Vassalboro selectmen approve power purchase agreement

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen put one long-discussed issue to rest at their April 30 meeting, when they unanimously approved a power purchase agreement with ReVision Energy to buy power from an out-of-town solar project, they hope beginning early in 2021.

However, they and Town Manager Mary Sabins made no progress on the difficult questions of deciding when and how to hold the annual town meeting and what to do if it can’t be held before the fiscal year ends June 30.

They have not yet abandoned the scheduled open town meeting Monday, June 22, followed by a written vote Tuesday, June 23. The June 23 vote would include local elections and the school budget validation referendum, at which voters accept or reject the 2020-21 school budget adopted the day before.

But they spent part of their April 30 meeting considering possible alternatives in case the plan can’t be followed.

Possibilities include holding an open meeting with social distancing, for example by using two different rooms at Vassalboro Community School or having an outdoor meeting on the ballfields. Technology coordinator David Trask said connecting two rooms would be difficult, but possible; providing a public address system on the ballfields would be easy.

If the selectmen were to abandon the open meeting and hold a town meeting by referendum, at least three problems arise. Sabins said the warrant questions would need to be reworded; Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus and Selectman John Melrose believe the required advance notice makes action before June 30 impossible; and Sabins said School Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer has legal advice that the school budget cannot legally be voted by referendum, but requires an open meeting.

Sabins pointed out that gatherings of more than 50 people are probably banned through the summer. Trask asked if several 50-person groups could assemble in different parts of the ballfields.

A related complication is what to do about taxes and spending. The normal procedure is that voters approved the budget; the assessor compares revenues with expenditures and recommends a tax rate; selectmen make the tax commitment, usually in August; and bills go out in time for the first quarterly payment in late September.

If a budget is not approved by June 30, the usual procedure is for the municipality or school department to continue at the previous year’s levels until voters approve a new budget.

Melrose suggested since the current 2019-20 and proposed 2020-21 budgets are very similar, selectmen could set the tax commitment without an approved 2020-21 budget. Sabins was not sure doing so would be legal.

Most requirements related to town meeting procedures are set by the state legislature; legislators could amend them.

Selectmen intend to discuss the issue again at their next regular meeting, scheduled for Thursday evening, May 14, or at a special meeting if Sabins gets information that will let them make decisions sooner.

The solar energy contract is almost identical to the one signed by the Vassalboro School Department on April 28, Portland-based attorney Aga Dixon told selectmen (see The Town Line, April 30). As she did with school board members, Dixon explained the contract in detail, including the estimated savings in the town’s electric bill and the variables that could affect projected figures.

Selectmen authorized Sabins to sign the contract, and Dixon gave her a partial list of follow-up documents she should receive. Selectmen expect Vassalboro will be in time to join the distribution list for power from a proposed solar array in Skowhegan. Dixon said construction should begin in May and the project should be generating power early in 2021.

Vassalboro Sanitary District representative Lee Trahan joined the discussion. He said VSD board members need more time to consider whether to participate in the solar power program. Dixon said if they decided to join too late to sign as part of the selectmen’s contract, they could do a separate contract as the school board did.

Expanded and renewed agricultural funding programs

The Small Business Administration’s Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL) loan application portal reopened as of May 4. The intent of the reopening is to ensure that EIDL loans and EIDL advance loans are made available to Ag related businesses. Applicants who applied before the new streamlined portal may now reapply if their application number doesn’t begin with a “3”. If an applicant has an application number that starts with a “3,” there is no need for them to reapply. The SBA’s Office of Disaster Assistance is working through processing applications in order of receipt.

The link to apply (or reapply) is: https://covid19relief.sba.gov/#/.

China selectmen, budget committee to hold virtual meeting

by Mary Grow

China selectmen and Budget Committee members will hold a joint virtual meeting beginning at 6 p.m. Thursday, May 7, to discuss changing budget recommendations in the warrant for the annual town business meeting.

According to an email from Town Manager Dennis Heath, he expects at least 8 percent less income for 2020-21 than was anticipated when the proposed budget was approved, and is collecting recommendations for matching budget cuts. Voters will approve the budget at the annual town business meeting.

Selectmen intend to discuss date and format for the meeting at their Monday, May 11, regular meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Both board meetings will be broadcast live and archived on the Town of China website.

China planners hear preliminary information on second solar development

by Mary Grow

At their first virtual meeting April 28, China Planning Board members heard preliminary information on a second proposed solar development, this one on Route 3 (Belfast Road), and scheduled a site visit and a public hearing.

