SCORES & OUTDOORS: House finches were not always part of our landscape

Male house finch

Roland D. Halleeby Roland D. Hallee

While I sit here at my computer, trying to figure out what to write about this week, I am watching several house finches at my feeders – (light bulb comes on over my head).

Oh, why not do an article about house finches?

The house finch, Haemorhous mexicanus, is a bird in the finch family. It is native to western North America, but has been introduced to the eastern half of the continent and Hawaii.

This is a moderately-sized finch. Adult birds are 5 – 6 inches and span 8 – 9 inches, with an average weight of .75 ounces.

Adults have a long, square-tipped brown tail and are a brown or dull-brown color across the back with some shading into deep gray on the wing feathers. Breast and belly feathers may be streaked; the flanks usually are. In most cases, adult males’ heads, necks and shoulders are reddish. This color sometimes extends to the belly and down the back, between the wings. Male coloration varies in intensity with the seasons and comes from the berries and fruits in its diet. As a result, the colors range from pale straw-yellow through bright orange (both rare) to deep, intense red. Adult females have brown upper-parts and streaked underparts.

I always wonder why they hang around all winter. They sometimes visit the feeders during heavy rain, snow, ice, etc. Why don’t they go south?

But, these birds are mainly permanent residents throughout their range; some northern and eastern birds migrate south. Their breeding habitat is urban and suburban areas across North America, as well as various semi-open areas in the west from southern Canada to the Mexican state of Oaxaca.

Originally only a resident of Mexico and the southwestern United States, they were introduced to eastern North America in the 1940s. The birds were sold illegally in New York City as “Hollywood Finches,” a marketing ploy. To avoid prosecution under the Migratory Bird Treaty Act of 1918, vendors and owners released the birds. They have since become naturalized; in largely unforested land across the eastern U.S., they have displaced the native purple finch and even the non-native house sparrow. In 1870, or before, they were introduced to Hawaii and are now abundant on all its major islands.

There are estimated to be anywhere from 267 million to 1.7 billion individuals across North America, and is of least concern to the International Union for Conservation of Nature (IUCN).

Yellow birds at a sock feeder.

House finches forage on the ground or in vegetation normally. They primarily eat grains, seeds and berries, being voracious consumers of weed seeds such as nettle and dandelion; included are incidental small insects such as aphids. They are frequent visitors to bird feeders throughout the year, particularly if stocked with sunflower or nyjer seed, and will congregate at hanging nyjer sock feeders. The house finch is known to damage orchard fruit and consume commercially-grown grain but is generally not considered a significant pest, but rather an annoyance.

Nests are made in cavities, including openings in buildings, hanging plants, and other cup-shaped outdoor decorations. Sometimes nests abandoned by other birds are used. Nests may be re-used for subsequent broods or in following years. The nest is built by the female, sometimes in as little as two days. It is well made of twigs and debris, forming a cup shape.

During courtship, the male will touch bills with the female. He may then present the female with choice bits of food, and if she mimics the behavior of a hungry chick, he may actually feed her. The male also feeds the female during breeding and incubation of the eggs, and raising of the young. The male is the primary feeder of the fledglings. Females are typically attracted to the males with the deepest pigment of red to their head, more so than the occasional orange or yellowish-headed males that sometimes occur.

The female lays clutches of eggs from February through August, two or more broods per year with two to six eggs per brood, most commonly four or five. The eggs are a pale bluish green with few black spots and a smooth, somewhat glossy surface.

In response to mite infestation, which has a more harmful effect on male chicks than on females, the mother finch may lay eggs containing females first, in order to reduce the length of time male chicks are exposed to mites. This strategy increases the likelihood that representative numbers of both sexes will survive. Shortly after hatching, she removes the empty eggshells from the nest. The female always feeds the young, and the male usually joins in. The young are silent for the first seven or eight days, and subsequently start peeping during feedings. Dandelion seeds are among the preferred seeds fed to the young.

House finches are aggressive enough to drive other birds away from places such as feeders.

