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This week’s edition!

Crafting the new year for Lewiston Public Schools under COVID-19

Lewiston High School senior Josh Randall won’t be able to play traditional football against other schools this year, due to restrictions put in place by the Maine Principal’s Association during the COVID-19 pandemic. Lewiston football players will have intra-mural scrimmages this fall. (Photo courtesy of Josh Randall)

By Nathan Tsukroff

LEWISTON – A commitment by the Lewiston Public Schools in the spring of 2020 to give parents a choice of in-person or remote schooling was “kind of our springboard” to crafting the new school year under the restrictions brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We knew that we were going to have the remote option, and we were going to have to find out which parents wanted which option” for classes starting in the fall of 2020, according to newly-appointed Superintendent Jake Langlais.

Langlais took over as interim superintendent for the schools in July when previous Superintendent Todd Finn resigned for health and personal reasons after just a year in the position. Langlais had been the Lewiston High School principal since 2017, and was previously principal at the Lewiston Middle School.

“And then when we looked at the physical size of our district, and at least the estimate, at the time, of who wished to be remote, we had as many as the high 70’s and low 80’s percent” of parents who wanted their children to attend school in-person, he said. “So when the (State of Maine) guidelines came out at the end of July, we looked at our projection of students that we thought wanted to come to school, and we took that number and started looking at the social-distancing requirements. And that’s when we knew that if this number stays that big, or gets bigger, we were going to have to cut this group in half somehow.”

At the same time, the school district was looking at providing additional support for students, and trying to determine how to provide office hours for teachers to be available for students. “And also some planning around social/emotional” needs of the students as they deal with the stress and trauma of dealing with the pandemic, Langlais said.

“And so that led us to say, okay, if we’re splitting our groups, what’s the best way to do this? Is it an alternating – is it a Monday/Tuesday, nothing Wednesday, then a Thursday/Friday?” he said. “The picture started to paint itself, because we landed in a place where our available staff and our parent desire to be in school” pointed to two cohorts, or groups of students, that would attend split sessions at the schools.

The district also looked at students who might have special education needs, and students who would attend the Lewiston Regional Technical Center, which provides “a pretty specialized program” for students from six schools in the area, Langlais said. The requirements of the programs at LRTC generally means students must attend in-person four days a week.

That led the district to create four cohorts, starting with cohort A, which attends classes in-person on Monday and Tuesday each week, with remote learning on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Cohort B attends in-person on Thursday and Friday, with remote learning on Monday, Tuesday and Wednesday.

Students who opted for only remote schooling make up Cohort C. These students are being taught mostly by dedicated teachers who are doing just remote classes,” he said. “In most cases, we had enough students who wanted to be remote that we could take a group of teachers and have them do just remote teaching.” More than 100 students each at the elementary schools, “and a pretty high number (of students) at the middle and high school” have chosen remote schooling.

Cohort D is made up from students in the vocational classes, technical education classes, and some of the district’s “special populations”, Langlais said. This group of students will attend school in-person four days a week, although limits on staffing mean some classes may not be possible this school year.

The district has around 5500 students, and about 1100 staff members.

For the remote sessions, whether hybrid or full-time, students are being provided with computers to connect to the schools for classwork over the internet. The district received Mifi cellular “hot spot” devices from the State of Maine last spring, and provides them to families that need internet access. The Mifi devices connect to the Verizon cellular network to provide wifi internet access, but cannot be used for phone calls.

Students connect remotely over apps that include Zoom and Google Classroom, along with the Seesaw learning app for the younger grades.

Langlais said there are some supply-chain issues, which means some students will have to wait for needed hardware.

Last week was the first day of school for the new year, “and the energy was incredible!” Langlais said. Wednesday was a full remote day, where teachers had the choice of coming to their schools or working from home. Students had remote activities and teacher support sessions on Wednesday.

Splitting the classes into two groups means that 10 or fewer students are in a classroom, wearing face masks and properly separated under mandated guidelines. Lunches are delivered to students in classrooms by the nutrition program staff, and students are allowed to remove face masks for eating, while remaining at least six feet apart from other students.

The district staff “did a lot of brainstorming” as well as sharing ideas with other school districts to arrive at this final model for the school year, Langlais said. Schools in Maine also built on the knowledge of schools in the southern and western states which opened earlier in the summer.

Teachers who needed to stay out of the buildings due to concerns over the spread of the virus are generally able to work with students remotely, so most of teachers in the district have remained on staff.

The other big impact for Maine schools is the requirement for social separation in sports. The Maine Principals Association just recently set guidelines that do not allow for tackle football games between schools. Students on the Lewiston teams will be able to scrimmage against each other, but not play in the traditional games against other schools. The district is looking at the possibility of 7-on-7 football, “which is more of a flag football” game, Langlais said.

