VASSALBORO: Talks continue on VCS-located daycare

Vassalboro Community School (contributed photo)

by Mary Grow

Jennifer Lizotte attended the Oct. 18 Vassalboro School Board meeting to continue discussion of the daycare program she heads at Vassalboro Community School (VCS) (see the Sept. 29 issue of The Town Line, p. 3, for the initial discussion).

Board members had compiled a page-and-a-half list of questions and comments about the program. Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer distributed suggestions for a lease agreement from the school attorneys.

Lizotte said at the previous meeting that the program runs from 6:30 a.m. to about 5:30 p.m. weekdays and has 44 youngsters enrolled. There are 26 names on the waiting list, she said; she has enough staff to enroll eight more, but there is not space for them in the area VCS can spare.

Lizotte thinks a daycare at the school is valuable; parents who go to work early or get home late, and parents who cannot pick up children in the middle of the day on an early release day, know their children have a safe place to stay.

Pfeiffer and board members agree an in-school daycare is a benefit. “Without the daycare a lot of families would be really facing hard times,” one person wrote.

There is concern about costs, though, and suggestions that the school charge rent in return for services provided – from electricity and heat to light bulbs and toilet paper – or that school officials explore possible town financial support.

Another comment asked about year-round security. Pfeiffer and Lizotte answered the question: the school has a crisis team and a regularly-updated crisis plan; daycares are required to have safety and security emergency plans; and when the two share a building, they cooperate.

The daycare discussion is scheduled to continue at the board’s Nov. 15 meeting.

In other business, Principal Ira Michaud reported favorable reactions to the September VCS newsletter. The colorful document was sent to students’ families; paper copies were left at the town office; and it is available on the website, vcsvikings.org, under the “Latest News” heading.

Assistant Principal Tabitha Brewer said she is working with town recreation committee members to bring community activities back to the VCS gym, after a covid-caused break.

“It’s nice to see some of the normalcy come back,” Pfeiffer commented.

Finance director Paula Pooler reported she sees no 2022-23 budget problems so far, and the food service program remains in the black. The audit of the 2021-22 fiscal year is under way, she said; and she has already set up 2023-24 budget accounts for the Vassalboro, Waterville and Winslow school departments.

Curriculum coordinator Carol Kiesman was looking forward to a visit to the pre-kindergarten classes by officials from the state Department of Education. Pfeiffer was expecting federal and state emergency management personnel to discuss ongoing plans to make VCS an emergency shelter for the town.

School board members have almost finished reviewing the school’s strategic plan. The final version, when approved, will be put on the website, Pfeiffer said.

Pfeiffer issued another reminder to parents who have not yet filled out the application for free school meals: please do so. Breakfast and lunch are free by state law; but the forms are essential documentation, for example for applying for state and federal grants.

China workshop aims to bring area towns together

Volunteers prepare window inserts at a previous WindowDressers workshop, in Vassalboro. (photo courtesy of Vassalboro Historical Society)

by Eric W. Austin

CHINA, ME — Planned for the second week in November starting just after Election Day, the China Window Dressers workshop is moving full steam ahead. The intent of the workshop is to build low-cost window inserts to reduce heating expenses for homeowners in central Maine. The organizers have spent the past year taking orders and visiting local homeowners to measure the windows requiring inserts, and now they are looking for volunteers to help at the upcoming workshop.

Sponsored by the China for a Lifetime Committee, a local group dedicated to philanthropic activities meant to improve the quality of life for China residents, and assisted by other local organizations, the initiative is modeled after the classic “barn-raising” community efforts of the past, with residents working together for the benefit of everyone.

Committee chairman Christopher Hahn describes it this way: “The workshop is a great chance for the community to come together and help one another during these tough financial times. Such events don’t happen as often as they should anymore in this age of Facebook and online Zoom meetings, so we jumped at the opportunity to organize this workshop. It fits right in with our mission of ‘neighbors helping neighbors.’ I hope to see many familiar faces and hopefully some new ones.”

The committee has received more than 130 orders for window inserts from over two dozen local clients across central Maine. Although the workshop will take place at the China Conference Center, orders have been open from any of the area towns and volunteers for the upcoming build workshop do not need to have ordered inserts or live in China. The workshop will run from Wednesday, November 9, through Sunday, November 13. Work shifts are divided into a morning shift from 8:30 a.m. – 12:30 p.m., and an afternoon shift from 1 – 5 p.m. Food will be provided by community volunteers between shifts. The first two days are devoted to putting together the wooden frames for the window inserts, while the next two days will be for wrapping those frames in plastic and foam. Sunday will serve as an overflow day if everything cannot be completed by Saturday evening.

