Maine’s Congressional district map approved

by Jeanne Marquis

The last week in September, the bipartisan Maine Apportionment Commission approved final congressional and legislative district maps based on the 2020 census results and submitted both to the legislature. The Maine Senate and House of Representatives approved the state’s congressional and legislative district maps. September 29, 2021, Gov. Janet Mills signed the legislation enacting the redrawn congressional and legislative districts, which will take effect for Maine’s 2022 elections.

In developing the new district maps, the Apportionment Commission followed the instructions outlined by the Maine Constitution mandating that districts be “compact and contiguous, and that they cross political subdivision lines as few times as possible.” Following these directions, the new congressional district map leaves counties mostly intact.

Congressional District 1, population of 681,179; includes the towns of Albion, Benton, China, Clinton, Litchfield, Pittston, Unity, Vassalboro, Waterville, West Gardiner, Windsor, and Winslow; and the counties of Cumberland, Knox, Lincoln, Sagadahoc, and York.

Congressional District 2, population of 681,180; includes the towns of Augusta, Belgrade, Chelsea, Farmingdale, Fayette, Gardiner, Hallowell, Manchester, Monmouth, Mount Vernon, Oakland, Randolph, Readfield, Rome, Sidney, Vienna, Wayne, and Winthrop; and the counties of Androscoggin, Aroostook, Frank­lin, Hancock, Oxford, Penobscot, Piscataquis, Somerset, Waldo, and Washington.

The approved legislative district maps for State Senate and State House of Representatives can be found on Maine.gov at https://legislature.maine.gov/apportionment/final-maps/11534.

China TIF committee proposes revision to grant form

by Mary Grow

China’s Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Committee members used their Oct. 18 meeting to propose revisions to the three-year-old application form for a grant from TIF funds.

TIF money comes from taxes paid on the Central Maine Power line that runs north-south through China and on CMP’s substation in South China.

The funds are used to promote economic development in China, a broad concept that embraces various ways of attracting people, money and attention to the town. The causeway project at the head of China Lake, completed this summer, was the most expensive to date, intended to create better facilities for fishing and boating.

Other grants have been approved for a variety of purposes, especially improving other recreational assets (like snowmobile trails and Thurston Park).

Grants are also available for events that call attention to China. For example, TIF funds contribute to the annual China Community Days weekend.

Groups seeking funding, like the Thurston Park Committee and the Four Seasons Club, fill out an application each year. If the TIF Committee endorses a grant, China Select Board members have the final say in approving or denying it.

At the Oct. 18 meeting, committee members suggested ways to make the application form more useful for both applicants and reviewers. Committee Chair Thomas Michaud and Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood plan to prepare a draft.

Hapgood said China’s TIF Second Amendment, approved by voters at the June 8 annual town meeting, still awaits state approval. She expects questions state reviewers had will be answered soon.

Hapgood gave committee members copies of the original 2015 China TIF document and the 2017 First Amendment for their records. She promised them a copy of the Second Amendment when it becomes official.

The next TIF Committee meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Monday, Nov. 15.

CHINA: Consultant advises select board on fire department compliance

by Mary Grow

In addition to acting on the sale of town-owned land on Lakeview Drive (see The Town Line, Oct. 14, p. 3), China Select Board members heard a variety of reports at their Oct. 12 meeting.

A new one was from consultant Lynn Gilley Martin, of Fire Service Compliancy Associates, who said she works with, but not for, the state Department of Labor. Her specialty is offering municipalities advice on compliance with state labor laws and regulations.

She makes sure each town department is informed about required programs and trainings for employees, both initial and annual; and about maintenance and inspection records for facilities and equipment, monthly and annual.

Martin showed board members an 8.5-by-11-inch public works manual that appeared to be close to three inches thick, and told them the corresponding manual for a fire department is even thicker.

Town Manager Rebecca Hapgood had gotten in touch with Martin about adding China to her clients. China employees are obeying regulations, Hapgood said, “but we could do it better.”

She and board member Wayne Chadwick agreed that carefully documented adherence to regulations ought to lower the town’s insurance costs.

Board members unanimously approved taking $3,650 from their contingency fund to contract with Martin for a year. In return, the town gets assistance that includes copies of department manuals and an annual consultation.

Hapgood intends to forward information to China’s three volunteer fire departments.

