Vassalboro News: Planners approve two of three applications

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro Planning Board members approved two of the three permit applications on their Dec. 6 agenda.

By unanimous votes, they issued site review permits to:

  • Leo Barnett for an indoor growing facility for medical marijuana in a building to be put up on Old Meadow Road off Riverside Drive; and
  • Daniel Charest for three additions for commercial storage on his multi-use building at 8 Cushnoc Road.

The board was unable to grant an after-the-fact permit for Brenda Pinkham’s deck on her camp at 119 Pleasant Point Road, because the building is already closer to the high-water mark than allowed and, board Chairman Virginia Brackett said, expansion toward the water is therefore prohibited. Board members agreed that a stairway no more than four feet wide can be built to allow water access, with a permit from the codes officer. They let remain the roof on a side deck, also added without a permit, with the condition that the deck is not to be enclosed.

Barnett’s application generated discussion about whether it was for the building only or for the business for which the building is designed. By the end of the discussion, Brackett and fellow board member Douglas Phillips, who have both been on the board for many years, told Barnett the permit covered the proposed business.

Neighbors again attended the meeting to voice concerns about possible effects. Board members found Barnett’s project meets all criteria in Vassalboro’s ordinance. For both Barnett and Charest, the board required a fence around any dumpster on the property, in an effort to keep children from getting hurt.

Vassalboro News: Special town meeting likely for January on marijuana issue

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro residents need to keep their eyes open for notice of a special town meeting likely to be scheduled in January 2017 to vote on recreational marijuana in town. About 30 people attended the selectmen’s Dec. 1 public meeting to talk about how town officials ought to respond to the state vote approving the recreational use of marijuana. The Marijuana Legalization Act allows residents to cultivate, manufacture, distribute, sell and test retail marijuana products and to open marijuana social clubs. Lauchlin Titus, chairman of the board of selectmen, suggested three possible options. Vassalboro could prohibit recreational marijuana use within town boundaries; it could create a moratorium for up to 180 days, which could be extended for another 180 days, to provide time to develop local regulations; or it could take no action.

Either the first or second option requires a decision by voters, not selectmen, Titus said. Selectmen concluded that it would not be advisable to wait until the June 2017 town meeting to seek voter action.

Most of those who spoke at the Dec. 1 meeting favored a ban or at least a moratorium. New state Representative Richard Bradstreet pointed out that a majority of Vassalboro voters opposed legalization on Nov. 8.

Jim Pfleging, a retired lawman from California, urged a ban and was promptly supported by four or five others.
Pfleging said the problem is not so much marijuana as what comes with it. Because business is transacted in cash due to federal prohibitions that make it impossible to use the banking system, marijuana operations become “money-laundering facilities,” likely to underpay taxes and attract thieves and other criminals.

Several speakers explored the connection between medical marijuana, legal under existing law and regulations, and recreational marijuana. No one was able to say whether Vassalboro’s crime rate had gone up since the town acquired medical marijuana facilities. There was consensus that a ban or moratorium would not affect currently licensed medical facilities; how such action would relate to their hypothetical future expansion was another unknown.

If Vassalboro is to hold a special town meeting to act on a ban or a moratorium, a quorum of 125 registered voters must be present, Titus said – more voters than attend some of the June town meetings. Audience members thought the topic would bring people out.

The Marijuana Legalization Act is currently subject to a ballot recount; assuming the yes vote stands, it will probably take effect early in January. The Department of Agriculture, Conservation and Forestry, the state licensing authority, has up to nine months to adopt rules for regulation and control of activities covered by the law, including developing licensing procedures, qualifications for licensure, security requirements for licensed premises and appeal procedures if a license application is denied. Titus and fellow Selectman Philip Haines doubt a state agency can adopt major rules in so short a time. Within 30 days after the rules are adopted the department is to begin accepting applications.

At the short selectmen’s meeting that preceded the marijuana discussion, Town Manager Mary Sabins said Mark Brown has taken over as police chief, after a period when he and retiring chief Richard Phippen worked together to transfer responsibilities. Selectmen again expressed interest in changing Vassalboro’s streetlights to LED lights. They asked Sabins to find out whether Central Maine Power Company is planning a change; if not, they have information from other companies.

The next regular Vassalboro selectmen’s meeting will be Thursday evening, Dec. 15.

Vassalboro News: Spirit of Christmas calendar released

The Vassalboro Community Christmas Tree Lighting will be held on Friday, December 2, at 6 p.m., at the Olde Mill, in North Vassalboro.

