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  • Major Democratic debate Sunday, January 17, a must watch

    Sunday night’s Democratic presidential debate should be the most closely-watched meeting of the party’s candidates this year. But the Democratic National Committee’s schedule, may not bring in viewers.

    It's a three-day weekend, and at the same time the debate airs so will National Football League playoff games and a new episode of PBS’s popular series, “Downton Abbey.”

    This week, new polls showed former US secretary of state Hillary Clinton and US Senator Bernie Sanders of Vermont statistically tied in Iowa. This means that the next Democratic debate will be the most important, yet.

    It's also, the last debate before the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire Primary.

  • On Memorial Day for all veterans: Thank you for our freedom

    Arlington Cemetary photo by Frank Glick

    Please give thanks to our service men and women who defend us everyday and keep our freedoms alive.

    So many have fought for our democracy. So many gave their lives for us. Take the time today and think about their sacrifices. Take a look around yourself thinking of them—knowing they’ve helped preserve our way of life.

    The National Moment of Remembrance was established as an act of Congress that asks Americans to pause at 3 p.m. local time to reflect on the meaning of Memorial Day.

    Being at a mall is no way to spend Memorial Day. Find the true reason we designate a day for remembrance and thanks.

  • President Obama on new steps by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau

    "This week, they took an important first step towards cracking down on some of the most abusive practices involving payday loans. Millions of Americans take out these loans every year. In Alabama, where I visited this week, there are four times as many payday lending stores as there are McDonald’s. But while payday loans might seem like easy money, folks often end up trapped in a cycle of debt. If you take out a $500 loan, it’s easy to wind up paying more than $1,000 in interest and fees." —President Obama on new steps by the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau to protect working Americans' paychecks

  • NBC's Williams should resign- we need the return of integrity in the news

    editorial by Ramona du Hoxu

    NBC News anchor Brian Williams took himself off the evening newscast for several days as the network investigates his claim that he was aboard a helicopter that was downed by a rocket-propelled grenade during the U.S. invasion of Iraq in 2003.

    “In the midst of a career spent covering and consuming news, it has become painfully apparent to me that I am presently too much a part of the news, due to my actions,” Williams said in a statement posted on NBC News’ website.

    Lester Holt, who typically anchors on weekends, will take over the newscast until Williams return.

    Williams should never return.

    There should be a national call for his resignation. This is the news not Sunday night quarterbacking. Millions of opinions across the country and world are formulated by what they hear and see on nightly news. These people deserve the TRUTH.

    Walter Cronkite took pains to insure each and every story he broadcast was backed up by facts. He would not broadcast a story unless he had the evidence that the story was true. He made it a point never to editorialize in his broadcasts. So much so, when he put his point of view into a newscast because he felt it was his obligation as an eye witness to atrocities in the Viet Nam War - his point of view made National News.

    Dan Rather was fired as a newscaster because he did an in-depth report on former George W. Bush's national guard service. His facts were true but the report apparently upset sponsors. And maybe that's the problem today with the nightly news. Williams is known to be "entertaining" but this is not Saturday Night Live, this is the time slot on TV where facts should be given to people. The Colbert Report had the guts to satirize nightly news but millions still believe in Williams' or Fox News broadcasts.

    Now there are doubts cast on the reporting done by Williams about Hurricane Katrina.

    How can the people every trust Williams ever again after making such an outlandish claim? He's done a disservice to all who served and their families as well as all news agencies who still have the integrity of reporting the truth, not as they see it - but as the facts show it to be.

  • Portland citizens urged to take open space survey

    Portland, Maine City Hall, photo by Ramona du Houx

    By Ramona du Houx 

    This fall, the City of Portland and its partners launched an open space planning process. With help from Portland Trails and The Trust for Public Land, the City is engaging residents in developing a shared vision for Portland's open spaces.  Answers to questions like: do Portlanders value outdoor recreation? Space to grow food? Green and climate-smart infrastructure? Natural beauty and respite from the urban setting? --will help Portland determine where we should grow, develop, protect, maintain and invest in our open spaces. 

