Baker signs mixed drinks to-go bill

Gov. Charlie Baker has signed into law legislation filed by state Sen. Diana DiZoglio (D-Methuen) that will allow mixed alcoholic drinks to be sold with takeout and delivery orders in Massachusetts during the COVID-19 emergency.

The bill to expand take-out/delivery options in response to COVID-19 will make Massachusetts the latest state to permit the sale of mixed drinks with takeout and delivery. More than 34 other states, including Maine and Rhode Island, have already adopted such measures.

Earlier this year, beer and wine sales were permitted to be sold with takeout and delivery orders but, much to the frustration of local restaurants, mixed drinks were excluded.

“While many mom-and-pop establishments have been able to slowly reopen in recent weeks, they still face significant challenges in their efforts to retain employees and pay their bills,” DiZoglio said. “According to our local, family-owned and operated restaurants, these measures could help them generate thousands of dollars a month and would greatly assist them in paying utility bills and rent. I am grateful to my colleagues in the Legislature for their support and continued advocacy on the issue and to Gov. Baker for signing it into law.”

— Bill Kirk

 

Local man faces bank fraud charges

 

Ten people, including a Haverhill man and the former owner of a Lawrence car dealership, were named in a federal indictment charging them with a "wide-reaching conspiracy" to defraud financial institutions in several states, according to federal authorities.

Fernando Diaz, 32, of Haverhill and Rolando Estrella, 32, who previously owned the Lawrence dealership, join eight others charged with defrauding financial institutions in Rhode Island, Massachusetts, Connecticut, New Hampshire and several other states, according to information released by Rhode Island U.S. Attorney Aaron Weisman.

All those charged are accused of obtaining fraudulent car loans secured with stolen personal identification information and fraudulent documents.

As part of the scheme, the conspirators falsely identified complicit bank account holders as "sellers" and used car businesses created by members of the conspiracy to induce lenders to extend loans purportedly to purchase cars, according to Weisman's statement.

"As part of the scheme, false bills of sale, automobile titles, pay stubs and proof of employment were created identifying both members of the conspiracy and the shell companies as the seller of the vehicles," according to the statement.

Estrella was initially indicted in the federal case in December. A superseding indictment was unsealed on July 17 also naming numerous Lawrence and Haverhill residents including: Diaz of Haverhill; Emilio Frias-Reyes, 29, Erickson Ventura-Martinez, 25, Hiancarlos Mosquea-Ramos, 27, Bryant Polanco, 27, and Jonathan Pimental, 28, all of Lawrence; and Juan Felix-Fernandez, 51, of Hartford, Connecticut.

They face charges of conspiracy to commit bank fraud, bank fraud, aggravated identity theft and fraudulent use of a Social Security number.

Arrest warrants were issued for Diaz, Pimental and Felix-Fernandez. The others charged were arranged in U.S. District Court in Providence and released on unsecured bonds, according to the statement.

The indictment marks the latest in a series of charges and arrests involving the Social Security Office of the Inspector General and the United States Secret Service, according to Weisman's statement.

—Jill Harmacinski

 

City man injured when hit by car

A 22-year-old Haverhill man is recovering from what police called "non-life-threatening injuries" after he was hit by a car last week near GAR Park.

According to police spokesman Capt. Stephen Doherty, the man was struck by a car at the intersection of Main Street and Ginty Boulevard last Tuesday just after 7 p.m. and taken to a local hospital for treatment.

The crash remains under investigation and no charges have been filed, Doherty said.

— Allison Corneau

 

Tests track sewage in Merrimack River

A local nonprofit group has started a comprehensive water testing program aimed at shedding new light on one of the Merrimack River's most important and complex environmental problems — the impact of combined sewage overflows.

Combined sewage overflows, or CSOs, often occur during significant rain storms. Sewage treatment facilities in Haverhill, Lawrence, Lowell and the New Hampshire cities of Nashua and Manchester are older systems that are not designed to fully treat all of the sewage and storm water that flow into them during rain storms. They are permitted to release excess flow into the river.

Last year about 650 million gallons of sewage were released into the river. CSO water typically contains bacteria that can be harmful to people and wildlife.

The Merrimack River Watershed Council will test the river this summer at a variety of locations ranging from Lowell to Newburyport. The tests will focus on sections where people tend to come in contact with the river, such as boat ramps and popular swimming areas. This is the first time that tests focused primarily on CSOs have been conducted on the Merrimack.

Matthew Thorne, executive director of the Merrimack River Watershed Association, said the organization is "proud to rally this community effort to develop a high-precision approach to gauging the water quality of our Merrimack River.''

