Vassalboro public hearing planned for Brock Trailer Park

by Mary Grow

After another discussion with Codes Officer Richard Dolby at their July 12 meeting, Vassalboro selectmen have scheduled an August 23 public hearing on Brock’s trailer park off Webber Pond Road. The hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. in the town office.

Dolby said a septic system serving two mobile homes has failed, and the park owner has not made repairs or taken other action because, Dolby said, he does not have the needed money.

Selectmen issued a notice of violation in June. Now they have at least two options, Dolby said: they could ask the town attorney to prepare another notice of violation that would go to court, eventually; or they could declare the two mobile homes unsafe and if repairs were not made in a reasonable time order the tenants evicted.

The second course, declaring the two homes dangerous buildings, requires a public hearing. Selectmen first planned to hold it late in July, but Dolby learned that state law requires a three-week notice, leading selectmen to reschedule the hearing as part of their August 23 meeting.

Dolby has reported the situation to the Maine Manufactured Housing Board.

In other business July 12, selectmen discussed at length board member John Melrose’s proposal for long-range planning. He and the other two selectmen suggested a variety of possible topics, including energy use, public safety, public works and education.

They agreed now that Vassalboro Community School is a town school, not part of a larger organization, selectmen and school board members need to share information more regularly. Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus was authorized to contact School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur about a joint meeting.

On another long-range planning issue, China Selectman Neil Farrington reported on China’s effort to expand and improve internet services, suggesting the two towns might cooperate at some point.

Titus announced that this year’s Vassalboro Days celebration will be Sept. 8, the Saturday after Labor Day weekend.

Vassalboro planning board approves five applications

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members approved all five applications on their July 10 agenda, including the Vassalboro Sanitary District’s plan for connecting Vassalboro’s sewer systems to Winslow’s and a new four-lot subdivision on Hussey Hill Road. The Sanitary District’s engineer, Richard Green, of Hoyle, Tanner and Associates, explained that the district intends to install new pipes along Route 32, in East and North Vassalboro, update equipment at existing pump stations and eliminate three sand filter treatment beds. The sand filters will have their pipes removed and be graded and seeded to look like lawns, he said.

After the connection to Winslow, Green said there will be no more discharges into Outlet Stream.

Green said bids on the work are slated to go out immediately, with construction to start in the fall and to take about a year.

Codes Enforcement Officer Richard Dolby said most of the pipeline work will be in the road right-of-way, not in the planning board’s jurisdiction. The board is needed to certify that the project is compatible with the town’s comprehensive plan – or, in Vassalboro’s case, its strategic plan – as part of the process of getting grant funding, Dolby said.

He said he and Town Manager Mary Sabins drafted a letter to that effect. Planning board members authorized Chairman Virginia Brackett to sign it.

The Hussey Hill Road subdivision is on the north side of the road beginning at the Bog Road intersection. Landowner Mona Deangelo is subdividing about 12 acres of her about 44-acre parcel into four lots, each at least two acres. William Boynton and Tyler Cutts, of Boynton Pickett, the surveying company representing her before the planning board, said each lot passed a soils test for a septic system; each will have a well.

Approval took more than an hour, mostly because board members were using for the first time the subdivision ordinance as it was amended in 2014. They questioned several of the new ordinance requirements they and voters approved, like an affidavit there had been no recent timber harvesting – not needed, they decided, since neighbors agreed the land has been a cornfield for years – and a list of E911 addresses that Dolby said would better be done after subdivision, not before.

In addition, an abutting landowner claimed one of the boundary lines is inaccurate. The abutter intends to have his own survey done.

Planning board members had a memo from Vassalboro Road Commissioner Eugene Field about a culvert under Hussey Hill Road that appeared likely to affect roadside drainage from at least two and maybe three of the lots. Approval of the subdivision was conditional on driveway culverts downhill from the cross-road culvert being large enough to carry the expected flow.

The remaining three agenda items were approved promptly and without conditions, as follows:

  • Don and Denise Deane have approval to enlarge an existing bathroom by enclosing part of the deck at their seasonal cottage at 59 Birch Point Road.
  • Mark Fuchswanz has approval to tear down an old camp on the lot adjoining his at 11 Birch Point Road, and to build a two-vehicle garage that will be farther from the water than the camp.
  • Bernard and Jody Welch have approval to amend their Main Street subdivision – the former Volmer’s nursing home and surrounding land – by creating an additional 6.8-acre lot that has no building on it and, Dolby said, will be used as farmland.