                The district is considering an abbreviated football season this spring, with competition between schools, although that will depend on the trend in the pandemic infections in the area.

Indoor volleyball is not allowed, and may be moved outdoors.

Gorham had lots of decisions to make for the 2020-21 school year



Teachers point a student toward his classroom on the first week of school at Gorham Middle School. (Photo courtesy of Superintendent Heather Perry)

By Nathan Tsukroff

GORHAM – Crafting the 2020-21 school year for the Gorham School District began last spring, as schools were shut down under the initial rules brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic.

There were lots of decision to be made. Would schools only offer remote learning in the fall, or fully in-person classes, or a combination of the two? How many students would attend in-person, and how would they be kept safe under the social-distancing guidelines?

Superintendent Heather Perry, starting her sixth year in her position, said committees started planning in earnest in mid-May, “once we got settled” after the emergency shut down in March.” We began really thinking about, how do we open school again, because we know we’re going to shut down school for the summer.”

Several committees worked on plans for this new school year, including the District Leadership Team, which is made up of all the principals, assistant principals and program directors in the district, a medical advisory group, made up of the school physician, district nurses, and four local physicians. The school committee was also involved, and was given documents and other information for members to provide feedback on the decision-making process.

“It was a very fluid and flexible process, with those major committees playing leadership roles,” Perry said.

“We also did some significant surveys with our parents at the end of the school year in June, to try to get feedback from parents around what their thoughts were on what was working well or wasn’t for remote learning.” Parents were also asked for their thoughts and concerns about safety issues with in-person learning. The district had “great participation” with three full-scale surveys among parents, staff and community members, she said.

“It was an iterative process,” where the district presented ideas and thoughts to staff and parents for their feedback, Perry said. “And that went on for several months.”

The Maine Department of Education created three scenarios for schools to re-open in the fall – “Red” for only remote learning, “Green” for all in-person classes, and “Yellow” for a hybrid mix of the two.

 “Our focus all along was preparing for the Yellow opening, because we knew that was the hardest one to plan for, and the hardest one to make happen,” Perry said.

The color designations for schools differ from the color designations the State of Maine created for counties. The state color designations provide citizens with an understanding of the level of COVID-19 spread and infections in a county. For example, York county is currently designated as a yellow county due to a recent upsurge in infections, while Cumberland county remains green. Gorham sits in western Cumberland county, on the border with York county.

Perry said she shared plans and documents with other superintendents in the Cumberland County Superintendents Association, which met three times a week after schools were shut down in the spring. By June, meetings were just weekly, as the districts continued to share ideas, thoughts and questions as schools looked to re-open. A representative from the MDOE usually joined the meetings, and “often times, it was the commissioner of education herself (Pender Makin) who joined our meetings.”

While the different needs for each school district, such as in facilities and transportation, meant each district had to craft a unique plan, the superintendents worked together to ensure continuity among the schools. This was especially important for the Career and Technical Education program, where students attend classes in Westbrook, Perry said. Gorham chose Friday as a day for only remote learning, to coordinate with Westbrook.

The Gorham School District has about 2780 students, and just over 10%, or about 290 chose full remote learning.

Because of the size of the classrooms and the need to keep students properly distanced for their safety under pandemic guidelines, Gorham schools were not able to allow all students on campus at one time. Students were placed into two cohorts, or groups, with the A group students in school each week on Monday and Wednesday and the B group attending weekly on Tuesday and Thursday. Both groups do remote learning on Fridays.

At Great Falls Elementary School, with a student population of about 580, around 280-290 students are in school at one time under this plan. This means students have enough room to remain six feet apart when they remove their face masks at lunchtimes, Perry said. For “580 kids, we can’t do it. There’s not enough real estate!”

For the Gorham schools, students are using the cafeteria and other areas in the school for meals, Perry said. This was important because “we wanted kids to still be able to get in a social situation, where they could interact with their peers outside of their (classroom) group, safely.” Meal areas are sanitized between each serving, and “there are a lot safety protocols that are being put into place.”

Having students leave the classrooms for lunch also gives teachers time to themselves. Personal breaks are “an important aspect of being a good, high-quality functioning teacher,” Perry said. The district will continue to look at how students are served lunch, and make changes as needed.

The decision to alternate attendance days means that students are not away from the school building for more than five days, Perry said. This creates “a rhythm of learning that made sense for us.”

Another reason for keeping students and staff out of school buildings on Fridays is to provide about 72 hours to allow for the expiration of any virus that remains on surfaces after the daily sanitations. This means the schools have a fresh start each week, Perry said.

