TIF committee makes first recommendations

by Mary Grow

China’s TIF (Tax Increment Financing) Committee made its first recommendation to selectmen at the committee’s Aug. 29 meeting.

The committee asked selectmen to present to town voters on Nov. 8 Four Seasons Club President Frank Soares’ request for up to $50,000 for specified improvements on the club’s trails in town.  The vote was unanimous with Soares abstaining.

The trails are usually called snowmobile and ATV trails, but Soares emphasized that they are intended for walkers, skiers, horseback riders and others – though not for high-speed travelers or the four-wheel-drive trucks that have done damage in some areas.  One reason to make the improved sections up to 35 feet wide is to make room for ATV riders and horse riders to meet safely, he said.

Better trails will also improve access for emergency vehicles, he pointed out.

The proposed work includes bridging a wet area and the Sheepscot River.  These two projects will complete connections through the town, allowing people to follow a trail system from Wiscasset and the rest of the coast to Newport and thence throughout northern and western Maine, Soares said.  He expects some through-riders will patronize China’s restaurants.

Asked if there were enough local volunteers for routine trail maintenance, Soares said no.  Four Seasons Club membership is high, he said, but only a small number of “dedicated” people work on the trails.

Judy Stone of the Thurston Park Committee said her group, too, might seek TIF funding to help with access to the park and its trails.

TIF money is to be used for economic and community development.  China’s TIF plan includes development of recreational facilities, like trails.

Also discussed at the Aug. 29 meeting were the committee’s plans for improved fishing and boating access at the head of China Lake and the much less specific idea for development in South China Village, including the boat landing there.

One piece of the head of lake project is purchase of land owned by Susan Bailey and used informally for boat trailer parking.  Bailey originally offered to sell the town two pieces of land she owns; Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said she is now willing to sell only the small, mostly-wetland lot the committee is interested in.

However, her asking price is well over the assessed value, and committee members considered it unreasonable.  They authorized L’Heureux to negotiate with Bailey for a significantly lower price.

At the committee’s previous meeting, member Dale Worster proposed a sweeping redesign of South China Village, with a new street of fashionable shops – not a shopping mall, he emphasized Aug. 29 – and a better boat landing.  His idea has two goals: to make China a place where people stop, instead of just driving through on their way to the coast, and to use the $5 million expected from the TIF over 20 years to make a visible impact.

South China residents Helen Hanson and Christopher Barnes attended the Aug. 29 meeting to ask committee members to leave the village as it is, a quiet residential area – although, Hanson joked, it would be nice if the sidewalk were extended past her house.      Committee Chairman Amber McAlister assured Hanson and Barnes the committee has no intention of imposing things – the town does not plan to buy from unwilling sellers or to use eminent domain for TIF projects.  She promised to keep Hanson informed of future discussions.

L’Heureux sees the area around Route 3 and the Hannaford supermarket as ripe for development.  He recommended committee members be proactive, lest the town be forced to react to unwelcome outside projects.

The Aug. 29 meeting opened with a presentation by Kennebec Valley Council of Governments Executive Director Rosie Vanadestine on revolving loan funds for local businesses.  Committee members intend to propose a fund to benefit new or expanding China businesses, but are not sure they can work out details in time for a Nov. 8 ballot question.

The next TIF Committee meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, in the town office.

Water level, weeds major topic at Webber Pond Association annual meeting

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

Low water levels and a proliferation of weeds were the major topics of discussion during the annual Webber Pond Association meeting held on August 27, at the Vassalboro Community School.

Water levels on the pond have continued to drop since about mid-June. As of August 29, the water level was seven inches below the spillway. An ideal depth would be two inches below the spillway. With water levels that low, with a shallow pool like Webber, that is enough to create problems for almost every dock on the whole lake, according to Frank Richards, president of the association. “I understand the tendency to point the finger of blame,” he said. “However, I would argue that this is more of an instance where mother nature presented unmanageable conditions.”

According to the dam management plan presented by the Department of Environmental Protection in the early 1990s, the ideal depth is two inches below the spillway, so periodic adjustments are always needed throughout the summer to match the inflow and outflow. “Normally, a few boards are out during July,” explained Richards. “I’ve seen as many as two feet of boards out in July to balance heavy rainfall. Normally, all the boards are back in by August, when low rainfall is common.”

