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Top news of 2017 in the Star City (Part 1)

Editor’s Note: The County presents a look back at 2017 around the Presque Isle area with highlights from some of the year’s top news stories. This excerpt features news from January through June; July through December will appear next week on our website.

January

The first baby of 2017 in Aroostook County entered the world at The Aroostook Medical Center on Jan. 1 at 11:35 a.m. Alexander Dean Ferrin weighed 5 pounds, 14 ounces and measured 19.25 inches long. He is the son of Lorissa Ferrin of Presque Isle and has a big brother, Oliver.

Five heroin overdoses on Dec. 27, 2016, in Presque Isle resulted in one death and renewed local interest in addressing drug addiction. The drug problem’s challenges to healthcare providers prompted Crown Ambulance and all Maine EMS providers around the state to begin carrying naloxone, also known by the brand name Narcan.

The Fort Fairfield Community Bandstand collapsed the morning of Thursday, Jan. 5, 2017, following heavy snow accumulation. (Courtesy of Tim Goff)

The Maine Board of Environmental Protection voted to adopt provisional regulations that could allow for large-scale metal mining that hasn’t occurred in Maine since 1977. Environmental groups mounted a campaign to convince state lawmakers to reject those regulations.

Fort Fairfield’s Community Bandstand collapsed Jan. 5 under heavy accumulations of snow.  The gazebo-shaped bandstand collapsed shortly before 2 a.m. that morning, according to Town Manager Jim Risner. The structure was built in 2005 and the town made plans to rebuild.

An Aroostook County Superior Court justice overturned a decision by Aroostook County commissioners that had granted tax abatements to Amish families in Easton who said their barns were overassessed in a 2015 property tax revaluation.

Gov. Paul LePage’s administration asked to use $7 million of the state’s General Fund surplus to help the Maine Military Authority recover from an underbid contract to refurbish Massachusetts transit buses. The request aimed to give MMA the capital needed to complete the bus contract with the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority, continue work on smaller contracts and garner future business.

February

The Presque Isle Police Department launched a new online crime map — apparently the first of its kind in Aroostook County — that members of the public can use to get a sense of crime and safety issues in the Star City.

The Aroostook Medical Center and city government were debating contractual terms as the city looked to begin its own E911 emergency medical service under the Fire Department. The PIFD would be the first responder to 911 calls in Presque Isle, while Crown Emergency Care would continue to serve 18 Aroostook County towns and unorganized territories.

Jon Frederick announced he would leave the position of town manager for Castle Hill, Chapman and Mapleton after a run of more than four years. He resigned March 3 to take a job as town manager of the southern New Hampshire town of Jaffrey.

Longtime IGA owners Scott and Rena Carlin announced the sale of their three stores in Presque Isle, Mars Hill and Fort Fairfield to Joshua Tweedie, president of Big Rock Transportation in Mars Hill. The Carlins owned the stores for 18 years and Scott Carlin worked in them for 43 years. Both said they looked forward to spending more time at their camp and with family.

The end of an era came with the demolition of the William Haskell Recreation Center in Presque Isle, which was the site of Presque Isle’s city-run recreation programs for more than 70 years. Construction equipment arrived at the location on Feb. 14. The property was purchased by Kirk Carroll, owner of the adjacent Carroll’s Auto Sales.

March

The United Way of Aroostook hosted the sixth annual Northern Star competition finale at the Caribou Performing Arts Center, and 13-year-old violinist Hope Chernesky of Houlton stole the show with her rendition of Lindsey Stirling’s “Crystallize.” Chernesky was the overall winner of the sixth annual contest, which raised nearly $25,000 for United Way programs.

Coming changes for tipped employees under the new minimum wage law prompted Tony Sullivan, owner of the local Governor’s Restaurant franchise, to discuss how the new rules will change the dining business. In November 2016, Maine voters approved Question 4, raising the state’s minimum wage to $12 an hour by 2020 and bringing tipped employees’ wages to at least $12 an hour by 2024. Sullivan suggested he was considering more counter service, rather than waitstaff-based dining.

PROJECT 16, consisting of United Veterans of Maine, the Marine Corps League, VFW, American Legion, WAGM and Cary Medical Center, held a telethon at the WAGM TV station in Presque Isle March 9 and far exceeded the $30,000 goal for a veteran homeless shelter project coming to Caribou.

A blustery, frigid weekend March 11-12 broke records across the state for the coldest high temperature. Overnight and early morning on March 11, the entire state saw wind chill values in the negative double digits, with values ranging from negative 18 to negative 28 from Bangor to northern Aroostook County, according to the National Weather Service in Caribou.