The house finch may be infected by a number of parasites which caused the population of house finches in eastern North America to crash during the 1990s. The mite Pellonyssus reedi is often found on house finch nestlings, particularly for nests later in the season.

The brown-headed cowbird, a brood parasite, will lay its eggs in house finch nests, although the diet house finches feed their young is inadequate for the young cowbirds, which rarely survive.

There are many house finches that come to our feeders, and watching them makes you aware of the built-in protections they have against adverse weather conditions. They also make sure they are the only ones on the feeders at the time. I’ve seen some male finches “stand guard” while others, including the females, feed.

Remarkable creatures of nature, to say the least.

Roland’s trivia question of the day:

What MLB pitcher threw the only no-hit game in World Series history?

Answer can be found here.

Roland’s Trivia Question for Thursday, February 20, 2020

Trivia QuestionsWhat MLB pitcher threw the only no-hit game in World Series history?


On October 8, 1956, Don Larsen, of the New York Yankees, threw a perfect game in Game 5 of that year’s World Series against the Brooklyn Dodgers

LETTERS: How to control municipal spending

To the editor:

We have entered the 20th year of the 21st century with a flood of information at our fingertips. We can now watch local government at work with video streaming, pay our taxes online and ask questions with email.

The current open meeting limits voter participation to 3 – 4 hours on a Saturday. A secret ballot would allow town registered voters the ability to vote absentee 30 days prior. The elderly and disabled would find it easier to vote. People could vote early due to a conflicting obligation or if they’re on vacation on that Saturday.

In the past, the normal attendance at our town meeting has been between 120 – 150 registered voters. This is usually after calling neighbors to meet the required quorum of 4 percent. The recent secret ballot governor’s race in China had 2,065 at voters. The petition I’m circulating requires at least 10 percent of that number or 207 registered voters turned in by March 10 when the town office would verify the names. Finally, at the March 16 selectboard meeting, it will be submitted for placement on the June 9 primary ballot.

How do we control municipal spending? Individually…… in the voting booth.

Neil Farrington
South China

INside the OUTside: Maine offers Adaptive Programs

Dan Cassidyby Dan Cassidy

Adaptive programs are being offered at Sunday River, in Bethel, Sugarloaf, in Carrabssett Valley, and other ski mountains in Maine.

Also included are Nordic skiing, snowshoeing, competitive Alpine racing and programs for visually impaired skiing for snow sports athletes.

There are also cycling trails in the foothills of Maine where veterans can find winter retreats with clinics and specialty camps are available throughout the state. These and other programs are offered at Sunday River, Sugarloaf and Pineland Farms.

For more information, check out Maine Adaptive Sports and Recreation at the following 8 Sundance Lane, Newry, ME 04261-3228, (207) 824-2440, or log into: or email

Other Adaptive programs include Horizons that is your Adaptive Gateway to the Outdoors. The program offers three recreation activities through the Horizons programs, ski, climb and sail.

AEOC provides recreation and education programs at Sugarloaf Mountain or sea cliff climbing in Acadia, offering outdoor adventures year around to all people with disabilities. The Lodge is a fully accessible facility that sleeps up to 25 people. The Lodge includes a full kitchen, laundry room, dining area and living nook. There is also a yurt located on the property that is available for meetings, classes, art and crafts.

Ski and ride safely. Use your head and don’t forget to wear a helmet.

Dan Cassidy, of Winslow, is an experienced skier who has skied throughout the country and the world.

OPINIONS – Question 1: No vote will protect our children and everyone’s health

Community Commentary is a forum The Town Line makes available for citizens to express their opinions on subjects of interest to our readers, and is not necessarily the views of the staff nor the board of directors. The Town Line welcomes, and encourages, supportive comments, differing opinions, counterpoints or opposing views. Keep the rebuttals positive, and informative. Submissions containing personal attacks will be rejected. Email any submissions to, subject “Community Commentary.”

by Tom Waddell

Question 1 on the March 3, 2020 Maine primaries ballot reads – “Do you want to reject the new law that removes religious and philosophical exemptions to requiring immunization against certain communicable diseases for students to attend schools and colleges and for employees of nursery schools and health care facilities?”

