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Former Maine Fair Trade Lobster plant on the auction block

GOULDSBORO — The Maine Fair Trade complex that was purchased by American Aquafarms in April 2022 will now be auctioned off June 15.

American Aquafarms CEO Keith Decker, who was granted a lien on the property as $1,125,000 collateral for funds owed to him, is taking action to liquidate his interest in the former plant, according to a May 12 press release. The lien was recorded in the Hancock County Registry of Deeds on March 1.

Decker announced his resignation earlier this month.

American Aquafarms’ lease applications to build an industrial-size open-pen salmon farm in Frenchman Bay were rejected by the Maine Department of Marine Resources in 2022.

The press release notes that that “in March of this year, the company’s director of project development was quoted in press accounts stating that the firm’s parent company, Blue Future Holdings, is focused on new projects in Norway rather than those not making progress — like American Aquafarms.”

Keenan Auction Co. of Portland is handling the auction.

“We’re hoping somebody buys it and does something productive with it,” said Dana Rice, chairperson of the Gouldsboro Select Board. “We’re definitely hoping for something in the working waterfront field.”

The property consists of five parcels and will be sold as one entity, according to its listing. It includes 100,000 square feet of industrial/commercial complex and approximately 1,250 feet of ocean front.

According to the listing, “the majority of the processing equipment has been removed from the facility with several holding tanks still in place. Adjacent to the industrial building site are three 4-room employee housing units with a fourth building having a common living, dining and kitchen area, and locker room type bath area.” A complete property information package will be released soon.

The American Aquafarms application drew intense local scrutiny and prompted the formation of Frenchman Bay United, a nonprofit coalition of citizens and groups organized in opposition to the large-scale salmon farm.

“To the extent this signals the end of the American Aquafarms project, which it certainly does, we’re thrilled with the outcome,” said Ted O’Meara, a Frenchman Bay United board member. “The one question is what becomes of the property now. I think we’re all committed to doing anything we can to find a good owner ... someone who will put it to good use and hopefully maintain it as working waterfront that creates good, clean jobs.”

Bob Fernald, longtime funeral director, dies at 89

SOMESVILLE — Robert “Bob” Fernald, a lifelong resident of Somesville and an active funeral director for 63 years, died last Friday at Northern Light Maine Coast Hospital in Ellsworth. He was 89.

He attended Mount Desert schools, graduating from high school in Northeast Harbor in 1952. After studying at the New England Institute of Anatomy in Boston, he became a licensed funeral director and embalmer in Maine in 1955.

Fernald married Jean Elaine Graves in 1956, a year after joining the family business.

Since its beginning in 1860, the Fernald funeral service business has been owned and operated by five generations of Fernalds. In 1961, the current funeral home was built in the village of Somesville. In 1981, the family purchased the Jordan Funeral Home in Ellsworth, followed by the purchase of the Healey Funeral Home in Blue Hill in 1993 and the funeral home in Bar Harbor in 1999. In 2004, all four locations became known as Jordan-Fernald Funeral Homes.

Fernald’s daughter Lauri joined the family business in 1988 and took over its operation from her father 2018. But he continued to be active in the business, and the pair worked together for 35 years.

Fernald was an original member of the board of directors at the Somes-Meynell Wildlife Sanctuary in Somesville. He served on the board of directors at Union Trust Co. of Ellsworth. He was a longtime member of the Lions Club and was sexton at Brookside Cemetery in Somesville for more than 50 years.

Fernald was a Mason for more than 60 years. As an Anah Shriner, he belonged to the Anah Convertibles Unit, serving as its treasurer for 25 years. He was a member of the Royal Order of Jesters Court 150.

He and Jean supported a number of local organizations including Acadia Repertory Theatre, Somesville Library Association, Somesville Landing Corporation and Mount Desert Historical Society.

Fernald is survived by his wife, his son Barry and daughter Lauri.

A celebration of his life will be held at 11 a.m. this Saturday, May 20, at St. Mary’s-by-the-Sea Episcopal Church in Northeast Harbor, followed by interment at Brookside Cemetery.

Miranda Engstrom, left, is presented with a T-shirt by Amanda Frost recognizing Engstrom as Hancock County Teacher of the Year for 2023 at a celebration at the Lamoine Consolidated School on May 11. Engstrom, who is the Title I/gifted & talented/reading recovery teacher at the Lamoine school, was one of 16 individuals recognized in Augusta last week as the top teachers in their respective counties. See story on page A3.

Top teacher

GSA reverses course on three teaching position reductions

BLUE HILL — George Stevens Academy has reversed course on reducing three teaching positions for the upcoming school year.

An English position and one history position had been cut from full-time to part-time when the school’s board of trustees made sweeping cuts last month to education, staff and administration positions. Also, a part-time arts teacher position had been eliminated.

However, board President Sally Mills confirmed Monday that those positions had been reinstated and referred questions to interim Headmaster Shelley Jackson.

“We have been able to restore two full-time positions in English and history; they had been reduced to half-time, as well as a half-time fine arts teacher,” Jackson said. “This was done with board approval to draw an additional 2 percent from our endowment rather than any more budget reductions.”

