Better communication between agencies topic of Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting

by Mary Grow

Communication was the theme at the Vassalboro selectmen’s Sept. 6 meeting, as board members talked with new Vassalboro School Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer and School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur about better information-sharing between school and town officials and with Police Chief Mark Brown and audience members about Vassalboro’s law enforcement needs.

Pfeiffer, newly-hired as Vassalboro’s one-day-a-week superintendent, came to introduce himself to the board. He promised to return as his schedule permits; a former principal and superintendent, he now works as a consultant to the state education department and travels throughout Maine.

Selectmen Lauchlin Titus and John Melrose expressed frustration at hearing from school officials only while the annual budget process was underway. They would like more frequent information, especially now that dissolution of the regional school unit makes the school more clearly a town department.

Titus called for out of the box thinking to find ways to fund tuition, transportation, special education and other essentials without taking money away from elementary education programs at Vassalboro Community School.

Town Manager Mary Sabins brought Pfeiffer up to date on her efforts to have the school designated a Red Cross emergency center and equipped with a powerful generator.

Melrose raised the law enforcement issue. He pointed out that Vassalboro hired Brown for 15 hours a week, supplementary to his full-time job elsewhere, but gave him the title of police chief, implying, Melrose thinks, more policing than the town really provides.

Melrose recommends either using a more accurate job description or creating something more like a local police department, perhaps by contracting.

Brown told board members he works closely with state and county law enforcement and the state Drug Enforcement Agency. They take on the extended, time-consuming cases, he said; he focuses on local issues, including spending time with students at Vassalboro Community School.

Selectmen agreed to continue the discussion at their next meeting, which they scheduled for 7 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 19 (instead of the usual 6:30 p.m. Thursday). Sabins asked Brown how the police cruiser is holding up. Brown, whose request for a new vehicle was shot down during spring budget discussions, said it is costing money for repairs, as he forecast.

In other business Sept. 6, selectmen agreed to offer for sale a tax-acquired lot on Harmony Lane, with a minimum bid of $5,000.

Road Foreman Eugene Field suggested additional road repaving if there is money available. Selectmen approved his suggestions and left decisions to him once he sees how much, if any, money he has.

Board members asked Sabins to send a thank-you letter to Steve Jones, of Fieldstone Gardens, for trees donated to the East Vassalboro park.

They approved a plan to provide enough water for the Sept. 8 Double Dam Ducky Derby, worked out by Kennebec Water District authorities, a representative of the Alewife Restoration Project (ARI) who is working on dismantling Lombard Dam and Vassalboro Days organizers.

Titus said he and Melrose plan to attend the Oct. 9 Vassalboro Historical Society meeting to discuss issues involving the society’s lease of the former East Vassalboro schoolhouse.

China projects to keep town crews busy

by Mary Grow

China selectmen’s decisions on bids for various projects around town will keep the town public works crew busy for the rest of the fall.

At their Sept. 17 meeting, selectmen took two major actions.

They accepted Bryce DeMerchant’s bid to dig a new Neck Road fire pond for $5,560, provided that the town crew do a lot of auxiliary work, like pumping out the current pond, moving needed rocks and gravel and the existing fire hydrant and managing erosion control.

Town Manager Dennis Heath said DeMerchant would do the other tasks, but if he does everything his bill would exceed $12,000. There is $6,000 on hand for the project, board members said.

Selectman Neil Farrington supported the plan, though he said he would still prefer to fill in the existing pond and forget about a new one. China Village Fire Chief Timothy Theriault proposed the pond a year ago, to provide a nearby source of water in case of fires on Neck and Stanley Hill roads.

Selectmen rejected bids for installing a bathroom in the former portable classroom behind the town office, building an entry roof over the basement entrance on the north side of the old town house and making repairs at the town office, instead assigning the jobs – except for plumbing and electrical work – to the town crew. Heath said he discussed the idea with foreman Gary Cummings before the selectmen’s meeting.

Board Chairman Robert MacFarland and Selectman Donna Mills-Stevens expressed concern that the board is asking too much of the small town crew. Heath plans to let them schedule the extra assignments as their other responsibilities allow.

