Vassalboro: Residents hear update on ARI from speakers

Left, Ladd Dam, and right, Box Mill. Contributed photos

by Mary Grow

About 30 people gathered in the East Vassalboro Grange Hall for a Nov. 29 update on the Alewife Restoration Project (ARI), aimed at restoring alewife runs from the ocean into China Lake. Speakers focused on two obstacles, the Ladd and Box Mill dams.

Presenters were Landis Hudson and Matt Streeter of Maine Rivers, Nate Gray of the Maine Department of Marine Resources and Peter Abello and Ben Naumann of the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s Natural Resources Conservation Service (NRCS). Other groups involved in or assisting with ARI include the China Lake Association, China Region Lakes Alliance, the towns of China and Vassalboro, the Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, Maine Rivers, the Nature Conservancy and the U. S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Outlet Stream, which runs from China Lake into the Sebasticook River, had six dams that obstructed fish passage. The Masse dam in East Vassalboro has been removed; the Lombard dam between East and North Vassalboro is also to be taken out. The Outlet dam in East Vassalboro will have a fishway. Plans for the Morneau dam between East Vassalboro and Lombard dam are incomplete.

Plans discussed Nov. 29 include a fishway at the Ladd dam, along the west bank, with the existing impoundment to be maintained and Ray Breton’s recreational area on the east bank to be undisturbed.

Naumann said an archaeological survey is pending. Engineering plans are due this winter. If funds are available, construction of the fishway could be a 2018 project. An informational sheet distributed at the meeting said a Denil fish ladder is planned; it would allow an annual alewife harvest to benefit the town, like the harvest at Webber Pond.

The partly-collapsed Box Mill dam is a “complex site, highly modified over the years,” Gray said. Naumann agreed, saying the dam is nicknamed “Swiss cheese” because it has so many holes.

Numerous engineers have come up with more than a dozen conceptual designs over the last three years, Naumann said. The experts are moving toward consensus on a plan; if they agree, construction is possible in 2018 or 2019.

Gray said removing the dam is not an option. Outlet Stream was diverted when it was installed, and without the dam significant upstream erosion would threaten the Oak Grove Road bridge.

Once a plan has been made, Naumann said residents will be invited to another meeting for an updated progress report.

Abello, NRCS district consultant based in Augusta, explained that the agency’s main role in the project is to assist with funding. The landowner – Ray Breton for both the Ladd and Box Mill dams – applies; Abello helps develop plans that meet the landowner’s goals and preserve natural resources.

The funding process is highly competitive, Abello warned.

Before the Kennebec and Sebasticook rivers were dammed in the 1800s, Gray said, alewives and other fish used to travel well inland to spawn in lakes and ponds. The Edwards dam on the Kennebec was removed in 1999 and the Fort Halifax dam on the Sebasticook in 2008; by the spring of 2009, alewives were sighted below Box Mill dam.

The small fish are valuable for lobster bait. They might also play a role in removing the algae that are over-abundant in China Lake and other area lakes; scientific studies are not unanimous, but Webber Pond Association President Frank Richards gives alewives some of the credit for improved water quality.

China Lake has been stocked by trucking in alewives since 2012, Gray said.

In addition to alewives, a Denil fish ladder can accommodate other small fish, including Atlantic salmon and perhaps small striped bass, Gray told an audience member. Unwelcome fish like pike, white catfish and carp, which are present in the lower Kennebec, will probably be deterred by shallow water in Outlet Stream between North Vassalboro and the Sebasticook, he said.

CHINA: Planners revert to old method for reviewing conditional use applications

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members agreed at their Nov. 28 meeting to return to their previous procedure for reviewing conditional use applications and went on to apply it. Until about a year ago, board members would usually review such applications, which are for new or expanded commercial or other non-residential uses, at one meeting and make a decision at the following meeting. That procedure gave neighbors a chance to comment and board members time to consider the comments and develop reasons for their decisions.

China’s ordinance lists 15 criteria an application must meet, dealing with effects on the environment and nearby properties. The ordinance and several court rulings require planning boards to prepare written findings of fact to substantiate their decisions on each criterion.

