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‘We are Free – UnmaskME’ protest in Augusta Oct. 24

Demonstrators applaud a speech by 1st District Congressional Candidate Dr. Jay Allen as he tells them “This is not an anti-mask rally, it is an anti-mask mandate rally,” during a protest against the Maine requirement to wear masks during the COVID-19 pandemic. The demonstration took place near the Blaine House in Augusta on Oct. 24. (Geraghty photo)

By Gail Geraghty

AUGUSTA – Around 40 people gathered on Saturday, Oct. 24, next to the Blaine House in Augusta to protest Gov. Janet Mills’ statewide mask-mandate, led by members of the Facebook group Mainers Against Mask Mandates (MAMM).

Several Republican politicians made speeches, including 1st District Congressional Candidate Dr. Jay Allen, who was the subject of a rap song sung in his honor by emcee Chris “Chrittah” Blais of Northwoods Outlaws.

“This is not an anti-mask rally, it is an anti-mask mandate rally,” Allen said. “We don’t mind people wearing masks if they feel that makes them more protected. But we are against people on high telling us what we need to do.”

Allen said Maine does not have the COVID-19 numbers to justify a statewide mask mandate, pointing out that 12 of the state’s 16 counties have a low transmission risk and that no counties, not even York or Cumberland, are considered high risk by the Maine Centers For Disease Control.

His remarks came just days before the Maine CDC began reporting a spike in new cases, which has led Mills to consider holding off on reopening bars Nov. 4 as planned.

Independent Senate candidate Max Linn, who made headlines when he cut up a mask during a debate, made a surprise visit to speak at the protest. “There’s never been a better time to be an American patriot,” he told the crowd. Linn said Washington politics won’t change until the people choose “citizen legislators” like him to replace those now in power.

It was the appeals of ordinary citizens who spoke that appeared to carry the most weight with the crowd. Rebecca Rochelle said she simply cannot wear a mask. The one time she did, she passed out, yet little concern was shown. “I’ve been called killer, uncaring, rude, entitled . . . I’m all for laws, but I also expect people to treat each other with respect, and to care for my health.”

The protest drew a response from Mills’ office later in the day which urged Maine people to continue to wear face coverings, not only to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission but “as a sign of respect for our fellow Maine citizens” and “to keep our economy up and running.”

Davis Family Foundation Funds CMCC Project

From FMCC

AUBURN – A gift of $100,000 from the Davis Family Foundation to the Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges will support the construction of a Criminal Justice Simulation Center at Central Maine Community College (CMCC) on Turner Street in Auburn.

“This simulation center will be a dynamic facility for live scenario training for students in criminal justice, forensic science, and social services,” said Matt Tifft, criminal justice instructor and chair of the public service and social science department at CMCC. The facility will be a ranch-style house with attached garage, briefing room, and movable walls to allow instructors to constantly adapt the environment. This project will help the college ensure that public safety professionals are adequately prepared with curriculum and training that employ effective adult learning practices, and real-skill development.

This facility also will support the growing forensic science program at CMCC. This program – the only one of its kind in Maine – includes coursework in criminal investigation, criminalistics, death investigations, crime scene photography, and crime scene management. Tifft also noted that CMCC hopes to allow area law enforcement agencies to use the simulation center to support their training efforts. The college hopes to have the facility completed and ready for use in fall 2021.

The Davis Family Foundation is a public charitable foundation established by Phyllis C. Davis and H. Halsey Davis of Falmouth to support education, medical and cultural/arts organizations located primarily in Maine.

“The Davis Family Foundation has made significant investments in the Maine Community College System,” said John Fitzsimmons, President of The Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges. “We are grateful for their support and pleased to be able to partner with them on this important project for CMCC students and local law enforcement officers.”

CMCC provides quality, accessible college education and lifelong learning opportunities by offering career and technical education; education for transfer to baccalaureate programs; and services to support economic development and community vitality. CMCC is the second largest college within the Maine Community College System, serving over 3,000 students. The college offers over 40 academic programs, certificates, and advanced certificates. More information about CMCC is available at www.cmcc.edu.

