Overall, 2022 marked a return to some normalcy in Waldo County as the COVID-19 pandemic wound down — though it’s still not quite gone.

According to data published Dec. 26 by The New York Times, an average of 159 cases per day were reported in Maine in the last week. Waldo County reported three cases per day, down 21% from two weeks earlier.

Since the beginning of the pandemic, a total of 305,600 cases have been reported in Maine, The Times said. At least one in 480 residents have died from the coronavirus, a total of 2,803 deaths. February 2022 was the month with the highest average cases and deaths in Maine.

Nevertheless, schools returned to in-person learning in September. Parades and festivals returned for national holidays and local celebrations. Select boards began meeting in person again, and some town meetings moved back under roof. And the Common Ground Country Fair returned to the MOFGA Fairgrounds — on the ground, not virtually — in September.

One remnant of the local COVID response remains: Curbside Belfast. Downtown restaurants retained their outdoor seating in Main and High streets, and tables were filled all summer into fall.

Masks reappeared with the arrival of flu and RSV viruses in late fall, and some schools actually closed for a few days because of student and teacher absences — but there was no resumption of distance learning in Waldo County.

While life in Waldo County did seem to get somewhat back to normal in 2022, the year was not without newsworthy events, among them two devastating fires.

Amish community members watch as firefighters work the blaze at the Community Market in Unity Jan. 20, 2022. Photo by Fran Gonzalez

On Jan. 20, a fire leveled the Amish Community and Bakery, a fixture in Unity since 2010, which sold farm products, work and winter boots, toys, outdoor furniture, wood stoves, bulk food, housewares and baked goods — including delectable doughnuts.

Unity Fire Department was first on the scene about 3 p.m., soon joined by crews from Troy, Burnham, Winslow, Freedom, Liberty, Fairfield/Benton, Albion, Brooks, Thorndike and Montville, along with Unity Ambulance and Delta Ambulance. The fire raced quickly through the all-metal building, and the firefighters were unable to save it.

Within a couple of weeks, members of the Amish community had cleared the rubble and gone to work to rebuild. The market reopened in September, just nine months after the fire.

This aerial view shows the scene of the March 24 fire that destroyed Penobscot McCrum’s potato processing plant. Photo by Ethan Andrews

On March 24, a massive conflagration destroyed Penobscot McCrum, a fixture on the Belfast waterfront, leaving 138 employees jobless. The fire broke out around 2 a.m.; although it was believed to have started in the fry room, according to owner Jay McCrum, the state Fire Marshal’s Office said its cause could not be determined.

Belfast Fire and Ambulance Department were first on the scene, with mutual aid provided by crews and equipment from Belmont, Camden, Northport, Morrill, Liberty, Montville, Lincolnville, Searsmont, Searsport, Waldo and West Frankfort.

Due to shifting winds, the proximity of the bus garage to the fire, and the possibility of toxic fumes from chemicals stored at the plant, Regional School Unit 71 canceled school and nearby nursing homes were evacuated. Roads around the area were closed temporarily, preventing commuters from getting to work.

The site of the potato processing plant has remained vacant since debris was cleared following the fire, and no word as come as to any plans for the property.

Gov. Janet Mills, left, visits the scene of a massive fire at Penobscot McCrum March 24. With her are, from left, Belfast Fire Chief Patrick Richards, City Manager Erin Herbig and McCrum CEO Jay McCrum.

The year was marred further by the discovery of toxic PFAS (per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances) in Waldo County soils, and their disastrous impact on Waldo County farmers and their land, animals, produce, drinking water and area wildlife.

In February, Adrienne Lee of New Beat Farm in Knox, accompanied by her husband, Ken Lamson, and their daughter, spoke at an Augusta press conference about the impacts PFAS was having on their farm and their family. Their well water tested positive for the substances at a level 100 times above safe drinking water standards.

The state Legislature passed measures to fund studies, remediation and aid to farmers, including a bill introduced by Rep. Stanley Paige Zeigler, D-Montville, to treat PFAS effluent in state-owned landfills.