A yes vote allows religious and philosophical exemptions from vaccinations. A no vote only allows medical exemptions.

Independents can vote on referendum questions. Don’t let a poll worker deny you your right to vote on Question 1.

Cara Sacks, co-chairman of Yes on 1 Maine to Reject Big Pharma – formally Mainers for Health and Parental Rights – opposes the current law, claiming it violates religious freedom. Almost 30 years ago the Supreme Court ruled against the religious privilege argument. The Court wrote the government must protect people from actions taken for religious reasons if that action endangers another’s health. Granting religious exemptions endangers others and provides some people with religious privilege. We can only protect religious freedom for everyone if no one has religious privilege.

The Yes on Question 1 road signs include No to Big Pharma to gain support against a perceived common enemy. Most people revile Big Pharma’s obscene profits and assume a yes vote will lower drug prices, but it won’t. What it will do is increase the risk of children catching a deadly and preventable disease.

Measles is highly contagious because the virus can remain in the air for two hours after an infected person, often without symptoms, leaves the area. Most unvaccinated people who walk into that area will get the measles virus. Caitlin Gilmet, a spokesman for Maine Families for Vaccines, a group that supports the current law, said: “Vaccines are one of the most effective ways that parents can protect their children and help them lead a healthy life. Improving Maine’s immunization rates helps to protect the entire community from preventable diseases.” Maine’s current law joins a growing number of other states that have eliminated non-medical vaccine exemptions to protect their citizens from preventable diseases.

Dr. Laura Blaisdell, co-chairman of Maine Families for Vaccines, reports they just started airing TV ads to expose the dangers of voting yes on 1. She said, “The message is very simple: We have to protect our kids, and schools need to be a safe place for our kids. Every major medical organization in Maine supports the law (and) removal of non-medical exemptions for vaccines protects community health, prevents infectious disease outbreaks, and protects people with impaired immune systems.” Earlier, Dr. Blaisdell said, “Ultimately, it’s about the health of children, the health of schools, and the health of our community” and “If we continue on our current (vaccine opt-out) track, it’s not a matter of if we get an outbreak, it’s a matter of when.”

The Maine CDC reports: “Among kindergartners, the state’s vaccination-exemption rate (is) 6.2 percent, the highest level in 10 years, and is above the national level” and “Forty-three elementary schools (have) 15 percent or higher rates of unvaccinated kindergarten students, putting those schools and the surrounding community at greater risk for the return of preventable diseases such as measles, chickenpox, and pertussis.”

Dr. Meghan May, a University of New England PhD pathologist, said despite decades of scientific research showing vaccines are effective and safe, there is a significant anti-vaccination movement in Maine. Consequently, Maine’s pertussis (whooping cough) infection rate is more than eight times higher than the national average. Refusing to vaccinate children allows the pertussis virus to spread and mutate more rapidly, making current vaccines less effective. Pertussis has a 40 percent mortality rate in infants who are unvaccinated and untreated.

Cara Sacks rejected this scientific evidence when she said: “While we don’t know that all (vaccines) are 100 percent safe for 100 percent of people every time, you can’t mandate a product that has known risks and liability associated with it.”

However, according to the CDC, the “known risks and liability associated with” unvaccinated children contracting measles are: “Ten percent of children will have an ear infection, five percent will come down with pneumonia, and 0.2 percent will die of organ failure or brain swelling.” Are these “known risks and liabilities associated with” not vaccinating children an acceptable risk for your child, especially when another parent puts your child at greater risk of catching the measles by not vaccinating their child?

I urge you to protect everyone’s health and religious freedom by voting NO on Question 1 on March 3, 2020.

Tom Waddell is a resident of Litchfield and is the president of the Maine chapter of the Freedom from Religion Foundation. He can be reached at

OBITUARIES for Thursday, February 20, 2020


CLINTON – Fay Ida (McPherson) Bickford, 84, of Clinton, died peacefully on Monday, February 3, 2020, at MaineGeneral Medical Center, Augusta. Fay was born on Septembeer 6, 1935, in Lewiston, the daughter of the late Lawrence McPherson and Eva Virgin.

