LEGAL

L.L. Bean seeks to dismiss suit over return policy

L.L. Bean is asking a court to dismiss a lawsuit challenging the Freeport retailer’s new return policy. The company changed its unlimited return policy in February, claiming that some customers were abusing the virtually unrestricted return or exchange policy by taking back worn-out items years after sale. Under the new policy, Bean will accept returns on items bought in the prior year or returned because of a manufacturing defect. A Chicago customer filed a lawsuit in federal court in Chicago a few days later, claiming the company’s change in policy was “deceptive and unfair.” The company said the customer misunderstood the change in policy and that L.L. Bean had made it plain that the old return policy would still apply for products purchased before Feb. 9, when the new policy was announced. The filing said the customer therefore suffered no injury because he hasn’t tried to return any Bean purchases or been refused a refund. Read the story.

 Bates, Bowdoin, Colby under federal investigation

Bates, Colby and Bowdoin colleges are among at least nine elite secondary schools under investigation by the U.S. Department of Justice for possible violations of antitrust laws. The alleged violations are for swapping information with competing colleges and universities about students who accept early-decision offers for admission.

A letter from the Justice department’s antitrust division sent to the colleges, first reported by Inside Higher Ed, says the probe is looking into “a potential agreement between colleges relating to their early-decision practices.” It asks the colleges that received the letter, which include several schools in the New England Small College Athletic Conference, to preserve any material connected to the issue. Read the story.

GENERAL BUSINESS

Unum’s $42 million expansion underway

Employee benefits provider Unum Group is working on a $42 million renovation of its Portland campus to modernize the working environment for its roughly 3,000 local employees. Executives of the company, which is based in Tennessee but has major operations in Portland, said they also plan to consolidate Unum’s local workforce from three buildings down to two, and free up the third building for leasing to other businesses. One of the biggest changes resulting from the workplace overhaul is that instead of assigned desks, the majority of Unum employees will utilize unassigned “flex” workspaces that will change depending on the project or team to which they are assigned, the executives said. Overall, the company hopes to better attract and retain workers of all generations with the more modern and flexible work environment, while making smarter use of the existing space. Read the story.

Three Maine companies win specialty food awards

Three Maine food businesses have won a coveted sofi award from the Specialty Food Association, an honor that brings national attention to smaller brands that are looking to connect with food buyers and find a wider audience for their products. Brunswick-based Gelato Fiasco won a silver sofi in the ice cream, gelato and frozen treat category for its Big ‘Ole Peanut Butter gelato. Maine Crisp Co. in Waterville, which makes a line of crackers for pairing with cheese, fruit and jams, won a bronze sofi in the cracker category for its cranberry almond crisps. Grandy Oats, based in Hiram, won a New Product award in the granola and cereal category for its Coffee Crunch Coconola, a grain-free, coconut-based organic granola made with Wicked Joe coffee and a blend of hazelnuts, pumpkin seeds and pecans. Read the story.

Councilors reject pesticide request from oil companies

The City Council on Tuesday rejected a request from five oil companies for a waiver from the city’s pesticide ordinance, which will restrict the use of synthetic pesticides on their properties starting next month. Five petroleum companies, including Sprague, Portland Pipeline, and Gulf Oil, asked the council for a waiver to use synthetic chemicals on their properties until organic products can be proven to be as effective. The companies all operate storage facilities in the city that include above ground tanks. Vegetation and flammable materials must be kept away from their tanks, they said, and have been routinely cleared from their properties using synthetic chemicals that are not allowed under the ordinance. The labor to manually remove vegetation would add extra costs, and mowers powered by gasoline and electricity are not allowed near the tanks for safety reasons. Councilors and those speaking during public comment said the companies should have approached the city before the eve of the ordinance’s enactment. Read the story.

