Skip to main content
A1 A1
Bringing home the gold
EHS girls beat Spruce Mountain 57-56 to win Class B State Championship
  • Updated

PORTLAND — The Ellsworth High School girls’ basketball team are the Class B state champions, taking home the Gold Ball for the first time in program history after defeating the Spruce Mountain Phoenix 57-56 in one of the most thrilling games in tournament history on Tuesday, March 7.

Despite a change in date, time and venue — playing on what amounted to Spruce Mountain’s home court at the Portland Expo Center instead of the Cross Insurance Arena due to weather — the Eagles didn’t look phased at all. They began the game on a 9-0 run and, eventually, jumped out to a huge 32-15 lead at the end of the first half.

The hot start was helped by the surprisingly large Ellsworth crowd, filled with students, parents, administrators and supporters who drove three hours on a Tuesday evening to watch the game, and who gave the team their full-throated support throughout the contest.

“We just love this community of Ellsworth and we’re so proud to have the chance to be a part of it,” said assistant coach and Ellsworth Superintendent Amy Boles.

Ellsworth absolutely smothered Spruce Mountain on defense and spread the scoring load around in the game’s opening frames, unleashing a tidal wave that forced the Phoenix to give everything they had just to keep themselves in the game.

Spruce Mountain seemed shellshocked as it headed to the locker room, and the Eagles looked like they were well on their way to an easy win behind their signature speed and aggressive defense.

Grace Jaffray, who had been all over the boards in the first half but was quiet on the scoring front, came out and scored the first six points of the second half. It was just another sign that pointed toward an easy Eagles’ victory.

But, true to their nature, the Phoenix rose from the ashes and came out in the second half with a plan to use Ellsworth’s tempo against them. They pressed the Eagles hard to speed them up even more and forced them to make mistakes. Ellsworth watched what was nearly a 20-point lead slowly evaporate until Spruce Mountain took its first lead of the game 54-52 with 2:07 left to go in the fourth quarter.

“Obviously [Spruce Mountain] grabbed some of the momentum and made some big shots,” said Ellsworth player Megan Jordan of the run late in the game. “We knew that they were a fourth-quarter team so we knew that we would need to buckle down for all four quarters and the Gold Ball would be ours.”

The teams went back and forth on defense with the Phoenix eventually pulling ahead 56-54 with under a minute left to play. With two of the Eagles’ best three-point shooters, senior Morgan Clifford and freshman Elizabeth Boles, on the bench after fouling out, the situation seemed dire for Ellsworth.

But sophomore Addison Atherton hit a huge jumper to tie the score up 56-56 and give the Eagles some life. Ellsworth then did what it does best, forcing a turnover on the defensive end, which resulted in a foul on Jordan. The junior team captain calmly strode to the line with 13.9 seconds to go in the game and hit her first free throw to give Ellsworth the lead.

“I was at the line and I was just like, ‘Oh, I’m going to make it,’” Jordan said after the game. “I knew it was going in.”

Jordan missed her second shot, however, which could have potentially given Spruce Mountain the chance to take the final shot of the game. But Atherton again came up clutch, grabbing the offensive rebound on the miss and sealing the victory.

“I’m so proud of them,” said coach Boles. “I thought [Spruce Mountain] did a really good job of pressing and trying to speed us up late in the game, and we fed into it. But, down their stretch, they kept their composure … I’m so proud of their grit and their fight.”

The team was again very well-rounded in the scoring department with every single one of their seven-player rotation getting in the book. The Eagles were led by Abby Radel, who had 18 points with three three-pointers in the game.

Jaffray had eight points in the contest, but led the team with ten rebounds. Jordan ended the game with seven points, including the game-winning free throw. Boles also had seven points with a three-pointer while Lily Bean had six points and Atherton ended with four. Clifford had two three-pointers for a total of six points in her final game as an Eagle.

“Most of these girls play nine months out of the year,” coach Boles explained. “They play AAU, they train at the Forge, they put a lot of extra time in, and it certainly paid off tonight.”

Boles also noted the impact that the win could have on youth sports participation rates that have been on the decline ever since the COVID-19 pandemic.

“You hope that little girls in Ellsworth, and around the state, see what they just did at such a young age and you hope that they want to start playing,” said Boles. “Hopefully this group, with their love of the game and their perseverance, can inspire some little ones to come out and try the game.”