She graduated in 1953 from Williams High School, in Oakland. On April 27, 1954, Fay married Bernard (Bun) Bickford and remained married until his passing on July 6, 1980. Earlier years Fay worked at Medwed Footwear, in Skowhegan, and for many years at Waterville Osteopathic Hospital, as dietary supervisor.

Following retirement she enjoyed a trip to Hawaii and numerous bus tours with her sister-in-law, Marion Kelly.

Fay has resided at Lakewood Nursing Facility, in Waterville, since 2015. Fay enjoyed the nursing staff, residents and activities at Lakewood. Fay loved her weekend outings with Ronald to various eateries to enjoy a lobster dinner. Fay looked forward to celebrating the holidays at Lenard and Donna’s.

Fay is predeceased by her parents; husband, sister Mary Walker, brother Robert McPherson and wife Lucille, brother John McPherson and brother-in-law Arnold Bickford and wife Alice.

Fay is survived by her sons, Lenard (Donna) Bickford, of Norridgewock, Ronald Bickford, of Clinton, and Daniel (Jane) Bickford, of Fairfield, and daughter Debra Bickford and friend Pam Nutt, of China; her grandchildren, Brandy (Cameron) Huggins, of Winslow, Lear (Kyle) Chretien, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama, and Alexandra (Cory) Moser, of Sidney; great-grandchildren, Layla Stanford and Logan Huggins, of Winslow, and Liam and Emma Chretien, of Tuscaloosa, Alabama; and numerous nieces and nephews.

A graveside service will be held at Green Lawn Rest, in Clinton, in the spring on date to be announced.

In lieu of flowers,donations may be made to: Pine Tree Society,149 Front St., Bath, ME 04530.


SKOWHEGAN – Jack Crockett Dionne, 66, of Skowhegan, passed away peacefully on Wednesday, February 5, 2020, at Maine Medical Center, in Portland. He was born in Skowhegan on December 13, 1953, the son of Rudy and Bunny Dionne.

He was the sixth of the 11 Dionne children growing up on the family farm. He graduated from Skowhegan High School. A life long resident of Skowhegan, Jack was always proud of his close family. In addition he had a huge circle of friends. Everyone knew Jack and Jack knew everyone. He was always willing to give a helping hand.

He was predeceased by his parents; and two brothers, Greg and Barry.

He is survived by his siblings, Judy Scoville (Paul), of Chelmsford, Massachusetts, Jane Jewell (Dennis), of Cornville, Carole Dionne-Fabrizio (Mary Lou), of Wells, Dan Dionne, of Anson, Pamela Eames (Sam), of Norridgewock, Susan Porter (Randy), of Buxton, Barbara Vereault (Don), of Bangor, and Jeff Dionne (Claire), of Benton; and many nieces and nephews.

A celebration of life will take place at the Elks Lodge, Skowhegan on Saturday, March 14, 2020, from 1- 4 p.m.

Arrangements are entrusted to the care of Smart & Edwards Funeral Home, 183 Madison Ave., Skowhegan, Maine.

In lieu of flowers, donations can be made to: Skowhegan/Madison Elks Club Lodge, 2531 Scholarship Fund, 21 Silver St., Skowhegan, ME 04976.


WINSLOW – Martha Irene Morrissette, 77, passed away Thursday, February 6, 2020, at home , following many years fighting the effects of C.O.P.D. She was born to Lloyd and Ruth Sinclair of Vassalboro on March 21, 1942.

Martha enjoyed her flower garden and her peonies, crocheting, knitting, reading, fishing with Lionel and the coast. Martha loved animals and most of her cats she had came in as strays. She loved her trips to the beach with her best friend of many years Nancy Shaw of Waterville.

Martha was predeceased by her husband of 54 years Lionel Morrissette; and a son Richard Labreck; a grandson Seth Labreck; two brothers, Lloyd Sinclair, of Massachusetts, and Robert Tozier, of Waterville.

