China resident sworn in as new state police chief

John Cote, left. (Contributed photo)

John Cote, of China, was recently sworn in as Chief of the Maine State Police. Cote, a 29-year veteran, has served as deputy chief for the past two years and is the former commanding officer for Troop F, in Houlton. He spent the majority of his career in Aroostook County. He also served several years as a Detective-Sergeant investigating homicides.

He was sworn into office by Governor LePage in the governor’s cabinet room in front of a roomful of family and co-workers. His badge was pinned on by his 82-year-old father, Morris Cote, of Houlton.

Vassalboro residents asked for input on marijuana, picnic area

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen would appreciate residents’ opinions on two topics, preferably before the June 28 selectmen’s meeting. The first issue is whether townspeople want to try to restrict the number of storefront medical marijuana shops – places where people with a prescription for marijuana can get it filled – allowed in town. The second is whether there is any reason to continue to lease the Route 3 former picnic area and boat launch from the state, instead of canceling the lease.

Town Manager Mary Sabins raised both questions at the June 14 selectmen’s meeting.

The first came up because Sabins expects the planning board to hear an application to open a medical marijuana dispensary in one end of the storage building on Route 3. That business, if approved by planners, would be grandfathered and not affected by any later action, she said.

However, if many residents think one such business in town is enough, selectmen could draft an ordinance banning any more and bring it to a special town meeting. (ep)

Sabins pointed out that China already has a medical marijuana dispensary on Route 3, just east of the Adams Realty office.

Vassalboro has an ordinance banning retail recreational marijuana establishments, approved in January 2017. Medical marijuana, under state law, falls into a different category and is not covered by the recreational marijuana ordinance.

The Three Mile Pond issue came up, Sabins said, after a resident complained about the condition of the fence between the state-owned facilities and adjoining private property. She realized that neither the former picnic area nor the boat launch is of use to the town and asked state officials if the lease could be cancelled. The answer was yes, and the public would continue to have access to the boat launch.

The picnic area used to have tables, grills and other amenities, and town officials considered trying to create a swimming area. They found a weedy lake bottom and a lack of interest. The semi-abandoned picnic area attracted unwelcome behavior, so about nine years ago, by Sabins’ reckoning, the amenities were removed, leaving only the boat landing functional.

Selectmen are leaning toward not recommending limits on medical marijuana facilities – board Chairman Lauchlin Titus compared them to pharmacies – and toward giving up responsibility for the boat landing. They postponed both decisions, however, to let residents weigh in.

People wanting to express an opinion are welcome to call the town office or to get in touch directly with Titus, Robert Browne or John Melrose.

China Selectman Irene Belanger sent Vassalboro selectmen a third question, an invitation to close the Vassalboro transfer station and share China’s. After a brief discussion, Titus summed up the board’s response: Thanks for asking, but no thanks. Road Foreman Eugene Field reported on preliminary investigation into fixing an old culvert on Cross Hill Road, an issue he raised at the May 31 selectmen’s meeting (see the June 7 issue of The Town Line, p. 3). As expected, the work will be expensive. Field will continue exploring options.

Selectmen accepted Field’s recommendation and awarded the 2018 paving contract to the low bidder, Wellman Paving, of Winterport. As in past years, China and Vassalboro submitted a joint bid; China also chose Wellman.

Sabins told selectmen their notice to tenants of two mobile homes with failing septic systems had been delivered after the mobile home park’s owner took no action. The tenants were being advised to seek legal aid, she said.

The June 28 selectmen’s meeting begins with a 6:30 p.m. public hearing on the Community Development Block Grant awarded to the Vassalboro Sanitary District to help fund the new sewer connection to Winslow.

China TIF committee reports little progress

Joe McLean, from Wright-Pierce Engineers, shows bridge plans for the causeway to the TIF committee in May 2018. (Contributed photo)

by Mary Grow

China’s TIF (Tax Increment Finance) Committee members had little progress to report at their June 18 meeting.

The committee’s main focus is on the head of China Lake’s east basin, where the first phase of a multi-year project involves replacing the bridge across the inlet stream. That work is supposed to be done this fall. Phase two calls for additional parking, improvements to the existing boat landing and increased pedestrian access to the shore. Tom Michaud, chairman of the subcommittee working on the causeway project, reported that only one company responded to a request for bids on the bridge. When Joe McLean, the Wright-Pierce engineer working with China, inquired, he found potential bidders were booked for the summer and had not read enough of the request to realize the work is to be done in September and October.

