Written by David Carkhuff
Business and conservation leaders and citizen electric car owners gathered in Portland Thursday to recognize and celebrate the growing use of electric vehicles in Maine, noting that electric vehicle ownership is on the rise in Maine.
Dylan Voorhees, clean energy director for the Natural Resources Council of Maine, said electric cars present an "enormous opportunity" and that these vehicles are "increasingly practical and affordable."
Although hard statistics about electric vehicle buyers remain elusive, there are now hundreds on the road in Maine, and roughly half of Maine's EVs are registered in Cumberland County, the participants in Thursday's press conference reported.
Maine Rep. Anne Graham of Yarmouth, co-chair of the Legislature's Committee on State and Local Government and an electric vehicle owner, said her Chevy Volt "saves us a lot of money and it also helps us save the environment."
Stakeholders and EV owners who were gathered at Revision Energy on Presumpscot Street, which hosts two publicly available charging stations, pointed to "some real problems with fossil fuels," in the words of Phil Coupe, co-founder of Revision Energy.
Tim Soley, owner of East Brown Cow Management, described his efforts to convert the Fore Street parking garage into a site for electric vehicle charging. Soley called this an "exciting time" for renewable-energy technology.
Last Updated on Friday, 30 May 2014 01:51
Proponents say supporting parks initiative will let voters decide on the future of Portland's open spaces
Written by Craig Lyons
Advocates are calling on Portland residents to support a citizens initiative to protect the city's parks and let voters decide whether any of those parcels should be sold.
Members and supporters of Protect Portland Parks (http://protectportlandparks.org), a group that is an offshoot of the Friends of Congress Square Park, rallied supporters in Post Office Park on Thursday to highlight the need for voters to pass the measure to ensure residents have a voice when it comes to deciding the future of the city's parks and open spaces.
Anne Pringle, a former mayor and city councilor and president of the Friends of Deering Oaks Park, said the fundamental question posed by the initiative is whose decision should it be to sell any of the city's parks.
"My answer is the public should decide," she said.
The Friends of Congress Square's citizens initiative — set for a citywide vote on Tuesday, June 10 — is aimed at expanding what can be included in the city's land bank; designating 35 public spaces for inclusion in the land bank; and requiring a super majority vote by the council to sell any of the spaces and calling for a referendum if the vote margin is less than 8-1. If the vote is less than eight members of the council, a proposed sale will be put to a referendum.
The proposed ordinance would effectively nullify the purchase and sales agreement between the city and RockBridge Capital that would allow the hoteliers to acquire two-thirds of Congress Square Park.
The Maine Supreme Judicial Court recently ruled that the initiative can stay on the ballot after the city fought the measure, saying that it over-stepped the boundaries of what citizen-generated referendums can address.
Bree LaCasse, the chair of the Protect Portland Parks committee, said the initiative was created after residents realized how easy it was for the city to sell its parks for development during the discussion of the disposition of a portion of Congress Square Park. She also said it was a wake-up call to advocates of public spaces. She said the city's parks only have weak protections and its leaders lack the understanding that open space is important to Portland's residents.
"... Our parks need voter protection," she said.
Throughout the discussion around the sale of a portion of Congress Square for a hotel events center, Pringle said Portland officials noted that the sale of parks and open spaces is a rare occurrence, but she said history shows that's not the case and they are in fact vulnerable to development. She said a northern section of Deering Oaks was lost to build Interstate 295, a part of Lincoln Park was used to build the Franklin Arterial and the city's water and sewage treatment plant was built on a parcel that was once part of the Eastern Promenade.
Pringle said despite some minor protections, the city's parks are still vulnerable to being sold for development without more added support, which the initiative offers.
The citizens initiative does have opposition in the form of a group called Forward Portland (http://forwardportland.com), which is being headed up by former Portland mayor and city councilor Jim Cohen.
In May, the City Council passed its own parks ordinance protecting Portland's parks and urban squares by dedicating their use and putting the parcels under the stewardship of the Parks Commission. If any of those parcels are being considered for sale or a change of use, a recommendation will be made by the commission and at least seven votes will be needed at the council level. But the council's ordinance excluded the section of Congress Square Park approved for sale.
Should the citizens initiative pass, the council will have to reconcile the two measures since city code says an ordinance passed by referendum cannot be amended for five years.
Last Updated on Friday, 30 May 2014 01:52
Written by David Carkhuff
Westbrook's upcoming bicentennial celebration will loom large during this weekend's 35th annual Westbrook Together Days festival, which boasts music, games, food and a variety of entertainment.
