PALERMO: Our little piece of the world: Sheepscot Pond


by Pamela McKenney, Palermo resident

A bill has been proposed by a Maine representative to open the fishway at the outlet of Sheepscot Pond and to grant management of the fishway to the Department of Marine Resources. I have lived on the river since 1989 near the bridge on Route Three. Being a water person, I know the river and the lake and have a perspective to share regarding the controversy as well as the names of representatives you should contact if you share my concerns.

Living by the water, every season has its treasures. In the winter, I have a frozen, silver-white path that leads up river and around the bends to the lake. Whether walking, skiing, or snowmobiling, this access to the woods and the sky and the air out on the water is a pleasure that is difficult to express. After ice out, a new trove of pleasures opens up. I boat often, and I love to swim—even taught swimming lessons at the Fish and Game Club for several years—so I understand the unique resource of Palermo’s lake and what it has to offer its inhabitants—human and otherwise. I also fish the Sheepscot, each season; when the flag is up, I still run to the holes; or when reeling in a keeper at the mouth of the river, feel my heart beat faster, hoping. This wealth of experience enjoyed by me and many others may be attributed to careful lake management. Could it be better? Yes, but it could be much, much worse, as we may soon see— if LD 922 passes in January.

People, like me, have been accused of “having our hackles up” and needing a little time to get over our “hysteria.” These comments convey a disregard for those who enjoy or live by the lake and have expressed concern about the proposed changes. l am quite familiar with the birds and species of fish, reptiles, amphibians and other wildlife that depend on the watershed. I know that if I pull a perch or pickerel out of the lake in winter or see a snapping turtle lay eggs in a sandy embankment in spring, then I’ll be swimming with those creatures in the summer. People who live by and recreate on or in a Maine lake, accept and respect that other living beings exist near or in the water, as do my children and now grandchildren who know the gift of life on water.

Every summer we salt the leg of a swimmer to get a leech to detach. From my kayak I have watched with horrified fascination as a snake, on the bank of the river, slowly consumed a frog. Out off the point of Bear Island, years ago, I investigated a line, tied to a float, and pulled up a trap that was teeming with American eel. I quickly dropped the trap and paddled away knowing that regardless of how far or how fast I move my boat, the eel, the snake, snapping turtles and leeches will be there. This is life on the lake. My protestations over this bill is not about an hysterical fear of sea lamprey. The idea of swimming with a lamprey does not appeal to me but I wish it no harm. I now know more about these creatures than I ever expected, and I have learned that denying lamprey access to Sheepscot Pond will not harm them, nor will denial harm the alewife, but opening access may do a great deal of harm to other lake inhabitants.

Humans will find a way to live with “the good, the bad, and the ugly” that inhabit the lake, but will the species of fish on which the lamprey feed withstand the parasitic interaction? Of specific concern is the lake trout (togue) and other game fish. Back in the late seventies, early eighties, when I fished the Sheepscot with friends, I remember the scars on the fish we caught left by the lamprey. I remember the comments of the real fishermen who said the lamprey did not leave the lake as they should in late summer. They stayed and fed on the game fish. Low water levels changed the habits of these sea creatures, making them landlocked. The sea lamprey overpopulation became such a problem that the Department Inland Fisheries and Wildlife blocked the fishway at the dam from May to June to prevent anadromous species, such as, alewife, American eel, and sea lamprey, from migrating into the lake.

Since alewife feed on zooplankton which contribute to algae blooms (alewife do not eat the algae) many are excited about their reintroduction, hoping for improved water quality for struggling Maine lakes, but overabundance of alewife (as has been experienced recently in Webber Pond) can degrade water quality and cause other complications. According to the Illinois Department of Conservation’s 1993 Biodiversity Report the presence of alewife could “restructure a lake’s food web, leaving less food for native species” like white perch and smelts, thus “limiting their availability to larger predators” such as lake trout and salmon. A.L. Houde, et al in the Journal of Great Lakes Research, reports that “consumption of alewife which contain high levels of thiaminase,” reduces absorption of thiamin in predators such as salmonids (like salmon, trout, whitefish) and can cause “reduced body condition, swim performance, and other potential impacts.” What will happen when thousands of alewife make their way into the Fish Cultural Station at the outlet? Imagine the challenges of mitigation and the need to prevent contamination. Who would test the delicate balance of a lake environment?

