Letters to the editor, Week of August 10, 2017

Sad to see mill gone

To the editor:

A few weeks ago, driving through Branch Mills village, I was stunned and saddened to see that the old Dinsmore mill had been completely destroyed and trucked away. It was once just about the last surviving water-powered grist and sawmill of its size and integrity in this part of Maine. Before cheap fossil fuels, mills like this literally built Maine. Starting from the earliest settlements they sawed most of the lumber, shingles and other wood products and ground most of the flour and feed for the region using nothing more than the power of falling water.

About 20 years ago Steve Coombs bought and began renovating the mill with the intention of restoring it to an operating gristmill, processing locally-grown grain. A fully functioning water powered mill would have put Branch Mills on the map as tourist destination, and would have been a great way to add value to local agricultural products. No one who has been in a working water mill, with its turning shafts and wheels and machinery driven by the low rumble of falling water, can forget the magic of the experience. I got to know Steve through selling him firewood. He seemed to have a good vision and the experience and skills to make it happen.

You might think that local and state government officials would do all they could to encourage and facilitate the rejuvenation of this historic mill. But after a year or two Steve told me that he was running into walls of bureaucratic opposition, from building codes enforcement in the town of China to the state DEP and Department of Agriculture. He said the food inspection people wouldn’t let him operate unless he tore out all the old wooden grain storage bins and conveyors and replaced them with metal and plastic. The people who had built camps on the pond (created by the mill dam) complained when Steve lowered the water level to work on the dam. The fish people were demanding that he put in a ladder so that migratory fish could pass upstream.

After several years Steve apparently ran out of resources and endurance and left the project on hold. I understand there were more lawsuits and regulatory actions since then. No one I’ve spoken with seems to know the full story. I can only speculate that if just some of the money and effort expended on lawyers and bureaucracy had been invested in actually fixing the mill, it would be a going concern and a wonderful local attraction today.

Of course, if what happened is any indication, most people couldn’t have cared less about the old mill. Now it’s gone and we will almost certainly never see the like of it again. Shame on all of us for not doing more to preserve it.

Eugene Bryant

Tobey’s: a true community-minded business

To the editor:

Our last China Community Days chicken BBQ was a great success. This was made possible by the meat counter at Tobey’s. We had ordered 100 half chickens but discovered Friday morning that we had 50 whole chickens. I made a call to Tobey’s and was told to bring them over. Within 10 minutes I had 100 half’s without a bill!

Tobey’s is truly a community friendly supermarket. Thank you again!

Neil Farrington
Commander, American Legion Post #179


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