News

Top news stories of 2021 in the Caribou area

Editor’s Note: The following is the first of two articles highlighting some of the top news stories from 2021. This article highlights events from January to June. The second installment will appear in the Jan. 5 issue.

January

The year started off with a fire that destroyed a Maine Department of Transportation facility in Fort Fairfield. The fire resulted in the loss of two trucks, a backhoe and several smaller pieces of equipment, but no one was injured and DOT daily operations were not significantly affected.

A Jan. 3, 2021, fire destroyed the main building at the MaineDOT facility in Fort Fairfield. (Courtesy of MaineDOT)

A Fort Fairfield couple became the proud parents of Caribou’s New Year’s baby on Jan. 4. Samantha and James Jasmin welcomed baby girl Octavia Nanci Jasmin, who weighed 6 pounds, 13 ounces and was 18.5 inches long, at Cary Medical Center. The Jasmins received a handmade quilt from the Crown of Maine Quilters and a basket of gifts from the Cary Auxiliary.

Caribou City Council swore in newly elected councilors Lou Willey and Courtney Boma and re-elected member Mark Goughan during their Jan. 6 meeting. They also voted to appoint Jody Smith mayor and Thomas Ayer deputy mayor. 

During their Jan. 11 meeting, the city council voted 4-2 to end efforts to hire a private investigation to look into how a resignation letter from councilor Mark Goughan was leaked to the public in late 2020. In his letter Goughan, who was reelected to the council shortly before sending the letter, cited missing the required number of committee meetings as his reason for resigning. 

Longtime Caribou Scout Troop 184 volunteer Scott Belanger received the District Award of Merit, the highest possible award for the position. Belanger began volunteering for Troop 184 in 2009 and has since served in almost every chair possible, including Cubmaster, assistant Cubmaster, committee chairman, parent coordinator, pack trainer, and assistant Scoutmaster.

Limestone became the site of the first launch of a commercial rocket in Maine on Jan. 31. After several unsuccessful attempts, bluShift Aerospace’s Stardust 1.0 launched into the air above the former Loring Air Force Base. Stardust is the world’s first commercial rocket to be powered by bio-derived fuel.

bluShift Aerospace CEO Sascha Deri and his team take apart the Stardust 1.0 rocket to analyze the status of three payloads following a successful launch at the Loring Commerce Centre. (Chris Bouchard | Aroostook Republican & News)

February

The city of Caribou and Doug Morrell, both defendants in a lawsuit asserting that the city violated its own charter by swearing in Morrell, moved to dismiss the lawsuit. Plaintiffs Christine Lister and Gary Aiken had filed the lawsuit on Nov. 4, 2020, while involved with a committee to recall Morrell from the council. They had claimed that the city violated the charter by swearing in Morrell on Jan. 1, 2020, despite him not having paid taxes prior to Dec. 31, 2019. In their motion to dismiss, the city noted that Morrell’s taxes were paid on Jan. 2, prior to the council meeting, by councilor Hugh Kirkpatrick while Morrell was still a councilor-elect.

The National Weather Service in Caribou recorded lower than average snowfall totals for the winter season thus far. As of early February, the NWS recorded 57.6 inches for the Caribou region compared with 72 inches at the same time in 2020. The average seasonal snowfall for Caribou is 62 inches, according to NWS meteorologist Greg Cornwell,.

Cary Medical Center began distributing COVID-19 vaccines to staff members and primary care patients aged 70 and older. Those who received their first dosages cited many reasons to support vaccination, including protecting themselves, patients and family members.

Fort Fairfield native Sarah Beaulieu, 21, was named to the World Junior Women’s Biathlon team, which competed in the IBU World Championships in Obertilliach, Austria, on Feb. 27. Beaulieu became the only biathlon athlete from Maine to compete in the world championships.

Cassie Hemphill of Cary Medical Center’s Environmental Services Department was the first at the hospital to receive the COVID-19 vaccination. (Courtesy of Cary Medical Center)

March

Caribou High School’s Jobs for Maine Graduates students began a food pantry in memory of two former classmates. The Zach and Kacie Viking Pantry of Hope is named after Zachary Gagnon, who lost a three-year battle with Ewing’s sarcoma at age 13, and Kacie Haney, who died as the result of an automobile accident in 2020 at age 17.

The Caribou Viking boys took home the Aroostook League Boys championship after defeating Southern Aroostook 72 to 45. The boys had previously won the Division I title with a win over Central Aroostook. Their final win secured them an impressive season of 16 wins, zero losses.

Caribou City Manager Dennis Marker announced his resignation, effective July 5. Marker noted that he put in his resignation months in advance to give the city time to find suitable candidates for his replacement. 

During their March 15 meeting, Caribou councilors approved a $10.3 million budget for 2021, a decrease of $41,613 from last year’s budget. The budget was created under a new charter process approved by voters in November 2020. The change allows the budget process to occur from November of the previous year to March 15 of the current budget year, and for councilors to simultaneously review revenues and expenses. The charter includes a provision that the city operate on the previous year’s budget numbers until a new budget is approved.

Caribou was the third municipality in Aroostook and the fourth in Maine to become a Second Amendment sanctuary city. During its March 22 meeting, the council voted 4 to 3 to approve the resolution, which expresses opposition to any state or federal laws that the council believes restrict citizens’ constitutional right to bear arms.

After operating mostly under a “yellow model” or hybrid learning of some days in school and some at home throughout the majority of the school year, all RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) schools were given state approval to switch to a “green model,” which was all in-school learning. The district welcomed back all students on March 29, opting to keep Wednesday at remote learning days so staff can assist students who chose to still learn from home.

