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LakeSmart presentation from state director slated

Image Credit: chinalakeassociation.org

The China Region Lakes Alliance (CRLA) will sponsor a presentation by State LakeSmart Director Mary Wicklund on Maine’s LakeSmart Program, designed to help improve the health of Maine’s lake resources.

The meeting will be held Wednesday, October 20, 2021, at 6 p.m. (EST) at the portable classroom at the China Town Office Complex, and by Zoom.

All interested parties are invited to attend. For more information about LakeSmart, or to obtain the Zoom link, please contact (207) 200-8361.

Interviews with China Lake Association leadership; Goal is to educate, re-engage membership

New China Lake Association president Stephen Greene, left, and newly-appointed executive director of the China Region Lakes Alliance, Scott Pierz, during a recent interview. (photo by Jeanne Marquis)

by Jeanne Marquis

The China Lake Association (CLA) elected a new president, Stephen Greene, which established Scott Pierz as the president emeritus for his seven-year service. Scott Pierz will remain active with the CLA, aid in the leadership transition while his passion for lake management will be shared to a greater area as the Executive Director of the China Region Lakes Alliance (CRLA).

In an in-depth interview, we discovered what this shift will mean in terms of strengthening the stewardship of our natural local water resources, their visions for the future and the differences in their leadership styles.

What in their backgrounds has prepared them for these roles?

Scott Pierz grew up in Connecticut and graduated from the University of Maine at Orono with multiple degrees in philosophy, psychology and teaching. After teaching early in his career, he took a job with the State of Maine as one of the first program monitors of fuel assistance in the late seventies and eighties. In the mid-’80s, Pierz was the City of Gardiner’s codes enforcement officer and later that decade became Oakland’s first codes enforcement officer. After leaving that position, he became a planner with what is now the Kennebec Valley Council of Governments (KVCOG). In this position, Pierz wrote comprehensive plans and grants. One of these grants, a Community Development Block Grant (CDBG) for the Town of Norridgewock gave him a job as the CDBG Director of this multi-phase project. In 1995, Pierz became the codes enforcement officer of China, serving for 19 years, where he saw first hand the direct connection between building codes and lake quality.

Pierz explained this connection, “Essentially, the knowledge I gained through my codes enforcement career with various communities, along with planning and grant writing experience, have formed the foundation of my education about municipal land use and lake ecology.”

Stephen Greene’s career has also extensively prepared him for the role as CLA president. Greene is a 1973 graduate of the University of Maine at Orono (UMO). Prior to continuing on to law school, he worked industrial construction jobs in Portland, Maine. In 1979, he graduated from the New York Law School and was admitted to the New Jersey Bar. For the next four years, Greene served as an assistant prosecutor for the Hudson County (NJ) Prosecutor’s Office and tried over 20 jury criminal cases during his tenure.

Greene was an associate attorney with Ravin, Sarasohn, Cook, Baum­garten & Fisch , Roseland, New Jersey, during 1983 to 1990 and an associate attorney with Schwartz, Tobia & Stanziale, Montclair, New Jersey, from 1990 to 1993. At these firms, he conducted civil business litigation, including some bench trials and appellate work.

After 1993 until his 2018 retirement, Greene served as Vice President and General Counsel with G&W Laboratories, Inc., South Plainfield, New Jersey, a pharmaceutical manufacturing firm.There he was responsible for all legal matters involving the company, such as FDA, mergers and acquisitions, corporate compliance, and litigation. During his tenure at G&W, he volunteered for and performed pro bono legal work for non-profit organizations under the auspices of the Pro Bono Partnership.

Green mentioned two lessons he learned in his career that he will apply in his new role as CLA president. The first is to always rely on the facts to determine a sound decision. The second lesson is to find the common ground between people’s positions.
How did Pierz and Greene develop their connections to China Lake?

Pierz has lived on China Lake since 1981. Through his 40 years of watching sunsets over the lake and hearing the calls of the loons, he feels a deep connection to the lake. He saw through his work how the lake is the heartbeat of the surrounding area and what happens within the 26 square mile watershed area surrounding the lake impacts the water quality.

Greene also has a long relationship with China Lake. He first visited the lake with his wife, Margo Rancourt Greene, who he met at the University of Maine at Orono as students. China Lake had been an integral part of her family’s life and that continued as Stephen and Margo Greene raised their own children. In 2010, the Greene’s converted their camp into a year-round residence to get more enjoyment from the lake and, now in retirement, spend the majority of the year there.