Martha is survived by her son Arthur Morrissette and daughter-in-law Erin Morrissette, and granddaughter Kyler Morrissette, of Oakland; her son William Labreck, currently of New York; a granddaughter Jessica Labreck; and many great-grandchildren; and numerous nieces and nephews; a sister Evelyn Willette, and a brother George Sinclair.

Martha will be laid to rest with her husband Lionel at the Maine Veterans Cemetary, in Augusta, at a future date this spring. There will no service, only a graveside gathering.


SKOWHEGAN – Ronald C. Crowe, 62, Skowhegan, passed away on Friday, February 7, 2020.

He was predeceased by his mother, Beverly M. (Crowe) Calden and his brother Randall E. Calden.

He is survived by his brother Richard A. Calden; daughter Heather S. (Crowe) Staab, son Corey J. Smith-Crowe; and three grandsons.

A celebration of life will be arranged at a later date. Donations to help with cremation costs are greatly appreciated and donations may be sent to: Richard Calden, 35 Pearl St., Apt. 2, Augusta ME 04330.


FAIRFIELD – Linda E. Foster, 71, of Fairfield passed away on Sunday, February 9, 2020, at Maine Medical Center, in Portland. She was born in Las Vegas, Nevada, on July 7, 1948, the daughter of the late William and Freda (Charity) Griffin.

Linda worked with her parents at the Dairy Princess, in Fairfield, during the late ‘60s. She worked at the chicken factory, in Winslow, in the early ‘70s, and retired as a domestic housekeeper. Linda enjoyed fishing, knitting, crocheting, and bird watching, but her greatest joy was spending time with her family.

Besides her parents, she was predeceased by her son, Richard Foster in 1989; and her sister, Lorna Rod­erick.

Linda is survived by her daughter, Patricia Foster, of Fairfield, her son, Allen Foster, of Fairfield, and several nieces and nephews.

Graveside services will be held in the spring at Maplewood Cemetery, Fairfield.

An online guestbook may be signed, and memories shared at

Arrangements are by Lawry Brothers Funeral & Cremation Care, 107 Main St., Fairfield.


CLINTON – Emily Ray Baker, 14, passed away with her younger sister, in an automobile accident on Sunday, February 9, 2020, on the Hinckley Road, in Clinton. She was born on August 19, 2005, in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Kevin and Samantha Baker.

She was currently a student at Lawrence High School, in Fairfield. Emily was a beautiful young lady with a heart of gold. She truly lived life to the fullest, and was everyone’s friend. Emily had an uncanny ability to reach people in a deep, and positive way.

Although her father, Kevin Baker, passed away in 2019, she is survived by her mother, Samantha Baker, her stepdad, Lynn; her brother, Zach Baker; her uncle and aunt, Butch and Mary, her uncle and aunt, Gabriel and Holly; and her cousins.

A service was held on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, at Lawrence High School’s Williamson Center.

An online guestbook may be signed, and memories shared at

Arrangements are by Lawry Brothers Funeral & Cremation Care, 107 Main St., Fairfield.


CLINTON – Ashlin Eleanor Baker, 12, passed away with her older sister, in an automobile accident on Sunday, February 9, 2020, on the Hinckley Road, in Clinton. She was born on June 5, 2007, in Boston, Massachusetts, the daughter of Kevin and Samantha Baker.

She was currently a student at Lawrence Junior High School, in Fairfield. Ashlin loved many things in life. She loved spending time with her friends, spending time with her siblings, and pranking her older sister. She was very headstrong; she was passionate about animals and could always convince her parents that their household was a good fit for a pet in need.

Although her father, Kevin Baker, passed away in 2019, she is survived by her mother, Samantha Baker, her stepdad, Lynn; her brother, Zach Baker; her uncle and aunt, Butch and Mary, her uncle and aunt, Gabriel and Holly; and her cousins.
A service was held on Tuesday, February 18, 2020, at Lawrence High School’s Williamson Center.

