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Academic horizons expanding for interested students. USM trying to make it easier for refugees, immigrants and asylum seekers to get an education.

Mon, 2016-02-01 08:48

By Thomas Fitzgerald/Community Editor

On Jan. 28, a collection of students and prospective individuals who are interested in attending school at a college level gathered together on the seventh floor of the Glickman library to discuss their options with many different representatives. This event was organized with the association of the Martin Luther King Jr. day of service, and is aimed to assist the diverse changes that USM is seeking in order to further pursue this school as a metropolitan university.

There are some challenges that are more difficult to overcome when entering the United States from a foreign country and Reza Jalali, the coordinator of multicultural student affairs, outlined many of these challenges when asked.

“The greatest challenges seem to reflect the workshops we are offering: Language, cost of education and paying for it, and transfer of degrees from other countries.” Said Jalali, who was present throughout the workshop to answer student questions and emphasize the programs that are being offered. “ Others include cultural adjustment and navigating the complex American educational system.”

It is still crucial that although USM is also finding solutions to these problems as well as recognizing them, and Jalali clearly stated with confidence that USM will do their part to assist cultural adjustment for all students who are adapting to a new lifestyle among the community.

“The best ways include changing USM’s culture to be more welcoming to newcomers is by offering courses on issues they seem to be familiar with,” continued Jalali. “For example, classes in Arabic, World religion, international politics, immigration, hiring staff and faculty members, who resemble them, creating scholarships to attract them and retain them, creating a one-stop-shop where immigrants can get their degrees from abroad looked at, evaluated and easily transferred, and so on.”

One example of financial assistance that was present at the workshop was the finance authority of Maine. FAME, as it is abbreviated, did a thorough job at explaining the important steps toward applying for financial aid, what kind of financial aid is available, and how to reduce college costs overall while spending time at USM..

From a national perspective, the amount of diversity in the college classroom is making great levels of progress. According to the National Center for Educational Statistics, students that are Hispanic have risen by more than twenty percent since statistics were reported in 2010.  This growth has mainly been accountable of students who are attending public four year colleges or universities, such as USM.

The workshop also took time to examine the possibilities of education from a broader perspective: college for families who have young children, and are thinking in advance about how they can afford education once their child reaches the appropriate age. This program is called the NextGen College Investing Plan, and it outlines how parents can open an account with a small start-up fee, and collect financial assistance as years pass with grants that match the money being saved within the account.

Whether you are an immigrant, a refugee, asylum seeker, or just an individual who is concerned about their ability to financially afford college and culturally adapt to the change in surroundings of a new area, this workshop was incredibly beneficial.

Potential changes coming to USM after Board of Trustees meeting

Mon, 2016-02-01 08:48

By Zachary Searles

The Board of Trustees for the University of Maine System held their first meeting of the year, and of the semester, last Sunday and Monday, Jan. 24 and 25, at the University of Maine in Orono. During the meeting, the board voted on matters that will potentially impact the future of USM.

The board gave unanimous support for the plan of a two-year International Early College at USM. With their support, the plan for the early college can now move forward.

The goal of the early college program is to attract international students who are interested in studying at United States colleges. As of now the plan is to get 50 students to enroll, and these students would be housed in Anderson Hall on the Gorham campus.

“We have fantastic opportunities to grow our university and our state’s economy by strengthening our global ties,” Glenn Cummings, President of USM, said in an article in the Bangor Daily News. “Our International Early College program leverages our excess capacity and ingenuity to draw diversity, talent and tuition dollars to Maine.”

Students who enroll in the program will take 100 and 200 level classes at the university, and at the end of their two years, they would graduate with a high school diploma and two years of college credit that could then be used to transfer to another college somewhere else.

In his Monday Missive, a weekly email blast that goes out to all students, President Cummings thanked all who were a part of making this happen, and mentioned that the next step was to get visa destination approvals from the Department of Homeland Security, a process that could take a few months.

In his email, the president also noted that Provost Jeannine Uzzi took a trip to Thailand, Vietnam and Korea to recruit students for the new school and for USM.

“USM’s International Early College program is a creative approach to bringing new students, new perspective and new resources to Maine,” Gregory Johnson, UMS Academic and Student Affairs Committee Chairman, said in a press release last Tuesday.

The first class of students could be looking to come to USM as soon as the Fall 2016 semester. Any student accepted would be looking at a bill of $36,000, which includes tuition, room and board and other fees.

At the meeting, the Board of Trustees also liked the idea of adding the Muskie School of Public Service at USM to the graduate center that is in the works from Eliot Cutler. Although as of now a specific location has not yet been decided for the graduate center, it will likely be built somewhere in Portland, although as of now the location has not yet been decided.

In the past, Cutler has said there is support for having it on the USM campus, but noted that there is also support for it being somewhere in Portland. According to the Portland Press Herald, Cutler is more focused on finishing the plan, which he will be giving to Chancellor of the University of Maine System James Page in late summer early fall, than on deciding where the center will actually be located.

President Cummings said that Muskie faculty are interested in being a part of the new center, but he also believes that right now the Muskie school is fragile after all the cuts last fall and is still getting back on its feet.

According to President Cummings, the Muskie research center brings in between $20 and $25 million every year.

“We think it strengthens the attractiveness of the (graduate center) program if Muskie is united,” President Cummings said in a Portland Press Herald article. “They believe they will be better off as part of this graduate center as well.”

Chancellor Page also gave his support for adding the Muskie school to the graduate center, claiming that it would be a  meaningful addition to the center.

Even though there is no final decision as to where the graduate center will go, President Cummings would like to see it stay on campus.

He noted in his Monday Missive that he will be attending board meetings for the Alfond Foundation, which will provide most of the financial backing for the new graduate center, to answer any questions the foundation’s members might have about the center.

“If appropriate, I will reflect the strong feelings of faculty and USM’s student BOT representatives to keep the Center on campus and include all of our graduate programs,” President Cummings said in his weekly email to all students.

Could cost of books lead to more theft in bookstore?

Mon, 2016-02-01 08:47

By Bradford Spurr

Going to college is seen as an investment in oneself and in one’s future. Knowledge is power, and with that comes an educated constituency that forms the foundation of a well-informed democratic society.

However, with a commitment to any major, comes the implied obligation of increasingly expensive textbook and other bookstore materials. NBC News reviewed the Bureau of Labor Statistics data that shows that since 1977, textbook prices have increased by 1,041 percent . This trend is three times greater than what natural free market inflation normally would allow.

The College Board published its own findings that, on average, a student attending a four-year university will pay $1,250 a year for textbooks and materials alone. This cost has been mitigated in recent years with the advent of online retailers like Amazon, renting services Chegg.com and Textbookrush and with clever Google Chrome extentsions, such as Occupy the Bookstore, which is an extension that will automatically display six to seven alternative marketplaces for books based on a student’s university’s own bookstore website.