"We saw significant progress out of Manchester ... through the agreement with EPA to invest $231 million to bring that city's infrastructure into the 20th century,'' he said of the New Hampshire city's effort to decrease sewage it dumps into the river. "We have to be vigilant and build on this momentum," 

The tests will collect a variety of data on water quality, including bacteria levels, which are key indicators of CSO pollution. Tests will be conducted on a regular schedule, with additional ones conducted when sewage overflows happen.

A key goal is to track the flow of bacteria down the river in the aftermath of a CSO. The river's flow is complex, and bacteria levels can change substantially as water moves downriver. For instance, it's not known whether a large CSO release in Lowell will lead to significant spikes in bacteria levels in Newburyport. The testing is intended to generate data that will shed light on how bacteria levels change.

Ultimately the data collected will aid a notification system that will alert the public when the river is unsafe. A similar system, based on collected data and a mathematical model, is used to alert the public when bacteria levels are too high in the Charles River.

CSOs are not the only source of bacteria in the river. During rain storms, storm drains and runoff can send significant amounts of bacteria into the river.

The Merrimack River Watershed Council is seeking additional volunteers and financial contributions to support the testing. Anyone who is interested is asked to contact the Merrimack River Watershed Council at www.merrimack.org.

— Bill Kirk

 

Woman, teen to help lead local Girl Scouts

Pranali Ashara, a Girl Scout who attends North Andover High School, is so passionate about food conservation that she launched a program last year encouraging students to save uneaten food and give it to a homeless shelter.

She asked fellow students to provide packaged foods and fresh fruit to Emmaus Inc. a Haverhill organization that provides a variety of housing programs to area homeless people.

In recognition of her food and environmental conservation efforts, the Girls Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts chose Pranali to serve on its Girl Board of Directors.

The Girl Scouts also elected Kim Reinert of North Andover, a professional auditor, to serve on the adult Board of Directors.

Voting members of the council virtually elected this year’s slate of youth and adult board and development committee members during the council’s annual meeting, which was held online May 12.

Reinert is an audit partner and leader of the commercial audit practice with Ernst & Young in Boston. She has more than 25 years of experience serving multi-national, high-growth companies. They include life sciences, technology and professional services companies.

Within her community, Reinert has served as vice chair of the United Way Women United Leadership Council and as a member of the United Way Global Women United Leadership Council.

"I’m excited to be joining the board of GSEMA," Reinert said of the Girls Scouts of Eastern Massachusetts. "Once a Girl Scout and a troop volunteer, I’m looking forward to continuing on the mission of building girls with courage, confidence, and character, who make the world a better place."

Pranali is going into her senior year at North Andover High and has been a Girl Scout since Brownie level. In recognition of a food rescue program she named "Spofford Food For Thought," which helps bridge the gap between food waste and food insecurity, she received the Girl Scout's Gold Award, the highest award in Girl Scouting.

Her program, which she launched in April of 2019 at the Spofford Pond School in Boxford and ran until schools closed this March due to the pandemic, encouraged students to donate their uneaten, packaged snacks and juice packs as well as fresh fruits to Emmaus.

"Once a week, parent volunteers delivered what we collected to Emmaus and, in all, we delivered a total of 576 pounds of food items that might otherwise have been disposed of," Pranali said.

Denise Arnold, Emmaus volunteer and gift manager, said individuals and families living in various Emmaus properties in the city benefited from the program.

"We distributed a lot of bagged snacks, cartons of milk and yogurt, individually packaged string cheese and other items that helped support our food distribution program," she said. "Pranali is an amazing young woman and we are appreciative that she reached out to us as her partner.

"As a member of the Girl Board of Directors, I want to bring my experience in scouting to younger girls in hopes they will become leaders in the future," Pranali said.

A Girl Scout for nine years, Pranali plans to study environmental science in college to further her efforts to improve society.

"Girl Scouting means being empowered to take action and make a change in the world," she said.

 

— Mike LaBella

 

Pentucket considers replacing Sachem mascot

The Pentucket Regional School Committee has voted unanimously to reopen a discussion on changing the Sachem mascot.

Chairwoman Dena Trotta said the committee aims to make a decision on the issue in September.

The Retire the Sachem Coalition, made up of current and former Pentucket students, issued a call by email earlier this month for the committee to officially retire the Sachem amid construction of a new middle-high school.

The coalition also attached an open letter written in February 2017 by Paul Pouliot, the current Sag8mo (chief) of the Cowasuck Band of the Pennacook-Abenaki People, condemning the use of Indigenous mascots and "racist and misused Indigenous terms," including the Sachems.