Erin Brockovich, champion of groundwater contamination in Hinkley, California, spoke May 7 before a packed Unity Fire Station to rally her audience on the issue of the “forever chemicals” contaminating Maine land and water. The event was organized by PFAS Maine, a team of lawyers that was seeking plaintiffs to join a class action lawsuit against those responsible for PFAS contamination in the state.

Erin Brockovich rallies a Unity crowd May 7 to fight back against PFAS contamination. Courtesy of Fran Gonzalez

 

 

 

In January, Membership Director Bruce Osgood retired after 21 years of service at the Waldo County YMCA, the last of the Y’s original employees from its opening in 2001. Prior to his career at the Y, Osgood spent 10 years on the organization’s board of directors, including as president in 1994, and was also a member of the long-range planning committee, the group responsible for dreaming up the facility on Lincolnville Avenue. His last official day was Jan. 31.

Several Waldo County communities have made considerable progress on broadband expansion this year — Northport and partner GWI have wired about half the town with fiber-optic cable, while Freedom, Liberty, Montville, Palermo and Searsmont have formed the Southwestern Waldo County Broadband Coalition and agreed to create a Broadband Utility District (a regional nonprofit utility). Other towns are moving forward as well.

This photo from the Sept. 16, 1954, Republican Journal shows the Brockways’ car still sitting in Sandy Stream the day after Ruth Brockway, 8, and Alton McCormick, 47, were drowned in floodwaters from Hurricane Edna. Courtesy of Belfast Free Library

A bridge in Unity has a new name after state senators in March approved Sen. Chip Curry’s bill, LD 1839, “Resolve, To Name a Bridge in the Town of Unity the Alton ‘Mac’ McCormick Memorial Bridge.” The bridge carries U.S. Route 202 and State Route 9 over the Sandy Stream. Alton McCormick was Unity’s assistant fire chief in Unity in the fall of 1954 during back-to-back Hurricanes Carol and Edna. As the storms battered Maine, floodwaters trapped dozens of people. In Unity, a family of 10 was trapped on top of a car, and neighbors built a human chain to try to rescue them. McCormick helped nine family members survive, but he and one of the children perished. The town and McCormick’s descendants celebrated the hero firefighter and the bridge named in his honor with a ceremony Sept. 11.

Belfast lost its first female city councilor in March. Patricia “Patti” Ann Lord shattered the glass ceiling in Belfast when she was elected to City Council in 1984. She bested a popular downtown merchant who was the incumbent. Lord was also among some of the first female Belfast Rotary Club members. Her daughter Marjorie Crowley said she never bowed to expectation and that she was a “force of nature.”

In March the city also lost the last of its Greatest Generation service members. Carmine Anthony Pecorelli, veteran of World War II, Korea and Vietnam, died March 19 at the age of 96. A radarman during World War II and a veteran also of the wars in Korea and Vietnam, Pecorelli devoted his life to serving others.

Carmine A. Pecorelli poses next to the grave of a classmate from The Citadel. He placed the wreath at the grave and the Shako hat on the headstone during the Wreaths Across America wreath-laying cemetery at Arlington National Cemetery Dec. 13, 2014. Courtesy of Jeff Parquette

In Belfast, contractors finished demolishing the former Embees dry cleaner’s building at 126 Church St. Property owners Alex and Kendra Brigham received all their permits this summer to build a two-story eco-friendly building with retail and office space, along with two apartments on the second floor.

John Tibbetts, a Colonial Theatre employee for the last 35 years, puts a final Thank You on the theatre’s marquee. Photo by Jim Leonard

After a run of 112 years, the Colonial Theatre in Belfast went “dark” on Sept. 18. Mike Hurley and Therese Bagnardi, who owned the Belfast landmark for the last 27 years, addressed a standing-room-only crowd prior to the final film — fittingly, “The Last Picture Show.” Hurley and Bagnardi offered the community free movies throughout the 10 days leading up to the closing. The theater remains for sale.

New Belfast Police Chief Robert “Bobby” Cormier, right, congratulates Officer Michael Blakely May 20 following Blakely’s graduation from the 18-week Basic Law Enforcement Training Program at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy in Vassalboro. Source: Belfast Police Facebook Page

Robert Cormier took over as the chief of the Belfast Police Department this summer, bringing 39 years of law enforcement experience to the city. Most recently, he served 14 years as chief of the police department in Tilton, New Hampshire. Cormier believes in police forging community connections. To that end, he has made law enforcement officers more approachable by adding a motorcycle and a K-9, and collaborating with Horses Over America in hopes of introducing horses to the department as well.