Greene explains how his passion for the lake turned into concern, “My wife and I remember very well the purity of the China Lake in the 1970s, as well as the heartbreaking changes over the next two decades. We couldn’t abandon China Lake with our deep roots here, and decided we would do something to make a difference. We joined CLA many years ago and got involved. Margo with LakeSmart and me now with the CLA board and presidency. I have been absorbing information from friends in the community, scouring regional news sources and local journalism, including The Town Line, as well as listening to non-profit groups with similar missions as the China Lake Association.”

What does Scott Pierz’s move to the China Region Lakes Alliance as their Executive Director mean to China Lake?

Pierz told us, “ My father instilled in me a nature to participate and give time, to dedicate time, to my community and that’s a community with a capital “C.” That still drives me. I’ve got more to give. There’s more to do. So that’s why I’m making the move to the China Region Lakes Alliance to continue the core programs that have been offered not only to China, but to expand them within the region, and that’s my goal.”

The CLA and CRLA will continue their strong relationship. As the executive director, Pierz will expand the core programs to serve the regional lakes – Webber Pond and Three Mile Pond – that connect with China Lake. These programs are LakeSmart, Courtesy Boat Inspection Program (CBI), Youth Conservation Corps (YCC), and the Gravel Road Rehabilitation Program (GRRP). The strategy behind this organizational shift is that China Lake will be better protected when the surrounding bodies of water are also protected.

What does Stephen Greene see as the future and the greatest challenges ahead for the CLA?

Green responded, “The CLA has been and continues to be a vibrant, effective and constant organizing voice for China Lake protection and restoration. The campaigns it conducts and programs it supports for environmental education, science-based research, watershed surveys, YCC, LakeSmart, boat inspectIons and gravel road restoration have been instrumental in reducing and slowing the phosphorus load to the lake. … As was pointed out in our recent annual meeting, the greatest threat may be the epic task of solving the lakebed phosphorus load.”

Green sees his initial calls to action are to educate, re-engage the membership, and recruit the younger generation to get involved to preserve the lake for future generations. “We owe it to our children to do all we can to secure that destiny.”

China Lake annual meeting reflects on association mission

David Preston, right, Secretary for the China Lake Association, presents a recognition award to Scott Pierz for his seven years of dedicated service to the China Lake Association. (photo by Elaine Philbrook)

by Jeanne Marquis

The 2021 Annual Meeting of the China Lake Association (CLA) was a reflection on how vital their mission is to restore and protect the quality of China Lake. The many speakers and quality of the information shared at this meeting demonstrated the important collaborations CLA has forged with the numerous related environmental organizations and governmental departments.

Scott Pierz, China Lake Association president opened the 2021 meeting with recognition of the passing of Director Emeritus Irma Simon. Her advocacy for the environment earned her the nickname “Mother Nature” by her high school science students. Simon was among the founding members of the China Lake Association and appointed to the Board of Directors a few years later where she served for more than 30 years.

The keynote speaker Jennifer Jespersen founded Ecological Instincts, an environmental consulting firm located in Manchester, Maine. The Kennebec County Soils and Water Conservation District awarded Ecological Instincts the contract to conduct the 2020-21 China Lake Watershed Survey. In addition to her firm’s work with China Lake, Jespersen also manages grant-funded watershed restoration projects on Varnum Pond in Temple, Abrams Pond in Eastbrook and Georges Pond in Franklin.

Jepersen began by outlining the history of studies that have been conducted about the water quality of China Lake and where the current Watershed Survey fits into this body of collected data. The Watershed Survey documented areas of potential soil erosion in the 26 square miles in the Towns of China, Vassalboro and Albion which drain into China Lake. She explained how this information will be used to identify strategies to continue to improve China Lake’s water quality over the next ten years.

Jepersen explains, “Lakes are a reflection of the watershed — the more we change the quality of the runoff, the more we change the quality of the lake.”

Keynote speaker Jespersen previewed another study that measured the naturally occurring release of phosphorus from the sediment at the bottom of the basins of the lake. China Lake has two basins, east and west. The results from this internal loading research will be out in September 2021.

Matt Streeter of Maine Rivers, a guest speaker, presented an update of the Alewife Restoration Initiative for 2021. This initiative began more than six years ago and has restored the run of an estimated 950,000 alewives to help restore the natural ecosystem as it existed prior to the building of the dams. The fish, except for a few lucky ones, will not be able to make it all the way to China Lake until work is completed at the Outlet Dam, which is underway this year. The dam will be replaced by a Denil fishway that will allow the fish to pass through while maintaining the water of the lake. The reason why the restoration of this fish population is so important is that the young alewives will ingest the phosphorus and take it with them when they migrate out to the ocean. Alewife restoration is another vital step in maintaining water quality.

