Vassalboro selectmen to hear about LED lights; ARI update; department heads for budget discussions


by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen meet at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, in the town office meeting room, with four major items on their agenda. Paul Vesel, Director of Business Development with Realterm Energy, is scheduled to attend to discuss converting the town’s streetlights to LED. Representatives of the Alewife Restoration Initiative (ARI) are to update board members on the proposed fishway at China Lake’s outlet dam and related matters. Department heads from the public safety, recreation, solid waste and First Responders will join selectmen to discuss 2018-19 budget requests. And board members will again discuss the increased tax bill for Vassalboro’s gravel pit in China.

The Town of Vassalboro will hold a public hearing at 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at the town office, to seek public comment on an application for a Community Development Block Grant to help the Vassalboro Sanitary District connect town sewers to the Winslow sewer system. Interested residents unable to attend the hearing may submit written comments to the town office up to the hearing time. Public comments received before and at the hearing will be submitted as part of the application for funds.

China selectmen meeting change due to holiday

by Mary Grow

China selectmen have scheduled their second February meeting for 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, Feb. 20, since the usual Monday meeting would fall on the Presidents’ Day holiday. The board meets in the town office.

On Monday, Feb. 19, the China town office and transfer station will be closed for the holiday.


VASSALBORO: Planners approve two permit applications

Vassalboro Codes Officer Richard Dolby reported that Vassalboro Planning Board members unanimously approved two applications on their Feb. 6 agenda and forwarded a revised Building Permit Ordinance to selectmen, with a request that the two boards discuss the document.

Receiving permits were Robert and Carla Dyason to expand a camp at 72 Branstrom Road on Three Mile Pond and James and Rachel Kilbride for their proposed re-use of the former St. Bridget’s church on Main Street in North Vassalboro.

The Dyasons’ expansion is limited to 92 square feet and the maximum roof height to 24 feet, Dolby wrote.

The Kilbrides propose using the former church as a community center and assembly place, with occasional subsidiary retail uses, like a farmers’ market or yard sales, according to information they gave the board.

Dolby said they have approval to light the existing sign. A parking lot light is to be shielded.

Discussion of proposed changes to the Building Permit Ordinance, drafted by Dolby, focused on setback requirements, the codes officer reported. Board members changed the proposed setback from property lines to 20 feet instead of 10 feet.

They talked about increasing the setback from road rights-of-way, which is now 25 feet, but realized the change would not work in what they called village areas. Since town ordinances do not include maps of village areas, they decided not to recommend the setback change.

VASSALBORO: Town’s reserve funds likely not affected by stock market fluctuations


by Mary Grow

The Town of Vassalboro’s savings – its so-called unassigned or undesignated fund balance, once known as surplus, plus designated funds like cemetery trust funds – are unlikely to be affected as the United States stock market bounces up and down. Investment advisor Matt Weaver, of First Advisors, told selectmen at their Feb. 8 meeting that the town is conservatively invested, with no more than 25 percent in the stock market and the rest in more stable bonds (mostly short-term) and certificates of deposit.

Last year, Weaver said, Vassalboro gained 6.73 percent on its portfolio. He believes, and Town Manager Mary Sabins agreed, that in seven years with First Advisors the town has had a positive return every year. Weaver recommended and selectmen unanimously approved renewing the town’s investment policy, which sets safety of principal as the first goal, liquidity second and “a reasonable rate of return” third.

Most of the rest of the Feb. 8 meeting was devoted to other matters related to money. Board members approved with minor changes Sabins’ request for proposals for alewife harvesting. Proposals from harvesters interested in working in Vassalboro are due at the town office by 11 a.m. Friday, March 2.

Selectmen were not pleased to learn that taxes on Vassalboro’s gravel pit in China had risen from around $200 to around $1,500. Sabins had talked with Vassalboro’s and China’s assessors; selectmen asked her to find out from the Maine Municipal Association whether a municipality, like Vassalboro, is tax-exempt in another municipality. If it is not, they talked about appealing the increase.

Two Cemetery Committee members asked for and received approval to use most of the remaining money in the Cross Hill cemetery fund, acquired by the town with the cemetery, to hire an expert to repair Cross Hill cemetery stones. Jane Aiudi and Jody Kundreskas said interested people will be invited to watch and learn during the week the expert is in Vassalboro.

