Dry conditions continue to plague central Maine lakes

by Roland D. Hallee

Dry conditions throughout the state have brought on low water levels in central Maine lakes.

Webber Pond, in Vassalboro, has experienced water levels twice as low as is normal for this time of year. The water remains four inches below the spillway at the dam off the Webber Pond Road, when normally, it is kept at two inches during summer months.

Similar conditions exist on China Lake, according to lake association president Scott Pierz. He deferred to Matt Zetterman, of the Kennebec Water District, which monitors water quality on China Lake and maintains the water levels based on the Maine Department of Environmental Protection’s lake level order. It is all part of KWD’s mission of improving water quality for China Lake.

Zetterman said that China Lake is experiencing a similar situation as Webber Pond.

“We started the year with a low amount of snowfall which led to a low volume of spring runoff,” he said. Continuing, Zetterman emphasized, “we had planned for it so we actually started the summer with a surplus of water in the lake.

“Fast forward to today, and we’re now an inch or so below our summer target, and without rain, the lake will continue to drop.”

Zetterman went on to point out the lake experienced a similar situation last summer and ended up six inches below the target by Labor Day.

Zetterman concluded with, “As much as rain ruins plans for the summer time, we desperately could use the rain to help build up the lake level.”

Selectmen approve funding for new fire truck

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen approved the financing for the new fire truck voters authorized at the June town meeting, after Town Attorney Alton Stevens reviewed the financing contract and proposed changes.

Authorizing Town Manager Mary Sabins to sign the necessary paperwork and approving the initial $63,000 payment were the major business items at a mostly-routine July 13 selectmen’s meeting.  Sabins said volunteer firefighters can now prepare specifications for the new truck.

Selectmen approved the rest of the bills ready for payment, some from the fiscal year that ended June 30 and others for the new fiscal year.

Sabins expects tax bills for the 2016-17 fiscal year will go out in mid-August.  By town meeting vote, the first quarterly payment is due Sept. 26.

The next regular selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, Aug. 11.  One item likely to be on the agenda is proposed sidewalks in East Vassalboro, a project that has been under consideration for years.

Avery Cottage selected for LakeSmart award

The Avery Cottage on China Lake has won a LakeSmart Award for the owners’ efforts to protect the lake. The Avery Cottage owners maintain a deep stand of mixed vegetation along their shore. This vegetative buffer helps to prevent phosphorus from entering the lake and turning it green. Their buffer includes ground cover, duff (leaves and pine needles), shrubs, young trees and mature trees that form a protective canopy.

Ray and Joanne Kelsey

Ray and Joanne Kelsey, owners of Avery Cottage, on China Lake. Contributed photo

They have kept the buffer as natural as possible and still maintain their view of the lake. Run off from their camp roof is directed to crush stone or vegetation. There is no exposed dirt that could end up carrying phosphorous into the lake. They pump their septic system regularly and their yard is free from signs of erosion.

The founding father, Sherman Avery, had their camp built from local timber in 1929. Ray Kelsey, one of the family members said that his great-grandfather, Solomon Coffin, had the logs to build the camp hauled across the ice on the lake to and from the Massey Mill, in Vassalboro, to build the cottage. During the depression, the family ran the camp as a boarding house of sorts and had a huge garden to help with finances. Boarders came by train to Vassalboro then by boat to arrive at the cottage. What a rich history of five generations the Avery cottage has enjoyed!

Board decides no permit needed for home business

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members decided Tammy McGrath does not need a planning board permit for her proposed new business at her North Belfast Avenue home.  McGrath says her confectionary products will be sold on-line and perhaps at farmers’ markets and local stores, so there will be no unusual traffic at the house.  She plans no new building or other external changes. Board members therefore decided no permit is needed from them.  McGrath said her kitchen requires state approval, which she is in the process of obtaining.

In other business at the July 5 board meeting, Codes Officer Richard Dolby asked board members to consider proposing amendments to the Building Permit Ordinance.  The current ordinance says no permit is needed for various accessory structures, and without a permit, Dolby said, there is no requirement for a setback from neighbors’ property lines.

