News

The top news stories of 2021 in the Caribou region

Editor’s Note: The following is the second of two articles highlighting some of the top news stories from 2021. This article highlights events from July to December.

Compiled by Melissa Lizotte

July

During an emergency meeting June 28, the Caribou City Council voted to delay approval of the yearly budget in hopes that RSU 39 would send some or all of the money it receives from the state’s budget to the taxpayers. As reported in the July 7 edition of The Aroostook Republican & News, the council’s decision marked the fourth time in five years that they voted to break their own charter and not approve the budget before the June 30 deadline.

The National Weather Service in Caribou reported that June was likely the hottest one on record. Temperatures in Caribou reached the low 90s early on before dropping to the mid-80s in late June. Those trends led the NWS to predict that the summer would continue to bring hotter than average temperatures.

Quick responses from onlookers likely saved the life of a motorcycle driver during the Limestone rolling car show on Main Street on July 4th, according to police Chief Stacey Mahan. The driver and a fellow rider were thrown from the vehicle during the crash, which resulted from the driver having a medical episode. Witnesses gave the driver CPR until paramedics arrived. Both the driver and rider were later treated at Cary Medical Center.

The Caribou Parks & Recreation Department unveiled its new splash pad July 10. Dozens of children spent the opening days beating the heat underneath buckets and sprinklers that consistently dumped and sprayed water. The pad proved a popular attraction throughout the summer.

City councilors in Caribou approved a $35,000 repair project on River Road. The project aims to repair a particularly dangerous 900-foot section where the pavement is crumbling and the guard rail has almost entirely slid down the receding embankment. River Road winds along the edge of the Aroostook River and has been eroding for the past several years as the river moves beneath it.

CARIBOU, Maine — July 14, 2021 –Current library director Hope Shafer (left) and new director Peter Baldwin pose in the Caribou Public Library just a few weeks before their job hand-off. (Hannah Catlin | Aroostook Republican & News)

Peter Baldwin was named the newest director of the Caribou Public Library, replacing outgoing director Hope Shafer. Baldwin, 25, is the youngest library director in Caribou’s history as well as the first man to hold that position. Among his goals are expanding access to library services and helping the library shift to more in-person programming after having done more virtual services during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The RSU 39 school board approved transferring $250,000 of state education funds back to taxpayers in Caribou and Stockholm. The funds come from Gov. Janet Mills’ state budget, which includes the long-standing state commitment to funding public education at 55 percent. RSU 39 pledged to give $238,000 to Caribou and $11,000 to Stockholm, hoping that the municipalities would give a financial break to taxpayers.

Caribou city councilors voted 4-3 to keep the current mill rate of 23.55 for the 2021-22 budget, with no overlay. The council had delayed voting on the budget for a month prior to RSU 39 while deciding what to do with the additional $250,000 in state education funds. 

Community members got their first look at the new Caribou Community School during a ribbon-cutting ceremony on July 29. Though the school opened in November 2020, COVID-19 delayed administrators from hosting public tours until the following summer.

August

The Caribou Theater was one of three theaters in Aroostook – along with The Braden Theater in Presque Isle and Temple Cinema in Houlton – that received funds from the Shuttered Venue Operators Grants from the federal Small Business Administration. Dow Theater Company, which operates the Caribou and Presque Isle theaters, had applied for $349,000 from the grant. The grant funds are intended to help the theaters bounce back financially after being closed since March 2020.

On Friday, Aug. 13, Caribou hosted its first Caribou Cares About Kids parade since 2019. Despite temperatures reaching past 90 degrees, hundreds of people watched the parade from sidewalks or nearby vehicles. Over 30 businesses and organizations rolled from the Skyway Plaza to Sweden Street, many of whom support local youth.

CARIBOU, Maine — August 13, 2021 — Captain America and Deadpool wave to families while taking part in the Caribou Cares About Kids Parade. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

Caribou city councilors approved using $159,000 in American Rescue Plan funds to support a project that aims to expand broadband access throughout the city. The project will examine costs and potential strategies for rewiring Caribou with “dark fiber,” fiber optic cable that carries internet into homes and businesses.

A group of Caribou community members began propossing a committee called the Aroostook River Renaissance Committee. If formed, the committee hopes to develop new parks and trails, open restaurants and small businesses and expand other economic development opportunities of the city’s riverfront district.

Four World War II veterans spent the afternoon of Aug. 17 flying over Caribou thanks to volunteer pilot James Sims. Sims brought a 1942 Boeing Stearman to the city as a tribute to members of the Greatest Generation.

