Friday, January 29, 2016

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One step forward, two back for Mallison Falls project - By Walter Lunt

The lengthy process of gaining approvals for the conversion of an old Windham mill site into a 109 unit apartment complex has taken a tentative step forward. The Windham Town Council on Tuesday voted 5 – 1 (Muir; Gleason absent) in favor of a request for the town to apply for a Community Development Block Grant to upgrade utilities and other infrastructure for the project. The $320,000 grant, if approved by the county, would help fund new water, electrical, gas, stormwater controls and sewer lines, and improvements to the road intersection. Included in the request was an intent for the town to include an affordable housing TIF (tax increment financing) that would contribute toward both the redevelopment and for housing rehabilitation in South Windham. It was the TIF portion of the request that gave pause to most councilors, many of whom said they needed more information before going forward.
“I don’t want to be in a position where we move forward now and figure out the details (of the TIF) later,” said council chair Donna Chapman. She indicated support for the redevelopment, but added, “We’re not doing due diligence to the community by not knowing all the facts.”

Councilman Dennis Welch said he favored a workshop to work out all the details and the numbers of a TIF. 
Bob Gaudreau, owner of Hardypond Construction of Portland which is developing the site, said he agreed. “We need to meet with the council. Our numbers haven’t changed, and we’ll be there.” He said he views passage of the block grant proposal as “a positive step.”

Windham Economic Development head Tom Bartell said that without the TIF portion of the block grant request, “…the project is dead.”

Hardypond Construction of Portland proposed last spring to purchase and redevelop the largely unused 5.2 acre complex on the Presumpscot River into apartments for seniors and upwardly mobile Millennials. Under the plan, estimated to cost around $15 million, at least 30 percent of the units would be affordable, that is, dedicated for low and middle income individuals or families. 

Town officials say they intend to utilize tax increment financing (TIF) to support not only the redevelopment project, but other housing concerns, such as the deteriorating conditions in South Windham village. 

Bartell said that a TIF has advantages for both the town and the developer because the value of the property that is under improvement increases the valuation of the town proportionately – normally this would result in higher county taxes and lower state subsidies for schools and revenue sharing. Under a TIF however, the higher valuation is “sheltered,” and this money can be used to support the TIF project, as well as capital improvement in the town, in this case rehabilitation in South Windham village. Also, with a TIF in place, a developer has more leverage to secure loans related to its project.

 Although details have not yet been worked out, Bartell said that because the TIF would be tied to affordable housing, the funds must be used to address a local housing issue, so a portion of the sheltered money might be used to support the redevelopment project while the rest would be used to help correct blight and neglect in certain parts of South Windham village, which has long been a concern of residents, the town and elected officials.

Resident concerns over the redevelopment project have focused on the developer’s proposal to turn Mallison Falls Road into a one-way street. Sight distance is near zero for drivers exiting the mill site as well as for traffic traveling west down the steep hill. The road is a connector for commuters coming from and going to Gorham and other towns. As a result, traffic engineers for Hardypond will now suggest a 4-way stop at the intersection of the mill’s driveway and Mallison Falls Road, subject to approval by the Windham Town Council. hurdles that have already been addressed successfully involved zoning and ground contamination around the site’s main building. Last July, in a unanimous show of support for redevelopment of the mill site, the Windham Town Council approved a contract zone for the project, allowing the developer to increase the number of units to be built from 74 to 109. In addition to increasing residential density, the council action reduced some setbacks and increased building height to accommodate two additional buildings that will be constructed near the old mill. The developer plans 45 units in the rehabilitated main building and 54 additional units in the two new multi-story buildings to be built. Ten units are also planned in two existing smaller buildings on the site. 

In early December Hardypond was awarded funds by the Greater Portland Council of Governments to correct ground contamination at the mill site, adjacent to the Presumpscot River. Toxic substances, including arsenic, had been detected in soils surrounding the main building, which has been used for industrial activity since the 1700s.The site has served as a saw mill, woolen mill, and housed a steel products firm and Rich Tool & Die. An environmental assessment of the grounds classified the contamination as minor, “typical of long-time industrial sites.” 

Frank Carr, business development director for Hardypond, said clean-up may begin as early as late spring, pending final approval of its site plan by the Windham Planning Board. 