Because the meeting agenda was long, Hapgood emailed the monthly reports from town department heads instead of reading them. They included the following information:

  • Town Clerk Angela Nelson said as of Oct. 13, new voters must register in person. Oct. 28 is the deadline for requesting absentee ballots and for voting early for the Nov. 2 election.
  • Dog licenses for 2022 have been available since Oct. 15, Nelson said. The fee is $6 for a spayed or neutered dog and $11 for an unaltered dog.
  • Public Works Director Shawn Reed reported he already bought cutting edges for town snowplows for this winter. The price increased 56 percent over last year, he said, and he was warned they “may become difficult to obtain” later in the year.

The next China Select Board meeting will be about 6:30 p.m., Monday, Oct. 25, in the portable building behind the town office. It will follow a 5:30 p.m. recognition party for Irene Belanger, who is retiring from the board in November after 42 years of service to the town.

CHINA: Medical marijuana retail store approved

by Mary Grow

China Planning Board members have approved Miguel Rivera’s application to open a medical marijuana retail store in the former Knowles Mechanical Building, at 1097 Route 3.

They have scheduled a Nov. 9 public hearing on Jayson Mortimer’s application to open an automobile repair garage, at 86 Vassalboro Road.

Board members began their Oct. 12 meeting with a discussion of Rivera’s application, followed by a short public hearing.

Neighbor Steve Belden wanted to make sure Rivera would not grow or process marijuana in the building, creating an odor. Rivera said the building would be for retail sales only.

After discussion of wetlands on the back of the property, parking, lighting, signs and other topics, planning board members reviewed the ordinance criteria and voted unanimously that Rivera’s plan meets all of them. They added one condition: he needs to provide a letter from the Weeks Mills fire chief saying the property meets fire safety requirements.

Planning board Chairman Randall Downer reminded Rivera that the permit is subject to appeal for 30 days.

Mortimer explained his plan to do automobile repairs and inspections in the existing garage on his property. He does not intend to house junk cars; work will be indoors, minimizing noise and other possible disturbances; he plans no new outside lighting.

Codes Officer Jaime Hanson told Mortimer what additional information he should submit. Because the proposal is for a new business, board members voted unanimously to hold a public hearing before acting on the permit application.

The next China Planning Board meeting is scheduled for Oct. 26, but Mortimer said he would not be available that evening. The public hearing is therefore scheduled for Tuesday evening, Nov. 9.

Vassalboro selectmen cancel October 14 meeting

by Mary Grow

Vasssalboro selectmen have canceled their meeting that was scheduled for Thursday evening, Oct. 14. Their next meeting is an Oct. 21 goal-setting workshop, to which they will add the discussion of a Solar Array Ordinance that was on the Oct. 14 agenda.

The Oct. 21 meeting begins at 6:30 p.m. in the town office meeting room. Interested residents are welcome to attend, but selectmen do not plan to accept public comments at this informal stage of discussion.

Vassalboro planning board: two applicants are approved

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members found that two applicants for Webber Pond shoreland permits met all town standards and unanimously approved their permits.

Receiving approval were Alecia Saucier, to replace a mobile home on Saucier Lane with a larger mobile home on a cement slab; and Mike Fisher, to enlarge a deck and add a handicapped access ramp at 1 Baker Lane.

Saucier’s approval was with the condition that the usual erosion control measures be in place when the slab is put in. Saucier said the company that sold the mobile home told her it had to be on a slab and to have hurricane straps.

Each home was a non-conforming structure in that it was within 75 feet of the high-water line. Expansion therefore required planning board review and approval. No building will be extended closer to the water on either property.

Both applicants also need Department of Environmental Protection permits. Fisher had just received his; Saucier was waiting for hers.

Codes Officer Paul Mitnik and his successor-in-training, Ryan Page, discussed with each applicant the additional permits needed.

Mitnik told planning board members that as of Oct. 5, he had no applications for a November meeting agenda. If the board does meet in November, it will reschedule from Nov. 2, its usual first-Tuesday meeting night, to Nov. 9, to avoid conflicting with elections.

Mitnik said he and Page, having finished reviewing applications for auto graveyard/junkyard and auto hobbyists’ permits, were looking at permits for marijuana businesses in Vassalboro.

In narrow vote, selectmen agree to sell Lakeview Drive property for $65,000

by Mary Grow

By a 3-2 vote, China selectmen have sold the 39-acre lot on Lakeview Drive to China resident Brent Chesley, for $65,000.

Eight bids had been submitted by the selectmen’s Oct. 12 meeting. They ranged from $10,000 to $75,000.

The $75,000 offer was from Nikolette Alexander, of South China, who reportedly planned a residential development. Her bid was conditional on the lot being appraised at that figure.

