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Decision regarding Northern Maine Fair dates to come later this month

PRESQUE ISLE, Maine — Officials from the Maine Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry have confirmed that a formal decision regarding the Northern Maine Fair Association’s latest request for different fair dates will be announced before the end of November.

DACF Communication Director John Bott said Thursday that the hearing officer, Mari Wells, will announce her decision regarding the fair dates no later than Wednesday, Nov. 28.

The Skydiver lights up the evening at the Northern Maine Fair. (Paula Brewer)

On Wednesday, Nov. 14, representatives from the Northern Maine Fair and the Houlton Agricultural Fair attended a public hearing in Augusta on the NMF’s new request to change the Presque Isle fair dates to June 28 to July 3, 2019. Although the Northern Maine Fair has traditionally been held in late July and early August, organizers have recently attempted to move up the dates in order to continue utilizing their entertainment contractor, Smokey’s Greater Shows. Smokey’s is now scheduled for the 2019 Bangor State Fair from July 27-Aug. 5 and thus unavailable for the normal fair dates in Presque Isle.

Northern Maine Fair officials initially requested a change in dates to June 28 to July 6, but DACF denied that request due to the final three days conflicting with the Houlton Agricultural Fair, which is set to run from July 4-7, 2019.

In denying that previous request, Wells wrote that it was the actions of Smokey’s Greater Shows that had put organizers of the two Aroostook fairs in “a very difficult and unfortunate situation.”

She indicated that if she approved the request, the two fairs would overlap for three of four days and “these two Aroostook County agricultural fairs will then have to compete against each other for income, attendees, participants, sponsors, advertisers and exhibitors.”

Northern Maine Fair President Lynwood Winslow stated after making the new request that his fair board hoped to avoid overlap with the Houlton fair

On Nov. 15, he said that the uncertain fair dates have put the NMF board three months behind in planning for the 2019 fair but that organizers remain hopeful that the agriculture department will approve their new request.

“We’re excited about next year’s fair and feel confident that DACF will see the value of holding the fair for six days,” Winslow said.

The fate of the Northern Maine Fair dates also will determine that of the annual harness racing competitions, which have been held in conjunction with the fair. A separate license for harness racing would be required if the dates are changed. The fair is the only time of year that harness racing is held in Presque Isle.

Both Winslow and Paul Cleary, president of the Houlton Fair Association, requested that the hearing officer consider once again all public and written comments from the previous public hearing in October. In his statement, Cleary expressed concerns that Smokey’s Greater Shows would still provide midway rides and attractions for the Northern Maine Fair for an additional three days (July 4-6) beyond the requested fair dates, thus still conflicting with Houlton’s fair.

He also stated that for the three years after 2019, Houlton Fair organizers planned to request the dates of July 2-5, 2020, July 1-4, 2021, and July 1-4, 2022, which would help them retain their Fourth of July tradition but put them in direct competition with the Northern Maine Fair if its dates are approved and remain June 28-July 3.

“We have been a four-day fair around the Fourth of July for 33 years and five years before that as just a town-wide Fourth of July celebration,” Cleary wrote in his testimony. “Will we be back here next year arguing about the same dates? Will we be arguing for years to come?”

Wednesday’s public hearing also included testimony from Andrew Kavanaugh, owner of the Pittston, Maine-based fair midway vendor Kavanaugh Amusements. Kavanaugh stated that he personally reached out to the Northern Maine Fair board via email and Facebook on Oct. 8, stating his interest in his company providing midway entertainment for the fair in place of Smokey’s Greater Shows.

Kavanaugh goes on to say that he reached out to the board again on Oct. 20 after he did not receive a response for several weeks. He claims that a board member, who is unnamed in the testimony, said that the board would be conducting a meeting later that week to discuss their next steps. But Kavanaugh said that he Wednesday that he had not heard from anyone on the Northern Maine Fair board since that last correspondence.

Back in mid-September, Kavanaugh said, members of the Houlton Fair contacted him to discuss his company possibly becoming that fair’s new midway vendor but “were upfront in stating that they would be contacting several other carnivals and exploring all avenues.”

“I fear that approving (the Northern Maine Fair’s) request may set a precedent that could potentially lead to other fairs within the state applying for a change in dates to accommodate the same vendor (Smokey’s Greater Shows) in the future,” Kavanaugh states in his testimony. “Before you know it, you would be in the same situation with two fairs pitted against each other over conflicting dates.”

Kavanaugh also expressed concern that holding both the Presque Isle and Houlton fairs during the same time frame would have a negative economic impact on both regions, especially due to the short distance between both fairs.

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