    As part of the project, Portland Trails has been facilitating a series of public meetings and focus groups. At these meetings, in addition to facilitating dialogue about residents' open space needs and opportunities, the project team is administering a written survey to gather residents' input on what the city's open space priorities should be. The final meeting will take place in January at one of Portland's public schools.

     Anyone unable to attend that meeting in person is urged to spend a few minutes taking this on-line open space survey, available here: https://www.surveymonkey.com/s/PortlandOpenSpace The on-line survey will be open through the end of January, and people are encouraged to share the link with personal and professional networks and neighbors in order to reach as many Portlanders as possible.

    All input received during the Community Conversations and via this on-line survey will be used to help inform project prioritization. Over the winter and into early spring, The Trust for Public Land will manage the prioritization phase of the project.

  • Maine election mystery solved- not election fraud just counting 21 ballots twice during recount

    By Ramona du Houx

    Cathy Breen was named the winner of the contested Maine Senate District 25 seat after Cathy Manchester conceded the election. More than six hours of testimony was heard during the Senate’s special elections committee before  Julie Flynn, Deputy Secretary of State, and a detective from the Attorney General’s office opened the police-guarded ballot box from Long Island and reconciled the ballots with the ballot tally sheet. The examination revealed a total of 171 ballots--not the 192 claimed at the recount. It turned out that the 21 phantom ballots were counted twice during the recount.

    “I want to thank the committee for their dogged pursuit of the facts that helped us get to the bottom of the mystery on Long Island. I am grateful and humbled by the outpouring of support from the voters in my district and for Democratic leadership who stood up for the integrity of the electoral process,” said Senator-elect Cathy Breen of Falmouth “Today’s answers will allow us to move forward and get to work on the issues that are important to Mainers.”

    “As legislators one of the most important jobs we have is to preserve the integrity of the electoral system. This was never a political issue for us. It was about getting to the bottom of what happened to cause these voter irregularities,” said Assistant Democratic Leader Dawn Hill of York, who led the Democrats on the special committee. “We knew something wasn’t right and today is a vindication for all of us who stood our ground and stood up for voter integrity.”

    The committee wrapped up after they agreed to a total recount of all the Long Island votes. The recount was led by Senator Bill Diamond, former Secretary of State and  Senator Tom Saviello. The recount once again confirmed a total of 171 ballots with a breakdown of 95 ballots for Cathy Breen, 65 ballots for Cathy Manchester and 11 ballots that were blank.

    “Today’s investigation allowed us to find the answers we needed to solve this mystery,” said Senator Bill Diamond of Windham. “It is reassuring to know that the system held up and that voters can once again have confidence that all votes count--and count only once.”

    Democrats have been calling for an investigation since 21 untraceable or “phantom ballots” appeared at the recount of the SD 25 race but Republicans refused to keep the recount open forcing the investigation to go to the Senate’s special committee. These 21 ballots push the total number of ballots cast in the SD 25 race to 192 ballots--yet there were only 171 voters who voted according to the Long Island voter manifest.

    The 7-member legislative committee includes Democratic Senators Dawn Hill, Bill Diamond, and Stan Gerzofsky and Republican Senators Roger Katz, Tom Saviello, Garrett Mason, Andre Cushing.

    It is expected that the Senate will consider the committee’s recommendation when it reconvenes on January 7.

  • Portland, Maine, unveils electric vehicle charging station at Elm Street Parking Garage

    Solar powered car at ReVision in Maine. Photo and article by Ramona du Houx

    The City of Portland, Maine, unveiled its first electric vehicle charging station last week at the Elm Street Parking Garage. Two level II electric vehicle chargers are now operational, one of which is for use for the City’s new 2014 Nissan Leaf electric vehicle and one which is for public use. The level II charger can charge a vehicle in four to five hours as compared to home style chargers that plug-in to any 110-volt outlet and take approximately 12 hours for a full charge.

    The City’s new Nissan Leaf is being used by the Inspections Division and will be shared among other employees conducting city business to encourage use.