Now that the previous subdivision permit has expired, realtor Lucas Adams has revised the property’s value downward, from an early estimate of $80,000 or more to $55,000 or more.

Chesley told selectmen he would not hold his offer if they reject it in favor of another that falls through. The board has already had one buyer withdraw, after learning the subdivision was no longer valid.

Asked what he would do with the land, Chesley said he has no plan yet. After the closing, which will be November 19 if feasible, he said he might talk with the People’s Park organization whose members want the property made into a public park.

Irene Belanger, Blane Casey and Janet Preston voted to accept Chesley’s offer. Belanger and Preston favor a park over a subdivision; Casey believed Chesley’s offer was the safe one, given the condition on Alexander’s offer. Chairman Ronald Breton and Wayne Chadwick were opposed.

Board members differed in defining their responsibility to townspeople. The town meeting warrant article authorizing the sale says proceeds will go into a fund to lower the tax rate in the following fiscal year, suggesting an obligation to accept a high bid.

Lindsey Harwath, Chairman of the People’s Park organization, and board member Preston said that residents who had expressed opinions heavily favored making the area into a public park, with minimal development; and selectmen should listen to the people. Also, they said, a visible roadside park would attract people and thus generate income for nearby businesses.

Transfer station: Proposed fee increase postponed to November meeting

by Mary Grow

China Transfer Station Committee members made progress on their Oct. 12 agenda items, while postponing decisions to their Nov. 9 meeting, mostly to give them time to collect more information.

They approved by consensus Palermo representative Robert Kurek’s methodology for calculating a new fee for the disposal bags Palermo residents use. They need updated information and more options on sources for the bags (bought by the Town of China, sold to Palermo people) to decide what the fee should be.

Any cost increases for Palermo will take effect April 1, 2022, as the contract between the two towns calls for six months’ notice.

Committee members endorsed the draft vision and mission statements proposed by the Visioning Subcommittee. The subcommittee will schedule a meeting to continue refining the documents.

Part of the future planning calls for new equipment and improvements to the facility. Transfer Station Manager Ronald Marois said work has started on a new pad intended to store refrigerators; he said it will be large enough for other similar items.

Marois recommended that the committee endorse a request to China selectmen for a new front-end loader, the top item on the list of proposed new equipment.

The one now in use is old, and, he warned, if it breaks down this winter, the transfer station will be hobbled and the public works employees will be unable to load sand and salt trucks.

Committee members were supportive, but took no formal action.

Two facilities improvements also got unofficial support. Marois wants a cover over the pre-crusher near the present mixed-waste hopper, to protect the controls and to avoid adding rainwater and snow to the outgoing loads of trash. Karen Hatch, who runs the Free for the Taking building, asked for electricity and heat.

Ashley Farrington volunteered to see whether the transfer station addition would need an engineer. Committee members amended Hatch’s request to electricity and lights, suggesting a small electric heater would be enough to keep the small building warm; Farrington will get a cost estimate.

Looking beyond the local transfer station, committee member Mark Davis expressed frustration with the failure to open a successor to the Fiberight recycling facility in Hampden. China has a contract to use the facility, which has been closed for more than a year; without it, trash is being landfilled in Norridgewock, an option Davis opposes.

Committee Chairman Larry Sikora said the last he heard, the Municipal Review Committee (MRC), the body representing towns that used the Hampden facility, had three parties expressing interest in reviving it.

Davis suggested China ditch MRC and contract to use the waste incinerator in Orrington run by Penobscot Energy Recovery Company (PERC), until, he further suggested, China builds its own waste incinerator.

Kurek and Sikora advised checking the contract with MRC and looking into PERC costs before considering a change. Marois added that the PERC incinerator is already well supplied.

The next China Transfer Station Committee meeting is scheduled for 9 a.m. Tuesday, Nov. 9.

China group cancels fall WindowDressers workshop

by Eric W. Austin

The China for a Lifetime Committee has announced they will not be moving forward with a WindowDressers workshop this fall. Current uncertainty regarding conditions around the COVID-19 pandemic as well as low participation were the reasons for the cancellation.

WindowDressers is a volunteer-led, community initiative that aims to build low-cost window inserts to help reduce residential heating costs. The program is sponsored by the nonprofit WindowDressers organization based out of Rockland.