Richards went on to explain, “with the benefit of hindsight, we would have been better off to put in the last six inches of boards in early July instead of mid-July, two weeks earlier. Had we known there would be almost no rain from June on, we would have. If we had put that last six inches of boards in a couple of weeks earlier, I don’t think it would have made much difference. It’s hard to keep the pool close to the spillway when there’s almost no water entering the lake.”

The lack of rain, low water levels, warmer than normal water temperatures have contributed to the proliferation of Elodea Canadensis, or American pond weeds. Many of the causes for the thick weeds are mostly a guess, according to association vice president Charles Backenstose. “We’ve never seen anything like this before.” According to Nate Gray, biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, the vegetation may be a nuisance, but it is harmless.

In summation, Richards said that in general things continue to go well on Webber Pond, with the water quality likely being the best ever prior to mid-July.

Backenstose confirmed that statement when he reported Secchi disk readings that showed clear water down to 21 feet in May, near record clarity. Since July 15, the Secchi disk readings have fallen to six feet. However, the water had begun to clear up by the end of August. “Some of the south end of the lake has experienced some floating “collections” late last week,” he added. “I believe the lack of rain has somewhat worsened the situation as little water is entering or leaving the lake to help with some flushing of algae.”

Bob Nadeau, Webber Pond Assn. representative to the China Regional Lakes Alliance noted that the association is available for erosion control work on property owners’ shoreline. With work being done by the Youth Conservation Corps, the group provides landowner consultations, hands-on erosion control work, design and project management, and courtesy boat inspectors. More information is available by contacting Jim Hart, CRLA president, 877-7125 or jimhart35@outlook.com, or Josh Platt, KCSWCD engineer, 622-7847 or josh@kcswcd.org. The group is always looking for projects.

Nadeau also reported of being in conversations with representatives of LakeSmart from China Lake and Three Mile Pond, about the possibility of organizing a group for Webber Pond.

Officers re-elected were President Frank Richards, Vice President Charles Backenstose, Secretary Rebecca Lamey and Treasurer Phil Haines. Directors re-elected included Robert Bryson, Scott Buchert, Mary Bussell, Darryl Fedorchak, Roland Hallee, Phil Innes, Jennifer Lacombe, Robert Nadeau, John Reuthe and James Webb. New directors elected were Susan Barham[Traylor and Stephen Pendly.

With little discussion, the drawdown date was set for Monday, September 19. It was recommended that unless deep water is available at your dock, most boats should be pulled either the Saturday or Sunday prior to the Monday date.

Before adjournment, it was motioned by a member to review the by-laws and make changes to only allow landowners and taxpayers who abutt the pond to be voting members of the association. After much heated, and at times, contentious discussion, the motion failed overwhelmingly, 36-4.

“The content of by-laws should always be open to review,” said Richards. However, “the officers and directors in 2012 were unanimous that being open [membership] was preferable for the Webber Pond Association. I think the consensus is still there.”

China sets tax rate at 15.5 mils

by Mary Grow

At a special meeting Aug. 29, China selectmen set the 2016-17 tax rate at 15.5 mils ($15.50 for each $1,000 of valuation), as recommended by assessor William Van Tuinen.  The new rate is a decrease of 0.1 mils (10 cents per $1,000) from the 2015-16 rate.      Because state law has increased the homestead exemption for people whose Maine house is their principal residence from $10,000 to $15,000, homeowners who have made no taxable improvements to their property can expect their bills to go down by more than the rate decrease.  Owners of seasonal residences and businesses are likely to see a tax increase.

A letter selectmen signed to accompany tax bills explains that three of the four main components of local taxes increased – the school budget, the county budget and the municipal budget.  The fourth, China’s obligation to FirstPark in Oakland, remained the same.  However, increases in property valuations due to new building, plus a more determined effort to locate taxable personal property, increased tax revenue as well, making the slightly lower rate possible.

