VASSALBORO: Open town meeting planned for June 22

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro officials plan to hold an open town meeting at 6:30 p.m. Monday, June 22, at Vassalboro Community School (VCS), believing they can do so safely and within state guidelines.

Town Manager Mary Sabins said consensus was reached after many email and personal discussions among selectmen, town office staff, VCS technology coordinator David Trask, School Superintendent Alan Pfeiffer and two attorneys with whom Sabins consulted. Selectmen unanimously approved at their May 14 meeting.

Written-ballot local elections are scheduled for Tuesday, July 14, at the same time as state primaries and referenda. Vassalboro polls will be at VCS, not in the town office as usual.

Discussion of the open meeting focused on conforming to state safety regulations to protect everyone involved. The current plan has the meeting moderator at one end of the VCS gymnasium flanked by socially-distanced staff and officials, facing spaced chairs, with no more than 50 people in the room.

The cafeteria would be set up to accommodate a separate gathering of up to 50 more people. Trask said setting up a two-room sound system would be no problem. Various ways to convey messages from people in the cafeteria to the moderator were proposed.

What if 101 people show up, Trask asked. “That’s gonna be a problem,” Sabins replied.

No one wants to discourage voters from attending the meeting. Selectmen think some residents may be hesitant about joining a crowd; and Sabins said she believes there is only one potentially controversial agenda item, the proposal to buy a new fire truck.

Town office to re-open

Town Manager Mary Sabins said at the May 14 selectmen’s meeting that the Vassalboro Town Office is scheduled to reopen to the public on Monday, June 1, with appropriate protective measures for staff and members of the public.

The May 14 discussion covered how to check voters in safely – perhaps by setting up plastic-shielded check-in desks outdoors, Trask suggested – and how to let them out at the end of the meeting while observing distancing. With four separate doors, the exodus from the gym would be comparatively easy, Trask said.

The other main topic May 14 was the planned fishway at the China Lake Outlet Dam in East Vassalboro. Matt Streeter, Manager of Maine Rivers’ Alewife Restoration Project (ARI), displayed on-screen detailed plans for the project that will let alewives complete their annual migration from the Sebasticook River into China Lake.

The fishway that lets the small fish swim upstream in the spring will be along the east bank of the stream, with access for construction over the Cates property, Streeter said. In the fall, out-migrating fish will exit through a tilting weir close to the west bank.

The fishway will not interfere with the town’s managing the dam to control China Lake water levels in accord with state regulations, Streeter said.

Streeter’s presentation covered the fishway itself and related topics like run-off control during construction and protection of archaeological resources if any are found.

Sabins and selectmen were concerned about the town’s responsibility to maintain the fishway. Streeter said the wooden baffles that are its main feature should last 10 years or so; replacing them is a simple and inexpensive bit of construction. He offered to provide spare baffles the town could store until needed.

The Department of Marine Resources has primary responsibility for opening and closing the gates that control entrance to the fishway and the weir, depending on water and fish flows, Streeter said. He agreed it would be helpful if town public works staff were also knowledgeable.

The Outlet Dam is not intended to host people watching alewives; the viewing area will be at Box Mills dam in North Vassalboro. Streeter and selectmen talked about at least a sign, and if necessary a fence, to keep people away from the stream.

ARI spokespeople have said they intend to have the Outlet Dam fishway built in the summer of 2021.

Vassalboro selectmen have cancelled their regular May 28 meeting due to lack of agenda items.  Their next regular meeting is scheduled for Thursday evening, June 11.

UPDATE: This article has been updated from the print version to show the May 28 meeting has been cancelled.


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