Vassalboro residents learn about sewer expansion project

by Mary Grow

Ten people showed up for the Vassalboro selectmen’s June 28 public hearing on a Community Development Block Grant for the sewer extension project, not all of them members of the Vassalboro Sanitary District Board of Trustees.

Despite the audience being larger than usual for a local hearing, no one had questions, so the hearing lasted the typical two minutes.

Engineer Richard Green of Hoyle, Tanner and Associates, of Brunswick, distributed a summary of the project. The goal is to connect Vassalboro’s sewer system to Winslow’s and thence to the regional treatment plant in Waterville.

Work includes installing new sewer pipes along Route 32 from East Vassalboro to Winslow and major changes – replacements, upgrades and demolitions – at the existing treatment facilities in Vassalboro. Total project cost is estimated at more than $7 million. The Community Development Block Grant is $975,000; Vassalboro Tax Increment Finance (TIF) money and state and federal grants and loans are expected to cover the rest of the cost, with the Sanitary District borrowing what Green called “quite a bit.”

The public hearing was followed by a selectmen’s meeting at which selectmen returned to two issues raised earlier in June. They unanimously authorized Town Manager Mary Sabins to negotiate with state officials to end Vassalboro’s lease of the Three Mile Pond former rest area and boat landing.

They took no action on a possible request to voters to approve an ordinance limiting medical marijuana storefronts in town. Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus said so far residents have expressed little interest in the issue.

They also took no action on Selectman John Melrose’s suggestion that Vassalboro needs a Budget Committee Ordinance to codify the responsibilities of the committee, which has existed for decades without written authority. The issue might be on the agenda for their July 12 meeting.

The board had two bids on a tax-acquired property in North Vassalboro. They unanimously accepted the higher, from Thomas Harville, of Skowhegan.

As the fiscal year ended, selectmen appointed, or in most cases reappointed, members of town boards and committees. They asked Sabins to continue discussion with two residents who had expressed interest in joining boards.

China special meeting needed to settle final fiscal bills

by Mary Grow

China selectmen held a special meeting Friday, June 29, to deal with final bills as the fiscal year ended and to review and accept bids on two major culvert projects.

The bids were for new culverts to let Hunter Brook pass under Bog Brook Road and Pleasant View Ridge Road. Selectmen had six bids for Bog Brook Road and five for Pleasant View Ridge.

Prices for Bog Brook Road went from $111,217.50 from Ranger Contracting of Winslow to $380,000; selectmen unanimously chose Ranger Contracting. For the Pleasant View Ridge work, bids went from $153,000 from Nitram Excavation of Benton to $395,000; selectmen again unanimously chose the low bidder, Nitram Excavation.

At the March town business meeting, voters appropriated up to $150,000 for the Bog Brook Road culvert, approving a special article for major road work. The Pleasant View Ridge Road culvert is to come from the regular road appropriation plus a state grant of almost $100,000, with a local match that former Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said in the spring would probably not exceed 15 percent.

The only other major business June 29 was review and preliminary approval of a revised memorandum of understanding with China’s fire departments and rescue service, dealing primarily with the stipends for volunteers that voters at the March town business meeting approved for a second year.

Revisions are intended to make it absolutely clear that the payments are for services rendered; they are not wages and the volunteers are not town employees. New Town Manager Dennis Heath said the revised agreement, discussed with fire and rescue chiefs and drafted with legal advice, is consistent with state law, the Fair Labor Standards Act and Internal Revenue Service rules.

Selectmen proposed minor changes to the draft memorandum, which Heath said he planned to review again with the fire and rescue chiefs.

As of June 29, selectmen planned to meet again Monday evening, July 9. One potential agenda item is review of bids for the new bridge at the head of China Lake’s east basin.

China bridge contract awarded to local contractor

by Mary Grow

China selectmen unanimously awarded the bid to replace the causeway bridge at the head of China Lake’s east basin to the low – and local – bidder, Jason Tyler’s Comprehensive Land Technologies, Inc., of South China.

At their July 9 meeting board members briefly discussed the four bids received, which ranged from Tyler’s $493,750 to almost $655,000. Joe McLean, of Wright-Pierce, said all the bids were higher than he had expected based on past history; but, he said, the construction picture has changed this year. Contractors are not searching for work, and many have trouble finding competent employees for the work they have.

Asked whether the new bridge was a large or a small project for his company, Tyler said it was “on the high end of small.” He has experience with similar projects and the necessary state certification to work in the shoreland zone and in the water, he said.

McLean said the next steps are paperwork: a formal notice of the bid award from the town, a contract, a schedule and plans for traffic control that he will review and finally a notice to proceed.

