New England in brief

$24m in US aid to help wipe out beetles

December 19, 2008
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The US Department of Agriculture has received more than $24 million in federal funds to eradicate the Asian longhorned beetle in Central Massachusetts. US Representative James P. McGovern, Democrat of Worcester, said the infestation threatens the entire New England forest. Earlier this month, a federal official said that as many as 20,000 trees in just a 2-square-mile section of Worcester may have to be chopped down to help stop the spread of the beetles. (AP)

Maine Public Broadcasting plans cutbacks
The Maine Public Broadcasting Network is eliminating a television tower and two of its seven radio towers, reducing its staff, and imposing temporary wage reductions in response to cuts in state and federal funding. President Jim Dowe announced yesterday that WMED in Calais and WMEF in Fort Kent will go off the air next month, as will WMED-TV in Calais. Six of MPBN's 86 full-time staff jobs will be eliminated, and wages will be slashed by 5 percent to 20 percent through the end of the fiscal year in June. (AP)

Home for retardation services privatized
The state of Maine will soon be out of the business of providing direct institutional care to people with severe mental retardation. The Elizabeth Levinson Center in Bangor, the last of several former state-operated programs for children with mental retardation, will be run by a private nonprofit organization starting March 1. This week, the state awarded the contract to United Cerebral Palsy of Northeastern Maine. The Levinson Center, which opened in 1971, is the last of several former state-operated programs for children with mental retardation to be turned over to the private sector. (AP)

3d woman sues school district in abuse
A third woman is suing New Hampshire's Winnisquam Regional School District, saying she was sexually abused by a guidance counselor more than three decades ago. Joan Barnum, 49, of Holderness said she was molested as a student several years before different lawsuits allege a teacher abused two students. Her lawyer, Peter Hutchins, said Barnum decided to sue after she heard about lawsuits filed against the district last month by two women who said they were molested by a former teacher at the same school, Winnisquam Regional High. (AP)

Holiday presents are stolen from charity
Someone stole presents this week that The Salvation Army had been collecting for children through its Wish Upon A Star program. The organization and radio station WOKQ are gathering presents for nearly 600 children. The theft was discovered Tuesday at the Salvation Army Worship and Service Center. Former governor Craig Benson wrote a personal check for $10,000, and WOKQ listeners pledged at least $5,000 yesterday morning to help replace the stolen items. (AP)

Candy cane decor challenged as religious
A school's candy cane decoration is drawing criticism from a man who says it constitutes a religious display. After fourth-grade student Jenna Baginski and her father, Tom, dressed up pillars at Charlotte Central School's entrance in red-and-white stripes, local resident William Gerson wrote a letter of protest. He said candy canes are associated with Christmas and therefore a religious symbol unfit for public display. But School Board members agreed at a recent meeting that candy canes are a secular symbol. (AP)

High court rejects political ad complaint
The state Supreme Court has dismissed a case accusing the state Republican Party of violating campaign finance laws by taking funding used for a television ad during the 2002 governor's race. The ruling released yesterday faults a lower-court judge for improperly blocking an investigation by the state Board of Elections into an advertisement supporting GOP candidate Donald L. Carcieri. (AP)

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