Vassalboro: Board denies appeal

by Mary Grow

Acting on the town attorney’s advice, the Vassalboro Board of Appeals refused on procedural grounds to hear Jonathan Blumberg’s appeal of a permit granted to Bernard Welch for his South Stanley Hill Road property.
Codes Enforcement Officer Richard Dolby had granted Welch building and plumbing permits needed for a food-processing and storage building on the site of a burned-down chicken house on the property. Blumberg filed an appeal of the decision with the codes officer, but he did not supply the “appropriate appeal fee” of $100 required by the town ordinance, instead, he said, putting the money in an escrow account. Vassalboro’s ordinance does not allow for an escrow account, acting Board of Appeals Chairman John Reuthe said. Town Attorney Alton Stevens advised the board to find that without the fee, the appeal was not filed in the timely manner required by the ordinance, and to refuse to address the merits of the appeal.

The four board members present at its Oct. 27 meeting unanimously did so. Reuthe cut off Blumberg’s protests by adjourning the meeting.

COMMUNITY COMMENTARY: Too many cooks spoil the soup

by Al Althenn
China resident

When I was just a kid living in China 60 odd years ago I remember my grandmother saying, “Too many cooks spoil the soup.” My grandmother and those words keep coming to mind when I think of what has happened and is still happening with China Lake.

China Lake has become a mismanaged and polluted algae soup.

The Maine Department of Environmental Protection (DEP) began peddling its influence as protector of our environment in the late ‘60s. China Lake was not spared this new Crime against Nature.

The issues with China Lake began about 45 years ago due to federal legislation regarding clean water. Vassalboro was being required to treat its raw sewage that had been dumped into the lakes outlet stream at many locations along the winding streams banks.

Vassalboro didn’t want to spend the federal dollars it got to send that sewage to the Waterville Treatment Plant, there appears to be a profit motive there somewhere. The DEP allow raising China Lake five vertical feet insuring a reliable source of flushing water for The Outlet Stream where they (the DEP) located and licensed three crude sewage disposal plants dumping 72,000 gallons of wastewater per day into that stream. Using its influence, the DEP granted the licenses for the plants Vassalboro is currently forced to close due to the plants chronic and abysmal failure.

As the predictable wetlands problems associated with keeping the China Lake water level artificially high and stable through the critical spring and fall growing season became evident, the DEP started making increasingly complicated excuses for its actions. Seeing the writing on the wall the local special interests got involved protecting their very special interests in deeper water at their unique individual properties by pushing the formation of the China Lake Association to walk in a cozy lock-step with a crooked DEP and to act as propaganda artists confusing and misleading the local politicians and voters.

Now along comes interest #3 Inland Fisheries & Wildlife (IFW) tinkering with the very special environment of the uniquely slow water exchange rate (every 2.5 years) of China Lake. Inland Fisheries and Wildlife allowed increased involvement of Coastal interests from the Lobster Bait Industry to take virtually all the natural lake suckers (catostomus commersoni) from China Lake in recent years. I personally observed the way IFW and the bait industry conveniently got around the regulations in place for years to accomplish another crime against nature by IFW manipulating both trapping methods and inspections.

Lake suckers, although edible and vital to the health of this slow exchange rate, are not considered a game fish and therefore not protected by a self-interest motivated IFW (IFW is not funded from the general fund and therefore is in business for itself) hence the big spending IFW did to keep the bear hunt licensed the way it is and keeping a fat cash cow for the bosses at IFW.

I now have reason to believe IFW, in cooperating with the total removal of all the lake suckers, was working with DMR (Department of Marine Resources) prepping China Lake for this next state special interest that was to follow, re-introducing alewives to our lake, not seen here for almost 200 years due to the building of the high dam in North Vassalboro, built there for the mills around the time of the American Civil War.

DMR’s interest and duty is to the Gulf of Maine where, through DMR’s mismanagement, the fisheries, including the herring fishery, collapsed. (Alewives are a sea run anadromous herring). An anadromous fish means a fish born in fresh water and spending most of its life in the sea returning to the same fresh water where it hatched, to spawn.

Getting the herring re-established is critical to the entire fishing industry in the Gulf of Maine. Due to the many disruptive dam removals and, to maximize the quickest return of the alewives, removal of any and all competition to alewives like lake suckers was needed. To do this DMR used lakes and streams that were not coveted for their great fishing otherwise, with the history for the past 45 years of China Lake and the laissez-fair hands off attitude of the residents of China, our lake was a prime target, they could tell us anything and we are ready to believe it.