By town meeting vote, the first half payment on local taxes is due at the town office by the close of business Friday, Sept. 30. China selectmen hold their next regular meeting at 7 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 6, changed from the usual Monday to avoid the Labor Day holiday.  The meeting will be preceded by a 6:55 p.m. public hearing on the annual changes to the town’s General Assistance Ordinance.

Board brought up to speed on activities and plans for new school year

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members and AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) 92 and Vassalboro Community School (VCS) administrators spent most of the Aug. 24 board meeting catching each other up on summer activities and plans for the new school year.

While most students were on vacation, school personnel oversaw building repairs and improvements, welcomed new staff members and helped them get settled in and took part in numerous workshops, retreats and other group meetings.

Finance Director Paula Pooler said figures for the fiscal year that ended June 30 will not be final until the annual audit is finished in October, but the school unit “didn’t end the year in the red.”

Fall registration is also not complete, VCS Principal Dianna Gram said – she expects changes for the next two weeks.  AOS staff provided a 10-year enrollment survey which, despite errors and inconsistencies that school board members noted, showed a decline of more than 100 Vassalboro students since 2006.

Gram also reported that VCS’s JMG (Jobs for Maine Graduates) program received a citizenship award for the students’ community service.  AOS Superintendent Eric Haley added that the State of Maine’s JMG program serves as a national model.

School board members unanimously accepted four staff resignations and appointment of seven new staff members – an unusual number of staff changes, Gram said, and Haley said the same had been true in Waterville and Winslow schools.

New staff are: Sarah Leach, fifth-grade teacher; Breeanne Desmond, sixth-grade teacher; John Jefferson, special education teacher; Lisa Arzola, fourth-grade teacher; Destiny Poulin, third-grade teacher; Sheldon Eames, Title I Educational Technician II; and Hilary Martin, Educational Technician II.

Resignations were accepted from fifth-grade teacher William Brooks, Educational Technician II Ashley Gooldrup, fourth-grade teacher Jennifer Isbell and eighth-grade teacher Julie Houston.

The school board’s Sept. 20 meeting will be preceded by an informal gathering with new staff members, scheduled for 5:45 p.m. at the school.  The meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m.

Regional biologist gives opinion

by Nate Gray
Regional biologist, Maine Department of Marine Resources

Frank (Richards) and I went out in his boat to look at a floating island of weeds.  What I keyed out was elodea Canadensis.  Is it possible I was mistaken?  Unlikely, as I’ve looked at gobs of the stuff but still possible.  Given the level of angst about the “weed” issue in Webber I’m going to take another look at some different spots.  Many of the ponds in the mid-Maine basin are experiencing “better” water quality this year and there are multiple reasons for this.  Very low rainfall (drought) and higher than average atmospheric temps (and by default that includes water temps).  This can set up a dynamic in ponds that strongly stratifies the water.  The thermocline becomes very pronounced and through this effect limits the amount of phospherous available.  We’ve had very few storm events this summer.

Nate Gray

Nate Gray, regional biologist with the Maine Department of Marine Resources, displays Elodea Canadensis, also known as American pondweed, he plucked out of Webber Pond recently. File photo

It takes a good blow to disrupt the thermocline and allow the phospherous trapped in the anoxic zone to mix with the water above it.  Make no mistake, this will happen at one point or another.  A good strong wind will drive the water to the southwest shore (assuming a Nor’easter here).  All that water will have to go someplace – down.  The further into the season we get the lower the pond surface temps will be thereby “weakening” the thermocline.  Once that lens is broken there is a lot of phospherous available to mix in the upper water column.  Once the phospherous gets there…..boom!  Phytoplankton bloom!.  The pond goes green.  Meanwhile this thermocline/water clarity issue will in turn favor greater light penetration.  This greater light penetration will induce more plant growth.  In some cases explosive growth.  Especially in the shallower reaches of the pond, i.e. the north end.  The patch that Frank took me out to was about 2-3 acres of dense growth.  So, I think another visit to the pond is in order.

Erskine bus schedules, Fall 2016

Students should be at their pick-up points 5-10 minutes before the stated pick-up times for the first few days of school.  Bus fare is $10 per week.  Parents of freshmen are advised to check the bus schedule at New Student Orientation.