Consequently, Michaud said, the bid deadline was extended, and he hopes for at least four bids.

The shortage of parking is so far stymieing phase two. The land where boaters park across from the landing, and a larger parcel across Routes 202 and 9, belong to Susan Bailey, not to the town. Michaud and other committee members insist that if the project is to succeed the town needs to buy the property.

After a lively discussion, Soares proposed that he, Michaud and fellow subcommittee member Jim Wilkens talk with other landowners on the east side of Route 202 and along the west end of Pleasant View Ridge Road to find out whether anyone is willing to sell.

If parking is to be across the main road, committee member Amy Gartley said, pedestrian safety needs to be considered. Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux reminded the committee that the state Department of Transportation (MDOT) agreed to install a traffic light on Route 3 in South China when Hannaford agreed to pay for it. Soares suggested the town could pay for a light at the head of the lake.

Committee members touched briefly on the 45-mile-an-hour speed limit on the causeway, a left-over from the days when the main road ran through China Village and across the causeway. L’Heureux said MDOT plans a traffic study and is likely to adjust the limit to the average actual speed.

The committee postponed discussion of other pending projects. Members reviewed Soares’ draft application form for TIF funds and suggested a few changes and review by town office staff.

According to the Town of China web site, the TIF Committee will meet again at 6:30 p.m. Monday, July 16.

Vassalboro voters elect two incumbents

by Mary Grow

At the polls June 12, Vassalboro voters re-elected two incumbent town officials and re-approved the 2018-19 school budget initially approved at the June 4 open town meeting.

Town Clerk Cathy Coyne reported that Selectman John Melrose received 808 votes and school board member Jolene Clark Gamage 786 votes.

The vote on the school budget was 620 in favor and 247 opposed, Coyne said.

She called the turnout “pretty good” for a primary election, with voters coming steadily all day.

VASSALBORO: Interlocal agreement reached

by Mary Grow

The interlocal agreement between Vassalboro and its former partners in AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) #92, Waterville and Winslow, became effective June 4. It provides for the three municipalities to share central office services previously provided by the AOS office as follows:

  • For special education for all three towns, Waterville will employ a part-time director for students in kindergarten through twelfth grade and an assistant director for grades six through 12; Winslow will employ an assistant director for kindergarten through fifth grade.
  • Winslow will employ a curriculum director and an instructional specialist who will work for Vassalboro and Waterville as well, and a finance director who will work only for Winslow and Vassalboro.
  • Waterville will employ a food service director, a technology director and “personnel to administer business functions including payroll, accounts payable and receivable, insurance, and reporting; and administration of facilities maintenance; administration of student transportation; and will maintain Infinite Campus technology to be shared among the Parties.”

(Infinite Campus, according to its website, is an educational software company that helps schools “streamline educational processes, promote stakeholder collaboration and personalize learning.”)

Each municipality will have a superintendent of schools. For the present, former AOS Superintendent Eric Haley plans to stay in Waterville; former Assistant Superintendent Peter Thiboutot is Winslow superintendent; and Vassalboro is hiring a superintendent for one day a week.

Haley and school board members explained that one day a week does not mean the superintendent will be in Vassalboro for eight or 10 hours one day and not seen again for a week; he or she is more likely to split the time among several days as meetings and other events require.

The superintendent and/or school board of the system hiring the shared personnel listed above will make all hiring and firing decisions. They may consider recommendations from the other superintendents.

Each school’s costs for the shared personnel will be apportioned by the formula used to divide central office costs before voters dissolved the AOS in a March referendum: half on the basis of municipal valuation, half on the basis of student population.

The agreement will run until June 30, 2021. It can be amended or terminated earlier by written agreement of all three school boards.

Some Vassalboro Budget Committee members and selectmen criticized the interlocal agreement on two counts: they suggested the school board should have explored more options and perhaps found comparable services at a lower price, and they think a three-year commitment is too long.

Haley replied to both criticisms. With state education officials’ idea of regional service centers instead of AOSs and RSUs (Regional School Units) so new, there are not yet a lot of options organized, he said. And a three-year agreement has two benefits: the additional staff he hires will have at least a three-year commitment, and Vassalboro board members will have time to adapt to the new system, see how it works and, if dissatisfied, look for an alternative.