The medical needs and concerns of teachers and other staff members were reviewed and accommodated over the summer, with minimal changes in staffing for the district for this school year, she said. “At this point in time, we really are very, very lucky. I think we’ve only got a very small handful of staff who are on medical leave of one variety or another because of COVID. And the rest we’ve been able to figure out a way to accommodate” them so they can continue their work for the district.

Staff members have been assigned various roles to help with the remote learning, some working with students completely remotely, and others alternating between classroom teaching and remote teaching.

As with other schools in Cumberland county, football and indoor volleyball have changed for this fall. Gorham will have “more of an intra-mural approach” with students practicing and building skills only at their own school. An outdoor volleyball court is being created for student practice, and the football program is looking at possible flag-football games.

Other fall athletic events will take place between schools, under the Maine Principal Association guidelines.

The Gorham School District includes Gorham High School, Gorham Middle School, Great Falls Elementary, Narragansett Elementary and Village Elementary.

Before coming to Gorham, Perry was the superintendent for nine years at Maine Regional School Unit 3, centered in Unity. She is originally from the Machias area, where she was a teacher and school principal.

Organ recital Oct 4 at basilica

From Portland Diocese

LEWISTON – Organist Mark Thallander will be joined by Maine organists Ray Cornils, Randall Mullin, Harold Stover and the Norumbega Brass Ensemble at 6 p.m., Sunday, Oct. 4, at the Basilica of Saints Peter and Paul in Lewiston in an hour long concert meant to lift the spirits in these difficult times.

This free concert will be open to 50 people and live-streamed to those not able to attend.

To register or for more information, please visit PrinceofPeace.me or contact Scott Vaillancourt at Scott.Vaillancourt@PortlandDiocese.org or call at 240-9419.

For everyone’s safety, concertgoers should be masked while in the basilica, and follow social distancing guidelines.

Conducting Lewiston city business

From City of Lewiston

 The City of Lewiston is certainly open for business, but the number of people in City Hall at one time is limited due to CDC guidelines pertaining to COVID19 and social distancing.

This often results in service lines & significant wait time.

However, if you have city business to do, we have options to save YOU time! Please remember that you can conduct city business online at: www.lewistonmaine.gov/onlineservices

Examples of what you can accomplish are:

• Request an absentee ballot

• Re-register a vehicle (no registration quotes given over the phone)

• View property tax records

• Pay utility & other city-related bills

You may reach city staff by email at: www.lewistonmaine.gov/staff

You may call city staff at (207) 513-3000. If staff is waiting on a resident at the counter window, you will reach voice mail to leave a message.

Mail items to Lewiston City Hall, 27 Pine Street, Lewiston, ME 04240. Note the department you wish to reach.  

You may use the drop box on the Park Street side of city hall for water bill and tax payments; all applications, and birth certificate orders, etc.

You may send a fax to (207) 784-2959.

New Pastor for Riverside Drive Baptist Church in Auburn

Rodney Taylor (top right), pastor of Riverside Drive Baptist Church, Auburn, with his wife, Rachel, and their four daughters in front of the church. Taylor was named pastor of the church in July, 2020. (Photo courtesy of Rachel Taylor)

AUBURN – Rodney Taylor was named pastor of Riverside Drive Baptist Church, Auburn, in July, 2020.

He is a 2008 graduate of Pensacola Christian College with a bachelor’s degree in Pastoral Ministry. He received his Masters of Divinity from Pensacola Theological Seminary.

Married in 2009, Taylor and his wife, Rachel, have four daughters, all elementary-school age. Rachel has a degree in elementary education and will be home-schooling their daughters this year, due to the pandemic, she said.

Riverside Drive Baptist has about 25 members, and has been active about 60 years. The church had been seeking a pastor for the past two years, and found Taylor on a referral from his college.

Taylor was previously pastor of a church in Northumberland, PA.

Marijuana extracts “can change your life”

A local medical-marijuana dispensary made the difference for a local resident with achalasia

Manager Jaimee Lilley in front of the Crystal Spring Healing Alternatives medical marijuana dispensary on Main Street in Lewiston. Using cannabis extracts helped Lilley to overcome a major problem with achalasia, a tightening of muscles in her esophagus that prevented food and water from entering her stomach. (Tsukroff photo)

By Nathan Tsukroff

LEWISTON – Medical marijuana extracts – cannabinoids – “can change your life”, said Jaimee Lilley, the manager of the Crystal Spring Healing Alternatives dispensary on Main Street in Lewiston.

As a 16-year-old, Jaimee Lilley had trouble swallowing food and water. Dealing with the pain and surrounding issues led to lost classes in school, and even the loss of jobs.

