Leaving 2018: A Bittersweet Departure

By Lura Jackson and Ruth Leubecker

With 2018 just recently sliding into our rearview mirrors, it’s the perfect opportunity to reflect on a year that was rife with record-breaking events and divisive issues – some of which will continue to bring tumult into the new year. Let’s have a look at a snapshot of some of the major news around Washington County.

Local business news

On the business scene in Calais, the downtown saw numerous developments while the classic brick buildings creating its historic framework received steady renovations. In January, Just South of the Border reclaimed its original name, returning the Schooner to Main Street. In April, the short-lived North End Pizza opened its doors, closing a few months later due to internal conflict. In August, the highly popular Katahdin Coffee House opened downtown, followed by Waterfront Boutique and barbershop Latitude 45 in September. Just up North Street, Mattresses By Appointment officially set up shop in October.

In Baileyville, S’Huckins seafood and ice cream opened to an excellent reception from the public just across from the Big Stop. The eatery is owned by a local lobstering family, meaning it provides fresh seafood at a direct-to-consumer price.

Along with new beginnings, 2018 saw some bittersweet farewells – including Randy’s Variety in Alexander, which had served as the community hotspot for four decades prior. The sudden and unexpected closure of medical supplier PrimeCare in Calais left clients challenged to find another provider in short notice. Former manager Rod Tirrell took the opportunity to focus on his other side business, opening Rise and Shine Property Management – and joining the Calais Police Department as its newest officer.

Other corporate businesses underwent some name changes: Rite Aid became Walgreens and EBS became Hammond Lumber Supply.

In Machias, Main Street Discount closed and the former A&P was reputedly leveled to accommodate a future parking lot for Machias Savings Bank [MSB]. Directly across the street, once the site of a Ford dealership, bank expansion may also occur, adding between 40 and 50 new jobs. This apparently is not etched in stone, but Larry Barker, MSB president, anticipates plans will be finalized soon.

The political and administrative scene

On the political scene, Janet Mills became the first woman elected to serve as the governor of the State of Maine, a roll she will begin filling on January 2nd. Ranked Choice Voting survived several challenges to become the system in place during the primary vote in June, remaining intact for the federal races on the ballot in November. Incumbent Republican for the U.S. House of Representatives Bruce Poliquin contested the results after a narrow defeat to Jared Golden but stopped his legal challenges in late December.

The 128th Maine Legislature ended in a chaotic stalemate. That stalemate ended in a non-adjournment as legislators, major work still undone, simply walked off the field and went home. In a record-breaking event in Maine history, the 128th lingered and festered, returned to deliberate and proved to be the lengthiest and costliest session on the books. This was accompanied by Gov. Paul LePage adding the dubious distinction of accruing more vetoes than all other previous Maine governors combined.

In Washington, Republican Senator Susan Collins strongly championed moves against elder fraud, and also adopted an aggressive stance against escalating prescription costs, both issues of high concern to the population of Washington County.

MaineCare is heating up as DHHS remains mum and Equal Justice Partners continues to shine a light on Medicaid expansion in Maine. While the need for home care steadily grows, Question 1 went down in defeat at the polls.

Maine voters legalized recreational marijuana sales on November 16, even though regulations are lagging. In Calais, the City Council voted against recreational marijuana storefronts by a 6-1 spread. Calais will continue to have medical marijuana storefronts. Baileyville, meanwhile, unanimously voted against recreational storefronts. In December, Machias voted in favor of medical marijuana storefronts. The ordinance passed in less than 30 minutes by a vote of 92-23. Machias presently has five marijuana shops which must now begin a permitting process to continue to operate.

Washington County Sheriff Barry Curtis ran unopposed for a second term, citing at Machias Rotary the addition of two K-9 dogs and training for apprehending drug traffickers. The county budget committee finally approved its budget in December with the addition of three deputies and cuts to third-party requests.

The Passamaquoddy tribe at Sipayik formally elected its first female Sakom (Chief), Marla Dana, who will be assisted by Vice Chief Maggie Dana. The tribe, which has had a challenging year marked by numerous losses of community members, gathered together on numerous occasions to emphasize the need for unity and healing.

Festivals and events

In Calais, the 45th Annual International Homecoming Festival attracted several hundreds to the St. Croix Valley over its week of events. This year’s opening ceremony, Hands Across the Border, was the largest in recent memory thanks to a concerted effort by organizers. The parade, meanwhile, featured a large contingent of Shriner units in honor of Down East’s own Brad Eugene Prout, named as Anah’s Illustrious Potentate earlier in the year.

In October, the extended community of Baileyville took to the streets for the town’s most anticipated event of the year – Octoberfest. This year’s weeklong festival was among the biggest to date, including a unique parade filled with familiar faces that brightened its full route.

The 43rd Machias Wild Blueberry Festival, celebrating all things blueberry, attracted huge crowds over three days of music, shopping and fun-filled activities. Though it rained for the second consecutive year, spirits were not dampened.

Nonprofit news

Calais Regional Hospital [CRH] is continuing to absorb the effects of its restructuring efforts, undertaken to help stabilize the financially-struggling institution. The hospital has ousted its former management company, Quorum, and closed the Rose Room as part of the endeavor. Under the leadership of Dr. Francis Lee, it is focusing on expanding its pulmonology services, among other Medicaid-reimbursable offerings.  

Down East Community Hospital recently announced the closure of its OB clinic at CRH, open scarcely a year. DECH had hired a midwife and sent other resources to the Calais site to compensate for the closure of their obstetrics department within the hospital. However, the clinic did not attract the volume of business to make it sustainable.

Facing closure, the Greenland Point Center in Princeton was saved by the Maine 4-H foundation, which will be continuing the center’s nigh-legendary summer camp activities for the area’s youth. Unfortunately, the camp’s longtime director, Jon Speed, passed away in July.

The Downeast Correctional Facility

The fate of the Downeast Correctional Facility persisted for many months as dozens of incensed area residents converged on Augusta, and Rep. Will Tuell persevered in his tenacious efforts to save the beleaguered prison.

Always a divisive issue, DCF crescendoed when Gov. Paul LePage under the cloak of darkness closed the Bucks Harbor prison. Even though the closure was ruled illegal, the governor transferred prisoners to other facilities and employees were forced to find work elsewhere. The domino effect was pervasive around Machias: small businesses had relied on available and needed prison labor; community organizations and communities themselves had also depended on the prisoners as a sensible source of labor; and one of the state’s most cost-effective facilities, which also provided valuable re-entry skills to the inmates, was now gone.

Governor-elect Mills, however, promises a new beginning. She has said that DCF was mishandled from the beginning, from conception to execution. And all that will change when she takes office. So, look for things to be happening in Bucks Harbor in 2019.

This was 2018. A year of upheaval and change, strong voices, but reigning diligence in many places. Now, ever onward and with an eagerness for the coming year, we welcome 2019.