MILO — The season will look different than years past with rule adjustments and a reduced schedule, but the Penquis Valley High School boys and girls soccer teams will be playing in 2020. The SAD 41 school board passed a motion to formally allow the Patriots squads to compete this fall during a Sept. 15 meeting conducted over Zoom.

“If you have been paying attention to the news, this has been a big topic around the state the last three or four weeks,” Superintendent Michael Wright said. He said safety protocols have been developed for soccer, the only fall high school sport at Penquis Valley.

“Most superintendents I have talked to are looking to move forward with fall sports within the guidelines,” he said.

Wright said practices began the day before with parents/guardians signing waivers for their athletes. “It is not a risk-free situation playing soccer or any other sport,” the superintendent said.

Athletic Director and boys soccer coach Jason Mills explained some of the modifications for soccer amidst COVID-19. “There’s no slide tackling,” Mills said, saying on throw-ins and corner kicks there will only be five players from each team permitted in the box.

“There’s a lot of things that take away from the game a bit but as I told the kids, it’s a chance to play,” he said.

“There’s no walls this year,” Mills said. He explained that around the 20-minute mark of each half, once there is a stoppage in play each team will take a break for water and hand sanitizer.

He said the bench areas will be expanded to allow team personnel to spread out. “Players on the bench will have a mask on, players on the field will not have a mask on,” Mills said. He said coaches and officials will have the protective facewear on, and players will be doing likewise during warm-ups.

Mills said the day prior was “the first time our kids have done anything sports-wise with the school since Feb. 5.” He said he could see the excitement on players’ faces as they returned for the first time since the end of the 2019-20 basketball season.

“We will have a schedule if you give us the green light tonight,” Mills told the school board. He said the schedule will feature games, perhaps eight, against nearby teams from Penobscot and/or Piscataquis County with specific opponents to be determined. There will be no postseason soccer in 2020.

With outdoor gatherings capped at 100, the possibility of spectators at Harris Field is still to be determined. Mills said players and coaches count toward the figure, so an idea is for players to be given several tickets apiece to allow for their families to be among the 100 permitted on site.

“We are going to do our best to stream games on the athletics Facebook page,” Mills said.

Despite the challenges the season poses, Mills said the day before he told his players they have already had one more practice than all of the spring. “If you get to play eight games that’s eight games more than last year,” he said.

Wright said over the summer the athletic fields were able to be used safely with no outbreaks. “I think outside does matter so it’s worth giving it a shot,” he said.

In other business, district administrators all thanked employees for their efforts in preparing for the new school year.

“A big shout out to staff, they have been working extra hard with extra hours,” Brownvilel Elementary Principal Carol Smith said.

Penquis Valley High School Principal Michael Rollins said he wanted to echo comments and “I want to thank the students too.”

“Every little wrinkle we run into we are able to smooth out and fix, including remote issues,” Rollins added.

Assistant Superintendent/Director of Curriculum Darcie Fournier thanked the principals “for working hard all summer long so we could come back safe.”

“I just want to thank everybody for getting school started,” Wright said.


Observer file photo/Stuart Hedstrom
IN OR OUT? — Penquis Valley’s Cymeria Robshaw — with classmate Camryn Rolfe (6) looking on — and Penobscot Valley’s Brianna Moon (23) and Emma Buck (1) fight for position on a header near the Howler goal during a 2017 contest in Milo. The Patriot boys and girls soccer teams will both be playing in 2020 as the SAD 41 directors gave formal approval to fall sports during the Sept. 15 board meeting.

SEBEC — In ordinary times, the Maine Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year hosts Forestry Field Day, a highly anticipated, festival-like event sponsored by Maine Woodland Owners and Maine Tree Farm. This celebration draws a broad spectrum of the forest industry to tour the land and learn about the award recipients’ thoughtful forest management efforts.  This year’s winners are Drs. Jessica Leahy and Bob Seymour for their 130-acre tree farm, Wicopy Woods, in the village of Sebec. However, with gathering size restrictions in place in the state because of the pandemic, the traditional, high attendance Forestry Field Day event will have to wait until sometime in 2021.

