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Houlton area Year in News (Part 1)

Editor’s Note: The following is the first of two articles highlighting some of the top news stories around Houlton from 2017. This article highlights the events from January to June.

January

Despite a passionate request from one citizen to vote down the proposal, the Houlton Town Council approved an ordinance to prohibit the use of tobacco products and smoking in all public parks. The ordinance arose because of a littering problem in Riverfront Park.

Houlton Regional Hospital welcomed its first baby of the new year on Jan. 1, as Emma Rae McNinch was born at 4:17 p.m. to Katelyn and Josh McNinch of Littleton.

It took a group of 15 young spellers from Houlton Middle-High School 12 rounds, and more than an hour of competing to determine which two students would be moving on during the RSU 29 district spelling bee. For the second-straight year, a sixth-grader beat out the field of seventh- and eighth-graders to win the spelling crown with Launa Jay of Littleton, the daughter of Wade Jay and Duska Britton, being crowned Houlton’s champion as she successfully spelled the words “esteem” and “microscope.”

At Hodgdon Mill Pond School, eighth-grader Abigail McAtee, the daughter of Jeff McAtee and Bobbie McAtee, survived 14 rounds of spelling challenges to earn her school bee title. McAtee correctly spelled the words “perilous” and “rendition” to win the championship.

Town councilors approved a 2017 municipal budget in the amount of $10,690,001 on Jan. 4. That figure is up slightly from last year’s budget of $10,575,166. The budget included a 2 percent cost of living wage increase for all union employees, but non-union staff members, which include most department heads, only received a 1 percent pay increase.

After 33 years of working along southern Maine’s coast as a member of the Old Orchard Beach Police Department, Timothy DeLuca was settling in nicely in his role as Houlton’s newest police chief. DeLuca became the town’s law enforcement manager on Jan. 3 taking over the post from

Joe McKenna, who resigned in August 2016. The Houlton department is just the second police force DeLuca has worked for in his lengthy police career.

A piece of artwork created by a sophomore at Houlton Middle-High School was chosen to receive a state award. Lizzie Dunn was one of several students statewide awarded the Scholastic Art and Writing Award, which is the nation’s longest-running and most prestigious recognition initiative for creative teens. In 2017 for Maine, a total of 908 submissions were judged. The daughter of Bart Dunn and Nancy Beasley, Dunn received the highest honor, the Gold Key Award, for her detailed and realistic colored pencil portrait, “Jill.” Dunn later was one of two Maine students selected by the Maine Arts Commission as winners of the 2017 Congressional Art Competition. Dunn was chosen to represent District 2 while Taylor Worthington of Brunswick was selected to represent District 1.

A group of 11 Hodgdon High School students, along with teacher Brian Fitzpatrick, geared up to travel to Washington, D.C., to witness the Presidential inauguration of Donald Trump.

February

Eighth-Grader Jessica Quint bested a group of eight peers to win her school’s spelling title. Quint successfully spelled “inconceivable” followed by “gesticulations” to advance to the regional bee for the third straight year.

Five candidates are seeking appointment to the Houlton Town Council to fill a spot vacated by former member Matthew Carr, who resigned from the board in early January. Chris Robinson, Jerry Adams, Ed Lake, Nancy Bell and Rachel Brewer all expressed interest in the seat. Robinson was eventually chosen for the spot.

Capt. Dan Pelletier retired from the Houlton Police Department after 42 years of service to the community. He started with the department on March 16, 1975, and was the longest tenured member of the force, and worked under seven different police chiefs.

Houlton Town Manager, and former police chief, Butch Asselin, right, presents Dan Pelletier with a gift on Feb. 3 during a retirement ceremony. (Joseph Cyr)

Cold temperatures did little to discourage attendance at the 21st annual Moosestompers winter carnival in Houlton. Snow was plentiful for the event, which included snowmobile drag racing, cross-country skiing, sledding and sleigh rides.