Other town ordinances have setback requirements for various types of development.  Dolby would like setbacks added to the building permit ordinance to apply to temporary garages and storage sheds and small accessory structures and decks.

Board Chairman Virginia Brackett and Dolby eventually agreed that permits should be required in the shoreland zone.  Brackett was hesitant to support any change, for three reasons.

First, Brackett said, the planning board did not write the ordinance; it was produced by a previous codes officer, presented to selectmen and approved by voters.   Dolby nonetheless believes the planning board should recommend any changes.

Second, Brackett and audience member Ray Breton feared requiring setbacks would make it impossible for people on small lots, for example in parts of North Vassalboro, to add a temporary shed or garage.  Dolby said should a property be offered for sale, banks would probably deny a mortgage if setbacks were not required.  Brackett replied it is not the planning board’s responsibility to keep people out of trouble with banks.

And finally, Brackett said, she suspects the ordinance is non-restrictive as an expression of Vassalboro residents’ traditional attitude toward regulation.

She summarized the attitude as “You live next to people, and sometimes they really tick you off with what they do with their property,” but freedom from regulation is – or at least used to be – a higher value.

Planning board members intend to meet again Tuesday evening, July 19, to continue work on proposed revisions to the shoreland ordinance.

Vassalboro JMG students acquire grant to construct gazebo near swimming area

Vassalboro JMG students

From left to right, JMG student Cassie Horan, town manager Mary Sabins, JMG student Paeshance-Rae Horan, builder/philanthropist Ray Breton, Oak Grove board member and VCS teacher Sue Briggs, JMG student Halley Haskell, VBA member and AgMatters CEO, Locklin Titus,VCS principal Dianna Gramm and JMG master specialist Victor Esposito.
Photo courtesy Victor Esposito

Students enrolled in Jobs for Maine Graduates (JMG), at Vassalboro Community School and the remainder of the student body, along with the help of advisor Victor Esposito, recently secured a grant from the Oak Grove Foundation to be used to build a gazebo near the public swimming area in North Vassalboro.

The intention was to help build community in Vassalboro and have a downtown center focus. Ray Breton, a local builder and philanthropist, who has been making a number of improvements to the downtown area, for both young people and adults, will be building the gazebo on his property that is located next to the downtown swimming area.

They were awarded a $4,000 grant from the Oak Grove Foundation, another $1,000 has been given by the Vassalboro Volunteer Fire Department, and $100 from AgMatters, in Vassalboro. There have also been smaller donations from individuals in town. McCormick Building Supply, in Winslow, is donating $2,000 in materials, and Mitchell Roofing, of Oakland, donated $500. The total cost to construct the gazebo is $9,000. If anyone is interested in helping meet the goal they should contact Ray Breton at 207-877-2005.

School budget winding down for FY ‘15-’16

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro school officials, like town officials, are winding up the 2015-16 fiscal year and preparing for 2016-17, a process AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) #92 Facilities Director Shelley Phillips described to the school board as “like two worlds colliding.”

Phillips’ tasks for Vassalboro Community School, she reported at the June 21 school board meeting, include getting the new equipment shed built, the diesel fuel tank repaired (a job that requires state permits) and roof repairs planned.

Finance Director Paula Pooler said the year is ending about as anticipated.  With more bills, but no big ones, expected before the fiscal year ends June 30, she said the books ought to balance without dipping into the $78,000 allocated from the undesignated fund balance.  However, she does not expect a surplus at the end of the year to add to the balance.

The undesignated balance now stands at more than $198,000, Pooler said, with $132,000 allocated for the 2016-17 budget if necessary.  She commented that the figure is small, considering the total budget voters approved at the Vassalboro town meeting is almost $7.4 million.

Assistant Superintendent Peter Thiboutot reported on the new teacher evaluation plan that had just won preliminary state approval, conditional on school board endorsement.  The system has been three years in development, he said; it is based on the Marzano model, which he called “a leading teacher effectiveness training model.”

The school board unanimously approved.  New board member Elizabeth Mitchell commended the plan as based on stakeholder involvement, rather than dictated from the top down.