Contestants from the girls’ junior division chase a wheel of cheese Sunday, July 24 at Steamboat Park. Photo by Jim Leonard

Pirate Jack Lash Lanigan talks with three young ladies on the shores of Belfast July 9 as a band of pirates invade the city. Photo by Jim Leonard

Short-term rentals were a divisive issue in Stockton Springs again this year, with Select Board members discussing the issue during at least two different meetings. Select Board discussions this fall ended with elected officials deciding not to take any action; rather they will continue to monitor the situation.

Realty Resources and Developers Collaborative both opened income-based housing developments on Wight Street in Belfast this year. They are age-restricted apartments, serving older residents. Between both developments, it added nearly 50 much needed dwelling units to a city experiencing a housing crisis.

The Cardboard Boat Challenge is a crowd favorite at the annual Harbor Fest in August. Photo Courtesy of Philip G. Carthage

Waterfall Arts announced that it met its funding goal for phase three of its capital campaign earlier this year, with hopes that it would complete its fundraising goal for its final phase by year’s end. Though it plans to complete the final phase of its campaign in the coming year.

Though it did not complete its fundraising goal for the final phase of the capital campaign this year, it did complete renovations on the property, including renovating the parking lot and landscape, replaced the roof and installed all new windows. Plans for the fourth phase include renovating the entryway and adding an elevator to make the building accessible.

In Prospect, Bowden Point LLC failed to bring plans for a rock-crushing facility and adjacent pier to fruition this year, with the state finding twice that the company did not submit enough information in its state permit filings to consider its plans.

The company, owned by Salmons LLC of Virginia, planned to mine rock from Heagan Mountain, then crush it at the facility before shipping it out of state by barge. The facility was projected to cost $12 million. Some locals expressed stark opposition to the plans.

Representatives from the Boston Tea Party Ships & Museum, an organization aimed at celebrating the 250th anniversary of the Boston Tea Party, visited Midcoast cemeteries in October to place commemorative markers on the graves of three individuals who participated in the Boston Tea Party. Ceremonies were held at cemeteries in Northport, Warren and Belfast. Gershon Collier is buried on family land in Northport. Benjamin Burton’s burial plot is located at Fairview Cemetery in Warren. John Cochran’s final resting place is the Grove Cemetery in Belfast.

Belfast Marine Institute seeded Belfast Bay with oysters in October and received delivery of a new wet lab for use in analyzing marine samples. The BMI program is a marine and career-based program offered through Belfast Area High School.

Also in October, the Belfast Community Outreach Program for Education, better known as BCOPE, celebrated its 20th year in the BCOPE facility at 19 Merriam Road.

Waldo County Public Health Nurse Susan Dupler poses in her office with her Belfast Chamber of Commerce Citizen of the Year award. Photo by Jim Leonard

Belfast Area Chamber of Commerce named Waldo County Public Health Nurse Susan Dupler as its Citizen of the Year during the chamber’s annual gala Nov. 4. Dupler is on the front lines of homelessness, hunger and food insecurity in Waldo County. The veteran health care provider’s ability to connect and “meet people where they are” was echoed by members of the selection committee.

The November general election added some new Waldo County faces to our state delegation — as well as some representatives from outside the county, but who represent Waldo County towns as a result of redistricting. Reelected were Sen. Glenn “Chip” Curry, D-Waldo County; Rep. Jan Dodge, D-Dist. 39; Rep. S. Paige Zeigler, D-Dist. 40; and County Commissioner Betty Johnson, D-Dist. 1.

Newly elected were Waldo County Sheriff Jason Trundy, Democrat; Rep. Reagan Paul, R-Dist. 37; Rep. Ben Hymes, R-Dist. 38; Katrina Smith, R-Dist. 62; Rep. Scott Wynn Cyrway, R-Dist. 63; and Amanda Collamore, R-Dist. 68.