An online guestbook may be signed, and memories shared at

Arrangements are by Lawry Brothers Funeral & Cremation Care, 107 Main St., Fairfield.


BENTON – Thomas “Tommy” J. Porfirio, 15, of Benton, passed away tragically in an automobile accident, on Sunday, February 9, 2020. He was born in Waterville on September 6, 2004, the son of Antonio “Tony” Porfirio and Sheila (Marquis) Porfirio.

He attended schools in Waterville and Benton, and was currently a student at Lawrence High School, in Fairfield. Tommy loved to listen to Rap music, play video games, baseball, and hanging out with his friends.

He was predeceased by his maternal grandfather, Thomas J. Marquis, and his paternal grandfather, Antonio F. Porfirio.

Tommy is survived by his parents Sheila and Tony Porfirio; his sister Jenna (Porfirio) McClure and her husband Thomas McClure; his brothers Joshua and Jacob; his niece Jocelyn, his nephew Vinnie; his maternal grandmother Ann Marie Marquis, his paternal grandmother Maria Do Carmo Sousa; many aunts, uncles, and cousins; and his girlfriend Destyni Chase.

A celebration of Tommy’s life was held on Saturday, February 15, at the Williamson Arts Center, in Fairfield.

An online guestbook may be signed, and memories shared at

Arrangements are by Lawry Brothers Funeral & Cremation Care, 107 Main St., Fairfield.

In lieu of flowers,donations in Tommy’s memory may be made to: Lupus Foundation of America 2121 K St., NW, Suite 200 Washington, DC 20037-1830


NORTH FORT MYERS, Fla. – Peter P. Maroon Sr., 88, of North Fort Myers, Florida, and formerly of Waterville, passed away peacefully Tuesday, February 11, 2020, following a brief illness.

Peter was born in Waterville, the son of the late Nimera and Sam Maroon. He was predeceased by his wife Marion Morrison Maroon; his brothers Ernest, Charles, Louis and sisters Freda and Lucille.

After attending Waterville schools Peter served as a staff sergent in the U.S. Air Force during the Korean War. After his discharge he returned to Maine and graduated from the University of Maine with a B.A. He was an executive with United Outdoor Advertising; Captain of Waterville Fire Department Engine 2; A State Legislative Liaison for Maine Independent Oil Dealers; The associate executive director of the Waterville Chamber of Commerce. Peter was active in the community including the Waterville Elks Lodge, he served on the board of directors for several organizations including Waterville Housing Authority. He was a member of St. Joseph’s Maronite Church, and a 4th Degree Knights of Columbus.

He is survived by his sons Peter P. Jr and wife Chris, of Pompano Beach, Florida, Scott and partner John Schoemann, of Miami Shores, Florida; daughters Kendra and wife Dawna Lieber, of North Fort Myers, Florida, and Katrina and husband Daniel Plourde, of Jacksonville, Florida; his grandchildren, Charles Plourde, Tabatha Plourde, Melissa Hinkley, Nicole Crowell, and A.J. Poulin; his great-grandchildren, Amani Plourde, Brittany Dubord, Magen Witham, Zachary Poulin, Brandon Poulin, and Dylan Poulin will miss their “King Jidu”; two great-great-grandchildren, Jaiden and Hayley Dubord; his twin brother Paul, of North Fort Myers, Florida, brother John, of Scarborough; many nieces and nephews; also a companion Edith Duus, of North Fort Myers, Florida.

A Mass of Christian Burial will be held June 26, at 10 a.m., at St. Joseph’s Maronite Catholic Church, 3 Appleton St., Waterville. A private burial will be held at 1 p.m. at The Maine Veterans Memorial Cemetery in Augusta.

In lieu of flowers, memorial donations may be made to: St. Joseph’s Maronite Church.


SKOWHEGAN – Tracey Kruse, of Skowhegan, passed away on Thursday evening, February 6, 2020.

Tracey valiantly and without complaint fought a serious heart condition since birth. After years of both joy and struggle, she has gone to her place of peace.Tracey was a loving wife and mother to husband Chris and son Kyle, as well as to her stepson CJ, (Christopher Jack).