The Foundation for Maine’s Community Colleges is dedicated to ensuring that the state’s seven community colleges have the resources they need to provide a high quality and affordable education for Maine people. The Foundation seeks to enhance access to educational and economic opportunity and to provide Maine employers with a highly trained and skilled workforce. More information about the Foundation is available at: www.maineccfoundation.org.

Information about the Maine Community College System is available at: www.mccs.me.edu.

Helping others without judgement

By Nathan Tsukroff

LEWISTON – Helping local groups to support the needy and homeless doesn’t involve judging those who ask for help.

That’s a lesson that John Morrison of Lewiston said he learned years ago from Suzanne Grover, who was a founder of Grover Gundrilling, Inc., The Oxford Casino, and The Boxberry School.

Grover helped gather food supplies for the Oxford Food Pantry, and provided help and donations to the Oxford County Fair, 4-H Youth Development, the University of Maine system, and Friends of the Blaine House.

Morrison was working on one of Grover’s buildings and saw her unloading food from her vehicle into another building near her house. He asked what she was doing, and Grover explained that she used the building as her warehouse for collecting items for the local food pantry.

“Like most people, I said, how do you feel when a young strapping man . . . takes advantage of the situation?” Morrison said he asked Grover. “And her reply to me was, ‘If I worry about that, if I have to pick and choose who I help, I’m not going to help anybody.’”

Grover explained that we don’t know the situation people are in, or what circumstances are impacting their lives. Morrison said she told him there are some people who take advantage, but she “was not going to waste time worrying about that, I’m worried about people.”

“And that really flipped a switch in my brain, and I said, ‘You’re right, you’ve gotta help people,’” Morrison said.

Jamie Caouette of The Store Next Door Project at Lewiston High School is helped by John Morrison of Lewiston as they collect donations on a street corner in downtown Lewiston. The project assists homeless students in the Lewiston/Auburn area. (Photo courtesy of The Store Next Door Project)

Morrison recently spent part of a weekend standing on a street corner in downtown Lewiston with a donation bucket to collect money for The Store Next Door Project at Lewiston High School. That project supports homeless students in Lewiston and Auburn, assisted by grant monies from Lewiston schools and donations. Families in need are also helped through clothes closets and food pantries.

And at his store in Auburn, Cure Cannabis Co., a medical cannabis dispensary, Morrison is raffling off a Louis Vuitton bag filled with $1,000 of product in the hopes of raising $5,000 by the end of the month to donate to The
Store Next Door Project. He plans to sell 50 raffle tickets at $100 each.

He said he is starting a conversation with his sister about finding a building to be used for housing for homeless students. Morrison’s sister, Diane Jackson, worked for U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe for 17 years, and now works with U.S. Senator Susan Collins.

Morrison said he and his sister may look at grant money to help with the purchase of an apartment building. He said that Jamie Caouette, the director of The Store Next Door Project, told him, “Somebody has to step up” and get a building. He said he understands that while the City of Lewiston may be considering a plan to use the Longley School building for housing, “we’ve gotta start somewhere. I’d just as soon start small and work our way up.”

Another community concern for Morrison is the situation that impacts many apartment building owners in Lewiston and Auburn when the federal government builds subsidized housing in the area. Renters are inclined to look at the newly constructed buildings, leaving older buildings with vacancies.

Morrison said he believes the state and federal governments should look at ways to help local building owners, especially since the buildings have often been in the hands of local families for generations, or are owned by younger people who maintain the buildings as retirement investments.

He said the building owners “are investing in the community, but they need a level playing field where they have access to easily accessible financing, not financing where you have to jump through a million hoops.”

Programs and money are available, Morrison said, but it is hard to find those programs and financing. He hopes to find a way to provide information about the programs and financing to the building owners.

John Morrison of Lewiston, owner of Cure Cannabis Co., a medical cannabis extract dispensary in Auburn, helps collect donations for The Store Next Door Project at Lewiston High School. The project provides assistance for local homeless students. Morrison helps with various projects in the Lewiston/Auburn area to provide help for needy residents. (Photo courtesy of The Store Next Door Project).