No experience is necessary to help out, and there are still plenty of spots that need to be filled. Hahn says they are aiming for eight people per shift. The work is not complicated, and designed to flow through an assembly line process, making it easy for anyone to participate. Participants from earlier workshops will be on hand to answer any questions and provide guidance for volunteers.

For those interested in signing up to participate in the workshop, there are several ways to get involved. The easiest way is to visit the Window Dressers website at windowdressers.org. Click on “Community Builds” link on the menu at the top-right of the page, then scroll down to the China build and click where it says “Sign up to volunteer”. (Click here to go there directly.) That will take you to a page where you can choose which time-slot best fits into your schedule.

If you’re not tech-savvy, or don’t have internet access, you can also send an email to ChinaforaLifetime@gmail.com or call the China town office at 445-2014 and let them know what days you are available to help.

More information about the China for a Lifetime committee can be found on their website at chinaforalifetime.com.

VASSALBORO: 18 residents attend town manager search forum

by Mary Grow

NOTE: Participants in this meeting were promised by the leader that their comments would be shared anonymously. This writer will therefore not identify speakers.

Eighteen Vassalboro residents attended the Oct. 12 forum that was called to collect answers to two questions: what are the “major issues and challenges” facing the town in the next five years; and what “qualities, education, background and experience” should the town manager who succeeds Mary Sabins have.

Cornell Knight, of Eaton Peabody Consulting Group, led the discussion. He explained that he has 40 years’ experience as a manager in half a dozen Maine municipalities, most recently Bar Harbor.

Sabins announced earlier this fall that she is retiring, effective Jan. 2, 2023. Select board members chose Eaton Peabody to help them find her successor.

Knight said ads have been placed in appropriate places locally, state-wide and on New Hampshire, Vermont and Massachusetts sites and the International City Managers Association website.

Vassalboro staff was asked for their answers to the two questions earlier on Oct. 12. Answers, from discussions and from emails received by Oct. 14, will be published on the town website, www.vassalboro.net. The information will guide Knight and select board members as they evaluate candidates.

Suggested issues and challenges included:

  • A need for more long-range planning, which could include an updated strategic plan (Vassalboro’s is dated 2006); a new comprehensive plan instead of the strategic plan, if voters are ready to accept one; and/or a capital improvements plan. A related suggestion was a review of Vassalboro’s charter, an action that could lead to a change like replacing the select board with a town council.
  • More, and more advanced, technology, a topic that included expanded and improved broadband access for residents and the capacity to hold virtual public meetings and to stream live meetings.
  • Attention to environmental issues, including water quality in the town’s lakes and recycling and waste management.
  • A need for more law enforcement and for improved rescue and ambulance services.

Moving to the second question, the qualities a town manager should have, there was much emphasis on connections and coordination. The manager should make sure town boards and committees are working well, collaborating when needed and communicating with each other and with town departments. Now that Vassalboro’s school department is independent of regional school organizations, school and town cooperation should become closer.

People also called for a manager with problem-solving skills – creative ones, one speaker specified – and the ability to communicate with staff and townspeople. Communication had to be two-way; the manager should be curious, should “listen first and talk second,” and should not try to dictate.

The manager should be good at finding and applying for grants for state and federal funds, and at long-term capital planning.

He or she should take advantage of continuing education opportunities and should communicate and cooperate with colleagues in other towns.

Knight said the deadline for applications is Nov. 1. He and his colleague, Don Gerrish, will do an initial screening. He expects select board members to do a first round of interviews in November and a second round by early December, and to be ready to sign a contract by Dec. 9.

In reply to a suggestion that town office staff be involved in the decision, Knight said staff members usually have an opportunity to meet candidates chosen for second interviews.

Asked if he thought Vassalboro’s salary and benefits package was competitive, he said yes.

If no satisfactory candidate is found, he said, Vassalboro will operate with an interim manager while a new search and selection process goes ahead.

VASSALBORO: Delta Ambulance plans financial requests from served towns

by Mary Grow

The topics that took the most time at a long and varied Oct. 13 Vassalboro select board meeting were a presentation by Delta Ambulance representatives on plans to request financial aid from towns served, and a discussion with Cross Hill Road residents about getting a new business to comply with conditions on its town permit.

