The top news stories of 2022 in the Caribou region
Editor’s Note: The following is the second of two articles highlighting some of the top news stories from 2022. This article highlights events from July to December.
Limestone celebrated the Fourth of July in style with its annual parade down Main Street. At least 50 floats and vehicles representing community groups and organizations took part in the parade. The event also showcased Limestone’s first-ever town flag, created by students at Limestone Community School.
The popular Arootsakoostik Music Festival returned to New Sweden for the first time since 2019 on July 9. Eight folk, bluegrass and rock artists from Maine performed for an enthusiastic crowd of fans from both near and far. Festival organizer Travis Cyr said that it was encouraging to see hundreds of people show up in support of Arootsakoostik.
The Caribou Public Library welcomed new children’s librarian Kirsten Hallowell and assistant and circulation librarian Catherine Catranis. Hallowell and Catranis spoke about their goals for increasing access to library programs and continuing to reach new community members.
After critics voiced concerns over Caribou’s lack of an economic development director, city officials remained certain that a collaborative approach to economic development would still yield significant business growth in the coming years.
On July 5, Caribou once again celebrated its oldest resident by presenting Anna Roberts with a replica of the Boston Post Cane. Roberts celebrated her 105th birthday and reflected on her 45 years as a bookkeeper for the city. After retiring in 1979, Roberts took up cross-country skiing and bowling and has remained committed to living in her hometown of Caribou.
City officials in Caribou continued discussions on downtown revitalization more than 50 years after the controversial Downtown Mall was created. Many older Caribou residents blamed the mall for driving business away from Sweden Street, one of the city’s most famous districts. Officials and entrepreneurs noted that recent investment in the city from business owners shows that revitalization is possible.
A group of educators that included daycare owner Jordyn Rossignol, RSU 39 officials and Maine DOE Commissioner Pender Makin met in Caribou to discuss how to solve Aroostook’s shortage of child care. According to the Council for a Strong America, Aroostook is one of four rural counties in Maine to be classified as a “child care desert,” where there are more than three children under age 5 for each licensed child care slot.
More than a month after Limestone residents rejected the originally proposed school budget, they passed a revised version. The approved budget totaled $4,341,088, resulting from several cuts that residents made to the school board’s proposed budget of $4,419,138. Most cuts were made to the regular instruction, facilities maintenance and system administration cost categories, and came after debate on what new programs should remain funded.
Caribou’s Riverfront Renaissance Committee received the first donation toward its master plan, kicking off a major fundraising campaign. The committee announced its goal of raising $50,000 to hire a consultant, who will help draft the plan to revitalize the riverfront as a commercial, industrial, recreational and residential hub.
Stockholm announced plans to construct an inclusive playground for their community in summer 2023. The playground, the first for Stockholm since the closure of the town’s elementary school, will include wheelchair ramps and sensory-based equipment for children with developmental disabilities. Stockholm will be the first small town in Maine to have an inclusive playground.
Caribou City Councilor Doug Morrell spoke out against a proposed ordinance that would require a majority council vote before directing City Manager Penny Thompson to perform certain tasks. Morrell said he believed the ordinance targeted his recent request that Thompson ask the Cary Medical Center board for monthly financial updates. Other councilors said that the ordinance would ensure that any additional tasks do not go beyond the scope of Thompson’s position.
A 24-year-old man was arrested July 31 in Stockholm and charged with attempted murder, among other charges, after allegedly trying to steal a vehicle and firing a gun toward nearby residents. Officers engaged in a standoff with Michael Baron, who fled inside an apartment building, until around 9:42 p.m., when Baron surrendered peacefully.
Caribou city councilors voted 4-3 to hold the mill rate steady at 23.55 during a special meeting on Aug. 1. City Manager Penny Thompson noted that some tax bills might still increase due to higher state exemptions and the city only being allowed to certify taxes at 95 percent.
Members of Caribou Fire & Ambulance celebrated August 2022 as Old Engine One Month in honor of the department’s oldest pumper truck. Purchased in 1922, Old Engine One is now 100 years old and has become a staple at local parades and known for bringing firefighters on their “last rides” after their deaths. Today’s firefighters remembered how Old Engine One has become part of their family histories.