Morrison helps the Age-Friendly Senior Community Center at Pettengill Park with donations toward their weekly dinners. He will be donating additional funds for this year’s Thanksgiving Dinner.

The St. Louise Bells restoration project in Auburn was also helped by Morrison. He donated money that was matched by the City of Auburn to help place the bells in a tower in Auburn Anniversary Park.

Free Halloween events in Auburn

From City of Auburn

AUBURN – The City of Auburn is cooking up some spooky, fun, and safe ways for families to celebrate Halloween this year.

On Saturday, Oct. 31, the United New Auburn Association will be hosting their annual “Hello-ween” event in Anniversary Park from 1-3 p.m.. This event has been modified to comply with Maine CDC guidelines.

The Auburn Recreation Department is preparing for a “howling” good time at the “Fright Fest Drive-Thru Carnival,” which will take place from 3-5 p.m.. Pre-registration is REQUIRED for each vehicle participating, and there is an option for those walking.

After they are all stocked up on candy at Fright Fest, Auburn residents can join us at the City’s first ever “Spooky Drive-In Movie” event taking place in Great Falls Plaza. Pre-registration is REQUIRED for each vehicle and for each showing. The family friendly movie, “Casper” will be screened at 6 p.m. (gates open at 5:30 p.m.), followed by the 17-and older super scary film, “IT” at 9 p.m. (gates open at 8:30 p.m.).

To register for Spooky Drive-In Movie Night or for Fright Fest, please visit www.auburnrecreation.com or call 333-6611.

All events are free and will follow Maine CDC guidelines.

All but the UNAA event require pre-registration.

Please wear a mask and practice adequate physical distancing when attending these events.

If you have any questions, please contact the Auburn Recreation Department.

Raising awareness of domestic violence

Guest Column

By Senator Nate Libby

Sen. Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin), Maine District 21, the City of Lewiston. (Photo courtesy of Nate Libby)

The COVID-19 pandemic has created both public health and economic crises. It has impacted nearly every facet of our lives, from how we do our jobs and how children learn, to how we run errands. Unfortunately, experts say that the pandemic has also led to an increase in reports of domestic violence. In recognition of October being Domestic Violence Awareness Month, I want to share some resources that are available, and encourage all of us to continue to look out for our neighbors and loved ones.

We want to believe that everyone we know is always safe and welcomed in their own home; we also want to believe that we ourselves would never fall into an abusive situation. But the sad truth is domestic violence victims can be any age, gender, race, or religion, and come from any economic background. Safe Voices, based in Auburn, reports that one in four women and one in seven men in the U.S. experience some form of violence at the hands of a partner at some point in their lives. Domestic abuse can involve physical and sexual violence, but also emotional, psychological and financial abuse. Victims are often manipulated into doubting their own experiences and blaming themselves, and can have a hard time recognizing and admitting that what they’re experiencing is abuse. 

The good news is that there are many organizations and individuals available to help. For example, Safe Voices operates shelters and other support services for people in Androscoggin, Franklin, and Oxford counties. They run a 24-hour hotline, available at 1-800-559-2927, as well as an online chat available 8 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday through Friday. You can find these and other vital resources on their website: www.SafeVoices.org. You can also find information about Safe Voices’ Feed-a-Family and Adopt-A-Family programs, which help families affected by domestic violence by making sure they have a complete turkey dinner for Thanksgiving and gifts for the holidays. If you’d like to contribute to either program, please sign up by Nov. 1. 

There are other ways we can help those in need, too. Abusers often try to isolate their victims from their support network, such as friends and family, which means staying connected with loved ones who might be at-risk can literally be life-saving. Now, when it’s so easy to feel isolated, please stay in touch with and check in on your neighbors, friends and family. If someone you know is experiencing abuse, support them by listening and by reassuring them that you believe them and that they’re not responsible for their abuser’s actions. However, don’t pressure them to make a move, such as leaving or reporting violence to the police, before they’re ready. Domestic violence experts tell us that leaving can be the most dangerous time for a victim, so having a safe plan in place is critical.