Pictured with other inaugural Empire Brigade Award recipients Nov. 11 is retired U.S. Navy veteran Joy Asuncion, fourth from right. On her right is political commentator and former U.S. Press Secretary Dana Perino, one of the civilian honorees. Jennifer A. Uihlein

Retired U.S. Navy veteran Joy Asuncion received the Empire Brigade Award at the Army Week Association Veteran’s Day Gala held Nov. 11 at the Union League Club in New York. Asuncion is a board member of Honor Flight Maine, a Maine Troop Greeter, the Maine Ambassador for the Women in Military Service for America Memorial, and Veteran News columnist for The Republican Journal.

Teachers and students from the Belfast Marine Institute, a marine based program at Belfast Area High School, seeded Belfast harbor with kelp on Nov. 13. The program spread lines containing the spores of the marine product to grow throughout the winter. BMI intends to harvest the kelp in the spring. Students will take samples for analysis until the kelp is harvested.

Waldo Community Action Partners President and CEO Donna Kelley addresses a community conversation about homelessness on Nov. 19 at the Belfast Soup Kitchen. Photo by Jim Leonard

The Belfast Soup Kitchen hosted a community conversation on homelessness in Waldo County Nov. 19. Leaders from Belfast Soup Kitchen, Waldo County Community Action Partners, But Still I Am One, and Family Promises of Midcoast Maine spoke to a capacity crowd gathered at the soup kitchen. All agreed that homelessness was the most significant issue facing Maine and Waldo County — and that the lack of affordable housing was at the center of the crisis.

On Nov. 28, the Regional School Unit 71 Board of Directors approved a new gender equity policy that seeks to foster a learning environment that is safe and free from discrimination, harassment and bullying. The policy is also designed to assist the educational and social integration of transgender and gender-expansive students in district schools.

The Lincolnville Select Board on Nov. 28 accepted a $10,000 grant on behalf of the town’s Comprehensive Plan Review Committee from Community Heart & Soul. The seed grant will help the committee carry out the Community Heart & Soul engagement process. Developed and field-tested over a decade in partnership with over 100 small cities and towns across America, Community Heart & Soul is a proven process for engaging a community in shaping its future.

The Community Heart & Soul initiative will engage Lincolnville residents in discussion about what they love about their town and their vision for the town’s future, and identify common themes that emerge. The grant will allow the Lincolnville Community Heart & Soul Committee to employ a wide variety of creative outreach strategies to involve the entire community.

The Municipal Review Committee did not close on its exclusivity to sell agreement with Revere Capital Advisors LLC by year-end, as intended when it engaged in the agreement with the company this summer. The MRC now expects to close on that agreement shortly after the New Year, but the group still plans to have the facility operating some time in 2023. Revere is still working to secure an operator for the facility, though it is not ready to announce what company it is trying to secure.

With the state anxious to place wind turbines in the Gulf of Maine, the Offshore Wind Port Advisory Group will continue to discuss options for the state’s proposed wind port into next year. The wind turbines would be launched from the land port into the ocean toward their final destination.

So far, the group has looked at plans for the port. The state has identified three possible locations for the port: a site in Eastport, a site at Mack Point in Searsport and a site on Sears Island in Searsport. Many Sears Island supporters, some of whom are advisory group members, have come out against the idea of the wind port on the island, instead favoring the Mack Point location to keep the island’s entire ecology intact. Other group members have discussed possible issues with the Mack Point location, favoring the more costly Sears Island site instead.

Cops and Courts

Belfast man rehomes vicious dogs: A Belfast resident with dogs that had a history of being violent toward neighbors and law enforcement officers accepted responsibility for vicious dog charges. Herbert Staples Jr. rehomed his three Akita dogs after being charged last spring. He was unable to properly restrain the dogs after part of his property burned down in March.

Former Searsport fire chief, fiancée plead not guilty:  Andrew Webster pleaded not guilty to two counts of receiving stolen Barney Hose Company property after his fiancée, Gina Philbrick, was charged with theft by deception. Philbrick is accused of embezzling at least $11,600 from the company during her time as treasurer. She has also pleaded not guilty this fall.

Searsport Historical Society treasurer accused: David Oaks pleaded not guilty last spring to charges implicating him in allegedly embezzling around $70,000 from the Searsport Historical Society over the last decade during his time as the organization’s treasurer.