Board members and a resident talked about other residents who violate the honor system at the sand shed and take more than the two buckets of sand allowed. One person planning to get sand to make steps and sidewalks safer for elderly neighbors found there was none left.

Sabins gave selectmen the first draft of the proposed 2018-19 budget, triggering a series of meetings preparing for the annual town meeting on June 4 (with elections and any written-ballot items Tuesday, June 12). Selectmen were scheduled to hold an afternoon budget workshop Feb. 13. Their next meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 15, preceded by a 6 p.m. Kennebec County district caucus to choose a member of the county budget committee.

The Vassalboro Budget Committee’s first meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, March 1, in the town office.

In addition, a public hearing on the Vassalboro Sanitary District’s application for a Community Development Block Grant is scheduled for 6 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 22, at the town office. More information on the hearing and ways for interested residents to comment on the application is on the town’s website.

China selectmen prepare warrant for budget committee review

by Mary Grow

China selectmen spent much of their Feb. 5 meeting putting the warrant for the March 24 town business meeting in absolutely final form, in preparation for review by the budget committee the evening of Feb. 6. The last few changes they approved included renumbering the articles, because one number was omitted as drafts changed; deleting an unnecessary reference in the funding article for the LakeSmart program; and increasing the amount they recommended for the China Village library from $100 to $4,500, matching the recommendation for the South China library.

The article that will be renumbered 34 asks voters to appropriate up to $20,000 for the LakeSmart program, which helps lakefront property owners on China Lake control run-off to protect water quality. As drafted, the article included a clause requiring Selectboard approval for spending any of the money “to advance an interest in real property.” LakeSmart spokeswoman Linda O’Connor said the program has no intention of acquiring any such interest; the clause was removed.

In what will be Art. 26, selectmen initially recommended voters give $4,500 to the South China Library and $100 to the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library in China Village, run by the China Library Association. Their rationale was that the China Village library had less need of money, because the association has an endowment fund that totaled more than $450,000 before the recent stock market declines.

Association President Tom Parent explained that a maximum of four percent, $20,000 to $22,000, is withdrawn annually so that the fund will keep the library running in perpetuity. The library’s annual operating budget is around $32,000, Parent said. The difference is made up by donations, numerous fund-raising projects and the town stipend.

Challenged by board Chairman Robert MacFarland for keeping the funds in the comparatively volatile stock market, Parent pointed out that the interest earned on a savings account or bond fund would not begin to cover annual expenses.

Selectmen voted unanimously to increase the recommended appropriation. They did not accept Parent’s second request, that they rewrite the article so that it would allow voters to choose the amount to give each library, below, at or above the recommended amounts.

The library funding article and a few others in the March 24 warrant are closed or capped: the recommended funding amount appears in the body of the article. Most of the rest of China’s expenditure articles begin with “To see what sum” and have amounts as recommendations by the selectmen and budget committee added below the articles; they are called open articles.

Town meeting rules say that when an article is closed, voters can approve the amount as stated or a smaller amount, but not a larger amount. When an article is open, voters can appropriate whatever they see fit.

Parent argued that open articles are more democratic. MacFarland said having all open articles makes it possible for special-interest groups to increase funding beyond selectmen’s intentions, unbalancing town finances.

China’s annual town business meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Saturday, March 24, at China Primary School.

In other business Feb. 5, selectmen voted unanimously to begin the process of seeking a successor to Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux, who plans to retire in June. They rejected O’Connor’s suggestion that they add four residents, one from each area of town, to a selection committee, saying that interviewing and hiring the town manager is the selectmen’s job.

They accepted Thomas Michaud’s resignation as at-large (elected from anywhere in town) planning board member and agreed to advertise the vacant seat.

The selectmen’s meeting was preceded by a bicentennial celebration in the former portable classroom, at which Bicentennial Coordinator Neil Farrington and about three dozen residents of all ages discussed China’s history, and a fireworks display that audience members agreed was one of the best in China in years. The occasion was the 200th anniversary, to the day, of the creation of the Town of China from parts of Harlem (the southern part of present-day China), Albion (then Fairfax) and Winslow.

Branch Mills Dam project update

The Branch Mills Dam before the mill was razed. Photo from Krisweb

by Bob Van Riper

Branch Mills Dam is one of three major barrier removal projects in the Sheepscot River corridor being undertaken by the Midcoast Conservancy, the Atlantic Salmon Federation and other conservation partners. The primary intent of these projects is the restoration of fish passage for a variety of sea-run fish species to the river. Branch Mills Dam is the only project sited on the West Branch of the river.