Vassalboro planners approve four permit applications

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members approved all four permit applications on their June 5 agenda, two for auxiliary buildings, one for a seasonal farm stand and one for a new auto repair garage.

Receiving permits were:

  • John and Paula Libby to build a 30-by-40-foot garage, with no plumbing, at 325 Webber Pond Road, in the Outlet Stream shoreland zone 200 feet from the water. • Forrest and Gloria Young to build a 12-by-16-foot shed, on skids rather than a foundation, at 208 Austin Road, 150 feet from Three Mile Pond.
  • Parker Denico to build and operate a seasonal vegetable stand at 991 Main Street in North Vassalboro.
  • Heather and Eric Smith and David York to open an auto repair and body shop in a section of the old mill at 960 Main Street in North Vassalboro.

Denico previously received a site review permit, but could not get the needed shoreland zoning permit without a variance from setback requirements, because the building will be less than 100 feet from Outlet Stream. The Vassalboro Board of Appeals approved his variance request at a May 15 meeting, clearing the way for final approval of the project.

The Smiths and York plan to reuse a part of the mill previously used for a similar purpose. Their business name is Overkill Garage LLC, Heather Smith said. Their main business will be automobile repairs and body work, but they talked about working on anything with an engine, including ATVs, lawnmowers and chainsaws.

Planning board members were concerned about a trench across the floor that serves as a drain, of unknown age and with an unknown outflow. Board Chairman Virginia Brackett guessed it empties into Outlet Stream.

The first idea was to cover it over, until Heather Smith remembered that it channels rain that leaks in and Codes Officer Richard Dolby suggested it might also be connected to roof drains. Planning board members and the applicants agreed on some kind of barrier to make sure no motor fluids get into the drain.

Dolby said the planning board already has applicants to be heard at the next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday evening, July 10.

He also reported that Jonathan Blumberg asked the board of appeals to reconsider its May 22 denial of Blumberg’s appeal of Dolby’s issuance of a permit to Bernard Welsh (see this article). The board of appeals is scheduled to meet Wednesday evening, June 20, Dolby said.

China selectmen decide to fill the controversial fire pond

by Mary Grow

China selectmen voted at their June 11 meeting to fill in the fire pond they and town voters authorized last year to provide protection for Neck Road residents.

Voters appropriated $8,500 for the pond in November 2017. The money has been spent, mostly for a contractor to enlarge an existing pond on Tom Michaud’s land into a fire pond that is too steep-sided to be safe and so close to Neck Road that selectmen fear its crumbling walls could eat into the road shoulder.

Board members have been considering guard rails, at an estimated cost of $6,000. At the June 11 meeting Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux had an estimate of $3,500 to survey the area, including establishing the boundary with the neighbor’s property and share of the former, smaller pond, and to design a safer pond.

The manager estimated legal costs at around $2,500 so far, and suggested making a safe pond could cost another $20,000.

Selectman Neil Farrington moved to abandon the project and fill the hole, with L’Heureux and his successor, Dennis Heath, to get Michaud’s consent and a cost estimate and deal with any other legal or administrative issues.

The clay that was dug out to make the pond has been spread on one of Michaud’s fields and is not available for fill. Nonetheless, selectmen believe filling is the less expensive choice. The four board members present, Farrington, Irene Belanger, Donna Mills-Stevens and Chairman Robert MacFarland, voted unanimously to undo the pond.

Neither Michaud nor China Village Fire Chief Timothy Theriault was at the meeting. MacFarland said he had made clear to Theriault his concerns about and displeasure with the pond.

In other business, Farrington said Hussey Communications, of Winslow, will conduct the planned test of current broadband access next week. The plan is to put temporary equipment on two towers on either side of China Lake’s long basin and measure signal strength at various locations, especially along the shore.

Farrington invited people who would like to be included in the test to call the town office.

Belanger said managers of the new Fiberight trash facility in Hampden are inviting municipal officials for tours. Non-official residents are also welcome if space permits; anyone interested should call the town office. The next tour appears likely to be in early to mid-July.

After discussion with Highway Department Manager Gary Cummings and the outgoing and incoming town managers, selectmen accepted bids for winter sand, materials and equipment for summer road work and paving, choosing the low bidder in each category.

