February 25, 2022

Conservation project continues to advance in Windham

Once protected, the 650-acre conservation project will
enhance protections for surface waters and wetlands, including
Highland Lake seen above. FILE PHOTO 
By Collette Hayes

The proposed East Windham Conservation project could become the largest conservation and outdoor recreation project in Windham and one of the largest throughout the region.

In an effort to preserve Windham’s rural character and function, the Town of Windham is proposing to acquire 650 plus acres of land in East Windham, off Falmouth Road, and grant a conservation easement to the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust. The partnership will allow for the Town of Windham to be the owner, and the Land Trust to hold a conservation easement on the land ensuring this project will forever be conserved for wildlife habitat and multi-use outdoor recreation.

On Wednesday, Feb. 16, the Windham Parks and Recreation Department held an informative Community Meeting to provide an overview of the project. The planning process for the project, an implementation timeline, community benefits and a 15-minute question and answer period were included in the meeting agenda.

According to Amanda Lessard, Planning Director for the Town of Windham, in 2017 the town of Windham adopted a comprehensive plan that included four recommendations that were distilled into four big things. One of those four things was to keep rural Windham rural. The plan specifically recommended that the town invest in rural Windham by making purchases outright to preserve its rural character and to preserve its rural function.

The plan also recommended the development of an Open Space Plan. The town adopted that Open Space Plan in February of 2021. The East Windham Conservation Plan is an outcome of that planning effort.

“The 650 plus-acre property is identified in the Open Space Plan as a rural conservation area that the town should preserve for its large undeveloped habitat block and to keep it from being developed,” said Lessard. “This property, if not conserved, could otherwise be developed with up to 325 homes. Windham is one of the top 10 growing towns in Maine.”

The Town of Windham’s population has nearly tripled in size in the last 50 years. Conservation is one of the only ways to ensure there will be lands that remain rural and undeveloped for the public to access.

According to Rachelle Curran Apse, executive director of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, only 4 percent of the Town of Windham is forever conserved and over double that is conserved in Greater Portland and in the state of Maine where about 
20 percent of land is conserved.

Once protected, the 650-acre conservation project will enhance protections for surface waters and wetlands, especially in the watersheds most at risk of new development and for streams and rivers most at risk: Little Duck Pond, Highland Lake, and Forest Lake.

The 650 acres is the largest area of undeveloped forested land in Windham and one of the largest in the Greater Portland area. It provides a vital forest corridor for a wide diversity of wildlife species and will become part of a nearly 2,000-acre contiguously conserved land area connecting with Lowell Preserve, North Falmouth Community Forest, and Blackstrap Hill Preserve, providing an unfragmented forest habitat corridor of exceptional size.

According to Linda Brooks, Parks and Recreation Director for the Town of Windham, the creation of the East Windham Conservation project will expand the towns growing tourist economy by creating a new outdoor destination with miles of accessible forested trails and a spectacular 360-degree view from which will be the only observation tower from on top of one of the highest points in the Greater Portland area.

“Four season recreational opportunities will help local business realize benefits from tourists throughout the year,” said Brooks. “Acquisition of this property will protect resources for hiking fishing, hunting, snowmobiling, skiing, mountain biking, picnicking, and other recreational activities. In addition to all of the recreational benefits for all ages, there are educational benefits to be considered as well. We do have members from RSU 14 who will serve on the steering committee to help us with educational development. The East Windham Conservation Project offers a unique opportunity for K to 12 education in a large and diverse outdoor classroom setting.”

The projected cost of the East Windham conservation project is $2.5 to $3.5 million which would need to be raised through state and federal grants, bonds up to $1.5 million using impact fees without affecting the mill rate, and private funding sources.

To access more information about the East Windham Conservation Project and the full slide presentation from the community meeting, visit the Town of Windham website at 

In the public eye: Carter’s commitment to community safety never wavers

Captain Alfred Carter serves as a Call Company Captain
for the Windham Fire/Rescue Department and oversees
the department's response to calls from the public for help
as needed ranging from medical emergencies to building fires
or motor vehicle accidents . PHOTO BY ED PIERCE 
Editor’s note: This is another in an ongoing series of Windham and Raymond town employee profiles.

By Ed Pierce
As a firefighter, Captain Alfred Carter never knows what the Windham Fire Department will encounter on each call they respond to, but he proceeds to each situation with the same level of commitment, dedication, and service that the public relies on.

Carter is a Call Company Captain overseeing calls for Windham firefighters when required. He’s also a member of the South Portland Fire Department.

“As a Captain it is my responsibility to oversee many of our calls, ranging from medical calls to building fires or vehicle extrications,” Carter said. “I direct actions on scene or assigning roles to firefighters as the scene evolves.”

He also helps the department with its budgeting process by developing a needs list based upon calls or trainings in the past.

“I also conduct and participate in department trainings,” Carter said. “I’m a certified driving instructor for fire apparatus as well as basic fire pumps instructor.”

According to Carter, the most challenging aspect of his per diem work for the town is his interactions with residents during emergency situations.

“Sometimes things don’t always work out. We cannot save everybody on every call,” he said. “Seeing families suffer bad news and also watching how it impacts my fellow firefighters can weigh heavy on me at times.”

The public sees firefighters responding to emergencies but may not be aware of how much training it requires to do the job safely and effectively.

“I don’t think people are aware of the hours of in-depth training that it takes to be a EMT/ Paramedic/Firefighter,” Carter said. “I have attended thousands of hours of hands-on and classroom time during my time with the fire department. A new firefighter is looking at 250-plus hours of training to get prepared to work for the town. That’s just to get started.”

Becoming a firefighter was a dream that came true for Carter, who grew up on Deer Isle, a small island community just off Blue Hill in Penobscot Bay. He graduated from high school on the island and then attended Southern Maine Community College.

“I applied to SMCC to obtain an associate of science degree in Fire Science,” he said. “It offers a live-in program and instead of living in a dorm building students live in a fire station and learn the job first-hand. I was selected to be a live-in student at the East Windham fire station 20 years ago and have lived in town ever since.”

