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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

Layoffs were hard for owners of Blue Pig Diner

Paul Kennedy, owner of The Blue Pig Diner on State Street in Gorham, cleans and sanitizes a table while guests enjoy a meal in the background. Kennedy plans to bring as many employees back to work as possible when he is allowed to increase seating capacity inside the diner. (Callahan photo)

GORHAM – Laying off staff has been the hardest part of the COVID-19 pandemic for the owners of The Blue Pig Diner on State Street in Gorham.

Reducing seating capacity as required by state restrictions has meant furloughing long-time employees who have become very close with the owners over the years.

“Financially, COVID has created no breathing room,” owner Paul Kennedy said. The diner has lost income because of the reduced number of guests, even with newly-created outdoor seating.

Kennedy’s plan is to bring as many employees back to work as possible when he is able to increase capacity.

During the time the diner was closed down, employees all received unemployment benefits, and Kennedy said that he was more concerned for the welfare of his employees than for himself and his family. “We just kind of held tight and crossed our fingers, really.”

Kennedy said dealing with issues caused by the pandemic was tough, and all he could do was research ways to keep everyone safe. He and his wife, Brianna, were able to spend more time with their kids, which was a bright spot after the fast pace they were used to.

The Kennedys previously owned a successful catering business in a small storefront just a few buildings down the street from The Blue Pig. They turned that catering business into a full-scale restaurant. Kennedy said it was challenging, but their experience in the community helped them over the years.

Now, in their larger, newly renovated space, just seconds up the road, the business has grown even more over the last six years. The biggest downside to the pandemic, after the disappointment of laying off staff, was that they had created a brand-new and successful restaurant that is unable to reach its full capacity, Kennedy said.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, “The town was really great about the outdoor seating plan,” Kennedy said.

During the closure, he worked with every request the state required to keep guests and his business safe. Now, he is worried about everyone, including himself, continuing to do what they need to do. Following the state guidelines will help the restaurant, his staff and the community at large he said. “Just follow the rules!”

CMCC awarded $597,000 to help at-risk students succeed

The TRIO program at Central Maine Community College has been awarded two major federal grants to help more students to succeed in college.

The U.S. Department of Education announced that Central Maine Community College (CMCC) will receive two federal Student Support Services (SSS) grants totaling $597,000 per year to help more students succeed in and graduate from college. The grants will amount to almost three million dollars for the five-year grant period and will serve 295 students every year.

While the TRIO program at CMCC has held a Student Support Services grant since 1998 and has since helped 3850 students to graduate, this is the first time the college has received a second SSS grant. The new grant focuses on helping STEM majors (students majoring in a science, technology, engineering, or mathematics related degree) to graduate or transfer to a baccalaureate program.

SSS helps college students who are low income, first generation (those whose parents do not have a four-year college degree) or students with disabilities. The grant funds comprehensive services such as academic advising/tutoring, financial aid advice, and career and college mentoring. Such services enhance academic success and make it more likely that students will graduate or transfer with the lowest possible debt.

Started in 1968, SSS recognizes that students whose parents do not have a college degree have more difficulties navigating the complexity of decisions that college requires for success; it bolsters students from low income families who have not had the academic opportunities that their college peers have had, and helps students with disabilities remove obstacles preventing them from thriving academically.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has worsened the systemic inequality and financial hardship which keep promising students from succeeding in college,” said Maureen Hoyler, president of the Council for Opportunity in Education in Washington, D.C. “These funds will help make certain that deserving students at CMCC will experience increased success,” noted Terry Charlton, director of the TRIO Success Center at CMCC. “Finally something good has happened in 2020!’”

A lot has changed at Gridiron Restaurant with the pandemic

With a lack of business due to the Covid-19 pandemic, Schan Martin, who owns the Gridiron Restaurant and Pub on Lisbon Street in Lewiston with his wife, Kim, put himself on layoff to leave more working hours for his employees.

Before the pandemic, “We were busy, pretty much all the time,” Martin said. And then, “Things were going great, the pandemic hit (and) things changed a little!”

Actually, things changed a lot at Gridiron. On March 17, “We shut everything down completely, because we thought it was only going to be a two-week thing. So I was like, let’s just clean up everything, get it done. Then we’ll come back and everything will be back to normal,” he said.

However, the State of Maine increased the restrictions, and Gridiron didn’t open again until the last week of May.

“We had zero business” for the two months the restaurant was closed, Martin said.

With the reopening, he is working fewer hours because “I gave up my position for my employees, so I could keep them busy,” Martin said. “I’m not doing the physical cooking, which I really enjoy,” he said. “The kitchen is my home. That’s where I’m most comfortable! I enjoy it.”

As with other restaurants, Gridiron reopened in stages. “When we first opened up, we just opened up as take-out, because that’s what they allowed us to do,” he said. “And then when they allowed us to open to have some guests outdoors, we did that.”

“We’ve been very lucky with staff. Our staff has stuck with us,” Martin said. Employees have been very loyal, and Gridiron only lost a couple of employees, he said. Before the pandemic, about 40 people worked full- and part-time, and this has dropped to about 35 as Gridiron reopened with its limited seating.