Regardless of how accessible responsible price comparison tools are, the bottom line is that textbooks have now become an inordinate expense because students fall into the special category of  captive consumers. This means that little marketplace competition exists because these textbooks are widely adopted by hundreds of universities and colleges, and one book is not the same as another.

Student consumers are then placed in the difficult position of being stuck between a rock  and a hard place. Compounding this economic struggle is the uncertainty of whether or not this current trend will continue. All that is clear is that book prices will certainly not drop anytime soon.

With the implementation of a newly revamped security policy, the inescapable reality of increasing textbook prices has been on full display at the USM bookstore for the past several weeks. Official uniformed USM police guard the entrance of the store with an intimidating authority that seems excessive for a place that sells stuffed animals. These police officers ask each and every student  to leave their backpacks in a series of small, black cubbies before the student can go off to locate his/her $200 McGraw Hill biology book.

Catherine Johnson, bookstore manager here at the USM Portland campus, has been involved with the university in some capacity for nearly 16 years. She was the one who decided to have a security presence in the store in order to, as she said,“cut down on theft.” Johnson also stated that “most theft is done by non-students,” citing an alleged textbook theft ring operating along the coast.

The bookstore does not necessarily have a way to track these ‘book lifting’ crimes because, according to Johnson, “It is not an obvious thing, it is not something entered into the computer.Seeing people lift books, happens more often than I’d like.”

And as far as what kind of profit margin is seen on these high-priced commodities, Johnson said, “Well we have to make a profit to pay our staff, I’d rather not comment on the profit. But it is probably not as much as most people think.”

The bookstore is not an independant company in the respect that it does not have any affiliation with big-box stores like Borders or Barnes & Noble. However, in her closing statement, Johnson remarked, “We are directly an extension of the school, because we work for the school and for the students.”

Workshop aims to dispel stereotypes around disabilities

Mon, 2016-02-01 08:47

by Erica Jones/Free Press Staff

Last Wednesday, the University of Southern Maine hosted an interactive workshop on disability education and disability ally work, “Moving Beyond Pity & Inspiration: Doing Disability Ally Work.”

The workshop was facilitated by author and disability activist Eli Clare and focused on “exploring both what we need to unlearn and how to disability ally work.”  

The workshop was made also possible through collaborations between the USM Center for Sexualities and Gender Diversity, the Disability Services Center, USM’s Dean of Students, and USM’s Women and Gender Studies department, as well as the University of New England and the Maine College of Art.

“Disabled people are everywhere, and yet are mostly invisible to the nondisabled world,” reads the first line of Clare’s workshop hand-out. It is true that disabled people are prevalent in our population; according to 2010 Census data, about 56.7 million people in the United States — 19 percent of the population — had a disability, “with more than half of them reporting the disability was severe.”

Yet people with disabilities are very often subjected to a world that does not accommodate them, alongside stereotypes that are often harmful and also limiting. These generally masked as positive assumptions, such as that all disabled people are inherently optimistic or inspiring and this is just some of what Eli Clare hopes to change through his workshops.

Sarah Holmes, USM’s Assistant Dean of Students and Deputy Title IX Coordinator, attended the workshop and the dinner held afterwards with Clare and many other people passionate about changing the way disabilities are perceived by able-bodied people, and about teaching able-bodied people how to be supportive allies.

“In its essence, it was a workshop on how to do ally work around disability issues,” said Holmes. “Eli really focused a lot on what we need to unlearn, like what are our assumptions and stereotypes about people with disabilities, both positive and negative, and what are some of the implications of some of that language.”

Workshop participants went over how actions or words that may not seem intrusive or offensive to an able-bodied person could very much seem that way to a disabled person. Clare emphasized that it is important to always ask before attempting to help a disabled person, because while assistance may sound or look like a good idea, if unwarranted, for the person on the receiving end this behavior can be demeaning and upsetting.

Stereotypes such as disabled people being objects of pity for their condition or sources of inspiration for “overcoming” their disability  may seem positive, but as Clare explained, these and other “positive” assumptions can be just as limiting for people with disabilities, and still propagate ableism and ableist language. Participants listed some disability-related words they have heard used, and also created hypothetical scenarios in which ableist slang is used in conversation, and having participants in small groups brainstorm ways to “educate and challenge” in each scenario.

Clare has held his ““Moving Beyond Pity & Inspiration” workshop at many other schools across the country with the aim of educating more people on disabilities and training inclusive able-bodied allies.

 

Professor’s showcase vast knowledge in their field by publishing books

Mon, 2016-02-01 08:46

By Jimmy MacDonald/Contributor

When we are young, our parents and teachers seem almost like machines. It seems that the sole purpose of these magical beings is to tend to our various wants and needs. Of course, the reality is that these are people – fellow human beings with ambitions and faults.

Yes, our professors’ goals are to educate us, their students, but much more work and dedication goes into that process than many students are aware of. Here at the University of Southern Maine, we have been lucky enough to have had several professors release books in recent months. Indeed, the writing process for these professors is considered by them to be an invaluable part of who they are as people and who they are as educators.

Professor Shelton Waldrep, a professor of English at USM, recently released a book entitled Future Nostalgia: Performing David Bowie. Professor Waldrep’s book is not a “fan book” or “biography,” but rather an “academic study of influences made on and by David Bowie.”

With his book, Professor Waldrep gives his readers some sense of Bowie’s persona by expounding on the various “masks” David Bowie wore throughout his celebrated career. Professor Waldrep spent two years working on his book, mostly doing so during the university’s breaks. Included in this work were various trips to Toronto in order to see the David Bowie Is exhibition, which similarly discusses the various influences David Bowie had on artists as well as  who Bowie’s  own idols were. “The students deserve to have new research available to them,” said Waldrep. “Luckily I’ve always had an opportunity to teach things that interest me.”

Having an opportunity to teach things that interest them is a sentiment echoed by the other professors  interviewed, including Professor Daniel Martinez, a professor of environmental science at USM, who released his own book, titled Valuing Energy for Global Needs: A Systems Approach, in December 2015.

The book discusses an unbiased method for evaluating the pros and cons of current energy solutions, or fossil fuels, as well as renewable energy methods that have been developed in recent years, such as solar or wind power. As he goes on to explain, this was a project that consumed his “every waking and sleeping moment over the last four years.”.

When asked how he managed his time while concurrently writing the book and teaching courses, Professor Martinez gave credit to his colleagues in the environmental science department, stating that they really helped him  manage the various responsibilities” he had,  such as “teaching, advising, research, and service.”

Professor Jane Kuenz, who is the head of the English department  here at USM, is equally well aware of the work associated with being a professor. Professor Kuenz not only teaches classes and works on research, but is simultaneously active in the process of hiring new faculty. Additionally, as she went on to explain,there are almost always requests to “review service work such as manuscripts for journals or press.”