Discussions surrounding a potential new police station in Caribou became stalled after councilors split two votes 3-3 to put a referendum on the November ballot and to put the matter on a future meeting agenda. Without a referendum, the city is not authorized to spend $500,000 on capital projects, including a new police station, which would replace the nearly 80-year-old headquarters. Several councilors expressed disapproval of the $9.9 million proposed cost for the new station.

The Aroostook Band of Micmacs celebrated their 26th annual Mawiomi of Tribes at Spruce Haven Aug. 27-29. Tribal members and guests took part in traditional dances, held ceremonies and enjoyed food and craft vendors as they celebrated Micmac traditions passed down through generations. This year’s Mawiomi was the first such event held since 2019. The 2020 gathering was canceled due to COVID-19.

Nikolas Martin-Sackett was arrested after a standoff with police that lasted several hours near Spruce Haven Aug. 28. After being confronted by Caribou police, Martin-Sackett, 32, allegedly pulled out an AR-15 rifle. Martin-Sackett then fled into the woods and Caribou police called in backup from other law enforcement agencies. Officers surrounded Martin-Sackett on the Doyle Road before he surrendered. Martin-Sackett faced multiple charges related to the alleged firearm and criminal threatening and terrorizing.

September

Caribou held a vigil for people who lost their lives to drug overdoses in 2021. At that time, 16 people in Aroostook County had passed away as a result of overdoses, only one less than in all of 2020. Paper lanterns featuring photographs of the deceased lined a section of Main Street overlooking Caribou stream. Those in attendance spoke about the importance of expanding resources for people in recovery from substance use disorder.

A lantern honors someone who died from an overdose.
(Staff photo/Hannah Catlin)

Caribou Fire Department, American Legion and VFW hosted a ceremony honoring the 412 emergency services workers who lost their lives in the 9/11 attacks on New York City’s World Trade Center. Speakers reflected on the tragedy of that day and how the attack changed the way people viewed emergency workers.

Caribou Community School transitioned to remote learning starting Sept. 16 after almost a third of the students were absent, largely due to them being close contacts of COVID-19 cases. When the transition occurred, there were nine active cases among students, with 166 students and eight teachers determined to be close contacts.

A handful of runners took part in the Caribou Marathon, Half Marathon and Relay race course Sept. 19, despite the official event being canceled earlier in the week. A total of 264 runners had signed up for the original race. Cary Medical Center, a major sponsor, pulled out of providing medical support to runners in order to deal with a surge in COVID-19 patients. Those who ran the marathon noted the “sense of normalcy and accomplishment” they felt amid the ongoing pandemic.

After an absence at the August council meeting, Caribou Mayor Jody Smith broke the 3-3 tie that originally prevented a referendum question on the potential new police station from being placed on the ballot. The 4-3 majority vote gave Caribou the authority to administer a non-binding exit poll concerning the proposed $9.9 million police station during the November election.

Six years after the death of his brother, Ken Zernicke, Caribou resident Joe Bourgoine posted a $10,000 reward for anyone wishing to come forward with information regarding Zernicke’s death. On Sept. 24, 2015, Zernicke, 58, was found inside his burning home. The Maine State Police has classified Zernicke’s killing as a cold case, but Bourgoine is hoping that the right person will help break the case open.

Tara Henderson became Limestone’s new town manager at the end of September. Henderson is the fourth town manager for Limestone in two years and arrived amid other leadership role changes within the town.

October

Just prior to November election ballots being printed, Caribou changed the language of a non-binding straw poll concerning a new police station. The new question asked citizens whether they favored the city borrowing money for the proposed $9.9 million police station for construction and equipment. The city also approved the inclusion of an economic statement describing a 1.4 to 1.9 mill increase, assuming the city pays the maximum amount for the station.

Aroostook’s bountiful potato crop found an unexpected, temporary home at Limestone’s former Loring Air Force Base. The base’s former warehouses and airplane hangars became storage units for millions of freshly harvested potatoes after farmers reported yields higher than anticipated.

Workers from Butler Farms watch a bin piler unload thousands of potatoes into a former military storage facility at Loring Development Center. Hannah Catlin | Aroostook Republic

The Caribou Police Department donated 256 pounds of food to Catholic Charities in honor of National Faith in Blue Day, which falls on Oct. 10. 

Loring Development Authority received $3.1 million in federal funds to improve roadways and demolish blighted buildings at the former Loring Air Force Base. The LDA’s goal with the improvements is to make the former base a center of commerce in central Aroostook.

