Year in review, Jan. through April

Compiled Jennifer Ruth  , Special to The County
16 years ago
• Sen. Susan Collins visits Houlton during the holidays, holding an open forum for discussion on her recent trip to Iraq and Afghanistan. The senator related stories of destruction to those in attendance and expressed how thankful she was to be home with her family. The senator said it was her impression that the violence that has been ongoing in Iraq has been a result of sectarian differences and continues to worsen every day. This was the third time Sen. Collins had visited the war zone.
• Maine students tested low on their SAT scores. Education Commissioner Susan Gendron released results of a first-ever statewide administration of the SAT for grade 11 assessment. The use of the SAT in the place of the MEA test initially met with resistance from some lawmakers and educators but Gendron said federal education officials and even President George Bush have been strong in their encouragement of Maine’s efforts to promote post-secondary education and having all students take the college admissions assessment test known as the SAT clearly supports that goal.
• The state announced its plans to consolidate school units across Maine. The news suggested that a chunk of Maine’s superintendents may be job hunting in the near future if a Department of Education plan for consolidation school districts into “regional learning communities” is approved by the Legislature. The plan calls for a reduction in Maine’s school administrative units (SADs) and central offices from 152 to 26.     For the local region, that means the area’s 2,700 students would all be part of a regional learning community stretching from Danforth to Monticello, from Patten to Houlton and all points in-between. In total, 28 communities would be included in the local Region 4, by a school unit to be governed by a regional board and managed by one central office. Region 4 would include the towns of Monticello, Hammond, Littleton, Moro, Merrill, Smyrna, Ludlow, Houlton, New Limerick, Mount Chase, Hersey, Dyer Brook, Oakfield, Linneus, Hodgdon, Patten, Crystal, Island Falls, Cary, Stacyville, Sherman, Benedicta, Amity, Haynesville, Orient, Bancroft, Weston and Danforth.
• A local family pleaded with the Houlton Town Council to enact an outdoor wood boiler ordinance within the town. The family claimed that low-bearing smoke was filtering into the school’s air system, causing respiratory problems for their son. The couple stated that their son had spent the greater portion of time being home-schooled because of the problem.
The request fueled a debate about the efficiency of outdoor wood boiler systems and what was being used to fuel the furnaces.
• The Houlton Regional Hospital board members gathered to discuss their 2007 budget and debt. HRH’s operating budget had been set at $38,444,606, with a payroll of more than $17 million. The hospital is one of the largest employers in the town of Houlton with a staff of 430. The Houlton hospital is one of 14 of 39 hospitals in the state of Maine designated as a critical access hospital. The designation meant a $1.7 million reimbursement of Medicare and Medicaid.
• Plans for consolidating Houlton’s District Court with the Superior Court was expected to be presented to the Legislative session for review and if approved, the county could be expected to begin their consolidation in November.
• Houlton Police Officer Thomas Donahue attended an annual union dinner in Portland where he was presented  with the “Officer of the Year” award. Donahue has been a member of the Houlton Police Department for the past 13 years and has 25 years worth of experience in law enforcement. The law enforcement union, which he is a member of, consists of approximately 1,000 members statewide.
• Houlton town council OK’d an $8 million budget for 2007.
• The first segment of the Houlton Pioneer Times’ Bicentennial Edition was expected to be released. Since the summer of 2006, the newspaper staff had been working with various groups and organizations and individuals in town to collect photographs and information on the 200-year history of the town. The first of three editions was included in the Feb. 14 newspaper. The edition featured a glance at where the town came from and who helped get it back on its feet during the numerous hard times that have occurred over the years.
• Houlton Town Council unanimously adopted a water protection ordinance for its proposed drinking water protection zone. Several land owners were in attendance to protest the present land-use regulations to be enforced by the ordinance. Some felt the ordinance was an invasion of their privacy and had too many restrictions. Town councilors listened to the arguments, however, they agreed that the importance of protecting the town’s water supply was a priority.
Houlton Water Company officials told councilors that in the event of a contamination, it could cost the town as much as $6 million to replace their existing well.
• More than $400,000 in receivables found its way back to the Houlton Regional Hospital thanks to the supplemental budget, which was enacted on Feb. 8. Hospitals across the sate were missing more than $500 million in reimbursements and then, with less than a month before elections the state agreed to pay its share of the debt.
• The Department of Homeland Security announced a plan to make traveling between Canada and the United States more secure and less expensive for U.S. residents. The Western Hemisphere Travel Initiative was part of a comprehensive bill that included a pilot project to test whether or not driver’s licenses could be linked to a database that would allow the DHS to compare the image of a person with the country’s Terrorist Watch List.
• The local Maine Revenue Service office received county-wide support after an announcement by the Governor of plans to have the Houlton office relocated to Augusta. MRS representatives have urged the state to change its mind. The office closure would see at least eight employees left without jobs, which could average an $800,000 loss of revenue to the town.
• The Aroostook County Commissioners recognized several employees. Aroostook County Sheriff James Madore announced that Deputy Sheriff Tim Ivey of Houlton had been honored at the Maine Sheriff’s Association’s annual awards and recognition event in January. Ivey has been employed within the corrections department for the past 18 years and was named the 2006 Corrections Officer of the Year.
• The Houlton Fire Department purchased a new piece of safety education thanks to funds left over from a past fire grant. The department planned to acquire the “Sparky Hazard House” as part of its teaching tool for local youth. The house was valued at approximately $12,390.
• A new police chief took over as Houlton’s top cop. Veteran Police Chief Butch Asselin gave up his post in Skowhegan to become Houlton’s new police chief. Chief Asselin replaced former Police Chief Dan Soucy.
• The Boralex plant in Stacyville closed March 1 for an indefinite period of time. Between 15 and 20 people had been employed with the plant.
Boralex is a company based from Montreal and it focuses on four types of power generation: hydroelectric power, thermal or co-generation power from natural gas or wood residue and wind power with 20 power stations in Europe and North America, including two in Ashland and Fort Fairfield.
• Houlton music teacher Joe Fagnant was nominated as the Teacher of the Year along with 18 other Maine teachers.
• More than 1,300 people attended Houlton’s annual Southern Aroostook Trade Show at the Millar Civic Center. The annual trade show is for local and regional vendors to showcase their products and services to the public.
• Houlton resident Madelyn Perkins celebrated Good Friday of this year by also celebrating her birthday. The Pinder, N.B. native turned 90 years old on April 6, marking a major milestone in her life. Perkins was treated to a surprise birthday party put on by her friends and family.
• SAD 29’s pre-kindergarten classes were expanded to become five-day programs.
• Area growers were honored by the Southern Aroostook Soil and Water Conservation District (SASWCD) during its annual banquet. Plaques were presented to two local farmers, as well as other individual group awards.
Wood Prairie Farm in Bridgewater, operated by Jim and Megan Gerritsen, was honored with the district’s “Outstanding Innovative Farmers” award. The Gerritsens have farmed organic seed potatoes, root vegetables and grains for 30 years.
Mike and Karen Fitzpatrick of Borderside Farms in Houlton were named the year’s “Outstanding Conservation Farmer” for their participation in the district’s winter cover program.
• Houlton Superior Court’s clock tower received a $21,000 facelift. The building’s bell tower hasn’t received an upgrade since 2004 when a  new flagpole was erected. Cost for the upgrade was covered by the county and not the judicial system.