Recently the board has made numerous decisions in a single meeting, in the interest of avoiding delay for applicants. It has not been clear who should prepare the written findings of fact or how detailed they should be.

Members present at the Nov. 28 meeting agreed to return to the two-meeting process, with the codes officer to prepare the findings of fact after board members make decisions on the 15 criteria at the first meeting. The application before the board was from Kennebec Community Church, in Augusta, to use the former Fairpoint building on Route 3 as a satellite church. Joann Austin, who owns land on three sides of the church lot, was present and offered comments.

Pastor Dan Coleman and church member Rick Bergeron, who will be supervising renovations, said they plan few changes outside the building. Access from Route 3, parking, lighting, the well and septic system and most of the parking will not be affected. Additional handicapped parking spaces are to be designated.

The two major issues board members discussed were the septic system or systems and the plan to clear trees and vegetation between the building and Route 3 to increase visibility.

Codes Officer Paul Mitnik said the property has two septic systems; he added the capacities together to make sure the systems will accommodate the maximum number of people who could be in the building. Plans submitted showed only one system, and Bergeron was not aware of another. The issue is to be investigated.

The vegetated area toward Route 3 is at least partly a designated buffer required by China’s Phosphorus Control Ordinance, leading to multiple questions about how much clearing could be allowed and how church officials plan to maintain the buffer. Board members asked Mitnik to clarify the size of the buffer and location of retention ponds, and added a condition to the proposed permit saying any clearing would need the codes officer’s approval.

A majority of planning board members found the application met all 15 criteria. If requested information is supplied, final approval could be granted at the next board meeting, scheduled for Tuesday evening, Dec. 12.

Mitnik said there might be two commercial items on the Dec. 12 agenda, if applicants are ready: Parris and Catherine Varney’s re-application to use their barn on Neck Road for parties, and a preliminary discussion or new application for a Dollar General store on a small lot on the southwest corner of the intersection of Route 3 and Windsor Road.

The Planning Board has scheduled a site visit to the Varney property for 1 p.m. Sunday, Dec. 10. Like board meetings, site visits are open to the public, but those present should not expect board members to answer questions individually, and no decisions are to be made.

The Varneys applied initially in 2016. After several planning board meetings attended by neighbors opposed to the project, a board of appeals hearing and a court refusal to consider the merits, Planning board members intend to rehear the application from the beginning, as advised by town attorney Alton Stevens.

Glowa announces run for state Senate seat

John Glow (image credit: ballotpedia)

John M. Glowa, Sr., a 31-year resident of China, has filed to run as a Maine Clean Election candidate for the District #15 Senate seat which includes Augusta, Sidney, Oakland, Vassalboro and China. Glowa retired from the Maine Department of Environmental Protection in 2016 after more than 29 years of state service and ran in 2016 for the District #79 seat in the Maine House of Representatives.

“One of Maine’s biggest problems is our poorly functioning state government. We need to identify what is broken and fix it. Our system of checks and balances between the branches of government is virtually non-existent. Our legislature passes laws and establishes programs with little or no accountability for how those laws and programs are administered. We need an effective system of auditing all government programs and for holding our government accountable. The legislature and the governor overturn citizen’s initiatives and defy the will of the people by holding public monies hostage. We can no longer afford just window dressing when it comes to writing and passing legislation. Unless we identify and fix what is broken with the system, we will never have a government that is truly representative of the people and it will continue to be run largely by and for the special interests.

“We need a government that promotes opportunities for our young people and is capable of solving a myriad of problems including, but not limited to education, mental health, substance abuse, the environment, the economy, the needs of our growing elderly population, gun safety and taxes. We cannot afford a government that is inefficient, ineffective and wasteful. Maine doesn’t need career politicians.

“We need qualified, capable people in government who know what is wrong, how to fix it and who have the political courage to do so.

“Having served the people of Maine for some three decades, like thousands of State employees, I have been subject to the political whims of numerous legislatures and governors. We must recognize our employees’ hard work and dedication to public service. We must stop treating them as second-class citizens. We must encourage them to speak up for what is right, not punish them or prevent them from doing so. We must attract and retain the best and brightest because our government is only as good as the people in it.”