When I ask why would we take control of an inland lake from the Department of Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, which has managed it for 50 plus years, and give it to the Department of Marine Resources? The one answer I get is: “to return anadromous fish to their origins.” That is the politically correct answer. I see it as a special interest group lobbying to benefit their “special interest” without completely considering the impact on this individual lake. We all tend to see what we want to see and maybe those who support the bill see that they are attempting to take the watershed back to the way it may have been before the dam existed and before the Fish Cultural Station (hatchery) existed and before the lake was peppered with homes that reap tens of thousands of dollars in tax revenue which pays for those departments and the salaries of representatives that now want to restore the watershed even though the existing water quality of Sheepscot Pond is currently good. A vicious circle.

But the dam does exist, as does the hatchery and the homes. This is a complicated issue made more complicated by those who lobby representatives to create bills for monetary gain—in this case those that would harvest the alewife which will flourish with access to Branch Pond, China Lake, Webber Pond, Long Pond, and now—if the bill passes—Sheepscot Pond. It is no secret that the representative who proposed the bill is the president of the alewife association but is it a conflict of interest? He represents coastal communities which will benefit from an abundance of alewife for bait. Let’s hope the representatives of Palermo and neighboring towns will consider our “little piece of the world,” as well as the interests of a currently healthy lake.

Sheepscot Pond is not just any lake to me, what does that make me guilty of? Guilty of caring about the changes that others would haphazardly impose. And when I am accused of focusing on my “little piece of the world” and not seeing the “big world” I won’t apologize for that. If more of us paid attention to the little things—the things right in front of us that we can actually do something about, then maybe those little actions should be taken. The health and wealth of our lake may change irrevocably with the scribble of a pen or removal of a barrier. Change can be good, but too often it is wrought for the benefit of specialized interests and we fail to consider the little pieces of the big world.

Saige Knightv enrolled at St. Lawrence University

St. Lawrence University, in Canton, New York, has welcomed Saige Knight, of Oakland, as a member of the class of 2021. Knight attended Messalonskee High School.

Palermo residents demand better consideration on dam issue


by Ursula Burke
Palermo resident

Several environmental groups (Mid-Coast Conservancy; Atlantic Salmon Federation) and Maine State agency (Department of Marine Resources) are advocating opening the Sheepscot Lake fishway to alewife herrings, American eels and parasitic sea lamprey eels. They say it is a river restoration project. But look at the history of the past 40-50 years on this lake. The lamprey eels damaged the rare, self-sustaining population of togue to the point that the fishway was closed for many decades. Now the evidence of damage to these fish has receded.

The Maine legislature will vote on bill LD922, introduced by State Rep. Jeffrey Pierce, who is also the founder and executive director of the Alewife Harvesters of Maine, to wrest control of the Sheepscot Lake dam from Inland Fish & Wildlife over to Marine Resources. Isn’t it a coincidence that alewives are used as bait for the lobster industry and that Mr. Pierce has an economic interest in having this bill pass? Isn’t this an obvious conflict of interest and an abuse of political position for personal gain?

And to reintroduce these fishes into Sheepscot Lake after many decades of being blocked is like introducing entirely new species. Yet no environmental impact studies or engineering studies have been done to gauge the impact to either the fish rearing station just downstream, to the existing fish population, or to water levels in the lake.

We, the Palermo residents and property owners of Sheepscot Lake, demand better consideration than this on behalf of this beautiful, balanced lake. It is a David and Goliath battle. Who will win…. the small town of Palermo or big business greed?

Vassalboro recognized for supreme annual town report

The municipalities of Caribou, Vassalboro, Mount Desert, Carrabassett Valley and Cranberry Isles were recognized for producing the highest-quality Annual Reports, during recent judging held at Maine Municipal Association.

MMA’s Annual Report Competition, which has been held for 50 years, recognizes municipalities for producing reports for their citizens that have excellent content, are well organized and visually appealing. More than 240 municipalities entered reports this year.

Judges for MMA rate the reports in five population categories: 5,000 and over; 2,500 to 4,999; 1,000 to 2,499; 500 to 999; and, under 500. Awards are named Supreme (first place), Superior (second place) and Excellence (third place) in each category.

Winning municipalities were notified by letter earlier this month. They will be recognized and the reports will be displayed at MMA’s Annual Convention, Oct. 4-5 at the Augusta Civic Center.

Winners by population category were:

  • 5,000 and over: Caribou, Supreme; Freeport, Superior; South Portland, Excellence.
  • 2,500 to 4,999: Vassalboro, Supreme; Mapleton, Castle Hill & Chapman, Superior; Rockport, Excellence.
  • 1,000 to 2,499: Mount Desert, Supreme; Hope and Newcastle (tie), Superior; Easton and Owls Head (tie), Excellence.
  • 500 to 999: Carrabassett Valley, Supreme; Alna, Superior; Southport, Excellence.