On Superintendent Eric Haley’s and Principal Dianna Gram’s recommendations, board members approved hiring three new teachers: Crystal Uleau for second grade, Traci Norwood for fifth grade and Jill Ouellette (who did her student teaching in Vassalboro, Gram said) for seventh and eighth grade social studies.

They accepted with regret the resignation of Educational Technician II Judith Whitley.      They unanimously authorized Haley to issue contracts to new staff in July and August, since the board is not scheduled to meet again until Aug. 16.   Without the authorization, Haley said, he might lose a good teacher to another school system while waiting for the board meeting.

Masse lumber mill to be dismantled as part of plan to restore migratory fish

by Landis Hudson

Using trucks to move thousands of fish into a lake isn’t exactly the way nature intended it, but sometimes that’s what it takes.  In the spring of 2014 Maine’s Department of Marine Resources stocked 21,000 adult alewives into China Lake as an important first step in the Alewife Restoration Initiative. Another important step in the works  is to dismantle the Masse saw mill in East Vassalboro. The mill’s owner,  East Vassalboro Water Co., LLC, supports the project. Donald Robbins (co-owner)  has given presentations to members of the community at the Vassalboro Grange and the Vassalboro Historical Society. Plans to remove the dilapidated saw mill and leaking Masse Dam will benefit the water company customers.  The project calls for water pipes to be relocated, they are currently at risk of damage and contamination if the dam breaches or if the mill collapses into the stream.  Masse lumber mill

While this part of the project will benefit customers of the East Vassalboro Water Company, the overall goal is to reconnect Outlet Stream’s historic alewife habitat. Alewives are native to Outlet Stream and China Lake but haven’t been seen there for generations, not since mills and dams were built hundreds of years ago.

A migratory species, adult alewives (also known as river herring or by their Latin name, Alosa pseudoharengus) migrate every spring from the ocean to lakes and ponds to reproduce before migrating back to the ocean.  They are a ten-inch long silvery fish, known as the “fish that feed all” because of the great number of creatures eat them – from whales, eagles and osprey to turtles, brook trout, otter and mink.

In assessing the options at the Masse site, project partners determined that a dam removal was the best option but two other dams on the Outlet Stream will remain. The China Lake Outlet Dam will remain because it regulates the water level of China Lake. The Ladd Dam will also remain and a technical fishway will be installed to keep the swimming hole, protect sanitary sewer pipes and so that alewife harvesting can take place there. The site of the Masse Dam would be very challenging and expensive for installation of a technical or rockramp fishway because of the naturally occurring curve of the stream, the nearby road and the gradient of the slope fish would need to swim up in order to make their way up in the stream.

Removing the Masse Dam will not dry up the Outlet Stream. The level of the water in China Lake is regulated by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) and controlled by the Outlet Dam that is owned by the Town of Vassalboro. The minimum flow rate for Outlet Stream, also set by DEP, is 10 cubic feet per second (10 cfs).

page1pict2Dismantling the Masse saw mill is a considerable undertaking. The history of the site is being fully documented according to precise specifications of the Maine Historic Preservation Office.  Efforts are being made to find homes for as much of the historic equipment as possible. Volunteers and staff from the Maine Forest and Logging Museum, in Bradley, will be visiting the site soon. As Sherry Davis, director of the Museum writes, “It will be nice if there is potential for us to help save some part of the Masse heritage.”

While the saw mill and dam will be dismantled, the historic “grist mill” building will remain on the site, with the Outlet Stream flowing by. “We’ve got a lot of work to do this summer and in the coming seasons to complete the project, but I look forward standing on the stream banks with my kids, watching alewives swim by the Masse grist mill,” says Jennifer Irving, executive director of Sebasticook Regional Land Trust, a project partner. As Richard Behr, Vassalboro resident and Registered Maine Guide says, “These are complicated projects to take on but the successes are so important.”

The Alewife Restoration Initiative is a collaborative undertaking with state, federal and nonprofit organizations working together, with the towns of Vassalboro and China offering their support.