In the meantime, we should all be doing our part to raise awareness of domestic violence. A big part of that is making sure we’re having open and honest conversations about what healthy relationships look like. Young people are at an especially high risk for domestic violence — women age 18-24 are most likely to be the victims of domestic abuse — and knowing what a respectful, equitable, loving relationship looks like can help people avoid abusive situations or reach out for help if they find themselves in an unsafe situation.

It’s on all of us to look out for our neighbors and loved ones, especially now. If you or someone you know needs help connecting with resources, I urge you to contact Save Voices. You can also contact me at Nathan.Libby@legislature.maine.gov or call me at (207) 713-8449.Sen. Nate Libby (D-Androscoggin) represents Maine Senate District 21, which comprises the City of Lewiston

Parents see positive side to pandemic restrictions

Students are reminded to keep socially distanced with feet painted at six-foot intervals on the sidewalk in front of Edward Little High School in Auburn. (Tsukroff photo)

By Nathan Tsukroff

AUBURN – This school year is nothing like it was 12 months ago, yet parents are finding a positive side to the restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Stacey Tolliver of Auburn, whoworks a night shift, is able to be home during the day to help her daughter, Kassidy, a sixth-grader at Fairview Elementary School on Minot Avenue, with remote learning.

“So that’s really helpful,” Tolliver said. “It’s actually been more bonding time, honestly, more family time for me.”

And Bill David who’s daughter, Allyanna, is a fourth-grader at Fairvew Elementary, said the schools are “trying to keep as much normalcy as they can, delivering school lunches to people’s homes, and making sure the school curriculum stays current,”

Because of remote learning, Bill David has been able to take his family on vacation, integrating the familys travels into education. “For example, when we went down to North Carolina in April, we went to the Wright Brother’s Museum, we went to the Lost Colony, we went to places that they learned about in school, to reinforce their education,” he said.

“Schools are flexible, and the curriculum is meant to travel. Would I like her back in school? Yes! But, I mean, we’ve got to make the best out of it.”

Like other school districts in Maine, the Auburn School Department starting planning for this school year as the State of Maine shut down schools last spring.

Auburn Schools Superintendent Cornelia “Connie” Brown said the school district created a health and safety steering committee in May with “a broad representation from many groups,” including teachers, community members and medical providers.

The committee “came forth with a report and a plan. And that plan looked at what the Maine Department of Education was recommending through its framework for learning,” she said. The committee also included recommendations from the Maine Center for Disease Control.

The Auburn school board reviewed the plan and voted in August to create a hybrid school year for 2020-21.

Students have been placed into two cohorts, or groups, with one cohort attending school in person on Mondays and Tuesdays, and the other cohort in the school buildings on Thursdays and Fridays. This allows the school district to perform deep cleaning in the buildings on Wednesdays and over the weekend, Brown said.

The steering committee “believed that the continuity was important, and students would have two days in a row of in-person learning,” which is why the district chose consecutive days at school for each cohort, she said.

“We are going to stay the course with this model for the foreseeable future,” Brown said. “And the only caveat to this is, we work very closely with the CDC and with the Auburn city safety designee, and as conditions change” the school district will try to pivot “and be as nimble as possible.”

While COVID-19 infection rates have risen in other parts of the country in recent weeks, Maine’s rate of infections has stayed relatively level.

The district has quarantined staff members and students as needed to address any concerns about possible infections.

With 3500 students and about 600 staff members, the district has only seen three students and one staff member with confirmed infections from the COVID-19 virus. The infections were not in the same building or at the same time, Brown said.

Allyanna David, a fourth-grade student at Fairview Elementary School in Auburn, checks for homework on her school iPad before heading home for the remote learning portion of her school week. Students in the Auburn schools have been placed in two cohorts, attending schools in person on Mondays and Tuesdays or on Thursdays and Fridays. (Tsukroff photo)

Students are required to wear masks in school, and must maintain proper social distancing, but are given “mask breaks” during the school day. “The kids get to go outside for mask break. If they have snack, they’re allowed to each snack without a mask,” she said. “Those are opportunities for kids to take a break and take their masks off. But other than that, they wear a mask.”

