Democrats call privatization of Casco Bay Bridge ‘irresponsible’

Good morning, folks. Please excuse me if I’m interrupted today. It’s the first time I’ve seen snow this winter and my children and dog are a little bounce-off-the-walls excited. How did we already lose a glove?

Here’s their soundtrack. And here’s yours.

All antennae in Augusta are tuned to the start of the legislative session — or possibly the start of 2016 — so I don’t have a lot of trail-blazing insight or analysis for you this morning. But you just wait. The Daily Brief has endured through some slow news days in the past six months and we appreciate that you keep coming back. Soon, it will become at-capacity full of daily news and fresh tidbits about what’s going on in Augusta, plus some lighter fare that occasionally veers into the ridiculous. Where else are you going to learn about free concrete blocks (as long as you’re willing to dismantle the building they comprise in Raymond)?

This blog goes on the homepage every day but the only sure way to ensure you don’t miss anything is to subscribe to the email newsletter. — Christopher Cousins 

Lawmakers object to privatization of Portland’s Casco Bay Bridge

The Maine Department of Transportation announced Monday that it has contracted with a private Florida-based company to handle maintenance and operations on the Casco Bay Bridge, a drawbridge which links Portland and South Portland. Some lawmakers aren’t too happy about it.

The contract, worth $3.8 million over five years, was signed with FDI services, which maintains 51 bridges on the East Coast. It means at least 10 state workers will lose their jobs.

Democratic House Majority Leader Jeff McCabe of Skowhegan said in a written statement Monday that the Legislature should have been consulted.

“Instead of announcing the decision during the holiday week, the process should have been more transparent and offered an opportunity for the public to weigh in,” said McCabe.

Sen. Bill Diamond, D-Windham, the ranking Senate Democrat on the Transportation Committee, questioned why the deal was necessary.

“The state workers on the bridge have done a fine job and run a tight ship but now they face layoffs,” said Diamond in a written statement.

Rep. Mark Bryant, D-Windham, called the deal “irresponsible.”

This marks the first time Maine has outsourced the operation of one of its bridges.

“Turning the operations of our state’s largest bridge over to an out-of-state company is unprecedented and the lack of transparency in reaching the decision raises serious questions,” said Assistant House Majority Leader Sara Gideon of Freeport. “Privatizing the operations of one of the most important bridges in our state is not in the best interest of the taxpaying public.”

The state’s plans to privatize operations of the bridge were first announced in October of this year. Diamond and other members of the Transportation Committee said they will meet with Transportation Commissioner David Bernhardt to voice their concerns next week. — Christopher Cousins

Reading list

Donald Trump: worst neighbor?

Zillow, which apparently has nothing better to do, has published its list of the worst people in the world to have for neighbors and no, the “winner” wasn’t Darth Vader or Kim Jong-un. It was Donald Trump with 24 percent of the vote. Also in the “worst” top seven were Hillary Clinton and Tom Brady.

Taylor Swift (she’s a singer, I think) topped Zillow’s list of “best” neighbors and curiously, both Trump and Clinton made that list, too. Living next to any of those people would probably mean I’m filthy rich and with all that money, I could just put up a wall.

Wait, why does that sound familiar? — Christopher Cousins

Congrats to the ‘Bionic Woman’

Back in August, I was looking for something non-political to write about and I spent a few hours with Niki Rellon, a German woman who at the time was midway through hiking the Appalachian Trail. It was one of those days that reminded me how lucky I am to have a job that lets me meet some amazing people.

I’ve known a few through-hikers and these days, hiking the trail is something that hundreds of people accomplish every year. But none of them are like Niki, who is one of the most accomplished athletes I’ve met.

On Nov. 1, 2013, Rellon fell 45 feet from a rock face in Utah and shattered bones throughout her body. She lost the leg just below the knee and was hospitalized for months. That kind of accident would kill a lot of people — or at the very least slow down any kind of physically active lifestyle. But not Niki. Just 14 months after the fall, on March 9 of this year, she started hiking the trail.

I’ve been following Rellon’s progress on Facebook since August, and there have been times when I doubted she’d make it. Just a few weeks ago, she was hospitalized when the stump of her leg was ravaged with infection, but it didn’t keep her down long. On Sunday, she finished her hike, becoming the first female amputee to do so.

What’s the point? I don’t want to hear you whining later about having to go outside and shovel. — Christopher Cousins


Christopher Cousins

About Christopher Cousins

Christopher Cousins has worked as a journalist in Maine for more than 15 years and covered state government for numerous media organizations before joining the Bangor Daily News in 2009.