They authorized Cummings to buy a plate compactor, essential for installing culverts, instead of continuing to rent one, figuring the new machine will pay for itself in less than three years. The expected $3,592 cost will come from China’s equipment reserve fund.

Selectmen and Cummings also talked about replacing the town’s 2012 pickup truck, which Cummings said has 140,000 miles on it, and the 20-year-old loader. Selectmen asked for more information on both proposed purchases.

Frank Soares, Four Seasons Club President, recommended approval of a $41,000 bid for an ATV and snowmobile trail from Lakeview Drive near the town office and Four Seasons clubhouse to the Central Maine Power Company line that runs from south to north the length of China. Selectmen unanimously approved, with money to come from the TIF (Tax Increment Finance) Fund, as previously approved by voters.

According to the China website, the next selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 25.

China dedicates bicentennial monument

Bicentennial Committee Chairman Neil Farrington explains the history of the town of China. (Photo by Eric Austin)

by Eric W. Austin

The obilisk that will stand near the China Town Office until the time capsule is opened on the first day of summer 2118.

On June 9, Neil Farrington, chairman of the China Bicentennial Committee, along with selectmen Bob MacFarland, Irene Belanger and new town manager Dennis Heath and his wife Mary, together with a small crowd of local citizens, formally dedicated the China Bicentennial Monument to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the incorporation of the Town of China.

Originally established as Jones Plantation in 1774, two years before the writing of the Declaration of Independence, the area was eventually incorporated as the China township in 1818. The name of Bloomville had initially been proposed but was dropped after citizens of nearby Bloomfield objected to the similarity in names. Japheth Washburn, a local representative to the Massachusetts’ legislature, chose China instead, taking the name from one of his favorite hymns. (The town of Bloomfield no longer exists. It has since been incorporated into other towns but lives on in the name of Bloomfield Elementary School, in Skowhegan.)

Harlem, what is now South China and Weeks Mills, was incorporated into China township in 1822, two years after Maine became a state. The Gore, a narrow tract of land bordering Palermo, was incorporated in 1830.

Board of Selectmen Chairman Bob McFarland gets ready to place the time capsule in the base of the monument.

The Bicentennial Monument, a four-sided granite obelisk six feet in height, set on a two-foot concrete pedestal, is engraved with these location names and the dates of their incorporations. At the dedication, Farrington said: “It took 12 years for China to be complete, and it wasn’t an easy task. This monument is a testament to that history, and a symbol of the process it took for China to be whole.”

On the front-side of the monument is engraved: “A time capsule has been buried under this monument and is to be opened on the first day of summer 2118.”

Contained in the time capsule, Farrington explained, is a paper scroll six feet long, on which students from China Middle School have written about “what life is like today, and what it might be like a hundred years from now.”

The dedication was followed by a chicken barbeque and a “meet and greet” with China’s new town manager, Dennis Heath and his wife, Mary.

China causeway bridge work to create considerable disruption in the area

Potential impacts on emergency services, local residents, commuters, visitors and people attending services and programs at China Baptist Church

by Mary Grow

Among items China selectmen discussed at their May 29 meeting was the planned replacement of the causeway bridge at the head of China Lake’s east basin, a project they expect will create considerable temporary disruption in the area.

The work is scheduled for late September through mid-November, TIF (Tax Increment Finance) Committee member Tom Michaud told selectmen. It will involve building a coffer dam to divert the stream flowing into China Lake, taking out the existing bridge and replacing it with a larger, higher one.

Michaud said permits still need to be obtained. Bids were scheduled to go out the week of May 29. When Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux reminded Michaud that selectmen needed to approve bid specifications, they decided that engineer Joe McLean from Wright-Pierce would email them to the manager to share with the board. Selectmen pointed out there is limited space for large trucks to maneuver near the bridge. The next day, L’Heureux emailed a list of potential impacts on emergency services, local residents, commuters, visitors and people attending services and programs at China Baptist Church. He proposed extensive notice focused on area residents, including public informational meetings, electronic signs and notices to as many affected parties as people can think of.

Board Chairman Robert MacFarland added that people with boats in China Lake needed to be notified that access to the boat landing east of the bridge is likely to be disrupted as the contractor starts stockpiling materials.