Join Santa as he lights the tree, sings a few carol favorites, and enjoys cookies made by Heavenly Delights Bakery, and hot chocolate. The Girls and Boys Scouting delegations will serve.

Santa would love to hear directly from children about what they need. Parents, bring your camera for that perfect moment! Sponsored by Ray Breton, the Vassalboro Business Association, and Maine Savings FCU.
Spirit of Christmas Craft, Food, & Vendor Fair

Foods, Crafts, Slightly Used Items, Children’s Craft Area & Lunch! At the Vassalboro Grange Hall, Saturday, December 3, from 9 a.m. – 2 p.m. 923-3412 for more info. Sponsored by Friend’s Meeting of Vassalboro.

Breakfast with Santa!

Vassalboro Community School is hosting a “Breakfast with Santa”on Saturday December 3, from 8 – 10 a.m. The cost is $5 per person and includes breakfast, crafts, and a picture with Santa!

There will also be an opportunity for children to purchase and wrap small gifts for loved ones in the “Santa’s Workshop!” This event is sponsored by the VCS PTO.

The Polar Express, The Movie

December 9 at 6 p.m., at VCS. Free Admission.

Pajamas and robes welcome.

For added fun purchase a golden ticket and silver bell while having your picture taken then enjoy a hot cocoa and cookie all for $3. Other drinks and snacks will also be for sale. All children must be accompanied by an adult. Sponsored by the VCS PTO.

The Big Christmas Craft Show

December 10 & 11 from 9 a.m. – 5 p.m., at the Olde Mill. This fair benefits local needs. Call 649-9397 for more information. Organized by Linda Ellis.

Hemphill’s Holiday Parade

Sunday, December 18, at noon. Come enjoy the fun! Call 872-7964 for more info.

School board hears reports from AOS officials

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro School Board members held a short and uneventful monthly meeting Nov. 15, mostly receiving reports from AOS (Alternative Organizational Structure) #92 officials and board member Elizabeth Mitchell, who attended the recent Maine School Board Association meeting.

Afterward, Superintendent Eric Haley commented that with the school year under way and the next year’s budget not started, November school board meetings are often short in all three AOS #92 municipalities (Vassalboro, Waterville and Winslow).

Vassalboro Community School (VCS) Principal Dianna Gram reported that the school’s pre-kindergarten program reached its enrollment limit of 16 students. A state reviewer visited the program and reported that it meets all applicable state standards. Gram also reported that eighth-graders in Vassalboro’s highly regarded JMG (Jobs for Maine Graduates) program, led by Victor Esposito, have taken part in a public speaking series with the Augusta-based Kennebec Valley chapter of Toastmasters International. One of Vassalboro’s students participated in a conference in Toronto.

JMG students are running a wreath sale at the school, with a December 29 deadline for orders. People interested can get information and place orders by calling VCS at 923-3100 and asking for Esposito.

The school’s Parent-Teacher Organization is presenting two pre-Christmas events open to the public. On Saturday, Dec. 3, Santa’s breakfast will be held from 8 to 10 a.m., with crafts, a pancake breakfast and a picture with Santa for $5 plus a sale of gifts from Santa’s Workshop.

The movie “Polar Express” will be shown Friday, Dec. 9, starting at 6 p.m. Admission is free; those who wish may buy a golden ticket, a silver bell, a photo with the Polar Express as the background and cocoa and a homemade cookie for $3, and there will be a concession stand.

The next Vassalboro School Board meeting is scheduled for Tuesday evening, Dec. 20.

Public forum planned on new marijuana law; selectmen seek public input

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro residents with opinions on how their town should react to the state-wide vote legalizing recreational marijuana production and use are invited to a hearing at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, Dec. 1, in the town office meeting room, before the 7 p.m. selectmen’s meeting.

At their Nov. 17 meeting, selectmen discussed three alternatives:

  • Prepare a moratorium ordinance that would prohibit in-town marijuana operations for six months or a year to give time to create local regulations. Should they choose that route, board members need to find out whether selectmen can declare a moratorium or whether voters’ approval is required.
  • Prepare a local regulatory ordinance, probably for submission to the June 2017 town meeting. Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus suggested Vassalboro’s Adult-Only Business Ordinance, adopted while the topless coffee shop was open on Route 3, could be a model.
  • Take no immediate action. (ep)

Board member Robert Browne recommended asking residents’ opinions, especially on the moratorium idea, leading to scheduling the Dec. 1 hearing.

Town Manager Mary Sabins provided copies of the complete Marijuana Legalization Act voters approved, pointing out three provisions that struck her: a nine-month deadline for state authorities to adopt rules for the new industry; a requirement for municipal approval to obtain a state license for retail sale of marijuana or operation of a marijuana social club; and a provision allowing municipalities to prohibit both retail sales and social clubs.