With her co-authors, Professor Kuenz released Strip Cultures in 2015, a book that investigates subjects that have always interested Professor Kuenz,  such as surveillance in Las Vegas and how that applies generally to our culture at large. When describing her typical work day, Professor Kuenz remarked, “A professor’s work time includes both the routine and predictable and the occasional and unexpected.”

 

In addition to her scholarly work, Professor Kuenz spends much of her time on the weekends – when she isn’t grading papers – attending meetings that deal with system-level issues across the University of Maine campuses statewide.

Although a professor’s schedule is hectic and time consuming, whether it is grading papers, doing research and using that research to develop compelling, new scholarly material, one fact is abundantly clear: Our professors are dedicated to being on the cutting edge of their respective fields. They do this for the satisfaction of knowing that they are bringing the absolute best and latest information to the classroom, which their students will benefit from

 

 

News Briefs

Mon, 2016-02-01 08:42

Local & State

USM sports teams play for good causes

Over the weekend, USM’s basketball and track teams played their “Think Pink” game in order to raise money for cancer research. All athletes and fans were encouraged to wear pink to the game, and all proceeds went to the American Cancer Society.

“Our Think Pink events are the athletic department’s opportunity to give back in a small way.  Cancer is a disease that has a far-reaching effect. Like any university, many of student-athletes have lost a loved one or watched a loved one battle cancer. These annual events mean a great deal to our student-athletes, and they take great pride in being able to show their solidarity through raising funds and awareness,” Meredith Bickford, associate director of athletics, said.

The USM women’s ice hockey teams also played games for the Wounded Warriors Foundation over the weekend, selling t-shirts and collecting donations to make care packages that would be sent to soldiers who are currently deployed overseas.

Gov. Paul LePage says Maine should have death penalty for drug dealers

Last Tuesday, Gov. Paul LePage came out saying that he was in support of reinstating the death penalty. This was said just one day after he made comments about bringing back the guillotine, but he clarified that it was only a joke.

LePage said that the death penalty should be used in cases of drug trafficking, home invaders who sexually assault the residents and people convicted of murder.

“I talk about people dying (from drug overdoses) every day, but no one wants to hear that,” LePage said during a town hall meeting at Husson University in Bangor. “When I talk about the death penalty everyone wants to protect the drug traffickers. I want to protect the people of Maine.”

This statement comes just a few weeks after Gov. LePage said he wouldn’t be giving a State of the State address this year, opting to send a letter to the state’s lawmakers instead.

In the state of Maine, the death penalty has been abolished since 1887.

A new report shows that Maine’s veterans agencies are underfunded

Maine has an estimated 140,000 military veterans, and in a new report released last Friday, the report recommended to expand Maine’s Bureau of Veterans Services to better serve those who need it.

The bureau last updated its policies over 15 years ago. The report is a result of a committee that met five times during this past summer and fall, and its focus was to show how the bureau could be enhanced, not to critique the work that the bureau was doing.

“We have to increase coordination and communication,” said Rep. Jared Golden, a Marine Corps veteran who served in Iraq and Afghanistan. “One of the biggest findings was that young veterans were feeling ignored.”

According to Sen. Ron Collins, one of the biggest problems is that young veterans have very little information on the types of services that are available to them.

National

Seventh Republican debate takes place just days before caucus votes

During the most recent Republican debate, which took place on Jan. 28 in Iowa, just days before republican caucus voters will cast their ballots for who they want to be the nominee in their party. The debate featured all the remaining candidates except for front runner, Donald Trump, who decided not to participate in the debate.

During the debate Senator Marco Rubio of Florida said that Hillary Clinton wanted to put Barack Obama on the Supreme Court, noting that when she was asked about it, she claimed that she would consider it.

Senator Ted Cruz claimed during the debate that millions of people had lost their jobs and, in turn, had been forced into doing part-time work because of the Affordable Care Act. An article put out the next day by USA Today, however, showed that the economy has added millions of jobs since the Affordable Care Act was instated, and that now fewer people were working part-time jobs.

One Oregon protester killed, others arrested

Protests at the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge in Oregon have been going on for weeks, but last week the group suffered two losses, as one of their members, LaVoy Finicum, was shot and killed and their leader, Ammon Bundy, was arrested.

Bundy and others were pulled over by police last Tuesday. Everyone obeyed orders to surrender except for Finicum and Bundy’s brother, Ryan Bundy. At this time it is unclear who shot first, but it ended with Finicum dead and Ryan Bundy wounded.

Bundy’s father, Cliven Bundy, said that Finicum died supporting his beliefs. “He was a wonderful man,” he said. “He was a student of the Constitution. He was interested in freedom, and I think he gave his life where he felt it was best.”

State Department holding 22 Clinton emails

Last Friday, the Department of State said that it would not release 22 emails that were sent by Hillary Clinton because they contain “top secret” information

The emails total 37 pages in length and were never marked as classified at the time they were sent out, but are now being upgraded at the request of the United States Intelligence Community because they likely do contain sensitive information.

The news of the emails not being released comes just three days before the Iowa caucus, and many believe that the news can only hurt Clinton and her chances of getting the necessary votes in Iowa to defeat opponents Bernie Sanders and Martin O’Malley.

International

NSA documents show that US and UK have been spying on military drones in Israel

A recent report put out by The Intercept shows that American and British spies have been secretly monitoring military drones in Israel. Until now, Israel had refused to even say that they use drones in warfare, keeping their drone program completely secret.

Classified documents exposed by Edward Snowden show actual images of Israeli drones in action. The NSA has refused to comment on the authenticity of the files, and the Israeli Embassy has yet to comment on the photos released.

The documents also show that American spies were able to tap into video feed of an Israeli fighter jet and to spy on an Iranian done.

A town in Northern Italy welcomes its first baby in nearly 30 years

Ostana, a small town in northern Italy, has welcomed the first baby born there in 28 years. The baby, Pablo, is the youngest resident of Ostana, and when he was brought home from the hospital, neighbors gathered to celebrate his birth. He is the town’s 85th resident.

“At first I couldn’t believe it was true,” Giacomo Lombardo, the town’s mayor, said. “The news almost shocked me. It’s a dream come true.”

Since about half of the town’s population is seasonal and don’t live there year round, Pablo, his parents and two sisters make up 10 percent of the town’s permanent residents. Ostana residents said they hoped that with the birth of Pablo, many more families will decide to have babies there.

Chinese miners rescued after being stuck for 36 days

On Dec. 25, a mine in Eastern China, where 29 people were known to be working,collapsed, trapping the miners 700 feet underground. After 36 days, four miners who  survived the collapse were pulled to safety last Friday.

For those 36 days, the miners were relying on food and water that was lowered down to them while rescue workers figured out a plan to get them out.

At least one miner was killed, 11 were able to escape the collapse, leaving 17 miners trapped underground. After infrared cameras were lowered into the mine, they found four survivors, while the other 13 are  considered missing.