Lunches are served in the classrooms for the lower grades, while at the high school, small groups of students go to lunch in the school cafeteria, with appropriate social distancing. Students get lunches in Bento boxes, “that they really like,” Brown said. The Bento box is a single-portion take out meal that originated in Japan centuries ago.

Sports in Auburn schools have been impacted by the pandemic, with indoor volleyball completely cancelled by the Maine Principals Association, and football migrating to a 7-on-7 program without pads or helmets. The football program is intermural, playing against other schools, while some school districts in Maine chose to keep their football programs strictly intra-mural. The golf and soccer teams were able to compete this fall, as well.

Bill David was very upbeat about the school year so far. “The school has done an amazing job keeping school spirit with virtual spirit weeks,” he said.

Morrison Promotes Unity

In bid for District 60 seat

By Nathan Tsukroff

John Morrison of Lewiston shows off his political face mask. He is representing the Republican Party in a bid for office against incumbent Kristen Cloutier (D) for Maine House of Representatives District 60. (Tsukroff photo)

LEWISTON – “Us, instead of ‘Them’.”

That’s how John Morrison of Lewiston sees the community he hopes to represent in the Maine legislature after the Nov. 3 election.

Running for the Maine House of Representatives District 60 as a Republican, Morrison has a very encompassing view of people in the neighborhood, looking to help the homeless, disabled people, veterans, the elderly, and local schools. He is up against incumbent Kristen Cloutier (D) for the district that encompasses most of downtown Lewiston.

Cloutier easily won election to her first two-year term in 2018 with 2,040 votes compared to 649 for Republican candidate Leslie Dubois.

Morrison is very involved with community programs, and recently spent part of his day standing at a street corner collecting donations for The Store Next Door at Lewiston High School to help homeless students. “One of the reasons that I work with the homeless a lot is because those are the people that are down and out,” he said. “It’s easy to kick someone when they’re down.”

Morrison said that several passing drivers yelled at him to “get a job”, while he was collecting donations. “And I’m wearing a $200 shirt and we have a big banner that says it’s for the homeless and teens.”

“We need people to step up and be a voice for everyone, not just for the select few,” he said.

According to its Facebook page, the mission of The Store Next Door Project is to ‘eliminate barriers to education’ for youth experiencing homelessness, displacement, and high mobility within Lewiston. by addressing students’ basic needs, the goal of achieving academic success once again may be within reach. Students formerly homeless, at risk for homelessness, and pregnant/parenting teens also receive support through this project.

There were 17 high school seniors assisted by the project last year, and all but one of them graduated. Homeless students are living in tents or abandoned buildings, or are couch-surfing, Morrison said.

He decided to run for office after talking with his friends, “and everything was a complaint. And I was like, you know, instead of us all sitting around complaining, somebody’s going to have to do something.” He said serving in office would be “a public service.”

“I’m a very moderate Republican,” Morrison said. He is the younger brother of Diane Jackson, who worked for U.S. Senator Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) for 17 years before Snowe stepped down from the senate, and now works for U.S. Senator Susan Collins (R-Maine).

He said that if elected, “I’m not taking my salary. I’m donating it out to certain local charities that will be picked by the constituents.”

“The biggest reason that I’m doing this is that I now have the time to help, and I want to give back to the community,” Morrison said. He is the owner of Cure Cannabis Company on Riverside Drive in Auburn, providing medical cannabis extracts to patients. His other company, Weatherize Northeast, in Yarmouth, insulates new construction and commercial properties as well as retro-fitting existing homes.

The current political system is very dysfunctional, Morrison said. Both political parties “are guilty of it . . . The ‘my way or the highway’ mentality they have up there now is doing an injustice to every citizen in the state. Political views shouldn’t come in the way of helping people and trying to make the state a better place.”