After increasing their water rates by 4 percent in 2021, the Caribou Utilities District announced a proposed 6 percent increase in water rates. General Manager Hugh Kirkpatrick attributed the proposal to higher fuel oil, diesel fuel and gas costs for the CUD, a result of higher inflation across the country.
Caribou native and playwright Darci Faye relaunched Broadway Kids in The County, a theater program serving elementary and middle school-aged children throughout Aroostook. Located at 7 Russ St. in Caribou, the program plans to produce stage musicals and host after school classes and other theater-based opportunities.
Boy Scout Troop 184 in Caribou honored longtime scoutmaster Vaughn Keaton and his six decades of service by renaming their scout hall after him. Since starting off as a Cub Scout at age 10, Keaton has been a steady figure in Troop 184, mentoring 64 of the 88 boys who have become Eagle Scouts.
Caribou residents Cuppy Johndro, Kip Griffin and Kirk Ward were lauded as heroes after assisting Police Officer Kegan McPherson during an arrest. McPherson had stopped Scott Larson, 50, of Caribou for speeding and was attempting to handcuff him when the struggle turned violent. Griffin successfully communicated with dispatchers via McPherson’s radio while Ward held down Larson’s feet and Johndro directed traffic from the incident.
The reunion of Loring Air Force Base veterans Aug. 12-14 became a chance for former comrades to catch up with each other and relive during former military days. Held in conjunction with the U.S. Air Force’s 75th anniversary, the reunion featured two B-52 bomber jets and events celebrating Loring’s contributions during the Cold War.
Thousands of families visited Bennett Drive in Caribou Aug. 11-14 for an expanded version of the annual Caribou Cares About Kids festival. The fours days featured activities such as the Caribou Cares parade, the Aroostook County Firefighters Muster, sports competitions and many food vendors.
After a week of witness testimony from prosecutors, a 12-member jury found Bobby Nightingale, 40, guilty of murdering 51-year-old Roger Ellis and 25-year-old Allen Curtis in Castle Hill. Though Nightingale’s defense team pointed out the lack of DNA on several items of evidence, prosecutors from the Maine Attorney General’s office ultimately swayed the jury with testimonies from law enforcement officials and neighbors. Ellis and Curtis were found shot to death in Ellis’ truck shortly after midnight on Aug. 13, 2019.
The Mi’kmaq Nation celebrated its 27th annual Mawiomi of Tribes on Aug. 20 at Spruce Haven in Caribou. Known for its inclusion of traditional dances, drumming and singing, Mawiomi originated as the tribe’s way of gathering after harvesting blueberries downstate. Over the years, Mawiomi has evolved into a community event that invites tribal and non-tribal members.
First-time hay harvestor Jim Bacon of Caribou was one of many hay farmers in Aroostook who successfully avoided the drought that plagued much of Maine during this year’s summer growing season.
Limestone Community School received a $250,000 contract from the Maine Department of Education to launch a middle school outdoor learning program. The contract will allow LCS to purchase materials and equipment needed to begin a school farm, grow foods in the green house and expand regular outdoor offerings to students.
Caribou’s Business Investment Group announced that it had acquired a vacant lot from the city, hoping to turn that land into affordable housing. The move came as part of Caribou’s efforts to clean up blighted neighborhoods.
After their latest discussion on broadband options, Caribou councilors opted to wait longer before choosing which internet provider to partner with. During their Aug. 22 meeting, councilors heard from Tim McAfee, CEO of Pioneer Broadband in Houlton, on Pioneer’s partnership with the Caribou Utilities District and Business Investment Group. Councilors and CUD officials agreed to have more conversations on what the city’s role would be in a partnership.
The Limestone Renaissance Faire brought hundreds of artists, performers, reenacters and history enthusiasts to Albert Michaud Memorial Park. From blacksmith and sword fighting demonstrations to a live version of Dungeons & Dragons, the Faire featured the most mystical parts of the European Middle Ages.
