Deputy clerk of the year

Kelly Grotton, town of China deputy clerk, received the prestigious award of Deputy Clerk of the Year from the Maine Town & City Clerks Association, on September 15. (contributed photo)

Vassalboro Riverside Drive solar project gets final approval

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members had three items on their Sept. 1 agenda and approved all of them, including final approval of another solar project in town.

The solar project is Longroad Energy’s development on land leased from Oak Grove Farm, LLC, at 2579 Riverside Drive (Route 201). As explained at previous meetings and at a sparsely-attended July 28 hearing, the project will cover about 27 acres and needs both state and local permits.

Kara Moody, one of Longroad’s two representatives at Vassalboro meetings, said the state Department of Environmental Protection reported today their state application has been found complete. Assuming state approval, her colleague, David Kane, anticipates work starting at the end of mud season next year. Construction should take about four months, he estimated.

The project is surrounded by trees on three sides, with a field on the east. Kane said some taller trees will be cut to avoid shading the panels, but clearing will be limited as much as possible.

The panels will not be fixed facing south, but will rotate to follow the sun from east to west. Kane said the panels will be high enough not to create a glare problem for drivers on Riverside Drive.

Planning board members found no adverse effects on the environment or neighbors and approved the project. Afterward, board Chairman Virginia Brackett, a teacher, mentioned the possibility of field trips to the installation. Kane, a former science teacher, said teachers and students would be welcome.

Board members also accepted the roadside screening plan for the previously-approved solar array on Bernard Welch’s land on Main Street (Route 32), between North and East Vassalboro.

Al Copping from ReVision Energy said a plan was developed in consultation with the state Department of Transportation and Steven Jones from Fieldstone Gardens in Vassalboro. It calls for 15 to 20 shrubs, a mix of forsythia, lilac and viburnum (chosen because they are supposed to be salt-tolerant and not attractive to deer).

The shrubs are to be planted in the spring of 2021. They will be about 10 feet apart and far enough from the roadway to allow for the state’s planned, and repeatedly postponed, reconstruction of Route 32. Copping said Welch has volunteered to help maintain the planting.

The third application Sept. 1 was from Edward Zinck, to add deck space at his Webber Pond camp. There will be no expansion toward the water, he said, and Codes Officer Paul Mitnik said the addition is within the size limit in the local shoreland ordinance.

Planning Board members approved Zinck’s permit, subject to state approval.

Mitnik announced that he plans to retire from the Vassalboro job in April 2021 – the third time he has retired, he said, and this time he intends to stick to it.

The next Vassalboro Planning Board meeting should be Tuesday evening, Oct. 6.

VASSALBORO: Town projects get attention of selectmen

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen spent most of their Sept. 3 meeting talking about spending money for town projects.

The meeting included a public hearing on TIF (Tax Increment Financing) fund requests from Maine Rivers, which runs the Alewife Restoration Project (ARI), and the Vassalboro Sanitary District (VSD). Maine Rivers is creating fish passage between the Sebasticook River and China Lake by removing or modifying dams on Outlet Stream. The VSD is connecting Vassalboro’s sewer system to Winslow’s and thence to the Waterville treatment plant.

Both groups have received TIF funds in the past, most recently part of their 2020 requests in the spring. Selectmen promised additional money as soon as taxes on the natural gas pipeline through Vassalboro replenished the TIF fund.

In the spring, Maine Rivers got $83,000 of its $143,000 request. The money is being used to install a fishway at the Box Mills dam in North Vassalboro.

The VSD received $72,265 of $166,000 requested. The project engineer, Richard Green, Senior Environmental Engineer with Hoyle, Tanner & Associates of Winthrop, said Sept. 3 that district trustees plan to use the money to repay loans that financed the extension to Winslow. Their alternative is to raise the money from user fees.

Town Manager Mary Sabins presented a TIF balance of $120,245. The total promised the two groups was $155,735, leaving a deficit of $33,290 if the TIF balance were drawn down to zero.

Selectmen unanimously approved the Maine Rivers request. Spokesman Landis Hudson said the technically complex Box Mills project is going well. The final fishway at Outlet Dam in East Vassalboro is planned for 2021.

Discussion focused on the Sanitary District request. The district is repaying two loans, one requiring more than $37,000 a year for 30 years and the other more than $72,000 a year for 40 years.

Sabins said Vassalboro’s 30-year TIF is about four years old.

Green said the sewer project is “pretty much done,” and therefore no more grants are available. Sewage is flowing to Winslow, he said, and an odor control issue is being addressed.