Tracey was always very supportive to both Kyle and CJ in both sports and academics. As difficult as it was for her, she attended as many games as possible and was also involved in the booster club as well as many other activities. Tracey was happiest when she was with her family or planning family events that would bring those family members who were living out of state together. There were many such gatherings that Tracey organized and cherished, whether it was in New Orleans, Louisiana, or Cleveland, Ohio, when her brothers lived there, in Houston, Texas, where an aunt and cousins lived, or in Florida where so many family members lived. Tracey also loved traveling with her immediate and extended family and would always be the first to post her photos from the various cruises and other trips they took. But, it was especially important to Tracey to be able to travel to watch Kyle play baseball and basketball with his school and travel teams as it brought her so much joy to watch him and these trips also provided her additional opportunities to visit with family or friends.

Tracey is survived by husband Chris; sons Kyle and C.J.; her brothers Steven, Alan, and Howie Tabb; as well as numerous, cousins, nieces, nephews and extended Kruse family in the Skowhegan/Norridgewock area.

She was preceded in death by her mother and father, Phyllis and Isadore Tabb, of Brooklyn, New York.

Services were performed by Pastor Craig Riportella of CenterPoint Community Church, in Waterville, on Sunday, February 16, at The Somerset Abbey, 98 Main St., Madison.

In lieu of flowers please consider a donation to: The Cleveland Foundation, P.O. Box 931517, Cleveland, Ohio 44193-1655.

McCowan was named to the Fall 2019 dean’s list at Muhlenberg College

Kathleen McCowan, of Winslow, was named to the Dean’s List at Muhlenberg College, in Allentown, Pennsylvania, for the Fall 2019 semester.

Students with a term GPA of 3.50 or higher were recognized for this academic achievement.

China Budget Committee makes final budget recommendations

by Mary Grow

China Budget Committee members and selectmen have made their final recommendations on the warrant for the April 4 town business meeting, agreeing to disagree on two of the 28 articles.

Pay for three town employees was a major discussion topic at several meetings of each board. Town Manager Dennis Heath recommended making Town Clerk Becky Hapgood and Transfer Station Manager Tim Grotton salaried managers rather then hourly employees, with upward pay adjustments.

He also recommended a substantial raise for Public Works Manager Shawn Reed in recognition of his managerial responsibilities. Because Reed incurs so much necessary overtime driving a plow truck, Heath did not recommend putting him on salary.

After discussion of appropriate pay, considering responsibilities and length of service with the town, the two boards agreed on compensation for Hapgood, which is included in the administration budget, and for Reed, in the public works budget.

They disagreed on how much Grotton should earn. Heath said at the Feb. 18 selectmen’s meeting the budget committee recommended a 10 percent increase in total earnings (including benefits) and the selectmen a 6 percent increase. The result is a difference of a little over $2,000 in recommendations on the transfer station budget.

The other question on which the two boards do not agree is Heath’s proposal to hire a full-time town policeman, whose work would supplement the current part-time coverage at an additional cost of more than $113,000. Selectmen recommend the new position on a 2-1 vote; the budget committee recommends against it on a vote of 1 in favor and 5 against.

Most budget committee recommendations were unanimous, with more abstentions to avoid conflict of interest than dissents. The town meeting warrant records votes on each article, so voters will have a chance to ask who disagreed or abstained and why.

China’s 2020 town business meeting opens at 9 a.m. Saturday, April 4, at China Middle School on Lakeview Drive.

Vassalboro selectmen discuss TIF spending for next year

by Mary Grow

The major topic at the Vassalboro selectmen’s Feb. 11 meeting (rescheduled from the previous Thursday evening due to bad weather) was how to spend Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds next year.

Vassalboro’s TIF document lists the Alewife Restoration Project (ARI) and the Vassalboro Sanitary District (VSD) connection to Winslow as two major economic development projects eligible for TIF dollars. Those dollars come from taxes paid on the gas pipeline that runs north-south through the town.

