Solar power tops action at town meeting

by Mary Grow

Guided by veteran moderator Richard Thompson, 81 registered voters, according to Town Clerk Cathy Coyne, took less than two hours to approve the first 63 articles of their June 3 and June 11 town meeting warrant as presented. The meeting is now in recess until 8 a.m. Tuesday, June 11, when polls open in the town office for written-ballot action on the final three articles.

The longest discussion during the open meeting was over the selectmen’s request for authority to enter into an agreement to have solar power installed. Selectman John Melrose explained that by approving the article, voters authorized selectmen to go through with an idea they have discussed for several years. In answer to voters’ questions, Melrose said:

  • Any solar installation would be on town-owned land, with the lawn at the town garage a possibility but not necessarily the final choice.
  • According to the plan considered in the past, there would be no upfront cost to the town; money would be taken from savings in the electric bill until the project was paid off, probably in around six years.
  • The warrant article required any solar array to provide power for Vassalboro’s two fire stations, the town office and the Historical Society building (formerly the East Vassalboro School) at a minimum; Vassalboro Community School, the transfer station or other town buildings are not necessarily excluded.
  • Solar-generated power would feed into Central Maine Power Company’s system and be credited to Vassalboro; there would not be new lines from the solar array to town buildings.
    Other new proposals approved with little or no discussion included:
  • Seeking grants and using supplemental town funds to install a generator at Vassalboro Community School, so it could be used as an emergency shelter.
  • Using up to $1,000 in tax money plus grants and donations to improve Soldiers Memorial Park, in East Vassalboro, with a plan to rededicate it during the town’s 250th anniversary observance in 2020. The statue of a soldier in the park is missing its rifle; Town Manager Mary Sabins appealed to anyone who knows where it is to contact the town office.
  • Acquiring the lot on which the Riverside Fire Station stands from the Riverside Hose Company, to whom it was given many years ago conditional on use for a fire station.
  • Allowing selectmen to approve modifications to the China Lake Outlet Dam, which the town owns, as part of the Alewife Restoration Project (ARI). Resident and Department of Marine Resources employee Nate Gray estimated the planned fishway at the dam would cost somewhere around $370,000. Sabins explained that the vote does not mean the town pays $370,000; ARI is funded through grants and donations, including annual donations from the town. Voters approved $47,500 for ARI for the fiscal year beginning July 1.

Voters authorized buying a new plow truck and a new police cruiser. During discussion of the cruiser, speeding problems on town roads and Police Chief Mark Brown’s duties, one resident expressed the hope that people driving to and from the Criminal Justice Academy would slow down.

Routine articles funding the various town departments were passed with little or no discussion. The transfer station request led former Selectboard member Elizabeth “Libby” Mitchell to ask whether local recycling would return.

Current Board Chairman Lauchlin Titus replied, “Libby, when I joined you as a selectperson, I didn’t know how much I’d learn about trash. Now I can talk trash with the best of ‘em.”

Titus went on to the explain that all Vassalboro trash, “to our dismay” is landfilled until the Coastal Resources plant in Hampden opens, probably in July. Once the plant is fully operational, Coastal Resources “will do our recycling for us,” he said.

Voters re-elected Donald Breton, William Browne, Philip Landry and Peggy Shafer to the budget committee and chose Christopher French to succeed Richard Phippen.

Dianna Gram plaque

Former Vassalboro Community School Principal Dianna Gram, who retired at the end of the 2017-18 school year, was recognized for her 24 years of service. School Board Chairman Kevin Levasseur and member Jolene Clark Gamage announced a tree has been planted in the school’s front yard with a plaque honoring the principal who, Gamage said, “always was a champion of the kids.”

Gram, completely surprised, said when she was bidden to attend the town meeting, she feared she had somehow messed up the budget. Her Vassalboro job wasn’t a job, she said – “It was coming here every day as part of the VCS family.”

When the town meeting continues June 11, voters will re-approve or reject the $7.7 million school budget approved June 3; decide whether to continue the second school budget vote (called the budget validation referendum) for another three years; and elect municipal officers. Selectman Robert Browne and school board members Jessica Clark and Levasseur are unopposed for re-election.


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