  Martin said some employees left because of the “normal day-to-day business that would have happened” even without the pandemic restrictions, so he didn’t have to fire any staff due to the lack of business. “I couldn’t do that! We were able to just let them go and didn’t have to refill their position.”

“I have more people than I need right now, but we want to keep them going,” Martin said.

Thanks to a large parking lot, Gridiron was able to expand outdoor seating for between 50 and 70 guests at a time. “We have tables of eight,” Martin said, and Gridiron socially-distances the groups of guests as they arrive.

Overall, Gridiron has room for about 150 guests at a time, between the outdoor patio seating and the various rooms indoors.

A helpful kickstart to reopening Gridiron was the state’s permission to allow bars and restaurants to sell beer and wine for take-out in original manufacturer’s sealed containers. This “was a huge help” with the take-out busines at the restaurant, he said. “It helped keep the lights on, that’s for sure!”

Take-out sales of beer and wine have slowed down as restaurants have been allowed to open for indoor seating. Gridiron allows “some guests at the bar” with proper-social distancing, Martin said.

Business has slowed down a little during the summer, Martin said. “We went up when we opened, and now we’re starting to see a slight downturn. More restaurants are opening up, more outdoor activities are going on.”

He’s also seen more cars at private houses, which he believes are for house parties. Plus, sports are only just starting to ramp up again, and many of his older guests appear to be staying home for their own safety.

Gridiron appeals to older guests with its “volume of food, for the price they can get it at,” Martin said. But, “I don’t think a lot of people want to be out here wearing masks,” which Gridiron requires for all their guests under state mandates. A box of complimentary masks sits on a table at the front entrance.

Gridiron has not had any issues with Covid-19 contamination during the pandemic, Martin said.

Op-Ed

Collins vs Gideon – Let’s set the record straight!

By Patti Gagne

The 2020 U.S. Senate race in Maine is like nothing we have ever seen. For two years now, this race has been controlled by DC insiders and hedge fund billionaires who don’t have Maine’s best interest at heart.  Instead, the seat, currently occupied by Republican Susan Collins, is a pivotal pawn in their scheme to flip the Senate majority from red to blue and install New York Senator, and Yankees fan https://twitter.com/SenSchumer/status/1286786720843935746, Chuck Schumer as Majority Leader.

To achieve this goal, the Far Left knew it would have to try chipping away at Collins’ solid reputation and popularity in Maine early and often. They set up a dark money group https://bangordailynews.com/2019/07/04/news/new-group-uses-exploited-advocacy-rules-to-educate-mainers-about-sen-collins/, named Maine Momentum/16 Counties. To date, this supposed “social advocacy organization” has spent millions in tv/digital ads aimed squarely at Collins, trying to paint her as an out-of-touch, heartless politician who no longer cares about Maine. We know that’s not true. The Washington Post even rated one of this group’s ads“mostly false.” https://www.washingtonpost.com/politics/2019/08/19/dark-money-ad-claims-susan-collins-put-old-age-programs-jeopardy/. Sadly, these days, truth no longer seems to matter.

Cowbell Grill & Tap


District Manager Andrew Cessario relaxes against the bar in the main room of the Cowbell Grill & Tap. 

Story and photos by Nathan Tsukroff, PortraitEFX

Chef, bartender, waiter . . . Andrew Cessario has done it all at the Cowbell Grill & Tap at 49 Lisbon Street, Lewiston, during the Covid-19 pandemic. 

District manager of the three Cowbell restaurants – the Lewiston restaurant, the Cowbell Burger Bar in Biddeford, and the Cowbell Wood-Fired Grill in Scarborough – Cessario has been working full time at the Lewiston location to help while the restaurants deal with the changes in restaurant attendance since mid-March. 

The restaurants are high-end burger establishments, owned by Alex Markakis with business partner Jim Albert, who also owns Jimmy the Greeks in Old Orchard Beach. 

The Cowbell Burger Bar in Biddeford has been open more than four years, while the Cowbell Grill & Tap opened in Lewiston in December 2018. The Cowbell Wood-Fired Grill in Scarborough had a grand-opening the beginning of March this, was shut down about within two weeks because of the pandemic, then had a grand re-opening in June when state restrictions were eased. 

Cessario said the Lewiston restaurant and bar did not have guests inside from mid-March through mid-June. Instead, they provided take-out and delivery for their 25 “craft” burgers and other foods. Delivery is through Uber Eats and DoorDash, he said. 

Right now, Cowbell Grill & Tap is allowed to have up to 50 people indoors, socially distanced, which is about half of their normal capacity. There is seating for up to 24 guests on the six tables outside. The original outdoor seating included just three tables, but the city of Lewiston has allowed Cowbell to use both sides of the wide sidewalk in front of the building, while leaving room for pedestrians up the middle. The other two restaurants are also seeing business at about half-capacity indoors, Cessario said. 

Takeout service was minimal before the pandemic, Cessario said, but has now expanded to around 40 to 50 percent of the restaurant’s business and “has really kept us afloat” financially during the pandemic. 