Every year, Maine Tree Farm honors a woodlot owner who demonstrates a level of forest stewardship that is exceptional. The Outstanding Maine Tree Farmer of the Year is a highly coveted recognition that started in 1954 to reward good forestry practices on properties 10 to 10,000 acres, primarily family-owned. These small woodland owners maintain nearly a third of Maine’s 15.5 million acres of privately owned forests and produce 40 percent of the state’s wood supply. There are 87,000 woodlot owners in Maine and many of these forests are certified as Tree Farms — but only one award is given each year.

Despite the postponement, many felt that some public recognition should be given to Leahy and Seymour in 2020 for such a noteworthy achievement. So on Aug. 30,  a small group of masked forest enthusiasts and fellow woodland owners were welcomed by the couple and Maine Woodland Owners for a “sneak peak” tour of Wicopy Woods to learn what makes this parcel so exemplary.

When they acquired the land five years ago, the couple set forth to build on nearly a half century of exceptional management. Wicopy Woods Tree Farm was honored once before, in 1984, as the Maine Outstanding Tree Farm of the Year. The previous owner, Ron Locke, maintained voluminous notes, records and photos of the property, which Leahy and Seymour have used to develop and implement plans that ensure a healthy and vibrant forest for generations to come.

“Our aim from the beginning was to continue Ron’s work on this woodland. Our decisions about harvests and forest regeneration for Wicopy Woods are informed by a combination of Ron’s past management and the goals we have set for ourselves,” said Leahy.

Leahy and Seymour have a forestry background. For one, both are licensed foresters. Additionally, Dr. Leahy is  professor of human dimensions of natural resources at the University of Maine’s School of Forest Resources and Dr. Seymour has recently retired from the University of Maine School of Forestry Resources faculty after over 30 years as Curtis Hutchins Professor of Silviculture.

The hosts kicked off the program by telling the story of Locke’s effort to turn a run-down farm and woodlot into an example of forest health and productivity. The attendees were then given a tour of the results of their irregular shelterwood silviculture where  growth and harvest targets were set and regeneration strategies were developed based on anticipated economic outcomes and ecological benefits.

“Wicopy Woods is forest management at its best, where other woodland owners can learn and be inspired by their efforts. We are thrilled that two very dedicated members of Maine Woodland Owners have received this well-deserved recognition. We look forward to properly honoring them in 2021,” said Tom Doak, Maine Woodland Owners executive director.

Wicopy Woods is named after the tree species Eastern leatherwood (Dirca palustris) which is also called wicopy. It is estimated that at least 300 individual wicopy plants reside in this forest – the largest plants may be over 100 years old.

To learn more about Wicopy Woods, Maine Woodland Owners, and Forestry Field Day visit www.mainewoodlandowners.org. More information about the 2021 Forestry Field Day at Wicopy Woods will be announced once the date is determined.


Photo courtesy of Maine Woodlot Owners
TREE FARM HONOR — Wicopy Woods in Sebec is the Maine Woodlot Owners’ Maine Outstanding Tree Farmer of the Year. The traditional, high attendance Forestry Field Day event will be held next year.

Ernie Clark, Bangor Daily News Staff • August 30, 2020

MILO — Construction of a large solar farm is under way at the Eastern Piscataquis Business Park in Milo.

When it’s completed, the site will feature 67,000 solar panels on land located just north of downtown off Route 11.

The project has been in the works for several years, according to Peter Hamlin, chair of the Milo select board. He said the town will benefit through lease payments it receives for use of the land and a percentage of the money earned by the sale of electricity.

“It seems like this is a marriage made in heaven, a large-scale operation where we don’t have to be landlords chasing people in business parks,” Hamlin said. “Manufacturing’s a real tough sell up here, but there are a lot of good things to look at with this from the town’s point of view.”

When the solar array becomes operational early next year, it will produce enough energy for 5,430 homes, according to developers.

“At the time we were awarded the contract, the size of this project would have just about surpassed the amount of solar in the state of Maine at the time,” said Nick Mazuroski, director of BNRG Maine.

BNRG Maine is an offshoot of BNRG Renewables, a Dublin, Ireland-based solar developer and co-development partner on the Milo project with Dirigo Solar of Portland. BNRG purchased the Milo project last December.