She was diagnosed with achalasia, a tightening of the muscles in her esophagus, where her throat connects to her stomach. Treatment includes using a device to force the muscles to expand, surgery, or injection with botulinum toxin to relax the muscles.

Multiple surgeries and procedures provided only temporary relief, and she was prescribed several different drugs to try to relieve the symptoms and pain. “When I was first diagnosed, I was going in and out of surgeries all the time,” with five to 15 procedures a year, she said.

Growing up, she was adamantly anti-cannabis. “If I knew that you talked to Joe Blow, and Joe Blow smoked, I wouldn’t associate with you.”

Finally, in college, “I figured, the surgeries aren’t helping, the tests aren’t helping, the painkillers aren’t doing anything but make me feel worse, so what’s the worst that’s going to happen? So I tried smoking pot (marijuana).” And her world changed.

With the effects of the marijuana, she “still wasn’t able to eat perfectly, but I could tell the pain was a lot better.” She didn’t understand why she saw improvement, but knew the marijuana was helping. She qualified for a medical marijuana card and started purchasing cannabis extracts, cannabinoids, at dispensaries near her home in the Lewiston-Auburn area.

This led her to the Crystal Spring Healing Alternatives store at it’s former location in Auburn, where she met co-owner Sam Scalia. “He was the first person to stop and take time to explain to me why this is helping, and how it’s helping, and if I did X, Y, and Z, it could be even better,” Lilley said. “And it has been seven years since I’ve had any surgeries, or any tests, or any procedure. I don’t even see my GI (gastro-intestinal) team any more!”

“It’s remarkable! Granted, my health started changing before I came here, but I actually give all my gratitude to Sam here, because if it wasn’t for him explaining why it’s helping . . .  I would not be where I am right now,” she said.

Cannabis extracts have been proven extremely helpful with cancer patients to combat nausea and encourage eating. Cannabinoids are also shown to be effective for treatment of anxiety, depression, and PTSD, with minimal side effects that can experienced when using pharmaceuticals.

Lilley has a culinary degree from college and was hired as a chef for Crystal Spring to prepare the “edibles” – food with cannabis extracts mixed in. She worked her way up to become the manager of the current dispensary that opened about a year ago as Crystal Spring moved to Lewiston. Crystal Spring uses distillated extracts in its edibles to control the levels of cannabinoids in the finished product, then has the edibles tested by an outside lab to ensure consistency. 

The dispensary has a grow facility in Lisbon and is working on renovations to open a storefront there later this year.

Crystal Spring is owned by Scalia along with his father, Mike, and a friend, Gary Caron.

Patients who wish to obtain a card to purchase medical marijuana extracts are vetted by a nurse practitioner to determine their level of need, Lilley said. Maine law has changed over the years, and patients no longer need to prove they have qualifying conditions, she said.

The most well-known cannabinoids are cannabidiol (CBD) and tetrahydrocannabinol (THC). The extracts bring about therapeutic and healing effects when absorbed into our bodies to interact with the human endocannabinoid system, which regulates immune functions, mood, pain response, inflammation, anxiety and sleep.

There are about 144 different cannabinoids that are extracted from cannabis plants, with different plants providing different levels of the extract. Hemp provides large quantities of CBD but almost no THC, the cannabinoid which generally causes the hallucinatory effect experienced by marijuana smokers.

 Cannabinoids are metabolized in the liver when eaten, injected, or applied to the skin in creams or a dermal patch. This provides a long-term effect that make take from about 20 to 90 minutes to be felt, but can last for upwards of six hours. Smoking or vaporizing brings almost immediate results as the chemicals are absorbed through lung tissue, but the effects are short-lived, Lilley explained.

Many of the cancer patients that Lilley sees in the dispensary combine smoking with edibles for a combination of immediate and long-term relief from the pain and nausea of their treatment, she said.

Recreational sales of cannabis extracts will be allowed in Maine starting in October, but Crystal Spring plans to remain a medical dispensary. Creating edibles with consistent levels of extracts is important for their patients, and a medical dispensary is better qualified to provide that consistency, Lilley said.

Recreational marijuana products will be taxed at a higher rate than medical marijuana, Lilley said. Currently, sales of edibles are taxed at the 8% food sales tax rate and other extracts at the 5.5% sales tax rate. Recreational marijuana sales will see a 10% sales tax, plus excise taxes of $355 per pound of flower, $94 per pound of trim, $1.50 per seedling and $0.35 per seed. The excise and sales tax are specifically exempted for medical facilities and registered primary caregivers.

Lilley said she expects to see higher prices overall for recreational products.

“A lot of people have a preconceived idea of what cannabis is, or what dispensaries are all about, when in reality, sometimes it’s the exact opposite of what people are thinking,” she said. “We’re not just here for a good time. We’re not just here to make a quick buck. We’re here to help people.”

