So damn much went on in 2012, it's no wonder that some stories may have passed people by. You can't have missed all the campaigning (for president, US Senate, and every seat in the State House), the violence (13 mass shootings this year alone, according to the Washington Post), revolutions (across the Arab world), betrayals (by David Petraeus, TomKat, and Robsten Pattinstew), disasters natural (the derecho, Superstorm Sandy) and manmade (the fiscal cliff, the Olympics), and oh-so-much-more. We here at the Portland Phoenix have kept tabs on some other stories — ones you might have heard about briefly (if at all), before they sank back into the surging swamp of America's nonstop non-reflective news cycle. So read on, and catch up with a dozen things you didn't hear on the first round, or (if you did) that you might not have grasped the significance of — until now.
BATH SALTS: STILL AWFUL!
There's no chance you could have missed the existence of bath salts — every media outlet (including the Phoenix) covered the new designer drug when it emerged on the scene last year. But, as with any flash in the pan, you may have already forgotten about the synthetic mind-altering stimulant, which can lead to extreme paranoia, hallucinations, heart palpitations, and superhuman strength. In late 2011, the state legislature passed a bill increasing penalties for possession and sale of bath salts, but reports this year suggest that the problem has not been curbed.
Therese Cahill-Low, director of Maine's Office of Family and Child Services, told PBS last month that of the 200 children who entered the state's foster care system in 2012, about half of those cases were linked to a parent's use of bath salts. The department is requesting more than $4 million to address the issue. Meanwhile, the local representative for the US Drug Enforcement Agency has said bath salts are seeping into Southern Maine, and the state Center for Disease Control and Prevention issued a health alert in December warning that four patients with a history of injecting bath salts were recently struck by serious bacterial infections — including one case of flesh-eating bacteria. Just say no, guys. Gross.
MORE PUBLIC TRANSIT?
With little fanfare, the US Census Bureau announced in March that the population of the Greater Portland urban area had exceeded 200,000 as of the 2010 census, leading to a shift at the Portland Area Comprehensive Transportation System, the regional transportation planning organization. PACTS is now a "Transportation Management Area," which means that, among other things, PACTS must develop a "congestion management plan" dealing with not only vehicle traffic but also public transit, bicycles, and pedestrians. And PACTS will get more help, too. Federal Transit Administration funding is expected to double from its current level between $2 million and $2.5 million, according to PACTS director John Duncan. Still, that's a drop in the bucket compared with the $624 million PACTS says is necessary to meet our needs. Among PACTS priorities: bridge improvements, public transit and highway expansion leading to towns west of I-95, upgrades of "arterial roads" such as Routes 302 and 25, and revitalization of Forest Avenue to better integrate transportation options.