One of the main reasons he has been successful in business is, “I listen to people. I listen to my employees, and I take their input and their ideas,” he said. This is the same approach he plans to take in Augusta if he wins the election. While not all ideas are perfect, “Every idea has a piece that’s good,” he said. “If you take all the pieces and put them together . . . everybody’s got a vested interest, and everybody starts working together.”

“That’s why my sign says ‘Let’s Work Together!’,” Morrison said. “I’m reaching out to everyone.”

On a Friday night in late September, Morrison took part in the New Oxford Speedway fundraiser for Ricky “Fordman” Moody, a disabled man from New Vineyard, ME.

District 60 has been a Democratic stronghold in recent elections, with Jared Golden winning re-election as a Democrat in 2016 with 2,420 votes to 962 for Republican candidate Jeffrey Padam. Golden also easily defeated Dubois in 2014 by 1,571 to 803 votes.

“The Lure of the Mountains”

Out and About

“The Lure of the Mountains”

By Rachel Morin

USM Lewiston Auburn Senior College students have been meeting for classes via ZOOM for the fall semester.  Our memoir writing class has attracted a few members from our 17 senior colleges in Maine.   We are pleased to have them in our group.  

We are 10 members who meet monthly for the big meeting.  We are divided into two small groups which meet via ZOOM  every two weeks.  The Scribblers are led by Mary Jane Beardsley of Minot, while The Flashbacks are led by Nancy Roe of Presque Isle. Elizabeth Peavey, noted Portland author and playwright, is instructor and mentor for our groups. She has guided us on critiquing each other’s essays. 

Under Peavey’s tutelage, we have made great progress.  We are open to other styles of writing.   One of our members, Rosabelle Tifft of Bethel,  has transformed her essay into prose and poetry.  It was well received; we thought it should be printed. 

THE LURE OF THE MOUNTAINS

Survival!  A huge motivator!

Leads me from the mountains of home,

To unknown area 130 miles away.

A Newburyport hospital offers

Powerful incentive – a salary

Double that of previous job

Close to UNH to work on my degree.

Cost cutting at Berlin hospital

Forced me to look elsewhere.

Recent divorce left heavy expenses

Jobs for my skills unavailable.

I leave the beauty of the mountains,

Leave friends envious of my move.

Outsiders see my new area

Everything to be desired.

Scenic ocean views, quaint shops,

Specialty restaurants

Top job in Boston suburb.

But I observe a lack of warmth.

Demanding tourists.  Faster pace, faster cars

No mountains to clear the air, slow the pace.

No tap water fit to drink.

Bottled water by the case.

I take a bus to Boston amid

Bumper to bumper cars,

Fumes sicken me.

Local wharf welcoming on hot humid days,

Where sea gulls call and boats peacefully drift,

But one day I forget to open a window

Just a crack in my new red Omni.

Hot air shatters window in million pieces.

Winter brings bone chilling cold.

Warm memories of snowy days in Bethel.

Political climate of new job

Challenges my creative energy.

After five long years…

Finances in order

Core degree subjects complete

Mountains of Bethel call me home.

Rosabelle M. Tifft  9/29/20

Rosalie is a retired health care public relations professional. She volunteers at a “To Your Health” program she helped organize 14 years ago as a follow-up to a day-long seminar at Western Mountains Senior College, Bethel, where she is a charter member.  Four or five programs are presented annually on Alzheimer’s, Heart Disease, Healthy Cooking and other health-related issues.  The programs are currently on hold, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Rosalie is kept busy with two adult children, five grandchildren and six great grandchildren.

Maine traffic rebounds faster than expected

Jennifer Brickett, Director of Planning for the Maine Department of Transportation, speaks to members of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce at Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport last week. Brickett talked about the improved flow of traffic in Maine in recent weeks, and how the MDOT is dealing with loss of income during the COVID-19 pandemic. Chamber members sat in or beside their cars on the tarmac of the airport to remain socially-distanced during Brickett’s talk. (Tsukroff photo)

By Nathan Tsukroff

AUBURN – With Maine COVID-19 pandemic restrictions easing, traffic volume statewide has “rebounded quicker than we actually expected,” according to Jennifer Brickett, Director of the Bureau of Planning for the Maine Department of Transportation.

