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"UCP of Maine Closes Dangerous Facility"

Written By:

Mike Reynolds

When a person with disability takes on the non-profit that bears the name of their diagnosis, it certainly isn’t an easy decision. When I wrote the story "Of Landfills and Cerebral Palsy", I published it because I was enraged that children with severe emotional disorders were being placed in a state accredited Mainecare facility and being exposed to many harmful chemicals, namely Hydrogen Sulfide (H2S). 

My article pointed out that the Maine Department of Environmental Protection had placed sensors at the facility, the Fort James House, that found that, during several months in 2011, H2S levels were five to six times higher than state guidelines for exposure to the chemical. Additionally, Don Meagher, a senior manager at Casella Waste Systems, the company that runs the state owned Juniper Ridge Landfill, served as vice president on the Board of Directors for UCP of Maine.  The President of UCP of Maine's Board was Jim Heald, who worked for Sappi Paper. Sappi Paper is one of the primary consumers of the energy made by KTI Biofuels, a subsidiary of Casella Waste Systems. 

The article was uploaded on March 8th. Additionally, during the first 24 hours after the story was published, it got tweeted about by several influential folks in the disability community, such as the PR guy from the National Council on Disability.  On March 12, after agonizing over the wording of the letter, I emailed a letter to UCP of Maine that made them aware of the article, my background and that I was willing to publish any response. The tone of the email, I thought, was frank yet professional.

During this time I did see people from UCP of Maine at the Autism Awareness Celebration in Augusta on April 2nd. That event was really cool from a personal perspective because one of the featured speakers, John Williams, an individual with autism that uses an ipad to communicate, is someone who I grew up with.  However, I didn't have time to speak with any UCP staff about the article.  

I did not hear anything from UCP of Maine until an email landed in my inbox on April 24.  The offer was still made to print a response to my article. The email stated a response to my article would arrive in a few days.  At that time I went back to their website, and was startled to see that Jim Heald and Don Meagher had both resigned from the UCP of Maine’s Board of Directors. I tried to find any media coverage of the change in the UCP Board of Directors, but there was nothing in the Bangor Daily News, except that the PR director was accepted in an exclusive class in Washington DC.   It seemed strange that the first new president of a board of directors since 2008 wouldn’t get some sort of coverage in the local paper.  It was never mentioned in the video news podcast UCP of Maine does monthly called “UCP NEWS.” The item on their website about their new Board President is undated. I waited for a response that was promised on April 24.  Over a month later, nothing had been received. 

In mid-May my friend Paul told me he heard a rumor that the Fort James House closed. I told him I really was not in the mood for jokes and he told me that he honestly heard it was closed for financial reasons. I called UCP of Maine and spoke to the receptionist. It was indeed closed.  Additionally, on May 16, it was also announced at a municipal meeting in Old Town that the house was closed. No matter the reason, it is a good thing that the Fort James House is closed. Looking at the current Board at UCP of Maine, there are some great people who I know will continue to advocate for the consumers who use their services. While I may not agree withcertain activities that UCP of Maine supports, those activities do provide much needed socialization and other benefits to other disabled adults, and they provide critically important services to children with a variety of disabilities throughout the state. 

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