Selectmen believe they have time to consider the issue and prepare action. Titus said with the ballot recount and the holidays, he doubts the referendum result, if confirmed, will be effective until early January 2017. He does not expect state authorities to take any action until the vote is final.

Titus and board member Philip Haines, both experienced with state services, agreed that the state cannot meet the nine-month deadline. A major rule-making process, they said, takes a year or longer. There is also the possibility that the state legislature will further delay action by discussing whether to amend the approved ballot question.

In other business Nov. 17, selectmen reviewed five applications to fill the vacant planning board seat and unanimously appointed Marianne Stevens the new alternate member, succeeding Paul Breton.

Stevens is a former Kingfield resident who served on the Kingfield Planning Board and has experience on other town and state boards.

Haines commented on the variety of knowledge and experience among the applicants and expressed the hope that they will be around if there is another planning board vacancy.

Board members contemplated follow-up actions after town voters rejected both local referendum questions on the Nov. 8 ballot. As a first step toward meeting pedestrian needs in East Vassalboro, since voters chose not to appropriate money for sidewalks, Titus asked Sabins to have Road Commissioner Eugene Field get prices for a variety of speed limit and warning signs that might add to the effect of state speed limit signs. Haines, a supporter of the shoreland zoning amendments voters turned down, favored another vote, probably at the June town meeting. Titus said it would not be illegal to seek a second vote.

Maine’s largest community solar farm grows in China

By the end of the year, South China will host the largest community solar farm to date in Maine; 3 Level Farm Community Solar Farm, on Rte. 32.

solar farm continues at the 3 Levels Farm, in China

Construction of a solar farm continues at the 3 Levels Farm, in China. By the end of the year, South China will host the largest community solar farm to date in the state of Maine. Photos courtesy of Holly Noyes

Glen Wall, a resident of South China, is one of the eight members of the solar farm and serves as treasurer of the association. All members of the farm will receive credits toward their electricity bill through net metering in proportion to the shares they own. If someone owns 20 percent of the solar farm, then they would get 20 percent back in credits. “Although I own the smallest share in the farm, I still get to offset carbon and lower my electricity costs,” said Wall.

Each kilowatt of solar energy installed in Maine saves each utility ratepayer $4,000 over the lifetime of the panels, according to the Value of Solar study commissioned by Maine Public Utility Commission. Community solar farms allow greater access to solar energy. Renters, homeowners and business owners who don’t have a location or roof suitable for a solar panel array to be installed can receive the financial and environmental benefits of solar energy through a community farm membership. “When the community solar farm in South China became available, I wanted to join. In addition, if I move or sell my house someday, I will still benefit from it,” Wall said.

ReVision Energy, of Liberty, is designing and installing the project, and employs 32 people locally. ReVision Energy also has an office in Portland and two in New Hampshire with 140 employees total. Since 2003, ReVision Energy has installed over 5,000 solar arrays. The members of the 3 Level Farm Community Solar Farm and ReVision Energy will be hosting an open house for the public in early Spring.

Employees at the China solar farm

Employees at the China solar farm, designed and installed by ReVision Energy, of Liberty, are, from left to right, Jarrett Cannan, Holly Noyes, Dryw Hunt and Justin Milliken.

Vassalboro: Attendees leave with informational pamphlets

by Mary Grow

People attending the Nov. 7 East Vassalboro meeting on removal of the Masse dam left with three handouts.
One is titled “Public Participation in the Licensing Process” and explains how and when area residents can follow and take part in the application review.

The handout directs people seeking maximum involvement to file a written request to become what DEP calls an “interested person” and receive application-related material. Interested persons may inspect and copy all non-confidential information in the DEP file on the application and will get notices of meetings and hearings.

Interested persons and others may submit written comments on an application being reviewed. There is also an opportunity to request a public hearing on an application, if the request is submitted within 20 days after DEP accepts the application as complete and meets other requirements.

The handout offers two sources for additional information: DEP Director of Procedures and Enforcement, 287-7688; and on-line links provided at

The second handout is a three-and-a-half page summary of ARI’s work as of July 2016.

The third is a one-page project summary explaining that the activity for which the DEP permit is requested will require using an excavator to remove the concrete dam and sluiceway, leaving the dam buttress and the part of the dam north of the sluiceway in place. Work is planned for July, August and September; no year is specified, but Landis Hudson of Maine Rivers said in an email that the goal is 2017.

