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Here are the Top Stories of 2013
12/31/2013   Reported By: Jay Field

Apartment fires in Lewiston, partisan fights in Augusta, a bankrupt railroad, tar sands oil. It's been a busy year for Maine's newsrooms. With just a few hours left until midnight, here is a look back at some of the top stories of 2013.

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2013 kicked off with all eyes on Augusta. Democrats were back in control of the state house. And Republican Governor Paul LePage quickly put lawmakers on notice that he had his own list of priorities.

"We are putting a proposal forward to use future liquor revenues to fund a bond issue, so we can pay our hospitals once and for all," said LePage.

Partisan warfare would continue for months over LePage's plan to repay the $186,000,000 in Medicaid debt owed to hospitals, as well as the state budget. But there were other disputes brewing outside of the capital.

"Our water! Our land! Our future no tar sands!" shouted the more than 1,000 protestors in late January, over the possibility of so-called "tar sands oil" being shipped via pipeline to South Portland.

The tar sands fight would escalate through the year, and culminate in the rejection of a local ordinance to ban tar sands imports. In April, meantime, the arrival of spring brought the unraveling of a big mystery in the Central Maine woods, as MPBN's Patty Wight explained.

"Sgt. Terry Hughes has been with the Maine Warden Service nearly 18 years," reported Wight. "And for as long as he can remember, there's been a search for a person suspected of stealing from dozens of camps around North Pond, near Waterville. Last week, Hughes says he finally caught Christopher Knight, while he was allegedly stealing from one of the camps."

The man known as the North Pond Hermit would later plead guilty to 13 counts of burglary and theft. In early May, a series of fires shook the city of Lewiston, as MPBN's Susan Sharon reported.

"Police have arrested two twelve year old boys in connection with two of the fires," stated Sharon. "They say they do not believe the fires are connected or that the two boys know each other. Both are in custody."

Three major fires in Lewiston destroyed nine buildings and left nearly 200 people homeless. Another high profile criminal case came to a close in late May, when a judge gave Alexis Wright 10 months in jail for running a prostitution ring out of her Kennebunk Zumba studio. And meanwhile, back in Augusta, tensions grew as spring turned to summer.

"I am here to tell you, I will veto that budget," Governor LePage assured the Maine Legislature and the public. He went on to veto a record 83 bills in 2013. But on the state budget, it was Democrats who had the last word.

"26 senators having voted in the affirmative. And nine senators in the negative. And 26 being more than two-thirds of the members present, the veto is overridden!" said Justin Alfond, Democrat of Portland and President of the Maine Senate, on the floor, in June.

July brought a tragedy, just over Maine's western border with Canada.

"It looks like a war zone, with smoking cars, shell of homes still standing," reported Marie Claude Cabana. She covered the oil train derailment and fire in Lac Megantic, Quebec for the CBC. The accident killed 47 people. The resulting lawsuits helped drive the Montreal, Maine and Atlantic Railway into bankruptcy. Events outside of Maine also shook the state in October.

The sound of a park ranger locking the gates at Acadia Nation Park was just part of the fallout here from the government shutdown. Hundreds of federal workers in Maine were furloughed during the stalemate. Autumn also brought Norwegian company Statoil's decision to withdraw from a $120,000,000 offshore wind project in Maine. Voters in Portland legalized the possession of small amount of marijuana. And next's year's gubernatorial race began to take shape, with Governor LePage, Independent Eliot Cutler and Democrat Mike Michaud all launching campaigns. And in November, A year and a day before the election, Michaud made a surprise announcement.

Yes, I am gay," Michaud told reporters. "But, you know, so what? I am who I am.

He decided to come out, Michaud told reporters, to head off whisper campaigns and the push polling on his personal life. If he's elected, Michaud would become the first openly gay governor in the nation, a development that would stand a good chance of making next year list of top Maine stories.

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