Crystal Spring is building a commercial kitchen at part of its storefront in Lisbon, to replace the cramped kitchen in Lewiston. The dispensary also has a lab that makes distillates from cannabis plants. The new kitchen will have more storage and will allow Crystal Spring to accommodate large special orders and to “pop out a lot more edibles than we have been doing,” Lilley said.

Besides the owners, the current chef, and Lilley, the dispensary employs four “budtenders” who sell products to patients, interacting with them to learn about issues that can be addressed with various products sold by the dispensary, Lilley said. “We get that similar aspect that bartenders do . . . that hair stylists do, with that whole connection process. And it helps to form a relationship with our customers,” to guide them toward helpful products.

The dispensary installed tall Plexiglas shields at the counter to provide proper a safety barrier between budtenders and patients during the COVID-19 pandemic.

There are no plans for expansion in the foreseeable future, beyond the new storefront in Lisbon, she said.

LiteracyTech Inc. wins Top Gun LA pitch-off

Advances to state finals

Kathryn Lariviere (left) listens to business partner Michele DeBloise, of LiteracyTech Inc., make her pitch to members of the LA Metro Chamber of Commerce members, including President and CEO Shanna Cox (right).  LiteracyTech, created an online literacy-tracking app, and emerged the winner of the annual Top Gun LA pitch-off competition for entrpreneurs. (Tsukroff photo)

By Nathan Tsukroff

POLAND – Michelle DeBloise of LiteracyTech Inc. gave the winning pitch to beat three other companies competing for the Top Gun LA title at the LA Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce breakfast meeting last Thursday at Poland Springs Resort in Poland.

LiteracyTech is getting ready for the commercial release of ReMo, a web-based application for K-12 students and  teachers that DeBloise described as “much like a CRM, contact-record manager.” The application is designed to document a student’s reading experiences and comprehension, and should help educators track the performances of their classes more comprehensively.

DeBloise is building the company with Kathryn Lariviere, and they live and work in Auburn and Lewiston as middle school teachers.

The Top Gun program was started by the Maine Center for Entrepreneurs of Portland in 2009 to mentor entrepreneurs and guide them in finding tools and resources to grow their businesses. The LA Metro Chamber created its local Top Gun program four years ago. MCE is “really the lynchpin for the whole program,” Scott Benson, the director of economic development for LA Metro Chamber, said. He led the local “cohort” or group for the chamber this year.

Also competing for the Top Gun LA title were Carolyn Delany of Journey Enterprises, Sophia Bailey of Caribbean Life Grocery, and Laci Barnett of Dog-a-holick.

The pitches were made in person under a large tent set up in the field beside the historic chapel on the grounds of the Poland Springs Resort. This was the first in-person breakfast for chamber members since March, due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. The chamber conducted its monthly breakfast meetings virtually via Zoom sessions over the summer.

Chamber members were seated four to a table under a 40-by-80-foot tent, and food was served individually to avoid chances of cross-contamination. Other chamber members joined Thursday’s event virtually, with video and audio provided by HPA Production Services from Turner.

Journey Enterprises launched Journey Magazine in 2019 with a focus on making recovery from addiction visible. Journey shares stories of local community support and resources, and articles to help those in or seeking recovery.

Caribbean Life Grocery and Gift Store is a direct-sales retail store that emphasizes authentic Caribbean products and gift items. Bailey said her company is looking to expand into online sales, and plans to work with a technology company to create a system to accept orders to be delivered locally and across the country.

Dog-a-holick has big plans for the future, Laci Barnett told chamber members. The company plans to add an indoor dog park, a self-serve dog wash, dog-training and events, and a beverage garden with food trucks, to its existing dog-grooming salon business.

Besides the local Top Gun group, there are cohorts for any type of company in Portland, Bangor, and Waterville. This year, there are also two special cohorts meeting in Brunswick, one just for aquaculture companies and the other just for craft beverage businesses.

Top Gun is an intense four-month program that generally starts in February and ends in May, Benson said. It involves weekly learning sessions that have traditionally been in person. Each week, an expert presenter speaks about a business related-topic, then works hands-on with the businesses to guide them on that topic. This year, they have had to pivot to virtual learning sessions, due to the pandemic.

Each business works on a five-minute pitch during their weekly meetings, Benson said. This pitch helps the businesses with presentations to other businesses, with requests for financing, with adding employees, and with creating business relationships with potential vendors and clients. “They’ve got to be able to speak in a very cogent way and tell their story and what their potential is as a company.”

“We were about halfway through our program this year when COVID hit, so we had to move online to a Zoom program for the rest of the year,” Benson said. The Top Gun program was extended in hopes of having in-person events similar to the chamber breakfast last week. However, the in-person events never happened, he said.