"This year, it's the 35th annual Together Days, and it's the city's bicentennial," said Andrew Cook, president of the sponsoring Westbrook/Gorham Community Chamber of Commerce, a branch of the Portland Regional Chamber of Commerce. "This event is set to be a very, very large event."
Cook expected the Westbrook Together Days festival to fold in many bicentennial celebration activities.
Also, Westbrook opted not to stage a separate Memorial Day parade this year, but planned to devote the first part of the Westbrook Together Days parade to paying tribute to the military, planners reported.
"We're going to have a parade that is going to be one of the biggest parades that the city has had in decades," Cook said.
The two-day festival begins on Friday at 5 p.m., with a carnival, live entertainment and Remax Alliance Hot Air Balloon Rides from 5 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The festival then runs all day on Saturday from 8 a.m. to 10 p.m. On Saturday, the festivities begin at 7 a.m. with the Boy Scouts' Pancake Breakfast; continuing at 8 a.m. with a 5K run/kid's half-mile fun run; the parade is at 10 a.m.; and the annual auction kicks off at noon. A 30-minute firework display concludes the day.
The Westbrook Bicentennial Committee will have a large tent area at the Westbrook Together Days event, according to organizers of that event. According to plans announced on the Bicentennial Committee's Facebook page, they hoped to display artifacts and a Centennial Time Capsule. Westbrook is celebrating its bicentennial anniversary on June 9, to commemorate the year of 1814 when Westbrook became its own town.
Due to the size and nature of the time capsule that was buried at Riverbank Park, organizers of the bicentennial celebration had to remove it and open the box in advance to the celebration on June 9. A tin box with many documents was found inside the time capsule. When the Westbrook Bicentennial Event takes place on Monday, June 9 at 6 p.m. at the Westbrook Performing Arts Center, organizers will disclose what the Centennial Time Capsule had for contents and read some of those documents. Organizers of the event will also be creating a new time capsule, plan a slideshow of Westbrook's history, stage a performance by the Westbrook City Band and feature people talking about the history of Westbrook, according to plans for that celebration.
At this weekend's festival, the public may be able to watch a slideshow running continuously and people talking about the history of Westbrook from noon to 6 p.m. on Saturday, May 31.
"We really worked hard to incorporate it," Cook said of the bicentennial, noting that initial plans had the two events coinciding. The calendar proved too busy, particularly with Westbrook High School's graduation coming next Saturday, so the celebrations were made separate.
This event typically attracts 15,000 to 20,000 people, though attendance may swell due to the added activities, planners said.
For details, visit http://westbrooktogetherdays.com/schedule.
Last Updated on Friday, 30 May 2014 01:51
Written by Craig Lyons
While an effort to house people at the city's two emergency shelters saw great gains in its first year, the overall population of the facilities failed to show any significant drop, but a new initiative could begin to yield results.
The city-run Oxford Street Homeless Shelter and the family shelter have recently retooled their efforts to find housing for people staying at the facilities. Officials have chosen to focus on those who have been there the longest. At the start of the year, the city shelter enacted a long-term stayers initiative that looked at the people who logged the most bed nights at the shelter, giving them priority with the housing placement program, and also focused on more than half of the top 30 bed-night stayers at the Oxford Street Shelter and all the long-term stayers at the family shelter.
"We think this will have a real systems change effect," said Josh O'Brien, director of the Oxford Street Homeless Shelter.
During 2013, the city found housing for more than 650 individuals from the Oxford Street Shelter and 200 people from the family shelter, according to the city.
Despite those gains, O'Brien said the shelter's overall numbers were staying flat.
The shelter staff started looking at best practices being used in other cities and found new research around focusing on longer-staying people, and ultimately wound up crafting the new initiative, said O'Brien. He said people who are just coming to the emergency shelter are the ones who have the best chance of reestablishing housing on their own, and often putting them through the planning process with a counselor could slow those efforts down.
"It's a big shift," he said. "To focus on a smaller group might not seem as productive."
Of the first group of 30, 16 were placed in housing and one has since returned to the shelter, O'Brien said. Those 16 individuals cumulatively accrued 18,376 bed nights at the shelter that are now freed up because of the housing placements.
The remaining 14 all have housing plans, according to O'Brien, and the next group of top stayers have now been brought into the program.
At the family shelter, the same initiative was put in place and has yielded similar successes, said Robert Duranleau, the city's social services and general assistance director.