ENERGY

Nearly 100,000 CMP customers saw bills spike

About 97,000 Central Maine Power customers saw their monthly bills increase 50 percent or more in December, January or February over the same month a year ago, according to information the power company provided to state regulators. The information was contained in a letter CMP attorney Richard P. Hevey sent Tuesday to the Maine Public Utilities Commission, which is trying to figure out why hundreds of CMP customers saw dramatic spikes in their electricity bills during the three-month period beginning in December 2017. Residential customers, some of whom saw their bills double or triple after an extreme cold spell and a modest increase in standard electricity rates, flooded regulators with more than 1,000 complaints. Read the story.

Audit of CMP bills likely to take all year

Policymakers and Central Maine Power customers eager for the results of an independent audit into high electric bills will need to be patient: Final results might not be available until the end of 2018. The protracted timeline stems from the need for the Maine Public Utilities Commission to advertise for and hire a private consultant with the skills to examine several complicated facets of CMP’s meter and billing systems. Harry Lanphear, the PUC’s spokesman, said Monday that he was unable to estimate how long the audit process would take. He said state purchasing rules aimed at assuring a fair process for all bidders bar him from answering that question. Bids are due April 26. Then the PUC expects to score the submittals and negotiate a contract with at least one company. Work is scheduled to begin May 15, and wrap up no later than Dec. 31. Read the story.

MARIJUANA

Both houses approve new retail pot law

The Maine Senate on Wednesday passed the bill to launch the state’s adult-use marijuana market, putting the legislation on the brink of heading to Gov. Paul LePage’s desk with veto-proof margins from both chambers of the Legislature. The bill passed by a 24-10 margin one day after being approved 112-34 in the House, which killed a more liberal version of the bill last year by sustaining LePage’s veto. The bill was likely to head to LePage after a concurrence vote upheld the intiial House vote Thursday. The compromise bill cuts the personal plant count down from six to three; eliminates deliveries, internet sales, drive-thru windows and social clubs; increases the tax rate from a 10 percent sales tax to an effective 20 percent tax; and funnels 6 percent of pot taxes to law enforcement. Read the story.

BANKING & FINANCE

Three companies get $6 million in venture capital backing

There were three significant venture capital investments in Maine companies in the first quarter, valued at a total of roughly $6 million, according to an investor report issued Wednesday. The PricewaterhouseCoopers/CB Insights MoneyTree Report said the York-based online youth banking service Ourly, Westbrook-based home energy storage provider Pika Energy, and Biddeford-based outdoor accessories maker Hyperlite Mountain Gear each received early-stage investments in excess of $1 million in the first quarter. Ourly received the largest investment of the three – a $3.4 million round from Boston-based investment firm Kodiak Venture Partners, according to the report. Pika received $1.5 million from “undisclosed investors,” and Hyperlite received $1.1 million from the Telluride Venture Fund, based in Telluride, Colorado, the report said. Read the story.

COMMERCIAL FISHERIES

Shellfish areas to close at first sign of toxins

Public health officials say they will use extreme caution to manage toxic algae blooms this year to prevent another expensive and potentially dangerous shellfish recall. In the last two years, sudden toxic algae blooms of a previously unrecorded type of phytoplankton forced the Maine Department of Marine Resources to close huge sections of the Down East coast to shellfish harvesting and to issue rare recalls of tons of clams and mussels from as far away as Utah. Recalls are bad for public health, business and Maine’s seafood brand, said Kohl Kanwit, head of the department’s public health division, during a workshop Tuesday for harvesters, seafood dealers, regulators and researchers at Bigelow Laboratory for Ocean Sciences in Boothbay. This year, the department isn’t taking any chances as it monitors for pseudo-nitzschia, a single-cell organism that can bloom unexpectedly and make domoic acid, a dangerous biotoxin that may cause amnesic shellfish poisoning, or ASP, in humans and animals. The Department of Marine Resources plans more vigorous and sensitive monitoring for pseudo-nitzschia blooms and will immediately close harvesting areas if it detects toxin in the water, Kanwit said. Read the story.

 

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