While the number of guests visiting in person is reduced, Cowbell in Lewiston has seen more guests in-person than expected, he said, perhaps because people are preferring to stay in the Lewiston area during the pandemic. 

The other Cowbell restaurants have also expanded outdoor seating. At the location in Scarborough, “We’re lucky enough to have already a 50-seat patio. But we also have a large lawn, so we’ve expanded to lawn seating,” Cessario said. In Biddeford, the Cowbell Burger Bar has expanded its sidewalk seating, and “we also have a five-table patio out back.” 

The shut-down of the restaurant had a big impact on staffing, as well. About three-quarters of the staff at all three restaurants are part-timers, which is typical for restaurants and bars. This created issues with staffing as the restaurants opened up again, since some workers preferred to collect the expanded unemployment benefits provided by the federal government. Now, staff members are returning to work, helping by taking orders in person and responding to requests for take-out and delivery. 

While the Lewiston location was closed to all but takeout and delivery, Cessario and another person were the only workers, answering phones, cooking, and responding to takeout requests. Staffing is back up to about 80 percent from the level before the pandemic, he said. 

Up to 8 people work in the kitchen during the week, prepping food, cooking, and readying the finished meals. Burgers are delivered with a branded “C” on the top bun. 

Tables and chairs are sanitized, and staff “are always wearing masks,” Cessario said. “We’re starting to see a rebound . . . more and more people coming out” to the restaurant. “Obviously, having a safe place, a sanitized place . . . allows for people to feel safe when they come in the building.”  

 “I’ve seen much more preference for outdoor seating, unless it’s raining out or oppressively hot,” he said.  

Cowbell Grill & Tap opened its bar area to guests when indoor seating was allowed in mid-June. Due to the current restrictions, there is seating for 10 guests at the bar, with appropriate social distancing. 

Despite the recent issues from the Covid-19 pandemic, the restaurants have seen success to the point that the Cowbell group of restaurants “is definitely expanding,” Cessario said. “We’re looking at a couple of different markets, but yes, the goal is definitely to expand.” Markets are areas around a community, such as Lewiston or Biddeford or Scarborough, he said.

While several smaller restaurants in Portland have closed due to lost business during the pandemic, Cessario said that was due to the loss of tourists in that area. Much of the Old Port area of Portland sees crowds of visitors from cruise ships during the summer. The Lewiston and other locations are not as dependent on seasonal tourists, so business has rebounded with the lifted restrictions. 

The Lewiston Cowbell has actually seen more dine-in guests that last year, Cessario said. Instead of going to the beach or the mountains, people are staying in the area, he said. 

Cowbell’s “craft” burgers Have different toppings to go on different types of meat, such as Angus beef, waygu beef, 100-percent grass-fed beef, bison burgers, salmon, chicken, and the “Beyond Beef” vegetable burgers. Guests order their own burger on a selection of buns, cooked to order. 

Cowbell also sells 25 “craft” beers from micro breweries throughout southern Maine, mainly from the Portland area, Cessario said. The pandemic shutdowns have hurt breweries and beer vendors financially, due to the big loss in alcohol sales at restaurants.  

Click HERE to jump to the Cowbell of Lewiston website.

Out & About with Rachel Morin: A Fourth of July Parade in 2013


.   Robert Crosby, Lynn Derderian and Julia Crosby enjoyed the Strawberry Shortcake.

By Rachel Morin

During this Pandemic, we are adjusting to the many changes in our daily living.  We miss our Community Little Theatre, our Public Theatre, our Auburn Community Concert Band, our movie theaters, our Churches, Mosques and Synagogues, our Franco Heritage Center, our  Lewiston and Auburn Public Libraries and our holiday parades.             

This got me thinking of the Turner Parade of July 4, 2013. I have never seen a parade like it. Here are my memories of this  nostalgic event.

I joined my son, Gerry and his wife, Debbie of Turner, to see their town’s Annual Fourth of July Parade followed by events on The Green that they have been enjoying and raving about for years and I’m glad I did. It really was a great day. I felt as if I had stepped back in time to be a part of the camaraderie of a small country town.

VA Maine’s Caregiver Support Program Resource Fair

Veterans Administration (VA) Maine is hosting a Caregiver Support Program Drive-By Resource Fair to provide Veterans with information about VA and community programs. Veterans will be able to meet caregiver support staff and there will be promotional products and resource bags for Veterans and caregivers.

For questions, please contact Michelle Tancrede at (207) 623-8411 ext. 2969.

Preparing labs for the fall semester at CMCC

Chemistry instructors Haley Bullecks (left) and Maureen Edgerton working on a lab that can determine how much certain solids dissolve in water involving two types of filtration, gravity and vacuum.

Science instructors at Central Maine Community College have been busy preparing videos with step-by-step instructions to enable students to continue their lab work remotely in between their actual on-campus labs. Most lab science courses will be hybrid, combining online work with alternating on-campus labs. Safety protocols will be strictly observed at all times. The fall semester at CMCC opens August 31.


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