    The City was awarded a grant from Central Maine Power that funds half of the Leaf’s two-year lease. Use of the Leaf allows the City to pilot electric vehicles, diversify its vehicle fleet, realize economic and environmental benefits, offer a public charging station, raise awareness and encourage further adoption of plug-in vehicles, and further its commitment to sustainable transportation options.

  • New Census data shows thousands more Mainers do not have health care

    By Ramona du Houx - September 16, 2014

    According to federal Census Bureau data released today, the number of Mainers without any form of health care coverage grew by 12,000 in 2013 and the state uninsured rate rose from 10.2 percent in 2012 to 11 percent in 2013. Nationally, the rate of uninsured fell by .2 percent. Maine and New Jersey were the only states to experience an increase in the percentage of their people who do not have health insurance.

    Speaker of the House Mark Eves, who led the effort to expand lifesaving health care to 70,000 thousands Mainers, including nearly 3,000 veterans, said the data show Maine is going in the wrong direction.

    “Maine is falling behind because our Governor and his allies put ideology over the health of our people and the strength of our economy,” said Eves. “We had a chance to provide lifesaving health care to nearly 70,000 Maine people, and instead thousands lost coverage. We had a chance to grow thousands of jobs and invest millions of dollars into our economy and into our hospitals, and instead now we are lagging behind the nation in job growth and health.”

    During the past two years, Governor LePage vetoed five different measures to increase access to health care for Maine citizens, including a bipartisan plan sponsored by two Senate Republicans.

    According to the Maine Center for Economic Policy, the failure to expand health care is costing Maine’s economy half a billion dollars each year that would support over 4,000 jobs, and save hospitals millions of dollars for care provided to the uninsured.

    A recent Forbes report showed that hospitals in states that refused to expand Medicaid will see increasing financial troubles. Quoting a study by Fitch Ratings, Forbes reported: “We expect providers in states that have chosen not to participate in expanded Medicaid eligibility to face increasing financial challenges in 2014 and beyond.

    An analysis from the Maine Hospital Association for the 12-month period ending March 31, 2014, shows Maine hospitals have collectively lost money. According to a Press Herald opinion column on the analysis, the number of Maine hospitals in the red for 2013 doubled as hospitals saw greater numbers of uninsured patients in the emergency room.

  • New KeepME Home initiative to make life better for older Mainers

    By Ramona du Houx - August 21st, 2014 ·

    The Maine Council on Aging (MCOA)—made up of over 30 organizations working to ensure the well-being of Maine’s older adults—announced its support today of a package of legislative proposals presented by Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, Mark Eves.

    “Maine is the oldest state in the nation — each day more than 50 people turn 65. These numbers must be a call to action for our state leaders,” said Eves, who has who has spearheaded a statewide aging initiative to address Maine’s aging challenges. “We must transform how people age in our state so they can live independently in their communities and homes. That is the goal of the “KeepME Home” initiative.”

    The “KeepME Home” initiatives announced by Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, Mark Eves addresses several critical needs for older Mainers: affordable housing near services, access to needed home care and financial security.

    KeepME Home includes three specific proposals: a $65 million general obligation bond to develop 1,000 highly energy-efficient apartments for Maine’s seniors in 40 locations across the state in every county; an increase to the state’s Property Tax Fairness Credit for older adults; and the first boost in a decade to MaineCare reimbursement rates for home care workers.

    Congressman Mike Michaud, who is running for Governor, has worked closely with Speaker Eves throughout the development of the KeepMe Home plan. Michaud participated in Eves’ aging summit last January.

    “Yesterday, I met with Speaker Eves to talk about his KeepME Home plan and discuss ways they can work together to meet the needs of Maine’s aging population and help them live happy, healthy, independent lives,” said Michaud. “KeepME Home puts its focus in the right place by emphasizing the importance of aging-in-place for Maine seniors. As I travel the state talking to Maine seniors it’s clear that too many are struggling to remain independent, which is why I included an emphasis on supporting aging in place competitive grants in my Maine Made Business and Investment Plan.”

    One in four Mainers will be over the age of 65 by 2030, according to census projections.

    According to a recent AARP poll of 2,000 Maine adults over 50, “nearly seven out of ten think it should be a top or high priority for Maine elected officials to support age-friendly communities by funding services, programs, or infrastructure changes that enable residents to age in place.”