Selectmen also rejected a bid of $9,600 for roof work on the red garage south of the town office, because it exceeds the $8,000 voters approved. MacFarland recommended they advertise for new bids.

In other business Sept. 17, selectmen accepted a request that town office staff administer the Heritage Tour Scholarship Fund, established by former eighth-grader Sarah Praul and inherited by her mother, Erika Matthies Praul, after Sarah graduated from China Middle School.

The fund provides assistance to China eighth-grade students who cannot afford the annual March Heritage Tour, which Erika Matthies Praul said now costs close to $1,000 per student. The main fundraiser is selling advertising space on students’ T-shirts to local businesses; individual donations are also welcome.

Heath said the fund will pay the town $100 annually toward administrative costs. Codes Officer Paul Mitnik brought a consent agreement to correct land use violations. Selectmen approved it.

Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood said residents may apply now for absentee ballots for Nov. 6. Ballots will be available a month before the election.

Selectman Irene Belanger and Transfer Station Manager Tim Grotton said China residents will be able to participate in a hazardous waste disposal program in Winslow on Oct. 20, after registering at the China facility, and in a drug take-back program and a document shredding program in China on Oct. 27. More information is available at the transfer station or the town office.

On Heath’s recommendation, board members again postponed action on two documents, a tower use agreement with Hussey Communications, of Winslow, intended to improve wireless service in town and an internal financial controls policy.

Heath announced that work on the new causeway bridge at the head of China Lake’s east basin is scheduled to close Causeway Street from the first week in October through the first week in November.

China budget committee approves three spending measures to be on Nov. 6 ballot

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by Mary Grow

China Budget Committee members have unanimously endorsed three spending measures selectmen will present to voters on Nov. 6.

Nov. 6 local voting includes elections and five referendum questions. The first two, which did not need action at the Sept. 5 Budget Committee meeting, ask if voters want to repeal China’s quorum ordinance (which sets a minimum number of voters required for any town meeting to be held) and if they want to send a resolution to the state legislature asking to authorize municipalities to opt out of collecting personal property taxes (paid on business equipment).

The issues the Budget Committee supported are: (ep)

– A request to appropriate up to $5,000 from Tax Increment Finance (TIF) funds to explore possibilities of using the 39-acre former subdivision on Lakeview Drive opposite the Candlewood property for an emergency services building and a community center.

  • A request to authorize selectmen to use up to $26,000 from sale of tax-acquired property in the current (2018-19) fiscal year to pay for additional hours and benefits for transfer station employees, due to the new schedule that took effect Sept. 4 and an expected staff change.
  • A request to give selectmen continuing annual authority to use up to $100,000 in TIF funds, on recommendation of the TIF Committee, for economic development projects not presented to voters and approved at the March town business meeting.
  • On the first issue, Town Manager Dennis Heath emphasized the $5,000 would be used for a conceptual rendering only. The emergency services building he has in mind would house the China Village volunteer fire department and China rescue, provide office and vehicle space for China’s part-time police force and perhaps house a Delta ambulance.

Delta officials have expressed interest in keeping an ambulance in China if there were a place for it, Heath said. China Rescue is a first-responder unit not licensed to transport.

If voters approve the concept, and if the project goes ahead, Heath said other town managers have used TIF economic development money for fire department housing. The rest of the project would probably need other funding sources.

On the transfer station issue, Heath explained that the new schedule requires increasing hours for two part-time employees to the point where they are entitled to benefits. The $26,000 ceiling ought to cover the increases, and is less than China has already taken in this year from the sale of one tax-acquired property, he said.

As of Sept. 4, the transfer station is open Tuesdays through Saturdays, five consecutive days. Hours were sent out with tax bills and are posted on the Town of China web site, in recent issues of The Town Line and elsewhere in town.

Heath said transfer station employee Ed Brownell plans to retire in the spring, necessitating additional changes.

If voters approve the final referendum question, letting the TIF Committee and selectmen spend TIF money without town meeting authorization, projects that come up during the year can be funded without delay, Heath said. The TIF Committee, he reported, asked selectmen to postpone the question to a spring 2019 ballot, to give more time for consideration.