Goughan’s Berry Farm unveiled its 2022 corn maze as a tribute to Aroostook County Action Program’s 50th anniversary. The maze, sitting on six acres of land at the Caribou family farm, showcases ACAP’s most well-known services and includes games educating the public on those services.
After less than a year of service, Limestone Town Manager Tara Henderson announced her plans to resign. She was the fourth town manager in two years and part of an even longer line of managers who had left the town previously. In her letter of resignation, Henderson cited burnout among herself and staff as reasons for leaving. That same week, Limestone’s board of selectpeople named Jim Risner the interim town manager.
New principal Jamie Selfridge and assistant principal Ben Goodwin began their first year as administrators at Caribou High School. Both expressed a desire to make stronger connections with students and staff post-pandemic and give students wider learning opportunities beyond the traditional classroom.
Limestone’s board of selectpeople voted unanimously to hire Jesse Cormier as a part-time interim police chief. Amid a shortage of full-time officers, Cormier promised to bring in new officers and help rebuild the department to the point where hiring a full-time chief is possible. Residents who attended a public hearing voiced their support for Cormier and for the town maintaining its own police department.
Halfway Home Pet Rescue in Caribou announced plans to renovate the former Broadway Electric building into a wellness center that will include rooms for feral cats and those up for adoption, and expanded areas for spay and neuter clinics. Halfway Home president Norma Milton and volunteers want to also offer a regional vet clinic for wellness and emergency medical procedures.
During its Sept. 7 meeting, Limestone’s board of selectpeople voted to decrease the town’s mill rate from 30.39 per $1,000 of property value to 28 mills and accept a $29,518 overlay in the town budget. Selectpeople expressed their desire to lower taxes during a time when more residents have been concerned about municipal spending and a rising cost of living.
The newly launched Caribou Area Ride Service continued searching for volunteers to help alleviate the shortage of transportation options for senior citizens. As part of a pilot program, volunteer drivers transported seniors age 65 and older to medical appointments and social outings.
According to a school official, Limestone Community School Superintendent William Dobbins waited three months before notifying the public of initially high lead levels in numerous water faucets. The details of the delay were revealed by Sam Critchlow, executive director of the Maine School of Science and Mathematics, which shares a building with LCS. Follow-up results prompted school committee members to request remediation for seven faucets that continued to test high for lead. CDC records later revealed that Dobbins also waited three months to inform community members in Caswell of initially high lead levels in fountains at Dawn F. Barnes Elementary School, where he is also superintendent.
At a special meeting, several child care providers in Caribou spoke about the need for changes in state funding and regulations to support providers. Jordyn Rossignol and Theresa Dube recalled their experiences with what they called too-strict state inspections and low state reimbursements, urging legislators to fix Maine’s child care system.
The Fort Fairfield Utilities District announced the beginning phases of construction for a new wastewater treatment facility. The new facility, to be located at 88 North Caribou Road, will replace the current treatment plant at 96 High St., which has been operational since 1974. General Manager Jonathan Helstrom said that construction that began in October would resume in spring 2023.
Limestone appointed yet another interim town manager after Jim Risner stepped down due to medical reasons. Former selectperson Walt Elliot was appointed on Sept. 21, with board chair Irma Labreck noting that Elliot would fill the role until a permanent town manager is hired.
Frank and Joan McElwain reflected on the history of their family farm — McElwain’s Strawberry Farm — which started in 1910 with Frank’s grandfather David. The McElwains spoke on how the farm transitioned from potatoes to smaller crops like strawberries and apples, and expressed their hope that someone would step in to continue the legacy into the future.
The Stockholm Historical Museum brought people back in time with a replica of Dick’s Barbershop, which existed in town throughout the 1960s and 1970s. Barber Deb Paradis offered free haircuts while her husband Jim Paradis served popcorn from a replica old-fashioned machine. The barbershop is a new feature that the historical society and Paradis created to bring more visitors to the museum.
The Limestone Trail Hawks received a $12,675 grant from the Yamaha Outdoor Access Initiative Program to repair a section of the Grass Farm Trail. Club president Chris King said that the trail has been in need of repairs for several years due to washouts and excess mud. King expected construction to be completed by late October.