Glowa is a lifelong sportsman, environmentalist, and animal and wildlife advocate. He has attempted for more than a two decades to reform Maine’s broken system of fish and wildlife management. He is a strong advocate for Maine’s environment and ecosystem and for educating the public about the ecological and economic importance of restoring Maine’s natural predator/prey relationships including wolves. He is also a strong advocate for Maine’s economy and, in particular, its wildlife watching industry which generates $1.3 billion in annual economic activity, supports nearly 18,000 jobs, pays nearly $500 million in annual salaries and wages, and generates nearly $200 million in annual tax revenue.

Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting canceled; rescheduled to December 14

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen will not meet Thursday, Nov. 30. They had already moved their meeting from evening to afternoon so board members can attend a training session for elected officials, and have now canceled the meeting due to lack of pressing business. Their next regular meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, Dec. 14.

Garage expansion OK’d by Vassalboro planners

by Mary Grow

Presented with the previously-missing site plan, Vassalboro Planning Board members quickly and unanimously approved Michael Chick’s application to enlarge his garage on Burns Road, off Church Hill Road.

At their regular meeting Nov. 9, board members ruled Chick’s application incomplete because it lacked an overall plan. They scheduled a special meeting for Nov. 21 with Chick’s application the only agenda item.

Chick’s plan showed the 16-by-60-foot addition on the back of the garage. At the earlier meeting, Chick and his wife said the addition is to provide more work and storage space; they plan no changes in activity level, traffic, landscaping, lighting or anything else likely to impact neighbors or the environment.

A couple whose land adjoins Chick’s five-acre lot told board members they have no objection to his project.

China selectmen hold annual vision session: take no action

by Mary Grow

On Nov. 27, China selectmen began their annual visioning session, at which board members informally discuss goals and priorities, with a list of two dozen items reviewed a year earlier.

They added one short-term and three long-term items and found four items that have been or are being taken care of.

The short-term addition, suggested by Jeffrey LaVerdiere, is finding a successor to Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux, who plans to leave his position at the end of June after more than 23 years.

Longer-term, Board Chairman Robert MacFarland and new board member Donna Mills-Stevens recommended hiring a full-time policeman, if voters approve the expenditure. LaVerdiere questioned the need; Mills-Stevens said people want protection against vandalism and theft, and part-time officers are not enough.

Selectman Neil Farrington suggested reviewing the town’s personal property tax policy and perhaps setting a minimum valuation below which taxes would not be assessed. Mills-Stevens agreed, saying China’s personal property taxes deter new businesses from coming to town. L’Heureux was less enthusiastic, reminding board members of the state programs that ease the burden and pointing out that less personal property tax money from business means higher property taxes for everyone. Selectman Irene Belanger said updating China’s comprehensive plan should be on the selectmen’s list, though she and former Selectmen Ronald Breton agree the planning board needs to start the process. In the past a special committee has revised the plan. Belanger said China’s revised plan is due to be submitted to the state next year. Items from the 2016 list that are irrelevant or under way include:

  • Dealing with recreational marijuana, now that town voters have agreed to ban it;
  • Elderly housing, being considered by the China for a Lifetime Committee;
  • Better internet service, the province of the Broadband Committee and, selectmen decided informally, eligible to apply for Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funding if needed, since good internet service is necessary for the economic development TIF dollars are supposed to promote; and
  • Making the emergency shelter in the former portable classroom behind the town office usable.

The ongoing causeway project at the head of China Lake’s east basin, funded by TIF money, though neither new nor on the 2016 list, was discussed repeatedly. MacFarland proposed bonding part of the cost; LaVerdiere agreed the project is likely to cost more than the $750,000 voters allocated.

Farrington wants to continue discussion of acquiring all of the Bailey property on both sides of Lakeview Drive as part of the project. Board members would like to own the small lot now used for boat-launch parking, but it is financially connected to Bailey’s larger lot. That land, they suggest, could provide parking for the recreational trail that crosses it and perhaps a site for a new China Village fire station.

