MFPC’s 60th annual meeting: ‘All in all, well executed’

Executive Director Patrick Strauch and Office Manager Sue McCarthy

Even though it’s been 60 years since the Maine Forest Products Council was founded, it’s safe to say that MFPC’s Annual Meeting Sept. 21 was unique. Instead of unfolding over two days, it lasted two hours. There was no time spent on the road, no expenses, no food or drink, no golf and not a single hand was shaken.

“The presentations were fine,” said Jim Robbins, Robbins Lumber. “Of course, we all, I am sure, would rather meet in person. I miss the camaraderie. I think I may be getting a new type of virus called Zoom fatigue.”

Doug Denico, left, and Pat Sirois, right, display Denico’s Abby Holman Public Service Award.

Like all MFPC meetings since Maine’s first COVID 19 case was reported in mid-March, it was a “virtual” meeting, attended by 88 people, “which is great,” said Gordon Gamble, MFPC Board president. “I’d like to thank everybody for participating and for the continued financial support for the council in this very strange and challenging year.”

One thing that many members missed this year, though, was the opportunity to catch up with friends and colleagues. 

For example, because of the need to social-distance, MFPC only gave out one award this year – the Abby Holman Public Service Award — which Doug Denico, former state forester, accepted on his laptop from the nearly empty (SFI’s Pat Sirois sat with him) MFPC conference room. Watch video.

“I thought the meeting went very well and all of the staff did a great job,” Peter Triandafillou, Huber. “There’s no denying that for me, virtual meetings are a poor second to meeting in person, but that obviously wasn’t an option.”

Elected to the Executive Committee for one-year terms: Gordon Gamble, Wagner Forest Mgmt., president
Ryan McAvoy, Sappi North America, first vice president
John Gray, retired, treasurer
Peter Triandafillou, Huber Resources, secretary
Allan Ryder, Timber Resource Group
Jim Robbins, Robbins Lumber
Jason Brochu, Pleasant River Lumber
Ben Carlisle, Prentiss & Carlisle
Eric Kingsley, Innovative Natural Resource Solutions
Chris Fife, Weyerhaeuser
Scott Beal, Woodland Pulp

Elected to the Board of Directors for 3-year terms: David Cole, American Forest Mgmt.
John Manganello, Baskahegan John McNulty, Bradbury Forest Mgmt.
Ken Lamond, Family Forestry
Scott Morrison, retired
John Cashwell, BBC Lands
Brian Flewelling, Key Bank
Charles Tardif, Maibec Logging
Cliff Foster, Timberstate G
Nicolas Fontaine, Stratton Lumber

Executive Director Patrick Strauch talked about The State of Maine’s Forest Products Industry, detailing the challenges and some surprised since the first COVID 19 case was reported in Maine in mid-March.

“You can see the supply and demand forces that included a stay-at-home, do-it- yourself fix-up trend that started the rally on lumber and we really saw a dramatic increase in demand for primarily softwood,” Strauch said. Hardwood has been a slower picture of recovery.” See presentation.

Michele MacLean, MFPC lobbyist, gave members a preview of the upcoming election and who is likely to lead the 130th Legislature, while Bill Ferdinand, Eaton Peabody, reviewed some tough issues likely to come up, including herbicides, energy, and the Indian Lands Claim Settlement.

MacLean pointed out ways this election also is unusual, including the largest number of uncontested races – 34 – since 1998 and record spending in the Senate race, including “significant dollars coming in from outside PACs and influencers specific to that race.” With regards to the Maine legislative races, though, “it hasn’t been as strenuous,” she said. “There isn’t the opportunity for fundraising as there would be in a non-COVID year.”

“We also are seeing record-breaking enrollment,” she said. “There have been 91,000 recent enrollees in the Democratic Party, which is huge . . . With this initiative by the Democratic Party to enroll, they have surpassed the unenrolled (independent voters) for the first time in 30 years.”

Another break from the norm is there are 34 uncontested seats, two in the Senate and 32 the House. “The Democrats do have the edge there,” MacLean said. “They have 10 seats where they don’t have the candidate running against the Republican nominee, whereas the Republicans have 22 seats without a candidate to run against the Democrats.”

Records also are being broken in the number of voters who have requested absentee ballots and that will affect turnout on election day, which will impact all of those organizations that are trying to collect signatures for future ballot initiatives.

Democrats are expected to retain the majority in the Maine Senate and House. Senate President Troy Jackson would probably be reelected as president and the floor leaders, Senator Leahy and Senator Mitch Kelly should likely come back. In the House, Rep. Matt Moonen, D-Portland, is termed out, so assistant majority leader Rep. Ryan Fecteau, D-Biddford, is the frontrunner to succeed former Speaker Sarah Gideon.

MFPC lobbyist Michele MacLean

The Republican side is “a little more challenging,” MacLean said, because Senate Republican Leader Dana L. Dow (R-Lincoln) is in a very challenging race against former Rep. Chloe Maxim (D – Nobleboro) Assistant Senate Republican Leader Jeff Timberlake (R-Androscoggin) is running against Martha Poliquin of Lisbon, who two years ago ran for the House District 56 seat, losing to Republican Rick Mason. In the House, Rep. Kathleen Dillingham of Oxford, should be back as the Republican leader, but the assistant minority leader will be new, since former Rep. Trey Stewart, R-Presque Isle, is in a tough race for a Senate seat in District 2 against incumbent Sen. Michael Carpenter.

Another possible leadership contender is former Senate President Rick Bennett, who is running in District 19 against newcomer Katherine (Katey) Branch of South Paris the assistant. It, although leadership will is and their leadership team may, but there’s been some talk about if, when and how they will come back into session in January.

“It’s quite possible that they only bring the Appropriations Committee together in January and deal with COVID-related budget matters, fiscal matters, and defer other action until later in hopes that we’ll be able to get through the fall in the winter and whatever resurgence of COVID and times will be safer,” MacLean said. “We’re also hearing that the House may convene at the Civic Center and the Senate will be in the House of Representatives so that they have the distance between them. The public – and that includes all of us — may or may not be allowed in. If that is the case, I fully expect that there will be a legal challenge.” 

Bill Ferdinand

Bill Ferdinand of Eaton Peabody talked about what happened to all the bills that “were left just sitting on the table” when the session ended abruptly and no special session was ever convened. 

“So a lot of bills that we were paying attention to are going to be picked up again in January,” Ferdinand said. “I expect so as we go through these bills, you can basically get an idea of what’s going to happen subsequently for bills in the future to an Agriculture Committee. There were a number of bills to restrict or control, the use of glyphosate and a lot of different contexts. They were rejected by a majority of the community but the people that were pushing them expect could will return to the legislature. And that issue will continue.”

The 2020 Annual Meeting will be remembered for its brevity, but also for it’s efficiency. A lot of ground was covered in record time.

“While definitely not a full replacement for an in-person meeting, I think the pandemic has educated us all on the effectiveness of these remote conference tools,” said Dan LaMontagne, Seven Islands. “I think the annual meeting went very well, although I do think the remote nature of it does impact/reduce questions and dialogue, and adds a level of ‘formality’ that is unavoidable. I am not sure there is much that can be done about that. All in all, well executed.”