USM Socialists analyze world refugee crisis through discussion

Mon, 2016-02-01 08:41

According to the U.N. Refugee Agency, 50 million in the world today are refugees. This crisis, which stems from people seeking safety from nations succumbing to anarchy and fanaticism, was discussed at a USM Socialist talk, hosted by Owen Hill, an organizer for the Portland branch of the International Socialist Organization.

The talk, which explored how and what people can do to push back against racist hysteria, centered around the subject of refugees. As an opening conversation topic, Hill briefly related a story that made news across the nation: Two refugees, named Anna and William, fled from Honduras in 2009, and just three weeks ago, on Jan. 2, the two were taken from their home in the U.S. and deported back to Honduras.

“They were deported back to the most dangerous place to live in the entire world. Per ten thousand people, 91 citizens are murdered each year. If we compared that to the U.S. and our population, it would be equivalent to over three hundred thousand people dying each year. That’s just absurd.”

Even worse is the fact that Anna and William were, in fact, refugees, so their deportation from the U.S. is illegal. According to U.N. reports, the current refugee crisis is the largest to occur since WWII. This means that the last time the world was in such crisis, the world’s military powers were at each other’s throats; and the crisis only ended with the dropping of the first atomic bomb.

“The worldwide refugee crisis is not accidental, but a direct result of the predictable functioning of the current economic and political system, which I would call capitalist,” said Hill.

Refugee’s are separated into two groups: Ones who are internally displaced, and others who are externally displaced. While internally displaced refugees are fleeing to a different area within their borders, externally displaced refugees are fleeing their country, or nation state, in search of a better, safer life. Syria is the number one country from which people are fleeing, the second is Afghanistan.

“What makes this situation entirely more troubling in the amount of people who won’t accept syrian refugees,” Hill remarked. “Donald Trump stands by his opinion that muslims won’t be allowed in the U.S. and 39 governor’s here in America won’t allow Syrian refugees to settle here – including Lepage.”

Thirty million people are internally displaced, while twenty million are internally displaced. Out of the 200 thousand people living as refugees in the U.S., only 1,000 are from Syria. Hill stated that unless the world is more accepting and understanding of bigger political and economical issues such as these, we will not see an end to the problem.

“There are currently nineteen million empty homes in America – that’s one home for every externally displaced refugee in the entire world,” Hill explained. “The birth of capitalism was marked by violence and until we can understand this, we’re not going to see the issues disappear.”

Police Beats

Mon, 2016-02-01 08:41

01/18/2016

I Love You Mary Jane

Drug Complaint, Upper Class Hall. Report of the smell of Marijuana coming from Dorm room on second floor.

Blood On The Ice

Medical Call, Ice Arena. Gorham Rescue called. Officer and Rescue responded, No transport.

01/19/2016

Kicking Concrete is a No No

Vandalism, Report of damage in the Parking Garage.

Kicking Poo-Box Also No No

Vandalism, Parking Lot P2.  Report of criminal mischief/damage to a vehicle. Report taken.

Dissecting Frogs Ain’t For the Faint

Medical Emergency, Science building. Portland Medcu dispatched for female that passed out.

01/22/2016

Hope You Lived

Medical emergency, Sullivan Gym. Rescue needed for a male with chest pains. Transport to Maine Medical Center. Report taken.

“He May Have Touched My Bum”

Harassment complaint, Student reporting possible harassment, investigated by officer.

Taking Hits From the Bong

Drug Complaint, Robie Andrews Hall. Report of the smell of marijuana coming from dorm room on 3rd floor. Checked by officer and report made.

Cypress Hill on Campus

Drug complaint, GS1 parking lot. Officer investigating report of people using marijuana.

01/21/2016

Driving 5mph is Tough

Motor vehicle accident, Parking Garage. Accident report taken.

Sweet Mother Rum For Teens

Liquor law violation, Philippi Hall. Report of a loud party at Philippi Hall on second floor. Officers issued summonses to District Court for “Furnishing a place for minors to consume.”

01/23/2016

“What? Is this Not a Reasonable Place to Park?”

Motor Vehicle stop, Parking lot P8. Verbal warning issued for operating on sidewalk.

Bogarting; “He Didn’t Puff-Puff-Pass”

Drug Complaint, Robie Andrews Hall. Report of smell of Marijuana coming from second floor dorm room. Report taken

01/24/2016

Leave the Funnelling Whiskey to the Seniors

Liquor law violation, Upton Hastings Hall. Gorham rescue called. Student transported to hospital for possible alcohol poisoning. Report taken.

Meth Lab in Anderson

Drug complaint, Upper Class Hall. Report of possible drug violation, second floor Dorm room. Under investigation.

 

Food waste on campus: Eat what you take

Mon, 2016-01-25 15:00

As students return from break and begin to use the dining hall on a full time basis, a new campaign is being launched to educate students on the amount of food that gets wasted every day.

On average, a student wastes about five ounces of food every day and an average of 1,000 students visit the dining hall to eat each day, if each of them were to waste five ounces that would be 5,000 ounces, or about 312 pounds, of wasted food every day.

The campaign encourages students to eat as much as they want, but to be sure that they eat what they take.

“We think we can make a change by educating people,” said Steve Sweeney, Resource Recovery Supervisor for USM’s Department of Facilities Management.

On average, 3,000 pounds of food is wasted in the dining halls every week, and close to 600 tons of waste a year. Most of this wasted food goes to a Gorham farmer who picks up the scraps twice a week to feed to his pigs.

The 3,000 pounds of wasted food is coming only from the Brooks Dining Center in Gorham because it is the only place where food waste is collected separately from other waste, though, currently between 300 and 400 pounds of food waste is collected from the Portland campus and Lewiston generates far less food waste because there is far fewer people having meals there, according to Tyler Kidder, Assistant Director for Sustainable Programs.

“Food waste has always been an issue at USM although we are lucky to have been diverting our waste from Brooks Dining in Gorham to farmers for animal feed for over 20 years,” Kidder said,

What about set portions? If a student were to enter the dining hall and just receive the proper amount of food so none of it would be wasted, that would cut down on waste, but as Kidder pointed out, that wouldn’t work in an all-you-can-eat, buffet style, dining hall.

“Over time, more of the stations in Brooks have been staffed meaning that portions are more carefully controlled in some areas. The idea isn’t to encourage students to eat more or less, but just to choose the right amount to put on their plate,” Kidder said.

Kidder went on to say that idea behind the campaign is to educate the consumer and allow them to be apart of the solution.

The campaign is beginning just a little over a month after Representative Chellie Pingree introduced a bill to Congress aimed at reducing the amount of food that is wasted every year in the United States.

If the bill is passed it would create an office of food recovery within the U.S. Department of Agriculture whose mission would be to support federal programs that reduce incidents of food waste.

“Forty percent of all food produced in the United States each year is wasted,” Pingree said in a statement released on her website. “The Food Recovery Act takes a comprehensive approach to reducing the amount of food that ends up in landfills and at the same time reducing the number of Americans who have a hard time putting food on the table.”