    “Older Mainers want to remain in their homes and communities as they age, but far too many are struggling to find housing and access the services they need,” said Jess Maurer, Executive Director of the Maine Association of Area Agencies on Aging and Co-chair of the Maine Council on Aging. “The Maine Council on Aging promotes a vision for Maine in which older adults are valued and thriving community members. The KeepME Home Initiative will go a long way to achieving this vision by helping older adults remain independent now and into the future.”

    At the root of MCOA’s vision is this truth: Maine is at its epicenter of a national demographic shift: one in four Mainers will be over age 65 in the next two decades. That’s why the MCOA, in partnership with Speaker Eves, launched the Maine Aging Initiative, an on-going broad-based collaborative effort to systematically address the challenges our aging demographic has on our economy, workforce and healthcare delivery system. This initiative involves more than 100 leaders from different segments of the economy focused on specific policy areas, including: public and private safety, workforce and employment, health and well-being, higher education and building aging-friendly communities.

    These groups have already generated many good legislative ideas. As the groups more fully develop these ideas, the MCOA will be working with legislative leaders from both sides of the isle to champion these initiatives. Leaders from both parties know older Mainers need help now and that we all have to work collaboratively to make Maine the way aging should be.

    That’s why the MCOA sent out a letter yesterday to all legislative candidates asking them to read the Blueprint for Action on Aging and to talk with older constituents and those who serve them about these issues. We’re hoping many legislators will come to Augusta in January ready to support the initiatives announced today and to be champions for other initiatives.

    “I am encouraged by many of the proposals in the Speaker’s initiative. Maine is on the leading edge of a national trend. We’re the nation’s oldest state and though that presents challenges, I truly believe that by working together we can turn those challenges into incredible opportunities for Maine communities, businesses and individuals,” said Michaud.

  • ReEnergy announces plans to restart operations at biomass-to-energy facility in Ashland, ME

    ReEnergy announces plans to restart operations at biomass-to-energy facility in Ashland, ME ReEnergy Holdings today announced plans to resume operations at its biomass-to-electricity facility in Ashland, ME.

    “We are very pleased to be resuming operations of this critical energy asset,” said ReEnergy Chief Executive Officer Larry D. Richardson. “This will restore jobs, improve forest health, and enhance reliability and stability in the delivery of electricity in northern Maine. This was only possible through the collaboration and support of key stakeholders.”

    The 39-megawatt ReEnergy Ashland facility generates renewable energy from responsibly harvested green forest residue biomass and unadulterated wood. It is capable of producing approximately 284,000 MWh of electricity each year — enough to supply nearly 37,000 homes.

    The facility, which opened in 1993, was acquired by ReEnergy Holdings in December 2011 as part of a multi-facility portfolio purchase from Boralex Industries Inc. It has been idled since March 2011. It is anticipated that the facility will be fully operational by December.

    “The reopening of the Ashland biomass facility is welcome news for the important jobs it will restore and the renewable energy it will generate. The forest economy is a tremendous asset in our state and biomass plants like the one in Ashland play a vital role,” said Senator Susan Collins.

    The facility has a significant economic impact in northern Maine. The resumption of operations will restore 25 well-paying direct jobs and an estimated 150 indirect jobs associated with the facility, many of them related to the supply of the forest residue fuel supply to the facility and additional jobs tied to local goods and services related to the facility. At full production levels, the facility purchases more than $16 million annually in fuel from local loggers.

    When considering the payrolls of the direct and indirect jobs along with taxes paid by ReEnergy Ashland, the annual economic impact on the region is well in excess of $20 million.

    "ReEnergy’s plans to restart the power plant in Ashland is great news for the community,” said Ashland Town Manager Ralph Dwyer. “It will create many well-paying direct jobs at the plant as well as other indirect jobs supplying the facility with biomass fuel. The Town of Ashland appreciates ReEnergy’s commitment to our community and look forward to seeing the plant in operation again.”

