February 27, 2021

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2020 Year in Review, Part 2

July   

The Regional School Unit 73 directors approved starting an esports program and hiring a coach. Spruce Mountain High School athletic director Marc Keller proposed the new activity at the June 11 board meeting. The Maine Principals’ Association announced in May that it would begin offering esports as an extracurricular activity at high schools starting this fall.

The July 14 voting in Jay, Livermore and Livermore Falls on the proposed 2020-21 budget for Regional School Unit 73 was postponed. A special school board meeting was held Tuesday, July 7, to rescind the budget warrants and notice of election. A new public hearing date and a new school budget referendum voting date were also set. “This meeting is taking place because our law firm made an error in our referendum documents,” Superintendent Scott Albert said in the email announcing the special board meeting.

Jay Planning Board members voted against a request by Central Maine Power to have three members recuse themselves from voting a shoreland zoning application for alleged conflict of interest and bias. The request was made by an attorney and related to CMP’s proposed 145-mile New England Clean Energy Connect corridor. The majority of board members believed Susan Theberge, Linda Flagg and Delance White could separate their opinion on the nearly $1 billion project to deal with the shoreland zoning application CMP had submitted.

Local libraries had a different look and feel as they prepared to reopen their doors to the public during the pandemic following guidelines issued by the Maine CDC and the Maine State Library. Materials continued to be quarantined, the number of patrons were limited and library staff had the added task of sanitizing surfaces.

Sue Donovan was being remembered by many in the Tri-Town region for her involvement in community activities and fundraising events. Donovan was vice-chair of the Jay-Livermore-Livermore Falls Chamber of Commerce in 2013, chair in 2014 and 2015, and past chair in 2016. In 2020 she was vice chair again and a member of the Executive Committee.

Take out food services were flourishing during the pandemic. Steve and Rhonda Jones opened Stevie J’s Burgers and Burritos on Memorial Weekend and were shocked by the community’s response. While restaurants were permitted to reopen for indoor dining in 12 rural counties across the state on May 18, many people were still preferring take out style establishments. The We Fry High food truck in Wilton also opened during the pandemic. The owners expanded their hours in response to the consistently increasing amount of business they were experiencing. Even take out services, such as Cantrell’s Seafood which sells fish and shellfish from trucks parked in Jay and Farmington, saw spikes in business.

Pilot uninjured when plane lands on Androscoggin River near Livermore. A fixed-wing, single-engine amphibian plane landed on the Androscoggin River near Livermore on Saturday, July 18, with its landing gear deployed. The Super Petrel Light Sport amphibian aircraft was piloted by Myron Stock, 55, of Manchester, New Hampshire. He was the only person on board and was not injured, Livermore Falls Police Chief Ernest Steward Jr. said. The plane was damaged. Stock had taken off from the Bowman Field airport on River Road in Livermore Falls.

August

As an incentive for daycares and preschools to reopen, providers received a second round of grant money from the CARES Act. Childcare providers were still trying to regain their enrollment numbers while spending more money on sanitary products and preparing for challenges posed by schools reopening. In May, childcare providers received a federal stipend based on their maximum capacity. In late March and May, many providers either closed or limited their services to parents that were essential workers, drastically reducing enrollment numbers.

Regional School Unit 73 directors approved the purchase of four transportation vehicles using the Coronavirus Relief Fund from the CARES Act. In April, it was announced that Maine schools were being awarded almost $44 million in federal relief to cover costs associated with the COVID-19 pandemic. The money was part of more than $13.2 billion in emergency relief from the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, or Cares Act, for K-12 schools nationwide and was announced by U.S. Secretary of Education Betsy DeVos.

RSU 73 directors chose a school reopening model that has students attending school two days a week and remotely the other three. The vote followed a Zoom videoconferencing meeting that at one point had almost 170 parents, directors, staff and community members attending digitally. Last week, directors approved the reopening school plan but tabled a decision on which model to use until after the public had a chance to learn more about the proposals. It was announced then that parents could choose to have their children use full remote instruction regardless of which model was chosen for the district.

Ora Breads, a volunteer bread guild pioneered by the Rev. Paul Dumais  was providing a learning opportunity and a way to feed the community. After developing baking into a hobby and attending workshops at Skowhegan’s bread kneading conference, Dumais established Ora Breads in 2018. About 12 volunteers and one paid intern rotate through the Jay parish kitchen each month to produce sourdough boules, loaf breads and dinner rolls for local grocery stores, the Farmington Diner and for parish suppers.

RSU 73 budget questions passed amid light turnout.  In Jay, 234 ballots were cast, 59 of them absentees, out of about 3,250 registered voters. In Livermore, 23 of the 111 ballots were absentees from among 1,821 registered voters. In Livermore Falls, two of the 53 ballots were absentee out of 1,486 registered voters.