The five Budget Committee members present Sept. 5 endorsed all articles. Votes were 5-0 except on the last question, which was 4-0-1: Budget Committee secretary Jean Conway abstained, since she is a TIF Committee member. (ep)

On Nov. 6, China polls will be open from 7 a.m. to 8 p.m. in the former portable classroom behind the town office.

Three arrested in China car burglaries

From right-to-left, Manuel O’Shea, Ashlee Suzor, Willie Golston

State Police charged three people from Massachusetts in connection with a number of car burglaries off the Neck Road, in China, over the weekend. Taken from the vehicles were a credit card, change and sunglasses. At least six vehicles, all unlocked, were entered late Saturday night and early Sunday morning along fire roads 15, 16 and 17.

Arrested Sunday were Manuel O’Shea, 25, of Methuen, Willie Golston, 21, of South Boston, and 25-year-old Ashlee Suzor, of Methuen. All were taken to the Kennebec County Jail, in Augusta.

O’Shea is charged with burglary, forgery and theft. Suzor was charged with forgery and Golston was charged with conspiracy. Troopers found the group had used the stolen credit card at the China Dinah and at the Circle K store, both in China. The trio was in the area over the weekend visiting a friend, who was not identified

Vassalboro planners approve lone applicant

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members took about 10 minutes to approve the only application on their Sept. 4 agenda, commend the applicant for well-done paperwork and congratulate themselves on a record short meeting.

David Tyrol has permission to tear down a two-story barn in the shoreland zone on his Dore Road property and use the material to build a one-story barn. The present barn, which Tyrol said is leaning enough so he fears it will collapse, is 24-by-24 feet and about 120 feet from Seven Mile Stream. The new one will be 24-by-36 feet and about 224 feet from the stream.

Tyrol plans a pole barn on concrete footings with a crushed-stone floor, to be used for storage. He does not intend to install plumbing or electricity or create a new driveway, he said.

Selectmen answer questions about recycling

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro trash hauler Tom Richards attended the Aug. 23 Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting to ask what he should tell his customers about the future of recycling as the town waits for the new Fiberight trash facility, in Hampden, to open.

Selectmen said tell them steady as you go until everyone figures out what’s going to happen. That means, board member John Melrose amplified, continue to separate and flatten cardboard and continue with single-stream recycling.

Town Manager Mary Sabins and Selectboard Chairman Lauchlin Titus were among municipal officials who took advantage of Fiberight’s invitation to visit the new plant. They agreed it’s big.

Opening date is still in question. So are recycling plans, especially since the international recycling market has tanked now that the People’s Republic of China has practically stopped taking recyclables.

Fiberight has not set final tipping fees for solid waste or for recyclables. Titus expects Fiberight will charge lower fees for recyclables, but because Vassalboro does not compact them, trucking will be less efficient and more expensive than for solid waste.

  • Some years ago, Sabins remembered, selectmen commissioned an engineering study on adding a second compactor for recyclable materials. They learned providing space would require an expensive redesign of the facility.

“We’re all in transition,” Titus told Richards, promising to share information his customers can use when the selectmen have any.

Audience member Melissa Olson suggested adding recycling instructions to the Vassalboro website. Transfer station Manager George Hamar thought it a good idea once Fiberight supplies information.

Hamar raised another transfer station issue, asking for and getting permission to sell two no-longer-used metal containers for $400 each. The income, he said, would cover the increase in the price of the new roll-off container voters authorized at the June town meeting.

In other business Aug. 23, Melrose had done research on the East Vassalboro park and adjacent lot with the former schoolhouse, in response to resident Steve Jones’ offer to donate Fieldstone Garden trees. He said the land once housed the First Baptist Church and the park had been a cemetery; the graves were supposedly moved years ago, but he recommended “some sensitivity about digging there.”

In consultation with the Vassalboro Conservation Commission, the China Region Lakes Alliance and the China head of the LakeSmart Program, Melrose came up with recommendations: remove the fence between the two lots, but not the fence along Outlet Stream; remove dead and dying trees; plant the donated trees between the two lots perpendicular to the road and shore, choosing canopy trees that won’t block the view of the water; and clean up the shoreline consistent with water quality protection rules.