There was consensus that Vassalboro’s fewer than 200 households on the sewer already pay high rates compared to users in other similarly-sized Maine towns. However, selectmen refused to spend more money than was in the TIF fund; and they refused to reduce the fund to zero.

When new Selectman Barbara Redmond asked why maintain the proposed $10,000 balance, veteran board member Robert Browne replied, “Just in case. Something might happen” that would qualify as an economic development project eligible for TIF money.

After almost half an hour’s discussion, selectmen approved $50,000 from TIF funds for the Sanitary District.

Board members also heard updates on the Gray Road culvert replacement project and on the Vassalboro Volunteer Fire Department’s plan to buy a new fire engine, as authorized at town meeting in July (postponed from the usual June).

After discussion of timing of the Gray Road project, which will require closing the road, Gregory MacAlister, of Calderwood Engineering, proposed going out to bid in December, with plans to do in-water work in 2021 during the mid-July to mid-September window authorized by state environmental regulators.

Fire department spokesman Mike Vashon (who said he has been speccing fire trucks since 1983) described the new truck to be delivered in July 2021. He hopes to spend slightly less than voters approved, and is enthusiastic about the new engine’s larger pump and increased equipment storage space.

In other business Sept. 3, board Chairman John Melrose announced a Sept. 19 work day on the trails in the town forest north of the ballfields. Interested volunteers should contact him or town office staff.

Selectmen and Fire Chief Walker Thompson scheduled a selectmen’s tour of Vassalboro’s two fire stations for 4 p.m. Wednesday, Oct. 28.

Following up on the board’s Aug. 20 action, Sabins reported she sold the old police car to Ron’s Auto Parts on Main Street for $300, almost double the only bid selectmen received for the vehicle.

Melrose said East Vassalboro area residents would like selectmen to consider installing a fishing dock. Board members expressed interest in discussing the idea.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 17.

Vassalboro Days slated for September 12 – 13

The Double Dam Ducky Derby will be held Saturday, September 12, at the Mill at 1 p.m. Tickets are $3 each or 5@ $10 and will be sold that day at the VBA Tent at the Mill up until ten minutes before the race. Tickets may be purchased from Ray Breton (207-877-2005) or at the Mill on Sundays from10 a.m. – 3 p.m! Proceeds benefit the many activities of the Vassalboro Business Association.

The Scavenger Hunt will be available to work on beginning September 4 and copies will be available at the Maine Savings FCU drive thru window; The Olde Mill Store and on Facebook’s Vassalboro Community Events and Announcements Page. Entries must be brought to the VBA Tent on the lawn at the Mill Saturday, September 12 by 4 p.m. Winners will be called and prizes will be awarded!

The Tastiest Vassalboro Masonic Lodge Fried Chicken Baskets will be available from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., on Saturday, September 12, on the lawn at the Mill. Proceeds benefit their Bikes for Books and other programs that benefit the Vassalboro community! You may order your baskets for $6 each by calling 207-441-0378 from 9 a.m. – 3:30 p.m., that day!

The Mill Craft & Vendor Sale and Yard Sale will occur on Saturday, September 12, from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m., in or outside of the Mill. The Yard Sale will also be open Sunday from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m. Several Raffles are going on!

Vassalboro Library – Chalk Fest around Vassalboro. The Chalk Fest drawings will officially begin September 5 with the start of registration August 29. Weather permitting these drawings will be viewed during V Days! Chalk Fest designs may be located at the North Fire Dept., the Town Office, Maine Savings FCU, the old Town Office across from the Maine Savings FCU, St Bridget Center, the Vassalboro Library, the Historical Society, and perhaps VCS!. Call Brian Stanley at the Library to register, get your supplies, reserve your site, and understand the “Rules” at 923-3233. vplibrary@gmail.com

The Library Book Sale will be held at the library from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., on Saturday, September 12, for $2/bag! Everything must Go! Great Deals and a great selection of books!

The Vassalboro Grange is having a Porch Pie Sale Saturday from 10 a.m. – 2 p.m. (or until they sell out!). They are $10/pie or $2/slice. Preorders taken until the night before at 207-649-2765. The Grange is hosting an FREE Open Mic Coffee House from 7 – 9 p.m., on Saturday. Coffee is free!

The Grange is hosting “Music in the Park” (next to Old East School) from 4 – 6 p.m., on Sunday Sept. 13. (Rain date is September 20) Bring your own blanket, mic, & chair. For more info email weidnerholly@gmail.com.

