March 2003

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March 31, 2003
Super Wal-Mart plans in limbo after setbacks

BEP and Superior Court deny developer permits for the store

The developer for a proposed Wal-Mart superstore off Stillwater Avenue is considering its options after the Maine Board of Environmental Protection voted March 20 to reject a site location permit for the project. Also, a Penobscot County Superior Court judge upheld last week the Bangor Planning Board's reasons for denying Widewaters a city permit in 2001.

The BEP reconvened March 20 in Augusta to continue a hearing on whether to grant an environmental permit to Widewaters, a New York developer that wants to build a Wal-Mart superstore in a field next to Circuit City, off Stillwater Avenue. The board had tabled a decision on the project at its January meeting, also in Augusta.

In tabling the matter by a 5-3 vote, board members said they had several problems with Widewaters' application. Those problems included uncertainty of whether Wal-Mart would be responsible legally for paying any cost overruns on the project and whether Widewaters had an acceptable plan to mitigate possible negative effects on the nearby Penjajawoc Marsh. Board members also said they didn't know whether the law required them to consider the impact of only the proposed Wal-Mart store or whether they were supposed to consider the combined effect of the proposed store and the existing Circuit City.

Opponents of the Wal-Mart superstore say any development in the field off Stillwater Avenue would harm wildlife that call the nearby 300-acre Penjajawoc Marsh home. The most vocal opponents even formed a group to fight the project -- Bangor Area Citizens Organized for Responsible Development, or BACORD.

Last fall, the Maine Department of Environmental Protection issued a report supporting the Wal-Mart project, if Widewaters could meet more than 20 conditions.

But the BEP went against the DEP on March 20, voting 5-3 to reject Widewaters' permit application, citing the same concerns the majority expressed in January. Widewaters has found the board's unease with the project's financing peculiar, considering that Wal-Mart is the world's largest retailer and has pushed hard for the superstore, which would replace the current Wal-Mart on Springer Drive. Widewaters even offered to take out a performance bond to pay for cost overruns.

The current Wal-Mart is crowded frequently. The proposed superstore would have had almost twice as much space as the current store.

Widewaters has not made any public statements on what it plans to do next. The developer can submit a new application, but the project would have to be drastically different from the rejected one. Widewaters could also sue the BEP in state court, but only on procedural grounds.

Last week Superior Court Justice Jeffrey Hjelm upheld the Bangor Planning Board's reasons for rejecting the project. The Planning Board rejected the project 3-2 in spring 2001, citing a city ordinance that allowed the board to consider a project's aesthetic effects on the environment. Widewaters appealed to Superior Court, arguing that the ordinance was unconstitutionally vague. Hjelm agreed with Widewaters and ordered the Planning Board to reverse its decision. Ironically, the city's Planning Office had recommended that the Planning Board approve the city permit.

BACORD appealed Hjelm's decision to the Maine Supreme Judicial Court after Hjelm agreed the group had an interest in the case and granted the group intervener status. The supreme court sent the case back to the Planning Board so the board could explain its decision.

Widewaters had hoped to begin construction early this spring so the superstore could possibly open by Christmas.


Bridge work to delay I-95 traffic

Motorists planning to take Interstate 95 through Bangor might want to consider taking an alternate route through the city between now and the end of June. The Maine Department of Transportation will be working on the I-95 Kenduskeag Stream bridge throughout the spring, with one lane closed in each direction.

The alternate route is Broadway to Griffin Road to Maine Avenue to Hammond Street from the north and Hammond Street to Maine Avenue to Griffin Road to Broadway from the south. The DOT expects delays on the bridge to be worse during lunchtime and the late-afternoon rush hour.

Work on the bridge is supposed to end by the end of June.


Bangor racino vote set for June 10

Bangor voters will decide whether they want slot machines installed at Bass Park in a special vote on June 10.

The City Council set the date at the request of Capital 7, the company that now operates Bangor Raceway, one of Maine's two remaining full-time harness racing tracks. In February, proponents of legalizing slot machines at Maine's two full-time harness racing tracks submitted enough signatures to the secretary of state to force a statewide referendum in November. As a whole, Maine voters will decide whether voters in Bangor and Scarborough -- home of Scarborough Downs -- should have the right to approve of slot machines at their cities' racetracks.

Capital 7 says it's essential for Bangor to hold its local vote on the matter before the statewide referendum. If Bangor voters say they want slot machines at Bass Park, that would increase the odds the statewide referendum would pass, according to Capital 7.

Capital 7 is negotiating with the city a plan that would revamp Bass Park for an estimated $30 million. The company, owned by Las Vegas businessman Shawn Scott, wants to lengthen the race track, build an enclosed grandstand, build a new clubhouse and paddock, and construct a 250-room hotel and slot machine arcade. Scott has said through his spokesmen that he would still redo the track, grandstand and paddock even if voters at the state or local level reject slot machines. Revenues from the slot machines would help finance the hotel and larger purses at the track. The city of Bangor, which owns Bass Park, would get a percentage of the slot machines' revenue.

Scott bought Bangor Raceway's operations from former manager Fred Nichols last fall for an undisclosed sum. Nichols kept harness racing alive in Bangor in the early 1990s when the City Council voted to get the city out of racing. Racing has been a staple at Bass Park since the park opened as Maplewood Park in 1883. When park owner Joseph Bass died in 1919, he bequeathed the park to the city, which took control in 1933.

In February, the City Council granted Scott's company tentative developer status, giving the company exclusive negotiating rights with the city until May 1. The Council will likely approve of Scott's plans to revamp the park. Construction could begin as early as August after the Bangor State Fair.

