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Houlton area 2018 Year in Review

January

Following a more than 2-year-long investigation, state animal welfare officials determined that allegations of animal abuse made against a Houlton horse owner were “completely unfounded.” Several animal rights activists, mostly fueled by accusations of neglect and abuse made anonymously on one particular website, had for months tried to force local and state authorities to seize nearly 70 horses from owner Jessica York.

John Patrick Austin became the first baby born at Houlton Regional Hospital for 2018 when he arrived at 6:45 a.m. Tuesday, Jan. 2. He is the son of Sarah Toner and Jaxon Austin of Hodgdon.

Thermometers recorded temperatures as low as 20 degrees below zero in Houlton as Aroostook County was in the midst of a deep freeze. The cold came after nearly two feet of snow fell in some parts of The County.

With little input from local residents, the Houlton Town Council approved a $10.7 million municipal budget for 2018. Municipal spending went up $242,656 from the previous year, with much of it due to wage increases and a rise in insurance premiums. Funding for Lifeflight of Maine, however, was removed from the budget by the council, saving the town $1,000.

Residents in need from southern Aroostook County found another option to pick up free food supplies.Thanks to a grant from the Good Shepard Food Bank, a small food pantry was created at Southern Aroostook Community School to help students who may be battling hunger issues at home, as well as to aid other members of the general public.

John A. Millar II would have turned 100 years old in 2018 and to honor his memory a free day of ice skating was held Jan. 6 at the Civic Center that bears his name. The rink was filled with youngsters enjoying their time on the ice, eating concessions and listening to the music blaring over the public address speakers. A birthday cake was enjoyed by many of the youngsters and one lucky skater, Gabe Foss, won a $100 prize.

The town of Cary Plantation moved one step closer to dissolution. Tina Libby, chairman of the deorganization committee, said that the town’s efforts to disband passed through a legislative work session Jan. 17 in Augusta and will now head to the Maine House of Representatives for a vote.

Aroostook County Sheriff Darrell Crandall announced that he would not be running for a second term as sheriff. Although his term did not expire until November, Crandall stepped down from the post, with Chief Deputy Shawn Gillen named “acting sheriff” until the November election.

February

A six-month long project to install new traffic lights in the town was finally nearing completion as contractors for the Maine Department of Transportation began installing the new traffic lights at the intersection of Court and Military streets.

Residents of the Houlton Mobile Home Park were being supplied with bottled water after testing of the well water that supplies the facility revealed an abnormality. A water sample from the park well confirmed that the level of poly and perfluoroalkyl substances, or PFASs, in the water is above the health advisory level set by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency, according to park officials.

Sarah Harris of Houlton tries to clear the walkway to a home on Weeks Street Friday morning after more than a foot of snow fell in Houlton. (Joseph Cyr)

After years of cutting corners on maintenance and upgrades to keep its budget in check, Southern Aroostook Community School faced a number of large projects. RSU 50 Superintendent Todd LeRoy said that several projects totalling nearly $2.5 million needed to be done soon if the district wanted to keep its building operational for many years to come. Chief among those projects was the purchase of a new heating system for SACS.

Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.” was brought to life Friday and Saturday at Hodgdon Mill Pond School. Performing a song are, from left, Katie Ledger (Sarabi), Lydie Carter (Rafiki) and Alex Walker (Mufasa) during the opening song of “Circle of Life.” (Joseph Cyr)

Is it possible to be too cold for a winter carnival? That was the case for the annual Moosestompers Weekend Feb. 2-4 as many activities were cancelled or condensed into one day after cold and snow forced organizers to rethink their plans due to the severe wind chills.

Taylor Reed of Houlton was raising awareness for eating disorders and juvenile diabetes as part of her campaign as the winner of the USA National Miss Pine Tree State Teen 2018 crown.

In an effort to encourage better reading habits in local youth, Maine’s first lady, Ann LePage made two stops in the Shiretown, promoting the state’s “Read To Me” challenge. LePage read to students at Houlton Elementary School and also spoke to the Houlton Rotary Club on literacy issues facing the state.

March

A pair of singer-songwriters and a Houlton High School senior were the top performers to earn golden tickets to the regional Northern Star competition. Houlton’s competition featured just eight singers, with two contestants hailing from Caribou and two more from Mars Hill. In addition, a newly-created “Junior Northern Star Division,” for performers under the age of 12, did not draw any entries at the Houlton show. Sierra Rhoda, Nathan Cyr and Hannah Boone received their golden tickets and advanced to the regional competition to be held  Sunday, March 25, at the Caribou Performing Arts Center.

