LETTERS: Opposed to candidate because of past performance

To the editor:

I feel compelled to write this letter to both the selectmen, the selectmen candidates and the residents of the Town of China. I am concerned that Peter Foote, a former selectman, may be a candidate for re-election as a selectman for the Town of China. My reason for concern is under the former town manager, when Mr. Foote was also serving as a selectman, he was asked to write a job description for a new position as public works director. He not only wrote the job description but he applied for the very same job. I feel persons involved, as the town manager as well as Mr. Foote, would have been aware that this was inappropriate and perhaps illegal. Many China residents attended a board of selectmen meeting to express their concern. To the very best of my memory, the town manager apologized and said he didn’t realize it, and it was an error. That particular job as director of public works has never been filled although they did hire a public works manager with a small monetary increase above fellow public works employees to compensate for the extra workload as well as the current job.

I believe the selectman that we vote in to serve the town of China should be there to serve all the residents as well as the residents who are employed by the Town of China. They should listen to the people they serve and be sure the people that work for the Town of China are treated and recognized as a valuable asset to our town.

It is important that they seek to lower taxes but not as their sole goal. We are all in hard times with the price of gas and groceries, etc. but sometimes the means of cutting taxes may be hurting the town’s future. I am referring to the sale of the town’s property, thinking they could earn money on taxes especially if it was subdivided into housing lots. I ask was this relatively small amount of money worth it in the long run when a group was trying to improve the town by adding a park for all residents and perhaps someday a community center that would be a safe place for teens to gather to play cards, chess, pool, ping pong, etc., and for residents to have a time to gather to do the same thing, especially senior citizens who need a place to socialize.

Summarizing I do not have faith in Mr. Foote as a candidate for such a trusted position. I also thank the selectmen who do put the Town of China residents and employees’ interests and well-being as the most important part of their service.

Thank you.

Marilyn Reed

LETTERS: Vote “yes” for better internet

To the editor:

To the Town of China:

Please consider all the advantages of good internet service and how continued poor service could keep our town years behind the rest of the country. Internet is important in so many ways. Three come to mind immediately: education, business and personal.

The Town Line has been a helpful source of information on this subject and I specifically point to their October 14 issue.

The Broadband Committee has researched and proposed a solution of which we the citizens should favorably consider and vote for on November 2.

In person, or absentee ballot, please join me to vote, Yes, on China Town Question #1.

Fred Wiand

LETTERS: A thank you to the community, Supports Marquis for selectboard

To the editor:

Dear Friends,

I would like to thank the Town of China for the many years of continuous support during my terms of office. After 22 years serving on the selectboard, I have decided it is time to hand over the baton to someone else. Jeanne Marquis has the same spirit for volunteerism and the deep connection to China as I have had over the years. She and I worked side by side picking up trash on Earth Day on the lakefront. Many people may recognize Jeanie for her articles in The Town Line newspaper, but you may not know she also spends many hours each month volunteering for the China For a Lifetime Committee.

When COVID first broke out, Jeanne organized a team of drivers to deliver groceries to the elderly so they could stay home. She gathered volunteers who like to sew to make and deliver masks before masks were readily available, and she helped to create outdoor classroom spaces in our China School Forest. Jeanne has and always will be there to help our town, so I feel strongly about supporting her to carry on in my place on the selectboard. Please vote for Jeanne Marquis on November 2.

In appreciation and love of the China community,

Irene Belanger

LETTERS: Marquis is superb candidate

To the editor:

Dear Town of China Friends and Neighbors:

Good government in our community requires the election of outstanding candidates.

The best candidates offer personal qualities such as independence, non-partisanship, positivity, knowledge, balance and modesty. They also possess a demonstrated record of community achievement and action.

Jeanne Marquis is a superb candidate who meets that test; she is running in the November 2 election for a position on the China Select Board.

As a resident and registered voter in China, I will support Jeanne.