SunRaise Development of Portsmouth, New Hampshire, the company that previously received approval for a solar array off Windsor Road (Route 32 South) north of Erskine Academy, proposes a smaller similar project on about three-quarters of Dan Ouellette’s lot. The lot is the site of a loam-mining operation that Codes Officer Bill Butler said will be reseeded when the ground is dry enough.

On Jim Wilkens’ recommendation, board members set a site visit for 9 a.m., Saturday, May 9. Anyone planning to attend is asked to notify Butler at the China town office promptly, because participants are limited to 10, including SunRaise representatives and board members. Social distancing will be practiced.

A public hearing is scheduled for the next planning board meeting, moved from the usual second Tuesday of the month to 6:30 p.m. Tuesday, May 19. People with questions will need to sign up to participate in the meeting or submit the questions in advance. The meeting will be available for viewing at the China website.

At the April 28 meeting, Kevin Corbett, vice-president of Construction at SunRaise, Lisa Vickers, senior project manager with Atlantic Environmental in Woolwich and Joe Marden, of Sitelines, a Brunswick engineering and surveying firm, explained that the new project will be a smaller version of the Windsor Road one.

SunRaise plans to lease most of the property – Ouellette is keeping the northeast part with Route 3 frontage. A gated access road will run south off Route 3 to about the middle of the lot, where batteries and related equipment will be grouped. A line of trees running roughly east-west will be cut.

Because the lot is smaller than the Windsor Road one, solar panels will be farther apart and slightly more tilted to reduce impervious surface. Once the ground under them is reseeded, the project will meet China’s lot coverage and phosphorus run-off requirements. The panels will have a non-glare coating.

Board members discussed questions raised by abutting landowner Neil Farrington related to run-off in the China Lake watershed and other issues. They voted that the application is complete, ready to be reviewed against China’s land use criteria after the site visit and hearing.

China group organizing gardeners to support local food pantry

Marie Michaud’s two loves in one picture: her garden and her grandchildren. (contributed photo)

by Eric W. Austin

Marie Michaud doesn’t have any experience addressing local food shortages, but that hasn’t stopped her.

“I just feel something in my heart and I do it,” she says to explain the current project encouraging local gardeners to plant a few extra rows to support China Community Food Pantry.

Well known in China for her work on the LakeSmart initiative, Michaud researched and developed the idea of a new gardening committee to address potential food insecurity caused by the COVID-19 pandemic and presented her plan to the Greater Neck Road Neighborhood Association (GNRNA), the local group sponsoring the effort.

“We are seeking volunteer gardeners to increase their garden plots and provide fresh vegetable donations,” she says. “The pandemic has caused problems in the food distribution system, so we are organizing gardeners to ensure that we can deliver harvested carrots, corn, cucumbers, potatoes, green beans/wax beans, summer squash, Swiss chard, zucchini and tomatoes to the China Food Pantry later in the summer when they are likely to need it the most.”

She also brought her idea to the China for a Lifetime committee, a town committee dedicated to supporting community activism. The plan was embraced with enthusiasm. “We support Marie’s effort one hundred percent!” says committee chairman Christopher Hahn.

Those without gardens are not being left out. “We are also looking for people willing to help tend the extra rows,” says Michaud. “We’ll need people to help harvest the veggies, and transport the items to the food pantry. We happily invite all ages to join us in this worthwhile activity. Help us spread the word by sharing this information with your family and friends!”

Those interested in participating, either by planting extra rows or by helping those that do, can contact Marie Michaud, garden chairman, at 242-0240 or by email at mmtmfarm@gmail.com.

“Please join the Greater Neck Road Neighborhood Association in our effort to plant more in our gardens,” says Michaud, “and donate fresh produce to supplement the food supplies of the China Food Pantry. As the only food pantry in our town, this worthy charitable organization has dedicated 27 years to helping address food insecurity for residents of China.”

Eric W. Austin writes about issues important to central Maine and can be reached by email at ericaustin@townline.org.

Town manager presents China COVID-19 recovery plan

Town of China – COVID-19 Recovery Plan 4/27/20

Town of China plan for returning the municipal government to full operations

Recommended to the Select Board 4/27/20 by the COVID-19 Response Group

– The following is a plan and should not be regarded as set in stone. We will remain vigilant and ready to adjust appropriately to the guidance of the Maine CDC and executive orders of the Governor.