Carr said his firm has applied for listing the main mill building on the National Register of Historic Places. The town’s pre-application for a community development block grant notes the proposed “new multi-family residential community (is located) at the heart of South Windham while preserving…an integral part of the town’s industrial heritage.” Carr also points out that placement on the National Registry allows for certain federal and state tax credits for his firm as the redevelopment project proceeds. Carr said his research on the site’s history revealed the spot as the site of Windham’s first saw mill and a landing for the “King’s tall pines,” that were floated down the Presumpscot  to be used for masts on British ships.

Carr said future plans call for an open complex. A kayak and canoe launch on the property would be gifted to the town. Historically, the location was known to the local natives as Nagwamqueeg, meaning canoe landing.
One tale related in Samuel Dole’s Windham in the Past, a preeminent source of Windham’s history, discusses the source of an early name for Mallison Falls. It seems the contractors employed to build the township’s first dam and saw mill were rewarded by their proprietors a barrel of beef, “which they pronounced to be of the finest quality, until one unlucky day, the cook produced the hoofs of a horse that were in the bottom of the barrel. The hoofs were put back, the barrel (sealed) and rolled over the falls, which were then and there named Horsebeef.” Horsebeef Falls. The name stuck until 1866 when it was re-named Mallison’s by a new company. Some local historians doubt the story, however Windham newcomers and local school children always seem to enjoy hearing it.

On the subject of name changes, all references to the Mallison Falls redevelopment project are referred to as the Robinson Mill Housing at Mallison Falls. Carr says the name is historical and refers to the owners of the mill when it was used to process wool.

Carr said the latest timetable for the project, pending further hurdles and approvals, is for construction to begin this summer, completion of the mill building (45 units) conversion by late fall, and the entire complex ready for occupancy by the winter of 2017. 

Bartell said a council workshop on the TIF district will probably be held within two to three weeks. And he urges residents interested in any or all aspects of the project to monitor the town website for future council meetings and public hearings.

Plows take a break and save on budgets - By Michelle Libby

In January, residents expect to see their town trucks with plows keeping the roads safe and clear, but this year the plow trucks aren’t as busy as in past years, saving money in the budget and wear and tear on the trucks. 
In Raymond, most of the plowing is contracted out to P&K Sand and Gravel. P&K plows 40 miles of Raymond’s 50 plus miles of road. 

The town has a $180,000 contract with P&K for winter plowing. Public works director Nathan White estimates that he spends $40,000 on winter sand, $60,000 on salt and $15,000 on over time and fuel most winters. 

“We’d be happy if it didn’t snow,” White said. With a cold winter, they’re not heating as much and it helps the whole public works budget. 

Although Raymond doesn’t break out its winter budget from the year long budget, the amount of supplies and money that will roll into other items is substantial. White estimates his budget on a winter like last year. When he plans for a harsh winter, and there is less ice and snow, he is able to have money to even out the heavy winters that have more overtime or higher fuel costs.

“Fuel and overtime are the only wildcards. I have to budget every year for fuel,” he said. 

White runs a staff of four fulltime employees and two additional part-timers in the summer for grounds and maintenance. When it’s not snowing, the crew works on maintenance of buildings and equipment, especially summer equipment. They do some brush cutting and sign repairs. Although the vehicles at public works are relatively new, the small equipment needs constant repairs. “The town’s been very generous in the last year or two,” said White.  

The public works crew is also busy with sign maintenance. People keep stealing the town’s stop and street signs, he said. It cost approximately $100 each to replace the stolen stop signs. 

The challenges in public works are to “try to get done everything that everyone wants us to do with the small stuff to keep everybody happy and satisfied,” White said. “My guys do an outstanding job getting done what has to be done in a timely manner. We always have work.” 

The trend in public works is to contract out the plowing, said White. Twenty-five years ago, Raymond contracted out all of the plowing. In 1997, the town started plowing to keep the staff busy during the winter. They now plow parking lots and other town sites. RSU14 set the plowing of Jordan-Small Middle School and Raymond Elementary School out to bid recently. community is very supportive of the work Raymond Public Works does. “They respect what we do and work with us. People in town are great to work with,” White said. “My whole staff appreciates the support from the town. I’m happy to serve the town.” 