In March, when the first stay-at-home orders were issued by the state, traffic volume dropped to about the half the level from last year, Brickett said. Inbound traffic at airports fell to just a quarter of the numbers from 2019.

Last week, traffic volume statewide was only down 9.5% from the same week last year, “So this indicates a slow return to normal highway travel,” Brickett said. Airport traffic has been slower to recover, remaining down by about 65% from 2019 levels.

“We’re seeing other challenges,” with passenger train travel and other public transportation down by about 80%, she said.

Brickett spoke last week to members of the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce at their monthly meeting, which took place in one of the hangars at the Auburn-Lewiston Municipal Airport. Chamber members stayed at or near their cars on the tarmac in front of the hangar, or attended virtually over the internet.

The Maine Department of Transportation manages a multi-modal system of transportation, including roads, bridges, airports, water ports, freight rail, and public transportation, along with walking and cycling. The Bureau of Planning works on planning for systems that connect people to their destinations and moves freight throughout Maine, around the country, “and really, around the world,” Brickett said.

Speaking on a theme of “Making it to Market”, Brickett said that “at the Bureau, we understand that a well-functioning transportation system is really critical to economic development and quality of life.”. In order to plan for this system, the Bureau of Planning focusses on relationships with companies throughout Maine to determine their needs and plan for economic development opportunities that will help develop critical infrastructure for the state.

The Maine DOT is “really operating under what we’re calling Business Unusual,” with most of the office workers working from home. “In general, our whole system has been impacted by COVID-19,” she said.

“On a positive note, as the result of slower traffic and more competitive contractor pricing, we were actually able to add some projects this year,” Brickett said. “And we continue to deliver all of our planned work . . . which has really been a bright spot in this time, environment, and economy.”

However, with the lower number of vehicles on the roads, highway funding “has taken a hit” with revenues down about $40 million for the current fiscal year that runs through June 2021, Brickett said. Revenue for the following fiscal year is expected to be down by about $30 million, making this “the most sudden drop in highway funds revenue in memory.”

Aviation revenue is also expected to be down significantly with the loss of passenger traffic and aviation fuel taxes, she said.

The Maine DOT is working on a plan to address the funding shortfall and “was fortunate to get the July bond, which helps compensate for some our income loss,” Brickett said. The department will need additional funding, and the most likely options right now are federal funding and bonds.

The department is looking at ways to save money, perhaps by cutting back on planned work on less-traveled roadways, she said. “At the same time, we need to invest in areas that are redeveloping and where people are moving.”

Surrounding the airport are a number of trucking companies and railroad facilities. These businesses “are the backbone to our state’s economy. They enable the movement of millions of tons of freight every year, traveling by road, over railroad tracks and by airports,” Brickett said. While airport passenger travel is reduced, the airports themselves are critical for the transport of freight and perishable goods, such as seafood.

“This region is really a great example of a multi-model system that moves and transports goods, and supports the economy, both regionally, throughout the state, and the international markets,” she said.

 The Lewiston-Auburn area is close to interstate 95, which provides quick access to the Walmart distribution center, she said. The good highway system makes the area a “gateway to western Maine.”

The department also has an Industrial Rail Access Program that is focused on economic development and rail opportunities, and has worked with several businesses in the area over the years.

The Maine DOT recently started development of a three-year workplan for projects across the state.

Brickett oversees statewide planning for freight and passenger services, including aviation and transportation system analysis. She previously worked as the Maine DOT planner for southern Maine, and before that was with the American Association of State Highway and Transportation Officials in Washington, DC, where she worked on national transportation policy issues.

“This is ME Counting on You”

Public awareness campaign promotes pandemic safety

Sandy Buchanan of Western Maine Transportation Services places a “This is ME Counting on You” floor sticker on a passenger van at last week’s event. (Photo courtesy of Maine State Chamber)

From Maine State C of C

AUBURN – Last week, “This is ME Counting on You” floor stickers and other resources were placed on local public buses and vans, as well as buses and vans that connect with Brunswick, Bethel, Carrabassett Valley, Farmington, Oxford County and more.