The Historical Society will have the museum, Blacksmith Shop, and Harness Shop open from 9 a.m. – 3 p.m., both Saturday and Sunday. Their new kids room will be open (Covid 19 permitting) Kids can use a typewriter and carbon paper, dial phones, play vintage games, and play with toys of yesteryear while listening to Victrolas play old tunes. Volunteers will help visitors find vintage photos of people, places, and things. Vassalboro schools’ graduations, Grange events, town records, family histories, Trolley and train info, and much more will be available.

Vassalboro’s Color Me Too Fun Run will begin at the Rec Fields on the Bog Rd on Sunday, September 13, at 9 a.m. Small groups will be released at intervals to make this a safe and fun event. Participants get sprayed with colored chalk as they walk/run the course and giant fans blow it off you after the event. Online Pre-registration is required. $25 each with a $2.50 fee. Each registered runner may run with 1 child under 12. https://runsignup.com/Race/ME/Vassalboro/ColorMeTooFunRun (This event has been cancelled.)

On Sunday, the Rec Committee will hold a yard/vendor sale; have drone races in the back soccer field; and have cotton candy and other food available for sale at the Rec Fields most of the day!

The Rec Committee will sponsor a movie night on Saturday, September 12, at 7:30 p.m., featuring Jumanji!

Lemieux’s Orchard – All weekend will have apples, donuts, and the corn maze!

Participants at all events are encouraged to wear a face covering.

Vassalboro selectmen make progress on several issues, make no decisions

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen made progress on several issues at their Aug. 20 meeting, although the only absolutely final decision they made was to appoint Charlie Plourde as a recreation committee member.

Reviewing bids for reroofing the snack shack at the ballfields (which the recreation committee manages), they awarded the contract to Legacy Home Improvements, of South China for $6,900 – after Town Manager Mary Sabins talks with company representatives about two issues and assuming she reaches satisfactory results.

They reviewed a preliminary transfer station redesign plan from engineer Al Hodsdon, head of A. E. Hodsdon Engineers, of Waterville, and scheduled review of a final plan for their Sept. 17 meeting.

They read the bid from the only person interested in buying the retired police car and asked Sabins to see if junking it would be more profitable than accepting the bid.

They agreed that instead of appointing a committee chairperson (or chairpeople) for the 2021 sestercentennial (250th anniversary) of Vassalboro’s incorporation on April 26, 1761, selectmen will coordinate as local volunteers do their own projects.

John Melrose, the new chairman of the selectboard and promoter of the sestercentennial since last year, has been overseeing improvements to the park in East Vassalboro. He said other ideas so far include a 2021 commemorative calendar and postcards, a scavenger hunt for historic items, interpretive panels at significant places, a time capsule, an anthology of long-time residents’ stories and fireworks.

Melrose recommended scheduling events in two groups, one close to the April incorporation date and a second around the traditional Vassalboro Days celebration in September.

This September’s Vassalboro Days will include a chalkfest for which organizers are looking for paved areas on which to draw, Sabins said. Part of the town office parking lot might become one site.

Selectmen heard two additional progress reports: Sabins said 2020-21 tax bills had been sent out and payments were “already rolling in”: and Public Works Director Eugene Field said paving had started.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Sept. 3, in the town office meeting room.

Vassalboro school board approves 2020 opening plan

Vassalboro Community School. (source: jmg.org)

by Mary Grow

At their Aug. 18 meeting, Vassalboro School Board members approved the reopening plan developed by staff over the summer, in consultation with many students’ families, other state educators and state officials. Board members voted with the understanding the plan is subject to change as local circumstances or state recommendations change.

School is scheduled to begin Wednesday, Sept. 2. Teachers and other staff will be at Vassalboro Community School. Students will alternate by groups between in-school and remote learning, except those whose families have chosen remote learning only. The emphasis is on safety, including social distancing, face coverings, washing and sanitizing, health checks and other measures.

There have also been safety-minded rearrangements inside the school building, like making a waiting room outside the nurse’s office.

The reopening plan and related documents are on the school website, vcsvikings.org.

Principal Megan Allen said, “We’re going to do this and we’re going to do it well. I feel good about people coming through these doors,” with a glance toward the school’s entrance.

“It could all change at any moment,” Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer warned.

In other business Aug. 18, board members approved five new appointments and welcomed the new staff members who were at the meeting. Gregory Hughes is assistant principal; Melora Norman is library/media specialist; Jenna Zemrak is literacy specialist; Teraysa Noyes is grade six and seven science teacher; and Chad Dixon is a special education teacher.