A Forest City-based conservation trust has acquired a substantial parcel of land along the headwaters of the Chiputneticook Lakes system that officials say will be preserved for traditional recreation uses. Arthur Wheaton, president of the Woodie Wheaton Land Trust, said that all of the 3,053 acres acquired under its Headwaters Project are within the East Grand Lake Watershed.

Since last December, Wolfden Resources geologist Art Hamilton has been studying drilling samples from 500 million-year-old volcanic rock near Pickett Mountain in northeastern Penobscot County. Through the end of the year Hamilton and Wolfden’s team of contractors will be taking more than 32,000 feet of 2 1/2 inch diameter core samples of the Pickett Mountain deposit to determine whether it is economically feasible to develop what would be the state’s first large scale metal mining operation in about five decades. The longest hole so far has run almost half-a-mile deep.

Maine’s First Lady Ann LePage reads to students at Houlton Elementary School Monday morning as part of the “Read to Me” challenge. Looking on is second-grader Leah Turner. (Joseph Cyr)

Removing snow from the Houlton International Airport was a little bit easier thanks to the acquisition of a new plow truck. The town acquired a 2018 Western Star plow truck as part of a grant through the Federal Aviation Administration.

Yet another storm dropped more than a foot of snow on southern Aroostook County, making it one of the snowiest winters in a number of years. The large number of storms also posed problems for local school districts as snow days began to mount.

The Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce presented several major awards, including a pair of new honors, this year during the gathering that also served as the organization’s business meeting. The Lifetime Achievement Award went to Jerry York; Business of the Year was presented to F.A. Peabody Company; and the Community Service award was bestowed on the Backpacks for Kids group.

After receiving some online criticism, the owner of a gun shop in town said she saw no problems with raffling a gun to benefit a chemical-free graduation party for the senior class at Hodgdon Middle-High School. Michelle Crane, owner of MACS Trading Post in Houlton, said that she didn’t understand why such a big deal was being made out of raffling a gun.

Children who undergoing cancer treatments in Brewer, or with loved ones going through treatments, were offered a small piece of Aroostook County to play with and divert their attention. A bundle of 80 handmade wooden tops, created by members of the Northern Maine Woodturners, were delivered to the Lafayette Family Cancer Center for children to either play with while there receiving treatment or to take home with them.

April

Contractors started tearing down a downtown building that most recently served as the location of the Salvation Army Thrift Store and was also once home to McGillicuddy Furniture. The building, located at 2 Pleasant St., was purchased by Chris Anderson, president of F.A. Peabody Company.

Three students from Southern Aroostook Community School had images they photographed included in the 2018-19 Maine Learning Technology Initiative screensaver program. Sophomores Alexis Hartin, daughter of Chris and Stephanie Hartin of Crystal; Makaelyn Porter, daughter of Jon and Jessica Porter of Smyrna; and senior Hanna Marley, daughter of Ted and Laura Marley of Smyrna, were among the 20 students statewide to have their photos selected.

Hannah Boone, 15, of Patten sang a self-penned tune “Just Imagine,” as she also played guitar. Boone was one of three finalists in Sunday’s Northern Star show in Houlton. (Joseph Cyr)

A group of 30 residents spent about 90 minutes taking care of town business during Oakfield’s annual town meeting March 19. Residents approved a municipal spending plan of $573,566 for 2018. The budget is up about $3,400 from the previous year, according to Town Manager Dale Morris.

Marty Bouchard, Houlton High School’s principal for the past 14 years, announced that he was stepping down from his post at the end of the school year. Bouchard was unanimously approved as principal of The Middle School of the Kennebunks (RSU 21) in Kennebunk.

Mim Weston of Houlton tosses some snow into the air while playing outdoors Wednesday afternoon. The new fallen snow had many local children outside enjoying their day off from school. (Joseph Cyr)

The stage of Hodgdon Mill Pond School was transformed into the wilds of Africa for two showings of Disney’s “The Lion King Jr.” Under the direction of Ashley Wheeler and Margaret York, with musical accompaniment by Sharyn and Scott Walker and Debbie Lunn, the production drew a large crowd for their two shows.