– Phased approach for return to full operations after Governor lifts stay-at-home order and responsive to the Maine CDC guidance for protective measures.

– Notice that the different departments are separated in the plan. This gives us the ability to implement the different phases independently, according to the needs of the individual departments and consistent with the Maine CDC guidance and Governor’s orders. The timelines for the differing phases may be changed in response to Maine CDC guidance. An example might be that Phase 1 for the Transfer Station only takes one week to complete, while it may take one month for another department.

– During Phases 1 and 2, staff and residents entering municipal buildings will be required to wear protective masks. If a resident is not in possession of a mask, a disposable mask will be available.

– The expectation is that Phase 1 for all departments will begin when the Governor lifts the “Stay Healthy at Home” order.

– In the event that use of N95 masks is possible and required, the Town will comply with OSHA and Maine Bureau of Labor Standards regulations as may be required. If the Town is not required to comply with OSHA or Maine BLS regulations, employees who elect to use the N95 masks will comply with the donning instructions that accompany the mask each day of its use.

– Reverse of process that got us to where we are now

(Phase 1—) Drive-through only

• Partial return from work-at-home; maintain social distancing
• Protective masks required for staff
• Meetings permitted in portable; protective masks required; users disinfect premises after use; follow checklist (chair responsible)
• Meetings permitted in conference room; protective masks required; users disinfect premises after use (chair responsible)

(Phase 2—) Appointment and drive-through only

• Only one person at a time; if more than one person needs to sign something, only one at a time in the office
• Protective masks required for staff
• Plastic barriers in place at counter
• Must wear a protective mask for entry to building

(Phase 3—) Walk-in service available without appointment

• Full return from work-at-home
• Protective masks required for staff
• Plastic barriers in place at counter
• Urge residents to wear protective mask

Transfer Station

Town of China – COVID-19 Recovery Plan – 4/27/20

▪ (Phase 1—) Maintain 3-day schedule
• Allow demolition debris
• Allow whitegoods
• Free-for-taking remains suspended
• Recycling remains suspended
• Staff wear protective mask
• Maintain social distancing

(Phase 2—) Return to 5-day schedule

• Allow demolition debris
• Allow whitegoods
• Free-for-taking remains suspended
• Recycling remains suspended
• Staff wear protective mask
• Maintain social distancing

(Phase 3—) Return to full operation

• Allow all disposal
• Allow whitegoods
• Free-for-taking open
• Allow recycling
• Allow redemption drop-off
• Maintain social distancing
• Urge residents to wear protective masks

PublicWorks

(Phase 1—) Return to full schedule

• Staff only; no resident contact
• Only one person per vehicle
• Protective masks required for staff inside office area

(Phase 2—) Limited access

• Only one person per vehicle
• Protective mask required for staff inside office area
• Essential resident contact only; must wear protective mask ▪ (Phase 3) Full operations

Code Enforcement Officer

(Phase 1—) Work from home with possible site visits as determined to be
necessary by CEO

• Phone/email contact only with customers
• Protective mask required for staff when in office

(Phase 2—) Appointment only

• Return from work-at-home
• Only one customer at a time; protective mask required
• Protective mask required for staff

(Phase 3—) Walk-in service without appointment

• Urge residents to wear protective mask

Vassalboro solar projects on planning agenda

by Mary Grow

The Vassalboro Planning Board meets at 7 p.m. Tuesday, May 5, virtually, with two preliminary discussions of applications for solar projects on its agenda. Neither project is related to the discussions among selectmen and school board members about buying solar power from an out-of-town project, although ReVision Energy, the company working with town officials, will present one of them.

ReVision’s proposal is for a solar array on the east side of Main Street (Route 32) near the former Vollmer’s Nursing Home.

The other solar plan is presented by Stantec Consulting Services, Inc., of Topsham, on behalf of Boston-based Longroad Energy Management, LLC. Longroad plans a 4.1 megawatt unit at 2579 Riverside Drive.

Project Manager Kara Moody, in her April 20 letter asking for the May 5 preliminary meeting with the planning board, says the solar array will be on about 20.6 acres of agricultural land.

Interested people will be able to watch the planning board meeting on-line via the Vassalboro school’s website at vcsvikings.com. Online meetings are the first item under information; the list already includes the May 5 planning board meeting, with instructions on sending comments or questions in advance.