No public money will be spent on the work, Melrose said. All three selectmen approved the project.

Olson and William Pullen are concerned about vehicles driving onto the town land. Selectmen doubted a fence would be an effective deterrent; Melrose suggested a curb and Pullen said trucks would drive over it. Olson also asked for road signs designating South Stanley Hill Road and Stanley Hill Road, to minimize confusion at the four-way intersection with those two roads, Priest Hill Road and Lombard Dam Road. Selectmen asked Sabins to ask Road Foreman Eugene Field to look into the issue. The Aug. 23 meeting was scheduled to begin with a public hearing on a dangerous building situation, because two of the mobile homes in Brock’s Mobile Home Park lacked adequate septic systems. Selectmen accepted Codes Officer Richard Dolby’s recommendation to cancel the hearing, because a new septic system had been designed and was being installed. (ep)

Selectmen expect a progress report at their next meeting, which is set for Thursday evening, Sept. 6.

TIF committee continues discussion on purchase of Bailey property

by Mary Grow

Members of China’s Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Committee spent half their Aug. 27 meeting discussing again whether to recommend the town buy Susan Bailey’s land at the head of China Lake’s east basin.

They agreed they lacked information to make a decision and set themselves a deadline for getting the information and deciding: their October meeting, which was moved from the usual last Monday of the month to Oct. 22 to avoid conflicting with the China selectmen’s meeting.

The Bailey property consists of a small parcel on the north side of the causeway, opposite the boat landing, used unofficially by boaters, and a larger lot with a house on the east side of Routes 202 and 9. In November 2016, China voters approved buying the small piece for boat landing parking for up to $10,000; but Bailey’s mortgage prohibits dividing the land.

Voters have not been asked to appropriate the $120,000 she is asking for the entire acreage.

Meanwhile, state officials responsible for boat landings have told town officials land across the busy highway from the landing is not suitable for parking, for safety reasons. Without more parking, the state will not make improvements to the landing.

At the Aug. 27 meeting, attorney Joann Austin volunteered the information that if someone were willing to pay for a survey, an appraisal and perhaps other requirements, the Bailey lots might be separable. Committee members are also discussing with China Baptist Church officials use of the church parking lot.

The other decision committee members made Aug. 27 was that if selectmen ask voters on Nov. 6 to authorize them to make appropriations from the TIF fund without town meeting approval, but with TIF Committee endorsement, the committee will not support the idea. (See related story, p. 3 )

Committee members might later support such a plan, but for now they would like time to think about it, more specific information and a standardized application form, among other things.

Their unanimous vote was to recommend postponing a vote to the March 2019 town business meeting. Robert MacFarland, chairman of the Selectboard, said he would prefer a vote in November or June when more voters are likely to participate than in March.

Three selectmen attend workshop with town manager

by Mary Grow

China Town Manager Dennis Heath and the three selectmen who attended the Aug. 24 workshop meeting came up with five local referendum questions the board might put to voters on Nov. 6.

No decisions were made at the meeting, except that Heath is to draft possible ballot questions. Selectmen will decide whether to ask them at their next regular meeting, scheduled for 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4 (because the usual Monday evening meeting would have fallen on Labor Day).

The potential questions are:

  • Whether voters approve in principle building a new emergency services building;
  • Whether voters approve in principle building – or buying, Selectman Irene Belanger suggested – a new community building;
  • Whether voters want to repeal China’s quorum ordinance, which requires a minimum number of registered voters in order to conduct a town meeting;
  • Whether voters will authorize selectmen to spend part of the annual Tax Increment Finance (TIF) income each year without specific town meeting authorization, on recommendation from the TIF Committee; and
  • Whether voters support sending a resolution to the state legislature requesting exemption from the requirement to collect personal property taxes (taxes charged on business equipment, from computers used in a home office to farm and construction equipment).