DMR tried a few alewives (less than six alewives per acre of lake) to snow us. The lake never suffered so many free ranging alewives in the past as the lake had a robust natural predator system alive and well to keep the numbers of sea run alewives in check.

Alewives will out compete and eat everything left in the China Lake basin if this new one-sided self interest of DMR is allowed to go forth in China Lake. Come on selectmen, suck up your courage, research this so you understand what the issues are, and don’t allow the rest of the natural lake to be driven to the same sad extinction the game fish in China Lake have been driven during the past 45 years of DEP and other state agencies’ crimes against nature influence peddling to special interests.

VCS sixth graders visit Challenger Learning Center

Challenger Learning Center

On October 31, 47 sixth grade students along with six teachers traveled to Bangor to the Challenger Learning Center. They worked for the past four weeks under the guidance of Mrs. Desmond (science teacher), Mr. Esposito (JMG Master Specialist), Mrs. Ladd-Cyrway (Math), Mrs. Caron (language arts), and Mrs. Peabody (speech) to learn their jobs while taking part in this great simulated Shuttle and Mission Control program. Using the concept of simulation as an instructional tool, Challenger Center programs create an exciting, cooperative learning environment that fosters interest in science, math, and technology. Thanks to the efforts of thousands of dedicated individuals, Challenger Center continues this important mission today. The nation’s first Challenger Learning Center opened in August of 1988 at the Houston Museum of Natural Science. Currently there are over 40 Challenger Learning Centers in the United States, Canada, and Europe. On June 15, 2001, the Challenger Learning Center of Maine became site number 51! As a part of the Challenger network, Maine’s Center is part of a successful tradition of hands-on discovery. With the financial assistance from the Vassalboro Community School PTO, and a grant received from the Challenger program and also a grant from the Cole Transportation for travel made this fantastic trip possible. Contributed photo

Board of appeals to meet Oct. 27

The Vassalboro Board of Appeals meets at 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 27, to hear Jonathan Blumberg’s appeal of the codes officer’s issuance of building and plumbing permits for Bernard Welch at Welch’s South Stanley Hill Road property.

Vassaboro News: Procedural issues dominate school board meeting

by Mary Grow

Procedural issues dominated at the Vassalboro School Board’s Oct. 18 meeting, as AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) #92 officials explained some of the issues the central office deals with for Vassalboro, Waterville and Winslow schools.

Superintendent Eric Haley described the process by which bills are generated and paid, listing the numerous reviews both in the local schools and in the central office aimed at ensuring expenditures are justified. Assistant Superintendent Peter Thiboutot explained the federal programs in which AOS #92 schools take part. The purpose of federal school funding is primarily to help students who fail to meet educational standards by assisting in various areas of need. Each category is called a title.

Vassalboro receives funds from three of the six federal Titles, Thiboutot said. In 2016-17, Title I provides $152,481; Title II, $24,306; and Title VI, $24,000. Title I programs provide support in reading and math; allocations are based on the percentage of students who qualify for free and reduced-price school lunches. At Vassalboro Community School, 43 percent of students receive free lunch and another seven percent receive reduced-price lunch. One teacher and two educational technicians are paid with Title I funds; a third technician works in the program but is paid from the local budget because the federal funds are inadequate.

Title II money is used for professional development activities. Receiving schools are allowed to transfer up to half their Title II money to Title I; Vassalboro does so, Thiboutot said.
Title VI is called Rural Low Income, and Thiboutot described it as a catch-all that covers a variety of support activities, from contracts with behavioral health counselors to certain after-school clubs and activities.

In preparation for the Oct. 27 meeting of the Maine School Board Association, Vassalboro board members reviewed and endorsed four proposed resolutions. Three ask for legislative action to: 1) confirm that allowing a student to transfer to a school in another town should be a decision of the two superintendents involved, not to be overridden by state officials; 2) review rising teacher retirement costs that the state shifted onto school districts’ budgets in 2015; and 3) create a task force to review special education costs and needs. The fourth resolution asks the governor’s office to nominate a new Commissioner of Education for 2017 legislative confirmation.

The next Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Nov. 15.

Alternate member sought for planning board

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen would like to appoint a new alternate planning board member at their Nov. 3 meeting, so anyone interested in the position should notify the town office by that day at the latest.
At the selectmen’s Oct. 20 meeting, Town Manager Mary Sabins said former Codes Officer Paul Mitnik was so far the only applicant to succeed Paul Breton, who resigned earlier in the month.