The local Top Gun programs end each year with a pitch to the local group, then the winner from each cohort advances to a state-wide showcase. This year, that event will take place on Sept. 23 in Portland as a virtual event. The winner of that showcase is awarded a $25,000 grand prices, furnished by the Maine Technology Institute, a non-profit organization funded in part by the Maine Department of Economic and Community Development.

This is the fourth year for the LA Top Gun LA cohort, and a win DeBloise and Lariviere means LiteracyTech Inc. “would be our first-ever statewide winner,” Benson said.  

According to its website, MTI was founded and funded in 1999 by the Maine State Legislature, and “MTI offers grants, loans, equity investments, and services to support Maine’s innovation economy.” It is governed by a Board of Directors appointed by Maine’s Governor.

Outdoor seating a plus for Chick-A-Dee

Bill Hird, owner of the Chick-A-Dee of Lewiston restaurant on Lisbon Street, raises one of the umbrellas on an outdoor table in the side parking lot of the building. Behind him is a large tent that covers additional tables. Chick-A-Dee can seat about 45 people in the outdoor area, with seating for more inside the building. (Tsukroff photo)

By Nathan Tsukroff

Outdoor seating is new for the Chick-A-Dee of Lewiston restaurant on Lisbon Street, and owner Bill Hird said he loves it.

While restrictions on indoor seating due to the COVID 19 have impacted the restaurant, like all other restaurants across the state,“That outside seating has been a plus for us!” Hird said.

Chick-A-Dee of Lewiston, which sits on the main road between Lisbon and Lewiston, closed its doors completely for three weeks after the initial state-mandated shutdown on March 17, 2020, then started offering takeout again “from a table in the parking lot,” Hird said. Doors were opened again June 1, with very limited seating. In the meantime, Hird received permission from the State of Maine for outdoor seating.

The restaurant’s side parking lot now has individual tables with umbrellas, along with a large tented seating area. This outdoor area “was a life-saver for us,” Hird said, with seating for about 45 guests.

The outdoor area has been so successful that “now I’m going to apply for a permit to have a permanent deck built out there,” he said. “I don’t know if they’ll let me do it, but I’m going to plan on it, because it’s gone over so well.”

The tent is set up and taken down daily, Hird said. “It’s a lot of work to set it up every morning, but it’s been worth it, it really has!” He plans to serve guests outdoors as long as the weather allows.

Indoor seating is still only at 50% from before the pandemic. With three rooms, Chick-A-Dee of Lewiston could seat as many as 200 guests, but now a maximum of 50 people per room are allowed by the current state regulations. The back room can normally seat up to 75, the middle room up to 25, and the main room about 100. “On a Friday night, we can have upwards of 100 people in here,” between all three rooms, Hird said.

A small bar area off the main room currently has seating for only two pairs of guests. “We’ve lost four tables in here,” Hird said, due to the need for the six-foot social-distancing required by pandemic regulations.

The restaurant is a spin-off from the original Chick-A-Dee Restaurant on Auburn Road (Route 4) in Turner that was owned by Hird’s father. Hird said he opened the restaurant in Lewiston 14 years ago, and now serves lunch and dinner “seven days a week.”

The Turner restaurant closed in 2012 after more than 70 years in business, and the building is now home to a restaurant called Terry & Maxine’s.

Chick-A-Dee of Lewiston always offered take-out service, and has seen a doubling of take-out orders during the pandemic, Hird said. With the opening of indoor dining in June, “It was kind of a slow (start), but I am finding more people are coming in, now. The majority of business is still take-out, though.”

He said the Paycheck Protection Program (PPP) program from the Small Business Administration “helped us a lot” by paying for payroll and utilities for eight weeks. He only lost two people from his wait-staff, and saw the return of his full kitchen staff. “I’m really, really, happy for that!”

About 47 people work at the restaurant, including Hird’s wife, Lisa, their two sons, Tom and Matt, and their daughter, Jamie.

Hird said he doesn’t see a return to pre-pandemic conditions “any time soon. I don’t see us at 100% capacity until at least next spring. I could be wrong, but that’s what I’m seeing. And so I’m going to lose the outside in maybe another month, it’s going to be too cold to eat outside. So, yeah, that worries me, because it’s quite a bit of business each week outside.” He said he’s hopeful that more people will want to come inside his restaurant.

Hird said he knows of “quite a few businesses” that have been shut down due to problems caused by the restrictions under the pandemic. “I hope it gets better soon, because I think it’s a shame they got shut down because of this.”