Heath proposed the first two questions, about the new buildings. He emphasized that they do not include a specific location, design, cost or other details for either building. If voters approve either or both in principle, then selectmen or an appropriate town committee can develop details; if voters reject either or both ideas, planning would be a waste of time.

Belanger reminded those present that the quorum ordinance was approved in response to complaints that before its adoption, the few people who came to town meetings made decisions for the whole town. The suggestion to ask voters to repeal the ordinance came from town office staff, Heath said, because of the effort required to collect a quorum (currently 120 voters) so the March business meeting can be held.

If China residents do not want to attend town meetings, Heath said, perhaps it is time to ask another advisory question: would they prefer a town council form of government? Selectman Neil Farrington thought selectboard members should give the idea more consideration before perhaps presenting it to voters.

Under China’s current regulations for TIF spending, voters at the March business meeting authorize using the funds, collected as property taxes on Central Maine Power Company’s transmission line and South China substation, for purposes related to economic development. If during the following 12 months someone presents another project, it cannot be funded until voters approve it at the next town meeting.

Again, selectmen see the question as asking for a yes or no reaction. If voters approve, board members will work out details, like whether they can allocate a certain dollar figure or a certain percentage of the TIF fund, and seek more specific authorization in March 2019.

Farrington asked whether the town can grant exemptions from personal property taxes, about which he says he receives complaints. Heath and board Chairman Robert MacFarland said state law requires towns to collect them, although they agreed some towns do not and are not penalized – except, MacFarland said, real estate taxes are slightly higher to make up for the uncollected personal property taxes.

Heath said if China collected all personal property taxes owed, it would take in about $316,000 a year. He pointed out that if people with taxable equipment fill out the proper reporting form, they are entitled to exemptions on most newer items, and the state reimburses the town for half the exempted revenue.

Selectmen need to decide which questions will be submitted and how they will be worded at the Sept. 4 meeting, because the deadline for the ballot, including referendum questions and candidates’ names for local office, is Friday, Sept. 7.

In other business at the workshop, Farrington asked about ongoing plans to add three-phase power or otherwise update the transfer station’s antiquated electrical service. Heath said the Transfer Station Committee considered options at its Aug. 21 meeting.

One possibility is using part of the transfer station reserve fund to bring in three-phase power. Heath said a Central Maine Power Company site advisor estimated running a three-phase line from Route 3 could cost up to $60,000. Converting equipment, hooking up the new compactor and similar services could cost at least $20,000, maybe twice that. At the March 2018 business meeting voters authorized up to $200,000 for the reserve fund.

Heath does not expect to have a recommendation ready for the Sept. 4 selectmen’s meeting.

The manager shared personnel and staffing issues he had discussed with town staff. He is considering seeking two new employees, one to be assistant to Codes Officer Paul Mitnik and take over when Mitnik is ready to retire and one for the road crew to work as a mechanic, maintenance person and driver.

MacFarland, referring to the Aug. 20 meeting he missed at which the rest of the board approved Mitnik’s revised permit fee schedule, said his intention was to end up with lower fees, not higher. Mitnik proposed and selectmen approved lower fees for a few permits, but higher fees for many, to allow for inflation since the schedule was last reviewed.

Getting to know the China town manager

China Town Manager Dennis Heath, left, and wife Mary, at their new home on the Cross Road, in China. (Photos by Eric Austin)

An exclusive interview

by Eric W. Austin

“God and country” is a phrase that neatly sums up Dennis Heath, China’s new town manager. In an extensive three-hour interview on Friday, August 3, he told me of his life before Maine, including his family, a storied military career spanning nearly three decades, a 14-year stint as the full-time pastor of a small Baptist church, and his previous position as part-time city administrator for the town of Stonewall, Oklahoma.

“I come from a military family,” Heath explained. “My father was a career Air Force guy. My uncle was a career Air Force guy. My entire family has a military background going all the way back to the Civil War.”

Heath’s own military service began at age 17. It was 1978. The Vietnam War had ended only a few years before. At the time, he’d just finished high school where he was part of the school’s Reserve Officers’ Training Corps (ROTC), and was working as the manager for two Dino’s Pizza joints in Sky Lake and Oak Ridge, an area of Florida just south of Orlando.