I respectfully ask you to consider casting your vote on November 2 for Jeanne Marquis; please also ask other residents you know to carefully review her background in order to make the best choice for the Town of China.

Thank you.

Stephen Greene

LETTERS: Jeanne is a darn good listener

To the editor:

Over the past few years, I have become acquainted with Jeanne Marquis. I was informed recently she is running for the office of selectperson to serve the town of China in a leadership position. I find Jeanne to be a darn good listener and to have great loyalty to the town in which her family has lived for generations. She is bright, curious, mature, well-educated and offers good ideas and sensible suggestions. She is respected and will make a good addition to the board that provides stability and guidance to the town. I openly support her candidacy.

Richard Dillenbeck
Augusta, Georgia, summer resident on China Lake

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.

ERIC’S TECH TALK: CBC wants to revolutionize internet access in China, but will it work?

by Eric W. Austin

The views of the author in the following column are not necessarily those of The Town Line newspaper, its staff and board of directors.

On the ballot this November is a question that has the potential to revolutionize internet access for residents of China. The question is also long, at over 200 words, a bit confusing and filled with legalese. As a resident of China, a technophile, and a reporter for The Town Line newspaper, I wanted to understand this initiative, figure out exactly what it’s attempting to accomplish, and try to find out what residents of China think about the future of local internet access.

In order to understand the issue, I attended two of the recent information sessions held by the China Broadband Committee and also sat down with Tod Detre, a member of the committee, who I peppered with questions to clear up any confusions I had.

I also created a post in the Friends of China Facebook group, which has a membership of more than 4,000 people from the town of China and neighboring communities, asking for comments and concerns from residents about the effort. Along with soliciting comments, I included in my post a survey question asking whether residents support the creation of a fiber optic infrastructure for internet access in China. (I should be clear here and point out that the question on the November ballot does not ask whether we should build a fiber optic network in China, only whether the selectboard should move forward with applying for financing to fund the initiative if they find there is sufficient interest to make the project viable. But for my purposes, I wanted to understand people’s thoughts on the goals of the effort and how they felt about their current internet access.)

My Facebook post garnered 86 comments and 141 votes on the survey question. One hundred and twenty people voted in favor of building a fiber optic network in China and 21 people opposed it. (This, of course, was not a scientifically rigorous survey, and the results are obviously skewed toward those who already have some kind of internet access and regularly utilize online platforms like Facebook.)

Before we get into the reasons why people are for or against the idea, let’s first take a look at what exactly the question on the ballot is and some background on what has led up to this moment.

The question before voters in November does not authorize the creation of a fiber optic network in China. It only authorizes the selectboard to begin the process of pursuing the financing that would be required to accomplish that goal – but only if certain conditions are met. So, what are those conditions? The most important condition is one of participation. Since the Broadband Committee’s goal is to pay for the fiber optic network solely through subscriber fees – without raising local taxes – the number of people who sign up for the new service will be the primary determining factor on whether the project moves forward.

If the question is approved by voters, the town will proceed with applying for financing for the initiative, which is projected to have a total estimated cost of about $6.5 million, paid for by a bond in the amount of $5.6 million, with the remainder covered through a combination of “grants, donations and other sources.” As the financing piece of the project proceeds, Axiom, the company the town plans to partner with to provide the internet service, will begin taking pre-registrations for the program. Although the length of this pre-registration period has not been completely nailed down, it would likely last anywhere from six months to a year while the town applies for financing. During this period, residents would have an opportunity to reserve a spot and indicate their interest in the new service with a refundable deposit of $100, which would then be applied toward their first few months’ of service once the program goes live. Because the plan for the initiative is for it to be paid for by subscriber fees rather than any new taxes, it is essential that the project demonstrates sufficient interest from residents before any work is done or financing acquired.