And just as they hope the win will inspire future generations, team members know that securing the Gold Ball was the best way to honor the past and the girls’ teams that came before and built the program to what it is today.

“That one’s for all the ones that were not here,” said head coach Andy Pooler. “I’ve had a lot of players in 12 years who never had an opportunity to win a playoff game. And the 1994 team that didn’t win it, this one’s for them. We’re bringing it home to the North.”

Versant plans $44 million upgrade to Ellsworth substation

ELLSWORTH — Versant Power has been granted a building permit for construction on $44 million worth of upgrades and expansion in Ellsworth to begin sometime this year.

The Ellsworth Boggy Brook substation is a pool transmission facility (PTF) that is connected to a number of ISO New England lines and systems. A reliability study conducted by ISO New England indicated that performance and reliability could be enhanced at the substation; the upgrades and expansion of existing facilities and equipment are a direct result of the findings of the study.

“The new equipment was determined to be the best technical solution and the most cost-effective option,” Versant said in an emailed statement. “While located in Ellsworth, the new equipment will benefit customers throughout Washington and Hancock County.”

ISO New England is an independent nonprofit Regional Transmission Organization responsible for keeping electricity flowing across six states, including Connecticut, Maine, Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Rhode Island and Vermont. Versant Power is a member of the organization.

Versant’s statement also noted that because the station is a regional facility, the cost of the project will be spread equally among customers throughout the region, and that the company’s financial contribution is under 2 percent.

While final permits are still in the approval process, Versant plans to begin construction later this year.

Hancock County's next courthouse likely to be built in new location

ELLSWORTH — Hancock County will be getting a new courthouse but when and where remains to be seen.

That was the news from Maine Judicial Branch officials, including State Court Administrator Amy Quinlan, who updated the Hancock County Commissioners Tuesday morning about the status of the courthouse project.

The judicial branch launched a study in 2019 to assess the nearly 100-year-old building to determine if renovation or expansion was possible or if a new facility should be constructed elsewhere.

“We just don’t think that given the needs after a thorough assessment that we can make this location work,” Quinlan said. “We’re here today to let you know we’re going to look into other areas. At this point in time we are looking at locations off-site. Do you have guidance about where to look or a location?”

Commissioner Bill Clark asked if the judiciary had any restrictions about where the new courthouse would be located.

“Are you restricted to Ellsworth?” Clark asked.

“We want to try to stay within the population center downtown, that would be our preference,” Quinlan said.

Clark explained that 2 miles away could put the new building in the town of Trenton or Lamoine and still be closer to the population center than say Winkumpaugh Road at the north end of Ellsworth, which is 15 miles away.

Clark, who was Hancock County’s longtime sheriff, was in office when Hancock County built the new jail, which is connected to the existing courthouse building.

“Twenty-five years ago it was important for a jail to be next to the courthouse, but now look at how many jails have been built away from the courthouse,” Clark said. “Too bad we’ll have to get in a vehicle to drive to the courthouse, but that’s the cost of doing business.”

Clark asked about a timeline.

“We’re currently in the process of seeking funds to purchase property going through this legislative session,” Quinlan said.

Dennis Corliss, chief of finance and administration for the Maine Judicial Branch Administrative Office of the Courts, elaborated. ”We have authority for the purchase of land not the building.”

Commissioner John Wombacher inquired about how much land was needed.

“We were looking at 5 to 6 acres of land,” Quinlan replied. “That’s really what we’re looking for to make a modern day building work.”

The existing courthouse has numerous issues, not the least of which is an inadequate supply of parking.

Handicapped accessibility is another issue, County Facilities Director Dennis Walls has said previously.

“The only handicapped access for the first floor is through this door on the second floor to the elevator and down,” Walls said. During one incident, Walls and another county employee had to carry a physically disabled woman downstairs to the first floor.

There aren’t enough courtrooms either, according to officials.

Security is yet another problem for the State Street structure. All of the first-floor offices are connected by doors, according to Walls.

When the courthouse facilities study was launched, the then facilities director said ideally attorneys, defendants and witnesses would only meet in one place. “How do you get all the different participants there in a separate way? That’s why so many 19th century courthouses are outdated.”

One possibility the judicial branch had previously considered was purchasing Hancock County Jail abutter Ruth Foster’s property, which includes her residence and about 3 acres of land.