Brother pleads no contest, sentenced: Judge Robert Murray imposed a life sentence on Glenn Brown in April for the October 2020 murder of his sister, Tina Bowden, and her husband, Richard Bowden. Family members speaking for and against Brown during the sentencing highlighted conflicts in the family that led up to the murders.

Maddox Williams, 3, of Stockton Springs was one of five young children who died violently in June 2021. Source: GoFundMe

Jessica Trefethen found guilty, sentenced for death of son: Jessica Trefethen, 36, of Stockton Springs was sentenced to 47 years in prison for depraved indifference murder after a Waldo County Jury found her guilty in October for the death of her 3-year-old son, Maddox Williams, in June 2021. Prosecutors called witnesses who outlined injuries the boy sustained before his death and described Trefethen’s behavior toward her son during proceedings. Her defense attorney called no witnesses.

Two suicides by bridge: William Burton, 66, of Stockton Springs is believed to have died when he jumped in July from the Penobscot Narrows Bridge, which spans the Penobscot River between Prospect and Verona Island. On Nov. 26, hikers on Sears Island found the body of college student Chase
Dmuchowsky, 21, who jumped Oct. 24.

Waldo County Schools grapple with threats:

  • Shortly before summer break last spring, schools in Searsport and Winterport reported threats of violence shortly after a gunman killed several students at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, in late May where 19 students and two teachers were killed.
  • A threatening message was written in the boys’ bathroom at the Wagner Middle School in Winterport. A student at the Searsport District Middle School was charged with terrorizing and false public alarm in late May after threatening to bring a knife to school and pulling the school’s fire alarm.
  • Belfast Area High School was the target of a prank call claiming there was an active shooter at the school in November. The fake call was part of a larger string of false claims called into law enforcement departments regarding different high schools across the state.

Two Sweetser facilities implicated in civil suit: The Belfast and Winterport Sweetser locations were implicated in a civil suit against the company alleging that it learned of the sexual assaults of at least two of its minor residents but failed to protect the children. One of the employees at the Belfast facility is accused of having a sexual relationship with a girl when she was 13 while she lived at the facility. The parent of a minor residing at the Winterport facility is accusing it of preventing her child from ongoing harassment by another minor resident.

Nordic Aquafarms: Early this year, Business and Consumer Superior Court Justice Michaela Murphy sided with the state in an appeals case brought by Upstream Watch, which claimed Nordic Aquafarms did not have sufficient title, right or interest to some of the land it intends to use to build its $500 million land-based fish farm off of Route 1 and next to the Little River. The group vowed to appeal that decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court.

The Maine Attorney General’s office withdrew from a lawsuit brought by Upstream and other Nordic opponents against the city of Belfast claiming the city wrongfully took a parcel of intertidal land by eminent domain to benefit Nordic. The Attorney General will act on behalf of conservation easements in lawsuits in which a conservation easement may be changed or eliminated.

Because a 2021 court ruling found that neighboring property owners, Jeffrey Mabee and Judith Grace, do not own the intertidal land that the city took by eminent domain, the conservation easement they granted over the area — first to Upstream, then transferred to the Friends of Harriet L. Hartley Recreation Area — is invalid. That court ruling found that the intertidal land was transferred with the upland lot, which is now owned by the city.

Over the summer, Nordic founding member Erik Heim and his partner Marianne Naess left the company. It was later announced that Chief Financial Officer Brenda Chandler was appointed acting interim chief executive officer. A company representative said Nordic is committed to a bicoastal presence in the seafood market.

Rounding out the year of shakeups and appeal cases, Judge Robert Murray decided to throw out the appeals suit Upstream brought against the Belfast Zoning Board of Appeals, which found that the group had no standing to appeal the Planning Board’s decision to permit Nordic’s proposed facility.

The judge found that the Appeals Board did not err in its decision. In December, Upstream filed an appeal of the judge’s decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court, asking that court to determine that the group has standing to proceed with its appeal of the Planning Board decision to permit Nordic.

And there you have an overview of some of the events and developments of 2022.

Kendra Caruso, Jim Leonard and Carolyn Zachary contributed to this review.

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