If passed the bill would also fund grants for food waste-saving efforts at schools.

Recently, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency awarded USM with a Regional Food Recovery Achievement Certificate for their efforts in cutting the amount of food wasted in both preparation and thrown away.

But USM has been doing more than that in their part to help protect the environment. In 2011, USM recycled at a rate of 34 percent, which was the national average for that year, and it cost $58,000 to eliminate waste.

In 2012, USM started the Tiny Trash Initiative, getting rid of standard trash cans and replacing them with a much smaller trash can made for wrappers, napkins and food scraps, mostly everything else was to be recycled. That year recycling rose to 46 percent and the cost of eliminating waste dropped to $35,000.

Then in 2013, the Tiny Trash Initiative won the Grand Eco-Excellence Award and recycling rose again at USM to 51 percent and costs continue to fall, costing $24,000 to eliminate the waste. USM saw the same trend again in 2014, recycling rose to 61 percent and costs went down again to $16,000.

According to Sweeney, changes were made in small ways, such as switching from paper towels to hand dryers to save money. USM also started separating liquids, allowing students to pour out their unused liquids instead of mixing it in with the other waste.

USM now reduces its waste by 20 tons, pouring that liquid waste down the drain.

Coffee is big at USM, selling roughly 2,350 cups every week and four tons of coffee grounds each year, instead of throwing those coffee grounds in with the waste it has been repurposed for compost.

USM has also started selling fryer oil for 75 cents per gallon and it collects and sells ink and toner cartridges, bringing in $600 a year.

“We are taking what was once an expense and turning it into income,” said Sweeney.

In an ideal world, there would be no food waste, but unfortunately that isn’t the case. According to Kidder, USM is fortunate that it can divert food to animal feed and compost but even that isn’t a perfect solution due to safety and liability concerns.

“My dream is that in the future USM and other institutions like it are able to send uneaten good quality food to those who need it without any barriers. Some of the people that need it may be right on our campus,” Kidder said. “Anything that could be donated to people or composted would be collected in every building on campus and nothing would go to waste.”

Because of the mass volume of students that eat in the Brooks Center, that’s where most of the effort to limit food waste is happening and Kidder is hopeful that they will be able to cut back on food waste by 20 percent by the end of this semester.

 

Briefs

Mon, 2016-01-25 14:59

Local & State

Man found dead in Durham rest area, foul play not suspected

Alan Kelley, 43, was found dead in a Durham rest stop on Tuesday morning, police say that there is no sign of foul play.

Kelley was originally from Durham, but most recent reports show that he was living in a Lewiston homeless shelter.

Five miles from where his body was found, lived his estranged wife and child.

Police say that when they found Kelley’s body he had a hypodermic needle in his clothes and was not dressed for the cold, a medical examiner will conduct a toxicology test before ruling on the cause of death.

Maine Moms Demand Action turn in petitions for ballot measure

Maine election officials are currently going through petitions for a ballot measure that would allow the Maine people to vote on requiring criminal background checks on all private gun sales in the state.

The group claims to have 72,000 signatures, they needed 61,123 valid signatures and election officials have until February 18 to verify the signatures, if valid the measure will be on the ballot this November.

Currently, most licensed gun dealers will offer a background for private sales, but most come with a fee. If passed, the measure would require that private sellers have background checks done on potential buyers through the federal system.

Top health official says Maine needs more data to help fight heroin addiction

On Tuesday, the top health official in Maine said that the state needs better data to help connect patients of addiction with effective treatment.

According to Mary Mayhew, the state’s health and human services commissioner, substance abuse providers that are contracted through the state still have around $500,000 in unspent funds, which she believes is an indication that treatment availability is meeting its demand.

Despite her claims, those who run these treatment programs have been complaining that there isn’t nearly enough treatment capacity to tackle the heroin problem in Maine. Especially those who are uninsured, they have the most difficult time finding treatment.

Mayhew said that more data would give the state the information it needs to make decisions on the strategy for tackling the heroin problem in the state.

“The providers are not submitting comprehensive data to us. We’re not getting the kind of detail we need,” Mayhew said.  

National

2015 was the hottest year on record

On Wednesday, scientists reported that across the globe, 2015 was the hottest year on record, breaking the record that had been set the previous year in 2014. In the United States, 2015 was the second hottest year on record, with a December that was the warmest and wettest on record.

Scientists say that part of the heat had to do with the El Nino weather pattern which was releasing large amounts of heat into the atmosphere from the Pacific Ocean, but most of the heat comes from global warming due to the large amount of carbon emissions by humans.

It isn’t certain yet, but the back to back record years in heat may put the world back on a path of rapid global warming, after a period that saw relatively slow warming since the last El Nino which was in 1998.

Two astronomers found signs of potential ninth planet

It’s possible that a ninth planet has been discovered by two astronomers that say they have found signs of something that would fulfill the current definition of a planet.

The two astronomers have yet to find the planet, only evidence that it exist. In a paper published in the Astronomical Journal, they lay out their evidence for the planet’s existence.

The planet is most likely located further out than Pluto and an equal to Earth, but it’s likely that it’s much larger, with a mass about 10 times the size of Earth and 4,500 times the mass of Pluto.

Obama finally comments of poisoned Flint, Michigan drinking water

Dozens of Flint residents have been poisoned and hundreds of others are still unsure if they will see any ill effects after lead was found in their drinking water after the city switched it’s water source to save money. The city has since gone back to Detroit for its water.

“I told her that we are going to have her back, and all of the people of Flint’s back, as they work their way through this terrible tragedy,” President Obama said in a White House meeting with Flint Mayor, Karen Weaver.

Just hours before President Obama made this statement, Mayor Weaver stated that something like this never would have happened in a rich suburb. Flint, Michigan is a poor city with a mostly black population.

Hillary Clinton also stated in the Presidential Debate on Sunday, January 17, that there would have been action if this had happened in a rich suburb in Detroit.

International

20 killed during Taliban attack at a university in Pakistan

Last Wednesday, Taliban members in Pakistan stormed a university, killing at least 20 people, most of which were students and teachers. As of now, reports show that there were at least four attackers.

The attackers used fog for cover as they made their way through fields, scaling the back wall of the university, storming through classrooms and open firing.

Security forces cornered the attackers, which some described as appearing to be teenagers, in two university blocks, sparking combat that reportedly lasted for hours. Officials report that the attackers were killed before they could explode their suicide vests.

1,400 year old monastery in Iraq reduced to rubble by Islamic State

Irbil, Iraq was the home of St. Elijah’s Monastery for 1,400 years before the Islamic State destroyed it on Wednesday, continuing their destruction of ancient cultural sites.

Recently, the monastery was used as a place of worship for U.S. troops.

“I can’t describe my sadness,” said Rev. Paul Thabit Habib. “Our Christian history in Mosul is being barbarically leveled. We see it as an attempt to expel us from Iraq, eliminating and finishing our existence in this land.”