In January, the facility had 14 families that had been at the shelter for more than three months, according to Duranleau.
"As of today, we have no long-term stayers," Duranleau said.
With no one who has been in the shelter for more than 90 days, Duranleau said the focus on finding housing is now on those families.
"It really has made a difference for us at the shelter," Duranleau said.
A big part of what's made the initiative successful is that resources are being put toward long-term stayers and the level of followup that housing counselors are providing people, O'Brien said. People are available throughout the day and on-call at night if someone who has recently found a place to live needs support or runs into an issue, he said, and services are also available to landlords or property managers if problems arise.
Duranleau said the Maine Housing Authority stepped forward and started the Home To Stay program, and the shelters were able to get a $175,000 grant to hire staff to do housing followup with people after they find a more permanent place to live.
Previously, the resources weren't available to do a lot of proactive followup with people who had recently found housing, O'Brien said.
Overall, O'Brien said the effort to house long-term stayers could be playing a role in the declining shelter population, which has gone from 220 people to 211 in a month, and he said he hopes that trend will continue.
Last Updated on Friday, 30 May 2014 01:51
Written by Timothy Gillis
The second annual Fête de la Musique is slated for Saturday, June 21, and organizers are preparing to plug in this year, showcasing electric musical acts as well as the acoustic ones that featured last time around.
"Our biggest challenge is electricity," said Catherine Tanous, co-founder and event producer of Make Music Portland. "We're hoping the insurance this year allows amplified music. We lost a lot of musicians last year because we couldn't have it."
Fête de la Musique, co-founded with Robin Lee and Max Mogensen, has a fundraising effort through GoFundMe (www.gofundme.com/971z2c) to help pay for the insurance required by the city in order to have amplified performances.
"We are so very close!" Tanous said. "Anything past the $500 goal will go towards all of our other permits and fees that we are currently paying for out of pocket."
There are more than 45 artists signed up for this year's event, when music and song will waft out of 11 city parks — Tommy's, Post Office Park, Bell Buoy Park (by Casco Bay Lines), Monument Square, Peppermint Park (on Cumberland Ave. near East Bayside), Lincoln Park, Standpipe Park (aka Fort Sumner Park) on North Street, Fort Allen on Eastern Prom, Longfellow Square, the Maine State Pier, and Congress Square Park.
Andy's Old Port Pub, the Dogfish Café on Free Street, and Portland Power Yoga will also be hosting musicians.
Tanous, who went to school for sports entertainment/events management at Johnson & Wales in Providence, worked with the Denver Make Music event two years ago. Make Music is the name of the American adaptation of Fête de la Musique.
Mogensen started out with a love of music and an awareness of the day as celebrated in France. Lee went to grad school at the American University in Paris, where she studied global communications.
"Last year's event went really well," Tanous said. "We had more than 30 performers — a lot more than we expected — at eight different venues. There were a lot of impromptu performances, some awesome duets. A girl went to get her guitar. A guy got his. They played together in Tommy's Park for two hours."
This year, there will be a Ukulele Circle hosted by Buck Dancers Choice in conjunction with Kala Ukulele and the National Association of Music Merchants at 11 a.m. at Tommy's Park, as well as free harmonica lessons at Bell Buoy Park at 1 p.m.
Last year, there was a Mass Appeal — a giant gathering of people playing the same instrument. Hohner Music donated 100 harmonicas to Portland, as well as several other cities. Matt Young gave out the harmonicas and free, simple lessons on Monument Square for an hour. This year, the Mass Appeal will strum along with a guitar gathering on Monument Square at 4 p.m.
Andy's Old Port Pub is organizing an "instrument petting zoo" for kids to get up close and personal with musicians and the instruments they play.
Another new concept this year is called Make Music After Hours.
"The event runs from 10 a.m. to 8 p.m. but we want the celebration to continue into the night," Tanous said, so they are reaching out to venues with music already happening on that Saturday evening in a cross-promotion effort to continue the party after dark.
Musicians and venues willing to host them will be able to sign up until Sunday, June 8 at www.makemusicportland.org.
The Steven Kings
The Winchester Local
The Mad Mulligans
The Restless Atlantic
Julius J Wood & Company
Between Dead Stations
Cathode Ray Tube
Bill Binford and 13 Scotland Rd
Mill Town Refraction
The Dapper Gents
Maine Marimba Ensemble
The Wee Lollies
Lost & Found
Last Updated on Thursday, 29 May 2014 23:29