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 ericwaustin@gmail.com.

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.

New causeway bridge gets all local permits

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members have approved the necessary local permits for the new causeway bridge at the head of China Lake’s east basin.

At the Aug. 14 board meeting, members of the Tax Increment Finance (TIF) Committee that is heading up the entire causeway project summarized the plan to replace the existing bridge with a concrete box culvert. The top of the new structure will be higher above the water, allowing kayakers and canoeists to go under the road, and significantly wider, providing highway space for larger vehicles plus a pedestrian walkway and an ATV trail.

Tom Michaud, speaking for the TIF Committee, said the project has permits from the state Department of Environmental Protection and the Army Corps of Engineers. Work is expected to start in September or possibly October and to take about three weeks.

The audience at the Aug. 14 meeting consisted of TIF Committee members and representatives of the China Baptist Church, which owns property west of the construction site. Pastor Ronald Morrell questioned whether the project will infringe slightly on church property; if so, he said, church bylaws prescribe the appropriate process.

Nearby resident Margo Allen sent an email expressing concerns about trash, noise, traffic and similar effects on neighbors. Board members had a copy of the document, and Chairman Tom Miragliuolo summarized it for the audience.

Since Ronald Breton and James Wilkens, two of the five Planning Board members present, are also TIF Committee members, they abstained on the vote on the application. It was approved 3-0, with Miragliuolo, Toni Wall and Kevin Michaud in favor.

Board members decided to cancel their second August meeting unless Codes Officer Paul Mitnik receives at least one permit application in the next week. Their first September meeting falls on Tuesday, Sept. 11.

Selectmen set tax rate at 15.8 mils, down by 0.1 mils

by Mary Grow

China selectmen have set the 2018-19 tax rate at 15.8 mils ($15.80 for each $1,000 of valuation), a decrease of 0.1 mil (or 10 cents per $1,000) from the 2017-18 rate.

Town Clerk Rebecca Hapgood said after the decision at the Aug. 20 selectmen’s meeting she expects tax bills to be mailed by the end of August. By town meeting vote, the first half payment is due at the town office by the close of business Friday, Sept. 28.

Hapgood said as of Aug. 20 four people were circulating nomination papers for three seats on the board of selectmen; there were two candidates for the budget committee, three for the planning board and one for the Regional School Unit #18 board of directors. No one had taken out papers for the at-large planning board and budget committee positions, she said.

Signed nomination papers must be returned to the town office by 4 p.m. Friday, Sept. 7, for candidates’ names to appear on the Nov. 6 local ballot.

In other business Aug. 20, selectmen approved Codes Officer Paul Mitnik’s revised permit fee schedule. Mitnik explained that fees are increased for many permits to allow for inflation since the schedule was developed 10 years ago; they are decreased in a few cases where circumstances make a decrease seem fair. Fees for pools are added, and applicants will be charged for sending notices to abutters when such notices are required.

Selectmen had bids on three foreclosed properties. They postponed a decision on two for legal reasons and sold a Pleasant View Ridge Road property to the highest bidder.

Town Manager Dennis Heath said requests for bids have been distributed for five projects: rebuilding the Neck Road fire pond, repairing the barn south of the town office, repairing the town office roof, adding a roof over the basement entrance to the old town office and adding a bathroom in the portable building behind the town office.

Two residents offered suggestions. Tax Increment Finance Committee co-chairman Tom Michaud suggested a ground-breaking ceremony when work begins on the bridge replacement at the head of China Lake’s east basin, and consideration of designating the bridge a memorial – recommendations for an honoree are welcome. Richard Dillenbeck proposed volunteer trash pick-up along Lakeview Drive and offered to organize a trial.

A discussion of upgrading electrical service at the transfer station, which was to be continued at the Aug. 21 Transfer Station Committee meeting, led Selectman Neil Farrington to suggest selectmen consider a special meeting before their next regular meeting to try to agree on a course of action.

Because the next regular selectmen’s meeting would have fallen on Labor Day Monday, board members rescheduled it to 4 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 4.

Report from the transfer station

by Irene Belanger

So many things to talk about. Again many big thank yous for recycling clean items. Thanks to all and to our grand transfer station staff. We have a good reputation out in the “wonderful world of trash.” Many thanks also go out to those who pick up roadside trash while out for your daily walks. Special thank you to the lady who cares for the South China Village area.

Remember to check the upcoming issue of The Town Line for the dates, times and places for drug drop off, hazardous waste/electronics and paper shredder events. The library corner in the free-for-taking building has become very popular. Books for everyone to enjoy. Books are meant to be shared.

Clean, bagged good clothes, shoes and handbags in the apparel box are benefiting others. Good participation, thank you. Also shop the free-for-taking building locally. Let me know if you think a bulletin board would be a good idea. Maybe someone is looking for a specific item for a craft or other project. Call me, Irene at 445-2349 or Neil Farrington with other ideas to recycle-reuse good items. Want to volunteer to help at the China Transfer Station? I need names and info for those who are now helping as the station’s open schedule will soon be changing.

Think you’d like to volunteer? Thurston Park needs workers for several projects. Contact Jen. We meet the second Tuesday of each month, 7 p.m., at the town office campus.

Want to form a group to renew the search for waterfront property for all of our town residents to use? Call Irene at 445-2349.

How about a group to develop one or two ice rinks? Call Irene 445-2349. Enthusiasm needed.

A gardening group to work on various town properties and look at redoing the sign coming into China on Rte. 3?