Additional public access to China Lake is another ongoing issue. Belanger is trying to revive the committee that recommended the town buy the Candlewood property on Lakeview Drive and develop a town beach, only to be rejected by voters. Farrington is interested in trying to acquire the lot north of the Four Seasons lot on Lakeview Drive, which he said has 800 feet of frontage on China Lake.

Discussion of selling town property covered a small piece on the east side of China Lake designated a boat launch for canoes and other hand-carried craft, but, L’Heureux said, too small for parking; the 39 acres opposite the former Candlewood Camps given to the town, for which various uses have been discussed but none pushed; and Bradley Island in China Lake’s west basin. Sidewalks or other pedestrian and cyclist safety measures, on the 2016 list, merited brief discussion, with Belanger proposing sidewalks in China Village and L’Heureux suggesting the relocation of the South China Library might warrant extension of South China’s sidewalks up Jones Road.

The manager mentioned state and federal grants in connection with the sidewalks and other items discussed, saying he is always looking for relevant grant money. Much of China’s regular budget comes from the state, he said. With state funding declining, for example school allocations and revenue-sharing, he advised selectmen to look into enhancing local sources.

Because the visioning session was not a formal meeting, selectmen took no action on any of the items discussed.

Fire departments dominate China selectmen’s meeting

by Mary Grow

China selectmen spent another 40 minutes at their Nov. 27 meeting talking with representatives of the three town fire departments about new ways of distributing the annual stipends from town voters.

For many years the town has kept the departments’ money and paid bills as they’re submitted. This year, two changes overlap:

  • On the state level, the legislature created a new law proposed by China Village Fire Chief and state Representative Timothy Theriault that allows towns to hand over annual appropriations in a lump sum and let each department pay its own bills. Departments are required to submit an itemized budget with their fund requests.
  • Locally, in November, voters approved a referendum question requiring all non-profits receiving town funds to submit a current financial statement as a condition for being considered for funding. Selectmen, some of the firefighters who have attended recent discussions and other residents did not realize that “all nonprofits” includes China’s fire departments and China Rescue. As a result, selectmen and emergency services personnel have had two meetings to try to clarify what information the emergency services need to provide and when. They are still not clear whether the itemized budget the state requires is the same as the financial statement the town requires.

The goal, as phrased by board member Jeffrey LaVerdiere, is to provide the accountability required by auditors and by selectmen representing taxpayers. Discussion of asking voters to clarify requirements at the March town meeting led to no conclusion.

One issue has been resolved: firefighters have devised acceptable forms for applying twice a year for the annual stipends voters funded at the March 2017 town meeting. Application dates are around Dec. 1 and June 30; officers receive fixed amounts, other personnel a per-call or per-training-session stipend.

In other business Nov. 27, China Region Lakes Alliance President Jim Hart made a short presentation on CRLA’s work around China Lake, including physical labor to provide buffers, improve gravel roads and otherwise control run-off into the lake; support for the Alewife Restoration Program (ARI), intended to let alewives migrate into China Lake instead of being trucked in; and the courtesy boat inspection program aimed at preventing milfoil and other invasive plants from getting into the lake.

This year, Hart said, China Lake’s water quality was the best since 1981. There is no milfoil in the lake yet, although he fears its appearance is only a matter of time.

Challenged by former Selectman Ronald Breton about the bass tourneys on the lake, Hart said out-of-town bass fishermen do an outstanding job of checking their boats for unwanted plants.

Selectmen made four appointments: Breton as a member of the town Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee and as one of China’s representatives on the Kennebec Regional Development Authority; Wayne Chadwick as budget committee member from District 3; and Selectman Neil Farrington as a member of the Kennebec County Budget Committee.

They approved a renewal of China’s emergency services dispatching contract with the City of Waterville. Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said the price has gone up three percent, to $11,701.83 per year, and will hold at that level for the three years of the new contract.

South China Fire Chief Richard Morse and Weeks Mills department representative William Van Wickler said the Somerset County/Waterville arrangement provides good service. Neither recommended switching to the alternate dispatching service available from Augusta.