Contact legislators with your opposition to the opening of Sheepscot dam to alewives and lampreys


by Gary Miller, Longtime Palermo visitor

I’ve been a long time visitor to Palermo, since the ‘70s. We liked Palermo, the people and Sheepscot pond so much that when I retired, we bought a camp on the shores of this beautiful body of water and have spent half our life here for the past 25 years.

Now, in the search of increased power, profits and campaign funds, the powers that be are ganging up on the town of Palermo, Sheepscot Fish & Game Club, the Lake Association, IF&W, who manage the fish nursery and the residents of Palermo and plan to open the lake’s dam to sea lam-prey and alewives. We’ve been down this road before and found nothing but misery; let’s not repeat the mistakes of the past just so those with financial interests can improve their lot at the expense of those who live here.

The stories are available and tell a tale of lamprey becoming “landlocked” and unable to get to the sea. They grow into adult-hood and attack our togue, bass and other sport fish, leaving them weakened and prone to disease. Alwives are not any better, they are toxic to togue, destroying vitamin B-12 and causing early death of the offspring. They also potentially carry PEN, a virus deadly to other fish which would be a disaster for the trout nursery at the foot of our dam and could spread that virus across the state hatchery/nursery system as fish are moved into place. By their sheer numbers, they can over-populate the IF&W nursery, crowding out the trout and requiring routine manual removal at great expense.

LD922, which mandates the opening the dam, without regard to these and other risks, will be brought forward in the next legislative session and all who love the beauty of what we now have need to write their state legislators and demand that nothing be done until the state is allowed to conduct environmental and engineering studies showing the true and complete impacts on our existing fish populations, IF&W operations, boating, swimming and property values. Politicians respond to numbers so we all need to write them and let them know how we all feel. Also, stay informed, watch the Palermo area organizations websites and attend the legislative committee meetings, in Augusta, where the decisions are made. Demand attention and follow up when it isn’t given, a way of life is at stake.

Sheepscot Dam: State need not take action until studies complete


by Joseph Burke
Sheepscot Pond, Palermo, resident

As a 30-year seasonal resident on Sheepscot Pond, in Palermo, I write to voice my strong opposition to Maine state bill LD922, introduced by state representative and president of the Alewife Harvesters Association, Jeffrey Pierce. This bill orders the opening of the fishway at the Sheepscot dam to allow the entrance of alewife herrings, American eels and parasitic sea lamprey eels. This fishway, installed by the state many years ago has been closed each May and June during the spawning season to prevent damage being done to the lake’s indigenous population of salmon and togue by the lamprey eels which attach to and drain much of the life out of these fish.

The alewives present a possible contamination of the brown trout fingerlings in Palermo’s Fish Cultural Station just downstream from Sheepscot Pond, one of only eight fish hatcheries/rearing stations in all of Maine’s 6,000 lakes and ponds.

Moreover, the state’s representatives with whom we have met admit that the opening of the fishway year round could result in lowered water levels during dry years causing lake front properties to lose much of the use of their shoreline, especially their docks and other aids to boating, fishing and swimming.

For 30 years my wife and I, our children and nine grandchildren, not to mention the loons, the fish, the beaver and our nesting population of bald eagles, not to mention the other people of Palermo and surrounding towns through their participation in boating, the Fish & Game Club and organized fishing derbies have marveled at this balanced, clear, healthy living entity called Sheepscot Pond. Please, let’s keep it that way!

Simply put, no further action should be taken by the state until longitudinal studies in both environmental and engineering areas have been mounted, and Bill LD922 must be taken off the table completely, now!

Throwing in the towel as a PUL


by Richard Dillenbeck of China

Well, dear readers, it’s time to retire from PUL (Picking Up Litter). I’ve reached the reported retirement age for PUL.ers, I suppose they think we old people will get run over, creating more litter. Nineteen years is enough, maybe someone else can step forward.

I guess I should be glad to know the Bud Light guy(s) are still littering Lakeview Drive by tossing out emptied cans and disposing of evidence along the way. As a kid I sometimes used to walk home from basketball practice at Erskine and still remember the ‘singing’ telephone lines on cold nights and really never thought of litter because it simply wasn’t there.

When I counted over 700 pieces of litter along just two miles yesterday, it seemed to confirm what my son-in-law told me somewhat sarcastically when I started…“good luck.” It seems some of our otherwise thoughtful citizens simply enjoy littering and since they are the only ones who can change things, I also say…good luck. I note even the town office has deleted “PLEASE DON’T LITTER” from its digital signboard, I guess the writing is on the wall. I thank others who PUL. And to the majority of our citizens, enjoy the scenery while you can.