Tyler asked for a bid award notice promptly, saying he needs to order the precast concrete sections immediately to receive them early in October.

McLean said the project has a permit from the Army Corps of Engineers. The state Department of Environmental Protection exempts bridge replacements from Natural Resources Protection Act permit requirements. Someone, perhaps a member of the Tax Increment Finance Committee subcommittee on the bridge, needs to apply to the China Planning Board for a town permit.

Work is to be done in late September and October. Part of the plan is to give area residents, including summer residents, ample notice of times the road will be closed.

In a related matter, a speed study is planned on the causeway, where the legal limit is currently 45 miles an hour. Town Manager Dennis Heath said China’s police force will do the study; he expects them to conduct it the week of July 16 and for another week three weeks later.

Former Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said if average traffic speed does not match the posted limit, the state Department of Transportation might adjust the limit.

In other business July 9:

  • Selectmen unanimously appointed Kimberly Bolduc-Bartlett to work with Peter A. Nerber as China’s animal control officers. Bolduc-Bartlett is Windsor’s animal control officer, Heath said. Each will be paid a monthly stipend plus mileage, he said.
  • After a 20-minute discussion, board members decided to proceed as in past years with sale of foreclosed properties, advertising for and accepting sealed bids with a 10 percent down payment, refundable if the bid is not accepted, and setting a minimum bid on each property that would cover town expenses. A public bid opening is scheduled for 1 p.m. Thursday, Aug. 16, at the town office, making the deadline for accepting bids 12:59 p.m. Aug. 16.
  • They accepted Heath’s recommendation to postpone repaving Parmenter Hill Road to the 2019/20 fiscal year, to stay within the 2018/19 paving budget.
  • They expressed interest in an email or phone notification system that would let town officials notify residents who signed up of events and changes, like the July 3 closing of the transfer station that Heath and Board Chairman Robert MacFarland said caught some residents off guard.
  • They unanimously renewed Wildwood Pawn’s pawnbroker’s license for another year.

According to the town website, the next selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Monday evening, July 23. Heath prepared a financial summary of the fiscal year that ended June 30 and suggested board members review it in preparation for a July 23 discussion.

Road work scheduled in China

Site of culvert replacement on Rte. 3, in South China. (Photo by Roland Hallee)

Two road projects are scheduled for work this summer in China.

A large culvert will be replaced on Rte. 3 between Rockwood Drive and Fieldstone Quikstop, in South China. The contractor will be F. C. Work & Son, Inc., of Jackson. There will be an on-site trailer in place. Residents and property owners adjacent to this project may contact Lewis Benner, the consultant resident representing the state of Maine Department of Transportation, by calling 242-2047 or via email, In the event he cannot be reached, you may contact Thomas Stevens at 592-4508.

The other project will involve the installation of rumble strips in the centerline of Rte. 3, from China to Belmont, beginning at the island northeast of the intersection with Rtes. 9 and 202, to the 40 mph sign west of Rte. 131, a total of 25.07 miles.

Should you have any questions regarding this project, you may contact the Department of Transportation representative to rumble strips, Stephen E. Bodge II, assistant program manager, by calling 441-6850.

Robbery at Bar Harbor Bank & Trust in South China

Surveillance camera image of bank robbery suspect. (Photo courtesy Maine Department of Public Safety)

by Eric W. Austin

On Thursday, July 5, about 2:30 p.m., a man entered the Bar Harbor Bank & Trust in South China and demanded money. The suspect is described by police as a white male, about 5 feet 3 inches in height, of slim build, with dark hair and dark eyebrows.

During the robbery, he wore a blue bandanna covering his lower face, Ray-Ban style sunglasses, and a black and white baseball cap with a red bill. Based on the photo released by the police, he may also have a scar across the knuckles of his right hand, and since he was wearing a long-sleeve shirt on one of the hottest days of the year, he may be trying to hide tattoos or other identifying marks on his arms.

The spokesman for Maine Department of Public Safety, Steve McCausland, said in a statement that the suspect may have fled the scene in a vehicle parked nearby.

China police officer Craig Johnson, Maine State Troopers from Troops C and D, and nearby game wardens and forest rangers responded to the call.

The Morning Sentinel is reporting that a woman and two small children were seen at the bank around the time of the robbery, but police have stated that no customers were inside when the incident occurred. Three bank employees were present; however, no one was injured, and no weapon was displayed by the suspect during the robbery. The amount of money taken has not been publicly disclosed, but sources report it may have been around $1,000.

Branch manager Nicole Lee would not comment as it is an on-going investigation.