Through the years, in two decades of service to the Town of Windham, Carter has experienced many memorable moments as a firefighter with some standing out prominently for him.

“In 20 years, I have had a lot of memorable moments,” Carter said. “A vehicle extrication on Pope Road many years ago sticks out in my head every time I drive by where the scene was. It was very technical, and many people had to work together to get the person to safety. The call went very well. It could have gone the other way fast.”

His family has come to accepts the risks associated with his career as a firefighter and takes pride in his service to others in the community.

“My family is very proud of me. They have been very supportive,” he said. “My wife has lent me to the department over the past 13 years she understands what it’s all about and is very supportive of me.”

He balances his career as a fulltime firefighter with the city of South Portland with his work in Windham when needed.

“My training and experiences with the town of Windham gave me an advantage in obtaining the goal of making a career in the field,” Carter said. “I will always be thankful to the residents of Windham and the membership of the fire department for all of their help in the past and in the future.”

Carter said that the best aspect of his work in firefighting is simple.

“Honestly, it’s getting to help people,” he said. “That’s the job; we never see the same thing twice so the work is ever changing. It keeps things interesting.” <

Animal shelters embrace creative fundraising, flexible operations during pandemic

For the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland, animal
adoptions are made on a first-come, first-serve basis.
By Elizabeth Richards

Nearly two years of COVID-19 precautions and considerations have changed the way animal shelters in the area operate, but the pandemic didn’t distract them from the goal of finding good homes for animals in need.

“As we exit the second year of the pandemic, we have remained flexible to changes and updates to our programs and operations,” said Jeana Roth, Director of Community Engagement for the Animal Refuge League of Greater Portland (ARLGP) in Westbrook.

One of the most significant changes, she said, was pausing in-person fundraising events. Before the pandemic, they held 100 fundraising events a year ranging from kitten yoga classes to their largest fundraiser, a beer festival with attendance of 1,200 people.

“The loss of revenue from the cancellation of these events was significant. So, we started thinking creatively about how to engage with our community in new ways,” Roth said. “We started doing online fundraisers through social media, teamed up with local businesses to hold online donation drives and more.”

Joan McBurnie, Executive Director of Harvest Hills Animal Shelter in Bridgton, said fundraising shifted for them as well.

The Nine Lives Thrift Store has long been a year-round fundraiser for the shelter. When it had to shut down due to the pandemic, it was an eye opener, McBurnie said.

“What that showed me is that I can’t rely on the thrift. We have to balance it more,” she said.

It emphasized the importance of events, awareness of their mission, and other fundraising methods such as pursuing grants, she said.

Fundraising results have been hard to predict, McBurnie said. Last spring, she anticipated their rabies clinic to be the biggest one ever, but they did the fewest amount of rabies vaccines they’ve done in 30 years.

That made her worry, she said, about the fall golf and tennis tournament, which turned out to be the best one yet. Snowstorms had made pre-registration for Freezin’ for a Reason, held last weekend, slow but they ended up raising over $18,000 at the event.

The pandemic also brought about operational changes. Both shelters were closed to in-person adoptions at the beginning of the pandemic.

“We were utilizing zoom and doing over-the-phone and virtual adoption counseling to talk to community members about different pets to try to find a match for them. Then, we would schedule a one-on-one adoption meeting with them and the animal to see if it was a good match. This process was incredibly time consuming but allowed us a way to continue to find pets loving homes,” Roth said.  

They are now open for in-person, walk-in adoptions with COVID-19 safety measures in place, she said.

Harvest Hills is still operating by appointment only and McBurnie said she was skeptical when they changed how they operated.

“I just didn’t see how that was ever going to work. I was the worst naysayer, but that’s what we had to do to get animals adopted,” she said. Now, she said “I’m the first to say we can never go back to being open to the public. It’s gone so well.”

The new way of operating has streamlined the process and resulted in more adoptions, she said. The open-door policy led to many people coming in to see the animals with no intent of adopting. That made it hard sometimes to give people who did come in looking to adopt the attention they deserved, McBurnie said.

Preapproved applications have also eliminated potential disappointment and time spent on applications that could not be approved, she said.

For the Animal Refuge League, Roth said, adoptions are in-person on a first-come, first-served basis.

“We encourage people to check our website [www.arlgp.org], and if they are interested in an animal that is available, to visit us in person to meet them and to speak with one of our adoption counselors,” she said.

People can browse the Harvest Hills website (https://harvesthills.org) and complete an application. Once approved, they’ll be called by a staff member to discuss what they are looking for, and they can make an appointment to go in, meet animals, and take them home that day, unless they are waiting for a health appointment.

Harvest Hills also began more fostering to adopt for those animals waiting to be spayed/neutered or have their dental appointment during the pandemic, which they will continue, McBurnie said.

“Why should they sit here for a month, waiting to get their teeth cleaned,” she said.

The ARLGP has resumed most of their pre-pandemic public programming like dog training and camps for kids, but with COVID-19 safety, Roth said.

“We have limited class participants, implement social distance, use PPE, etc. We also utilize Zoom and other technology when we are able,” she said. <

Windham creates new Council Ordinance Committee

The Windham Town Council has created a new Council
Ordinance Committee to review and handle all ordinances,
whether related to zoning or non-zoning issues that are
new or modifications. PHOTO BY ED PIERCE 
By Ed Pierce

By a unanimous vote, the Windham Town Council has created a new five-person Council Ordinance Committee like those of other municipalities to handle all ordinances, whether related to zoning or non-zoning issues that are new or modifications.

During the Town Council’s December Goals meeting for the upcoming year, Windham Town Manager Barry Tibbetts had suggested that councilors might want to consider starting a new Council Ordinance Committee specifically to address ordinance issues. The membership of the new committee would consist of three town councilors, the Assistant Town Manager and the town’s planning director.

Tibbetts said nearby communities of Scarborough, Falmouth and Gorham have such a committee and have been useful in making recommendations to the full council. The new committee would be charged with evaluating, addressing, or redirecting zoning and ordinance change requests

According to Tibbetts, the ordinance committees of Scarborough, Falmouth, and Gorham meet on a regular basis or as needed.