Bible study group holds last meeting of season

On June 15, the Margaret Stotsenburg Bible Study group from the China Baptist Church had their last meeting until fall. It was a lovely breakfast with fruit, homemade breakfast casseroles and muffins. The group meets every Thursday morning at 9:30 a.m. in the church vestry for a time of Bible study, sharing and prayer. Any woman interested is invited to join when they resume in the fall, Thursday, September 7. This group began in the early 1970s and was named for the pastor’s wife who started it. It has been an important part of the church for over 45 years. Contributed photo

Earth Day, April 21-22 in China


by Irene L. Belanger
China transfer station coordinator and China selectman

CHINA —  Please know that there is a free electronics collection at Skills Inc. E Waste Alternatives, at 60 Industrial Street, in Waterville (207-872-2615). You will not have to get out of your car! Just pop the trunk and the electronics will be unloaded and sorted for you. All you have to do is fill out some quick paperwork.

Also, April 22 is the key day to engage in the roadside clean-up, and we need your help. I would like to thank China Boy Scout Troop #479 and the Goodine family and friends for their continued support of the annual roadside clean-up effort that has been happening for many, many years. This year we are reaching out to the community asking for additional volunteers throughout town.

Please call Irene Belanger at 445-2349 or Sheldon Goodine at 215-9780 to volunteer your services. Bags and bottled water will be supplied. You will be directed to certain roads if needed or you can tell us you wish to take care of the road you live on. Please help us take care of our town.

While spring cleaning, if you have unwanted re-usable clean items, please take the opportunity to share with others and drop those items off at the “Free-for-Taking” area at the China transfer station.

Drug Take-Back Day is Saturday, April 29, from 9 a.m. to 2: p.m. at the China transfer station.

Thank you!

Understanding the importance of town meeting


by H David Cotta
China resident and former state legislator

In just a short couple of days the town of China will be conducting the China town meeting. This meeting is held each year and at times I wonder if the citizens of China fully appreciate the form of government that the town meeting represents.

The town meeting form of government is the most democratic form of governance. Some not familiar with this form of governance and may believe that the town manager is the executive of the town of China and the town is governed by the select board, but neither is true. The governing body in China is the town meeting where the citizens cast a vote to direct the actions of the select board. At the start of the meeting the citizens in attendance elect a moderator who must conduct the meeting according to Roberts Rules of Order. Proposals, which are referred to as Articles, are presented for the people to approve or disapprove. The articles can also be amended.

I guess the best way to describe the town meeting form or governance is the people hold all the power to govern. The select board can only do what the people authorize the board to do (of course, the people can not direct the board to take illegal actions). It is at the town meeting where the people, by their vote, guide the course of their town and the actions of their elected town officials. The town manager is hired by the select board and works for the select board within statutory guidelines the town meeting is the most direct and equal form of governance. This form of governing is only as good as the level of participation by the citizenry, and there in lays the proverbial “fly in the ointment.”

Apathy is a stern heartless master and can only survive by inaction of the good people of our town. We all have our lives to lead and life has a habit of getting in the way of what we planned or intended to do.

Several (30+/-) years ago the level of participation at the town meeting had declined to the point that the people established a quorum which was a percentage of the number of voters who voted in the last gubernatorial election which must be present to open the meeting and conduct business. The quorum for this upcoming meeting is 126 voters which when you think, represents 126 of over 2000 voters who voted in China during 2014.

So what happens when there is minimal turnout at the town meeting? Each vote on the floor of the meeting represents many who did not attend the meeting. The citizens that chose not to attend will have no voice in the process, so the town governance will be by a small minority. Additionally, the result of low voter participation could take a couple of forms.

First, the direction given to the select board (municipal officials) may not be representative of the town as a whole. Second, would be to consolidate power which can be a matter streamlining the conduct of business but at the cost of the checks and balances that we as citizens are afforded. Granting an expanded range of powers to the administrators is not good governance. Some indicators of the “Flying by the seat of your pants” are reflected by comments by the auditor clearly stated in the 2015 report – (China 11-10-15) addressing the lack of internal controls. Further, the select board meetings are not recorded which can and has lead to a discussion of what was stated in a motion during previous meeting. Clarity, transparency and accountability is lost.

In closing I would encourage all citizens of China to attend the town meeting. Please provide your officials the insight and guidance of the citizenry. If you have questions do not hesitate to ask because your select board and others are there to answer questions. I hope I will see you there. Thank you.