It is time again to review the major events of the past year. No year in review story can include all the significant occurrences in the life of a single community, much less the 26 municipalities that make up Waldo County. For better or worse, here is our selection of some notable stories from 2021.

COVID rollercoaster rides on

Picnic tables in front of Alexia’s Pizza take advantage of the city’s Curbside Belfast program to aid restaurants. Photo by Kendra Caruso

The ongoing coronavirus pandemic continued to weave itself into the fabric of life in Waldo County, though by year-end that fabric was more than a little frayed.

In January, Crossroads to Calvary Church in Morrill had an outbreak of COVID-19, and February saw outbreaks at both Tall Pines and Harbor Hill nursing homes. During the same period, the county’s schools, having returned to mostly in-person instruction, saw a number of outbreaks. Significant numbers of students continued to be quarantined as the year wore on, with districts implementing pooled testing as an early warning system.

February saw the beginning of Maine’s vaccine rollout, even as the beta COVID variant that originated in the United Kingdom was found here. Belfast saw weekly protests against masking requirements and anti-mask groups staged unmasked shopping events at stores like Hannaford and Tractor Supply.

As more people received the shots, Gov. Mills announced the end of most mask requirements for vaccinated people as of May 24. As summer progressed, Maine started to see a surge of delta variant cases, and many resumed wearing masks in public. The delta surge continued for the rest of the year, with hospitals announcing in December that they were near capacity and postponing elective procedures.

In August, the state announced that health care workers must be vaccinated by Oct. 29. Some workers quit over the requirement; many protested. The mandate was eventually rescinded for EMS workers and those working in dentists’ offices. It had never applied to private physicians’ offices.

As summer moved into fall, vaccines were approved first for students 12 to 15, and then for those 5 to 11. Later in the fall, booster shots were approved for people 65 and older and those with heightened vulnerability, and later for all adults.

Through all the public health ups and downs, businesses did their best to cope. The city of Belfast again allowed restaurants continued free use of sidewalk and on-street parking spaces for outdoor dining. Many businesses began to ask patrons to wear masks, regardless of vaccination status. Most also faced difficulties hiring and retaining staff.

More child deaths lead to investigations of Family Services

Five children 4 years old or younger died violently in the state during the month of June. In four of the five cases, including that of Maddox Williams, 3, of Stockton Springs, parents were charged. In the fifth, a child died of what police said was an accidental self-inflicted gunshot wound.

Maddox Williams, 3, of Stockton Springs was one of five young children who died violently in June. Source: GoFundMe

As a result of the rash of child deaths, Maine’s Department of Health and Human Services announced June 24 it had contracted with Casey Family Programs, a national child safety organization, to help it investigate the fatalities and examine its internal policies and procedures in order to avoid losing more young lives. The report, issued the third week in October, said the Office of Child and Family Services had been plagued by staffing shortages worsened by the pandemic, and was also hampered by poor communication with families and others that, taken together, put vulnerable children at risk.

In addition, the Legislature’s Office of Program Evaluation and Government Accountability launched an investigation into the state’s child welfare practices. The first of three reports is due Jan. 15, 2022.

Courts and crime roundup

Several Waldo County court cases made headlines this year, including that of 38-year-old Derek Creasy, who admitted setting a fire that destroyed a Unity mobile home in December of 2020. In an Aug. 13 plea deal, Creasy’s attempted murder charge was dropped and he was sentenced to seven years in prison.

Jessica Trefethen, also known as Jessica Williams and Jessica Johnson, enters the courtroom June 25 for her initial appearance at the Waldo Judicial Center. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Jessica Trefethen, 35, also known as Jessica Williams, pleaded not guilty in October to fatally beating her 3-year-old son, Maddox, in June. According to court documents, she told hospital staff her son had been knocked down by a dog leash and kicked by his 8-year-old sister. The hospital was unable to resuscitate him and Trefethen was arrested June 23, after the state medical examiner ruled the death a homicide caused by multiple blunt force trauma.

Bail was denied in October for 67-year-old Glenn Brown of Benton, accused of killing his sister and brother-in-law last year. Brown pleaded not guilty Dec. 8, 2020, to two counts of murder. Court records say he and three of his siblings were involved in an ongoing civil battle with their sister over their late stepfather’s estate.

Swanville buys a dam

After residents overwhelmingly approved the purchase of Swan Lake Dam from Goose River Hydro at a November 2020 special town meeting, the deal was finalized in March. The dam was purchased for $150,000 plus closing costs. Town officials said the move would ensure the lake had proper water levels and protect against any scenarios that could lead to the removal of the dam altogether.