They accepted the resignations of gifted and talented teacher Julie Oliver, third-grade teacher Sally Putnam and special education technicians Amanda Caldarella and Erika Johnston.

Pfeiffer commended staff members from the former school union who work with Vassalboro, Waterville and Winslow superintendents for their help getting the plan in place. He read a letter from a former student, now in the border patrol in Texas, thanking Vassalboro Community School for giving him the opportunity to start learning Spanish.

During the public comment period, board member Jessica Clark read an email from a parent wondering whether a Covid-19 vaccination, when developed, would be mandatory. School nurse MaryAnn Fortin said making a new vaccination mandatory would probably be a legislative decision, as current vaccination requirements are.

The next regular Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Sept. 15, in the school cafeteria.

Vassalboro Public Library announces upcoming programs

The Vassalboro Public Library, with support from the Maine Humanities Council, is sponsoring a Chalk Fest. Registration is now open at the library, 930 Bog Road, East Vassalboro, to receive a free pack of chalk. Create designs on your own property effective immediately. Surrounding town members are encouraged to register and participate in this event. Social distancing and mask wearing is always encouraged when you are outside creating your art.

Chalk sites will be open September 5 to 13 at various locations around Vassalboro. These include Vassalboro Library, Historical Society, Town Office, Fire Station (Rte. 32), the old Town Office (next to Ferris’s), Maine Savings FCU, and St. Bridget Center. Spaces at these sites are limited so register by visiting the library, calling 923-3233, or email vplibrary@gmail.org. Please send pictures of your designs to our email. We would love to see your work!

On Saturday, September 12, from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m., Vassalboro Public Library will be hosting a book sale at $2 a bag! Everything must go! A great selection of books for sale: fiction, non-fiction, craft and hobby, children’s books, puzzles and much more! Weather permitting, books will be available for viewing and purchase outdoors. Due to spacing guidelines from the state we will be enforcing spacing restrictions for those who view books inside the library. Be prepared for a wait time if things get busy inside the library because we will take time to sanitize. Remember to social distance. Mask wearing is required.

Vassalboro Library now hosts an ongoing year round book sale during the library’s regular operating hours: Monday and Friday noon – 6 p.m., and Wednesday and Saturday 10 a.m. – 4 p.m.

School year 2020: Difficult choices for parents

by Jeanne Marquis

This month, parents are making a difficult decision: how to educate their children in the era of Covid-19. Do they opt to send their kids to public schools? If so, do they choose in-person or remote learning, or possibly a hybrid of the two? Do they choose a smaller private school if they have funds. Or, do they homeschool their children themselves, choosing from a variety of online programs available? The answers are personal and the reasons why the families select which method of education they choose is as varied as each individual family.

The Maine Department of Education (DOE) published a Framework for Returning to Classroom Instruction which includes the six requirements for protecting health and safety:

  1. Daily symptom self-check for students and staff before coming to school.
  2. Physical distancing.
  3. Masks.
  4. Proper hand hygiene.
  5. Personal protective equipment.
  6. An isolation plan if staff or student becomes ill.

Public schools in the area have been planning since July to follow the guidelines and have surveyed area families on their intentions and preferences between in-person or remote learning. Every step of the day has to be thought through carefully by the administrators and staff to keep in compliance with the DOE framework.

The buses, according to the RSU #18 website, will have assigned seating, fewer passengers and frequent cleanings. Parents will be asked to drive students if possible to free up the bus seats for social distancing.

Facilities at the schools will be adapted to help students and staff practice illness prevention. Drinking fountains will be replaced at some schools with bottle refill stations and students will be allowed to bring individual water bottles. Where possible, waste baskets will be replaced with touchless versions to keep clean hands sanitary after washing.

Even lunch time at school will be adapted by the nutrition workers adding appropriate protocol. Additional time will be allowed for hand washing prior to meals. Single-serve packets will be provided instead of sharing condiments. More room will be added for seating and serving lines will be socially distanced.

For specific changes at your students’ schools, check the school websites frequently:

https://www.msad49.org/
Albion, Benton, Fairfield, Clinton Lawrence High School and Junior High.

https://rsu18.org/
Atwood Primary, China Primary and Middle Schools, Belgrade Central, James H. Bean Messalonskee Middle and High School, Williams Elementary.

https://www.svrsu.org/o/whes
Chelsea Elementary,Sheepscot Valley, Palermo Consolidated School, Somerville Elementary, Whitefield Elementary, Windsor Elementary.

https://www.vcsvikings.org/
Vassalboro Community School.