He said that the full council would receive all requests and then forward them as necessary to the Council Ordinance Committee for zoning and non-zoning items. The committee would evaluate the council’s request and direct items to the Long Range Planning Committee or choose to address the language and forward it to the Windham Planning Board. 

From a non-ordinance perspective, the committee may choose to draft new or amend existing language for consideration by the full town council. The new committee may choose to draft new or amend existing language for consideration by the council.  Zoning items could include such issues as performance guarantees.

Items related to the Comprehensive Plan would be reviewed by the Long Range Planning Committee, which may not specifically include all zoning ordinance issues and Tibbetts said that the existing charge for that committee may need to be modified.

Committee meetings would be public and posted and would include public comments from residents. Three councilors will sit on the committee so as to not constitute a quorum of the council. 

Councilors approved a motion to create the Council Ordinance Committee and following a discussion, three Windham Town Council volunteers were approved to sit on the committee, and they are William Reiner, Jarrod Maxfield and David Nadeau. Assistant Town Manager Bob Burns and Planning Director Amanda Lessard will also serve on the new committee. <

Diamond introduces bill to strengthen Child Welfare Ombudsman

State Sen. Bill Diamond
AUGUSTA – Senator Bill Diamond, D-Windham, has introduced a bill to strengthen the office of the Maine Child Welfare Ombudsman by providing for additional staffing.

LD 1812, “An Act To Strengthen the Child Welfare Services Ombudsman Program by Providing for Increased Staffing,” was the subject of a public hearing last week before the Maine Legislature’s Health and Human Services Committee.

“The Child Welfare Ombudsman is the only independent and reliable connection the public and the Legislature has to the behind-the-scenes workings of Maine’s child protection system,” Diamond said. “The Ombudsman serves a critical role in investigating the ongoing problems within the system and sharing the results of those investigations in her annual reports. The Ombudsman is also responsible for helping the public resolve complaints with Maine’s child welfare system, and the Ombudsman’s office is currently struggling under a high volume of complaints. With additional staff, the office will be able to execute its critical role in our child welfare system much more effectively, and Maine kids will be safer because of it.”

If passed, LD 1812 would provide ongoing funding to increase the staffing in the Office of the Maine Child Welfare Services Ombudsman by adding two associate ombudsman positions and one administrative assistant position.

The Ombudsman’s office is currently staffed by the Ombudsman and one associate ombudsman, meaning this critical office is currently operating with only two staff people and no administrative support. 

Diamond’s LD 1812 bill now faces further action in committee. <

February 18, 2022

Schoolhouse Arts presents ‘SpongeBob’ musical premiere in Maine

By Elizabeth Richards

The SpongeBob Musical will see its Maine premiere at Schoolhouse Arts Center this month and in addition, the organization has announced a massive fundraising campaign for total restoration of their building.

The SpongeBob Musical opens on Feb. 24 and runs through March 6.  Shows will be Thursdays, Fridays and Saturdays at 7 p.m. and Sundays at 2 p.m.

Cast members of the Sponge Bob Musical rehearse at the
Schoolhouse Arts Center in Standish. The musical will make
its Maine premiere this month at Schoolhouse Arts and runs
from Feb. 24 to March 6. SUBMITTED PHOTO 

This show, while based on the characters made famous by the Nickelodeon cartoon from the 1990s, is an adventure story all its own, says director Zachariah Stearn, who is also the artistic director for Schoolhouse Arts Center.

When the show opened on Broadway in 2017, Stearn said, it was met with mixed reviews.  But once it was out of previews, he said, “It became a theater nerd’s favorite thing.” The music was written by a wide range of artists, including David Bowie, Cyndi Lauper, John Legend, Sara Bareilles, and others, who each wrote one song, resulting varying styles and genres throughout the show.   

Those who grew up in the 1990s watching the cartoon can get a sense of nostalgia watching the beloved characters SpongeBob, Patrick Star, Squidward Tentacles and Sandy Cheeks move through the adventure.  “There are certain lines and moments in the show that reflect its origins in the cartoon,” Stearn said. “However, for those who think SpongeBob was just an annoying voice on their television, this is not a musical version of the cartoon,” he said.

The plot line deals with friendship, love, and community, all wrapped up in a fun adventure. “From a director’s perspective it parallels exactly what’s going on in our country right now,” Stearn said.  In the story, he says, Bikini Bottom is at risk of being destroyed by an active volcano if the town can’t pull together. On one side is Sandy Cheeks, urging the town to use science to reverse the problem.  On the other is the villain, Plankton, who tries to convince the town residents they don’t need to listen to science.

“At the end of the show there comes a moment where every character has a massive rising action realization,” Stearn said. The characters, particularly SpongeBob, Sandy and Patrick, realize that they all need each other. “That is a theme that is existing throughout the show.  They constantly need one another to get them over a small obstacle or the larger obstacles they confront. It’s an extremely relevant piece, which I enjoy because it adds another level of character work for the actors,” Stearn said.

The show features a cast of 28, ranging in age from 5 to mid-30s, that includes students from Gorham and Windham, and many familiar faces, including Will Searway as SpongeBob, Maddie Downey as Sandy, Joe Lambert as Patrick Star, and Hannah Macri as Squidward.

As an added feature, sign language will be interspersed throughout the production. 

“Our focus has been on inclusion and diversity, and this is one of those ways that we can continue to live up to that ideal,” Stearn said. 

***There will also be fully interpreted ASL performances on Feb. 26 and Feb. 27.

The cast of the show will be holding a fundraiser, the Blackbox Teens educational trip to New York City. On Sunday, Feb. 20 at noon, children can come meet the characters, see them perform a special song, and see the stage up close.  Cost for the event is $5 per child.

Schoolhouse Arts recently announced a $2 million capital campaign, which is the estimated cost of restoring the building from top to bottom, Stearn said.  While there are no immediate safety issues, there are many projects that were put off when the original schoolhouse was converted to a theater in 1988, Stearn said.