Louise Peterson, 95, of Monticello was awarded the Boston Post Cane by the town’s board of selectmen for being the town’s eldest resident.

The man convicted of murdering an Oakfield couple on Sept. 23, 2015, was sentenced to life in prison. Matthew Davis, 36, of Houlton, denied committing the crimes of which he’s been convicted. Davis was convicted of shooting to death Michael Kitchen, 51, and Heidi Pratt, 49, in the Oakfield home they shared, setting their house ablaze and fleeing in a stolen pickup truck.

Residents were busy digging out as southern Aroostook County was walloped by a major winter storm that dropped nearly two feet of snow on the area over a two-day period. Schools throughout much of the state were closed as the largest nor’easter to hit the state in a number of years brought traffic to a standstill.

A Littleton teenager earned the top youth award from the Maine Beef Producers Association. Darcie Campbell-McCarthy, 18, won the Outstanding Youth Award from the Maine Beef Producers. The Award is designed to honor outstanding youth and future leaders of the beef industry.

A familiar face joined the Aroostook County Sheriff’s Office as Houlton’s former police chief Terry “Joe” McKenna joined Sheriff Darrell Crandall’s staff as the new division commander for the ACSO’s law enforcement unit. He will have the rank of captain and be responsible for a staff of 11 deputies and all managerial duties associated with law enforcement operations for Aroostook County.

With a unanimous vote at a Feb. 21 meeting, the Houlton Town Council unanimously approved an ordinance aimed at welcoming entrepreneurs interested in marijuana for recreational use. The topic would be revisited several times in the coming months.

March

New sidewalks for Houlton’s downtown were to be funded, in part, by a grant from the Maine Department of Transportation. The town was notified that it received a $400,000 grant from MDOT for the design and construction of the sidewalks. The project falls under MDOT’s federally-funded Pedestrian and Bicycle Safety program.

Area school districts were struggling with snow days as Aroostook County was enjoying one of its snowiest seasons in many years. East Grand and RSU 50, which includes Southern Aroostook Community School and Katahdin Elementary and Middle-High School had each missed six days of school due to storms. In comparison, SAD 70 in Hodgdon and RSU 29 in Houlton had both missed four days of classes. By state law, students must attend 175 days of classes, so when snow days start to pile up, schools must become creative on how this instruction time is made up.

A twist for the 2017 Northern Star competition allowed for participants to perform instrumental selections instead of only vocals, which opened the door for 13-year-old Hope Chernesky to blow the roof off the Houlton Community Arts Center as the talented daughter of Pam and Mickey Chernesky of Houlton dazzled the judges and audience with a contemporary violin performance played to a pop music backing track. She would go on to win the regional competition as well to become the 2017 Northern Star.

Lorraine Monfils, general manager of the Ark Animal Sanctuary, gives Keith the cat a hug inside one of four cat rooms at the new Ark Animal Sanctuary building. Keith is the lone cat to survive the March 2014 fire that destroyed the previous building. (Joseph Cyr)

A small group of about 35 Littleton residents approved an ordinance that prohibits retail marijuana establishments and social clubs from opening within town limits. The ordinance passed with little discussion during the town’s annual meeting.

The town of Houlton unveiled its newest addition to its police force — a 2016 Ford Interceptor featuring a striking new black and white color pattern.

After many long months of waiting, the first animals took up residency at the new Ark Animal Sanctuary. Located at 102 Old Woodstock Road, the new Ark Animal Sanctuary was unveiled to the public, bringing an end to a nearly three-year journey. But the 30 cats in the Ark’s care had to wait until the Ark passed its inspection before they could check out the new building.

April

The stage of Mill Pond Elementary School in Hodgdon was transformed into the world of “Alice in Wonderland”,” marking the first middle school play in SAD 70 in many years.