An example of an Alaskan steeppass fishway installed below the bridge on Souadabscook Stream in Hampden, Maine. (Photo source: Atlantic Salmon Federation)

Goals for the project are to update the structural condition of the dam to safe standards, install a Steeppass fishway, create a hand-carry boat launch for public access, develop and install security and safety structures and landscape the site.

The Branch Mill structure was removed in July 2017 in advance of a purchase and sale agreement between the owner Branch Mills Flour and Grain and the Atlantic Salmon Federation (ASF). In late July, ASF met with the Maine Emergency Management Agency (MEMA) and the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (MDEP) to assess the structural condition of the dam without the presence of the mill structure, which had formerly rested on the spillway of the dam. No engineering plans for the original construction or subsequent repairs are known to exist. Consensus resulting from the review determined the need for an engineering evaluation of the condition of the dam, along with design details for any required repair of the structure. In addition MEMA indicated that an update of the Emergency Action Plan for the dam was necessary and MDEP said that the existing operation plan was insufficient and needed to be rewritten. Additionally, prior evaluations by MEMA indicated that the deep gates were inoperable due to partial collapse of the mill structure.

In August, the owner of the dam demonstrated that all three deep gates in the structure were operational.

This photo shows the old abandoned mill that sat on top of the dam at the outlet of Branch Pond at the headwaters of the West Branch Sheepscot River. This dam has no fish passage facilities. The mill has since been demolished.
Photos courtesy China Town Office

ASF acquired the dam and adjacent property in September 2017. Removal of the mill building, which had formerly served as access for and housed the hoisting system for the deep gates, left the mechanism exposed. ASF attempted to retain a building contractor to build a housing structure and an access walkway for the gate mechanism. For large contractors, the job was too small to be of interest, smaller contractors lacked sufficient insurance to comply with OSHA regulations. ASF then searched for a temporary means of access. Currently, ASF is working on using prefabricated metal staging planks with railings for access to the gates until construction of the project begins and permanent structures are built.

In October, ASF wrote an Operational Plan for the dam based on the current water level and outflow requirements stated in the MDEP Water Level Order for Branch Pond. The organization also developed an Emergency Action Plan in coordination with MEMA. Both plans were accepted by the respective agencies in mid-November. The Emergency Action Plan was subsequently revised and resubmitted in January 2018 after comments offered by several responders.

In November 2017, an MOU was developed and signed between ASF and the Branch Pond Association (BPA) initiating a partnership in the operation of the dam. Also in November, a Request for Proposals for engineering services was advertised. An on-site meeting was held in early December with prospective consultants to describe aspects of the work and answer any questions in regards to the proposed scope of work. As a result, ASF retained the services of Kleinschmidt Associates, of Pittsfield, in January 2018 to provide a design for a Steep pass fishway, an evaluation of the dam, provide design for correcting structural deficiencies, designing a hand-carry boat launch, design and installation of access and cover structures and other site improvements. Kleinschmidt will commence its efforts beginning with a kick off meeting in February 2018.

Bob Van Riper is with the Midcoast Conservancy of the Atlantic Salmon Federation.

The state of disrepair of the old Branch Pond Mill. Photos courtesy China Town Office

CHINA: Town manager, selectmen set warrant for town meeting

by Mary Grow

By the end of the China selectmen’s Jan. 29 special meeting, board members and Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux were satisfied they had the warrant for the March 24 town business meeting in final form.

Selectmen plan to sign it at their Feb. 5 meeting. By email, L’Heureux invited budget committee members to find a meeting date later in the week of Feb. 5 to review proposed expenditures and make their recommendations.

Selectmen’s recommendations were unanimous on 4-0 votes, with board member Jeffrey LaVerdiere absent due to illness. Items discussed and decisions made resulted in several proposals that will be new for town meeting voters.

For example, Art. 14, dealing with annual appropriations for emergency services, asks voters also to implement a new state law allowing the town to give each volunteer fire department its appropriation as a lump sum from which the department pays its bills, rather than having the departments submit bills to the town for payment.

Selectmen established that the law applies only to the China Village, South China and Weeks Mills fire departments, not to China Rescue.

Voters will be asked in Art. 18 to appropriate $80,613 to buy a pre-crusher/compactor and a new forklift for the transfer station, taking the money from a reserve fund and the town’s unassigned fund balance (commonly called surplus).