The building is 108 years old, he said, and it is time to address the challenges they decided to just live with when it was originally converted. Some of the projects include renovating the bathrooms and making them accessible, replacing paneling on the side of the building, repainting the building, replacing windows to make the building more energy efficient, restoring floors in the gathering room, and adding a backstage bathroom.

“We are not interested in tearing anything out unless it absolutely has to go,” Stearn said. “It’s more of a restoration process than a remodel.”

Stearn said they are working with the town of Standish to try and get an itemized quote for every project. When that happens, they’ll hold a press conference, he said, and announce the order in which these projects will be completed and the cost of each one.

In the meantime, he said, “We are reaching out to businesses and organizations that share the same enthusiasm that we do in terms of providing performing arts experiences and opportunities for our community and seeing how they can help.”  Help can come in the form of monetary donations, material donations, and even volunteer time, he said.

“It's exciting, because I know what we could be,” Stearn said of the restoration project. “Being around for 34 years we have definitely endured many challenges,” he said, including economic challenges in the community, and most recently Covid, which has changed how all performing arts venues operate, he said.

The center has had overwhelming support for their public health policies, he said, from actors, staff, volunteers, and audiences who are hungry to see live theater. 

“I can ensure people that with these policies we have in place Schoolhouse is a safe place to enjoy live theater,” Stearn said. <

Long Lake Ice Fishing Open House dazzles participants

By Bob Chapin

On Sunday, Feb. 6, through a cooperative venture with the Town of Naples Recreation Department, the Sebago Lakes Anglers’ Association, and American Legion Field-Allen Post 148 in Windham and Post 155 in Casco/Naples, local residents were treated to an Ice Fishing Open House at the Veterans’ Ice Hut on Long Lake just off Kent’s Landing.

In a cooperative venture between the Sebago Lakes Anglers' 
Association, American L:egion Post 148 in Windham and
Post 155 in Casco/Naples and the Naples Recreation
Department, participants enjoyed an Ice Fishing Open House 
on Long Lake off Kent's Landing on Sunday, Feb. 6.
The hut is an 8 by 10 foot hard-sided structure that allows fishing enthusiasts to ice fish inside the hut through holes in the floor or to simply go in to warm up next to the wood burning stove.

The Open House began at 9 a.m. with hot coffee, hot chocolate, and donuts from the Village Donut Shop in Windham. Many of the participants were transported out to the hut by two SLAA club members who used their snow machines with towing sleds attached. 

Holes were drilled through the ice while tip-ups were baited and lines were lowered to about a foot off the bottom in 35 feet of water for white perch or just below the ice for salmon.

It wasn’t long before the first “FLAG!!” was called out and a youngster pulled a nice white perch from the lake.

Children and adults new to the sport were shown how to ice fish and what to do when you get a “Flag.”  Among the group participating, there were several first-time fishermen who learned what it took to catch a fish through the ice.

Many of the children, not totally preoccupied with the fishing, took time to play corn hole while waiting for their flags to pop up. 

Lunch was also available and included corn chowder, chili, hot dogs, chips, a decorated sheet cake, and other yummy desserts.  Several ice fishermen who were not part of the Open House stopped by and shared in the fun and food. 

Brian Crockett, Director of Naples Parks and Recreation, said that the feedback on the open house that he received was very positive and he looks forward to repeating the event next year.

The hut was built by the Rockland Volunteer Fire Department several years ago for a group called “Veterans on the Ice” who used it to host ice fishing events for veterans.

The “Veterans on the Ice” group donated the hut to SLAA to be used for the same purpose. 

Since receiving the hut, SLAA added the indoor fishing holes, insulation, the wood stove, and a propane space heater.  The front door was widened to accommodate wheelchairs, and an 8-foot aluminum ramp was built to allow those wheelchairs easy access from the ice. 

This is the fourth year SLAA and the two American Legion posts have used the hut for events, and the second year that Naples Recreation has joined in the collaboration.

In addition to local veterans’ fishing days and the Long Lake open house, other events have been sponsored for Camp Sunshine, scout groups, and the Veterans’ Home in Augusta. 

Area veterans who would like to try ice fishing out of the hut should call 571-217-1700 or 207-655-1028. <

Report details area milfoil mitigation projects in past year

By Ed Pierce

Windham Town Council members were given a final report of milfoil mitigation efforts in the Windham Area completed in 2021 during a council meeting on Feb. 8.

Councilors reviewed projects and expenditures as part of a required process to obtain annual Watershed Protection Grant funding for milfoil mitigation in the town.

A grant program for protection and preserving
local watersheds and remediating milfoil is
funded every year by the Windham Town
Council for nonprofits and neighborhood
associations. Grants for 2022 will be awarded
by Windham in March. COURTESY PHOTO
In a report drawn up by Windham Environmental and Sustainability Coordinator Gretchen Anderson and presented to the council by Windham Planning Director Amanda Lessard, six different projects detailed milfoil remediation initiatives that were completed in 2021. 

Lessard told the council that the Collins Pond Improvement Association successfully wrapped up its “Invasive Milfoil - Get Rid of It Campaign” last summer.

The Collins Pond Improvement Association received a total of $4,000 overall for mitigation from the town in 2021 and it reported removing 20,980 gallons of invasive milfoil plants from the pond during the 2021 season. Since 2007, association has removed 155,594 gallons of milfoil from Collins Pond.

The Highland Lake Association received a total of $12,600 overall from the town for milfoil mitigation on Overlook Road and it reported that three sites were remediated as identified in the 2018 Highland Lake NPS Watershed Survey. Those three sites were estimated to wash 54 tons of sediment or about 46 pounds of phosphorus into Highland Lake each year prior to remediation, so an immediate improvement was achieved.  

The Water Stewardship of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust received $4,500 for milfoil remediation in 2021. The land trust reported that it trained 22 citizen-scientist volunteers to test water quality throughout the spring and summer in Windham. A total of 21 sites were sampled in Windham, with volunteers completing 600 hours of service and all data was collected and compiled with the ability to view on the land trust website.

