If you live in Maine, you never really forget about winter. A good part of every summer is spent preparing for the next cold season. But this year seems different. There's a sense of desperation in the air. Getting the wood in, a casual enterprise in most Junes, has a sense of urgency. And even with prices topping $230 a cord for green wood,
normally frugal folks are ordering extra.
"People get scared when you tell them it's $230," one dealer told the Morning Sentinel. Still, it beats the price of heating oil, which topped $4.50 a gallon this week,
with some dealers offering pre-buy plans with a guaranteed price of $4.70 or more, about double the cost of oil last year
at this time.
One possible solution: buying co-ops. In Auburn, where an attempt to allow homeowners to join with municipal bodies to purchase cheaper oil fell apart, the city is now encouraging neighbors to band together to negotiate deals and offering a "template" for creating cooperatives.
The high cost of staying warm wasn't the only chilling news to hit the Maine economy. On May 29, the owners of the Katahdin Paper Co. mill in Millinocket announced its indefinite closing in 60 days due to high energy costs.
The company's other mill in East Millinocket will probably face cuts, too. Over 200 workers have been told they'll lose their jobs.
The mill is the only one in Maine entirely dependent on fuel oil for power, using more than 400,000 barrels a year. Company officials said the decision to close could be reversed if an alternative energy source could be found.
According to figures announced this past week, the median price of houses sold in Maine in April dropped 11.34 percent
from the same month last year, from just over $201,000 to a little more than $178,000. Price wasn't the only thing that fell. The number of houses sold declined by over 23 percent. In Washington County, both home sales and prices were off by more than 50 percent.
It's a buyers' market in the commercial real estate market, too. Even in Greater Portland, where the economy is more recession-resistant, the amount of vacant retail space has tripled in recent months, according to a survey done by a local broker.
And another 1 million square feet of shopping space is scheduled to be built this year.
OK, enough depressing news. Reports out of New York should bring some cheer to any good-hearted Mainers who helped out a certain starving artist back in the 1930s and `40s by buying one of his underappreciated paintings. Marsden Hartley, who was born in Lewiston and lived in Maine periodically throughout his life, had one of his works of art called "Lighthouse" sold at an auction at Christie's for $6.31 million, said to be a record for an American modernist painting.
So, Hartley won't be worrying about how to heat his house this winter. Although, that's mostly because he died in poverty in 1943. Bates College in Lewiston is planning a major Hartley exhibition this summer.
In case it turns out the painting on velvet you found in the attic of the big-eyed pussy cat isn't a genuine Hartley, you might want to consider making a fortune by gambling. The new Hollywood Slots gaming emporium is scheduled to open in Bangor July 1.
Members of the state's gambling control board got a private tour last week, the first outsiders to feast their eyes on the faux Art Deco d`cor of the $132 million facility.
Among the offerings, two restaurants, 1,000 slot machines, 400 security cameras and a 152-room hotel (which won't be completed until August).
Maybe you feel like a little civil disobedience this summer. Here are a couple of the more pointless options. Mark Haskell of Camden rode in the town's Memorial Day parade, seated on his personal watercraft (it was on a trailer) and handing out flyers inviting people to a protest on Lake St. George on July 4.
Haskell recently lost a Maine Supreme Court case in which the justices upheld a state law allowing municipalities to ban Jet Skis and other such vessels from local lakes.
Haskell thinks that's discrimination. And he might have a point. The Maine Warden Service recently started using personal watercraft to patrol some lakes.
So, it's possible you could be cited for riding your Sea Doo by a guy riding one.
For less-focused protesting, you might want to participate in the West Athens Fourth of July parade and celebration. For 35 years, it's featured oddball floats, political demonstrations and plays by the In Spite of Life Players
. But it's also attracted what one organizer referred to as "hippies" who have discovered this is a place where they can "get wild."
In recent years, "inebriated gawkers" and "drunken kids on ATVs" have disrupted the event and caused property damage. Unless, this behavior is curtailed, the parade could be cancelled.
If brevity is the soul of wit, here are the wittiest stories of the week:
The Portland City Council is again considering creating an elected mayor
to oversee municipal government, at least the sixth time that idea has been proposed (so far, without success) in the last couple of decades.
If you think historical society meetings are dull, maybe you should try the one in Guilford, where a dispute over the display of old photos in a local restaurant allegedly erupted into fisticuffs on May 27,
resulting in charges against two members.The old Somerset County jail in Skowhegan is for sale - asking price $200,000
- and a local potter has proposed turning it into a grist mill, bakery, restaurant and retail complex to promote local agriculture and artists. The county says it's also had inquiries from others interested in the 1897 iron hotel.
Police in Winslow announced this week that they're investigating a May 24 incident in which the manager of Smiley's Old Fashioned Ice Cream was trapped in a walk-in freezer
for four hours at temperatures approaching 10 below zero.
If nothing else, that incident puts the prospect of a winter with the thermostat set at 60 degrees in perspective.
Al Diamon can be e-mailed at firstname.lastname@example.org