A “surreal feeling” for winner of Miss Maine for America


Nicole Chamberland of Mechanic Falls on stage at the Miss Maine for America pageant on Sunday at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in South Portland. Chamberland was competing as Miss Androscoggin County. (Sandra Costa photo)

by Nathan Tsukroff

“It is such a surreal feeling” to be named Miss Maine for America in the second year of this division of the pageant, according to winner Nicole Chamberland of Mechanic Falls.

Competing in a division created in 2019 for women older than 18 that are not currently married, Chamberland was one of three competitors for the title this year. Seven women competed for the title of Mrs. Maine America, with Meghan Gray wearing the crown after the event on Sunday at the Double Tree by Hilton Hotel in South Portland, across from the Maine Mall.

“I am beyond honored to be representing our state throughout the year and at Nationals,” Chamberland said. She will be heading to the Miss for America pageant in Las Vegas later this year to vie for the national title. The date has not been set, due to concerns about the COVID-19 pandemic. The Mrs. America pageant has usually been in August, with the Mrs. World pageant in November.

Debra Pronovost, executive state director of the Maine pageants for Mrs. America and Miss for America, said that national director David Marmell wanted to highlight single women 18 and over and give them a system to celebrate their accomplishments and a platform to continue initiatives in their communities that are important to them. 

This year’s contestant group consisted of accomplished women from across the state and was smaller than last due to concerns with COVID-19. The pageant date was moved three times, Pronovost said. The local organization partnered with the Maine Center for Disease Control & Prevention to conduct a safe pageant for the contestants , her team, and their communities.  The original date in April was bumped to June, then moved again to September because of the pandemic. “I did not feel that there was enough information to safely hold the show prior.” 

Chamberland said she competed for Miss Maine for America title last year as Miss Androscoggin County and decided to compete again with the same title. 

The only people allowed inside the ballroom for the event were her team running the show and a single family-member for each contestant. The entire group was screened for temperatures and illness histories before entering the room. All participants wore masks up until the stepping on the stage for the show and even then maintained proper social distancing as mandated.

Chamberland was cheered on in person by her mother, Mary Dempsey of Auburn, while her eight-year-old son and other family members viewed the live-streamed event over the internet.

“We had a talented panel of esteemed judges there” for the virtual pageant, Pronovost said.

Chamberland holds a bachelor’s degree in Psychology with a minor in Dance from The University of Maine, Orono, a master’s in education from The University of Maine, Orono, and a Certificate of Advanced Study in Educational Leadership from St. Joseph’s College. She is the Dean of Students at Minot Consolidated School. 

She said that holding the Miss Maine for America title would give her the opportunity to talk about her passion, “which is to keep kids moving and active. Healthy habits lead to a happier lifestyle.”

“Our Miss division is still in its infancy, but I am ready to promote our sisterhood and make a lasting impact on Maine communities,” she said.

 Jenna Richardson took the title of Miss Maine for America in the inaugural pageant in 2019.

Women are interested in competing in future events may find information about the organization and contact information at www.mrsmaine.net.

Whale dissected and composted in Gorham

Members of the Marine Mammals of Maine perform a necropsy last week on a minke whale that was found on August 22, floating near an island in Saco Bay, south of Scarborough. The whale was transported to Benson Farm Earth Products on Plummer Road, Gorham, for the procedure. (Photos courtesy of MMoMe)

GORHAM – A dead minke whale recently pulled from the waters of Saco Bay was dissected to learn the cause of death, and is now being composted, with the finished result used for fertilizer.

Found off-shore from Scarborough, the whale was brought to Benson Farm Earth Products on Plummer Road in Gorham, a former dairy farm that now specializes in composting ingredients from farm, forest, field, and ocean sources to create fertilizer to be used by local gardeners and farmers.

Lynda Doughty, Founding Executive Director of Marine Mammals of Maine (MMoMe), said her group received an  initial report on Saturday, August 22, of a whale floating off Stratton Island, which sits in the middle of Saco Bay, east of Old Orchard Beach and south of Scarborough. By Sunday, the whale had landed on the shore of Bluff Island, a smaller island just northwest of Stratton Island.

“We responded to the animal on Sunday, and got to confirm species, some photographs, kind of determine some metrics and get some length measurements, and get some skin samples, some blubber samples off the animal,” Doughty said.

“And then, because of the condition of the animal, we started making plans to bring the animal in for a necropsy,” she said. A necropsy (KNEE-crop-see) is similar to the autopsies performed on humans, where a body is examined to determine the cause of death or the extent of disease.

The National Marine Fisheries Service (NMFS), informally known as NOAA Fisheries, has previously declared an “Unusual Mortality Event” for minke whales, noting on its website that, “Since January 2017, elevated minke whale (Balaenoptera acutorostrata) mortalities have occurred along the Atlantic coast from Maine through South Carolina.”