Vassalboro: Dam groups hold public hearing on project

by Mary Grow

The groups applying for a state permit to remove the Masse dam in East Vassalboro held a Nov. 7 public hearing to explain the project and how area residents can get involved.

The presentation by Landis Hudson, of Maine Rivers, drew about two dozen people from Vassalboro and China to participate in a wide-ranging discussion. Most of the East Vassalboro residents who spoke remained unconvinced of the value of the project. Maine Rivers, the China Region Lakes Alliance and others have created ARI, the Alewife Restoration Initiative. ARI’s goal is to clear China Lake’s Outlet Stream of obstacles to fish passage so that migratory alewives can get from the Atlantic Ocean via the Kennebec and Sebasticook rivers into the lake.

One step is the proposed removal of the dam in East Vassalboro. The project requires a Natural Resources Protection Act permit from the state Department of Environmental Protection (DEP). Hudson said the meeting was a state requirement as an early step in the application to remove the dam.

Hudson’s presentation focused on expected environmental impacts, the topic most questioned during the discussion. Proponents foresee a more natural ecosystem that will provide better habitat for native species of fish, animals, birds, insects and plants, and the probable improvement of water quality in China Lake through the alewife introduction.

Dams and other man-made barriers fragment formerly interconnected habitats and tend to benefit non-native and warm-water species, Hudson said. Reconnecting streams is Maine Rivers’ main focus; other ARI members are more concerned with alewife migration.

In August and September the Masse dam was opened to lower the water level in the upstream impoundment and part of the former mill was taken down. Hudson said complete removal of the dam would not change the upstream water level much more.

According to earlier discussions, the mill was in danger of collapse, endangering East Vassalboro Water Company pipes under the stream as well as people trespassing on mill property.

Hudson said mill owner Don Robbins made a presentation on the historic mill to the Vassalboro Historical Society.

Jan Clowes of the society said the group did not understand the urgency of his situation and hoped the society would not “drop the ball” should a similar problem arise in the future.

A related concern was that lower water above the water company’s pipes would expose them to freezing. The pipes have been relocated, Hudson said.

Charlie Hartman, Clowes and other East Vassalboro residents argued Nov. 7 that they have lost a pond that was a significant recreational and community center, that trees and perhaps buildings are endangered by the changed shoreline configuration and that there is not enough water in the stream for all the good things predicted.

Project Manager Matt Streeter said the application process includes a hydrogeologist’s study of the impact of lower water on buildings and retaining walls. Conclusions from the study will be submitted to DEP.

Water flow from China Lake down Outlet Stream is regulated by a Board of Environmental Protection order specifying maximum and minimum flows at different seasons. The Outlet Dam is managed to meet the state requirements.

Discussion also covered the validity of the claim that alewives will improve lake water quality, a statement everyone agreed is so far unproven. Dam removal proponents think improvement is likely; opponents are skeptical.

Resident Bill Pullen queried the cost of the project, getting no answer. Streeter said arrangements with contractors are not part of the public record. He assured the audience that so far the cost is within $1,000 of the original budget.

In May, Vassalboro selectmen approved giving the China Region Lakes Alliance $150,000 in Tax Increment Financing (TIF) funds to support ARI’s work, $65,000 in the spring and $85,000 after the November tax payment.

Area students on dean’s list at UNH

The following area students have been named to the dean’s list at the University of New Hampshire, in Durham, New Hampshire.

Kelly McCormac, of South China; Michaela Hinckley-Gordon, of Benton; Kellie Bolduc and Luke Violette, both of Waterville; Sarah Wildes, of Winslow; Myrilla Hartkopf, of Albion; Andrew Marden, of Bingham, Maxwell Kenney and Kyle McLain, both of Fairfield; Adam Bovie and Rebecca Grenier, both of Vassalboro.


Vassalboro voters reject both local questions

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro voters rejected both local referendum questions at the polls Nov. 8. (ep)

The revised Shoreland Zoning Ordinance on which planning board members worked for a year was defeated by a vote of 981 yes to 1,186 no, leaving the current ordinance in place.

A request for an appropriation from surplus of not more than $58,600 as the town’s contribution toward installing sidewalks in East Vassalboro lost with 969 votes in favor and 1,360 against. Had voters approved the project, it would have been incorporated into the state’s planned rebuilding of Route 32 through Vassalboro, scheduled for 2017 or 2018.

In the other local ballot question, Frank Richards was elected to represent Vassalboro on the Kennebec Water District Board of Trustees with 2,135 votes.

Town Clerk Cathy Coyne, reporting results shortly after 2 a.m. Nov. 9, said 2,480 ballots were cast, what she called a record turnout. Vassalboro has 3,165 registered voters.