For communities in Knox County, a small coastal Maine enclave of about 40,000 people, 2018 was a year of rethinking traditions, re-invention and recovery.
Major public conversation topics ranged from harbor management in the county’s seat, Rockland, to a renewed attempt to clean up about 27,000 tons of abandoned carpet-like material in Warren.
This past year was marked by community members speaking up about what matters to them ― whether that be preserving Rockland Harbor for public use or reducing the use of plastic bags or making sure their neighbors struggling with addiction have the resources they need to recover.
As local and state officials continue to work on developing plans to address these issues, here are updates on major stories from Knox County in 2018.
While the city has a history of seeing the harbor primarily as a resource for industry and development, in recent years the discussion around Rockland Harbor has changed to how it can be preserved for broad public use.
With cruise ships now making Rockland a frequent stop during the fall, and a private marina working on an expansion plan, city officials are focusing on creating a management plan for the harbor that will guide the city on how the harbor should be used. Earlier this year, in response to concerns from some residents, the city council voted to set limits on the number and size of cruise ships that can visit Rockland throughout the year. The council also formed an ad hoc harbor management plan committee to take a critical look at the state of the harbor and harbor-related issues.
The plan developed by the committee, if accepted by city council, will replace the city’s 20-year-old harbor management plan. The group began its work in August and is expected to finish at the end of 2019, when they will present their suggestions to city council.
David Grima, the committee’s chairman, said members are currently in the description phase of the plan development, meaning they’re taking stock of everything in — and related to — the harbor. From there, the group will begin to formulate suggestions about how harbor issues should be addressed. The only suggestion that the committee has supported so far would be the creation of a harbor construction ordinance, Grima said. This type of ordinance would give city officials more voice in what is constructed in the harbor.
Maine Lobster Festival
Rockland’s signature event, the Maine Lobster Festival, created a stir this summer when this year’s Sea Goddess was decrowned because of social media posts just 24 hours after her coronation during this year’s Lobster Festival.
For 71 years, the festival has taken place in August on Rockland’s waterfront, with each festival featuring the coronation of the Maine Lobster Festival Sea Goddess, who is selected through a pageant. But the controversy following this year’s festival has prompted organizers of the event to consider making some changes.
In October, the Maine Lobster Festival board of directors issued an apology to the community and to the decrowned 2018 Maine Sea Goddess, for the events that occured at the 2018 Maine Lobster Festival. New leadership was also named in October, with Celia Knight replacing outgoing Maine Lobster Festival president Cynthia Powell.
Changes are being planned for several areas of the festival, including the coronation, according to board member Shannon Kinney. However, Kinney said it is too early to announce what these changes will be, as the committee will be working on fleshing out the ideas in the new year. Proposed changes from the festival’s coronation committee have been presented to the board, but Kinney said no changes have been decided on as of yet.
City officials in Rockland this year put a cap on the number of non-owner occupied rentals, such as Airbnb and HomeAway, that can exist in the city.
The cap of 45 non-owner occupied rentals went into place in February, with no time frame set for when the cap would be lifted. Former mayor Valli Geiger, who still serves on the city council, put forth the idea for a cap on these type of rentals so the council could look at how they might be affecting the city’s long-term housing stock.
Last month, instead of repealing the cap, the city council voted to form a seven-member short-term rental committee that will further study the issue. The committee has been tasked with recommending regulations to the city council within the next six months.
Warren carpet cleanup
The Maine Department of Environmental Protection is continuing to work on cleaning up about 27,000 tons of carpet-like material that have sat abandoned on a former rifle range in Warren for the past 20 years.
This year, the DEP again solicited site cleanup proposals after its contract with a Massachusetts company expired with far less material being removed than anticipated. Last month, the DEP selected a proposal from a Rockport company, Farley and Sons, to haul as much material as it could from the site. The company plans to bring the material, which is made up of two types of plastic fibers, to the Dragon Cement plant in Thomaston, where it will be burned.
A contract with Farley and Sons is dependent on Dragon Cement obtaining the appropriate permitting that would allow the company to burn the material.
This summer, the Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition opened a house in Rockland for men who are working on their recovery from substance use disorder and are in need of a sober living environment. The house, called the Friend’s House, can currently house four men, but the coalition is in the process of making upgrades to the property so it can house up to 12 men, according to Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition Director Ira Mandel.
Two men living at the house shared their stories with the Bangor Daily News this fall. Jerome Doyle and Cedric Butler said if it weren’t for the opportunity presented by the Friend’s House, the strides they have made in getting their life back on track after addiction and incarceration wouldn’t have been possible. Doyle has since moved out of the house and is living with his wife and children in Waldo County, Mandel said. Butler is still living at the house and is working on his recovery.
The coalition is pursuing a similar project in Camden for women. The organization signed a purchase-and-sale agreement just before Thanksgiving on a former elder care facility at 63 Washington St. Originally, the organization had until March 31 to raise the funds to purchase the home, but the sellers received an offer from a potential buyer who could buy the home outright, Mandel said.
Now, the Mid-Coast Recovery Coalition only has until Jan. 2, 2019, to raise $160,000 to secure the purchase of the home. As of Dec. 24, they had raised about $105,000, according to a post on the group’s Facebook page.
The Rockport man accused of killing his mother, grandparents and a home health aide in Massachusetts last year will go on trial for murder in April.
Orion Krause faces four charges of murder stemming from the Sept. 8, 2017 killings at his grandparents’ home in Groton, Massachusetts. Krause was deemed competent to stand trial in October 2017 and is being held at the Bridgewater State Hospital in Massachusetts.
Krause is accused of killing his mother, Elizabeth “Buffy” Krause, 60; her parents Elizabeth “Esu” Lackey, 85, and Frank Danby “Dan” Lackey III, 89; and their home health aide, Bertha Mae Parker, 68.
This spring, Krause pleaded not guilty to the murder charges. His jury trial is slated to begin on April 22 in Middlesex Superior Court in Lowell Massachusetts.