Shortly after enlisting, young Dennis was sent to Keesler Air Force Base, in Biloxi, Mississippi, for technical training.

It was here that he met his future wife, Mary, who had just finished basic training herself, and was working as an administrative specialist for the Air National Guard.

Heath described their first encounter, in the airbase day-room: “I walk in the door. I notice the head of a girl, watching the television. All I can see is the top of her head. There’s this glow around her, and I hear an inaudible voice that says, ‘That’s your wife.’”

By the end of that night’s shift, Mary had asked him out for a date. She took him bowling. And she paid. Young Dennis knew the voice was right: he had found his partner for life.

After six weeks of dating, Heath popped the question. They were eating dinner. “She spit out her salad,” Heath told me with a chuckle. A month later they were married. Heath was 18. Mary had just turned 21.

“Our first assignment was out of the country, to Germany. And to this day, she’ll tell you it was the greatest thing to have occurred, because it got us both away from our families. We couldn’t run, and we had to get along. We had to grow up. And we did.”

Children were not far behind. Their oldest son, Joshua, was born in Germany in 1980. Four years later, James was born in Italy. “Matter of fact,” Heath recalled, “he was born in the same hospital as [famous Italian actress] Sophia Loren.”

The couple’s only daughter, Linda — short for Lindita – was born nine months before James, but her inclusion in the Heath family was a bit more complicated.

Born to Albanian parents in Kosovo, Linda’s birth-family fled the country for Germany in the early 1990s, during the Bosnian genocide, committed by Serbian forces against the ethnic Muslims of the region.

The Heaths got to know the then six-year-old Linda and her family during their second assignment to Germany. Fearing for her safety if they ever returned to Kosovo, Linda’s parents asked the Heaths to adopt her. Initially, the Heaths declined, as they were nearing the end of their time in Germany.

However, the Heaths stayed in touch with the girl and her family, and when they returned to Germany in 1999, Linda’s parents approached them again about adopting the girl, who was now 15. This time the Heaths accepted.

Even then, the adoption almost didn’t happen. According to U.S. law, a child adopted overseas by American parents must be under 16 to be eligible for immigration to the United States. By the time the adoption process was completed, it was two months after Linda’s sixteenth birthday, and she was no longer eligible for immigration. It would take a four-star general, pulling strings, and a U.S. Senator, who got a law passed allowing a special exception in her case, before they could bring her back to the States.

With Linda’s adoption, the Heath family was now complete.

After 25 years of military service, with assignments in Germany, Italy, Central America, as well as stints in states like Virginia and Florida, Dennis Heath retired from the service in 2003 and settled his growing family in Oklahoma. But even in retirement, Heath stayed busy, serving as a full-time pastor for a small Baptist church and, at the request of the city’s mayor, also taking a part-time position as city administrator for Stonewall, Oklahoma, while also doing consulting work at the local municipal airport.

So, what pulled Dennis and Mary Heath out of the southern Midwest and up to a small town in central Maine? Like many people at their stage in life, it involved grandchildren.

Two years ago, both of the Heath’s sons, together with their wives and five children, decided to move to Maine. They jointly purchased a large house just south of Farmington.

After that, Heath explained, “Mary said to me, ‘We’ve got to move to Maine!’”

Dennis Heath was sworn-in as China’s town manager on May 11, and spent the month of June co-managing with his predecessor, Dan L’Heureux.

What has kept the new town manager busy in the two months since? “I’ve spent a lot of time on money,” he told me. “Becoming familiar with the finances, getting my arms around the budget; making sure we’re ready for the tax commitment that’s coming up.”

He’s also been getting to know the residents of China. “I’ve been doing a lot of meeting people. Listening to people.” And he wants you to know he can take criticism. “I’ve developed thick skin because of [my time in the military],” he said. “People can chew me out on the phone and that’s okay.”

He also seems pleased with the town office staff. “I adore the staff,” he said. “The staff here is great!”

This next year will be a testing period for the new town manager. The first phase of the causeway project at the north end of China Lake is to be completed next month, and phase 2 of the project, which involves replacing the boat ramp, adding additional parking, lighting and new sidewalks along Causeway Road, still has a number of hurdles to navigate before it can move forward.