Art. 26 asks for up to $20,000 from surplus to provide a septic system and water system for the former Weeks Mills schoolhouse.

In Art. 41, voters are asked to appropriate up to $100 from surplus for purchase of the Branch Mills Union Church, adding another historic building to town ownership. The amount is intended to cover transaction fees; the article also requests authorization to use up to $80,000 from grants, donations and Tax Increment Finance funds to restore the building.

Art. 43, requested by the planning board, proposes using up to $22,000 in TIF funds to develop and implement a new town comprehensive plan.

Selectmen made final decisions on two local service organizations’ fund requests they debated inconclusively at their Jan. 22 meeting. They recommended a $3,000 appropriation for The Town Line newspaper as in past years – the item was debatable this year because the newspaper is renting the old town house basement for a nominal fee. And they recommended a $4,500 appropriation for the South China Library and a $100 appropriation for the Albert Church Brown Memorial Library in China Village, basing the difference on the growth of the latter’s endowment fund.

The possibility of reappearance on a June local ballot. One would have requested up to $10,000 to buy the land around the new fire pond on Neck Road; the other would have requested up to $110,000 to buy the Bailey property at the head of China Lake, as part of the expansion of recreational opportunities there.

The fire pond was again discussed at some length, and selectmen reaffirmed their Jan. 22 decision to get some kind of barriers around it as soon as possible.

Engineer Rick Pershken, attending the meeting at board Chairman Robert MacFarland’s request, gave his professional opinion that the steep sides of the pond would gradually erode into milder slopes, cutting away the edges including toward Neck Road. Selectmen agreed to ask someone from the US Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service for advice on stabilizing the pond.

The Feb. 5 selectmen’s meeting is scheduled to start at 7 p.m. The Budget Committee meeting, when scheduled, will be posted on the town web site. Both meetings are open to the public.

VASSALBORO: VBA to host ice fishing derby, indoor mountain bike races


source: Frank R. Richards

The Vassalboro Business Association will be sponsoring a fishing derby on Sunday, February 11, 2018. You don’t have to fish at all to win big with this derby!

However any fish entered between 1 and 5 p.m., must be accompanied by a pre-purchased raffle ticket. Many, many prizes will be raffled off at 5 p.m., at the Olde Mill, in North Vassalboro. A light supper cooked by Victor Esposito’s students will also be available for sale. Tickets are available at The Olde Mill Store, Maine Savings FCU, and the Vassalboro Town Office, or by calling 631-3303.

Proceeds this year will benefit the “Save the Mill” initiative!

On the same day, Sunday, February 11, from 10 a.m., the American Woolen Mill Urban Mountain Bike fundraiser will be hosted at the Mill. Two floors of indoor bike racing. This race will also benefit “Save the Mill.”

Major prizes are $300 from Duratherm Window Corp.; Golf for four with cart ($209), Natanis Golf Course; $100, FutureForest Logging; $100 Reliance Fire Pump Repair. There will many more donated prizes.

First, second and third place winners ($25, $15 & $10 respectively) in the fishing tournament: largemouth bass, sponsored by Bridget’s Place; smallmouth bass, The Country Store; white perch, Maine Savings Federal Credit Union; brown trout, Green Valley Campground; brook trout, New England Battery & Tire; splake, Pleau’s Market; salmon, China Lake Auto; togue, American Legion Post #126; pickerel, V-Town Paint Ball; Children 12 and under, non-winners of above, Attention 2 Detail Lawn Care. There will also be a $100 prize plus trophy for the largest fish, except northern pike.

Weigh-in time is 1-5 p.m. Refreshments will be available. Tickets are $1 each or 6 for $5 , one entry per ticket.

VASSALBORO: Selectmen to bid out new alewives harvest contract

by Mary Grow

At their Jan. 25 meeting, Vassalboro selectmen acted on waste-hauling bids and decided to bid out the new contract for harvesting alewives.

The board had five bids to haul solid waste after April 1, first to the Crossroads Landfill in Norridgewock and later to the new Fiberight facility in Hampden.

Town Manager Mary Sabins said Greg Lounder, executive director of the Municipal Review Committee representing Vassalboro and other Maine municipalities that intend to use the Fiberight facility, advised her to plan on at least six months’ use of Crossroads. Each company bidding offered different prices for the two hauls; Sabins did some math, based on the estimated six months, and recommended Vassalboro stay with the current hauler, Bolster’s Rubbish Removal, of Burnham.