Timothy Beals, Delta Ambulance’s executive director, gave select board members a multi-page handout and supplemented it with a verbal description of the service. He was accompanied by director of community relations, Bill McKenna, and director of operations, Chris Mitchell.

Beals said Delta was organized in 1972 and became a nonprofit corporation in 1975. Its 13-member board includes representatives from area hospitals and from some of the 14 municipalities it serves.

Delta has a main station in Waterville and an ambulance base in Augusta. There are currently about 100 full-time and part-time employees. In addition to responding to emergency calls, its 17 ambulances are used for transfers from one medical facility to another, and its staff provides training sessions.

Recently, Waterville and Winslow have started their own ambulances, withdrawing from Delta. Delta is downsizing accordingly.

For 50 years, Delta has been funded primarily by insurance reimbursements, which have never covered full costs. Payment is made only if a patient is transported; if the ambulance crew resolves the medical crisis and the patient refuses transport, there is no reimbursement.

And, Beals added, if an ambulance service transports everyone who calls, the government is likely to investigate.

Currently, Delta’s annual revenue is around $7 million and annual expenses are around $9 million, with a reserve fund covering the difference.

Therefore, Beals said, Delta officials are asking member towns to appropriate $15 per resident – just under $66,300 for Vassalboro – in the next fiscal year. He believes Delta is the last Maine ambulance service to start charging a service fee; and he said most other per-capita fees are higher.

Emergency response is guaranteed, Beals said. When several ambulances are in use, non-emergency transfers are postponed, and if necessary mutual aid agreements with other services can be invoked.

Vassalboro residents get not only emergency service, around 350 calls a year, but also reimbursement or replacement for most supplies Vassalboro First Responders use and a stand-by ambulance, at no charge, at fire scenes and on request at community events.

In response to questions from select board member Chris French, Beals said Delta board members had not discussed multi-year contracts, nor giving more than the current five board seats to municipal representatives. Both topics are open for discussion, he said.

Select board members will consider the situation.

Rick and Terry Dawson and Peter and Mary Beth Soule brought their problem with a newly-opened brewery at 772 Cross Hill Road to select board members because they did not know how to proceed.

Supported by copies of Vassalboro Planning Board minutes and related documents, they explained that in December 2019, the planning board approved a permit to James and Linda D’Angelo to open the brewery. Notice of approval came from Paul Mitnik, the codes officer in 2019 and, after unsuccessful attempts to retire, the current codes officer.

The approval was conditional on “providing buffering of conifer trees in the east and south property boundaries with extra buffering near parking areas.”

The Dec. 10, 2019, planning board minutes show that David D’Angelo was spokesman for the applicants. One of the public comments was that the brewery’s parking area faces the Dawson property, where the house is 560 feet away, and “Headlights from vehicles [are] a concern.”

On May 18 of this year, then codes officer, Ryan Page, issued a certificateIof occupancy for the brewery to Cross Hill Realty, LLC. The certificate says, “The property owner or tenant is hereby authorized to enter and use the premises.”

It also says, “Special Condition: Screening required in accordance with Site Plan Review.”

The Dawsons and Soules told select board members there is no buffering. Some trees were planted after July 2022; most died and have been even more recently replaced.

They also questioned whether the certificate of occupancy was sufficient to allow the business to open to the public. It did, about two weeks ago, they said.

The residents, board members and Town Manager Mary Sabins discussed whether the issue should be handled by Mitnik or perhaps by the town board of appeals. Related issues were what time limits for appeals might apply, and what, if any, other local or state permits or licenses the brewery might have or need.

After three-quarters of an hour, board member Rick Denico referred the Dawsons and Soules to Vassalboro’s enforcement and appeals ordinance, on the town website.

The Oct. 13 meeting began with a public hearing on renewing town permits for seven automobile graveyards/junkyards and one auto hobbyist’s collection. There were no public comments, and board members unanimously approved Mitnik’s recommendations, as follows:

  • Unconditional renewals for Freddie’s Service Center (Bill Pullen), 163 South Stanley Hill Road; Garnett’s Motors (Stanley Garnett), 1616 North Belfast Avenue; Autowerkes (Voit Ritch), Route 3; Platinum & Core LLC (Robert Parise), 1702 Riverside Drive; and hobbyist Robert Dore, 919 Church Hill Road.
  • Renewals conditional on providing proof of a state recyclers’ license for Ron’s Parts Inc. (James Cogley), 520 Main Street; and Weeks Mills Garage (Olin Charette), 1499 Riverside Drive.
  • An interim conditional renewal for Bondo’s Garage (Dale Clement), 471 Taber Hill Road. Mitnik explained that the garage is closed, and without an associated garage the junkyard should be closed, too, but time is needed for orderly dispersal. Conditions include draining all vehicle fluids, clearing the entrance and getting rid of all but 20 vehicles.