“The rationale was to keep our program as rich as possible and to create a student schedule that would essentially be what they are used to seeing,” Jackson said.

Jackson said the decision was made in early May.

Before the April school vacation, GSA announced layoffs or reductions for 15 faculty, administrators and staff.

The board cited a host of issues, including declining enrollment for the boarding program as well as the day program.

GSA had 295 students enrolled during the 2020-21 school year, according to Mills. Next fall that number is projected to be roughly 260 students.

Also, the school is limited by the amount of tuition it can charge. That rate is set by the Maine Department of Education. There’s a gap between the tuition allowed and the actual cost of educating students, according to school administrators.

The cuts were upsetting to the student body, a group of whom organized as “Save Our School” and held public meetings with the board of trustees.

Grace Macomber, a GSA student and one of the organizers, said “we are thrilled with the recent decisions to reinstate the three staff members and we hope to see more changes like these ones in the future.”

However, another member said there are still plenty of concerns.

“We are very pleased with the reinstatement of three of our beloved teachers,” said sophomore Amelia Jackson. She said student activists feel there is misinformation about how the three teachers got their jobs back, however, and claimed that even with the three teachers returning some of the classes that are offered at the school will remain reduced. She expressed concern about how that will affect the student experience, going forward.

“Of course, we, and our fellow students, are very happy to be keeping three of our amazing educators, yet, we still have a lot of work to do to return to the school we once were,” Amelia Jackson said.

Council discusses public vote on municipal budget

ELLSWORTH — City Council members at their meeting on May 15 discussed a proposition brought forward by Councilor Steve O’Halloran to bring the city’s municipal budget to a public vote.

O’Halloran, who sponsored the discussion, spoke of his belief that if the public is able to vote on the School Department budget as mandated by the city charter, they should be able to vote on the municipal budget as well.

“I’m not afraid of a report card from the public,” O’Halloran said. “I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

The current charter outlines that it must be council members who vote to approve the city’s municipal budget, not a public vote. The representative government setup through which the city operates also mandates a representative vote, rather than a public one.

A public vote is mandatory for the School Department budget, but not any other department.

Council members other than O’Halloran indicated apprehension about bringing the municipal budget to a public vote, noting the complexity and extensiveness of the budget itself and the process as a whole. Although it is not common practice, a handful of communities nationwide have adopted a public voting process for discretionary funds, according to Councilor Jon Stein.

“It’s a balance of efficiency and as close to true democracy as you can get,” Stein said to council members. “Does everybody say their pitch and work together and come up with a budget, or does it have to get funneled through a few people?... That’s the balance.”

Councilor Michelle Beal, who previously served stints as both city manager and finance director, expressed her apprehension about a public voting situation. She noted the difficulty of being able to properly educate the public on a budget that is “inches” thick, and how the lack of full comprehension and understanding could lead to cutting funds that are crucial for the city to function.

During public commentary, Ellsworth resident John Linnehan expressed his disagreement with both the municipal and school budget numbers but voiced support for O’Halloran’s idea.

“I think you guys work hard on the budget, don’t get me wrong, it’s just a disagreement on how the money should be spent,” he told councilors. “...I think it should go to the public — both of them.”

Public voting on the School Department budget will take place on Thursday, June 29. On the ballot, voters will be asked whether or not they approve the budget numbers for the coming school year, as well as whether or not they wish to continue to vote on the School Department’s budget at all.

Should the majority of voters decide against continuing the validation, there will no longer be a public vote to approve it.

$1.2M grant to bolster firefighter recruitment, retention in Ellsworth and surrounding communities

ELLSWORTH — The Ellsworth Fire Department has been awarded a grant of $1,239,537.50 for its Firefighter Recruitment and Retention Program.

The grant will benefit Ellsworth as well as six other surrounding Hancock County communities — Dedham, Trenton, Lamoine, Mariaville, Hancock and Orland — to support the departments with “increasing, training and maintaining the number of front-line firefighters.”

“We’re ecstatic,” Ellsworth Fire Chief Scott Guillerault said. “This is a huge monetary boost to all seven communities that are tied to this grant.”

The Staffing for Adequate Fire and Emergency Response (SAFER) grant was awarded to Ellsworth through the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA). The grant aims to aid in addressing the challenge of recruiting and retaining volunteer firefighters in regional departments; with the grant, up to $1.2 million in expenses tied to recruitment and training will be reimbursed to the Fire Department.

“The first thing we’re gonna do is, all the communities are going to come together and build an advisory committee so we can establish our goals and objectives moving forward,” Guillerault said. “The next step will be hiring a grant manager … and get them in here so we can start working on that.”

According to Guillerault, the funding will be expansive; the reimbursement will include the hiring of the grant manager, recruitment marketing and retention, annual physicals, additional advanced training, new gear, initial fire training and more.

The department’s goal is to bring in a total of 80 new volunteers across the different communities involved over the next four years.

“Once it’s in place and working, it should put a positive boost back into these communities to have the manpower that we’ve been struggling to find and hold onto for years,” Guillerault said.