Select Board member Cindy Boguen said if the dam were removed, it would change the entire lake and all the lakefront properties. Assessors predicted the town would have a sudden and severe loss of tax revenue if it lost the dam. With the new purchase, the town will own and maintain the dam.

Far-right rally comes to Belfast

Protesters face off with supporters of the Arise USA rally outside the Crosby Center July 27. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Arise USA: The Resurrection Tour, a national right-wing movement led by former CIA agent Robert David Steele, who called COVID-19 a hoax, made its only planned stop in Maine at the Crosby Center July 27. Throngs of supporters, as well as protesters, lined the streets across from the former school while police cruisers patrolled the front of the venue.

Ideas promoted at the event ranged from election fraud and resistance to COVID-19 restrictions to government employees engaging in satanic pedophilia. Steele also was a Holocaust denier and advanced the unfounded QAnon conspiracy that Democrats are running an underground child-sex trafficking ring.

On Aug. 17, Steele posted a photo of himself in a Florida hospital wearing an oxygen mask and saying he would not be vaccinated against COVID-19. He died from the disease Aug. 29 at age 69.

Maine’s school choice program challenged before Supreme Court

Dave and Amy Carson of Glenburn with their daughter, Olivia. The Carsons are one of three families suing the state over its school choice program. Courtesy of Institute for Justice

Lawyers for three Maine families, one of which hails from Palermo, argued Dec. 8 before the U.S. Supreme Court that the state’s student aid program discriminates against them based on religion. In Carson vs. Makin, justices were asked to decide whether Maine violates the religion clauses or equal protection clause of the Constitution by prohibiting students from obtaining an otherwise generally available benefit.

At the heart of the case is a Maine law that allows parents who live in school districts that do not have a public secondary school, and also lack an arrangement with a school outside the district to take their secondary school students, to receive public tuition to send their children to a public or approved private school of their choice.

The Supreme Court is expected to deliver a decision by late spring or early summer.

Repair headache becomes an adventure with community support

In August, weeks before school was scheduled to start, a torrential downpour blew a tarp off a school roofing project at Capt. Albert Stevens School in Belfast, causing extensive water damage to the building. The event forced administrators to think outside the box to find alternative space for 11 classrooms of students and teachers. Some classes temporarily relocated to the United Farmers Market of Maine at Miller and Spring streets while the school was under construction.

Ando Anderson leads CASS students in a ukelele lesson at the Quimby Labyrinth Sept. 17. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

Several community partners stepped in to help make the dislocation a little easier, including Coastal Mountains Land Trust, Tanglewood, Belfast Bay Watershed Coalition, Belfast Historical Society and Museum, Belfast Free Library, Belfast Area High School, Waterfall Arts, Belfast Flying Shoes and Delta Kappa Gamma Society, among others. The temporary school was named Community Adventure School, with much of the programing happening outdoors or in the community.

After two weeks, students displaced by emergency construction were allowed back to their classrooms. Principal Glen Widmer said the students had a lot of fun, and acknowledged that the community’s help made the situation truly an adventure.

Nordic clears more hurdles

After receiving the majority of its permits in 2020, Nordic Aquafarms’ plan for a land-based fish farm cleared another major hurdle to its development. Justice Robert Murray ruled in favor of the company and former landowners Janet and Richard Eckrote in a land dispute with neighbors Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, who claimed to own the intertidal area in front of the Eckrotes’ property, where Nordic plans to lay its intake and outflow pipes.

In July Nordic bought the Eckrote property and transferred it to the city in exchange for an easement over the upland lot and intertidal area adjacent to it to place its intake and outflow pipes, among other possible privileges. In August, the city took the disputed land by eminent domain before Murray ruled.

That eminent domain action is itself being challenged in court by Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Conservation Area (which has a conservation easement including the intertidal parcel), Upstream Watch and Maybee and Grace. In addition, State Attorney General Aaron Frey filed a civil action Dec. 23 against Nordic and city in the suit over the eminent domain action, seeking a declaratory judgment that the city did not follow applicable law and that the conservation easement is valid and in effect despite the city’s condemnation of it. However, it is likely that Murray’s ruling regarding ownership of the disputed intertidal parcel will affect the case.

Earlier this year the Board of Environmental Protection permit decision appeal regarding Nordic’s project was transferred to the Business and Consumer Court. Justice Michaela Murphy heard oral arguments in that case Dec. 17.