September

Jay selectpersons lowered the tax rate for 2020-21. The town would ask for a valuation adjustment due to the mill explosion in April. The board set the rate for 2020-21 at $17.50, 75 cents less than last year. It would give the town $127,465.71 in overlay for any abatements. If there is money left next year, it will go into the general fund balance. The latter had about $6.9 million in it, Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere said.

Livermore selectpersons discussed capital roads. The postponement of annual Town Meeting meant some planned road work has to wait until 2021. Rebuilding the back side of Waters Hill Road, putting a coat of pavement and chip sealer on Bear Mountain Road, Bean Street, the first part of Butterhill Road and Beechwood Terrace was the goal, Selectperson Scott Richmond said. Putting a top coat on Waters Hill, work on Goding Road and putting in a culvert on the River Road by the Morse Farm prior to rebuilding that section were being planned for next year as was turning Bowles Road to dirt again.

A community solar project was proposed for Jay. A developer planned to file applications with the state to install 15,000 solar panels on 34 acres at the end of Chickadee Avenue. The 5-megawatt facility by Nexamp was proposed for two connecting parcels, which combined, total 48 acres. The 15,000 solar panels would be ground-mounted and provide enough electricity to power more than 1,000 typical Maine households. The project would connect to Central Maine Power Co. distribution lines along Main Street/Route 4.

RSU 73 directors approved competition for only some fall sports. At both the high school and middle school, only golf and cross country teams were approved for interscholastic competition within the Mountain Valley Conference. Directors opposed such competitions for soccer, field hockey, cheering and football. The board voted to allow Phase 4 practicing to continue and to develop an intramural program for other sports.

Students at Spruce Mountain Elementary School were being taken outdoors for lessons. In the summer of 2019, several Regional School Unit 73 teachers participated in the “Nature of Teaching” course on STEM lessons. According to livescience.com, STEM is a curriculum based on the idea of educating students in four specific disciplines — science, technology, engineering and mathematics — in an interdisciplinary and applied approach. Rather than teach the four disciplines as separate and discrete subjects, STEM integrates them into a cohesive learning paradigm based on real-world applications. As a result of the training, the importance of the relationship between nature and all aspects of education and social and emotional health have been added to lessons and there are ample opportunities to integrate these lessons with reading, writing, math and art, Spruce Mountain Elementary School Principal Pat St. Clair said.

The Androscoggin paper mill in Jay cut 51 more employees. It was the second round of layoffs since July, when 59 people were let go following an April 15 explosion when a digester at the mill ruptured. There were 348 workers still at the mill. The Maine Department of Labor had been in contact with the company, and was providing Rapid Response services to affected employees as needed.

October

Kelly’s Angels were set to walk for breast cancer Oct. 9 – 11. Tina Rioux, of Livermore, formed Kelly’s Angels in 2011 and wasn’t letting the coronavirus pandemic prevent her from completing her 10th breast cancer walk. Her team would be walking for breast cancer, along the Whistle Stop Trail between Farmington and Livermore Falls. This would have been her 10th year doing the Susan G. Komen, but it got canceled due to COVID-19 so she decided to walk locally.

RSU 73 directors were asked to create Equity Committee. The committee would create district-wide anti-bias policies, plan trainings and integrate equity into curriculum. Spruce Mountain High School Principal TJ Plourde said a committee had been looking at equities in that school and possible methods or processes to address them. Information was presented about the proposed district equity committee, its purpose, and why it is needed. Some things need to be worked on as a district.

Friends and family remembered Livermore Falls bail commissioner as ‘an amazing man’ after
Scott Evans, 58, died in an accident. His motorcycle struck the side of a vehicle that was backing into the roadway in Wayne. Kennebec County Sheriff Ken Mason wrote on the Sheriff’s Department Facebook page that Evans, who recently worked as a bail commissioner in Kennebec County, “always had a smile and good story for us. Scott was part of our Kennebec family who we saw nearly every day. Our intake officers will especially miss his friendship. He will never be forgotten.”

Essential workers spoke candidly about their jobs and COVID-19 exposure risk. Essential workers in Franklin, Androscoggin and Oxford counties had been performing jobs with a COVID-19 exposure risk since March. The Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) at that time defined four levels of worker exposure risk to COVID-19 as low, medium, high and very high. Mask mandates and other safety protocols for both employee and customer safety, fluctuations in inventory and business, and lack of communication were some of the issues raised.

November

It was reported almost $5,871 in taxes, penalties and interest were paid on Livermore 2019 tax payments. The payment included $351.38 for the first quarter, $5,123.45 for the second quarter and $395.88 for the fourth quarter. Federal employer’s tax payments for the first, second and fourth quarters of 2019 were not paid on time. The State of Maine had also charged late penalties in recent years.

Resources were available for dislocated workers in Jay after 67 more lost their jobs. The 110 people who previously lost their jobs at the mill in July and September were already being helped by the Maine Department of Labor. Department representatives had scheduled Rapid Response services for the newest wave of dislocated workers. Adult and community education programs in Livermore Falls and Farmington also had a lot of educational options available for dislocated workers.