    ReEnergy has achieved certification to the Sustainable Forestry Initiative® (SFI®) Standard for the facilities that are currently operating in Maine and New York. ReEnergy will seek similar certification for the Ashland facility, and this certification will provide third-party verification that ReEnergy’s biomass procurement program promotes land stewardship and responsible forestry practices. ReEnergy is the first company solely devoted to electricity production to be certified to the SFI Standard.

    ReEnergy’s strategy is to own and operate its facilities in regions capable of supplying raw materials while simultaneously ensuring the long-term sustainability of the forests where those facilities are located.

    The company owns and operates three other biomass-to-energy facilities in Maine: ReEnergy Stratton (48 MW); ReEnergy Livermore Falls (39 MW); and ReEnergy Fort Fairfield (37 MW). ReEnergy also owns and operates a facility in Lewiston that processes construction and demolition material.

    With Ashland operating, ReEnergy will employ more than 140 people in Maine and support more than 1,000 direct and indirect jobs.

    “This is great news for the town of Ashland and another sign of the positive things that are happening in Aroostook County's forest economy,” said Patrick Strauch, executive director of the Maine Forest Products Council.

    Biomass-to-energy offers substantial long-term employment and positive rural economic impacts. With in-state equipment manufacturing, fuel harvesting, processing, and jobs from facility construction to ongoing boiler service, the bioenergy industry contributes significantly to the state’s economy.

    As a rule of thumb, each megawatt of biomass-fueled electricity supports approximately five full-time jobs: one direct job in the biomass facility, and four indirect jobs in surrounding forests and communities.

    The Ashland facility has been idled since March 2011 due to market conditions. The restart has been made possible due to a confluence of factors, including an increased need for electric grid stability in northern Maine, availability of transmission capacity, a growing need for a local outlet for mill and forest residues, and energy market changes.

    The facility has been maintained in a manner that will allow for a prompt return to its standard of reliability, but several months of preparation will be necessary to hire and re-hire employees, build fuel supply, and assess and re-tune equipment.

    More about ReEnergy Holdings:

    ReEnergy Holdings LLC, a portfolio company of Riverstone Holdings LLC, owns and/or operates facilities that use forest-derived woody biomass and other waste residues to produce renewable energy. It also owns facilities in New England that recycle construction and demolition debris. ReEnergy was formed in 2008 by affiliates of Riverstone Holdings LLC and a senior management/co-investor team comprised of experienced industry professionals.

    ReEnergy owns and/or operates nine energy generating facilities with 325 MW of installed renewable energy generation capacity and processes for recycling more than 700,000 tons per year of construction and demolition material. ReEnergy operates in six states and employs more than 300 people.

  • Law to support veterans treatment courts in Maine effective Aug. 1

    A new law to support and expand Kennebec County’s successful veterans treatment court program will become effective Friday, Aug. 1.

    District Attorney Megan Mahoney first introduced the Veterans Court program two years ago after consultations with Congressman Mike Michaud. The Court helps many whom have served our country but have had a hard time reintergrating into society.  
    The veterans treatment court operates in Kennebec County and is open to any newly returned veteran in Maine, but it has been difficult for some veterans living in other parts of the state to access the program. The new law allows the veterans courts to  expand gradually to other areas outside of Kennebec County.

    “Veterans have done a lot to protect and support our country,” said Rep. Arthur “Archie” Verow, a co-sponsor of the measure. “When they are in a time of need, it’s our duty to protect and support them.”

    The measure will provide funding for a part-time prosecutor to ensure financial stability for the current program and will direct the Kennebec and Somerset County District Attorney, who oversees the veterans court, to report back on the performance of the veterans court and the best location for expansion.

    The veterans court program takes a team approach to dealing with veterans who fall into criminal trouble or become addicted to drugs after returning home from service. 

    Defendants must plead guilty and follow a strict, court-ordered treatment plan. They must take multiple drug tests, undergo counseling, file reports and receive mentoring from fellow veterans.

    The new law will save the state money from the savings on incarceration costs and the benefit rehabilitated veterans would provide as productive members of society. The cost of the program is about 25 percent as much as it costs to incarcerate a veteran, especially one who would otherwise face many years in prison.