Doughty said her organization spent the following Monday planning for transport of the whale to a site where the necropsy could be performed, and then had the whale towed to the main shore and transported to Benson Farm Earth Products in Gorham for the actual necropsy. The whale was transported on a flatbed trailer, towed by a pickup truck driven by Benson Farm owner Eddie Benson,

MMoMe  was founded in 2011 by Doughty and other volunteers to respond to stranded to marine mammals in southern and midcoast Maine, after the Maine Department of Marine Resources was no longer able to do so with the loss of federal funding. It is the only organization in this part of Maine that has federal authorization for these responses.

The whale was then laid out on the grounds of the farm for the necropsy. “Because of the size of the animal, there’s no place for us to bring it for an inside location,” Doughty said. “And this way, if we needed heavy equipment to move the animal in certain positions, the equipment is there for Eddie to help us do that.”

Determining the cause of death for this whale “is tough, because sometimes you don’t know the decomposition inside, as the air temperature and water temperature heats up while its out floating in the water, the gasses really start to build up inside. So, sometimes we don’t know until we get further into the body cavity, the level of decomposition that is going on,” she said.

For this minke whale, “some of the tissues were too decomposed to sample,” so a final determination of the cause of death may not be possible, she said. “We did take some samples, and we will send those samples that we can . . . but that might not tell the clear whole picture of the puzzle, once we get all the information back.”

Doughty said this appears to have been a mature adult minke whale, about 22 feet long and weighing between 5,000 and 6,000 pounds. Minke whales are the smallest of the “great whales” or rorquals, and are members of the baleen whale family. The minke whale population status is considered stable, so it is not listed as endangered or threatened, but is still protected under the Marine Mammal Protection Act. The minke population may have been reduced to half its original numbers by commercial whaling in the western North Pacific and eastern North Atlantic oceans.

The cause of death of a whale, “does depend on the particular animal. There is currently an unusual mortality rate for large whales in the northeast region” that has been on-doing since 2016-2017, she said. “So it’s kind of an open investigation for large whale cases for humpbacks, minkes and right whales up and down the east coast.”

Doughty said that deaths of large whales normally occur during the warmer months. “We do get probably two to three cases a year” of whale deaths in Maine, she said. “We do treat each one kind of as a way to gain more valuable and scientific information to what may be going on.”

Although no definite reason for the increased deaths has been found, minke and other whales are threatened by whaling, entanglement in fishing gear, ocean noise, habitat disturbance and vessel strikes, according to NOAA Fisheries.

During the necropsy, Doughty had help with the sampling process from Tristan Burgess, BVSC PHD, a veterinarian with Acadia Wildlife Services. Also helping were Dominique Walk, assistant stranding director for MMoMe; Katie Gilbert, a volunteer; and interns Lexi Right and Madison Roberts.

The MMoMe team cut through the skin and blubber to reach the internal organs of the whale. They took samples of the various parts of the animal. “Because the blubber is so heavy, you have to kind of cut it down in certain sections” to reach the inside, Doughty said. “Once we peel back the skin and muscle, then we kind of look at everything before we start to sample, and kind of see where everything is situated and take photographs.” The process is documented piece by piece.

 For disease testing for some of the major organs that are viable, the team will look for bacterial or viral infections and take culture swabs of certain areas. They also look at the skin and muscles for any inflammation. “We look at everything from outside in, to see if there are any patterns at all” that would indicate the cause of death, she said. They take blubber samples and muscles samples, as well, and getting results back from the lab “could take months.”

Composting

Benson said his compositing facility in Gorham is licensed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to accept fish waste. “We kind of met up with Linda . . . through Maine DEP,” when she was looking for a place she could take deceased marine animals such as whales to perform necropsies on them.

Benson Farm composts the carcasses when Doughty has finished her procedures. The whales are a protected species, so MMoMe collects the bones after the composting process completes. Benson said he provides his service as a donation to the organization.

While the composting process is similar to that found in the traditional garden compost pile or pit in the backyard of some gardeners, Benson said he uses a more scientific process. He adds “the right amount of carbon, nitrogen, air and moisture to make it get as hot as it possibility can, to make it compost in the shortest time possible.” Temperatures are maintained from 125-155 degrees Fahrenheit to speed the process.

Depending on the weather and the size of the carcass, the composting process could take as much as three months. The compost from whales and other endangered species is kept separate from the farm’s commercial compost blends, and instead is donated to local municipal and non-profit organizations.

Composting is as old as civilization, Benson said. It is “the oldest science probably in the world, since the oldest species has been decomposing. So it’s not new science!” The farm has facilities for MMoMe team members to clean up after a necropsy


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