Dave Rairdon was settling in to his new role as the animal control officer for the town of Houlton. Rairdon was hired on a part-time basis for the Houlton Police Department and also serves as the ACO for Ludlow, New Limerick and Hammond.

The Linneus Fire Department, under the direction of chief Mark Ganzel was able to secure a 2000 Spartan Gladiator pumper truck as a gift from the Middletown (Connecticut) Fire Department at no cost to the local department. The unit also came stocked with several pieces of equipment. Middleton offered the truck with no strings attached. It was valued at $340,000 when it was new.

Concerns over student safety prompted a Hodgdon woman to start an online petition, seeking to change a long-standing policy at Hodgdon High School. Angelina Jackman brought her concerns to the SAD 70 school board after she became aware that the high school did not allow students to wear shoes when playing on the gymnasium floor during recess or lunch break, as well as before and after school. The board ultimately decided no change was warranted to its policy.

The stage of the Houlton Community Arts Center was transformed into a lush green tropical forest as young actors performed the tale of “The Jungle Book” as part of the Star Bright Children’s Theatre.

Shane Howe of Buildings Etcetera preps the front entrance of Cary Library for its new slate roof on Friday, April 21. The library’s main entry is getting an old-school facelift. The project is expected to be finished by early summer. (Contributed/Sarah Berthiaume)

Inmates and staff at the Aroostook County Jail were enjoying the company of “Libby” a canine who took up residency at the jail. Local jail administrators were aware of dogs being used in prisons around the country and had been considering a dog for the facility for about a year.

Young thespians from Houlton Middle School showcased their singing and acting abilities as part of the school’s production of “Disney’s High School Musical Jr.”

The communities of Castle Hill, Chapman and Mapleton found a new town manager at the expense of Island Falls as Dave Dionne was named the new manager of those three communities.

The Cary Library in Houlton was in the midst of a major exterior makeover. Workers started remodeling the facade of the library’s main entrance to better match the exterior of the original building built in 1904.

May

The Region Two School of Applied Technology named Olivia White as its Career and Technical Education Student of the Year. White, a senior at Houlton Middle-High School, is the daughter of Scott and Pam White of Houlton. She had been a student in the early childhood education program at Region Two for two years.

Beer lovers were out in force for the second annual Blackfly Brewfest sponsored by the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce, with assistance from many local businesses. Held at the John Millar Civic Center in Community Park, more than 60 Maine breweries brought more than 100 different Maine beers to northern Maine’s largest beer festival. Many wines and ciders also were available to sample. About 500 people attended the event.

Cary Plantation was once again pursuing the deorganization process after residents gave their unanimous support to the plan.

A flag that covered the casket of Private Chester L. Briggs of Houlton after he was killed in World War I made its way home to Houlton. Stephen Briggs Pyne of Mansfield, Massachusetts, a nephew to Briggs, came to Houlton for its annual Memorial Day ceremony and presented the flag to Mike London, commander of the Chester L. Briggs American Legion Post No. 47.

June

After an eight day trial and eight hours of deliberation, jurors found Reginald Dobbins, 20, of Houlton guilty of murder in the beating and stabbing death of 61-year-old Keith Suitter two years ago.

Voters in New Limerick overwhelmingly agreed to ban retail marijuana stores and commercial cultivation plants within the town limits at the June referendum by a vote of 55-12. In neighboring Ludlow, a similar ordinance failed by a slim margin of 63-66. Later in 2017, Ludlow voters revisited the matter and ultimately decided to ban retail marijuana.

For many years, airplanes filled the skies of the greater Houlton area as amateur aviators spread their wings from the Houlton International Airport as part of the Houlton Flying Club. But a rise in recreational vehicles in the 1980s and 90s, coupled with the aging out of many experienced pilots, caused membership to take a nosedive. In June, Houlton’s Flying Club returned and members had high hopes it would soar to even greater heights than in its heyday thanks to the efforts of a determined club of aviation enthusiasts.

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