Residents of Monticello approved a nearly $617,000 municipal budget for the upcoming year that increased slightly over last year. Residents also failed to pass an article that would have amended a land use ordinance addressing automobile graveyards and the raising of livestock within certain zones of the community.

An attempt by a tribal representative to the Legislature to have the Maine Supreme Judicial Court determine whether tribes in Maine could operate casinos failed in the House of Representatives. Rep. Henry John Bear of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians had been at the forefront of attempts at tribal gaming for years — all of which have failed at the ballot box and in the Legislature.

Gov. Paul LePage nominated Lt. Col. John Cote to be the next chief of the Maine State Police. Cote is the former commanding officer of Troop F in Houlton and a 29-year veteran of the state police, who was promoted to deputy chief two years ago. He has been serving as chief of the state police force since Col. Robert Williams left the position in March to become head of security at Colby College in Waterville.

The first confirmed case of rabies in Aroostook County was documented in Cary Plantation after two dogs owned by Kai and Tina Libby killed a raccoon that tested positive for the disease.

A mixture of town officials, outdoor enthusiasts and local residents gathered at the Katahdin Area High School on Wednesday to voice their concerns and ideas about how to manage the Katahdin Woods and Waters National Monument. A group of about 60 individuals attended the planning meeting, which featured a brief update on the monument before individuals broke up into smaller groups to review maps of the park and address any concerns they may have or items they would like to see added in the future.

The weather was not very spring-like, but that did not stop 22-month-old Elliana Hutchinson of Linneus from enjoying her very first ice cream cone from Houlton Farms Dairy. The popular dairy bar opened for the season and saw a steady stream of customers on its opening day, despite the fact that many were still wearing winter hats and coats.

 

For the first time in nine years, a headlining artist was announced for the Houlton Agricultural Fair as country music artist John Anderson was booked to perform a show at Community Park.

May

The RSU 50 board of directors unanimously approved a $5 million school budget for Southern Aroostook Community School during a special board meeting. The $5,024,735 budget marked the first time that RSU 50 crafted a spending plan solely for SACS since the RSU was formed back in July 2011 as part of the state’s consolidation efforts. The RSU originally covered both Southern Aroostook Community, Katahdin Area High and Katahdin Elementary schools.

U.S. News and World Report’s newest list of best high schools in the country ranks Houlton Middle-High School 18th among the top schools in Maine. It is the only Aroostook County school ranked in the top 20 in the state.

The first budget of the newly-formed RSU 89 school district resulted in an increase for taxpayers for the 2018-19 school year. The RSU 89 board approved a $4.6 million budget during a monthly meeting in Stacyville.

The Houlton Police Department welcomed two new additions to its force with the hiring of Mallory Clayton and Nichole Dudley.

Katahdin Middle-High School students took short trips to Patten and Sherman to place flags on the graves of veterans from the region.The project was one of many facilitated by the Katahdin Learning Project, a group that helps incorporate the local community into education through place-based learning.

June

More than 50 citizens flocked to East Grand High School June 19 to hear the results of a study that contributed to the festering controversy over a Washington County dam. The meeting was punctuated by angry cries from residents who were concerned that any damage to the lake or the lowering of water levels would destroy the economy in the towns that rely on the lake for employment. Communities in both Aroostook and Washington counties rely on the lake as an economic resource, and the communities are dotted with lodges, guides and businesses who rely on the fishermen, sportsmen and tourists who flock to East Grand Lake each year.

The baton was passed to a new director for McGill’s Community Band as the group prepared for its new season. Mike Hutchinson took over conductor duties from Kevin Mania, who led the band for four years. Mania stayed on as assistant director and manager of the band, while also lending his formidable drumming skills to the percussion section.

Hodgdon High School Principal Mary Harbison announced she was stepping down from her post and leaving the education field at the end of the school year.

The town’s fire department has a bit more stopping power, thanks in large part to a grant from the Federal Emergency Management Agency. Houlton Fire Chief Milton Cone said that the new $396,000 2018 pumper tanker will greatly improve his department’s ability to suppress fires when needed.

July

As temperatures soared into the 90s, the red-hot times were prevalent at this year’s Houlton Agricultural Fair. The five-day event drew steady crowds over the first two days, according to Fair President Paul Cleary. Attendance was up over last year, which was credited to the many acts offered throughout the day, as well as to the lower admission price for those who wanted to come to the fair, but not go on any midway rides.