St. Elijah’s Monastery has joined a list of over 100 religious and historic sites in Iraq and Syria that have been destroyed by the Islamic State.

More Brazilian babies are being born with birth defects due to Zika virus

There has been an increasing amount of cases in Brazil of children being born with abnormally small heads because their mother has the Zika virus. There have been 3,893 cases since October.

This is the largest outbreak on record of the Zika virus, which is transmitted through mosquito bites.

Currently, the virus has killed five babies and another 44 cases are being investigated.

Brazil isn’t the only Latin American country being hit by the virus, latest reports show that Colombia has had more than 13,500 cases of the virus reported.

An introduction to the invasive species of Maine

Mon, 2016-01-25 14:57

By Haley Depner

This is the first article in a four part series. The first article focuses on introducing the concept of invasive species. The remaining articles will look at case studies of invasive species in Maine.

Every year damage from invasive species costs the United States billions of dollars more than damage from all other natural disasters in the U.S. combined.

According to the Washington State Invasive Species Council, invasive species in the US impact nearly half of the species listed as threatened or endangered by the US Endangered Species Act.

But what is an invasive species and how do they cause problems? In order to fully understand the answer, we first need to have a little background in ecology.

Ecosystems are never static. The ranges where species inhabit have been altered, spread, and eliminated since the beginning of competitive life on Earth.

Natural disasters and shifting climate have always had influence on where lifeforms can spread and thrive. Natural disasters have the potential to wipe out local populations as well as sweep species into new territories that they had yet to colonize.

Fluctuating climate causes some lifeforms to migrate to more desirable ranges (if accessible) while prompting other species to shift the timing of their breeding or growing seasons.

When an organism is taken away from or a new organism is added to an ecosystem, the change may be felt throughout the system. Such changes could signal the end to some populations in a community and the introduction and proliferation of others. Whenever a population joins or leaves a community or shifts its life cycle according to a change in climate, there is potential for the ecosystem to be significantly altered.

The Pennsylvania State New Kingston University sums up the reasons for this nicely in an entry in their Virtual Nature Trail:

“A consequence of living is the sometimes subtle and sometimes overt alteration of one’s own environment. The original environment may have been optimal for the first species of plant or animal, but the newly altered environment is often optimal for some other species of plant or animal. Under the changed conditions of the environment, the previously dominant species may fail and another species may become ascendant.”

With that being said, it is not surprising when humans bring exotic species from far away places into new communities that the effects of the introduction may be felt throughout the ecosystem. Anthropogenic introduction of species occurs in a variety of ways and for an assortment of purposes. Domesticated and game species are brought to new ecosystems by people who rely on them as resources. Some species are brought in as a form of biological control for serving anthropogenic activities such as agriculture. Other species that are brought in are merely for decorative purposes, kept as pets, or are unintentionally introduced by hitchhiking their way into new ecosystems. All of these situations have the potential for the non-native species to find their way into the foreign ecosystem.

Non-native species can compete with, prey upon, and infect native species with parasites and/or diseases of which they have no immunity to. Executive Order 13112 defines a native species as “with respect to a particular ecosystem, a species that, other than as a result of an introduction, historically occurred or currently occurs in that ecosystem.”

A non-native or alien species, on the other hand, is defined by the order as “with respect to a particular ecosystem, any species, including its seeds, eggs, spores, or other biological material capable of propagating that species, that is not native to that ecosystem.”

If a non-native species has a significant ecological impact it is dubbed “invasive.” An invasive species, as defined by the Executive Order, is “an alien species whose introduction does or is likely to cause economic or environmental harm or harm to human health.”

The amount of impact inflicted by the non-native species on its new habitat depends on many factors. A good example of this is Oryctolagus cuniculus, a species of rabbit that, according to Flavia Schepmans of Columbia University, writing for the Invasive Species Summary Project , has spread from its original range in Europe to every continent except Asia and Antarctica, thanks to the aid of humans.

The spreading of this species began about a thousand years ago when Romans brought the mammal with them to Italy for food. According to researchers at the World Rabbit Science Association, today introduced populations of O. cuniculus in Italy are relied upon as a keystone species.

While the introduction of O. cuniculus worked out fine in Italy and select other regions, the same cannot be said for other environments that the rabbits have spread to. As Schepmans wrote:

“in Australia (and many small islands where it has been introduced), the rabbit, virtually unchecked by local predators, decimates plants, affects soil composition, and changes entire ecosystems. In Australia, the rabbit competes for food and shelter with native animals such as the wombat, the bilby, the burrowing bettong and the bandicoot, and therefore has contributed to the decline of these native species.”

Schepmans explains that this species has become particularly problematic in Australia largely due to its fitness and the lack of predators:

“The European rabbit is a highly adaptable animal. It is not a picky eater and breeds very fast. In Australia, the rabbit was particularly successful at spreading like wildfire because its natural predators from back home, the weasel and fox, were not originally present Down Under. The dingo and Tasmanian wolf, Australia’s native carnivores (and potential rabbit consumers), were themselves being kept in check by local sheep and cattle ranchers, so they were not effective at keeping the rabbit populations down. The rabbits’ spread was also aided by early hunters whose interest lay in having the animals spread so they could hunt more of them.”

The contrast between the outcomes of the introduction of O. cuniculus in different settings demonstrates that it is not just what species but where it is released that determines the amount of impact on local ecosystems. The same species exists as a thriving nonnative keystone species in Italy, while having detrimental effects in Australia.

According to the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA), there are already approximately 50,000 exotic species known to be in the United States. Of these, the US Geological Survey reports that there are currently over 6,500 species that are considered invasive.

During their 2012 fiscal year, the Department of the Interior spent over $2 billion on the prevention and control of invasive species in the United States. This funded activities that help slow the spread and impact of invasive species in the United States through prevention, early detection and rapid response, control and management, research, habitat restoration, education and public awareness, and leadership and international cooperation.

This is a small investment compared to the almost $138 billion estimated by the NOAA to be lost every year due to the impacts of invasive species in the U.S.

Maine residents and companies lose millions every year because of invasive species. These species affect Maine residents by negatively impacting agricultural productivity, the productivity of fisheries, forest and other habitat growth and stability, decrease property values, and disfigure favored tourism and recreational destinations. This damage is caused by dozens of species of plants, invertebrates, fish, microorganisms, and fungus that have found their way into the state.

The age-old adage “an ounce of prevention is worth a pound of cure” may be cliché but is a truism nonetheless. The best way to fight invasive species is to not let them become established in the first place. This means taking measures to prevent introduction, such as keeping firewood within 30 miles of where it was collected, making sure boats are clean of any plants or animals before entering new waters, thoroughly inspecting vehicles for insect eggs when traveling out of state and selecting species for cultivation and biological control that are native to the area or support the ecosystem (for example, apples are not native to North America but are relied upon by many species as a food source). These measures do more to reduce damage caused by invasives than trying to rebalance ecosystems after the damage has occurred.