“Now alongside us there are larger developments in Farmington, Sanford and the Benton area, but we will be one of the largest in the state, for sure,” Mazuroski said.

Within six months after Dirigo Solar was founded in 2015, it was awarded a long-term contract from the Public Utilities Commission to develop and sell solar power at 3.4 cents per kilowatt hour.

That compares with the cost of approximately 7 cents per kilowatt hour paid by residential customers in Maine to power distributors like Versant and Central Maine Power.

“We started the company when it became evident to us that the economics of solar finally made sense for the state of Maine,” said Mazuroski, a Portland native and Bates College graduate. “The decline in technology costs, a federal tax credit and the energy market conditions of New England finally made solar look compelling in the state.”

BNRG Renewables and Dirigo Solar have 10 projects under way or scheduled for construction in eight Maine communities. Auburn and Hancock will have two sites each, with Augusta, Fairfield, Milo, Oxford, Palmyra and Winslow as the other host communities.

“The PUC when they awarded us the contract said the entire portfolio should save Maine ratepayers more than $25 million over a 20-year term,” Mazuroski said. “I think we’ll do that a lot sooner.”

A $26 million investment is planned in the Milo solar farm, which is expected to produce 26.4 megawatts of direct current that ultimately will be transformed into 20 megawatts of alternating current to be sold to consumers.

Approximately 170 workers are expected to be involved in the construction process.

“Milo was one of the first projects that came to us,” Mazuroski said. “We had learned about the opportunity with the land at the business park early in our development process, engaged really closely with the town, shared with them the contract we had been awarded and the economics of solar and what that looked like to a landowner.

“The town was incredibly supportive.”

The developers soon entered an option to lease a little more than 60 acres of town land and approximately 50 acres from an abutting landowner, Mazuroski said.

Subsequent preliminary work involved acquiring required permits and applying to ISO-New England for the right to connect the project to the electrical grid, which was approved late last year.

Since then the developers and the town have entered into a formal lease for the industrial park land, and installation work is under way on a racking system to hold the solar panels.

“We’re happy to see it started,” Hamlin said. “They’ve got a lot of money tied up so they’re not going to waste any time getting it online, that’s for sure.”

Of considerable importance to the company is the ability to site its solar arrays near the electrical grid — and that distance from Milo’s industrial park is less than one mile.

“What made this really attractive was the grid infrastructure — the three-phase line that goes by the site and a substation being in close proximity and it being a substation that could take 20 megawatts of solar,” Mazuroski said.

The power produced from the farm is then sold to Versant and that lowers the amount of electricity that Versant has to go to market for each year.

“It’s going to directly benefit Maine homeowners, ratepayers, anyone that uses the standard-offer program in the state,” Mazuroski said.

The flat, open field where the solar farm will be located provides clear access to the available sunlight at its location, which is 45.23 degrees north latitude, or near the midpoint between the Equator and North Pole.

“To be up here with a clear blue sky from January through April is pretty good for them,” Hamlin said. “We can generate a significant amount of power, more than you would think for this northern latitude.”

That’s because the use of fixed-tilt, bifacial solar panels will enable the solar farm to generate electricity from both the front and back of each panel — even during the winter.

Mazuroski said the bifacial panels result in a boost of 10 to 30 percent of solar energy because the sun reflects off the snow and generates electricity from the back side of the panel.

The tops of the solar panels will be no more than 8 feet off the ground.

“Solar is low to the ground so you can’t see it, and there’s no moving parts,” Mazuroski said. “You put up a vegetative buffer and then you really can’t see it because a basketball hoop is taller [than the panels].

“And it doesn’t make any noise or emit anything, so it’s really a win-win.”


UNDER CONSTRUCTION — Approximately 67,000 fixed-tilt, bifacial panels will comprise a solar farm under construction at the Eastern Piscataquis Business Park in Milo.

MILO — Via a 7-1 school board vote in favor of the “Return to School Plan,” SAD 41 students will be heading back to the classroom four days a week under the current green designation and a reduced number according per grade level should the status change to yellow. Regardless of the district color status, full-time remote learning will be available for families requesting this method of instruction.