The agenda for the Dec. 11 selectmen’s meeting includes a discussion with the Transfer Station Committee. Selectmen are likely to meet with committee members at 6 or 6:30 p.m., rather than the usual 7 p.m. New board member Donna Mills-Stevens tried to start the discussion Nov. 27, saying she has been “flooded” and “bombarded” with calls about the fee charged to commercial haulers. The fee, originally intended to cover the cost of the scales installed primarily to weigh commercial loads, was not eliminated after the scales were paid for.

Linda O’Connor, a Transfer Station Committee member, repeatedly asked that the discussion be postponed to Dec. 11, saying the committee has looked into the issue. After 15 minutes, the issue was tabled on the ground that everything being said would be repeated in two weeks.

Vassalboro: Bad idea becomes good idea to school board members

by Mary Grow

The regional service centers that were a bad idea two months ago are now a good idea, Vassalboro School Board members learned at their Nov. 14 meeting.

In September, past and future AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) #92 Superintendent Eric Haley told board members superintendents had been advised not to rush into the new state-sponsored organizations, then called School Management and Leadership Centers, because state plans were so indefinite.

In November, AOS #92 Finance Director Paula Pooler said the centers appear desirable.

She told Vassalboro board members the regional centers would be potential revenue centers. A school employee is allowed to head a service center, she said.

By April 15, potential service center personnel are supposed to have drafted interlocal agreements, documents similar to the agreement that created AOS #92. The agreements would specify a minimum of two services a center would offer; AOS #92 provides more than two services to the current member towns (Vassalboro, Waterville and Winslow), creating the potential for more income as a service center.

If Waterville were to become a service center, Pooler said, the AOS would have to dissolve. In Vassalboro, dissolution would require a town vote, which Pooler said could be scheduled in February or March 2018. Under a service center arrangement, participating school units would have their own school boards and superintendents. The AOS board would become a regional board with representatives from member towns. Pooler said a facilitator has been hired with a state grant to advise and assist.

Vassalboro board Chairman Kevin Levasseur said after hearing the revised service center plan, “Paula and I looked at each other and said, ‘Where’s the downside?’ ”

In other business, board members agreed by consensus that Vassalboro Community School will be in session Friday, Dec. 22. The calendar change could not be formally approved because it was not noticed in advance on the November agenda, but Principal Dianna Gram said she needed to notify parents before the next meeting, scheduled for Tuesday evening, Dec. 19.

Haley, who retired at the end of October with the understanding the AOS board will rehire him after the state-required 30 days of unemployment, attended the Nov. 14 meeting and the executive-session discussion of salaries that followed.

VASSALBORO: Selectmen OK talks with potential subdivision buyer

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen are close to getting rid of a tax-acquired subdivision they tried unsuccessfully to sell earlier, after the town foreclosed on the property early in 2014. Joe Presti attended the Nov. 16 selectmen’s meeting to talk about buying 12 subdivision lots on Ilona Drive, off Crowell Hill Road. Presti already owns a house on another of the subdivision lots.

Presti offered $15,000 for the approximately nine-acre property, the figure selectmen set as the minimum when they offered it for sale by bid. Town Manager Mary Sabins said the sum would cover back taxes and town costs.

Selectmen unanimously authorized Sabins and Presti to work out details and report back.

Resident David Jenney gave selectmen a progress report on the Cross Hill Cemetery. Selectmen approved spending to repair broken stones.

Jenney also proposed additional publicity for the annual town meeting, specifically a postcard notification to each voter, and asked whether board members are satisfied with the town website that he maintains under Sabins’ direction.

Selectmen are content with the website; no one had suggestions for improving it. Newly re-elected board Chairman Lauchlin Titus doubted postcards would increase town meeting attendance, but asked Sabins to get a cost estimate for a mailing.

Sabins reported work has already started on implementing the Window Dressers program in Vassalboro. More than 30 residents have signed up, two volunteer measuring teams are at work and the community build, when the draft-stopping window inserts are constructed, is scheduled for Dec. 16 and 17, and if necessary Dec. 18 and 19, at the former mill in North Vassalboro.

Titus reported the recent windstorm damaged sections of the mill roof. Local fund-raisers will be held to help with repair costs, he said.