Michaud said Mark McCluskey of A. E. Hodsdon engineers is doing preliminary design work on the second phase of the project, involving sidewalks, fishing platforms and similar changes along the lake. MacFarland asked for a cost estimate for McCluskey’s work.

Another project selectmen found eligible for TIF funds is expanding broadband service in China. Peter Hussey from Hussey Communications, in Winslow, proposed a study to see how much of the shoreline of “the long skinny part” of China Lake is covered by existing towers.

Selectmen unanimously authorized spending up to $3,000 from TIF funds earmarked for preliminary work on potential TIF projects. Resident Wayne Chadwick reminded them “There’s a lot more to this town than the lake.”

In other business, selectmen appointed Carlaine Bovio as member of the Comprehensive Planning Committee.

They unanimously authorized L’Heureux to order a new forklift for the transfer station, to be paid for when the new fiscal year starts in July.

They planned to advertise for bids for a roof over the north (basement) entrance to the old town house, with MacFarland to draw up specifications, and for quotes for a an Americans with Disabilities Act compliant bathroom in the former portable classroom between the town house and town office, with L’Heureux to prepare specifications.

They postponed action on bids for equipment and materials for summer road work, waiting for samples from bidders who want to supply sand.

They also postponed further discussion of the already-much-discussed fire pond on Neck Road, because they lacked a cost estimate for new design work. Michaud said the excavated clay had been spread, at no cost to the town, and the field it had occupied was planted to corn.

According to the town website, the next selectmen’s meeting will be at 6:30 p.m., Monday, June 11, in the town office.

June 12 voting will be in the portable classroom, with polls open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. All registered voters may vote on the Regional School Unit #18 budget and on the state referendum question on ranked-choice voting. Registered voters enrolled in a political party may vote in the party primary.

Vassalboro selectmen agree to give sanitary district TIF funds

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen spent part of their May 31 meeting talking about money for the Vassalboro Sanitary District’s sewer extension to Winslow.

Three VSD board members attended the meeting to ask for money from Vassalboro’s TIF (Tax Increment Finance) fund. They wanted the entire amount on hand; after a public hearing on the request, selectmen voted unanimously to give them $91,628.92, leaving $20,000 in the TIF fund.

The TIF gets its money from taxes paid on the Summit natural gas pipeline that runs through town. Town Manager Mary Sabins said Summit pays about $100,000 a year, an amount that will gradually decrease as the pipeline depreciates.

So far selectmen have approved TIF funds for the sewer connection and for the Alewife Restoration Project.

They reminded VSD Chairman Ray Breton and Treasurer Rebecca Goodrich that TIF money has to be spent on the sewer expansion, as an economic development project, not on VSD’s day-to-day operations.

Breton and Sabins said the project also was awarded a $975,000 state Community Development Block Grant. Sabins said the grant requires two things from the town, which administers it:

• A public hearing, which selectmen scheduled for Thursday evening, June 28; and
• An advisory committee, primarily to answer questions from residents if there are any. Selectmen unanimously appointed Breton, Goodrich and their own board Chairman Lauchlin Titus.

VSD officials’ plan is to create a connection between the sewers in East and North Vassalboro and Winslow, so that Vassalboro’s sewage will go to the Waterville treatment plant and the town’s aging sand filter beds can be closed down. Total cost is estimated at more than $7 million, Breton said.

In other business, Codes Enforcement Officer Richard Dolby reported on numerous issues, especially properties that qualify as unlicensed junkyards. Most of the property-owners had at least started to clean up, some under threat of court dates, and several had made good progress, he said.

He reported on a failed septic system in a mobile home park. Selectmen unanimously approved a formal notice to the park’s owner.

They also approved Sabins’ proposed notices to a North Vassalboro resident who failed to pay back taxes to reclaim his duplex, and to his tenants, who do not need to move out but should plan to pay rent to a new owner. The property will be offered for sale, with bids due at the town office by 4 p.m. Wednesday, June 27.

Public Works Foreman Eugene Field talked with selectmen about paving, the sagging fence at the Three Mile Pond boat landing, a potentially expensive culvert replacement and chainsaws. Selectmen approved his seeking expert advice on the culvert and unanimously authorized replacing one of the chainsaws he bought after the 1998 ice storm.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, June 14.