This is not to say that attempts to heal ecosystems affected by invasive species are not important. Clearing away invasive species and reintroducing native species can help an ecosystem reestablish its balance. Actions such as removing invasive plant species from your garden and replacing them with native plants help to reverse the damage.

According to  Sarah Ogden, Program Coordinator at the Maine Wildlife Park in Grey, species are more likely to become invasive if, in the foreign habitat, they have no natural predators (or in the case of plants, have nothing consuming their plant matter), have a quick reproduction rate, and/or are a generalist species (species that are highly adaptable and capable of thriving in a variety of habitats).

This article is the first in a four part series on invasive species in Maine. Three more articles in this series will be published in this paper throughout the spring semester. These articles will look at case studies of three invasive species in Maine that students can easily play a role in their control and eradication. Each article will introduce a species, give its profile, discuss its history as to how it was introduced, explore the impacts it has on Maine’s ecosystems and the Maine economy and provide information as to how that species is spread and how it can be controlled.

The topic for the next article is the potentially invasive red-eared slider turtle (Trachemys scripta elegans) and will be coming out in the next few weeks. The two remaining articles will focus on wood-boring beetles and invasive plants you may find in your garden.

 

President Cummings used first semester to repair and heal USM

Mon, 2016-01-25 14:36

By Bradford Spurr/Free Press Staff & Troy Bennett/Bangor Daily News


Midway through the month of May in late 2015 it was announced that the university had found a more stable solution to the presidency as opposed to the revolving door of interims that has plagued USM for the past four years.

Dr. Glenn Cummings, former Speaker of the Maine House of Representatives, would replace President David Flanagan starting on the first of July. This was after a presidential replacement had already been announced but the candidate, Harvey Kesselman, was forced to withdraw his application due to unforeseen circumstances at his current university.

The change and decision was not welcomed by all, chief amongst the dissenters were the faculty members who felt particularly alienated and taken advantage of by the administration.

One of President Cummings’ first acts as Commander in Chief of USM was to hold a breakfast forum for the entire USM faculty where he asked those who decided to show up two things: the first was what would you tell the new president to do or to warn against doing and the second was tell me something that you are proud of. It was clear by the responses that community engagement in both Portland and USM was deeply important to them.

President Cummings also promised to dig into the coffers and “eat some reserves, give people a little time to rest but soon we will have to pick up our knapsacks and keep going up the hill,” when layoffs were put on hold for the 2014-15 academic year.

There is still a $3.9 million budget gap that USM is staring at moving forward so the same promise to job security could not be made at this time. All that President Cummings is able to commit to currently is the hope “to create the best strategy around filling that [budget] gap with the least impact on students.”

The University of Southern Maine finds itself at a crossroads where it is no longer tethered to snap decisions and hasty conclusions made by distant authority figures and is instead soldiering on with a President that it can hold accountable and who has concrete and attainable goals for this school.

President Cummings’ goals moving forward through the end of this semester are “to work through this budget, it is going to be a tough one and get ready for the ‘17 budget year and secondly is to begin to, now that the leadership team is in place, reach out to the top 20, 30, 40 chief executive officers in this area and begin to build this alliance.”

With 209 days under his belt the new President has made great strides to “repair and heal” the university, but we are only halfway up the mountain and only time will tell when a conclusion will be reached surrounding the fiscal crisis that the University of Southern Maine has found itself in.

 

First Somali Woman Police Officer in Portland

Mon, 2016-01-25 14:35

By Seth Koenig

Pious Ali — who was touted as the first African-born man and first Muslim to be elected to public office in Portland when he was voted onto the school board in 2013 — posted on social media that Abu became the state’s first female Muslim police officer.

“The Portland Police Department certainly strives to have our workforce mirror our community,” Chief Michael Sauschuck, whose city is the most diverse in Maine, told the BDN. “We realize the importance of diversity, and how that builds trust and relationships in the community. But our priority is hiring the very best people we can find.

“I don’t care what color they are or what gender they are,” he continued. “I want the best people possible to serve the city of Portland and Zahra Abu is one of them. I absolutely understand the impact when you break down barriers like this. But she may or may not be the first [female Muslim police officer in the rest of Maine] — I don’t know for sure.”

Sauschuck said Abu was not available for interviews Friday afternoon, but said the swearing-in represented a “truly powerful moment.”

“I think internally here, officers went to a swearing-in today because they’re happy and they’re proud to be welcoming new folks into the Portland PD family,” he said. “I believe that our officers, including Zahra, realize it could potentially be a groundbreaking scenario. But they don’t necessarily look at it that way, because we treat everybody the same. I’m proud of all five of our new officers. She’s top notch, as is the rest of the group.”

The chief said Abu’s parents are natives of Somalia, and that Abu herself is a Deering High School graduate who has been in the country since infancy. Katrina Ferguson is a 2009 Deering graduate said she played sports alongside Abu.

“We called her AZ,” Ferguson told the BDN’s Troy R. Bennett. “She was two grades below me, but we had some overlap being on sports teams and such. Very funny girl, big sense of humor.”

Ferguson said she had heard the news of Abu’s hiring as a Portland police officer.

“I’m really excited for her,” she said.

By some estimates, there are between 5,000 and 7,000 Somalis in Portland.

“People were thinking, to be a police officer, you have to be born in the U.S. … you have to be white,” Muhidin Libah, executive director of the Somali Bantu Community Association of Maine, told Reuters last year. “They never thought they could be a police officer.”

Said Sauschuck: “There’s no question that having a person who speaks Somali fluently – the current system is that we have to call in a translator or sometimes conduct three-way interviews over the phone – gives us access to build a rapport [with certain immigrant communities]. You can build that naturally through a mutual language, and that’s incredibly powerful.”

In Lewiston, the state’s second largest city, the police chief said he hoped to attract Somali immigrant candidates as a way to fill nagging vacancies and better reflect the diversity of its constituents.

“When you’re trying to live in a place, then you need to look like that place,” ZamZam Mohamud, the first Somali immigrant elected to the Lewiston school committee, told Reuters. “If we have Somali police officers, Somali lawyers, Somali judges … That is a sign the community is assimilating, people are feeling comfortable.”

Sauschuck said the Portland Police Department ultimately hires less than 3 percent of the people who apply for jobs, saying candidates must get through a rigorous selection process which includes a written exam, a physical test, a board interview, a background check, and medical and psychological tests.

The chief said once candidates are hired — such as the five that were sworn in Friday — they must attend 18 weeks of training at the Maine Criminal Justice Academy and work through another 14 weeks of field training with local police.

“It’s tough enough to be a police officer today, let alone to be the first of anything,” he said, adding, “We’re looking for communicators, we’re looking for compassionate communicators who really do want to help people. You’re not out here for the pay — you really want to make a difference. This is a profession, a calling, where you really can do that.”

Police Beats

Mon, 2016-01-25 14:32

01/15/2016

Reading Books Deemed Illegal

Unwanted person, Glickman Library. Officer located a person that is not welcomed at the library. Trespass paperwork served by Officer.