ARI asked for $43,000 for 2020-2021. Matt Streeter from ARI attended the public hearing that preceded the Feb. 11 meeting to describe their need for money to continue removing the dams on Outlet Stream that block alewife access into China Lake.

Several residents, mostly from North Vassalboro, expressed concern that dam work would use up all the money available for 2020-21. They want the VSD to get a share, especially to assist residents who will now have access to the public sewer to hook on.

After the hearing, selectmen decided they need more information from both parties before they approve 2020-21 TIF expenditures. Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus told Streeter they were for the moment neither denying nor approving ARI’s application.

In other business, Selectman John Melrose said he expected five solar companies to visit Vassalboro’s potential solar sites Feb. 12 and to submit notices of intent to bid on the project (see The Town Line, Jan. 30). The town office lot seems to be the preferred site, he said, and he asked the rest of the board if he should begin looking for cost estimates for clearing north and west of the building. Titus and Robert Browne said yes, he should.

Town Manager Mary Sabins recommended postponing purchase of a new water heater for the town office until the old one quits (see The Town Line, Jan. 16). Selectmen agreed.

They unanimously approved revising the price previously agreed for an easement for Central Maine Power Company near the Webber Pond boat landing, after Keltie Beaudoin from Avangrid, speaking for CMP, said a newly-discovered boundary agreement reduced the acreage involved.

The next Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Feb. 20, at the town office. Agenda items include a discussion with Kennebec County Sheriff, Ken Mason, on patrol coverage in Vassalboro and preliminary discussion of engineering for two projects, a replacement culvert on Gray Road and a transfer station redesign.

Solar farm group reveals plans for Windsor Road project

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members heard more information about the proposed solar development off Windsor Road, plus comments from neighbors, at their Feb. 11 meeting. They scheduled a Tuesday, Feb. 25, public hearing on the proposal to let more residents weigh in; the hearing will be at 6:30 p.m. in the town office.

Spokespeople for SunRaise Development explained the plans. They included project manager Joe Harrison; Joe Marden, of Sitelines, a Brunswick engineering and surveying firm; attorney Tom Federle, of Federle Law, in Portland; and Lisa Vickers, Senior Project Manager with Atlantic Environmental, in Woolwich.

The solar array will consist of 17,800 panels, about 3-by-5 feet each, slanted to catch maximum sunlight, with spaces between them. They will occupy a leased portion of Michael Willette’s 51-acre lot accessed from Windsor Road. The lot is mostly meadow; about two acres of timber in one corner will be clearcut. The field under the panels will be mowed no more than twice a year.

An access road will run through the middle of the solar array, seldom used, because the facility is unmanned and needs inspection and perhaps repairs only a few times a year. There will be 10-foot buffers around the edges of the property, and a high fence will keep out unauthorized people.

The solar array is expected to produce about seven megawatts of electricity and to have a 20-to-30-year lifetime. After its lifespan is complete, the panels, supports and other structures will be removed.

The developers and some planning board members have a major disagreement that was not resolved: whether or not solar panels are structures. If the panels are considered structures, then under China’s land use and phosphorus control ordinances, they must conform to lot coverage and phosphorus runoff limits.

Planning Board Chairman Tom Miragliuolo said by China’s ordinance definition, and according to planning board precedent (the 2015 approval of the smaller solar array at Three Level Farm, on Vassalboro Road), he thinks the panels are structures. SunRaise has been dealing with state Department of Environmental officials; Federle, Harrison and Marden all said by state rules, only the concrete footings count as impervious surface.

Miragliuolo reminded them they need to meet local ordinance requirements as well as state rules.

Two couples living close to the site had a variety of questions about possible impacts, from groundwater pollution risks (very slight, Vickers said) to the effect on property values (no data available, Vickers and Harrison said; Harrison added some people would welcome such a neighbor, others wouldn’t).

In the only other action at the Feb. 11 meeting, planning board members agreed unanimously that the planned Phase Two of the causeway project at the head of China Lake’s east basin is a separate project from Phase One and will need a new application. Phase One was construction of the new bridge; Phase Two involves shoreline work, mostly east from the bridge.