The other major projects he’s looking at include the building of a new community center for the residents of China, and possibly constructing a new consolidated emergency services building that would house the Volunteer Fire Department, and serve as a station house for local police and ambulance services.

Dennis and Mary Heath in front of their new home in China.

All in all, the Heaths seem to be settling in comfortably. They closed on a new house, just north of the town office, a few weeks ago, and are currently searching for a new church to call home. So far, they’ve visited the Church of the Nazarene on Route 3, the Manchester Community Church, and China Baptist.

Although Heath is not interested in taking up the mantle of pastor right now, he’s not planning to “church-hop” forever either.

“I’m not one of those people who enjoys church-hopping,” he said. “I’ve consistently said, you need to find a place where you fit in, and stay. We’re going to find a group of people that I think we fit well with and that’s where we’re going to go. And we’re going to stay there for the time we’re here, for however long we’re here.”

In response to a critical article that appeared recently in the Central Maine newspapers, Heath emphasized that he has no interest in being part of a group like the Topeka-based Westboro Baptist Church, which is known nationally for its use of incendiary speech against the LGBT community, the religion of Islam, and other minority groups. “That is one of the things I am particularly sensitive to,” he said. “I do not want to be part of a group that is out embarrassing the Church by its activities.”

He added, “Emily [Higginbotham, of Central Maine newspapers], was pretty clear in what she wrote that she wanted to paint the picture that I was anti-Muslim, that I was anti-gay, that I was anti-this, that, and the other. I think the point I was trying to make with her is that I have these biblical views about conduct, but I don’t take those views about conduct into the way that I deal with people.”

Whether they will fit in with the rest of us crazy Mainers, only time will tell, but the Heaths are determined to make a new home here in China, Maine.

Eric W. Austin writes about technology and community issues. He can be reached by email at

Webber Pond Association members tackle many subjects at annual meeting

Webber Pond

A “field” of weeds in the northwestern corner of Webber Pond. Photo courtesy of Frank Richards, president of Webber Pond Association.

by Roland D. Hallee

At their August 18 annual meeting, held at the Vassalboro Community School, members of the Webber Pond Association heard about various matters of interest, including water levels and clarity, bacterial infections, increasing the alewife harvest, changing the annual meeting date, and finally, a presentation on ways to deal with the increased amount of weeds in Webber Pond.

There was concern about the water level in the pond, which drew considerable dialogue. As of August 18, the water level in the pond was four inches below the spillway following the heavy rains of the previous two days. Prior to that the water level had been measured at six inches below the spillway by association president Frank Richards. Phil Innes, who monitors the dam, reported at the meeting the levels had risen. He had taken the latest reading the morning of the meeting. It is recommended the level be set at one to two inches below the spillway by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection.

All the boards are in the dam except for one which must be left open to allow the egress of mature alewives, who otherwise would have no way to exit the pond. Doing so allows more water to escape the lake than would be ideal. Failure to allow the mature alewives to leave the pond could possibly result in around 100,000 alewives trapped in the lake, eventually dying, creating even more problems in the lake, according to Vice President Charles Backenstose.

Richards mentioned conversations with the state that a specially-engineered egress channel could possibly be installed that would allow the fish to continue to exit the pond, but by releasing much less water. This method is now being used in new fish ladder construction, and has proven to be successful, according to Richards.

Backenstose, who monitors water clarity in the lake through Secchi Disk readings, reported that water clarity was typical from mid-May through late June at 14 – 15 feet. “This is pretty amazing, considering that last year at this time, visibility was about half that,” he reported in the group’s newsletter. “The dry weather may have contributed to clearer water.”

Although, at the meeting, Backenstose reported that as of the week of August 12, water clarity had diminished to about six feet.

Answering a concern about incidents of bacterial infections reported in the local newspapers at other central Maine lakes, Director Susan Traylor reported that Webber Pond has never appeared on the list of lakes where these types of bacteria, including e-coli, have been identified.