Bolster’s charges during the one-year contract will be $200 per trip to Crossroads and $225 per trip to Fiberight. The company is the only bidder willing to remove a full container from Vassalboro’s transfer station on 12 hours’ notice; the other four asked for 24 hours’ notice. Sabins said Transfer Station Manager George Hamar is happy with Bolster’s service.

The town’s three-year contract with Ronald Weeks to harvest alewives at the Webber Pond dam ends this year. On advice from Nate Gray of the Department of Marine Resources, selectmen decided to seek bids for a new five-year contract. They emphasized that they are not dissatisfied with Weeks.

Gray recommended a five-year contract because alewives born in Webber Pond return to the ocean for four years and come back to spawn the fifth year. The harvester thus has an incentive to make sure he or she leaves a generous number of fish for the future.

There are 22 alewife runs in Maine, as dams are removed on rivers like the Kennebec to let the small fish go inland. Gray said Vassalboro did well to create a sustainable harvest so quickly.

Alewives are trapped as they return from the ocean in May and early June and sold to be used as lobster bait. Gray said increased need for bait has raised the price in recent years. It is standard procedure, he said, for the town to get one-third of the sale proceeds and the harvester two-thirds.

Board members discussed costs of counting the fish, ways to provide information the state and the Atlantic States Marine Fisheries Commission request annually and perhaps adding a count of fish sold. They asked Sabins to draft a proposed contract for their review, with Gray’s input.

In other business Jan. 25, selectmen renewed the liquor license for Natanis Golf Course on a 2-0 vote, with board member and Natanis owner Robert Browne absent due to illness.

They approved a resident’s request to tap sugar maples in Union Cemetery.

Sabins and board and audience members commended Road Commissioner Eugene Field for checking Vassalboro’s roads during the night whenever the weather forecast is doubtful and for calling out the road crew when they are needed.

Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus announced a Feb. 11 fishing derby sponsored by the Vassalboro Business Association. More information is on the town website.

The next two Vassalboro selectmen’s meetings are scheduled for Feb. 8 and Feb. 15 (a one-week interval instead of the usual two weeks to avoid meeting during school vacation week) at 6:30 p.m. in the town office meeting room. The 2018-19 municipal budget will be a major topic at both meetings. On Tuesday, Feb. 13, selectmen hold a budget workshop at 1 p.m. in the town office.

China planners to prepare a revised comprehensive plan

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members have decided to start carrying out their responsibility to prepare a revised town comprehensive plan before the current one expires in the summer of 2020.

The three members at the Jan. 16 meeting directed Chairman Tom Miragliuolo to ask selectmen to appoint a new comprehensive plan committee and to try to get a request for funds on the warrant for the March 24 town business meeting.

Miragliuolo promptly got in touch with Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux, who replied that he would put the requests on the selectmen’s Feb. 5 agenda. Miragliuolo proposed an estimated cost of not more than $24,000, based on information from Kennebec Valley Council of Governments about other municipalities’ costs.

Residents interested in serving on a new comprehensive planning committee are invited to contact the town office.

Miragliuolo’s state job used to involve reviewing towns’ comprehensive plans. He told the other planning board members that they are created under the state Growth Management Act, passed in the late 1980s with general goals like creating orderly development and economic growth, providing housing and recreational opportunities and protecting natural, agricultural, historic, archaeological and other resources.

China’s current plan was developed by a committee, with major assistance from a paid consultant. The committee reported to the planning board; at the board’s request, selectmen presented the plan to voters, who approved it in November 2008.

Miragliuolo expects the process of revising the plan and getting local and state approval to take a minimum of 18 months. Few towns do it that fast, he said.

The consultant’s fee will be the major expenditure, he predicted. The person with whom the town contracts will be expected to attend committee meetings and draft the plan based on committee members’ and residents’ input.

China is not required to update its plan. However, a town that does not have a current state-approved plan cannot do some things, like adopting an impact fee ordinance, and is disadvantaged in other ways, for example in applying for state grants. The second topic at the Jan. 16 planning board meeting was Codes Officer Paul Mitnik’s draft revisions to China’s Planning Board permit application and conditional use permit application checklist.

Board members agreed the documents should be discussed in more detail at their Jan. 30 meeting, after they have time to consider them.