With approximately 2,300 structures, or households, that could potentially be connected to the service in China, the Broadband Committee estimates that at least 834 participants – or about 36 percent – would need to enroll in the program for it to pay for itself. Any number above this would create surplus revenue for the town, which could be used to pay off the bond sooner, lower taxes, reduce subscriber fees or for other purposes designated by the selectboard. If this number is not reached during the pre-registration period, the project would not proceed.

One of the problems this initiative is meant to alleviate is the cost of installing internet for residents who may not have sufficient internet access currently because bringing high speed cable to their house is cost prohibitive. The Broadband Committee, based on surveys they have conducted over the last several years, estimates that about 70 percent of residents currently have cable internet. The remaining 30 percent have lower speed DSL service or no service at all.

For this reason, for those who place a deposit during the initial signup period, there would be no installation cost to the resident, no matter where they live, including those who have found such installation too expensive in the past. (The lone exception to this guarantee would be residents who do not have local utility poles providing service to their homes. In those rare instances, the fiber optic cable would need to be buried underground and may incur an additional expense.) After the initial pre-registration period ends, this promise of free installation would no longer be guaranteed, although Axiom and the Broadband Committee have talked about holding rolling enrollment periods in the future which could help reduce the installation costs for new enrollees after the initial pre-registration period is over.

What are the benefits of the proposed fiber optic infrastructure over the cable broadband or DSL service that most residents have currently? Speed and reliability are the most obvious benefits. Unlike the copper cable used currently for cable internet, which transmits data via electrical pulses, fiber optic cable transmits data using pulses of light through fine glass fibers and does not run into the same limitations as its copper counterpart. The speed at which data can be transmitted via fiber optic cable is primarily limited by the hardware at either end of the connection rather than the cable itself. Currently, internet service travels out from the servers of your internet provider as a digital signal via fiber optic cable, but then is converted to an analogue signal as it is passed on to legacy parts of the network that do not have fiber optics installed. This process of conversion slows down the signal by the time it arrives at your house. As service providers expand their fiber optic networks and replace more of the legacy copper wire with fiber optics, the speed we experience as consumers will increase, but it is still limited by the slowest point along the network.

The proposed fiber optic network would eliminate this bottleneck by installing fiber optic cable from each house in China back to an originating server with no conversion necessary in between.

Both copper and fiber optic cable suffer from something called “attenuation,” which is a degradation of the strength of the signal as it travels further from its source. The copper cables we currently use have a maximum length of 100 meters before they must be fed through a power source to amplify their signal. In contrast, fiber optic cables can run for up to 24 miles before any significant weakening of the signal starts to become a problem. Moving from copper cable to fiber optics would virtually eliminate problems from signal degradation.

Another downside to the present infrastructure is that each of those signal conversion or amplification boxes require power to do their job. This means that when the power goes out, it shuts off the internet because these boxes along the route will no longer function to push the signal along. The infrastructure proposed by the China Broadband Committee would solve this problem by installing fiber optics along the entire signal route leading back to a central hub station, which would be located in the town of China and powered by a propane generator that will automatically kick on when the power goes out. With the proposed system, as long as you have a generator at your house, your internet should continue to work – even during a localized power outage.

There’s an additional benefit to the proposed fiber optic network that residents would notice immediately. The current cable internet that most of us use is a shared service. When more people are using the service, everyone’s speed decreases. Most of us know that the internet is slower at 5 o’clock in the afternoon than it is at 3 in the morning. The proposed fiber optic network is different however. Inside the fiber optic cable are hundreds of individual glass strands that lead back to the network source. A separate internet signal can ride on each of these strands without interfering with the others. Hawkeye Connections, the proposed contractor for the physical infrastructure part of the project, would install cable with enough individual strands so that every house along its path could be connected via a different strand within the cable. This means that no one would be sharing a signal with anyone else and internet slowdown and speed fluctuations during peak usage should become a thing of the past.