Return to School Plan information will be posted at https://sites.google.com/msad41.us/msad41.

The Return to School Plan was formally approved during an Aug. 5 board meeting held over Zoom. As part of the plan the first day of school will Thursday, Sept. 3, adjusted with some scheduled teacher workshop days moved up from later in the school year to provide additional time to plan for the reopening.

Assistant Superintendent/Curriculum Director Darcie Fournier provided a PowerPoint on the plan saying, “This is a draft and it needs to be a flexible working document as things change. We will update it as we need to.”

She explained the Maine Department of Education (MDOE)  has a trio of stoplight colors for school districts, based on COVID-19 outbreaks and other factors and updated every two weeks, to provide guidance for districts. “Green allows us to be in-person as long as we can maintain all six required measures,” Fournier said.

These include symptom screenings conducted at the very start of the day, physical distancing to keep those in the buildings six feet apart, masks or face shields being worn under most circumstances, limiting the number of students on the bus to 24, staggered starts and finishes to the day across the three district school campuses and hand hygiene protocols for all.

Fournier said under the green designation, “The in-person model is 4:1 for all students.” SAD 41 would have in-person classes on Monday, Tuesday, Thursday and Friday. Wednesday would consist of remote learning for all while the buildings undergo a deep cleaning, which would also be carried out over the weekend.

Should the SAD 41 designation be changed to yellow, there would be two options for students. One would be a switch to full online learning and the other is a 4:1 model for elementary students and 2:3 for middle and high school with half coming in Mondays and Tuesdays and the other half attending Thursdays and Fridays.

Under the elevated risk of the red designation, everyone would be online.

“We knew from the beginning there is no perfect plan and I think it will be a work in progress as long as we continue to do it,” Superintendent Michael Wright said.

Board member Russ Carey cast the vote against the Return to School Plan and during discussions before the motion he said, “I still don’t understand our rush to get back to school.” Carey said his objections stemmed from the timeline, suggesting October as an alternative following a month of online learning to allow SAD 41 officials to monitor what is going on elsewhere in the state with students starting in-person learning.

“We are taking a chance I don’t think is warranted on our students and staff lives with this disease,” Carey said.”Until we have a vaccine or medicine we are not going to be sure people walking in the building or getting on the bus are safe.”

“I’m just thinking why do we have to go in September, that’s the question,” he said.

“The weather is nice now, kids can go outside now, classrooms can go outside, bus rides will be nicer,” Brownville Elementary Principal Carol Smith said. She said instances of student sickness will likely be fewer than in years past with all the new health and safety measures to be in place.

“I don’t think we’re rushing, we have spent a lot of time on our plan,” she said.

Wright was then asked about staff who will be working remotely and he said “there are currently five people who have given us medical notes.”

“I’m in 100 percent agreement with Mr. Carey,” Penquis Valley High School science teacher Katie Joyner-Roberston said. “It simply isn’t safe in the way we are all pretending it to be.”

She also brought up inevitable discipline issues that will arise from students not following the health and safety protocols.

Smith mentioned that Brownville and Milo recreation programs have been held without problems. “We also are not saying to parents you have to send your kids back,” she said.

“It was extremely, extremely hard to communicate with my children on the Internet and online learning,” Brownville special education teacher Betsy Bessey said. “I don’t think delaying the start is the magic answer.”

“If we were to delay I think it would make it even harder on the kids and we would see an even bigger deficit academically,” Milo Elementary counselor Sarah Mower said. She mentioned children have struggled after not seeing their friends and this has taken a toll on their families as well.

“I think delaying will not benefit the kids and parents,” Mower said.

“I just want to say all the colleges in the area are having these same issues,” Board Chair Roberta Trefts said before the directors took the vote, mentioning some struggles her students at Husson University experienced last spring with remote learning.

In their reports, building principals each mentioned they have been busy planning for the fall.

Penquis Valley High School Principal Michael Rollins said staff have been “extremely busy planning for the fall in the hope we could adopt something soon in order to get to the finite details of the schedule.”