The easy item Oct. 13 was appointing seven members of a new committee.

The committee is to review capital needs of the Vassalboro Historical Society’s building, the former East Vassalboro school house, as proposed two weeks earlier (see the Oct. 6 issue of The Town Line, p. 14). Its members, assuming they accept, are Dave Bolduc, Donald Breton, Janice Clowes, Steve Jones, John Melrose, select board chairman Barbara Redmond and Lauchlin Titus.

Melrose welcomes volunteer advice and help from people knowledgeable about building issues. He told select board members he has already enlisted his son, Andrew, to advise on heating.

Because the meeting was so long, discussion of revisions to the town personnel handbook was postponed to the next meeting, scheduled for 6:30 p.m., Thursday, Oct. 27.

Vassalboro Cubs help with fight against cancer

Pictured are, front row, from left to right, Tiger Cubs Wesley Danielson, John Gray, Beckett Metcalf, and Lux Reynolds. Second row, Bear Cubs Henry Gray and Eli Richmond. Third row, Webelos Elliot Rafuse, Christopher Santiago, Hunter Brown, and Desmond Landreth. Back row, Cubmaster Christopher Santiago and Tiger Den Leader Christopher Reynolds. (photo courtesy of Chuck Mahaleris)

On Tuesday October 11, 2022, the Vassalboro Community School PTO held a Food Truck Night at Vassalboro Community School as a fundraiser for the Michaud family. Ira Michaud is the principal of the Vassalboro Community School and his son is battling a very rare cancer. Ira Michaud is himself a Cubmaster and his son Ian is a Cub Scout. So Vassalboro Pack #410 provided desserts for the food truck event in the form of a bake sale. The community came together in support of the family. Pack #410 was able to contribute $516.54 towards the $2,649.54 raised for the Michaud family.

OPINIONS: Let’s move as quickly as possible to renewable energy

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY

by David Jenney
Vassalboro resident

Vassalboro will have a ballot item in November asking residents if they would like a 180-day, with conditions, moratorium on commercial solar arrays. I urge fellow residents of Vassalboro to vote no on the moratorium.

1.) Climate Impact

To me the one of the biggest and most profound issues facing us as residents of Vassal­boro, the state of Maine and the world as a whole is Climate Change/­Global warming. One of the ways to slow down the pace of this change (in my opinion) is to move as quickly as possible to renewable energy sources which do not pollute in their operation and do not contribute to an increase in carbon dioxide emissions. We are already way too late to address this problem as a species. To me postponing commercial solar array development in Vassalboro is similar to Nero fiddling while Rome was burning. The world is on fire – literally and figuratively. I think sometimes we don’t understand the urgency of this issue due to it at times not being directly in our face.

2.) Inconsistent regulation

Of course there are issues related to where the “best” place is to site commercial solar arrays as well as what to do with them at the end of their life. I would point out the same issue exists for any source of energy production – oil, wood, wind, natural gas, coal, etc… To me placing a moratorium on commercial solar arrays in Vassalboro is “having the perfect be the enemy of the good.” Our current standards for where to place them and how to deal with their waste when they reach the end of their useful life certainly can be improved. However, a moratorium on commercial solar arrays in order to have time to create some type of ordinance to address those issues is similar to telling a fire to stop burning, because we don’t have the perfect hose.

We don’t have town ordinances regulating gravel pits, or other extractive mineral operations. We don’t have town ordinances on the placement of gas pipelines, we don’t have ordinances on the placement of cell phone towers, power lines, phone lines, wind turbines, trailer parks, so what’s so special about commercial solar arrays? Please note that I am not ignoring state and federal regulations – just pointing out that we do not have local ordinances related to any of those.

So what’s so different about commercial solar arrays? My best guess is that now people can actually see them, and some people find them unattractive. That’s about the only thing I can think of that is really different. We are so used to seeing telephone poles, power lines, etc., that we almost don’t realize that they are there. With new commercial solar arrays they are often near roads. This makes sense because they are then close to power lines where they can send the electricity that they produce. Only one relatively smaill commercial solar array has been built in Vassalboro. That is the one on Main Street. In reviewing planning board minutes since 2020, it appears that about four to five additional projects have been approved. None of them is in operation, or have starting being built.