Vassalboro seeks its oldest citizen

by Stewart Corson

The Vassalboro Historical Society is currently seeking the oldest resident of Vassalboro. This resident will be presented with a certificate and a token showing that he or she is the sym-bolic owner of Vassalboro’s Boston Post cane, which is now on display at the society’s muse-um in East Vassalboro.

The tradition of the cane began in 1909, when the Boston Post newspaper distributed 431 of the canes to towns throughout New England with instructions that each should be presented to the oldest living citizen of the town.Vassalboro seeks its oldest citizen

The cane is a fine piece of work, made from Gabon ebony which was shipped from the Congo in seven-foot lengths. These were then cut into cane lengths, seasoned and dried, then hand polished with French var-nish and oil. The cane’s head is finished with 14-carat gold and is elaborately sculpted. The entire process of making each cane took about a full year.

Vassalboro’s cane is perhaps more traveled than most, having been missing in action for some time before it turned up in Monterey, California, where it was purchased by an antique dealer at a yard sale in 1988. Initially intending to melt the head down for the value of the gold, the dealer become curious after reading the inscription on the cane. He contacted the town office and offered to sell the cane back to the town for the sum of$500, the price that he had paid, even though he had gotten a valu-ation of $1,200 from an appraiser.

The offer was taken up by Betty Taylor, who purchased the cane and had it shipped back to Vassalboro. She then left it to the Historical Society as part of a bequest on her death in 2010.

Nobody seems to know how the cane got to California or who was the last Vassalboro resident to be presented with the cane. If anyone can help them find Vassalboro’s oldest resident or has any information on who was the last holder of the cane (or how it got to the west coast), please contact the Historical Society by calling 207-923-3505 or by email at VHSpresident@hotmail.com. If the oldest resident can be located, the society hopes to present the cane to him or her as part of the Vassalboro Days celebration in September. Let the search begin!

Firefighters convince selectmen to buy new truck from co-op

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro firefighters believe they can get the new fire truck voters authorized at the June 6 town meeting for the best price by going through a cooperative, instead of through the conventional bidding process. At the June 16 selectmen’s meeting, they presented information that convinced selectmen to endorse their plan.

According to department spokesman Michael Vashon and guest Frank Roma, the Houston- Galveston Area Council (HGAC), a regional organization with a purchasing arm that accepts members  from  all  over the country, negotiates with fire truck manufacturers and gets prices for bulk orders, saving money for purchasers.

Vashon said the Vassalboro firefighters plan to buy from E- ONE, a company that has done well by them in the past. A spe- cialist from HGAC will help them work with the company to get a truck that meets department specifications, he said. Even with HGAC’s $2,000 administra- tive fee, Vashon thinks the price will be lower than the town could get for the same truck bidding on its own.

To qualify for HGAC services Vassalboro needs to sign an interlocal   agreement. Selectmen unanimously  authorized  Town Manager  Mary  Sabins  to  sign such  an  agreement, and  unanimously voted to waive the normal bidding process in this case.

Roma, a former fire chief in Texas and in Auburn, Maine, said HGAC  facilitates  purchases  of other equipment as well as fire trucks.   The council has agreements with municipalities in every state but Hawaii, including several others in Maine. Vassalboro’s buying a fire truck through HGAC does not obligate the town to continue to use the buying cooperative, he said.

In other business June 16, selectmen began the process of appointing – mostly reappointing – members of town boards and committees, in anticipation of the new fiscal year that begins July 1. Sabins said she has an unusually long list of seriously overdue taxes. She urged property-own- ers to pay within the next month, to avoid the additional charges generated when 30-day notices are sent out July 20.

The manager said Codes Officer Richard Dolby is certified to rep- resent the town in court to deal with violations of town ordinances, with selectmen’s approval, thus eliminating the need to call on the town attorney. Selectmen unanimously approved. Sabins expects Dolby will notify them in advance when a situation arises requiring court action.

The June 30 Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting will be at 2:30 p.m., instead of the usual 7 p.m., to approve bills for payment before the fiscal year ends later that day.