Police have several leads they are following up, according to Public Safety spokesman McCausland.

If you recognize the individual or have any information related to the incident, law enforcement is asking that you call State Police in Augusta at 624-7076.

This is a developing story and the information is still preliminary. We will be updating the story as we receive more information.

Suspect running away from the incident at Bar Harbor Bank & Trust in South China on Thursday. Photo from surveillance video. (Courtesy of Maine State Police.)

China town manager retires after 22 years service

Retiring China Town Manager Dan L’Heureux poses for a portrait at his desk at the China Town Office. His retirement became official on July 1, 2018. (Photo by Eric Austin)

by Eric W. Austin

When Dan L’Heureux was hired at the start of 1996, the China Select Board had two primary goals for the new town manager. First, they were looking to foster more economic development in the town. Second, they wanted someone who could achieve a stable mil (tax) rate that could be maintained even during tough economic times.

Based on just these two criteria, Dan’s tenure as town manager has been a huge success.

“If you plan long-term, and you work that plan, you can’t go wrong,” Dan told me when I asked him the secret to his success. “You plan for the bad times during the good times.”

This philosophy is apparent in every decision he’s made as town manager. Whether it’s the establishment of the TIF (tax increment financing) fund that will finance more than eight million dollars in economic development over its 30-year lifespan, or the purchase of snow plows that might cost more upfront but will save the town money in the long-run, Dan’s always thinking long-term.

The result is a town that’s in better shape than perhaps any time in its history. With no debt, capital assets that are in good shape, and a surplus that will see the town through any unforeseen emergencies, Dan is leaving the town in an enviable position for his successor.

“Dan knows finances,” Selectman Irene Belanger told me. But Dan’s financial savvy isn’t the only reason he is so beloved in the town of China. “Dan is compassionate,” Irene also said.

Recently retired selectman Joann Austin explained further. “He takes all that stuff that gets thrown at the town office, at the town government,” she said, “and he responds and listens, but he doesn’t react. He’s warm and he listens. He’s really quite heroic.”

Perhaps part of it is Dan’s humility. He defines his role as town manager as a supportive one. “The Select Board steers the ship,” he told me. “As managers, we provide the support. We do the research – meticulous and comprehensive research – that allows them to make the best decisions for the town.”

And he isn’t shy about spreading the credit around. “The Select Board and budget committees have been excellent stewards,” he said. “And you can accomplish a lot with good employees. Ours are superior!”

Finding just one thing that defines Dan’s legacy as town manager is not easy. One could point to the transfer station. A well-oiled machine and the envy of neighboring towns, China’s transfer station has maintained a nearly flat budget over the years despite numerous improvements and additions.

One could point to the many ways Dan has saved the town money. His talent in applying for grants has saved residents more than a million dollars over the last two decades. Those grants have funded everything from the building of the salt/sand shed and recycling center at the transfer station, to the sidewalk project in South China; the restoration of the historic one-room schoolhouse in Weeks Mills, to the tree cleanup after the 1998 ice storm. Dan knows how to get more done with less.

At Dan’s final selectmen’s meeting on June 25, Neil Farrington invited him to offer a few words. In response, Dan related how he’d had four criteria when considering whether to take the town manager’s position back in 1996: he was looking for a job that had the support of his family; he wanted to like the work he would be doing; he hoped to find a team he’d enjoy working with (and hopefully would like him in return); and finally, he wanted to like the people he was working for (the Select Board and the residents of the Town of China). His job as China town manager, he said, had fulfilled all four of those criteria. The past 22 years had been exceptionally rewarding for him, and he hoped that feeling was mutual.

On Saturday, June 30, the China Select Board presented Dan with a Spirit of America award for his more than two decades of service to the town.

What’s up next for the new retiree? “People say you shouldn’t make any decisions for six months after you retire,” he responds with a laugh.

Although he now lives in Waterville, wherever life takes him next, Dan L’Heureux will always find a home in the Town of China, Maine.

Eric W. Austin lives in China, Maine. He writes about technology and community issues and can be contacted by email at

China selectmen revisit fire pond issue

by Mary Grow

At their June 25 meeting China selectmen revived the Neck Road fire pond they killed at their June 11 meeting, when they voted to fill it in. New Town Manager Dennis Heath presented cost estimates – not bids, he emphasized – for three options: filling the pond, re-configuring it with sloped sides and digging a new properly designed pond farther from Neck Road.

The existing pond was dug last fall with steep sides that Heath said are caving in. It is close enough to Neck Road to make selectmen worry about damaging the side of the road. Estimated cost of filling it is $14,400, including material and labor. Re-configuring it would cost about as much just for material and would create a pond too small to be useful, Heath said.