"We as a tribal organization and representatives of the greater contemporary Indigenous community can only tell you that we are offended by your continued use of Indigenous names, mascots, logos, images, symbols and ceremonies," Pouliot wrote without naming any specific schools or organizations.

"If you really want to honor us, you will need to acknowledge and respect us as a people," he added in the letter. "Honor us by getting rid of your 'cartoon like' Indian logo and change your offensive team name."

The coalition also said Pentucket has the opportunity to rebrand as it constructs its new school.

The issue coincides with numerous calls across the country to remove racist mascots, statues and other imagery. One of the most notable recent cases is the Washington pro football team announced it would officially retire its mascot, and develop a new name and logo.

More than three dozen public schools in Massachusetts reference or use caricatures of Indigenous people as their mascots.

A petition to retire the Sachem as the mascot at Pentucket, drafted by the coalition and addressed to local and state officials, garnered more than 3,200 signatures.

During a recent meeting via Zoom, Pentucket alumna and West Newbury resident Audra Foster spoke in favor of replacing the mascot.

“There is no valid reason to keep the mascot because by keeping it, we as a Pentucket community are choosing to perpetuate symbolic racism and trauma and the misuse of names and images by stealing from a culture that is not ours and has been stolen from for centuries, Foster said. “By having this mascot represent our schools, we are appropriating, stereotyping and erasing Indigenous culture. … I believe it is imperative that we retire the mascot now.”

Julia Seeley, a rising Pentucket sophomore, said she believes the mascot makes the school seem “unwelcoming to minority students."

“There’s no denying that we are a mostly white school, so having a Native American mascot gives the impression that we are open to racist stereotypes because they do not affect us," she said. "Even though some argue that we should change our curriculum to include Native American history while keeping our mascot.

“By having a Native American as our mascot, Native Americans have said we could have no connection with their history or culture. They said it makes them seem like a costume that we are happy to put on. We do not have to deal with the intergenerational trauma that they experience, but we proudly say we are like them. Endorsing this type of culture and representation in a school leads to more widespread cultural stereotyping and biases.”

Ashley Linnehan, a 2015 Pentucket alumna and Merrimac resident, recalled being ashamed of her school’s mascot as a student when she saw one of her white peers dressed in Native American garb at a pep rally.

“We cannot say that using fellow human beings as our mascot is OK if we are not the ones directly affected by it, we have to listen to and respect the voices of thousands of people who are,” Linnehan said.

She urged the district to implement a curriculum that "depicts the truth about Native Americans, how they were driven from their land, murdered and kidnapped from their homes as children, and robbed of their culture by the white settlers.”

— Jack Shea

 

Dragon's Nest store to close after 37 years

The Dragon’s Nest, a toy store with offerings that enthralled generations of children across the region, will close its doors in Market Square in Newburyport the end of August after 37 years of business, citing the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and the difficulty of competing with online retailers.

Sally Owen, who has owned the shop since 2014, sent a letter to customers recently, informing them of the closure, and later said she was feeling “really sad” about a difficult decision she “did not make lightly.”

“(It) is a tough day, but I’ll have to evolve and keep moving,” Owen said. “It’s been a wonderful experience and I’ve met some really wonderful people.”

The shop will close at the end of August. In the meantime, it is open every day from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.

The Dragon’s Nest was founded by Martin and Donna Seim in 1982. After retiring, the Seims, who live in Byfield, passed control and ownership to their daughter Kristin, who in 2014 sold the store to Owen.

As owner, Owen said she worked to keep an inventory filled with the Dragon’s Nest staples such as games, puzzles, dolls, books and musical instruments, while also bringing in some trendy items.

But she said it has become more difficult in recent years with technology changing not only the way toys are bought and sold, but also the way kids play.

“Kids used to play with dolls more, and the ages have shrunk for a lot of trains and pretend play,” Owen said, explaining that YouTube has become a major driver for toy sales.

“A lot of kids have access (to YouTube) with phones and tablets, so the popular culture stuff which is harder to stay current with,” she said. “I’ve tried to balance that and keep those things in the store, but sometimes it was impossible.”

And when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March, those difficulties were compounded by the devastating impact of the virus on tourism and the local economy. Owen soon found herself faced with the difficult reality that the Dragon’s Nest’s life in Market Square needed to come to an end.

As she explained in her letter, the store’s unique layout – narrow aisles along racks and shelves packed with toys and books – did not lend itself well to social distancing.

“The distinctive characteristics of the store that make it a picturesque throwback to another time, an exploratorium in a way, also create serious obstacles to keeping visitors and staff safe and healthy,” she said in the letter, also highlighting the difficulty of keeping up with large online retailers.

— Jack Shea

 

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