Caribou city councilors agreed to use $34,207 in reserve funds to help Caribou Parks & Recreation purchase a new snowmobile trail groomer. After failing to obtain major grant funding, Parks & Recreation Superintendent Gary Marquis turned to the council prior to the cost of the groomer rising in the new year. He also announced a fundraising campaign to raise additional funds for the groomer.
During his first town council meeting, Fort Fairfield’s new interim manager Dan Foster informed residents of the town’s dire financial situation. In June 2020, Fort Fairfield had $946,000 in the bank, with no outstanding short-term debt. Two years later, the town had only $199,000 in the bank and $875,000 in outstanding short-term debt. Another $400,000 borrowed in July 2022 placed the town’s total debt at $1,275,000. Foster, who previously served as town manager for 15 years, attributed the financial woes to excessive spending on the town’s new ambulance service and a lack of transparency from previous town leaders. Foster stepped up as interim manager after the sudden departure of former manager Andrea Powers in early September.
Limestone and the Maine School of Science and Mathematics partnered to purchase two solar array sites on the former Loring Air Force Base. Officials from both entities said that the partnership would save them thousands on their electric bills moving forward. During a visit to the solar sites, state renewable energy officials lauded the partnership as a model for other schools and towns in Maine.
Caribou city officials met with representatives from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to assess conditions at the former diesel and steam power plant, which has been vacant since the early 2000s. Cleaning up the former plant will cost millions, but city leaders hoped to obtain funding for that project. The plant is one of many vacant buildings delaying full development of the riverfront region.
U.S. Sen. Susan Collins visited the Caribou Police Department and expressed concerns over the current police station’s structural issues and lack of sufficient storage space. Collins said she was “hopeful” that her $2.5 million congressional spending request would be approved by the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives in December. The funds will go toward the design and construction of a new Caribou police station.
Young entrepreneur Caleb Trombley, 22, returned to the Caribou Planning Board with a proposal for a medical marijuana caregiver retail store in the former Pizza Hut building. This time, Trombley proposed that the Planning Board limit such stores to two in the downtown district and presented members with suggestions for a revised city ordinance. Planning Board members expressed willingness to research other marijuana ordinances in Maine before potentially revising their own.
Sen. Troy Jackson, D-Allagash, submitted a legislative bond proposal that would give an additional $1 million-$2 million to Caribou’s new police station for establishing a regional jail in the city. Currently, the Aroostook County Jail in Houlton is the only regional jail. Jackson and Caribou Police Chief Michael Gahagan said that there is a need to establish another regional jail due to the volume of inmates being held at Caribou’s jail.
Caribou city councilors called for more city action on “drug houses” after hearing a local family’s tragic story. In September, David White’s daughter Hanah was found dead in a house on Sweden Street that White said has been known in the community as a “drug house.” He spoke about similar houses on other streets, prompting councilors to ask for more data and actions from the city’s code enforcement office, law enforcement and other officials.
After stepping into his new role as Fire & EMS chief, Mike Jalbert told Fort Fairfield town councilors that he hoped to keep ambulance services in town and reduce departmental expenses. Jalbert expressed interest in eliminating one of the town’s two new ambulances and other vehicles and equipment he deemed unnecessary for basic operations. That same day, the Aroostook County Commissioners approved a two-month extension of Fort Fairfield’s county tax payment due to the town’s recent financial issues.
Several families who have moved to Stockholm from outside Maine in recent years reflected on their reasons for choosing the town. With a low crime rate, ample farmland and close neighbors, Stockholm has become an ideal place for young families looking for a simpler lifestyle.
Caribou city councilors voted unanimously to schedule a public hearing in regard to a house at 15 Prospect St. where alleged drug activity has taken place. Councilors heard comments from several community members and the city’s code enforcement officer, leading them to take steps to possibly declare the house a “nuisance property” under state law.
With recent upgrades to Otter Brook near Limestone Street and future plans for a new dam and fishway for Collins Pond and Caribou Stream, Caribou recreation officials are hoping to restore the native brook trout populations.
At least 50 residents who attended a community forum spoke on how Caribou could increase economic development in the next decade. Many people suggested that the city focus most of its efforts on new business growth, riverfront redevelopment, public safety and downtown revitalization.
