusta, co-chairman of the implementation committee. “This is clearly the law, but it passed by the narrowest of margins. We ought to go slow and be conservative.” On Wednesday, the committee voted 10-4 to eliminate references to social club licensing in one of a series of straw votes on its adult-use implementation bill. A final committee vote is planned for Friday. The committee also voted down a plan to share the state’s marijuana tax revenues with communities that agree to host a licensed cultivation, processing or retail sales business. It had initially proposed giving towns a cut of the state taxes, but the bill failed to survive a veto by Gov. Paul LePage. Read the story.


Company at heart of contentious UMaine power deal pulls out

The company at the center of a controversy over a lucrative energy contract involving the University of Maine is withdrawing from negotiations. ConEdison Solutions had won the right to negotiate a contract to power UMaine’s Orono campus with wood-fired steam and electricity from a nearby, abandoned paper mill. But in recent weeks, the Portland Press Herald/Maine Sunday Telegram published stories revealing secret recordings that suggested a university official had provided inside information aimed at helping the ConEdison team win the bid. In addition, a businessman signed a sworn affidavit saying that the UMaine official – vice president Jake Ward – had improperly advised the bidders. University officials have said that Ward did nothing wrong. James Page, chancellor of the UMaine system, also has a personal financial tie to one of the companies that stood to benefit from a Con Edison contract. But UMaine spokesman Dan Demeritt said Thursday that none of those issues had any bearing on ConEdison’s decision to withdraw. Read the story.

Regulators to take closer look at complaints of overbilling by CMP

The Maine Public Utilitites Commission will consider launching an investigation into alleged overbilling of customers by Central Maine Power Co. at a meeting Tuesday. PUC Administrative Director Harry Lanphear said an item has been added to the commission’s agenda for deliberations, worded as “Commission initiated investigation into metering, billing and customer communications pertaining to Central Maine Power Company.” Kiera Reardon, consumer adviser with the Maine Public Advocate’s Office, told the Portland Press Herald in early February that she had fielded more than a dozen complaints about inexplicably high CMP bills in the preceding week, on top of others the office received after consumers got their bills in January. Read the story.


Workers at Hannaford distribution center go on strike for at least 24 hours

Striking union workers at a Hannaford Supermarkets warehouse in South Portland chanted, marched and temporarily blocked delivery traffic Wednesday in a show of strength aimed at bringing management back to negotiations. “This is a wake-up call to your company,” United Food and Commercial Workers Local 1445 President Jeff Bollen bellowed to roughly 150 striking union members during a late-morning pep talk. “They need a slap to the head and we are going to give it to them.” A 24-hour strike was launched early Wednesday morning, two days after Delhaize America Distribution, the company that operates the distribution center, said it had understood there would be no strike before a scheduled mediation Monday. The company is a subsidiary of Ahold Delhaize, an international supermarket conglomerate that also owns Hannaford. Bollen and other union officials denied there was any agreement to wait until Monday to strike. Read the story.


Committee opposes new fees on Maine hybrid and electric cars

Democratic lawmakers rejected a proposal from Gov. Paul LePage’s administration to make owning hybrid and electric cars more expensive in a committee-level vote Thursday. The 6-5 vote of the transportation committee fell along party lines, with Republican lawmakers opposing the panel’s recommendation to the full Legislature that the bill should not pass. The bill would have imposed annual surcharges of $150 for hybrid gas-electric cars and $250 for all-electric cars to offset the state’s loss of fuel tax from those vehicles and help overcome a chronic multimillion-dollar highway fund shortfall. Angry owners of electric and hybrid cars who swarmed the transportation committee last week fumed against the bill as shortsighted and arbitrary. Rep. Andrew McLean, D-Gorham, co-chairman of the committee, said he couldn’t support the measure because it focuses only on fees for select vehicles, not other ways to raise revenue such as raising the fuel tax and other fees. Read the story.


South Portland council bans unhosted short-term rentals in residential zones

The City Council gave final approval Tuesday to sweeping regulations of home rentals offered on websites such as Airbnb and HomeAway that will ban unhosted stays in residential neighborhoods. Short-term rental operators who don’t live on the premises will have a grace period before the city moves to shut them down in September. Councilors acknowledged that some short-term rental operators will be unhappy and may lose money, but the majority said they voted to preserve housing and residential neighborhoods in the face of a deep community division. The vote was 6-1, with Councilor Adrian Dowling opposed. Dowling said he believed the council should have established a committee to develop regulations. City officials hope to stop people from buying, renovating and renting out entire homes to transient guests in a community that’s trying to increase affordable housing and preserve residential neighborhoods. Read the story.


Newspapers take Biddeford to court over effort to curb deliveries of free papers

Two York County newspapers have filed a federal lawsuit against the city of Biddeford, saying an ordinance aimed at curbing deliveries of free unsolicited papers violates the federal and state constitutions. The companies that publish the Journal Tribune and Biddeford-Saco-OOB Courier say an ordinance adopted last year in an effort to reduce litter complaints is unconstitutional because it denies freedom of the press and free speech and imposes restrictions greater than necessary, according to a lawsuit filed Feb. 16 in U.S. District Court in Portland. A New England nonprofit organization that advocates for freedom of the press also has called on Biddeford to scrap or alter the ordinance because of concerns it violates the First Amendment. The Courier, a weekly newspaper delivered on Thursday, has for years generated complaints from residents upset by piles of unwanted papers collecting on their streets and sidewalks, in some cases getting buried in snow and damaging snowblowers. The Journal Tribune delivers a free Sunday edition that has prompted similar complaints, according to city officials. Read the story.


Massive indoor salmon farm planned at former paper mill in Bucksport

A Portland company plans to start construction in August on a $250 million indoor salmon farm at the site of the former Verso mill in Bucksport. Whole Oceans farm will have capacity to grow up to 50,000 metric tons of salmon per year and create hundreds of direct jobs in the area, according to a news release from the company. The facility will be based entirely on land and use a state of the art recirculating aquaculture system, called RAS, to create a clean, healthy environment for fish without having to use antibiotics, said Whole Oceans CEO Rob Piasio, in a written statement. “The time for RAS has arrived and Whole Oceans will make Bucksport a global leader in sustainable Atlantic salmon production,” Piasio said. The company has already sold 10 years of its future production, it said. The company goal is to capture 10 percent of the U.S. Atlantic salmon market. Whole Oceans, based in Portland, has spent six years researching and preparing for its launch. Read the story.


Maine home prices jumped 5.3% from year ago January

Home prices jumped more than 5 percent in January compared with a year earlier, while the volume of sales in Maine was relatively flat. A report issued Wednesday by Maine Listings said the median sale price of detached single-family homes rose 5.3 percent from a year earlier, to $200,000. The median indicates half of the homes sold for more than that and half sold for less. The number of single-family homes sold in Maine rose 0.2 percent in January compared with a year earlier, the report said. “Buyers are anxiously awaiting the increased for-sale inventory that spring traditionally brings,” said Kim Gleason, president of the Maine Association of Realtors and broker/owner of McAllister Real Estate in Hallowell. “The January 2018 for-sale inventory (was) 17 percent below January 2017 due to a strong winter selling season.” January was not the first time that the statewide median home price has reached $200,000, according to Maine Listings. That milestone was first reached in May, and the median hasn’t dropped below $200,000 since then, it said. Read the story.

– From staff and media partners’ reports