Another guest speaker, Robbie Bickford, Water Quality Director of the Kennebec Water District (KWD), presented a report on last year’s water quality in China Lake. He told the attendees of the annual meeting 2020 was the first year in the last five years that there was not a marked improvement in the water quality of China Lake. He attributed this to an early ice out in the spring and near drought conditions at the start of the summer among other factors. The lack of improvement shows how critical it is to diligently continue our water quality efforts.

Updates were presented at the annual meeting about other China Lake initiatives from China LakeSmart, Gravel Road Rehabilitation Program, Invasive Plant Patrol Program China Lake Loon Count and the Youth Conservation Corps. To find out how to get involved with the China Lake Association or any of the China Lake initiatives go to chinalakeassociation.org for information.

The China Lake Association welcomed in a newly elected president, Stephen Greene and expressed a deep gratitude to Scott Pierz for his seven years of service as president. Under Pierz’ guidance, the China Lake Association developed close relationships with stakeholders and advocated successfully for the funding for effective programs to improve the water quality, educate landowners and visitors.

David Preston said, “Besides being a great organizational leader, one of Scott’s strongest contributions has been his sharp-eyed monitoring of day-to-day issues. If there is a project affecting the lake, or a problem with water levels, you name it and Scott is on it. He persists in standing up for fair enforcement of environmental codes with expertise and conviction of what is right. Like Dr. Seuss’ Lorax who spoke for the trees, Scott speaks for the lake!”

China Lake Association; Protecting the Lake and Land Owners: Nonprofit Spotlight

Some of the attendees at the Invasive Plant 101 workshop, held in China on August 24, were, from left to right, Sonny Pierce, of Rangeley Lake Heritage Trust, Peter Caldwell and Marie Michaud, China Lake Association, and Spencer Harriman, of Lake Stewards of Maine. (contributed photo)

by Steve Ball

“The quality of China Lake has improved noticeably over the past five years. I can remember algae so thick on the surface that when I ran my boat I would leave a wake of algae behind me.”

Larry Sikora, China Lake property owner

Imagine the impact a polluted lake would have on the town of China and its residents. There was a day, in the late 1980s, when there was justifiable concern with the cleanliness of the lake. Many China residents likely remember the algae blooms resulting in low fish counts, few lake birds, limited lakeside wildlife, and sparse or distorted shore plant life. All these are indications that the health of the lake is failing.

The results of this condition can be devastating for a community like China and its surrounding towns that rely so heavily on its lake for its drinking water and attracting tourism and recreation, and, thus, growing economic activity.

In mid-1990s the University of Maine conducted an extended study of the connection between the health of Maine’s lakes, as measured in nutrient and cleanliness levels, and local economic growth. In the 1996 study, “Water Quality Affects Property Prices: A Case Study of Selected Maine Lakes,” the authors found what many lake residents have known for years, there is direct link between healthy waters and good economic viability. Everything from the direct economic impact resulting from lake usage, to the price of lakeside homes and camps and the town’s tax revenue generated from waterfront properties is either positively or negatively impacted by the cleanliness of the local lake. China Lake was one of the 34 lakes in Maine included in the study.

The other reality of addressing the health of lake waters is that remediating, or cleaning up a problem like algae bloom, or an overheated lake is far more expensive than preventing the problem.

It is for these reasons that the China Lake Association was formed in 1987. Their mission is simple: Through education, fund raising and other proper activities, to guard the waters of China Lake against pollution, to preserve the environmental health of the China Lake watershed and to protect and enhance the beauty of the Lake and its adjacent area.

The CLA has made a difference in this community through active and persistent action to help keep China Lake the clean, fresh lake that people in this community and our visitors have grown to expect. But that work needs people committed to rolling up their sleeves and doing everything from replanting lakeside vegetation to help minimize the effects of erosion and runoff, to managing the Boat Inspection Program, to studying the ways the lake is polluted and finding solutions, to educating youth and adults about the importance of having a clean and healthy lake.

Several people since the organization’s founding have helped to make this organization effective. Scott Pierz, the current president of the CLA is not only an avid champion for China Lake, he has become a student of what it takes to steward a healthy lake in Maine. Pierz, the former Codes Enforcement Officer for China, knows the area well and appreciates the impact China Lake has on nearly every household in the community.