Another change proposed by the CBC initiative would be to equalize upload and download speeds. Presently, download speeds are generally higher than upload speeds, which is a convention in the industry. This is a legacy of the cable TV networks from which they evolved. Cable TV is primarily a one-way street datawise. The video information is sent from the cable provider to your home and displayed on your TV. Very little data is sent the other way, from your home back to the cable provider. This was true of most data streams in the early days of the internet as well. We downloaded pictures, videos and webpages. Nearly all the data was traveling in one direction. But this is changing. We now have Zoom meetings, smart houses and interactive TVs. We upload more information than we used to, which means upload speed is more important than ever. This trend is likely to continue in the years ahead as more of our lives become connected to the internet. The internet service proposed by the Broadband Committee and Axiom, the company contracted to provide the service, would equalize upload and download speeds. For example, the first tier of the service would offer speeds of 50 megabits up and 50 megabits down. This, combined with the other benefits outlined above, should make Zoom meetings much more bearable.

What about costs for the consumer? The first level service tier would offer speeds of 50 megabits download and 50 megabits upload for $54.99 a month. Higher level tiers would include 100/100 for $64.99/month, 500/500 for $149.99/month, and a gigabit line for businesses at a cost of $199.99/month.

Now that we’ve looked at some of the advantages and benefits of the fiber optic infrastructure proposed by the China Broadband Committee, what about the objections? A number of residents voiced their opposition to the project on my Facebook post, so let’s take a look at some of those objections.

One of the most common reasons people are against the project is because they think there are other technologies that will make the proposed fiber optic network obsolete or redundant in the near future. The technologies most often referenced are 5G wireless and Starlink, a global internet initiative being built by tech billionaire and Tesla/SpaceX CEO Elon Musk.

While new 5G cellular networks are currently being rolled out nationwide, it’s not clear when the technology will be widely available here in China. And even when such capability does become available to most residents, it will likely suffer from similar problems that our existing cell coverage suffers from now – uncertain coverage on the outskirts of town and in certain areas. (I still can’t get decent cell reception at my home just off Lakeview Drive, in China Village.) Further, while 5G is able to provide impressive download speeds and low latency, it requires line of sight with the broadcasting tower and can easily be blocked by anything in between like trees or buildings. Residents of China who currently suffer from poor internet service or cell phone reception today would likely suffer from the same problems with 5G coverage as well. Fiber optic cable installation to those residents would solve that problem, at least in terms of internet access, once and for all.

Starlink is a technology that aims to deliver internet access to the world through thousands of satellites in low-earth orbit, but it is still years away from reaching fruition and there is no guarantee it will deliver on its potential. When I spoke with the Broadband Committee’s Tod Detre, he said he applied to be part of the Starlink beta program more than six months ago, and has only recently been accepted (although he’s still awaiting the hardware required to connect). There is also some resistance to the Starlink project, primarily from astronomers and other star gazers, who worry how launching so many satellites into orbit will affect our view of the night sky. As of June, Starlink has launched approximately 1,700 satellites into orbit and currently services about 10,000 customers. The initiative is estimated to cost at least $10 billion before completion. At the moment, the company claims to offer speeds between 50 and 150 megabits and hopes to increase that speed to 300 megabits by the end of 2021, according to a recent article on CNET.com. To compare, copper-based networks can support data transfer speeds up to 40 gigabits, and fiber optic wires have virtually no limit as they can send signals at the speed of light. Of course, these upper speeds are always limited by the capabilities of the hardware at either ends of the connection.

While both 5G and technologies like Elon Musk’s Starlink hold a lot of potential for consumers, 5G service is likely to suffer from the same problems residents are already experiencing with current technology, and Starlink is still a big unknown and fairly expensive at $99/month plus an initial cost of $500 for the satellite dish needed to receive the signal. It’s also fairly slow even at the future promised speed increase of 300 megabits. As the Broadband Committee’s chairman, Bob O’Connor, pointed out at a recent public hearing on the proposed network, bandwidth needs have been doubling every ten years and likely to continue increasing in a similar fashion for the near future.