Speaking of volunteerism, I thank you Kelly Grotton and Lucas Adams along with many others for all of the work going into a project so grand as planning the China Community Days, which was a success despite rain and gray skies. Thank you to staff who assisted. The children had a ball all throughout the day with the fire tanker truck “spraying” them. It was a joy to watch and I wish I was a kid again. Thank you everyone including vendors, police, fire departments.

Thank you to former Town Manager Dan L’Heureux and new Town Manager Dennis Heath.

Thank you to all who attended China Community Days – China 200-year celebration. Thanks to Bicentennial chairman Neil Farrington.

Selectmen set tax rate at 0.01545 mils

by Mary Grow

As anticipated, Vassalboro selectmen have set the 2018-19 tax rate at 0.01545 mils, or $15.45 for each $1,000 of valuation. The new rate is an increase of 90 cents per $1,000 of valuation over the 2017-18 rate. At the Aug. 6 special selectmen’s meeting, Town Manager Mary Sabins said she expects tax bills will go out in mid-August, probably around Aug. 16. By town meeting vote, the first quarterly payment is due Monday, Sept. 24.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is Thursday evening, Aug. 23, beginning with a 6:30 p.m. public hearing on conditions at Brock’s Mobile Home Park, as required by dangerous buildings regulations.

Planners approve town’s first medical marijuana storefront

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members have approved the town’s first medical marijuana storefront, in one end of the ABC storage building on Route 3.

Board members also had two shoreland applications on their Aug. 7 agenda. They approved one and tabled the other for more information.
Bryan Moore and Wendy Ostrow explained their plan to rent the apartment area in the former motel building and turn it into a two-room shop where people with prescriptions for medical marijuana can get them filled.

They described in detail the paperwork required to qualify just to enter the medical marijuana area and the limits on their practice as caregivers.
They will not grow or process marijuana, so the store should not produce odors or unusual waste products. There will be no on-premises consumption. Security will be extensive.

They run a similar operation in Trenton, they said. On Aug. 7, Moore said, 55 customers had stopped; he did not say whether the number was low, high or typical.

Planning board members expressed surprise that no neighbors attended the meeting. Given the apparent lack of concern, they decided informally that no public hearing was needed.

After reviewing criteria for a commercial business, they unanimously approved the permit.

Ostrow said no opening date has been set. One shoreland zoning application was from Michael and Lisa Smart to remove and replace a camp at 12 Cote Road in the Webber Pond shoreland. Board members voted unanimously to allow the change.

The second was from Ryan and Jessica Gallant, who applied to relocate a camper and convert it to a camp at 107 McQuarrie Road, also in the Webber Pond shoreland. The Gallants were not at the Aug. 7 meeting, and board members found they needed more information before they could reach a decision. They therefore tabled the application. In an Aug. 14 email, Codes Officer Richard Dolby said the applicants had withdrawn their application.

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Sheepscot Lake Association continues scientific monitoring of water quality

Alewives by John Burrows (source: mainerivers.org)

by Carolyn Viens
Sheepscot Lake Association

In response to a recent editorial by John Glowa I felt compelled to reinforce to our community the fact-based research and data that support the concern by the Sheepscot Lake Association as well as many local residents regarding the opening of Sheepscot Dam and the waterway. This discussion and the presence of alewives and other migratory fish is not new to Sheepscot Lake. As many will recall, alewives and sea lampreys were present in the past due to IF&W opening the dam. As a result of the detrimental effect of these anadromous visitors becoming land locked due to low water levels, similar to the levels still experienced, the fishway was later closed in an effort to restore sport fishing and eliminate the phosphorous loading from dying fish. The local residents’ concern is not over anadromous fish restoration but rather the implications when those fish become landlocked, as was the case in the 60’s until the dam was closed.

I reference an article in The Town Line from September 2017 regarding Webber Pond and the impact of alewives. It was stated the trapped alewife added to the nutrient load at Webber and the pond “reached a saturation point” for which the alewives were as much a deficit as a benefit. According to this article, “alewife presence in the lake may have exceeded the tipping point in the lake. Specifically, the alewife count in 2010 was 83,905, and 2016 was estimated at 353,470. Charles Backenstose, Webber Pond Association Vice President, questioned how many alewives were too many. “Over population could affect water quality,” he suggested. It is believed that with the number of alewives entering the pond, they may be bringing in more nutrients to contribute to algae blooms than they are taking out in the fall.”

Over several years in the ‘60s, as mentioned earlier, Sheepscot suffered the effects of anadromous fishes in the lake. The resulting reduction of sport fishing catch and health of the fish caught during those times was noted by residents. One of the reasons thought to be have caused this was the increased presence of Thiamonase, which destroys Vitamin B-1 in fishes such as lake trout and salmon. It has been shown in studies by the USGS to affect the health of the offspring of lake trout and salmon feeding on large numbers of land locked and anadromous alewives who carry this toxic enzyme. The result is the death of those offspring soon after hatching. This may have contributed to the reduced catches experienced before the fishway was closed, however definitive research simply has not been done. The remedial action of closing the fishway during the spawning migrations took decades to show results but did slowly reduce the incidence of sickly fish and lamprey wounding to today’s healthy level.

The Sheepscot Lake Association regularly monitors lake water quality with world class equipment and certified data collectors in cooperation with the Maine Lake Stewards organization. The purpose of this activity is to establish a database by which we can detect early fluctuations before any situation escalates. This will help ensure any necessary action is identified through direct observation and implemented on a timely basis to protect the lake. Sheepscot Lake has excellent water quality and good sport fishing, and we are all working hard to protect the health of Sheepscot and everything that lives in and around the lake for future generations.

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