3.) Not in my backyard (NIMBY)

I’m guessing that people here in Vassalboro are reacting to something new that is a change which they instinctively don’t like. When I see commercial solar arrays, I see hope and progress. It’s so easy to think that gas which we use for our vehicles as coming from a gas station, because we don’t make gasoline in Maine. Or we may think of heating oil as something that comes from trucks (heating oil is the biggest energy source of winter time heating in Maine) rather than a fracking operation elsewhere in the United States, or a drilling operation in any part of the world.

We all drive or use vehicles that use oil and gas. We are all guilty of contributing to climate change and global warming, but when we are presented with a choice to be part of the solution, which commercial solar arrays are part of, we get upset. I think it’s because we can see the source of the electricity, while we can’t see it with other electricity sources.

We can often engage in black and white thinking – such as all our Maine farmlands are going to be converted to solar arrays, which is utter nonsense. I have yet to see a commercial solar array placed in Vassalboro take over a farm. I have seen a coexistence of a commercial solar array and farm in China at the Three Level Farm. A commercial (community) solar array was placed on the other side of an active farm. The commercial solar arrays that I have seen in Augusta and Waterville (and it’s quite possible I’ve missed some), have been placed on vacant land that wasn’t being used for farming.

4.) Regulating what individuals can and can’t do with their land, without a comprehensive plan

For the most part I do not want the town to make it more difficult for relatively large land owners in Vassalboro to be able to choose what they want to do or not do with their land, especially as it relates to commercial solar arrays. I own about 140-150 acres of land. I like to believe that I am a good steward of the land, the vast majority of it is in tree growth with a forest management plan. I have two hay fields that are used by my neighbor and a wild blueberry field that is rarely used for picking blueberries. If the town decides to say what large land owners can or cannot do with their land, have it done in a planned manner, rather then a reactionary one.

As a town we do not have a comprehensive plan or zoning. To me trying to define where commercial solar arrays can be placed is a backwards approach to zoning. If we are going to pick and choose how we go about deciding on how land is going to be used, then do it right. Look at the town as a whole, not as bits and pieces.

5.) Protecting our Natural Environment

I think our main responsibility in terms of the natural environment is to focus on air, land, soil and water – all of which are impacted by climate change and global warming. I think while we might like some type of regulation placed on commercial solar arrays, that commercial solar arrays be recognized for the positives that they provide for Vassalboro. The regulation/ordinance should not impede the implementation of new commercial solar arrays. I don’t see any compelling need to implement a moratorium on commercial solar arrays as there are so few (if any) active projects in Vassalboro, and I will oppose the moratorium related to commercial solar array development in Vassalboro.

VASSALBORO: Local and state questions to be on Nov. 8 ballot (2022)

by Mary Grow

At the polls on Nov. 8, Vassalboro voters will make decisions on local ballot questions and state elections. The questions are presented on two sheets of paper, a two-sided local ballot and a two-sided state ballot.

One local question is election of a Kennebec Water District trustee, for a three-year term. Incumbent Frank Richards is unopposed for re-election.

The other is the Solar Moratorium Ordinance, drafted by town attorney Kristin Collins and discussed at a Sept. 29 public hearing.

If voters approve, it will prohibit new commercial solar developments in town for a period of 180 days (which selectmen can change), beginning immediately after the votes are counted and the result certified.

At the Sept. 29 hearing and following select board meeting, and at an Oct. 4 planning board meeting, residents asked whether an application filed and accepted by the planning board before Nov. 8, but not approved, would be postponed.

Codes officer Paul Mitnik and planning board member Douglas Phillips said the board would not act on an application if the moratorium were in effect. Phillips read the paragraph in the ordinance he thinks relevant:

“[D]uring the time this Moratorium Ordinance is in effect, no officer, official, employee, office, administrative board or agency of the Town shall accept, process, approve, deny, or in any other way act upon any application for a license, building permit or any other type of land use approval or permit and/or any other permits of licenses related to a commercial solar array….”

An earlier paragraph says the ordinance applies to “any proposed commercial solar array” for which an application for any required permit “has not been submitted to and granted final approval by the Code Enforcement Officer, Planning Board or other Town official or board” before the effective date of the ordinance.

The purpose of the moratorium is to give town officials time to develop requirements specific to solar farms, to complement current town regulation of other kinds of commercial development. Select board members hope to have language ready to submit to voters at the June 2023 town meeting.