Amish settlers expressed support for a bill sponsored by Rep. Dave McCrea, D-Fort Fairfield,  L.D. 426, “An Act To Allow Hunters Whose Religion Prohibits Wearing Hunter Orange Clothing To Instead Wear Red.” Amish representatives said their religion prohibits wearing “flashy” or “worldly” colors like blaze orange, and proposed being allowed to wear red instead. The bill later passed.

April

Despite a loss of $222,313 in state revenue, SAD 1 officials proposed a budget with a reduced cost to taxpayers. As the budget season began, district officials cited “great citizen engagement” and feedback. Assistant Superintendent for Business Clint Deschene said, “Even though we lost state revenue, we were able to cut enough cost to absorb the state reduction and come back with a reduction to local taxpayers,” with expenses down $350,809.

Over 60 community leaders from around Aroostook County and the state met Wednesday, March 29, at Northern Maine Community College to discuss the region’s economic future and ways to solve childhood poverty.  Leading the session were Maine Equal Justice Partners, along with members of the Maine Community Foundation, regional and state chambers, Maine’s Workforce Investment Board, United Way, Maine Children’s Alliance and Aroostook County Action Program.

Construction crews began work on the Riverside Park splash pad, located on the north side of the refurbished metal building there. The splash pad was expected to be completed in late summer.

Dave Dionne of Presque Isle, then town manager of Island Falls, took the helm of the communities of Castle Hill, Chapman and Mapleton. Jon Frederick, former tri-town manager, left earlier in the year for a municipal management job in his native New Hampshire.

Steve Farhnam, leader of the Aroostook Area on Aging for 42 years, announced his retirement.

Residents were notified that, beginning May 1, construction of a new bridge designed to cross over the new Presque Isle bypass would close a portion of State Street for six months. Ed Pelletier and Sons Company led the $7.9 million project between the intersection of Route 167 and State Street and the intersection of Centerline Road and State Street.

May

The Maine Legislature’s Joint Environment and Natural Resources Committee voted 12-1 April 26 that mining reform bill LD 820 should pass. The bill, which then faced a full legislative vote, contained new and stricter metal-mining provisions, including banning controversial open-pit mines.

With a focus on regional bands and free family-friendly offerings, the Presque Isle Revitalization Committee revealed a summer entertainment schedule to include free Thursday evening concerts at Riverside Park, as well as continuation of the every-other-Friday-night Movies in the Park.

Seventeen-year-old Abby Shaw of Presque Isle learned she would be part of a group of 150 to participate in a concert in Sydney, Australia. Shaw was among those selected from 18,000 who auditioned for the WorldStrides 2017 Honors Choir.

Voters in SAD 1 approved a $24.23 million budget for the 2017-18 school year on the first vote.

Hundreds of excited athletes raced, jumped and threw for the gold throughout the day on May 12 during the 2017 Special Olympics at the Gehrig Johnson Athletic Complex in Presque Isle.

Maine’s 58 newest police officers graduated Friday, May 19, from the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro, and the Presque Isle Police Department welcomed two of the graduates: Officer Tonya L. Alexander and Officer Matthew L. Brown. Alexander earned a notable distinction, becoming the academy’s first female class valedictorian.

Dr. Raymond Rice, a 20-year professor and administrator at the University of Maine at Presque Isle, became the institution’s newest president following a May 22 vote by the University of Maine System Board of Trustees. Rice had served as interim president since the July 2016 departure of former President Linda Schott.

The University of Maine at Presque Isle netted a victory for its Upward Bound program when U.S. Department of Education Secretary Betsy DeVos said she would review applications for nearly $624,000 in grant funding. UMPI’s Upward Bound application had been rejected due to line-spacing errors on two of the 65 pages of the document.

June

Harbor Freight Tools, a discount equipment and tool retailer, announced plans to locate a new store at the Aroostook Centre Mall.

Mars Hill’s Bigrock Mountain landed a $350,000 grant from Presque Isle-born philanthropist Mary Barton Smith.

Athletes hurled softballs as part of the May 12, 2017, Special Olympics Spring Games in Presque Isle.
(Joshua Archer)

In what turned out to be a far-from-average morning, a Mapleton store worker saved a customer’s life. Stephen Gudreau had just had day surgery for varicose veins and, while out for a walk in the sun, visited the Mapleton One Stop convenience store to buy a drink. A vein suddenly opened and loss of blood caused him to collapse.  Store owner Travis Mastro called 911, and employee Carrie Wade stemmed the bleeding until EMS crews arrived.

By a margin of only 11 votes, Washburn residents voted to keep their police department. The vote meant funding the police department this year with the same $168,475 as 2016, and moving forward with hiring a police chief and officer, two positions that have been vacant since late last year.

Construction began June 19 in Mars Hill on a long-awaited storage shed for winter road salt and sand. The  2,900-cubic-foot shed was expected to cost nearly $400,000.

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