CHINA: CEO to seek court order against Bio Renewable Fuels to cease operation

by Mary Grow

China selectmen acted on one of two ongoing issues on their April 2 agenda, but need more information and warmer weather to deal with the other.

By a unanimous vote, board members granted Codes Officer Paul Mitnik’s request to have the town attorney seek a court order requiring Ralph Howe, owner of Bio Renewable Fuels (BRF), to cease operations at his Dirigo Road property and clean up the property.

China Village Fire Chief Timothy Theriault told the board he and the two landowners involved are satisfied with the Neck Road fire pond that selectmen have talked about spending more money on, though he agrees a guard rail is needed. The contractor who dug the pond will return to finish the job after the ground thaws and Tom Michaud, the major landowner involved, returns from Florida.

The dispute between Howe and the town goes back to the summer of 2017, when Mitnik determined Howe needed a permit for his expanded commercial use. Howe declined to apply for one and appealed Mitnik’s notice of violation to the Board of Appeals, which twice denied his appeal. Mitnik said since Howe closed down his operation in Fairfield he has moved trailers and tanks onto the Dirigo Road property, in no apparent order and without spill containment under the tanks. Neighbors have complained, he said.

Howe said he has only consolidated his waste tanks; he is not doing any new business, has not made biofuel in a long time, is not treating the waste (because Mitnik threatened to fine him for operating without a permit) and does not need a new town permit.

Selectmen told Howe he should go to the planning board. Board member Donna Mills-Stevens asked repeatedly for a business plan; Jeffrey LaVerdiere said Howe’s business should be run properly with respect for neighbors or should stop.

When LaVerdiere asked Howe if a cease-and-desist order would lead to a protracted legal battle, Howe replied, “Yes.”

The Neck Road fire pond also dates back to 2017. Voters approved $8,500 to create the pond in November; Theriault said after the first contractor pulled out, he found a second contractor who dug the pond late in November.

The original plan was to expand an existing pond on two properties, Michaud’s and that of a neighbor who was not named in the discussion. The neighbor asked for legal documents, including an easement or right of way letting the town use the property. Instead, his part of the pond was walled off and the work done entirely on Michaud’s property, with Michaud’s support, Theriault said.

Selectmen have questioned legal and liability issues and the safety of the steep-sided 15-foot-deep pond. They talked about spending up to another $25,000 on improvements they consider necessary.

“We love the pond. I’ve used it,” Theriault said at the April 2 meeting. Availability of water provides additional fire protection for the area, he said. He does favor a guard rail, and said rocks from Michaud’s land can be used to stabilize eroding areas.

Theriault said once Michaud returns, he expects the two neighbors to agree on uniting what are now separate ponds and the contractor to do whatever more is needed to make the pond permanent and safe.

In other business April 2, selectmen scheduled a public hearing for 6:15 p.m. Monday, April 16, before their next meeting, on Michael Marois’ application for a liquor license for his MJEK restaurant on Lakeview Drive.

Theriault, in his capacity as District #79 State Representative, presented former Selectman Joann Austin an award from the 128th Maine Legislature recognizing her 25 years of public service.

Selectmen appointed three committee members: Neil Farrington to the Historic Preservation Committee, Raigan Messier to the Recreation Committee and Simeon Blake Brown as Palermo’s second representative on the Transfer Station Committee. Board member Irene Belanger distributed new Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce brochures describing the greater Waterville region, including China. Copies are available in public places.

Belanger gave selectmen copies of the proposed RSU (Regional School Unit) #18 budget for 2018-19, which voters in the member towns (Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney) will approve or reject at the polls June 12.

She announced a drug take-back day at the China transfer station, scheduled for Saturday, April 28, from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

Asked the effect of the 2018-19 budgets on the tax rate, Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux replied that he expects a decrease on the municipal side and an increase on the school side will approximately balance, leaving the Kennebec County budget the factor that will determine the tax rate. “There is a very good possibility it will stay where it is,” he summarized.

After adjourning their meeting, selectmen went into executive session to open what L’Heureux and board Chairman Robert MacFarland said were 17 applications from people seeking to succeed L’Heureux when he retires at the end of June.

 
 

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