UTILITIES

PUC refuses to intensify inquiry into CMP billing problems

The Maine Public Utilities Commission on Monday rebuffed the public advocate’s call for an elevated investigation into hundreds of inexplicably high Central Maine Power Co. bills. The PUC said it will continue its deliberative examination process and not elevate the case at this time. The decision follows reports last week by the Portland Press Herald that CMP had known since October that its new billing software had multiple problems affecting thousands of customers, although those glitches haven’t been directly linked to the issue of high bills. Details about the problems and efforts by CMP and its parent company, Avangrid, to find solutions were contained in hundreds of pages of internal emails posted on the PUC’s website. After seeing those emails, Public Advocate Barry Hobbins called on the PUC to change its review from a summary investigation relying largely on data requests to a so-called adjudicatory case. Read the story.

RETAIL

Westbrook bookstore dumps titles by authors accused of sexual harassment

A Westbrook bookstore is among those pulling titles by authors accused of sexual misconduct, including Pulitzer Prize-winning novelist Junot Diaz. Diaz is facing allegations that he had forcibly kissed a woman and verbally abused others. When those accusations began to circulate Friday, Quill Books & Beverage announced on social media that it would be removing any books by Diaz from its shelves. Co-owner Allison Krzanowski said the bookstore has removed books by other men who have faced similar accusations, like David Foster Wallace and Sherman Alexie. Krzanowski said most people responded positively to the announcement, but a few saw the move as censorship. Read the story.

HOSPITALITY

Enforcement push yields short-term rental picture

Two months into an enforcement push from City Hall, a picture of Portland’s short-term rental market is coming into focus. The city estimates that three out of four rental units in Portland offered for a night or a few days on sites like Airbnb are registered with the city, meaning about 500 units now comply with rules that took effect in January. More than a third of the units were registered after the city began sending notices to violators in March. Roughly 282,000 people stayed in Airbnb listings in Maine in 2017, a 62 percent increase from the year before. Read the story.

REAL ESTATE & DEVELOPMENT

Revised project could add 750 apartments in Westbrook

The developer of a shopping center near the Portland-Westbrook line wants to add 750 apartments to the plan, which would make it one of the largest residential projects in the region. The Westbrook Planning Board approved an application two years ago for a 500,000-square-foot retail plaza on vacant land surrounding the former Pike Industries quarry. Now, the Massachusetts-based developer that took over the project and secured the grocery store Market Basket as its anchor tenant is preparing to submit an even more ambitious plan: 1 million square feet of new housing and commercial space. Waterstone Properties Group has not submitted updated plans to the city, but it recently issued a news release with new details and renderings that depict two- to five-story buildings clustered around a plaza-like space with trees and grass. Westbrook City Planner Jennie Franceschi said she expects to meet with the developer this week to talk about the revised project. Read the story.

 Portland developers behind the purchase of Falmouth ‘gold mine’

Two Portland developers are behind the purchase of a Falmouth strip mall primed for redevelopment. Joseph Soley, the patriarch of a Portland real estate empire, and Jonathan Cohen, grandson of the founder of Portland Glass, bought the Falmouth Shopping Center on Route 1 in March, according to a mortgage filed with the Cumberland County Registry of Deeds. The strip mall, which has had vacant storefronts for years, sold for $21 million, according to NKF Capital Markets, the firm that orchestrated the sale. On the mortgage, Soley is listed as the sole member of 122 PTIP LLC and Cohen is named the manager of 20 Thames Street LLC. The two companies each own half of the property, according to a deed signed March 23. Read the story.

 FISHING & BOATING

Cleanup team tangles with 2 tons of ‘ghost gear’ off Cape Elizabeth

A 2-ton, decades-old ball of underwater marine debris measuring 15 feet in diameter was pulled from Dyer Cove off Cape Elizabeth on Tuesday, the biggest example of derelict fishing gear recovered from the Gulf of Maine in at least a decade, according to the lobster industry group that removed it. It took hours for a group of divers, lobstermen and environmentalists to lift the tangled knot of fishing ropes, nets and traps from 35 feet of water near the Lobster Shack at Two Lights, haul it over to Merrill’s Wharf in Portland, cut it into small enough pieces to lift ashore and break it down for recycling. The Gulf of Maine Lobster Foundation has been ridding local waters of so-called “ghost gear” for a decade, culling state waters of more than 5,000 traps during that time, but it is usually done trap by trap, said Executive Director Erin Pelletier. This ball will likely top out at between 4,000 and 5,000 pounds. Read the story.

 Portland’s shipping link helps Yarmouth firm import Finnish speedboats

A huge cargo crane lifted a 28-foot speedboat from a nest of surrounding shipping containers Tuesday afternoon and placed it gently onto a trailer parked at the International Marine Terminal in Portland. The boat was one of up to 60 Finnish-built Axopar vessels that will be imported to the U.S. in the next two years by East Coast Yacht Sales, many through the bustling Port of Portland. The Yarmouth company has spent the past year working on a deal to be the exclusive Axopar retailer on the East Coast from Maine to Maryland. That’s a connection partially made possible because of shipping links between Portland and Europe from Eimskip, the Icelandic shipping firm. The deal will mean expansion for the yacht dealer, including a new office in Annapolis, Maryland, said owner Jon Knowles. Read the story.

 Some Rockland residents call for ban on large cruise ships

The Rockland City Council may schedule a November advisory referendum on whether to impose a ban on large cruise ships. Councilors said they want to gauge public sentiment after a group of residents on Monday presented a petition calling for regulations on large cruise ships. A dozen speakers called for a moratorium, saying the ban was needed to protect the character of the community. The group unfurled pages of the petition across the City Council chamber to demonstrate the number of people who signed the online survey asking the city to enact regulations on larger cruise ships. David Wylie, of Rockland, said 80 Rockland residents signed the petition and there were 752 total signatures from people around the country and world. The cruise ship issue was not on the council’s agenda but residents turned out, asking councilors to impose an immediate moratorium. Read the story.

TECHNOLOGY

Colby College, Growth Council to offer free WiFi in downtown Waterville

Colby College and the Central Maine Growth Council plan to install free wireless internet in public spaces downtown, making access available to all, according to a news release. The investment is designed to support local businesses and attract new ones, enhance the quality of life for residents and visitors to downtown, and help to make Waterville even more of a destination, the release, issued Tuesday, says. “The service will become live this month, with a range that spans from the Hathaway Creative Center to Post Office Square and from the western edge of the Concourse to the Head of Falls, where public wifi will enhance plans for a re-envisioned riverwalk,” the release says. Colby contributed the initial investment of funds, and the Growth Council will manage annual operating costs. Read the story.

– Staff and media partner reports