Little Sebago Lake Association received $2,000 in funding for maintenance of Hopkins Dam and $8,000 for milfoil remediation. In 2021, the Little Sebago Lake Association spent 230 volunteer hours on maintaining, monitoring, as well as opening and closing Hopkins Dam in 2021. The dam’s gear operating system failed in October and three people were required to manually operate the gate. It reported because of worker and supply chain issues, removing, and replacing the gate, repairing the gear operating system, and adding various safety features, dam work will be completed this winter. It also removed 221.5 bags of milfoil from the lake during the 2021 season, with 91 bags removed from the Windham portion of the lake. Since 2004, the association has removed about 129 tons of invasive milfoil plants from Little Sebago Lake.

The Lakeside Drive Homeowners Association received $6,000 in funding and reported remediating two sites as identified in the 2017 Forest Lake NPS Watershed Survey to prevent stormwater from washing gravel road material and water sand directly into Forest Lake.

Lessard told the council that the final amount of funding awarded to applicants from the town in 2021 was $37,100. She said the total match from grant recipients (volunteer in-kind and cash) was $85,573.66. That means the total match from grant recipients with all funding sources included, less Windham’s award, was $188,264.41.

According to Lessard, a committee is reviewing applications for 2022 milfoil initiatives and will make recommendations to the council for action and funding in March.

Each year, the Windham Town Council funds a grant program for protection and preserving local watersheds. The purpose of the program is to provide small grants for volunteer and educational organizations to complete projects within the town that promote community-based efforts to protect and restore diverse natural resources. <

Legislative committee advances Fay’s safe drinking water bill

AUGUSTA – The Maine Legislature’s Labor and Housing Committee voted unanimously last week to advance a bill sponsored by Rep. Jessica Fay, D-Raymond, aimed at supporting safe drinking water in Maine.

State Rep. Jessica Fay
LD 1891 would provide one-time funding to eligible owners of single-family homes or landlords for the treatment of private drinking water wells that show evidence of contamination. The Division of Environmental and Community Health estimates that one in 10 wells in Maine has high levels of arsenic, uranium, radon or other harmful chemicals.

“I am proud that there is unanimous, bipartisan committee support for this bill,” said Fay. “Having access to safe, clean drinking water is fundamental to the health of our communities. Naturally occurring arsenic and other emerging contaminants, such as PFAS, can cause significant health problems and even developmental issues in younger children. This bill will help more people in Maine access clean well water and help keep our kids and grandkids safe.”

The bill faces further votes in the House and Senate in the coming weeks.

PFAS chemicals are used to make fluoropolymer coatings and products that resist heat, oil, stains, grease, and water. Fluoropolymer coatings can be in a variety of products including clothing, furniture, adhesives, food packaging, heat-resistant non-stick cooking surfaces, and the insulation of electrical wire.

Many PFAS, including perfluorooctane sulfonic acid, and perfluorooctanoic acid, pose a public health concern because they do not break down in the environment, can move through soils and contaminate drinking water sources, and build up in fish and wildlife.

Scientific studies have shown that that these forever PFAS chemicals may result in damage to the liver, thyroid, and pancreas; make it harder for a woman to get pregnant; increase the risk of asthma; affect growth, learning, and behavior in infants and children; and interfere with natural human hormones. 

Fay is serving her third term in the Maine Legislature and represents parts of Casco, Poland and Raymond. She serves on the Legislature’s Appropriations and Financial Affairs Committee and the Government Oversight Committee. <

February 11, 2022

Windham to Westbrook Rail Trail moves forward

By Ed Pierce

The Maine Department of Transportation’s has received $450,000 in grant funding to finish engineering studies for a proposed five-mile trail along an abandoned railroad track bed in the area. 

The proposal calls to expand the rail trail east for five miles through downtown Westbrook to Windham. The trail would begin on Bridge Street in Westbrook and continue to an existing trail near Chute Road in Windham that leads to Sebago Lake.

According to the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, Maine DOT has already invested significant funding for the past two decades to create the Mountain Division rail corridor in several locations.

One of those was extending five miles of an unused rail trail from the Standish/Gorham border through Gorham into Windham in 2003. That section of trail runs from Gambo Road in Windham to Johnson Field in Standish and initially had a gravel surface. A one-mile trail section from Gambo Road to Route 202 was completed in 2005.

Further meetings were held in 2013 between officials from Windham, Westbrook, the Sebago To The Sea Trail and the Mountain Division Alliance to discuss ways to raise matching funds for construction of a Windham to Westbrook section.

The Mountain Division Trail follows the former Portland and Ogdensburg Railway.

When Maine Central Railroad originally acquired the line, the name was changed to the Mountain Division Rail Line and it was originally built to connect the port of Portland with the St. Lawrence Seaway in Ogdensburg, New York with a spur connecting to Montreal. By the time construction was finished, there was more competition, and it became difficult for the railroad to be profitable. Passenger service was suspended in 1958 with freight service halted in 1983. In 1994, all rail service on the former Mountain Division Rail Line in Maine was abandoned.

Another Mountain Division Trail was created in 2012 and runs four miles from the New Hampshire border east to Fryeburg.

“We are so glad to share the great news that the future five-mile trail next to the rail on the Mountain Division Trail/Sebago to the Sea Trail; between Windham and Westbrook is moving forward,” said Rachelle Curran Apse, Presumpscot River Land Trust executive director, in an e-mail. “DOT just received grant funding to finish the feasibility study and engineering toward making this project shovel-ready.”

She said progress on making the proposed rail trail a reality has been possible thanks to the leadership shown by the City of Westbrook and the Town of Windham, along with partners that include the Mountain Division Alliance; Maine Trails Coalition; Bicycle Coalition of Maine; Windham Parks and Recreation; Portland Trails; and the Westbrook Recreation and Conservation Commission.

Once completed, Curran Apse said that the rail-trail would be welcoming, safe, and accessible for all ages to enjoy for walking, running, and biking.