In his board report Rollins wrote that once a plan has been approved, “We here at Penquis Valley High School will work on creating a schedule that will enable all students to get the credits they need, while taking into consideration some staffing needs. This will be quite a challenge with the complexity of our schedule. We will also develop a plan for the physical layout of classrooms, traffic patterns, etc. Signs will be ordered for walls and floors to ensure safe social distancing. We will also be sure to communicate in detail to parents/guardians, students and staff all necessary changes and new procedures we will be following moving forward.”

In the public comment portion of the meeting, former board member Marie McSwine mentioned there are several volunteers willing to make and donate masks for students. She said this would likely be an on-going need in the months to come.

Trefts also asked the board to think about having its meetings in-person with students and staff returning to their buildings. The possibility of having remote capabilities for directors and others unable to attend for health reasons was also brought up.

MILO — The process was different this year as a result of the coronavirus pandemic, but SAD 41 residents approved a $9,912,964 budget for the 2020-21 academic year at the Aug. 6 referendum.

Instead of voting on the total spending plan approved at the annual district budget meeting, as has been done in years past, in 2020 residents of Brownville, LaGrane and Milo voted on three separate articles making up the 2021 expenses.

The first article asked if citizens would approve a 2020-21 budget totaling $9,870,987. This item passed in each town, 30-10 in Brownville, 11-1 in LaGrange and 48-10 in Milo for a combined count of 89-21.

Article No. 2 concerned the district’s $41,976 share of about $412,000 for the Piscataquis Valley Adult Education Cooperative. This item passed in all three communities, 29-10 in Brownville, 10-2 in LaGrange and 46-10 in Milo for a total of 85-22.

The third article asked if $50,000 would be set aside for the capital reserve fund. Article No. 3 was also approved, 33-5 in Brownville, 11-0 in LaGrange and 49-7 in Milo for a combined count of 49-7.

The proposed 2020-21 SAD 41 budget total of $9,912,964 with adult ed included, is up by nearly $288,000 from the previous academic year.

Between local required and local additional monies, the combined share for the three district communities is $2,391,605. This total is up by just under $68,000 from 2019-20 (approximately 2.28 percent). Another near $42,000 for adult education brings the local total to $2,433,581.

Each SAD 41 community would see an increase in the respective proportional shares of the $2.4 million-plus. Brownville’s contribution would be $785,820, a $16,612 (2.16 percent) increase; LaGrange would see an $18,742 (4.32 percent) increase to $453,066; and for Milo its $1,194,694 contribution is up by $18,948 or 1.61 percent.

WASHINGTON, D.C. — The Trump Administration announced that the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA) is investing $462 million to modernize critical drinking water and wastewater infrastructure across rural America. In Maine, Bridgton Water District and Milo Water District have each been selected to receive $2.4 million in funding.

The Milo Water District has been selected to receive a total of $2.4 million (water and waste direct loan of $1,200,000 and water and waste grant of $1,200,000). This rural development investment will be used to upgrade the 2nd Street pump station, the Ida Moore pump station and infiltration & inflow reduction in the collection system.  The project also includes some minor upgrades at the wastewater treatment facility.  The primary purpose of the project is to address the applicable health or sanitary standard.

“Upgrading the infrastructure that delivers safe drinking water and modern wastewater management facilities will improve public health and drive economic development in our small towns and cities,” Deputy Under Secretary for Rural Development Bette Brand said. “Under the leadership of President Trump and Agriculture Secretary Perdue, USDA continues to be a strong partner with rural communities, because we know that when rural America thrives, all of America thrives.”

USDA Rural Development Timothy P. Hobbs said, “This investment of $4.8 million in two Maine water systems is another example of the Trump Administration’s commitment to ensuring rural residents have quality and reliable infrastructure. Supporting thriving rural communities is paramount in the work we do for rural communities every day at USDA Rural Development.”

USDA is funding 161 projects in 44 states through the water and waste disposal loan and grant  program. These investments will benefit 467,000 residents. USDA Rural Development provides loans and grants to help expand economic opportunities and create jobs in rural areas. This assistance supports infrastructure improvements; business development; housing; community facilities such as schools, public safety and health care; and high-speed internet access in rural areas. For more information, visit rd.usda.gov/me.