Western Maine Transportation Services (WMTS) and citylink/Lewiston-Auburn Transit Committee joined the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce and the Maine State Chamber of Commerce at the Downtown Auburn Transportation Center on Thursday as part of  the “This is ME Counting on You” public awareness campaign.

Initiated by the Maine State Chamber in May, the campaign encourages Mainers and visitors to do their part to stop the spread or a resurgence of COVID-19.

Representatives at the event, including Lewiston and Auburn city officials, discussed increased public transportation safety measures and the importance of following recommended health and safety guidelines, such as wearing a mask and practicing social distancing, on public transit. Altogether, these protocols will help prevent COVID-19 from spreading or resurging, keeping Mainers healthy and ensuring Maine’s economy continues to recover.

“We are pleased to be here with Western Maine Transportation Services and citylink to help spread the word that they, like other businesses and organizations across Maine, take very seriously their role in keeping their patrons, employees, and communities safe, now more than ever,” said Dana Connors, president and CEO of the Maine State Chamber of Commerce. “We hope ‘This is ME Counting on You’ helps remind their riders that every individual has an important role to play in defeating COVID-19 and preventing a resurgence. We are counting on each other to be safe and responsible. Together, we can make sure Maine people and our communities stay safe and healthy, so Maine can get back to business and our economy can continue on a path toward a strong recovery.”

Sandy Buchanan, General Manager and Director of Operations for WMTS said, “WMTS public transit connects riders from Sugarloaf and Sunday River to Brunswick and many points in between. Our riders rely on us to safely get to work, school, and fulfill many of their essential needs. We are extra committed to keeping our passengers protected from COVID-19, and to protecting our frontline staff so they can be there for you. Please help by doing your part in the ‘This is ME Counting on You’ campaign. Mask up, social distance and limit interactions with the driver and other passengers, so we can continue to provide you the transportation you depend on and keep all of the communities we serve safe and healthy.”

Denis D’Auteuil, Lewiston’s City Administrator, welcomed the collaborative approach, saying, “This has been a tough time in communities nationwide, and, locally, we embrace the ‘This is ME Counting On You’ campaign. We want public transit users to be safe as they conduct their daily activities, and if we can count on each other to practice public transportation safety measures, we are all going to benefit. Masking up, social distancing, and following safety guidelines make sense for our transit users and for the community as a whole.”

Phil Crowell, Auburn City Manager, added, “The ‘This is ME Counting on You’ campaign is what the people of Auburn have been doing for over 150 years – counting on one another. It makes us stronger, safer, more united. The City of Auburn is proud to do our part to help support local businesses as well as residents and visitors. We need you to do your part. We’re counting on you.”

LA Metro Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Shanna Cox said, “One of the chief concerns among businesses in our region is their workforce – finding and retaining employees while keeping them healthy so operations can continue uninterrupted. The resources of this campaign – and the message – throughout our public transportation system highlights the direct and important link between healthy transportation options and a healthy workforce. All are required for healthy economy.”

Businesses and organizations across Maine are using free “This ME Counting on You” resources in their workplaces as reminders to practice social distancing, wear masks, and more. Resources available on the initiative’s website at: www.mecountingonyou.org  include printable posters, along with multiple versions of a “Thank You” card for businesses to give to customers and visitors thanking them for being safe and responsible. Floor stickers are available upon request. The campaign’s public service announcement is airing on Maine Public and cable television stations across Maine. The initiative is also on Facebook with the hashtag #MECountingOnYou.

The Maine State Chamber is working with its members, local and regional chambers of commerce including the Lewiston Auburn Metropolitan Chamber of Commerce, and organizations throughout Maine to spread the “This is ME Counting on You” message and share the initiative’s resources.

For more information about “This ME Counting on You” visit www.MeCountingOnYou.org. For more information about WMTS, visit www.wmtsbus.org. For more information about citylink/Lewiston-Auburn Transit Committee, visit www.avcog.org/877/citylink. 


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