“We are now at the point that we think that is going to be cost-prohibitive,” Quinlan said.

Local historian Mark Honey said previously that the courthouse was built around 1930.

Hundreds of local seniors apply to freeze property taxes
  • Updated

ELLSWORTH — Planning for one’s golden years would be considerably easier if there weren’t so many variables, rising energy, grocery, health care and prescription costs among them. But recent state legislation seeks to hold the line on at least one household expense — property taxes — and hundreds of older Hancock County residents have jumped at the chance.

The deadline for Maine’s Property Tax Stabilization Program was Dec. 1. (The next application round will be posted sometime later this year). In Ellsworth, 636 applications, most of those received, were approved. Bar Harbor fielded 348 applications; most were approved with some needing additional age verification, according to the town’s assessing office. In Bucksport, 258 properties were submitted and 245 approved. Lamoine OK’d 157 of 164 applications.

“Our seniors deserve to be able to stay in their homes they’ve owned for 10 years or more, without the fear and constant burden of excessive taxation,” said city assessor Larry Gardner. “These are our grandfathers and great-grandfathers, grandmothers and great-grandmothers, who have respectfully worked hard every single day of their lives. Most are now on fixed incomes.

“Many are also military veterans who have fought with valor to protect us. These are our emergency responders, teachers, medical professionals, merchants, administrators, construction workers, fishermen and clergy we’ll always remember helping and caring for us.”

Gardner said there were minimal complications in processing applications. He credits the city’s archival records, which helped confirm eligibility for the program, and the work of Technology Director Jason Ingalls and his associate Nate Burckhard in maintaining those records.

The tax stabilization program allows Maine residents aged 65 and older to freeze their property tax bills. The state is to reimburse municipalities for the reduced revenue, which supports local municipal and school budgets.

To be eligible, homeowners have to be at least 65 by April 1 of the year for which they are requesting tax stabilization. They also must be permanent Maine residents, have owned a home in the state for at least 10 years (the years do not have to be consecutive) and be eligible for a homestead exemption on the property they are placing in the program. There are no income or asset limits.

If approved, applicants’ property tax bills will be frozen at the amount billed for the previous year. Participants must file an application by deadline every year to maintain that stabilized amount.

Rollout of the program has created additional work for municipal assessors.

“The program is time-consuming for assessors, especially departments that are just a single assessor without support staff,” said Bucksport assessor Katlyn Eldridge.

Stu Marckoon, administrative assistant to the Lamoine Select Board, said there were no issues administering the program “other than the sheer volume of people.”

“We did have to analyze people’s information to make sure that they qualified,” he noted.

Town officials said they won’t have estimates on the reduction in taxes being collected until budgets are finalized and any mill rate adjustments are made.

Deer Isle uses RJD Appraisals for its assessing work.

“We have some seniors that realize they missed the deadline for application and others that are anxious to know that they qualified,” said Town Manager Jim Fisher. “Interestingly, the number of applicants doesn’t matter as much as the value of their combined properties. A lot of low-value properties already benefiting from the Homestead allowance might have little overall impact, whereas a small number of very high value properties might be more significant.”

He said the 2022 tax stabilization law presents opportunities for people to “game the system.”

“This kind of gaming may be relatively uncommon, but it will make the entire program look corrupt and unfair,” Fisher said. “The choice to ignore how markets work very often invites non-market decisions and unintended consequences.”

Fisher said that instead, the Legislature could consider adopting a higher homestead exemption for Mainers over 65. “It would be much easier to administer and would target people that may need the assistance more.”

Deer Isle resident Suzanne Carmichael likes the program as is, though she thinks it would be fair to consider an income limit.

The 79-year-old widow said knowing in advance what she’ll owe for property taxes each year makes it easier to budget. Year-over-year property tax increases, and particularly sudden large jumps, can threaten seniors’ ability to remain in their homes, she said. Her own taxes rose considerably last year when Deer Isle underwent a revaluation. She said that was fair, but a shock nonetheless.

“I know a lot of people want to age in place, but in order to do this, you have to be able to plan,” Carmichael said.

“I think things like this are really important to make folks comfortable living here and not moving to Florida or wherever,” she added.

On whether it might become a problem for municipalities to recoup the full cost of reduced property taxes from the state, local officials said it was too early to tell.