Raymond is getting ready to pave roads with a paving bond that was approved by voters. The paving is subcontracted out with Raymond Public Works doing the ditching and culverts, according to White. For the last two years the town has been doing aggressive paving, he added. 

“There’s nothing good about winter as it relates to the roads,” White said, making the need for road work more pressing.

Friday, January 22, 2016

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Raymond Fire Department readies new truck - By Michelle Libby

Raymond Fire Department, under the direction of Chief Bruce Tupper, is outfitting the first new fire truck in many years. The new truck is fresh off the assembly line with a design created in part by the people who will use the truck the most, Raymond fire fighters.
Tupper asked his staff to design a fire truck with all of the components they wanted to see and they came through with a design that is functional, safe and ready to handle any challenge that Raymond and the surrounding communities have for it. 

The new truck has a stainless steel body, which won’t have the same problems the aluminum ones do, like reacting with the road treatments in the winter and bubbling paint. 
The truck has “tons of room”. It was designed with efficiency in mind. The truck is taller, but shorter and much more maneuverable than the trucks already in use, according to Tupper.   

The truck carries compressed air foam and water is pushed out at 1,500 gallons per minute. The price difference between a 1,250 gallons per minute unit and this one was not much, Tupper said. 

The fire truck cost $424,999.99 out the door. Tupper was able to get some discounts through different group buys and a local bond to provide payment up front. 

When making a 20-year purchase, the department had to think about what they might need in the future. “The capabilities of this are great. It seats four, is comfortable, efficient and engineered for what we do,” Tupper said. “This is the working man’s truck. It’s not designed to be the parade piece.” It has a galvanized frame and rails and many of the additions to the truck were with Raymond in mind. A front suction means that filling the truck with water can be easier from any of the lakes and ponds in the town by driving straight in and not having to turn the truck sideways. Its size makes it better to fit down the many camp roads. The LED lights make everything safer in the long run, and all of the equipment is on the inside. 

With ladders and hoses inside the truck, the items take less of a beating by the elements saving money. The truck also has a back up camera and air bags. The technology this truck provides helps to keep the fire fighters safe while they do their job. 

Right now, the truck has many open spaces and compartments, but soon they will hold the equipment needed to fight fires, respond to accidents and keep Raymond and beyond safe. 

The crown on the new truck is the $1,800 chrome bell donated by Captain Cliff Small. 

“It’s tradition,” Tupper said. Small said he wanted to see a bell on the truck, so he made it happen. Tupper and all the fire fighters are grateful. The bell can be rung from inside the compartment creating the loud, clear sound reminiscent of fire trucks from the past. 

“It’s nice, pretty, tradition. It creates a lot of pride within the department,” Tupper added. 

The truck still has two more months of set up and transfer of equipment before it will be put into service, Tupper said. For now they are figuring out where to put equipment and mount it. 

In addition to the new truck, the Raymond Fire-Rescue Association is raising money to purchase new ice rescue equipment.

LePage holds town hall meeting in Windham - By Michelle Libby

Governor Paul LePage took the stage Tuesday night in a town hall meeting at Windham High School. He addressed the audience first focusing on four areas that concern most Mainers and laying out plans he had to combat the issues in a state of the state-like speech. The first issue was income tax, then energy costs, continuing to reform the welfare system and finally student debt. 
“We compete globally,” LePage said. People and businesses go where they are welcome and stay where they are wanted, he added. The top 10 states with the strongest economy do not have income tax and many of those don’t have sales tax. Maine is not on that list. 

He pointed out that many companies are relocating to Texas because the regulations are predictable and they “don’t tax people to death.” LePage said his number one goal is to lower the income tax and get rid of it all together by moving to a consumption based tax with reductions for youth and those on fixed incomes. He would like to eliminate the state tax by 2025.

In the last five years, energy has become his number one issue and Maine is falling behind. “We have a renewable portfolio of 64 percent which is the highest in the country,” he said. “We are paying a very high price for that.” LePage said that legislators have signed $198 million in above market rate energy contracts to special interests over the last 20 years. “They don’t care for you. They care for the next election.” 

He spoke about solar energy and wind power, which is better than solar, neither are more than 25 percent efficient. Hydro power is 90 percent efficient. LePage said that 10,000 homes in Maine have converted to heat pumps after seeing the numbers and learning that it’s a highly efficient way to heat homes. He would like to buy cheaper energy from Canada, and we should fight like crazy to bring natural gas into Maine. 