The meeting opened with two public hearings, one on amendments to the appendices to Vassalboro’s General Assistance Ordinance and one on renewal of junkyard and auto hobbyist permits. Since no members of the public were present, the hearings were extremely short.

After the hearings, selectmen approved the changes in general assistance and nine permits, as follows:

  • Junkyard/auto graveyard permits: James Cagley (Ron’s Parts Inc.), Main Street; Dale Clement (Bondo’s Garage), Taber Hill Road; Bill Pullen (Freddie’s Service Center), South Stanley Hill Road; Stanley Garnet (Garnett Motors), North Belfast Avenue; Olin Charette (Weeks Mills Garage), Riverside Drive; and Voit Ritch (Autowerkes), Route 3.
  • Auto hobbyist permits: Keith Lemieux, Priest Hill Road; James Jurdak, Baker Road; and Robert Dore, Church Hill Road.

Vassalboro Food Pantry officials requested permission to add a carport on the food pantry building beside the North Vassalboro fire station and further asked selectmen to waive the permit fee, since the town owns the building. Selectmen unanimously granted both requests.

Sabins said the food pantry had received a gift of money for the project, which is intended to protect the front door of the building from the weather.

In other business, Sabins said cemetery committee members have been putting up identifying signs at all known Vassalboro cemeteries and planning two administrative-type projects, extending the regulations adopted for the North Vassalboro cemetery to the other active cemeteries in town and computerizing Vassalboro cemetery records. For the second project, Sabins said, she is looking for grants to cover costs of the computer program committee members recommend and the data entry work.

Following up on an issue from September, Sabins said she talked with Jan Clowes of the Vassalboro Historical Society about shared maintenance of the grounds around the former East Vassalboro school building that the society leases from the town. The two did not reach agreement, she said. Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus advised research to determine the exact boundaries of the schoolhouse lot.

Planners approve indoor licensed marijuana growing facility

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members unanimously approved the town’s second locally-licensed indoor marijuana-growing facility at their Oct. 4 meeting.

Applicant Mike Kelley represented half a dozen licensed caregivers who intend to grow marijuana in the former craft shop on Route 3, on property more recently the site of the MacKenzie Landscaping satellite business.

Kelley plans no changes to the exterior of the building. There will be no retail traffic; only licensed caregivers are allowed inside the growing area, he said. Primary access will be from Whitehoue Road rather than from busier Route 3.

Kelley said someone will be on the property at all times for security. The odor control plan involves fans and filters, which will not create significant noise outside the building.

Neighbors had been notified, as required by town ordinance. None attended the Oct. 4 meeting.
Planning Board members found the project meets all Vassalboro ordinance requirements.

Codes Officer Richard Dolby said there have been no complaints about Vassalboro’s other town-licensed marijuana-growing business on Cushnoc Road.

Selectmen appoint new police chief

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro selectmen have appointed Mark Brown of Vassalboro to succeed Richard Phippen as town police chief.

At the selectmen’s Oct. 6 meeting, board members Lauchlin Titus and Robert Browne accepted Town Manager Mary Sabins’ recommendation to hire Brown. Titus said board Chairman Philip Haines, who was unable to attend the meeting, had interviewed Brown.

Sabins said Brown will be deputy chief for two or three weeks, until his certification is renewed. Phippen announced his planned retirement in August.

In other business, Sabins read a letter from planning board alternate member Paul Breton resigning his position, effective immediately. Residents interested in serving on the planning board are invited to contact the town office.

The alternate member participates in planning oard discussions, but votes only when a full member is absent. In the past, if a full member resigned or retired the alternate was usually offered his or her seat.

Selectmen reviewed Sabins’ draft of a three-page survey on transportation needs and approved distributing it at the polls on Nov. 8. Residents will be asked to take the survey home to fill out, rather than spending extra time in the town office Nov.

The board approved a consent agreement with resident Bernard Welch resolving Welch’s violations of town ordinance, in return for payment of a fine and reimbursement for town legal fees.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for 7 p.m. Thursday, Oct. 20.

Board discusses expanding pre-K program (Vassalboro)

by Mary Grow

At their Sept. 20 meeting, Vassalboro School Board members continued discussion of expanding the four-year-old (student) or pre-kindergarten program that’s beginning its second year at Vassalboro Community School.