Traylor also made a presentation about the possibility of increasing the alewife harvest. In her research, she concluded the lake association should recommend to the town of Vassalboro that the town submit a revised alewife harvest plan to the Maine Department of Marine Resources for the 2019 season that would allow a change to the current harvest plan, which has been in place for over a decade. She concluded that no more than 240,000 alewives should be allowed to enter the pond.

In an article in the newsletter, Traylor states the 240,000 target allows for 100 alewives per acre in both Webber and Three Mile ponds. In 2018, 461,000 alewives entered Webber Pond. Of these, an estimated 38,000 went to Three Mile Pond (about 33 per acre). This left 423,000 (352 alewives per acre) in Webber.

This study came as a result of the issue having been raised at the 2017 annual meeting that maybe there were now too many alewives entering the lake, possibly creating an imbalance in nutrients being brought into the lake as opposed to what is removed with the fall egress of the young alewives.

Two options were presented to the membership by Traylor. Richards suggested the body give the president permission to use option #1 in his negotiations with the DMR. That option states: [The lake association] recommends that the town of Vassalboro submit a plan to DMR to harvest seven days a week once a target number of 240,000 alewives have entered Webber, with no further alewife entry to the pond. In 2018, following this practice with a target of 240,000 alewives would have allowed the boards in the dam to be replaced on May 30, rather than June 16.

Presently, the plan calls for alewife passage for three days a week and allows alewife harvesting the other four days. There is no limit on the number of alewives that can enter the pond.

Replacing the boards at the dam on the latter date in 2018 contributed, to some degree, to the lower water levels in early summer.

Jim Hart, director of the China Region Lakes Alliance (CRLA), warned against acting too quickly. In his address, he stated that alewives return to their place of birth. Therefore, alewives that are leaving Three Mile Pond, and returning to the ocean to mature, will be back in four years. They will most likely return to Three Mile Pond, and not stay in Webber Pond. That could affect the number of alewives that remain in Webber Pond, and vice versa. He suggested a three- to four-year trial period.

The motion to recommend increasing alewife harvest was the only item on the agenda that caused lengthy discussion, with the final straw vote being 17-8 in favor of the increase. The DMR has final say on the matter.

The final item on the agenda was a presentation by Nick Jose, a Vassalboro resident who is a third-generation resident of Webber Pond. He had seen a video on YouTube describing a piece of equipment that would literally mow the weeds on the pond.

The machinery would cut the weeds two feet down from the water surface, gathered into hoppers, brought to shore and loaded into trucks by conveyor belt, to be hauled away to a composting facility. Presently, he states, weeds are being cut by boat propellers and float to the surface. The wind carries the weeds to various locations on the lake, where they eventually sink, decay and begin the reseeding process that multiplies the weed infestation.

The equipment, which he said he was willing to invest in, carries a price tag of $200,000. Negotiations would have to take place to find a way to fund this project on both Webber and Three Mile ponds. He estimated the process would probably have to be repeated twice a year. He also stated the practice is ongoing throughout the country, and that DMR would be receptive to this program as long as the lake association was on board.

The question of whether there is milfoil present was answered by Richards, stating the weeds in the pond are native aquatic vegetation.

In other business, officers were elected: Frank Richards, president; Charles Backenstose, vice president; Rebecca Lamey, secretary; John Reuthe, treasurer.

Directors elected were returning directors Robert Bryson, Scott Buchert, Mary Bussell, Darryl Federchak, Roland Hallee, Phil Innes, Jennifer Lacombe, Robert Nadeau, Stephen Pendley, John Reuthe, Susan Traylor and James Webb. Pearley LaChance was named as a new director.

The annual drawdown of the pond, which historically has been a contentious subject, was set for Monday, September 17, at 8 a.m., by a unanimous vote of the membership.

Richards posed a question to the membership on the possibility of changing the date of the annual meeting to earlier in the summer. The straw vote showed the majority present preferred retaining the current date of the third Saturday in August.

Richards’ annual question as to whether anyone has caught, or heard of someone catching, a northern pike in Webber Pond was met with no response from those present.

The association also voted to contribute $1,500 to the CRLA.