A public hearing was conducted by the state last May regarding a feasibility study to replace the existing rail tracks with a paved, multi-use trail. Federal law mandates that if the railroad tracks are removed, the corridor needs to be railbed which means that it is available to be converted back for railroad use if needed at any point in the future.

The first mile-and-a-half of the proposed trail leading south from South Windham is a flat walking path along an undeveloped rail bed. The remaining 3.5 miles ending on Bridge Street near the Westbrook Community Center is more rugged and contains railroad tracks which would need to be removed.    

Completion of the proposed Westbrook to Windham Rail Trail remains about a decade away once final funding for the project is awarded by Maine DOT. <

Coffee business donates profits to fight human trafficking

By Elizabeth Richards

Anthony McKeown of Windham has launched
Fight Coffee, which donates 100 percent of 
profits to nonprofit organizations working
to address human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a rapidly growing crime that impacts millions of people worldwide. Windham resident Anthony McKeown has joined the fight with his new business, Fight Coffee, which donates 100 percent of profits to nonprofit organizations working to address human trafficking.

McKeown launched in July after months of preparation and research. He had hoped to become a nonprofit organization but did not qualify under nonprofit rules. Instead, he has partnered with organizations nationwide, allowing customers to select local organizations to support. His goal is to have organizations in every state, he said.

Selling coffee to raise funds merged McKeown’s passion for good coffee with his desire to get involved. Once he learned how serious the human trafficking problem is, there was no question that he had to get involved, McKeown said.

His own traumatic history as an abused child had an impact as well.

“I remember as a child, I thought ‘I wish someone could come rescue me’ and nobody came,” McKeown said.

According to his research, only 1 percent of victims of human trafficking are rescued.

“How could I not do something? How could I know this is going on and not respond?” he said.

Human trafficking is a growing problem, even right here in Maine, McKeown said. He didn’t know initially that it was a source state for Boston and New York or how prevalent it was here, he said.

“I thought, as most people do, that it was more of an inner-city problem. That’s not the case,” McKeown said.

McKeown’s original vision was to have a cafe, donating the proceeds to help in the community. But opening a cafe is expensive, as are cafe carts, which was his next thought.

More research helped him scale down the plans and start with selling coffee online.  

“This was the cheapest and easiest way to get started,” he said.

The process is simple. Customers visit the website (www.fightcoffee.org), choose between a light Costa Rican roast or a medium-dark Peruvian roast, choose whole bean or ground, select an organization to support, and place an order.

McKeown, with the help of his wife and son, fulfills orders from his home. After an order is placed, he said, the coffee is shipped, or for local customers delivered, either the same day, or the following day.

Several local businesses are also partnering to sell Fight Coffee. Currently, it is available at Pure Grace Inspirations in Casco, Snickerdoodles Coffee Shop in Limington, The Center for Entrepreneurial Studies in Farmington, Two Fat Cats Bakery in Portland and South Portland, and Windy Hill Farm & Market in Windham.

Tapping into the $100-plus billion coffee industry is a simple way to get involved, McKeown said. If people simply switch from whatever brand of coffee they had been previously drinking to Fight Coffee, they are making a difference. 

“I don’t know what’s easier than simply switching your coffee and now you’re drinking an enjoyable, responsibly sourced, delicious specialty grade coffee. How easy is that? That’s what I hope people will see,” he said.

The company officially launched in July, debt-free, allowing them to begin giving instantly. To date, they have given $500 to Maine organizations, $100 to organizations in New York, and $35 to organizations in Texas.

The immediate goal now is to have enough regular customers that they can continue to meet the minimum order from the roaster, which is 70 bags.

“If I don’t have enough orders to meet the minimum, I’m not going to succeed,” McKeown said.

He’s hoping that coffee drinkers in the community will “rally around the coffee table and help us get past that baseline number.”

McKeown has a fulltime job as a bus driver in RSU 14, and works to build Fight Coffee between runs, after work, and on weekends. He spreads the word on social media, with a goal to share real stories that allow people to really see where their money is going. The website details the mission, values, and other initiatives the company is undertaking.

For more information about Fight Coffee, visit the website www.fightcoffee.org, and follow them on You Tube, Facebook and Instagram. <

Jordan-Small Middle School places first in SIFMA Foundation Stock Market Game

Jordan-Small Middle School fifth-graders, from left, Kolten
Gaudreau, Kaleb Fitch, Kolby Butts, and Cameron Lawler
hold up the SIMFA Foundation Stock Market Game winner's
banner at the school on Monday, Feb. 7. Jordan-Small students
placed first and second in The Stock Market Game for the Fall
2021 season. Fitch finished first and as a team, Gaudreau,
Butts and Lawler finished second.
Students at Jordan-Small Middle School in Raymond are learning first-hand about the value of long-term investing thanks to the SIFMA Foundation’s Stock Market Game, an online academic and life-skills educational program used by hundreds of Maine teachers to boost students’ math, economics, and personal finance knowledge, while also improving their test scores and instilling essential skills for financially independent futures. 

Teams of one to four students at Jordan-Small began the simulation with an imaginary investment of $100,000 to trade stocks, bonds, mutual funds, and exchange-traded funds on the NYSE and NASDAQ.  The students followed current events and global news impacting the financial markets and placed trades in real-time online via computer or the SMG smartphone app. 

Jordan-Small Middle School Interventionist Jack Fitch said that the students participate in socially responsible investing by selecting companies that have been determined to be in alignment with the United Nations' Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). 

According to Fitch, they also compete with peers in their classroom and with teams of other students in schools across the state to increase their portfolio value.

The Stock Market Game™ curricula, lessons, hands-on student activities, and virtual events combine content knowledge, critical thinking, research, and analytical skills in a state-of-the-art real-world simulation.

The online Teacher Support Center offers teachers a rich resource of over 1,000 lesson plans that reinforce Maine teaching standards, STEM requirements, and 21 Century Skills, Fitch said.

“The lessons and professional development opportunities for teachers are designed to help students learn the fundamentals of long-term saving and investing. Students enhance their knowledge in core curriculum subjects including math, language arts, economics, and social studies,” he said. “They also
develop life skills such as financial preparedness, teamwork, and business knowledge.”