Vassalboro’s state ballot begins with the District 1 Congressional candidates and includes state and county officials. Each office has a line for a write-in candidate, in addition to those listed on the ballot.

Ranked choice voting, which allows voters to indicate their first choice and, if they wish, a second and a third choice, applies only to the Congressional race.

Contested races are as follows. Names on the ballot are listed alphabetically.

  • For District 1 representative to the United States House of Representatives, Democratic incumbent Chellie M. Pingree, of North Haven, and Republican Edwin Thelander, of Bristol.
  • For governor of Maine, Independent Sam Hunkler, from Beals; Republican Paul LePage, from Edgecomb; and incumbent Democrat Janet T. Mills, from Farmington.
  • For District #15 state senator, Republican incumbent Matthew Gary Pouliot and Democrat Storme Jude St. Valle, both from Augusta.
  • For House District #61, incumbent Republican Richard T. Bradstreet and Democrat Amy J. Davidoff, both from Vassalboro.
  • For Kennebec County Register of Deeds, Republican Matthew James Boucher, of Oakland; and incumbent Democrat C. Diane Wilson, of Litchfield.

Three current office-holders are unopposed for re-election: Kennebec County Register of Probate, Kathleen Grant Ayers, Democrat, of West Gardiner; Kennebec County treasurer, Thomas F. Doore, Democrat, of Augusta; and District 4 (Kennebec and Somerset counties) district attorney, Maeghan Maloney, Democrat, of Augusta.

Vassalboro voting will be in the town office building, at 682 Main Street (Route 32). Polls will be open from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.

The Vassalboro website has additional information about voting rules under the Town Clerk box on the left-hand side; scroll down to the ninth section, “Voter Registration and Election Information.”

Town Clerk Cathy Coyne announced that there is a new box in front of the town office where people can safely drop off absentee ballots when the office is closed. The town also has new voting booths, she said.

Vassalboro planners discuss revised commercial solar farm plan

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members spent the first hour of their two-and-a-half hour Oct. 4 meeting on a revised commercial solar farm plan, and the rest of the time on preliminary discussion of town solar regulations.

The solar project at 2579 Riverside Drive was approved in September 2020. Since then, it has acquired a new owner, a change that needed and got planning board approval, and the board has extended the permit.

The Oct. 4 re-application, as explained by Kara Moody, of Stantec Consulting Services, in Topsham, was for four changes.

  • Instead of the tracking solar panels initially planned, which move to follow the sun, fixed south-facing panels will be used.
  • Therefore some of the other equipment has been rearranged.
  • A new 12-foot-wide access driveway for a connection to Central Maine Power Company (CMP) is planned at the north end of the property.
  • Therefore the original 16-foot-wide access road has been shortened.

The result, Moody said, will be a reduction in total affected acreage from about 33 acres to about 28 acres; a reduction in fenced area from about 27 acres to about 23 acres; a reduction in impervious area from about 9/10ths of an acre to about 8/10ths of an acre; a considerable reduction in the wetland area impacted, from about 4,200 square feet to about 1,100 square feet; less grading; and fewer panels.

The state Department of Environmental Protection approved the original project in December 2020. State regulators will be asked to approve the revision, and the Maine Department of Transportation (MDOT) to approve the new entrance to Riverside Drive.

Planning board members unanimously approved a revised Vassalboro permit, subject to MDOT approval of the entrance permit and planning board review of the decommissioning plan that is part of the state permit. The review is scheduled for the Nov. 1 planning board meeting.

Vassalboro planning board members have approved four commercial solar permits, board chairman Virginia Brackett said. One on Main Street (Route 32), on Bernard Welch’s property about opposite Ron’s Auto Parts, has been operating for a couple years, she estimated. Two others, on Cemetery Street and on Webber Pond Road, are approved but not built.

Permittees requesting extended permits have told board members the delay is in arranging connections to CMP’s grid.

As they develop local standards, select board members currently plan to add provisions specific to commercial solar developments to Vassalboro’s Site Review Ordinance, which governs commercial and industrial projects. They will ask town attorney Kristin Collins if this approach is correct, or if they and planning board members should prepare a separate ordinance.

The additions, in whichever form, are likely to include requirements for a decommissioning plan (describing how the solar panels will be removed at the end of their useful life and the area restored to its previous state, with a provision for funding); buffering to conceal the solar farm; setbacks from, at least, wetlands, roads and property boundary lines; and maybe height limits.

The goal, Brackett and planning board member Douglas Phillips agreed, is not to prohibit commercial solar developments in Vassalboro, but to set standards “that make them good neighbors.”