The proposed new pond would be farther from the road, 12 feet deep in the deepest part, with sloping sides and a capacity of 240,000 gallons. Estimated costs, from three people, ranged from $14,400 downward.

Selectmen voted unanimously to authorize Heath to get necessary legal documents prepared and signed by the landowners involved and town officials, and to reallocate $6,000 intended for guardrail to work on the new pond.

In other business, selectmen paid numerous almost-year-end bills and scheduled a special meeting for 4 p.m. Friday, June 29, primarily to pay any more bills that come in as the fiscal year ends June 30.

Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Committee member Tom Michaud reported that the subcommittee he heads expects bids on the new bridge at the head of China Lake’s east basin at the end of the week. After the bridge work, scheduled for late September and October of this year, plans for phase two, a walkway along the shore, are indefinite and plans to improve the boat landing are blocked by lack of parking.

Selectmen have approached resident Susan Bailey about selling her small lot on the north side of the causeway where boat-landing users now park. Bailey told them she will sell her entire property, the small lot plus a larger one across Lakeview Drive, but not the small piece separately.

Selectmen unanimously directed Heath or departing Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux or both to tell Bailey the town is still interested in acquiring her land. Voters have approved spending up to $10,000 from TIF funds for the causeway lot, but have not been asked about the larger property.

Board members voted unanimously to buy a new one-ton pick-up truck with a V plow for $36,990, to be taken from the capital equipment reserve fund. They decided not to trade in the town’s 2012 pick-up, figuring it will still be useful.

As selectmen reviewed the many committee and other appointments that they need to make for the new fiscal year, the town managers said Animal Control Officer Peter E. Nerber plans to resign unless he can get an assistant, since his son, Peter A. Nerber, no longer works with him. Heath said he is looking for someone to help the senior Nerber.

The China town office will be closed Saturday, June 30, in preparation for the 5 p.m. reception in the portable building for retiring Town Manager L’Heureux. The office will also be closed Wednesday, July 4, in observance of Independence Day.

According to the town website, the next regular selectmen’s meeting, after the June 29 special meeting, is scheduled for Monday evening, July 9.

Vassalboro board rejects request for reconsideration

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Board of Appeals members have refused to reconsider their May 22 rejection of Jonathan Blumberg’s appeal of Codes Officer Richard Dolby’s permit issued in March to Bernard Welch.

In May, three board of appeals members unanimously agreed Blumberg’s procedural and substantive objections to Dolby’s action were without merit. They told Blumberg he could request that the board reconsider, or appeal the board’s action to Superior Court.

Blumberg chose to request a reconsideration. Vassalboro’s ordinance says in that case, “A demonstration must be made by the applicant [Blumberg] that substantial new evidence has been brought before the board or an error or mistake of law or misunderstanding of fact has been made.”

At the board’s June 20 discussion on the reconsideration request, Blumberg presented two procedural issues, claiming he had not received formal notice of the May 22 decision nor timely notice of the June 20 meeting.

Board members and Dolby said the May 22 decision was not final until board members approved the meeting minutes. They took that action at the end of the June 20 meeting. They dismissed Blumberg’s claim that he did not know on what basis they had acted, reminding him that he was present for the entire meeting May 22.

The June 20 meeting had been publicized as required by the ordinance, to abutters and in the newspaper. When Blumberg said he did not read the newspaper, Dolby replied that was not the town’s fault.

Earlier in June, Blumberg sent the board three pages of items he claimed were “discovery after the fact,” not considered at the May 22 meeting. Board member Gary Coull said he found no new evidence in the presentation.

Blumberg claimed he had additional evidence that he had not had time to organize, “mostly stuff that I printed off the web” plus applicable laws. Board members believed he should have had his evidence ready for June 20.

Board Chairman John Reuthe made it clear he was losing patience with Blumberg’s repeated challenges to Dolby’s actions affecting Welch’s property. “What do you really want? Do you want them [the Welches] to leave town?” he demanded. “I would like to live peacefully and safely on my property. I would like my neighbors to obey the rules,” Blumberg replied.

Board members were not convinced that Welch is violating town ordinances. If some part of his farming operation, or the bed and breakfast Blumberg claims Welch runs, needs additional state permits, the local board of appeals has no jurisdiction, Dolby said.

Board members unanimously approved Lee Duff’s motion that no new evidence was presented and the board had nothing to consider. They advised Blumberg that his next recourse was an appeal to Superior Court.