The Stock Market Game continues to make learning about the capital markets fun and engaging, drawing students in and enabling them to learn about otherwise complex but important economic concepts such as inflation, price indexes, cycles, sustainability, and trends. 

“We are proud and thrilled for all of our student teams who reached the top spots in the Maine SMG competition,” said Melanie Mortimer, President of the SIFMA Foundation.

SMG Fall Session 2021 winners:

Elementary School First Place: Jordan-Small Middle School, Raymond - $113,982.82, Fifth-grader Kaleb Fitch                                  

Second Place: Jordan-Small Middle School, Raymond - $101,457.44, Fifth-graders Kolby Butts, Cameron Lawler, and Kolton Gaudreau.

First place winner Kaleb Fitch said this was his first year playing The Stock Market Game and he bought stocks he thought were good.

Individuals who came in first and second place in this game have a better understanding of the Stock Market now,” Jack Fitch said. 

When people talk about the Stock Market, these students have an idea of what people are doing – investing their money.

About the SIFMA Foundation for Investor Education

The SIFMA Foundation is dedicated to fostering knowledge and understanding of the financial markets for individuals of all backgrounds, with a focus on youth. Drawing on the involvement and expertise of educators and the financial industry, the SIFMA Foundation provides financial education programs and tools that strengthen economic opportunities across communities and increase individuals’ access to the benefits of the global marketplace. Notable Foundation programs include The Stock Market Game, which has enabled more than 20 million students to become financially prepared for life, the InvestWrite® national essay competition, the Capitol Hill Challenge, and Invest It Forward®. For more information on the work of the SIFMA Foundation, visit www.sifma.org/foundation. <

Committee votes to strengthen protections for election infrastructure

AUGUSTA – The Maine Legislature's Veterans and Legal Affairs committee has voted to support bills to strengthen protections for all election workers, election ballots, and election infrastructure. 

Committee members voted unanimously in favor of an amended version of L.D. 1821, "An Act To Make Interfering with an Election Official a Class C Crime," proposed by Rep. Bruce White of Waterville, which will strengthen election worker protections by adding threatening an election official to election law as a Class D crime, as well as adding a reporting procedure for any threats election officials receive. Additionally, the Maine Secretary of State will provide town and city clerks and registrar with crisis de-escalation training.

Committee members voted 7-5 in favor of L.D. 1779, An Act To Protect Election Integrity by Regulating Possession of Ballots and Voting Machines and Devices, from Rep. Teresa Pierce of Falmouth, which will clarify the chain of custody for both ballots and voting machines to ensure there is certainty regarding who may legally possess them thus preventing the type of issues which occurred in Arizona and Colorado after the 2020 election where voting machines and ballots were turned over to unauthorized individuals with partisan agendas.

Protecting Maines elections from interference and subversion, either through election worker intimidation or outside political interference, is paramount, said Maine Secretary of State Shenna Bellows.

She said when our town and city clerks are threatened, or ballots and equipment compromised, our democracy itself is threatened.

“I have had the pleasure of volunteering at elections in my hometown on a number of occasions,” said Rep. White. Our Waterville election workers are dedicated individuals, as are all election workers across the state. They are nonpartisan and voluntarily work long hours to support the democratic process. I am grateful the committee supported my bill to provide adequate protection to those who work to ensure all of us can cast a ballot on Election Day.”

Pierce agrees with that assessment.

“Maine voters deserve to know we are doing everything we can to protect their votes,” said Rep. Pierce. “We are fortunate to have top-notch elections officials and a very secure voting system, but other states have recently seen issues that have risked the security of their voting systems and elections. We can’t let that happen here. This measure will help us prevent those types of issues by safeguarding against interference with ballots and voting equipment.”

In the last year there has been a dramatic increase in documented threats against election officials in America.

In July, the FBI announced a new law enforcement task force to deal with threats against election workers. In December, a national news organization, Reuters, conducted a nationwide investigation and identified 850 messages that met the level of threat that is a violation of federal law, including death threats.

Here in Maine, the Secretary of State’s office received documented reports of at least two threats of physical violence against municipal clerks.

Both bills will next go to the Legislature for further votes. <

February 4, 2022

New officers assume duties with Sebago Lakes Region Chamber

By Ed Pierce

It’s been said that leadership is the capacity to translate vision into reality and if that’s the case, the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce is in great hands for the coming year.

During the chamber’s Annual Meeting and Awards Dinner at Camp Sunshine in Casco on Jan. 20, new board members, and a new executive committee were introduced to members.

Members of the new Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of
Commerce Executive Team includes, from left, Joe McLean
as Treasurer (Key Bank); Tricia Zwirner as Secretary (State
Farm Insurance); Deb McPhail (Citizens) as President; and 
Jennifer Arsenault as Vice President (Edward Jones).
Longtime Chamber member Deb McPhail of Citizens will lead the executive committee as president, while Jennifer Arsenault of Edward Jones will serve as Vice President. Joe McLean of Key Bank is the executive committee’s Treasurer/Clerk, and Tricia Zwirner of State Farm Insurance will serve as Secretary. Two new Board of Directors members were announced at the meeting including Max Bangs of Bangor Savings Bank and Ray Poulin of TD Bank in Gray.

Executive Director Robin Mullins said that she’s eager to work with the new officers and board members and is confident they will help the chamber continue to grow and prosper in the coming year.

“As Executive Director of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce, I am excited about the new executive team. It is always good to recruit new leadership who can help bring innovative ideas and new energy to the board,” Mullins said. “I look forward to working with incoming President Deb McPhail, as she has been with our chamber for 43 years and brings a wealth of knowledge and experience.”

Mullins said that McPhail has experience in the role, having served as chamber president in 1990 and 1991.

“Although Deb has a great grasp on the history of the chamber, she also understands things have changed over time and our focus has had to evolve, especially in the last two years. “To stay afloat during COVID, business owners have had to be creative, decisive and very open to change. We as a chamber have also had to be creative in looking at different ways to support our members' needs, whether it be holding virtual events instead of live, providing valuable personal protective equipment during the height of the pandemic, or disseminating the plethora of information that came at them almost daily from local and state entities.”