Maybe the revisions should include standards for windmills, too, Phillips suggested.

Permit fees also need discussion. Fees are usually set by the select board, not included in ordinances, because if they were part of an ordinance, they could be changed only by a town vote amending the ordinance.

Commercial solar developments need both local and state permits. Select board chairman Barbara Redmond said the state does not regulate them if they cover less than three acres. Town regulations should apply to small developments.

Residents attending the meeting, several of them living on Route 32 near a site for which an application is expected (see The Town Line, Oct. 6, p. 3) offered suggestions for additional requirements. Not all were appropriate for Vassalboro, Redmond and Brackett again reminded them, because the town has no zoning and no comprehensive plan, having substituted a document labeled a strategic plan.

Vassalboro’s 2006 strategic plan is on the town website, www.vassalboro.net, under the heading Ordinances/Policies.

For example, several residents wanted solar panels invisible not only from neighboring properties, but also from people looking over from a height, in what are called viewsheds. Unlikely to happen, Brackett said: hiding a solar farm completely is probably impossible, and the strategic plan says nothing about viewsheds.

Resident Kevin Reed pointed out the difference between a solar farm – or another industry – in an isolated area and one surrounded by houses. Sorry, Brackett said: without zoning, the board cannot consider density of population or proximity to residences.

Reed suggested the updated ordinance include provisions for an electrical inspection. That’s the state’s job, codes officer Paul Mitnik and planning board member Dan Bradstreet replied.

Currently, board members said, local approval comes before state review for a project like a solar farm. State applications are more demanding, and state regulators have more expertise, they said. They surmised that because the state process is longer and more complex, state officials don’t want to go through it and then to have a municipality reject a state-approved permit.

Reed repeatedly questioned the order. Asked why it mattered, since the project would not be built without approval at both levels, he replied that information in the state permit might be valuable to townspeople and town regulators.

After the meeting, Redmond learned from Cameron Dufour, at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection, that a prior municipal permit is not a requirement for a state solar development permit. She recommended adding the order in which permits are approved to the list of ordinance issues.

Mitnik said applications for town permits are submitted two weeks before each planning board meeting, and are public record. Residents who want information on a pending project may come to the town office and read the application.

Seeing plans should help alleviate concerns, Brackett added.

Select board member Rick Denico read the just-approved Riverside Drive application as discussion continued. He seemed favorably impressed, occasionally sharing details he found.

The next Vassalboro planning board meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Tuesday, Nov. 1. If the Route 32 solar farm, or any other commercial or industrial application, is on the agenda, board members have said abutters will be notified by mail before the meeting.

VASSALBORO: Over two dozen citizens attend public hearing on moratorium

by Mary Grow

The Vassalboro select board’s Sept. 29 public hearing on the solar moratorium question that’s on the Nov. 8 local ballot drew more than two dozen residents and lasted almost an hour. Most of the discussion was on a different topic.

The moratorium ordinance, if voters approve it, would stop all town action on applications for commercial solar developments for 180 days, a period select board members could extend. The purpose is to give town officials time to amend local ordinances to better address issues specific to commercial solar projects, “to protect the public from health and safety risks.”

Specifics suggested included provisions for removing solar installations at the end of their useful life and guaranteeing funding for removal; setbacks, screening and buffers; and effects on natural resources.

When select board chairman Barbara Redmond called for a show of hands, almost everyone present was in favor of the moratorium. Two residents explained their reservations: one has specific concerns about imprecise wording, and another does not want to discourage development of solar energy.

The Vassalboro Planning Board has already approved several commercial solar farms. Board chairman Virginia Brackett, in the audience, explained that the board used Vassalboro’s Site Review Ordinance, which regulates commercial and industrial development in general, to review the applications.

The majority of the Sept. 29 speakers oppose what appears to be another planned commercial solar development behind a residential area on the west side of Main Street (Route 32), north of Duratherm Window Company, between the road and Outlet Stream.

Brackett said the planning board has received preliminary information on a solar development there, and might have an application in time for its Nov. 1 meeting. Despite repeated suggestions that the Nov. 1 planning board meeting was the proper forum to discuss the project, several audience members used the Sept. 29 hearing to share their concerns.

Most speakers live near the proposed site. Some talked about surveyors planting stakes in a large tract of land and trespassing on abutting properties. Some advised the audience to do research on solar panels, and shared information they found and conclusions they drew.