Fireworks light up the sky over the Gateway Crossing Bridge Friday, June 30, during the Midnight Madness event in Houlton. A second fireworks show takes place Wednesday, July 4, at Houlton Community Park. (Joseph Cyr)

An intense thunderstorm could not keep the Greater Houlton Chamber of Commerce’s annual Midnight Madness celebration from drawing a large crowd to downtown Houlton. The annual event continued to be one of the highlights of the Fourth of July celebration.

Despite widely fluctuating temperatures and a lack of rain, the executive director of the Maine Potato Board said that the state’s potato crop remains healthy. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has estimated that Maine growers planted 52,000 acres of potatoes, which was up from 49,000 acres the previous year.

Beau Bradstreet of Bridgewater captured his 8th straight championship in the Moxie Chugging Challenge at the Moxie Festival in Lisbon

The Maine State Police and Maine Forest Rangers honored the memories of Detective Glenn Strange and Forest Ranger Jeremiah Crockett at the Troop F barracks in Houlton with the planting of two special trees.

August

The Northern Maine Development Commission received a $250,000 grant to assist in the construction of a multi-million dollar animal food processing and testing facility in Houlton. The money was part of a total $2.9 million the organization awarded to address eight infrastructure projects throughout Aroostook, Somerset, and Knox counties, according to U.S. Sens. Susan Collins and Angus King.

One of Patten’s largest employers, Mountain Heights Health Care Facility, announced that it was closing its doors. The closure impacted residents at the facility, as well as 53 employees.

Farrar Suitter sprays water at willing parade spectators Sunday afternoon during the annual Island Falls Summerfest parade. Soaring temperatures made for a toasty parade. (Joseph Cyr)

Island Falls celebrated its annual Summerfest in style with a large, town-wide parade and children’s activities throughout the town.

The youth of the Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians have a new place from which to learn their tribes’ history, language and traditions following the unveiling of the Maliseet Youth and Cultural Center. Funding for the new center located at 568 Foxcroft Road was made possible by a $600,000 grant from the federal Indian Community Development Block Grant Program, as well as $205,000 in tribal matching funds.

Houlton Middle-High School had two new, but familiar faces taking over as administrators after the RSU 29 board approved the hiring of Tim Tweedie as assistant principal and Karen Carmichael as food services director.

Georgia native Brett Bramble honored the memory of his sister Brittany by walking 2,600 miles from Key West, Florida, to Fort Kent. Bramble passed through the Shiretown on Aug. 8 on his way to Fort Kent, where he finished the trek on Aug. 17.

The third annual Walk Like MADD event held in Houlton once again proved to be a financial success and emotional experience for the many participants. A fundraiser for Mothers Against Drunk Driving, and held in Houlton in memory of Darcie Hutchinson, the Houlton walk raised just over $8,600, while a second walk held in Portland on Aug. 19 collected $15,100.

September

Former students of Ricker Classical Institute and Ricker College were getting ready to converge on Houlton to participate in a celebration of the former school and its founding 170 years ago. Ricker initially was known as Houlton Academy in 1848. In 1888, it became Ricker Classical Institute, named for Joseph Ricker, who was  instrumental in supporting it financially. It continued to provide a secondary education to local residents, as well as being home to others from throughout the state until 1967.

The United Veterans Motorcycle Club honored the enlisted men and women who never returned home as part of the United States’ National POW/MIA Recognition Day. A small group of individuals turned out to Monument Park to pay their respects during a solemn ceremony.

Houlton town councilors began the search for a new municipal leader following the sudden resignation of William D. MacDonald after less than nine months on the job. No reason was publicly revealed for the resignation.

Houlton’s cemetery superintendent updated town councilors about the status of a tree removal project at Evergreen Cemetery and addressed concerns raised by some residents about trees falling on grave markers. Milton Cone said that an extensive effort to remove dead or diseased trees continues. The superintendent said that there are 48 trees located on the burial grounds and 10 of them had to be removed by a local contractor, while another 25 had to be trimmed and pruned.

The Houlton Band of Maliseet Indians’ 38th annual Recognition Day was a celebration for all ages. This year’s theme was “Ntolonapemok,” which translates to “All My Relations.”

October

Thanks to a $5,000 grant from Poland Spring, Patten Academy Park received a bit of a makeover as part of the water company’s “Calling 207” project.