The Caribou Parks & Recreation Department hosted its second annual Trunk or Treat on Oct. 29. Thousands of costumed children visited decorated vehicles, shouting “Trick or Treat!” to get their share of Halloween candy.

Frank DeAngelis, former principal of Columbine High School, visited with Caribou middle and high school students Oct. 28. DeAngelis spoke about the mass shooting that killed 12 students and one teacher at Columbine in 1999. He urged students to lean on family and friends for support during difficult times, be watchful of students’ comments on social media and in person and do what they can to make their schools welcoming places for everyone.

November

In a close election, Caribou voters helped Mayor Jody Smith remain on city council and voted in a new councilor, John Morrill. Smith received 561 votes while Morrill received 576. Deputy Mayor Thomas Ayer received the least amount of votes out of the seven council candidates – 371. Voters also re-elected Bethany Anderson to another term on the RSU 39 school board with 687 votes. In an unofficial straw poll, 1,008 voters were for and 810 were against the city spending $9.9 million for a new police station. 

The Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery in Caribou hosted their first Veterans Day ceremony since before the pandemic on Nov. 11. Speakers included Marine Corps and Vietnam veteran Vaughn Hardacker and representatives from U.S. Sens. Susan Collins’ and Angus King’s and Congressman Jared Golden’s offices, who spoke on behalf of the lawmakers. 

CARIBOU, Maine — November 11, 2021 — U.S. Marine Corps veteran Vaughn Hardacker (left) and Roy Woods, Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery chairperson, lay a wreath next to the American flag during the Veterans Day ceremony Thursday. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

Caribou Fire & Ambulance became the first EMS department in Aroostook to purchase bulletproof vests for its EMTs. Though other EMS departments in Maine have purchased similar vests due to national trends, Caribou made the choice based on the growing number and unpredictability of overdose-related calls. Chief Scott Susi remarked that his department wants EMTs to be safe in the event that an overdose patient revives and behaves violently.

The Caribou City Council voted to not foreclose on properties located at 577 Access Highway Lot 3 and 557 Access Highway Lot 10 as well as on Lyndon Street and East Presque Isle Road, citing neglect and substantial amounts of taxes owed. 

Maine State House Rep. Sue Bernard, R-Caribou, announced her candidacy against current Senate President Troy Jackson, D-Aroostook. The candidates will be vying for Jackson’s current seat in District 1, which covers Caribou, Fort Fairfield, New Sweden and other towns in central Aroostook.

Santa’s reindeer visited families in Caribou on Nov. 27 and 28, spending the two days at Lyndon Square. The reindeer were a popular attraction for local children and were on hand for the city’s annual Christmas tree lighting.

December

Limestone held its annual Christmas Light Parade on Dec. 5. Fifteen floats from area businesses and families celebrated the theme “Songs of Christmas.” The Obar family won Most Creative for their Radio Flyer float, while Butler Farms won Best Curb Appeal and the Limestone Snow Hawks snowmobile club won for Best Theme. After the parade, local children visited with Santa Claus at Limestone Community School.

Landon Butler, 3, of Limestone tells Santa Claus what he wants for Christmas at Limestone Community School. (Melissa Lizotte | Aroostook Republican)

The Ridenour family was grateful for community help after their home in Caribou was lost to a devastating fire. Thomas and Kelly Ridenour and their daughters Joanna and Susanna received clothing, food and other items from local Amish friends, one of whom allowed them to stay at their home in Woodland, as well as other community members.

The Caribou City Council voted 4-3 to dissolve the board of directors for the Nylander Museum on Dec. 13. Caribou Public Library director Peter Baldwin will now be responsible for the museum’s budget and resources and will work closely with its only part-time employee, Frank Scalora. 

The New Sweden Historical Society celebrated St. Lucia Day on Dec. 13, with 11-year-old Avenea Germain portraying St. Lucia. 

A $50,000 grant from the East Millinocket-based Gloria C. MacKenzie Foundation will support the purchase of new playground and adult exercise equipment for the Albert Michaud Memorial Park in Limestone. Since 2019, the Limestone Development Foundation, Chamber of Commerce, Rotary Club and Recreation Department have been raising funds to upgrade the park and make it more accessible to residents of all ages. 

Volunteers in Caribou helped wrap presents that were donated through the Senior Santa project. Senior Santa aims to give Christmas presents to seniors who live in local nursing homes and senior living homes and those who are part of the Meals on Wheels program.

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