In an email sent to committee members, chairman Christopher Hahn wrote, “My recommendation is that we not go forward with a Community Build or measuring this year. Taking into account the responses I received from most of you regarding the survey from WindowDressers and the continued COVID-19 trending in Maine and the uncertainty regarding the twists and turns of the pandemic, I feel a greater obligation to help people stay safe than to reduce the heating costs for a handful of people in the area. I am not minimizing that issue but with the contagiousness of the Delta variant and the established fact that vaccinated individuals can asymptomatically transmit the more deadly variant to unvaccinated individuals, I would be horrified to learn that one of our recipients contracted the virus from our event.”

Participants who had planned to order inserts from the China workshop this year may be able to process their orders through other community builds. WindowDressers will work with them to accommodate any orders already received. Anyone still hoping to order inserts should sign up on the WindowDressers website at https://windowdressers.org/insulating-inserts/.

According to a community survey conducted by the China for a Lifetime Committee in 2017, 12 percent of local residents struggle to sufficiently heat their homes. The planned WindowDressers workshop was one way the committee hoped to address this need. The committee was working in concert with a number of other local groups as well as several residents of Vassalboro who had participated in a previous workshop.

The committee plans to continue its work supporting local residents in line with its mission to “develop initiatives that improve the quality of life for residents of China, South China, Weeks Mills, and Branch Mills.” To this end, they created a China Volunteer Program (CVP) several years ago to assist community members in need. They can be reached through their email address at ChinaforaLifetime@gmail.com or through the Friends of China Facebook group. More information about the committee can also be found at their website, chinaforalifetime.com.

Vassalboro selectmen hold public hearing on mass gathering

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen spent the first half of their short Sept. 30 meeting hosting two public hearings. The first was to seek comment on the new Mass Gathering Ordinance that will be on the Nov. 2 local ballot. The second was the annual hearing on permits for junkyard/auto graveyard permits and auto hobbyist permits.

The 12-page Town of Vassalboro Mass Gathering Ordinance is on the town website, www.vassalboro.net, in the center column, under the heading “Notice of Public Hearing.” Selectmen wrote the ordinance in preparation for a planned country music festival in town next July.

The ordinance defines a mass gathering as “an outdoor gathering intended to attract, or, in fact, attracting five hundred (500) or more persons assembled together, for any purpose.” It goes on to exempt gatherings in established or permanent places of assembly, which selectmen have said include the Olde Mill, St. Bridget’s Center and Natanis Golf Course, among others.

The purpose of the ordinance is to promote public health, safety and welfare. The theory behind the exemptions is that permanent places are adequate to hold gatherings safely and without disturbance or disruption.

Resident William “Billy” Pullen asked selectmen how they came up with the 500-person figure. He pointed out that his Vassalboro Days car show at the town office had probably attracted that many people. And, he asked, who keeps count?

Selectman Barbara Redmond said after reviewing other towns’ ordinances, 500 seemed a reasonable, middling number. The ordinance envisions promoters of gatherings like the country music festival keeping count through ticket sales.

Board Chairman Robert Browne assured Pullen the ordinance would not affect his annual car show.

During the second public hearing, Codes Officer Paul Mitnik said he and his replacement-in-training, Ryan Page, had inspected the seven graveyards/junkyards and three hobbyists’ properties. Mitnik recommended, and selectmen accepted, six approvals; two approvals with conditions; and two denials.

Denied were:

  • Dale Clement, at 471 Taber Hill Road, because Mitnik said the business appeared to be closed. He awaits a reply to a 30-day notice he sent.
  • Hobbyist Keith Lemieux at 79 Priest Hill Road, because Mitnik saw no evidence his old cars were being restored or otherwise worked on, as the law requires. Mitnik said he sent Lemieux a notice, too.

Conditional approvals were for:

  • Olin Charette, 1499 Riverside Drive, who needs to maintain his screening and keep a second gate free; and
  • Hobbyist James Jurdak, 7 Baker Road, who needs screening.

Annual permits were approved for James Cogley (Ron’s Parts), 510 Main Street; Bill Pullen (Freddie’s Service Center), 163 South Stanley Hill Road; Stanley Garnett (Garnett Motors), 1616 N. Belfast Avenue; Voit Ritch (Autowerkes), Route 3; Roger Pomerleau (RAP), 1702 Riverside Drive; and hobbyist Robert Dore, 919 Church Hill Road.

The approved permits are all renewals.

Selectmen spent the rest of the meeting with routine business, including reviewing reports from town departments and approving bills for payment.

Town Manager Mary Sabins said that since the recently-hired bookkeeper had resigned, the remaining town office staff members have been extremely busy. Retired bookkeeper Jean Poulin had been coming back to help as her time permitted, Sabins said.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting will be at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 14.