Another objection frequently voiced by residents is that the town government should not be in the business of providing internet service to residents. O’Connor also addressed this concern in a recent public hearing before the China selectboard. He said that residents should think about the proposed fiber optic infrastructure in the same way they view roads and streets. (This is a particularly apt comparison since the internet is often referred to as the “information superhighway.”) O’Connor says that although the town owns the roads, it may outsource the maintenance of those roads to a subcontractor, in the same way that the town would own this fiber optic infrastructure, but will be subcontracting the service and maintenance of that network to Axiom.

The Broadband Committee also points out that there are some benefits that come with the town’s ownership of the fiber optic cable and hardware: if residents don’t like the service they are receiving from one provider they can negotiate to receive service from another instead. The committee has said that although Axiom would initially be contracted for 12 years, there would be a service review every three years to see if we are happy with their service. If not, we could negotiate with another provider to service the town instead. This gives the town significant leverage to find the best service available, leverage that we would not have if the infrastructure was owned by a service provider like Spectrum or Consolidated Communications (both of whom have shown little interest in the near term for upgrading the China area with fiber optic cable).

There are certainly risks and outstanding questions associated with the committee’s proposal. Will there be enough subscribers for the project to pay for itself? Could another technology come along that would make the proposed infrastructure obsolete or less attractive in the future? Will proposed contractors like Axiom and Hawkeye Connections (who will be doing the installation of the physical infrastructure) provide quality and reliable service to residents long-term? Can we expect the same level of maintenance coverage to fix storm damage and outages that we experience now?

On the other hand, the potential benefits of the project are compelling. The internet, love it or hate it, has become an essential part of everyday life and looks only to become more essential in the years ahead. Having a reliable and high speed infrastructure for residential internet access is likely to play an important role in helping to grow China’s economy and to attract young families who are looking for a place to live and work.

Ultimately, voters will decide if the potential benefits outweigh the possible risks and pitfalls come this November.

Contact the author at ericwaustin@gmail.com.

More information is also available on the CBC website, chinabroadband.net.

Read all of The Town Line’s coverage of the China Broadband Committee here.

LETTERS: Voting “yes” for better internet service

To Town Line editor and the Town of China Residents:

Joann Clark Austin

Joann Clark Austin

I feel compelled to write to the Selectmen of China, and the townspeople.

The town selectboard asked in 2017….., that’s four years ago….., for help. The Town,….we…., needed some people who understand the workings of the internet to solve our connectivity issues. For many in our town Covid has made poor internet connectivity and poor internet speeds even more apparent. The selectmen asked folks to volunteer, to work for many years, to find the best answer to internet services in China. The committee has done that. That is what we are voting on on the November ballot.

The selectmen told this generous dedicated set of volunteers they not only had to find the right answer, but that they, the volunteer committee, also had to sell the idea to us town folks (who, speaking for myself, could never have found the answers and who has so little understanding that I didn’t care to go to the three explanatory meetings they have held as requested). I did get to one.

Then last week, the selectmen would not allow the committee to use their working funds to send out a flyer supporting their proposal, while at the same time, the select board gets to put a note on the printed ballot to vote “No”, with no reason given. Selectmen should have put a “Leave to Voters” recommendation with explanations of why three of them voted to not recommend going forward. At the end of that meeting my heart just ached for the volunteer committee. Why would anyone ever volunteer again?

I discovered by chance that Consumer Reports says that a municipality doing exactly what the Broadband Committee proposes is the best way forward…. That good utility services like electricity, telephone, and now internet are (and have been since the 1940s) best accomplished in more rural areas by municipalities. And even better, if we vote “YES”, but there are not enough townsfolk signing up for the lower cost, higher speed, more reliable service, then the town can reevaluate and pull out of further implementation.

Based on what I’ve been hearing and my own poor internet service over the years, I am definitely voting yes on the November Ballot question.

from Joann C. Austin (China)