Vassalboro school board joins town to buy out-of-town solar power

Vassalboro Community School. (source: jmg.org)

by Mary Grow

At a special meeting April 28, Vassalboro School Board members voted to join with town officials in a plan to buy solar power from an out-of-town development.

Board members had information and advice from attorney Aga Dixon, of Drummond Woodsum, who is acting for the school and town jointly. Selectman John Melrose attended the virtual school board meeting.

The main advantages cited were stabilizing electricity costs and saving around $11,000 a year – not a big part of an $8 million school budget, but over 25 years a substantial amount.

The main hesitation was over the length of the contract, 25 years with extensions that could bring it to 40 years. During that time there will be many technological changes, board member Jolene Gamage pointed out; Vassalboro might regret the commitment.

Melrose replied that many other Maine schools and municipalities are making similar arrangements.

“If we end up screwing up, we’ll have lots of company,” he said.

Gamage was not completely reassured, but she voted in favor of the plan.

Vassalboro selectmen have accepted the solar plan, subject to legal review. A final decision is on the agenda for their Thursday, April 30, virtual meeting, which begins at 6:30 p.m. and can be viewed at vcsvikings.org under “Information.”

Superintendent to China selectboard: Local school budget to have minimal impact on taxes

photo source: JMG.org

by Mary Grow

China selectmen got some good news and some encouraging news at their April 27 meeting. They also accepted Town Manager Dennis Heath’s offer to have town office staff develop background for reviewing China’s town meeting system, a potential discussion topic at their May 11 meeting.

The good news was from Regional School Unit (RSU) #18 Superintendent Carl Gartley: the 2020-21 school budget, as now proposed, will have a minimal impact on local taxes.

Gartley said China’s share of the RSU’s almost $40 million budget will be $5,048,702, an increase of $5,628.11. Those additional dollars will increase the mil rate (tax rate for each $1,000 of valuation) by 0.11 percent, Gartley said, “almost a flat budget.”

Voters from the five RSU #18 towns (Belgrade, China, Oakland, Rome and Sidney) will approve the budget at the annual open meeting scheduled for 6 p.m., Wednesday, June 17, at Messalonskee High School, in Oakland. The decision made that evening will be subject to ratification by written ballot in each town; voting is scheduled for July 14, along with the state referendum and primary elections.

The encouraging news is that selectmen approved a plan for gradually reopening town services. However, the reopening date is undetermined and out of the town’s control. The plan is to be implemented after Gov. Janet Mills lifts the state-wide stay-at-home order and in accordance with Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

During discussion of the delayed resumption of recycling at the transfer station, Heath said environmentally concerned residents may add recyclables to the trash they put in the hopper, because at the Fiberight facility recyclables are separated and sold or reused. Recyclables put in the hopper will not be landfilled, he emphasized.

China gets no revenue from recyclables that Fiberight processes. Once recycling can resume without possible danger to transfer station employees, the manager expects China will again earn money from recyclables.

Selectman Janet Preston proposed the discussion of China’s town meeting format, which covered two topics: whether to eliminate the requirement for a quorum (currently 118 voters) at the annual open town meeting, and whether to eliminate the open meeting altogether and replaced it with written-ballot decisions.

Board members offered arguments on both sides of both issues.

Eliminating the quorum requirement would make it easier to hold an open meeting; but it would allow an even smaller minority of voters to make decisions for the whole town.

Eliminating the open meeting would probably encourage more participation, by giving people the option to vote at their convenience during the day; but it would make it harder for voters to get information on ballot questions. Heath said before a written ballot there would be at least two informational meetings that voters could choose to attend.

The selectmen accepted Heath’s offer to explore with town office staff the possibility of changing from an open meeting to a written ballot.

Eliminating the quorum or changing from an open meeting would each require voter approval.

The April 27 meeting was virtual, broadcast and archived at the China website. The May 11 meeting is likely to be virtual as well.

WATERVILLE: Main Street construction update

Downtown Waterville

Waterville Works crews from Ranger Contracting began on Monday, April 20, at the south end of Main Street, at the intersection of Main, Front and Water streets, by removing necessary trees and completing the connection to the existing water main. Looking ahead, crews will continue excavating with 12” water main replacement heading towards Lockwood Hotel, up Main Street. Ranger Contracting also has a two-man crew pre-fabricating temporary water piping along Main Street for installation as needed. Another excavator is expected to arrive to assist in additional earthwork.

Courtesy of Mid-Maine Chamber of Commerce.