NASA astronaut Jessica Meir spoke with Caribou students via zoom about her experiences in space as well as returning to earth during a global pandemic during an April 13 Zoom call. (Courtesy of RSU 39)

April 

Caribou High School announced plans to hold an outdoor graduation ceremony, with back-up plans in development in case of inclement weather and/or an increase in COVID-19 cases locally. The school cited current COVID guidelines and increased seating capabilities as reasons for holding the ceremony outdoors rather than inside.

Cary Medical Center surpassed the 4,000 mark for COVID-19 vaccine doses given, with 4,195 doses given as of April 7. At that time, the hospital recorded 505 single doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine and 2,120 first doses and 1,570 second doses of Moderna. 

Two Caribou businesses – Bennett Drive Redemption and Peterson’s Portable Toilets – were awarded facade improvement grants of $7,000 and $5,000, respectively, from the city’s facade improvement grant program. The total cost for both projects was estimated to be $32,000. Funding will be paid as a reimbursement after the projects are finished, according to City Manager Dennis Marker.

Caribou native and astronaut Jessica Meir spoke to Caribou High School students via Zoom about her time aboard the International Space Station. Meir spoke on a variety of topics, including her historic spacewalk with fellow astronaut Christina Koch, how she and colleagues adapted to problems while in space and what it was like returning to earth during a pandemic.

A plan to repair the more than 100-year-old Collins Pond Dam was delayed due to COVID-related complications, according to Gary Marquis, superintendent of Parks and Recreation. Officials from the US Geological Survey and the Maine Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife were unable to travel to Caribou for their initial ground survey of the dam, as originally planned. 

May

RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) announced that the district will receive $1.5 million in Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Funding, a federal program to assist schools during the pandemic. Superintendent Tim Doak noted that the funds would go toward additional staff positions, books and classroom software, the high school’s track field replacement and tennis courts, and making structural upgrades at the high school and technology center.

Caribou Superior Court formally dismissed a lawsuit filed by Caribou residents Christine Lister and Gary Aiken that claimed the city had violated its own charter by swearing in Councilor Doug Morrell. 

Caribou library director Hope Shafer announced plans to resign from her position as of Aug. 2. Shafer planned to move to Alaska to be with her husband, who had recently accepted a nursing informatics position at Fairbanks Memorial Hospital. Shafer started at the library as a curriculation assistant in 2018 and was promoted to director in August that year. She helped the library build its in-person programming and adjust to COVID-19 restrictions by moving services to virtual platforms.

After a nearly nine-hour standoff, police arrested Bobby Arsenault, 46, of Caribou for allegedly threatening a woman and two teens with a firearm. Caribou officers responded to a call at 64 West Gate road at 4:15 p.m. on Friday, May 14, and led the woman and teens to safety upon arrival. Arsenault surrendered at approximately 1 a.m. the following morning and was charged with two counts of criminal threatening with a dangerous weapon, both Class C felonies; one count of creating a police standoff; and one count of violation of conditional release.

The RSU 39 school board approved a fiscal year 2021-22 budget of $19.8 million, a $378 reduction of the previous budget. Superintendent Tim Doak credited the recent Elementary and Secondary School Emergency Relief Fund monies for allowing the district to take on $670,000 of capital improvement projects without increasing their portion of the local tax base.

Two Woodland students garnered national recognition for their cursive writing. Third-grader Allison St. Peter was awarded for having the best cursive handwriting among third-graders in public and private schools throughout the country. Seventh-grader Christian Vargas received the Nicholas Maxim Award, named after a student from Maine who was born without hands or lower arms. The latter award encourages students who struggle with handwriting to showcase their skills.

Even after the rain came, many folks stayed out and about during Thursdays on Sweden Street. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

June

Caribou City Council voted unanimously to name Penny Thompson interim city manager, effective July 6 after the departure of current manager Dennis Marker. Marker announced his resignation on March 11. Thompson also serves as the city’s tax assessor. 

RSU 39 (Caribou and Stockholm) announced that they would drop their outdoor mask requirement starting May 20. Their decision aligns with that of the Maine Department of Education who, following the Maine CDC, said that masks would no longer be mandatory for outdoor activities.

Thursdays on Sweden Street returned to Caribou after no such events were held in 2020. More than a dozen food and craft vendors and hundreds of people lined the street, even after rain showers threatened to disrupt the evening’s plans. Folks expressed excitement over the return of the popular summer events, especially after the state’s lifting of outdoor mask requirements.

One-hundred-twenty-four seniors graduated from Caribou High School during an outdoor ceremony held on June 13. Student and staff speakers recognized the students’ resilience throughout the pandemic and honored the memories of classmates Zachary Gagnon, who lost his battle with Ewing’s sarcoma in 2016, and Kacie Haney, who died as a result of a car crash in 2020.

Caribou city mayor Jody Smith moved to dissolve the Ambulance Transfer Committee, set up by Councilor Doug Morrell in May to investigate the Caribou Ambulance Department finances and locate places where the budget could be more efficient. Smith moved to dissolve the committee after intense public outcry.

A microburst causing wind speeds of more than 100 miles per hour wreaked havoc on Limestone on June 21, ripping much of one building from its foundation and tearing the roof off another. National Weather Service meteorologist Priscilla Farrar said that although storms of that magnitude are not typical for Aroostook County, climate change could cause more severe rain and wind speeds during future storms.

Spruce Haven in Caribou became the site of Aroostook County’s first ever Pride Festival June 25 to 27. After a parade that began in southern and northern Aroostook and converged in Caribou, the weekend activities included craft and food vendors, family games and activities that promoted awareness and acceptence of local LGBTQ community members.

 

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