Pat Vigue – Bus 13 (Palermo Area)

6:25 – Palermo School
6:30 – Turner Ridge Road
6:35 – Banton Road
6:40 – Level Hill Road
6:45 – North Palermo Road
7:00 – Weston Ridge
7:15 – Tobey’s
7:20 – Frontier Village
7:25 – Leave Frontier Village
7:30 – Arrive at Erskine Academy

Sheila Wescott – Bus 11 (Chelsea/Windsor Area)

6:12 – Leave Erskine to Tyler Road
6:17 – Weeks Mills Road
6:20 – Legion Park Road/

Lamson Road (turn-a-round)

6:23 – Barton Road
6:25 – 105 to Spring Road
6:50 – Chelsea School
6:53 – Wellman Road
6:55 – Route 17 to Windsor
7:00 – Hunts Meadow Road
7:10 – Route 126
7:15 – Vigue Road
7:20 – Route 17 to Route 32 Windsor
7:25 – Route 32 (Rideout’s Store)
7:35 – Arrive at Erskine Academy

Wayne Lacey – Bus 1 (Whitefield-Jefferson Area)

6:25 – Leave Country Corners Store
6:30 – Travel down Route 215
6:35 – Route 126 to Jefferson
6:40 – Jefferson Post Office
7:00 – Intersection of Route 32 & 17
7:10 – Intersection of Route 17 & 206
7:20 – Intersection of Route 105 & 32
7:23 – Choate Road
7:25 – Windsor Neck Road/South Road
7:30 – Kidder Road
7:30 – Arrive at Erskine Academy

Janice Cook – Bus 16  (Windsor/Whitefield/Coopers Mills Area)

6:18 – Leave Erskine- Rte 32 South
6:26 – Maxcy’s Mills Rd
6:28 – Griffin Road
6:33 – Vigue Road
6:37 – Townhouse Road
6:44 – 218N/194N
6:46 – Heath Road
6:50 – Hilton Road
6:52 – 218N //Mills Road
6:59 – Coopers Mills Main Street
7:00 – Windsor Road/Coopers Mills
7:02 – Erskine Road
7:04 – Wingood Road
7:08 – Erskine Road
7:09 – Windsor Road/Coopers Mills
7:15 – Route 105 to Rte 32
7:18 – Route 32 to Erskine Academy
7:30 – Arrive at Erskine Academy

Routes, drivers and bus numbers subject to change.

Alewife restoration meeting set in Vassalboro

An information meeting on Alewife Restoration Initiative  will take place on Monday, August 29 at 6 p.m., at the Vassalboro Grange Hall

There will also be an update on the East Vassalboro Water Company pipe relocation work, Masse saw mill and dam dismantling, and stream bank revegetation planning.

Palermo Days grand marshals

Royce and Jeannine Nelson

Grand marshals Royce and Jeannine Nelson ride in the parade during Palermo Days. Their son, Troy, is driving the tractor. Contributed photo

Crockett achieves high honors at U. New Hampshire

Christopher Crockett, of Manchester, has earned high honors for the spring semester of the 2015-2016 academic year at the university of New Hampshire, in Durham, New Hampshire.  Chris is the son of James “Jim” Crockett, of Manchester, and Linda Crockett, of Fairfield, and the grandson of Robert and Patsy Crockett, of Augusta.

Pelletier to perform with marching band

Kaitlynn Pelletier, of Waterville, will march with the 2016 Pride of The Valley Marching Band, of Lebanon Valley College, in Annville, Pennsylvania. Pelletier, a graduate of Messalonskee High School, is pursuing a bachelor of science and bachelor of arts in music education and music at The Valley.

The marching band performs at all home football games as well as exhibitions including the Cavalcade of Bands Championships in Hershey, Pennsylvania, and the Collegiate Marching Band Festival held in Allentown, Pennsylvania.

During the upcoming football season, members of the 2016 Pride of The Valley Marching Band will present its show “Rhapsody.” The premise of this year’s show is to take three great pieces of music with the word ‘rhapsody’ in the name and make a great show. “Rhapsody” features music from and inspired by “Rhapsody in Blue,” by George Gershwin, “Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini,” by Sergei Rachmaninoff, and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” by Queen.