Businesses change hands; Bryant’s Stove is dissolved

Auctioneer Rusty Farrin takes bids during the Bryant Stove Works auction Oct. 23 in Thorndike. Photo by Kendra Caruso

Some businesses changed hands this year and some were dissolved. All the property at Bryant’s Stove Shop was auctioned off, in keeping with the wishes of the late Bea and Joe Bryant, according to family members.

Over 800 items were sold and the house and land were listed for sale through Mainstream Real Estate Co. for $475,000. The sale was an opportunity for community members and those who had known the couple to take memorabilia home with them.

Patterson’s Store in Burnham changed hands this year, with a new generation assuming control. Siblings Dion and Devin Rossignol took over the store from their uncle. They are the fourth generation in their family to own the business, which serves as an informal town hub.

Dion, left, and Devin Rossignol pose behind the counter of Patterson’s General Store April 24 as the fourth generation to own the business. Photo by Kendra Caruso

And after four decades in business, Ron Benjamin sold his convenience store, Belfast Variety, on High Street. He agreed to sell that location along with Morrill General store, which he co-owned with his brother, to the same buyer.

More Waldo County towns tackle recreational marijuana

Belfast and Unity opted into the state’s recreational marijuana law this year. Belfast opted into all aspects except recreational sale, which will not be allowed in the city. But councilors think recreational sale will be authorized in the future.

Unity residents opted into the legislation at a special town meeting last summer, but rejected a proposed town ordinance that many thought was not well drafted.

Thorndike residents rejected a marijuana moratorium in January, months after residents voted to opt into the state legislation at town meeting in the summer of 2020. The moratorium came on the heels of Nova Farms’ proposal for a grow operation in town.

Select Board members said they had been too busy with other town business to develop an ordinance and wanted time to develop one before recreational business came into town. One resident at the meeting accused the elected officials of not doing their jobs and trying to block something the majority of voting residents had supported.

Federal government issues new lobster fishing regulations, closure

National Marine Fisheries Service issued its final draft of controversial new lobster fishing regulations this year that include regional gear marking, rope with weak points, increased trap minimums per trawl line and a 950-square-mile closure area several miles off the coast of Maine that runs from upper Penobscot Bay down to Casco Bay. It is off limits to vertical rope fishing from October to January in an effort to help protect endangered right whales.

Lobstermen and industry stakeholders have criticized the closure and filed a lawsuit against the federal government criticizing the methods used to justify the action. U.S. District Judge Lance Walker implemented a delay of the closure while the lawsuit waited to be heard in court, but an appeals court overturned the delay, and the closure was implemented in November.

Waldo County 911 Dispatcher Melissa Bisson, left, watches Belfast Paramedic Debbie Heath place a medal around Jakob Hindman’s neck March 10 to honor him for bravery during a 911 call. Photo by Kendra Caruso

Six-year-old calls emergency help for mother

On March 10, county dispatchers and emergency workers recognized Jakob Hindman, 6, for dialing 911 to save his mother, who was having a grand mal seizure. He was in a virtual learning class during the Jan. 11 incident and could not contact his father, so he called for emergency help.

He was the first young child Waldo County Dispatcher Melissa Bisson had worked with on an emergency call, and she was impressed with how calm and collected he remained, she said.

Return of public events offers a bit of normalcy amid the pandemic

Unlike in 2020, when many public events were canceled, this year saw parades and some other outdoor events return. In April, the Easter bunny visited several Waldo County towns, bringing sweet treats and springtime cheer. In May, Memorial Day parades and observances drew good attendance despite damp weather. June saw high school graduations staged both indoors and outdoors, and well attended.

Mount View High School graduation parade 2021. Photo by Carolyn Zachary

Fourth of July parades drew crowds of locals and tourists. Searsport combined its 175th anniversary celebration — postponed from 2020 — with that of the national holiday. As summer heated up, so did the rate of infections from the coronavirus’ delta variant. Among the events sacrificed to pandemic precautions were the Maine Celtic Celebration in September and New Year’s By the Bay.

Belfast Area High School students enjoyed a homecoming that was close to traditional, and Halloween was marked not only by rain, but also by local costume parades and a variety of Trunk-or-Treat events. Waterfall Arts’ Pumpkin Pageant brought people together outside to celebrate pumpkin carvers young and old.

Veterans march in Searsport’s celebration of its 175th anniversary as a town, which coincided with Fourth of July weekend. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

In November, veterans, scouts and others marched in remembrance of those who have served, and December saw Santa visiting around the county as people turned out for snowless Christmas parades.

While not all planned events were planned were able to take place, Waldo County residents seemed eager for opportunities to gather and celebrate, even as the public health crisis continued around them.

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