Livermore Falls voters approved a fire substation in the East Livermore section of town. Residents voted 992-399 in a mix of absentee and in-person voting to authorize selectmen to spend up to $400,000 over 20 years to build a one-bay fire substation. A petition signed by 110 registered voters requested an article be put on the ballot. It called for selectmen to secure a site and provide for construction of a substation for one fire truck within a mile of Park Street/Route 133 and Leeds Road/Route 106 intersection. The article also authorized selectmen to enter into a lease purchase or finance agreement for up to 20 years, with payments from taxes not to exceed $20,000 per year.

“Fill the Bus for Mr. Mike” was held at the Cedar Street Central Office to remember bus driver Mike Collins, who died unexpectedly Nov. 8. An email noted the Regional School Unit 73 transportation/facilities departments, district, and community suffered a devastating loss of a colleague and friend. The event was created to honor Mr. Mike and help the community at the same time, which Mike would have loved.

Livermore Planning Board got the first look on a proposed subdivision at Norlands. The proposed five-lot subdivision between Norlands Road and Bartlett Pond includes approximately 27 acres owned by the Washburn-Norlands Foundation, Inc., which oversees the Washburn-Norlands Living History Center. The subdivision would provide funds for painting the mansion and other capital improvements such as steeple restoration and finishing the barn.

Students were getting bounced around between in-person, hybrid and remote learning as COVID-19 surged this fall. Four school districts in Oxford and Franklin counties reported varying success at engaging students through online classes. As schools throughout Maine abruptly closed their doors and pivoted from in-person to hybrid to fully remote learning according to how COVID-19 cases waxed and waned, consistency and engagement for students became difficult to maintain. Some districts saw an increase in homeschooling requests. Attendance was an issue for some districts, but not all.

December

Jay selectpersons approved the timeline for developing 2021-22 budgets leading to the town meeting referendum April 27, 2021. The timeline had budgets from department heads due to Town Manager Shiloh LaFreniere by Jan. 4 and budget books ready Jan. 13. Nomination papers for open positions on the Select Board, Regional School Unit 73 Board of Directors, and water districts would be available Jan. 19 and due back March 1. The board also voted 3-1, with Selectperson Gary McGrane opposed, to send letters to only the organizations that were funded by the town last year.

RSU 73 went fully remote as a precaution until at least Dec. 15 because of three confirmed COVID-19 cases at the elementary school and a staff member who had contact with all schools, it was announced Dec. 6. All non-remote teachers needed three days to prepare for going fully remote so there were three days of no school following the announcement.

Tens of thousands of Mainers were left without power as the state’s first major snowstorm of the season swept across the state, dumping several inches of snow on central and western Maine. The National Weather Service in Gray posted a winter storm warning that remained in effect more than 24 hours. As of 4 p.m., more than 23,000 Central Maine Power customers were left without power, including 6,000 customers in central and western Maine. Within an hour, the total number of customers without power jumped to 45,000. By 9 p.m., 170,928 were left in the dark. For many, power was not restored for several days.

Regional School Unit 73 directors voted seven to five not to allow winter sports. Spruce Mountain High School Athletic Director Marc Keller had said based on the Maine Principals’ Association guidelines, the district could effectively and safely have student athletes participate. Directors voting in favor of winter sports were Lenia Coates, Elaine Fitzpatrick, Mulligan, Andrew Sylvester and Robert Staples. Voting against were Doug DiPasquale, student representative Taylor Guay, Steven Langlin, Michael Morrell, Lynn Ouellette, Joel Pike and Phoebe Pike. Ann Schwab recused herself as her son is an athlete and Sara Hughes was absent.

Spruce Mountain athletes protested the ban on winter sports imposed by RSU 73 directors last week. A row of 21 Spruce Mountain High School students lined the curbside of their school’s entrance. As the athletes chanted, “Let us play,” a procession of 57 vehicles drove past blaring horns. Directors had called a special board meeting to reconsider their decision prior to the student protest.

The Livermore Planning Board unanimously approved the Washburn-Norlands Foundation 27-acre subdivision at a public hearing. The five-lot parcel is bordered by Norlands Road and Bartlett Pond and each parcel includes deeded access to the pond’s boat launch and road and shoreline frontage. The board was told the five parcels will be sold to two individuals so essentially, the subdivision shrunk to two plots. The purchasers will have the ability to develop and sell each parcel or combine their plots into one property.

Low- and moderate-risk winter sports were approved for RSU 73 during a specially called board meeting. About 25 people attended the meeting at the middle school. 75 took part via Zoom. A letter of support was read from the district’s doctor and another from the three school nurses. Several athletes, parents and directors shared their concerns of the impact not allowing sports could have on student athlete’s mental health and wellbeing.