At least 1,600 families came to the Caribou Wellness & Recreation Center for the annual Trunk or Treat. Many families donned group costumes as they excitedly gathered up bags of sweet Halloween candy.
Limestone’s board of selectpeople unanimously voted to pay $8,000 to the Bangor-based law firm Eaton Peabody for assistance in finding a new town manager. Interim Town Manager Walt Elliot and the board hoped that expanding the search to New England states beyond Maine would help the town find qualified applicants.
Former Caribou resident Kristin Gifford donated $2,000 to Recovery Aroostook in honor of her late daughter, Marissa Lloyd, and Marissa’s childhood friend Hanah White. Lloyd died in a car accident at age 7 in 2008. White died as a result of a drug overdose in 2022.
As the Caribou Utilities District moved forward with plans to build a city-wide, dark-fiber network, Spectrum began pressuring city officials to not give financial support to that project, if they chose to partner with Spectrum on its own broadband expansion. While some councilors still voiced support for Spectrum’s proposal, CUD officials criticized Spectrum for partnering with an ad hoc group that reportedly spread misinformation about the CUD’s project.
The agriculture program at Caribou Technology Center continued to grow. This year 43 high school students signed up for the program, so many that instructors had to turn away many to meet the 28-student limit. Students praised the program for helping them learn about farm life and gain expertise in a variety of trades, including small-engine repair and electrical maintenance.
Limestone Community School committee members learned that additional lead water testing came back with good results as of late October. A home economics sink at the Maine School of Science and Mathematics tested at 2.1 ppb while two water fountains tested at 1.4 and 1.3 ppb. The remaining kitchen sink, located in Limestone’s Recreation Department, which also shares the building with LCS and MSSM, tested at 1.4 ppb. All sinks had previously been above the state’s limit of 4 ppb. Limestone officials were still waiting on follow-up results for three more faucets.
On Election Day, voters in Caribou reelected longtime city councilor Joan Theriault and elected new councilor Dan Bagley, both to three-year terms. Theriault received 1,704 votes, 38.2 percent of the final vote, while Bagley received 1,469 votes, 32.9 percent of the final count. Candidate Paul Watson received 1,280 votes, 28.7 of the final count. Voters also elected Republican Timothy Guerrette to serve as House District 4 representative. Guerrette received 1,892 votes from Caribou, 63 percent of the total, while his Democratic opponent Jordyn Rossignol received 1,107 votes, 36.9 percent of Caribou votes.
Fort Fairfield voters elected two new members to the town council. Keith Thibeau and Patricia Canavan will serve three-year terms beginning in January. Thibeau garnered 885 votes and Canavan received 552. Voters also elected Angela Cormier to a three-year term on the SAD 20 school board with 647 votes, ousting incumbent Wendy Ross, who received 456 votes.
Thirty-one year-old Matthew Guzman of Caribou was charged with animal cruelty after his dog, a male likely pitbull mix, was found locked inside a closet in a home undergoing renovations. The dog was in dire need of food and medical care when found, but humane society workers said they expected him to recover. Guzman was charged with a misdemeanor for which he could receive up to 364 days in prison, a fine of no less than $500 and be banned from possessing any animals in the future, according to Caribou Police Chief Michael Gahagan.
On Veterans Day, U.S. Sen. Susan Collins returned to her hometown of Caribou to speak at the Northern Maine Veterans Cemetery. Collins paid tribute to her late father Don Collins, a World War II veteran, and several other Maine veterans whose bravery led to them receiving the Medal of Honor.
Fourteen-year-old Maggie Bell, a freshman at Caribou High School, published her first novel, “Coffee Gets Cold Quick.” The novel, written in verse, tells the story of young Emma Clark as she moves with her family from Missouri to Colorado on the Transcontinental Railroad. Bell said that the novel took one year to write as she wrote poems about Clark’s story and researched the novel’s early 20th century time period.
The Washington, D.C.-based company DG Fuels announced intentions to build a sustainable aviation fuel production facility on 1,240 acres of the former Loring Air Force Base in Limestone. Company leaders said that the $4 billion facility will be constructed beginning in 2024, produce 175 million gallons of sustainable fuel per year and create 650 new jobs.