A revegetation project China Lake Association supports working with fifth grade students in both Vassalboro and China schools. This project is organized by Matt Streeter from the Alewife Restoration Project. Nate Gray, from the Department of Marine Resources, is always present and Anita Smith, of China, presents the information on native plants. (contributed photo)

Of all the things CLA is involved in, the education aspect is one that seems to appeal to Pierz’s talents. He believes that if we can educate our middle schoolers about the value of keeping a clean and healthy lake our future is bright. The CLA has taught classes on loons, how a lake becomes polluted, and they’ve hosted a poster contest. In Pierz’s mind, “We are building a youth of informed citizens” who will know what it means to have a clean lake and, more specifically, what it means to the town of China to have a clean lake.

In addition to education and the Boat Inspection Program, the CLA has been actively involved in the China Lake Alewife Restoration Initiative, ARI. Knowing the value of a natural alewife population on cleansing fresh waters, the CLA has been a part of a program to restore passage for 950,000 alewives migrating from the Sebasticook River to China Lake. With the goal to remove obsolete dams that had obstructed the passage of alewives and construct fishways where necessary, the ARI has successfully restored an alewife population to China Lake. The results to the lake’s waters have been remarkable; noticeably cleaner water, higher bird counts and more lake plant life. The fish count is harder to determine, but some attest the fishing has been better.

Another undertaking started by the CLA has been the Gravel Road Rehabilitation Program. This was the brainchild of Pierz who saw that runoff from some gravel roads surrounding the lake was bringing damaging pollutants into the water. The project involves getting an engineering plan and then bringing together the manpower to assist with either diverting the runoff, or planting buffer plants, or re-grading of the roads; whatever it takes to prevent damaging runoff from entering the lake.

In addition, the CLA assists the state of Maine’s Department of Environmental Protection in running the Lake Smart Program for China Lake property owners. Lake Smart, an education and reward program, provides assistance to lakefront homeowners to better manage landscapes in ways that protect water quality. Through the program property owners can receive a technical inspection with a proposed improvement plan by a DEP certified Soil and Water Conservation Engineer that can ultimately be enacted through CLA help and volunteer labor.

All of these programs and initiatives have two goals in mind; improve the quality of China Lake’s water and build a sustainable system to assure its quality in years to come. It is this relentless commitment to finding and carrying out ways to keep China Lake clean and healthy that has come to define the China Lake Association. The community may not see everything they do, and some residents may not remember what it was like when the lake was suffering from damaging algae blooms, but everyone should appreciate there is a nonprofit working in the community for the benefit of every citizen.

The Town Line will continue with a series on local nonprofit groups and their work in their respective communities. To include your group, contact The Town Line at townline@townline.org.

China/Vassalboro fifth graders help with revegetation program

Students at VCS helping with the revegetation project at the Masse Dam Site.

Fifth grade students from China Middle School and Vassalboro Community School are continuing the work started two years ago by fellow students helping with the revegetation project at the Masse Dam site, in Vassalboro. They are learning the connections between alewives, native plants and the restoration of Maine waterways back to their original state. The restoration of Maine waterways, also known as the Alewife Restoration Initiative, will allow river herring, an anadromous fish, to return to freshwater to spawn.

The site of Masse Dam, which was removed in 2018. (photo by Eric Austin)

Matt Streeter, from Maine Rivers, shared what has happened and is happening as dams are being removed allowing alewives and blueback herring to return to China Lake and Outlet Stream. Nate Gray from the Maine Department of Marine Resources provided information on alewives as a keystone species and what that means to our local environment. Anita Smith, a Maine Master naturalist, clarified the difference between native and invasive plants and why we need to focus our restoration efforts with native species.

This year’s seed collection were ones that would do well in wet to medium wet soils. Some of the seeds planted were Swamp Milkweed, Swamp Smart Weed, New England Asters, Wild Bergamot, Black-eyed Susan and Golden Alexander. Next fall students will go to the Masse Dam site to plant their young plants along the outlet stream. There is also a plan for the fifth graders to visit the site this spring. In the spring they will learn more about the history of the site, identify critters from the stream to determine if the stream is healthy or not, as well as plant shrubs along the stream’s edge.

Seeds for this project were provided by the China Lake Association.

Article and photos submitted by Elaine Philbrook of the China Lake association.

Students at CMS helping with the revegetation project at the Masse Dam Site.