Selectmen authorized Sabins to talk with Vassalboro’s two waste haulers in preparation for the April 1, 2018, change from the Penobscot Energy Recovery Company facility to the new Fiberight plant (or a temporary substitute if the plant does not open on schedule). The manager said one of Vassalboro’s current hauling contracts expires in mid-January, the other two in mid-June.

The next regular selectmen’s meeting would be Thursday evening, Nov. 30, but the time conflicts with a workshop for elected officials all three board members plan to attend. They decided they will meet if necessary early in the afternoon of Nov. 30. Selectmen’s meetings are announced on the Vassalboro website.

CHINA: TIF members postpone action on six items

by Mary Grow

Members of China’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee postponed action on all six items on their Nov. 20 agenda. They scheduled another meeting for 6:30 p.m. Monday, Dec. 4, hoping the chairman and three other absent members will be able to attend.

The seven members present Nov. 20 did not act on a subcommittee approval of proposed contracts with two engineering firms. Nor did they act on requests for TIF funds to buy land at the head of China Lake’s east basin and to supplement the LakeSmart program. A preliminary proposal for a building in the China School Forest was reviewed and will be followed up. The final two agenda items, involving internal committee matters, were postponed without discussion. The contract proposals are from Wright-Pierce Engineering, of Topsham, for engineering design and permitting services for the proposed new causeway bridge at the head of China Lake’s east basin and from A. E. Hodsdon of Waterville to provide engineering oversight on behalf of the town. Wright-Pierce’s proposed fee is $23,475; A. E. Hodson’s is $21,172.

After a short discussion of the town’s freedom to use data Wright-Pierce collects, an issue Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said he will clarify, L’Heureux moved on the proposal to use $120,000 to buy Susan Bailey’s land nearby.

The Bailey land consists of about six acres, mostly wetland, where people using the boat launch now leave their vehicles, and approximately 32 acres across Route 202. L’Heureux said the two lots are a single parcel with a mortgage.

Buying the smaller lot has long been on the TIF Committee’s agenda, to provide more parking at the head of the lake. The larger parcel, L’Heureux said, would provide parking for people using the snowmobile trail that crosses it as well as overflow parking for the boat landing, and might in the future become the site for a new China Village fire station.

Most of the committee members present were ready to recommend that selectmen present the proposed expenditure to voters. H. David Cotta was the most vocal dissenter. He pointed out that the 33-acre lot would need considerable fill along Route 202 to make the area usable, and the fill would probably require permits. He questioned the need for the purchase and suggested if someone else bought the Bailey land, the new owner might be willing to sell the town the six acres close to the lake.

Irene Belanger suggested that L’Heureux ask the mortgage-holder if the two parcels could be separated. Newly-appointed committee member Ronald Breton said the town values the entire property at $88,900 for tax purposes.

By consensus, action was postponed to Dec. 4. Meanwhile, L’Heureux will get in touch with the mortgage-holder.

China Lake Association President Scott Pierz asked committee members for $20,000 in TIF funds to assist China’s Youth Conservation Corps with run-off controls and other measures aimed at protecting China Lake’s water quality.

The state-wide LakeSmart program, coordinated locally by Marie Michaud for the China Lake Association with assistance from the China Region Lakes Alliance and the Kennebec Water District, involves assessing shoreline properties and suggesting and implementing measures to limit run-off, usually by installation of buffer strips. Pierz said the Youth Conservation Corps does the work and the China Lake Association provides plants and other materials. Eight buffers were installed in 2016 and 21 in 2017, he said; more money would mean more buffers.

When Belanger proposed postponing action until additional committee members were present, Pierz offered to return Dec. 4. Former China teachers Elaine Philbrook and Anita Smith presented contractor Blane Casey’s plan for a building in the school forest, to be used as a program space, visitor center and almost-outdoor classroom. They were not yet asking for money, they said, especially since the building came with a price tag of almost $300,000.

The school forest is located behind China Primary School on town-owned land.

Committee members suggested possible sources of financial and technical assistance to reduce the project cost. They agreed the committee would get in touch with Philbrook and Smith again.