The current program, which still had two openings as of Sept. 20, is affiliated with Head Start and therefore has income guidelines.  New school board member Libby Mitchell would like to have all four-year-olds able to enroll if their parents want them to.

AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) #92 Superintendent Eric Haley said he had researched the question after August’s initial discussion.  He found that whether to start a program for four-year-olds is a local decision; the program requires state approval.

If Vassalboro were interested, he said, a letter of intent would need to be sent to the state commissioner of education by Jan. 1, 2017.  The letter would not commit the school department to follow through.

The first year of the new program would be financed by local funds.  The state would begin reimbursing the town the following year.  This year, Haley said, Vassalboro received $100,000 in state reimbursement for last year’s four-year-old students.

Committee members decided they should try to determine how many local parents would be interested in sending their four-year-olds to school.   They discussed possible ways to conduct a survey.

Mitchell said she believes educating four-year-olds is “a public responsibility,” and children should be able to start school before kindergarten regardless of income.  She does not believe sending four-year-olds to school should be mandatory, and she is not committed to a full-day (versus half-day) program.

Principal Dianna Gram said because Vassalboro’s four-year-old program is new, there is not yet evidence to determine whether it helps youngsters’ education.  Assessments are ongoing, she said.

In other business Sept. 20, school board members accepted the resignation of kindergarten teacher Pamela Blais and appointed kindergarten teacher Sarah Woodard and Educational Technician II Christian Wilkens.

The meeting was preceded by an informal gathering with new staff members.

The next Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for 6 p.m. Tuesday, Oct. 18.

Sidewalk plowing estimates not pleasing to selectmen

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Road Foreman Eugene Field collected a lot of information on estimated costs of plowing sidewalks for the Sept. 22 selectmen’s meeting.  The information did not make board members happy, and they took no action.

The issue came up earlier in September during discussion of a pending Nov. 8 request to voters for funds to put in sidewalks in East Vassalboro.  Selectmen had just learned that the town is supposed to maintain the existing sidewalks in North Vassalboro, including plowing and sanding.  Vassalboro would also be expected to maintain East Vassalboro sidewalks.  (See the Sept. 15 issue of The Town Line, p. 6, for more details.)

Field talked with public works personnel in other Maine towns, researched different kinds of equipment and questioned a local contractor.   A lot of towns do not break out sidewalk maintenance in their public works budgets, he said, making an annual cost hard to get.

One town, he said, reported spending around $3,500 a season for sidewalk maintenance, excluding the operator’s pay.  The local contractor estimated he could do East and North Vassalboro on a three-year contract for a total of around $30,000.

Prices for a trackless sidewalk machine ranged from around $25,000 for a used one to $110,000 or more for a new one.  Alternatives like loaders and tractors are estimated to cost from $35,000 up.   Some of the machines would have other uses, Field pointed out.

Selectmen held lengthy discussions on two other topics at the Sept. 22 meeting, without resolving either.

Kent London and Jan Clowes of the Vassalboro Historical Society would like to renegotiate or at least clarify the 1992 lease between the society and the town that allows the society to use the former East Vassalboro school as a museum and defines responsibilities for the building and grounds.

Town voters have been appropriating $3,000 for the society every June; the town deducts appropriate charges, for example for mowing the grounds, and sends the remainder to the society at the end of the fiscal year.  London commented that the remainder decreased to around $900 last year, mostly because mowing charges increased.      He and Clowes also said that in the 1990s, the recreation department used part of the building and made a contribution in return; the department moved out and its contribution ceased, but, London and Clowes said, most of the grounds are used for parking for the boat landing, a recreational rather than historic activity.

Selectmen asked Town Manager Mary Sabins to talk with Clowes and Field about what they would consider a fair deal for the historical society.

Selectmen, resident Bernard Welch, Codes Officer Richard Dolby and town attorney Alton Stevens discussed a consent agreement between the town and Welch to resolve Welch’s violations of local ordinances.  Welch admits the violations but considers the combined fine and reimbursement for attorney’s fees too high.

Selectmen asked Sabins to continue discussion with Welch and Dolby.

The one decision board members made was to accept Field’s recommendation and buy a new John Deere loader from Nortrax, a Florida-based company with a Maine office in Westbrook.  At a cost of approximately $126,400, including a $3,000 option Field chose, the bid was the lowest of four received.   At the June 6 town meeting, voters authorized spending up to $165,000 for a new loader.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, Oct. 6.