One month into the school year, some superintendents were still finding it difficult to fill all of the available bus driver or substitute driver positions in their districts.

Controversy was brewing over a proposal by the Northern Maine Fair to change the dates of its festival to directly conflict with the Houlton Agricultural Fair. The Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry heard testimony from both sides during a special hearing in Augusta before ruling against Presque Isle’s proposal. The NMF then tweaked its request to have that fair end prior to the start of Houlton’s festival which runs July 4-7 in 2019.

The outpouring of support from the local community never ceases to amaze members of the Bridge to Hope group to help cancer patients in southern Aroostook County. About 200 walkers turned out for the 13th annual event and to show their support for those who are battling cancer by raising $10,500 for the cause.

The Kennebec, a 40-foot tugboat that was once used in the logging industry, found its final resting place at the Patten Lumbermen’s Museum, connecting Maine’s lumber and maritime histories.

U.S. Customs and Border Protection officers arrested two men from Nova Scotia following an incident that shut down the border crossing between Houlton and Woodstock, New Brunswick, for about 12 hours.

Some parts of Aroostook County received up to 10 inches of snow in an early-season storm that played a trick on folks in the days leading up to Halloween.

November

Floyd W. Smith of Hodgdon is part of a declining population of American heroes who have served in the military. A veteran of World War II, the 94-year-old Smith doesn’t really remember much about his time serving as an aerial gunner in Germany or his stint as a prisoner of war in Turkey after his plane was shot down. But fortunately, his memories were documented during a 2010 interview for the Veterans History Project.

Residents of Cary Plantation voted 105-4 to dissolve their town and become an unorganized territory. The 105 votes in favor of the plan were nearly three times the amount needed for it to pass. The vote marked the final hurdle in dissolving the town. The plan becomes official June 30, 2019.

A bitterly cold morning could not keep residents of Houlton and members of the American Legion Post No. 47 from celebrating enlisted men and women during a brief Veterans Day ceremony at Monument Park.

Veterans of all ages streamed into the Hodgdon High School gymnasium to enjoy a free meal and camaraderie as part of the 17th annual Veterans Day Breakfast event. Nearly 200 veterans and their families, along with many law enforcement officials participated this year.

Daniel Blake, chaplain for the American Legion Post No. 47 in Houlton, closes his eyes as he salutes the flag during the playing of “Taps” during Sunday’s Veterans Day ceremony in Monument Park.
Joseph Cyr|Pioneer Times

For the past five years, the Health Services Foundation filled the main concourse of Houlton Regional Hospital with beautifully decorated trees as part of the foundation’s annual “Festival of Trees” event. This year, however, the foundation found itself in violation of hospital codes after a complaint was filed with the Department of Health and Human Services and the trees had to be relocated to the hospital’s second floor.

The holiday season officially arrived in downtown Houlton as the town erected its Christmas tree in Market Square on Nov. 15. A massive 25-foot spruce tree was placed in the center of downtown with the help of members of the Houlton Public Works Department and a crew from the Houlton Water Company.

December

A holiday item that was once believed to have been lost forever was found and restored. Cheryl Lovely, owner of Mini Music and Tack Shop on Main Street in Houlton displayed an ornate wooden church that once was part of Dunn Furniture Company’s annual holiday window decorations in downtown Houlton.

In an effort to help handicapped individuals gain more visibility while traveling in motorized wheelchairs and scooters, the Odd Fellows Rocabema Lodge No. 78 in Houlton partnered with the Houlton Police Department to provide them with safety flags.

Volunteers with the Salvation Army were once again out in force collecting donations through the organization’s annual Red Kettle campaign. Donation buckets began popping up around Thanksgiving and continued to be staffed at local grocery and department stores in the days leading up to Christmas.

A Baileyville man made the 81-mile trek north to Houlton to place a pair of wreaths on his parents’ tombstone. Matthew Downing said he wanted to do something special to remember his parents this year for the holidays so he grabbed a shovel and a couple of extra wreaths he was given and headed north to the Shiretown.

The Houlton Town Council gave consensus approval to an $11.1 million budget for 2019. Municipal spending is up $254,337 from last year, which would have resulted in about a half-mill increase to the tax rate. In order to prevent the tax increase, though, the town plans to take $231,000 from its un designated fund balance. There is currently $1,716,182 in the town’s reserve account.

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