Vassalboro voters to decide mass gathering ordinance

by Mary Grow

Vassalboro voters will have a chance to approve or reject a Mass Gathering Ordinance at the polls on Nov. 2.

Selectmen unanimously approved the proposed new ordinance at their Sept. 2 meeting, after reviewing and mostly accepting town attorney Kristin Collins’ recommended changes to the draft Town Manager Mary Sabins and Selectman Barbara Redmond prepared.

Selectmen will hold a public hearing on the ordinance at one of their remaining two September meetings, scheduled for Thursday, Sept. 16, and Thursday, Sept. 30.

They were motivated to prepare the document by a planned country music concert in town in July 2022. The ordinance spells out requirements intended to make such events safe for residents and attendees, including provision of drinking water and sanitary and waste disposal facilities; availability of medical services; and policing for traffic control and law enforcement.

If voters approve the ordinance, anyone hosting a mass gathering as defined will need a town permit, with the permit fee to be set by the selectmen. Selectmen will hold a public hearing before acting on the permit. The applicant must publicize the hearing in a newspaper and on the Vassalboro website and must individually notify property-owners within 1,000 feet of the site by certified mail.

The definition of “mass gathering area” in the proposed ordinance exempts many types of established permanent assembly places. Selectmen agreed in a July discussion that the ordinance would not apply to places like the Olde Mill, St. Bridget’s Center or Natanis Golf Course.

Two other major topics were left undecided at the Sept. 2 selectmen’s meeting: how to spend American Recovery Plan Act (ARPA) money, and from whom to buy a second compactor for the transfer station.

Both discussions involved significant sums. Sabins said ARPA money coming to the town is currently estimated at around $461,000; for the transfer station upgrade, voters have allocated $156,000, Board Chairman Robert Browne said.

The Vassalboro Sanitary District (VSD) submitted a list of ARPA-eligible projects, as proposed in August; the total cost is $2,233,000. Items include repairing 54 manholes in town roads and streets; building storage tanks for odor control chemicals at two pump stations and making other pump-station improvements; repairing the VSD office building; updating the 1982 VSD map; and extending sewer lines to unserved areas.

Selectmen sympathized with the need to help the VSD, especially to lower user fees (which the VSD request says are among the highest in Maine). Board member Chris French commented that manhole covers flush with the pavement might save wear on town snowplows.

However, no board member was interested in giving the VSD $2 million. The district is eligible for Kennebec County funds, Redmond said.

French suggested Delta Ambulance as a possible recipient of money from Vassalboro and other municipalities it serves. He also mentioned expanded broadband for Vassalboro Community School. Redmond replied that she thought state money would be allocated to broadband.

Sabins had heard from one area businessman who had been negatively impacted by the coronavirus. Private businesses whose owners can demonstrate pandemic-related losses are eligible for ARPA money.

Since, as far as Sabins knows, the rules for distributing ARPA funds are not yet final, selectmen agreed to postpone further discussion to a future meeting.

Continued consideration of the transfer station upgrade is tentatively on the Sept. 16 agenda.

French had done research on two offers for a second compactor and explained the differences and related electrical needs, to thanks from the other board members. After discussing French’s findings, selectmen asked Sabins to invite a representative of one company to the next meeting to clarify his proposal.

Both companies offer the new compactor for less than $156,000. Selectmen said either will require additional electrical and other work that will add to the cost.

In other business Sept. 2, Sabins threw out the idea of contracting with a grant-writing company to try to get money to create a park on town-acquired land between Route 32 and Outlet Stream, south of the town office.

Selectmen expanded the idea into seeking bids from more than one company to write multiple grants for projects, work Sabins has been doing as needed. They took no formal action.

Sabins said she visited the town’s property for the first time recently and was favorably impressed by its possibilities for streamside recreation. Conservation Commission members might be willing to draft a park plan, she suggested.

Selectmen made two appointments, Paul Oxley as a member of the Trails Committee and Joseph Henry as a member of the Recreation Committee.


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