Caribou city councilors voted unanimously to declare the home at 15 Prospect St. both a dangerous and a chronic nuisance property. Nearly a dozen neighbors and business owners accused the homeowner and guests of frequently disturbing neighborhood peace, leaving drug needles on the streets, trespassing and making violent threats. Councilors declared that 15 Prospect would be the first of many “drug houses” that Caribou would combat more aggressively.
Caribou councilors unanimously voted to submit an application for the Environmental Protection Agency’s Brownfields Clean-Up grant program. If approved in 2023, the funds will go toward clean-up of hazardous materials, including asbestos, at the former diesel plant along the Aroostook River. Asbestos cleanup is estimated to cost $400,000 while other cleanups of hazardous waste will total $200,000.
With a 3-to-2 vote from town councilors, Fort Fairfield became the only town in Aroostook to not have a library director. Citing the town’s dire financial situation, the majority of councilors approved Interim Town Manager Dan Foster’s proposal to cut Jennifer Gaenzle, the town’s full-time library director, and rely on two part-time employees instead. After the council’s decision, library board of trustees chair Shawn Newell resigned in protest. Foster later said that he intended to keep the library accessible to the community, even with reduced hours.
Fort Fairfield Fire & Rescue Chief Mike Jalbert announced that he had renewed the town’s ambulance license for the next year. That means Fort Fairfield will continue providing its own ambulance services to residents while looking at ways to reduce that department’s expenses.
City councilors in Caribou voted 5-2 to oust two Cary Hospital District board members for alleged conflicts of interest with the Caribou Utilities District. The former board members Tim Todd and Bryan Cullins voted to donate $250,000 to the CUD’s broadband expansion efforts. Todd’s company, R.L. Todd & Sons, Inc., is one of three electrical contractors who have agreed to help the CUD maintain dark fiber utility poles after construction. The council’s vote brought about debate on whether they had the authority to oust the board members for alleged conflicts of interest.
Former Boston Celtics player Chris Herren spoke to more than 800 students from across Aroostook County during two presentations at Caribou High School. Herren recalled his battle with substance use disorder and urged youths to seek help for themselves or others who are struggling with trauma.
As Aroostook faced ongoing housing shortages, Caribou leaders noted that a 1970s-era subdivision law in Maine has been hindering development efforts recently. State law requires that developers complete engineering, property surveying, environmental studies, building designs and access road construction prior to building, which officials said could be costly and lead to a delayed return on investment.
Caribou Parks & Recreation held its first in-person gingerbread house decorating event since 2019. Families filled the rec center gymnasium to decorate their houses with candy and enjoy the start of the holiday season.
Limestone held its annual Christmas Light Parade with the theme “Magic of Christmas.” After the parade, families gathered at Limestone Community School for craft activities and a visit with Santa Claus.
After hiring an additional social worker, Caribou Community School began to see the benefits of bringing its three social workers into the classroom more. Tanya Stubbs, the school’s newest social worker, and her colleagues have been teaching age-based lessons on mental health awareness to elementary and middle school students, hoping to prevent mental health issues from becoming a crisis.
The Caribou Utilities District board of trustees agreed to not accept a previously proposed $250,000 donation from the Cary Hospital District Board. Their decision came after the Caribou City Council ousted district board members Tim Todd and Bryan Cullins for an alleged conflict of interest with the CUD’s broadband project.
Caribou resident Becky Thomas revealed issues she and neighbors have been having with river rats since earlier in 2022. The city’s code enforcement officer Ken Murchison noted that a previously blighted property near the neighborhood, which may have contributed to the issue, has since been cleaned up. With rat populations being the responsibility of the state, he said, the city has limited options.
Limestone residents voiced concerns about the town’s turbulent history with recent town managers and expressed the qualities they think a new manager should possess.
The Caribou City Council honored outgoing councilor Doug Morrell for his three years of service. Morrell opted to not seek reelection. Recently elected councilor Dan Bagley will assume Morrell’s seat in January.