According to these residents, leachate and stormwater run-off from solar panels contain lead, arsenic and other hazardous substances. This run-off kills wildlife, including thousands of birds.

Runoff from the proposed solar panels would contaminate groundwater, and when it got into Outlet Stream, one speaker predicted, it would flow downstream and contaminate the swimming area in North Vassalboro. Migrating alewives would carry the contaminants upstream into China Lake, the water supply for Kennebec Water District.

The other concern speakers voiced was about the electromagnetic fields they said emanate from solar farms, also deadly to wildlife and to people, causing cancer and other forms of illness.

Another speaker mentioned the pesticides allegedly used to kill grass under the panels as yet another source of water contamination.

Brackett, Conservation Commission member Holly Weidner and select board members reminded the audience that because Vassalboro has no zoning, commercial developments cannot be excluded from residential areas. Nor, Weidner said, does Vassalboro have a comprehensive plan that might designate areas inappropriate for commercial activities.

In the past, town committees invested time and effort to write zoning ordinances and comprehensive plans, only to have voters refuse to adopt them.

Select board member Chris French said the voters’ decisions were based on respect for landowners’ rights. Weidner called for a “community conversation” on the proper balance between individual rights and regulation.

Brackett said one requirement in the current site review ordinance is that a developer notify abutters, including those across the road as well as owners of adjoining property, before the planning board discusses a permit application. If the solar farm application is on the Nov. 1 planning board agenda, abutters will be notified by certified mail and their receipts included in the application.

“We can’t allow them [developers] to present an application if they have not notified the abutters,” Brackett said.

Vassalboro Planning Board meetings are normally held at 7 p.m. the first Tuesday of each month in the town office meeting room. Brackett and Town Manager Mary Sabins said the Oct. 4 planning board agenda included no applications; members of the two boards intended a joint discussion of a future solar ordinance.

The Sept. 29 select board meeting included a second public hearing, this one on the annual updates to the town’s General Assistance Ordinance, required by the state. The hearing was brief and the amended ordinance was approved unanimously.

In other business, Vassalboro Historical Society treasurer John Melrose and vice-chairman Raymond Breton reminded select board members that the historical society building, the former East Vassalboro schoolhouse, belongs to the town. They asked for town funds for needed updates, beginning with a new heating and ventilation system.

Melrose recommended select board members appoint a small committee to consider and make recommendations on building needs.

Transfer station manager George Hamar again urged providing a cover over the new compactor at the transfer station. A cover is needed to protect the controls from weather, and to keep rain and snow out of the box of trash, so the town will not pay to have water hauled away.

Hamar has discussed possibilities with road foreman Eugene Field. Redmond encouraged him to see what he and Field can work out, at what cost.

Fire chief Walker Thompson and rescue unit head Dan Mayotte attended the meeting to discuss future relations with Delta Ambulance. With no Delta representative present, Redmond postponed discussion. She intends to have the topic on the select board’s Oct. 13 agenda, if someone from Delta is available that evening.

Board members unanimously accepted an offer from Steve Jones, of Fieldstone Gardens, to plant trees in East Vassalboro’s Monument Park, in anticipation of the need to remove some aged trees.

They tentatively scheduled a discussion of uses for federal American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) money for their Oct. 27 meeting. French encouraged any resident with ideas for using the funds to suggest them to a board member or to town office staff.

Vassalboro has received a little more than $464,000 in ARPA funds. Over $238,500 has been appropriated, leaving an available balance of more than $225,500.

Select board members postponed several internal issues, like financial questions and the previously-planned Oct. 6 goal-setting session, until 2023, when Sabins’ successor will become town manager. Board members might meet Oct. 6 anyway, to continue developing their process for choosing a new manager.

The next regular Vassalboro select board meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 13.

EVENTS: 2nd Annual Veteran Christmas Stockings

On Memorial Day, members of American Legion Post #126, in Vassalboro, went to each veteran monument and bridge on Oak Grove Road, placed a wreath and played taps. Pictured, from left to right, James Kilbride, Kevin Labrie, Robert Whitehouse and Donald Breton. (photo courtesy of Rachel Kilbride)

Members of Vassalboro American Legion Post #126 plan to donate 200 Christmas stockings to veterans at Togus, in Augusta. Sew for a Cause made and donated 200 Christmas stockings for this project. The stockings will be filled with personal care products and snacks. Anyone wishing to donate personal care items, snacks or monetary gifts can contact James Kilbride, adjutant for American Legion Post #126, at 616-3148.