“The reduction in taxes or burden shift will be zero, if law is followed, and the state reimbursement is 100 percent,” said Gardner.

“That will be up to the state,” Marckoon said.

Jennifer Osborn, Malachy Flynn and Lizzie Heintz contributed to this report.

Stonington is Maine's top lobster port once again
  • Updated

ELLSWORTH — Maine’s commercial fishermen last year earned about half of what they did in 2021, according to preliminary data released by the state’s Department of Marine Resources (DMR). But while the total of $574 million pales in comparison to 2021’s historic high value of $907 million, it is in line with data from previous years.

Lobster, the mainstay of the state commercial fishery, accounted for nearly half of the total 197-million-pound haul in the state. Maine’s lobstermen brought in 97,956,667 pounds, contributing $388,589,931 to the overall commercial harvest total.

Stonington continues to hold the top spot for lobster landings statewide, with nearly 12 million pounds caught at a value of $44.7 million. The port of Southwest Harbor brought in nearly $11.2 million worth of product, giving it the position of seventh top-grossing port in the state for the third year in a row.

Hancock County lobstermen contributed well over 30 million pounds for a $123,707,724 value, earning its place as the top-grossing county for the 24th consecutive year.

For total species landings, Hancock County brought in approximately 75 million pounds for roughly $220 million in value. Landings value is determined by the ex-vessel value, or the price fishermen are paid for their catch by seafood dealers.

Maine’s elver harvesters earned $20 million in 2022, according to the DMR, placing it as the state’s second most valuable commercial fishery. The value of Maine-caught elvers reached $2,131 per-pound, a price exceeded only twice in the history of the fishery.

Not only did elvers net a high price-per-pound but they were also in abundance, according to Darrell Young, president of the Maine Elver Association.

“It was the best year we ever saw as far as eels running,” Young told The American. “I filled my quota [of 9,688 pounds] in eight days. A lot of people did.”

Softshell clams were the third most valuable fishery in 2022, coming in at $16.7 million. Sea scallops reached $8.7 million, one of its highest values ever landed, making it the fifth most valuable fishery this year.

Alewife landings more than doubled their landings value, from $723,291 in 2021 to over $1.5 million. Landings were up by 70 percent, from 1.8 million pounds to 3.3 million pounds, meaning the per-pound price saw an increase.

Menhaden landings increased by more than $1.6 million for a total $12 million value, making the popular lobster bait the fourth most valuable in the state fishery.

“Maine achieved a major win in 2022 for both lobster and menhaden harvesters, with an increase in state quota from 2 million pounds to more than 24 million pounds,” DMR Commissioner Patrick Keliher said. “That tenfold increase in state quota will provide both menhaden and lobster harvesters much-needed certainty in their ability to harvest and source bait.”

But in the land of lobster, the close to 50 percent drop in lobstermen’s earnings — despite the fact that the ex-vessel price in 2021 was highly inconsistent with previous years — for some lobstermen and dealers felt like one more body blow.

One reason for the drastic decrease was a marked lower demand for lobster than in 2021.

“Issues in demand started to arise when Canadian processors pushed back the date Maine begins shipping lobster to processers,” said Virginia Olsen, Maine Lobstering Union (MLU) Local 207 political director and executive liaison. “This dropped the U.S. price.”

Local 207 operates its own lobster co-operative, and inflation affected its bottom line just as it has for lobstermen.

“The cost for fuel to pick up and deliver lobsters also doubled for our company,” Olsen said. “Inflation has been very difficult for the lobster industry as a whole. The only person in the supply chain that can’t demand more for their product is the one catching it and bringing it to shore for consumers.”

For Greenhead Lobster, located in Stonington with a processing facility in Bucks-port, Canadian processers were hardly buyers at all, owner Hugh Reynolds said, because they still had lobster from 2021.

“Demand fell off the charts somewhere around May,” Reynolds said. “It was leftover high-cost inventory from 2021, and that put a whammy on demand.”

While Reynolds’ supply, mainly from Stonington lobstermen, was steady, with lower prices comes lower revenue, he said, and revenue was “way down.”

“It’s supply and demand,” he said. “Now there’s not much inventory in 2022. So, the demand did not meet the supply in 2021, and in 2022 the demand outweighed the supply.”

He ended on a more positive note, though: “We’ll see stronger pricing [in 2023], but I don’t think it will be as strong as 2021.”