According to Mullins, McPhail’s role as president will be to lead the Board of Directors in meeting their chamber mission to foster economic growth and prosperity throughout our region by using the board's strategic plan as a guide.

“It is a challenge Deb is up for and looks forward to, and I am happy to be there as her partner,” Mullins said.

McPhail said she wanted to serve as chamber president for a number of reasons.

“I am passionate about the Lakes Region community. I believe in giving back to the business community,” she said. “I've been in the chamber for 43 years and have that experience. I feel I'd be an asset and qualified.”

As far as what she hopes to accomplish as chamber president, McPhail said she would like to encourage more collaboration and a voice for the towns.

“I'm pro-business and can have a lot of influence,” McPhail said. “I believe in the chamber's ability. I look forward to working with the leaders of the community. Harmony is very important to me with the members and our community. I'm looking forward to growing our Chamber, even during COVID we grew. We have a great board, executive director, and office staff we work well with.  We raise a lot of money for the community and collaborate well with other organizations.”

During the chamber’s Annual Meeting, several awards also were presented.

Mullins presented the Community Service Leadership Award to the leaders of 11 food pantries in the chamber region including Casco; Gray; Naples; New Gloucester; Raymond; Sebago; Standish; and Windham to recognize them for the selfless work they have done, especially during the pandemic.

The chamber’s Business of the Year Award was given to Spring Meadows Golf Club in Gray, led by Dave Pollard.

The Frank Koenig Chamber Hall of Fame Award was presented to Zachary “Zack” Conley, the immediate Past President of the Sebago Lakes Region Chamber of Commerce. Conley successfully led the chamber for the last three years. <

Anglers prepare to ‘bait up’ for annual Ice Fishing Derby

Josh Sparks and his daughter Kendall Sparks
will be back to compete in the 2022 Sebago
Lake and Cumberland County Ice Fishing
Derby after winning prizes in the past.
By Collette Hayes

It’s time to bundle up, grab a jigging rod and bait up for the annual 2022 Sebago Lake and Cumberland County Ice Fishing Derby organized and sponsored by members of the Sebago Lake Rotary Club.

During the last 21 years, the Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby has raised more than $1 million to support charities and nonprofit organizations. This year proceeds raised will benefit “Feed the Need,” which provides support for local food pantries in the Sebago Lakes Region in Casco, Gray, Naples, New Gloucester, Raymond, Sebago, Standish and Windham.

Togue caught and donated during the derby by registered participants will be collected, processed and donated to local food pantries. In addition to supporting local food pantries, the Sebago Lake Rotary Club also supports local charities throughout the year such as the Salvation Army and Windham’s Veterans Center.

The Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby originated in 2001 under the leadership of Tom Noonan, a local businessman and a Rotarian. An overabundance of togue, also known as lake trout, in Sebago Lake is an ongoing challenge. The original concept was that the derby would assist the Maine Inland Fisheries and Wildlife Department by removing the invasive Togue from Sebago Lake. Togue deplete the supply of forage fish that sustain other species native to Sebago Lake such as Landlocked Salmon.

According to Cyndy Bell, Sebago Rotary Club Executive Secretary/Director, fishermen can donate their catch. The catch is then taken to Nova Seafood in Portland, and they donate the processing and flash freezing of the fish which is then donated to food pantries to be used in feeding homeless and families in need. Last year nearly 1,000 pounds of fish were caught and donated which resulted in over 350 meals for the hungry.

“The derby will take place on Sebago Lake and 26 other bodies of water in Cumberland County on Feb. 19 and Feb. 20,” said Bell. “Fish weigh stations will be at Raymond Beach, the Standish Boat Launch, and Jordan’s Store in Sebago. The Sebago Lake Derby is to catch Togue and Pike, the invasive species, but on other lakes and ponds Perch and Pickerel are also caught. This year we are offering first-, second- and third-place prizes for all species.”

In addition to more than 25 local businesses supporting this event and recognized on the Derby’s Facebook page, this year’s major sponsors for the event are General Dynamic/BIW, Sebago Bait Shop, and Alcom, llc.

“Many local businesses donate to support our event which helps the local economy,” said Bell. “We have our grand prize of an ATV which we purchased from Windham Powersports who are one of our sponsors. We also will have a 4 hp Mercury outboard motor donated by Panther Run Marina in Raymond. There is over $5,000 in cash and other prizes for winning fish and drawings. Last year we brought back the ice shack contest where folks can post a photo of their shack and the winner will receive a $100 cash prize plus second and third place will receive one of our sweatshirts valued at $35.”

Last year, Josh Sparks, an avid ice fisherman, who has participated in the Sebago Lake Fishing Derby for the last 20 years, won over $2,000 in the derby 50/50 raffle. The raffle benefits organizations that support fish and wildlife issues.

From years of experience Sparks has become quite skilled at ice fishing. His ice fishing routine includes setting up his portable shack, drilling a hole in the ice with his electric auger, using jigging or ice traps to set up his line and using his fish locater to locate the fish. Then he enjoys the camaraderie of family and friends while he patiently sits and waits for the fish to bite.

“The derby is an event our entire family participates in,” said Sparks.” Usually, I fish on Long Lake. Last year, my cousin Glenn Sparks, caught a third-place fish. I fish this derby with my brother Travis Sparks, who in years past has caught first- or second-place fish. Even my daughter Kendall won a fishing rod door prize in last year’s derby.”

Registration for the Sebago Lake Ice Fishing Derby will be accepted online through noon on Saturday, Feb. 19. Any mailed or local registrations during the morning of that Saturday must also adhere to the noon deadline.

Details about registration and prizes can be found at www.icefishingderby.com. Updated information about the derby can also be found on the derby’s Facebook page at https://www.facebook.com/maineicefishingderby/.

Further questions can be directed to Cyndy Bell at 
cbell@theforecaster.net or Deb McPhail at mcphailda@gmail.com <