Winners of 2019 China Lake Association post contest

The winners of the China Lake Association poster contest were, from left to right, Elaine Philbrook, contest coordinator, April Dutilly (fifth grade, fourth place), Madeline Clement (fifth grade, fourth place), Elijah Pelkey (fifth grade, third place), Elliotte Podey (fifth grade, first place), and Kayleigh Morin (sixth grade, first place). Back is China Lake Association President Scott Pierz. Not present, fifth grade winners, Ruby Pearson (second place), Bayley Nickles (fourth place), and Octavia Berto (sixth grade, second place), and Jayda Bickford (sixth grade, third place). (photo courtesy of Elaine Philbrook)

China Lake Association holds annual meeting

At their annual meeting on July 28, the China Lake Association presented Scott and Katy McCormac with the LakeSmart Award. In photo, Katy, left, accepts the award from Marie Michaud. (Contributed photo)

Submitted by Scott Pierz

The China Lake Association held its annual summer meeting on Saturday, July 28, at the China Primary School, which included an excellent presentation by Dr. Whitney King, of Colby College. More than 70 people attended.

China Lake Association Director Elaine Philbrook presented awards for this year’s poster contest held for the fifth and sixth graders at the China Middle School. There were amazing posters again this year, created upon the theme of “The Year of the Buffer.” The top award winners were fifth grader Chase Larrabee and sixth grader Stephanie Kumnick.

This year’s keynote speaker was Dr. Whitney King, from Colby College, who presented the audience with information about the condition and treatment of East Pond. His talk was entitled, “Saving East Pond: A Cautionary Tale.” During this summer, a team of participants and scientists undertook the task of introducing alum, also known as Aluminum Sulfate, into East Pond. The project took 20 days to complete. In proper concentrations, this process is believed to reduce (“lock up”) the phosphorus concentration in the water-body thereby limiting the availability of phosphorus to produce algae blooms. Dr. King’s report also included information about the historical condition of China Lake. There were many interesting and good questions, and Dr. King was very dynamic and knowledgeable in his presentation.

Director Elaine Philbrook talked about the Invasive Plant Paddle Program she is participating in, with a scheduled Plant Paddle to take place on Tuesday August 21, from 9 a.m. to noon, at the Four Seasons Club, 570 Lakeview Drive. To register and to find more information about the Invasive Plant Paddle, go to: https://www.mainevlmp.org/invasive-plant-patrol-workshops/

Director Marie Michaud updated everyone on the progress being made this summer with the China LakeSmart Program. She reported that China LakeSmart was in full swing with over a dozen new shorefront buffers already installed this summer. The work is completed by the Youth Conservation Corps operated by the China Region Lakes Alliance. More work is expected to be completed by this season’s end. People were encouraged to join her team of volunteers who assess the shoreline of China Lake property owners who would like a buffer planted. It is a free service to China Lake property owners. Anyone interested can e-mail chinalakesmart@gmail.com. Finally, Katy and Scott McCormac were recognized for achieving a LakeSmart Award, which was presented by Marie Michaud.

The Kennebec Water District was recognized for its contributions, once again donating considerable funds to support China LakeSmart projects. Also, the Kennebec Water District helps support the Courtesy Boat Inspection Program on China Lake. Inspectors can be seen at the Head of China Lake on the weekends. The Kennebec Water District’s representative, Matt Zetterman, made a presentation and reported that China Lake again, for the second year in a row, has had incredibly good water quality based on lake monitoring data.

Nate Gray of the Maine Department of Marine Resources gave an excellent update on the Alewife Restoration Initiative (ARI). He spoke on the progress being made on the ARI project, including last year’s removal of the Masse Dam, and the upcoming scheduled removal of the Lombard Dam, in Vassalboro. He commented that conceptual fish passage designs continue to be developed for the Ladd and Box Mill Dams, in North Vassalboro, along with an engineered design of a fish passage at the Outlet Dam, in East Vassalboro.

Director Bob O’Connor wrapped up with the loon count for China Lake this year, reporting a decrease in the number of loons observed: 20 adult loons but only one new loon chick seen. This loon count is conducted early in the morning the Saturday before the annual meeting for a very short period of time, and in specific locations around the lake. This is the established way in which the loon count takes place, however, other local reports set the number of observed new loon chicks to be four.

Finally, Registered Agent Jamie Pitney conducted the business of renewing some of the director’s terms and the slate of officers will remain the same for another year until the next annual meeting in 2019. These include Scott Pierz (President), David Preston (Secretary), Tim Axelson (Treasurer) and James Pitney (Registered Agent).

For additional information about the China Lake Association or for anyone interested in becoming a member go to the China Lake Association’s website at http://chinalakeassociation.org/ or check things out on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/China-Lake-Association.