For those families who have chosen to homeschool, Homeschoolers of Maine at homeschoolersofmaine.org is an excellent resource to get you started. According to their website, a letter of your intention to homeschool is due to your superintendent of schools by September 1, 2020. This organization provides information on record keeping and assessment of your students progress.

Vassalboro deputy clerk resigns after 6 years

Vassalboro Deputy Clerk Deborah Johnston-Nixon is resigning her post after serving the town for six years. She will be moving to Florida to be nearer family members. (photo courtesy of Mary Sabins)

Moving to Lady Lake, Florida

by Mary Grow

August 21 will be deputy clerk Deborah Johnston-Nixon’s last day at the Vassalboro town office.

She is resigning after almost six years (she started Sept. 2, 2014, Town Manager Mary Sabins wrote) because her husband, Bob Nixon, Jr., has retired from Huhtamaki after 45 years and the couple is moving to Florida.

Inland Florida, Debbie specified, a town called Lady Lake, east of Interstate 75 and near The Villages. They chose the area because other family members are nearby. Considering the climate, Debbie commented, “We’ll go from air-conditioned to air-conditioned, like we go from heated to heated [in Maine].”

Three things stand out for Debbie from her time at Vassalboro.

First, her co-workers have been “wonderful” and easy to work with and the community has been very receptive.

Second, with support from the town, she completed the necessary courses to become a certified Maine town clerk.

Third, she has had time and encouragement to volunteer in Vassalboro, especially with FAVOR (Friends Advocating for Vassalboro’s Older Residents). Sabins started FAVOR and passed on the chairmanship, Debbie said. Rachel Kilbride, co-owner with her husband James of St. Bridget’s Center, in North Vassalboro, thought up the name.

After a survey of senior residents, FAVOR provided public bus service two days a week, but there were not enough riders to maintain it. More successful were the two WindowDressers sessions, working with the Rockland-based volunteer organization to weatherproof windows in seniors’ homes, and three annual senior services fairs (the fourth would have been this summer), bringing together residents and area service providers.

Debbie graduated from Lawrence High School, in Fairfield, and went to work at Waterville City Hall as a counter clerk. By the time she applied for the Vassalboro job in 2014, she had worked in municipal and health-care-related offices and gained experience with the TRIO software system that Vassalboro and many other Maine municipalities use.

She is already looking long-distance for a comparable Florida job. She also hopes to remain active in groups like the Elks and the HOGs (Harley Owners Group) with which she’s affiliated in Maine.

Sabins remembered Debbie’s role as “Elf Debbie” in the Vassalboro Christmas tree lighting. At work, she often went beyond routine to help customers, for example, by making telephone calls if the customer needed more information to complete a transaction, Sabins wrote.

Summarizing, Sabins commended Debbie for “her great dependable customer service with a smile that we are all going to miss.”

“I will continue to smile,” Debbie said.

VASSALBORO: Only one resident attends Longroad Energy hearing

by Mary Grow

Representatives of Longroad Energy Management held open their July 28 public hearing on their proposed solar development at 2579 Riverside Drive for half an hour, but they still attracted only one resident. He expressed no concerns.

The hearing is one of the requirements for Maine Department of Environmental Protection approval. State approval is needed, in addition to a permit from the Vassalboro Planning Board, because the project will cover more than 20 acres – about 27 acres, Kara Moody and David Kane said.

The two appeared before the planning board on May 5 with preliminary information and again on July 7 (see The Town Line, July 16). Because the July 7 application lacked detail on ground to be disturbed, board members voted it incomplete.

Since then, the developers have prepared a plan for state regulators that should also meet town requirements. Most of the lot will be graded, Kane said, to level out humps and hollows. No soil will be permanently removed and no fill will be added.

The entrance road has been relocated from the side of the lot to the middle to minimize potential drainage onto adjacent properties.

At the July meeting, abutter Peter Ditmanson said a stream runs through the property Longroad is leasing. It was not on the initial maps Longroad presented, and Moody said a re-inspection of the property did not find it.

The Vassalboro project is one of Longroad’s smaller ones; it is, however, the first solar development in Vassalboro to exceed 20 acres. Kane said meeting state as well as local standards adds to the cost, but also ensures additional scrutiny to avoid adverse impacts off-site.

Assuming state and local approval, construction could start with clearing a few trees along one side in January 2021, go on to preliminary grading after mud season ends and continue into the summer.

Vassalboro Codes Officer Paul Mitnik said the Longroad application would not be ready for the Aug. 4 planning board meeting, which was canceled. The next regular meeting should be Tuesday, Sept. 1.