Buying Books, Also Illegal

Unwanted person, Woodbury Campus Center. Unwelcome person reported in the store. Unfounded, no official restriction in place.

Beating with Books, Awesome

Disturbance, Glickman Library. Staff reports two people fighting. Officer responded. Trespass paperwork issued.

01/14/2016

Rookie Cop’s Big Break

Motor Vehicle Stop, Fort Hill Rd. Vehicle defect issued for brake light out.

“I Used My Mouth Hole to Tell Him To Stop”

Motor Vehicle Stop, Campus Ave. Verbal warning for stop sign violation.

Cops Score Crack Pipe Study-Buddy

Drug complaint, Upton Hastings Hall. R.D, Drug paraphernalia found and turned over to Police. Report taken.

01/13/2016

Haunted Shaft Dial Cops

911 Call, 59 Exeter St. Emergency phone in elevator. No answer. Handled by Dispatch.

 

It’s Tricky When They’re Not Moving

Motor Vehicle Crash, G20 Parking lot. Vehicle struck parked car. Report taken.

01/11/2016    

Mother Called; Wash Your Butt

Attempt to Locate, Parents called about locating son on Gorham campus. Student located.

01/07/2016

Poo Box Dumped

Abandoned Motor Vehicle, 88 Bedford St Parking Garage. Vehicle towed. Report taken.

01/06/2016

Riveting News

Abandoned Motor Vehicle, G20 parking lot. Dispatch made contact with the owner. Vehicle will be moved in the next two weeks.

01/05/2016

Don’t Mess With Lib. Staff

Criminal trespass, Glickman library. Staff reports that a subject known to them is trespassing. Subject was arrested by USM Officer and transported to the Cumberland County Jail.

01/04/2016

OK U Broke In; Leave Door Alone

Burglary report, Glickman Library. Staff reports that a known subject had broken into the Library and while doing so damaged an exterior door. Report taken. Officer investigating. Update: Subject identified, criminal charges pending.

01/03/2016

Hockey-Booze; Perfect Marriage

Disorderly Conduct and Assault,  Ice Arena, 55 Campus Drive. Report of a Student being disorderly and would like them removed. Student was uncooperative and assaultive. Was arrested for Assault and taken to the Cumberland County Jail. Also charged with Minor Consuming Liquor.

01/02/2016

B.S.!

Motor Vehicle Accident, G20 Parking Lot. Vehicle rolled out of parking space and into another vehicle. Report taken.

 

Noyes Street fire memorial approved by committee

Wed, 2015-10-28 13:43

On November 1, 2014, a fire engulfed a two family home on 20 Noyes Street killing six people. In the aftermath of the tragic event, some people in the local community have proposed a memorial for the victims: six diamonds comprised of small blue lights with a white orb in the center. However, recent neighborhood objections have come up, leaving the possibility of this memorial in the hands of the city’s arts committee.

Ashley Summers is a member of the coordinator committee for the Noyes St. fire memorial and wife of Steven Summers, who died tragically in the fire last year.

“The committee has been working hard since January, so over the past nine months has kept herself busy to not focus on the bad thoughts.” said Summers. “She has been one of the leading team members to get the “Starts of Light” memorial off the ground and into the trees of Longfellow park.

Summers said the team worked together with city officials and worked on the installation of electricity, but it wasn’t long before problems arose. Her team was able to raise $8,000 and install the lighting system in the park, but a day later she heard rumoured complaints from her neighbors who wanted the display taken down.

Summers said when her committee attempted to address the problematic situation, city officials accused the group of not following process. She stated that it should have gone before the committee months ago, and that it just wasn’t an acceptable answer for her.

“A few neighbors ganged up against us because they don’t want the lights in the park, but they are just contacting the city alone,” said Summers. “They are telling people they don’t want to change the nature of the park, but these lights will be in the tree’s above the park – it’s not changing the landscape. I mean, every other park in Portland has electricity.”

“When I heard it was USM faculty member Laurie Davis who was the leader of this anti-memorial group,  I couldn’t believe it. One of her jobs is to connect young people,” said Summers. “It upsets me to know they will say these hateful things about our way of memorializing our families and hide their names and faces from the public. The worst part is, these people are elected officials and they know what they’re doing is wrong.”

Davis was unavailable for comment on her point of view, and city hall failed to respond to our request for information on the subject matter.

Portland local Layne Waddell was extremely close with each of the victims who died in the fire. Although he believes the idea of the lights would be a great way to memorialize the lives of each victim, he’s not advocating for their installation.

“I would love to see [the lights] go up, but I personally memorialize my friends in my own ways so I suppose it wouldn’t make much of a difference if they went up or not,” said Waddell.  “I just am trying very hard to put this behind me and move on. They were all like family to me which is why it’s tough to talk about them.

What Waddell would like to see happen is to see some lights  near the tragic scene: something to brighten up the dump that they have left sitting there. She said that in the summer, it would also be a great idea to have a community garden there.

In an email exchange between occupants of Noyes Street and the City Arts Committee, many neighbors expressed concern on the idea that lights would, “intrusively be shining into their living rooms, dining rooms, and bedrooms from dusk to late evening every day.”

One member of the email exchange claimed there has been no neighborhood notice of changes to the park despite what claims made on channel 8 broadcast, saying, “there has been NO information provided and NO meetings have been held.”

Portland local April Quebedeaux, who knew three of the victims of the tragedy, can’t understand why they don’t complain about seeing the burnt down piece of property, but have a problem with six lights to help family and friends grieve.

“For them to say that it would ruin the parks character? I mean, what character? It’s a dinky park behind a gas station. Why not add some beautiful lights that many would love and support. It’s absolutely crazy.”

Portland local Marji Swanson only briefly knew Chris Conlee, one of the victims of the fire that engulfed the building on Noyes Street that night, but believes the memorial lights seem harmless.

“I didn’t know him long or well, but still felt heavy when the names of the victims were released,” said Swanson. “I’m unsure why people would want to stop something that shows support for the victims friends and families.”

The panel finally approved the memorial on late Friday evening, just in time for the one year anniversary. The installation can only be up for 90 days, and will only be lit up from dusk to 9:00 p.m.

According to a survivor who spoke on condition of anonymity, hardly a day has gone by since the fire at Noyes street. He explained that, “My opinion on a dispute over the lighting system in the park would be inappropriate,” but does have one thing he wants people to know.

“I treat my life differently. I check smoke detectors. I pay more money to avoid living next to a party house. I hope that regulations might change so that those six people might have had another way out,” said the anonymous survivor. “I hope that Maine actually funds it’s fire inspection system, so that properties with quite so many flagrant violations might not go unnoticed for quite so long. Thus far nothing has changed.”

A memorial celebration is planned for November 1 at 4:30 p.m.  at the park. A reception will follow at HopeGateWay on 509 Forest Avenue.