Voter turnout -- or the lack thereof -- will likely affect the June vote. Voter participation outside of Election Day in November is traditionally abysmal.


March 15, 2003
Bangor beats Cheverus 48-43 in OT for state title

Bangor's Zak Ray went 4-for-4 from the foul line in the closing moments of overtime to lead his Rams to a 48-43 overtime win over the Cheverus Stags at the Bangor Auditorium tonight. The win gives the Rams their third state title in the last four years and their sixth since 1993.

Cheverus had a chance to win in the final seconds of regulation, but Austin DeAngelis' shot bounced off the rim from the in front of the Cheverus bench as time expired. Cheverus opened overtime with a quick basket and appeared to go up by four points -- 46-42 -- on a basket by Andrew Ward, but the officials waved off the basket and charged Ward with a player control foul.

Bangor's Wesley Day then made a 3-pointer to give Bangor the lead for good, 44-43. Ray then went 4-for-4 from the foul line. He was 8-for-8 from the line in the game and finished with 15 points.

For Cheverus, which out-rebounded Bangor 25-12, Jeff Holmes scored 16 points and had 11 rebounds, and Mac Simpson had 10 points.

Bangor made up for Cheverus's height advantage, making eight 3-pointers. Bangor's average height was 5-foot-11 while Cheverus's was just under 6-foot-2.

The Rams finished the season with a 21-1 record. The Stags finished with a 19-3 record.


March 12, 2003
Bangor boys beat Brunswick 62-48 to reclaim Eastern title
State championship set for Saturday at the Bangor Auditorium against Cheverus

Bangor avenged its quarterfinal loss last year to Brunswick with a 62-48 win in the boys Eastern Maine Class A basketball championship game Saturday at the Bangor Auditorium. Zak Ray, a Mr. Basketball finalist, scored 18 points for Bangor. Brunswick star Ralph Mims scored only 11 points while shooting a dismal 4-for-22 from the field.

Brunswick, which joined the Eastern Maine region last year, entered the game with a 20-0 record as the top seed and a 44-game winning streak. Bangor finished the season as the second seed and had a 19-1 record entering the game. The teams did not face each other during the regular season.

Brunswick crushed Bangor 81-49 last year in the quarterfinal round.

Saturday night Bangor led 14-8 after the first quarter, but Brunswick led 24-23 at halftime. Bangor took control of the game in the third quarter and led 44-34 heading into the fourth quarter. Ray scored a breakaway layup to start the fourth quarter to make it 46-34 -- the largest lead for either team to that point. A Mims 3-pointer with 2:16 remaining in the game cut Bangor's lead to five, 53-48, but Brunswick couldn't get closer, having lost 6-foot-6 Taylor Caron to fouls seconds earlier.

Third-seeded Nokomis nearly upset Bangor in Friday night's semifinal, trailing all the way except for the first few minutes of the game until 5:40 remained in the fourth quarter. Bangor blew a 34-26 halftime lead as Nokomis went on an 11-3 run in the third to tie the game at 37. Nokomis' Lucas Hayden took advantage of a back court violation by Ray with a basket at 51 seconds remaining in the game to give Nokomis a 54-52 lead.

Wesley Day stole an inbound pass for Bangor, however, and later scored a 3-pointer with only 6.6 seconds remaining to make it 55-54 Bangor.

Bangor will play Western Maine champion Cheverus of Portland Saturday night at 7:05 for the state title at the Auditorium. It will be the Ram's sixth state championship appearance in the last 11 seasons. Cheverus beat Edward Little 87-55 to win the Western Maine title.


Unrelenting frigid temps and gasoline prices pinching Mainers
Ice buildup could spell major flooding if temps don't warm up soon

The average price per gallon for regular unleaded gasoline increased to $1.694 in Bangor last week, more than 30 cents higher than the price last March. The average this week will likely increase again, as prices at many Bangor service stations were at $1.719 Tuesday. Diesel is now about $2.

Home heating oil averaged $1.72 per gallon two weeks ago, according to the Maine State Planning Office. This winter's unrelenting frigid temperatures have only made matters worse, cutting down on fuel-mileage and sapping family and business budgets.

Since July 1, Bangor has recorded 6,622 heating degree-days. The average since July 1 was 6,004. Heating oil companies use heating degree-days to determine how much oil consumers will need. Using 65 degrees as the standard average temperature, each degree below that represents one degree-day. A temperature of zero degrees for one day equals 65 heating degree-days. The higher the number, the colder it is and the more heating fuel consumers will need to maintain a constant temperature indoors.

The cost of one of the state's coldest winters in recent memory might climb even higher, as U.S. Geological Survey officials announced recently that the state's rivers and streams are in danger of causing major flooding if snow and ice don't begin to thaw soon. The Penobscot River has as much as 2 feet of ice in some spots. In downtown Bangor, the Kenduskeag Stream has been at a virtual standstill in recent days, with thick ice crusting bridge pillars.

The cold temperatures have also caused old water mains throughout the city to break. Bangor averages 20 water main breaks in a year, but so far the Bangor Water District has responded to 23. The latest break was on Garland Street, near Fruit Street. The main broke early Friday morning, flooding basements and forcing two schools to close. The Water District restored service Saturday.

Tuesday's high temperature was 23 degrees, 15 degrees below normal. The forecast for this weekend is calling for highs near the 40s.


Copyright 2004, Ryan R. Robbins. All rights reserved.