“Every dollar we spend on energy we are not spending in wages,” LePage said. 

Maine needs welfare reform, LePage said. Maine is number three for providing welfare behind Washington DC and Vermont. “I’m fighting for number four,” he said. For Maine to get to number 25, the midpoint, $6,700 has to be cut to $2,500 in entitlements per resident. 

He told a story about a woman who was writing to governors to find out which state could provide her with the best benefits. “I told her ‘ask not what we can do for you, but what you can do for us’,” he said. He said he had nothing against someone asking for a hand up when they need it, but he doesn’t want to see able bodied people working. 

Another issue he talked about was student debt. Where people with advanced degrees pay $3,000 a month in student loans, this is a problem. He is working with Finance Authority of Maine (FAME) to lower the cost the debt. One solution would be to encourage people in science, technology, engineering and math fields to be in Maine by having half their debt paid off after five years of work and then after 10 years pay off the rest. To do this, LePage estimated it would cost $10 million dollars put into FAMEs budget. “Everybody is competing for the best people,” he said. This could make Maine more marketable. 

He is currently asking the legislature to approve a measure that if an employer pays off student loans for an employee the boss would get a dollar for dollar return on their taxes. He would also like to see more online education and better use of technology within the state education system. 

Maine is the oldest state in the union with a median age of 44. Bringing people to Maine to fill rural industries and bringing back manufacturing would help our economy. 

LePage took a few detours from his four listed items to talk about making laws and abiding by them and where money goes, for example, money being reallocated to “sanctuary cities” where asylum seekers come for the services. 

He only mentioned once the failed impeachment. “Special interest runs the state. When you fight back they try to impeach me,” he said. 

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“I’m very passionate about the country and I’m very passionate about this state.” 

During the question and answer portion of the town hall meeting the following topics were discussed: Drug rehabilitation treatments, how prescription drugs are over used and over prescribed, National fines put on the state for $29 million because federal laws are in direct opposition to Maine laws, consolidation from local control to county control, welfare fraud, gun control, expansion of heathcare and the moral compass of Maine residents. LePage had answers for all of them. Not all of his answers were popular with the audience. Dr. Jane Pringle of Windham, a former representative, asked about the expansion of Medicaid, which was the only heated conversation of the night with LePage refusing to hear arguments that expansion is the way to go. “ACA and Medicaid is going broke,” he said. States that expanded are now deep in the red, he added.

At the end of the night, he closed with “I try to be straight forward and tell you the truth.”

Friday, January 15, 2016

January 15, 2016 - Front Page Stories

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Energetic and talented Windham Middle School students deliver a strong performance - By Walter Lunt

If you haven’t yet treated yourself to a good show this New Year, plan to the take the family to see Shrek, the musical at Windham High School, starting this weekend.

The classic Disney production, adapted from the Broadway show, is being presented over the next two weekends by a cast of over 60 talented and enthusiastic sixth through eighth graders from Windham Middle School.

Shrek is a musical comedy under the direction of Mary Wassick, who said the selection of such a challenging musical production was made because the artistic directors had confidence in the talent and motivation of “these” middle school students. It is highly entertaining, a seamless theatrical production that is the result of work by 65 young cast members, stage workers and adult volunteers. The timeless themes and fervent performances will appeal to parents, relatives and community members of all ages.

What begins as a self-serving adventure ends with life lessons about real friendship and about judging others. Superb vocals (light jazz, soul and classic theater song), energetic dance (from tap to soft shoe) and bright, eclectic sets combine to enhance an amusing, thoroughly entertaining story driven by strong characterization: Brusque but big-hearted Shrek (Lucy Hatch); lovely and hiding a big secret, Princess Fiona (Chloe Cyr), the boisterous and charming Donkey (Angel Spiller); and the self-serving and devious Lord Farquaad (Denali Dieumegard).

“I think people will be surprised …(these kids) are incredibly talented, said Wassack.

Musical highlights include the soulful Forever and, performed in classical theater style, I Know It’s Today under the musical direction of Suzy Cropper of Main Stage Academy in Windham.  A dynamic dance number, choreographed by Shelbi Wassack, is The Story of my Life, which captures the lament of all the lovable but misunderstood fairy tale creatures.
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Expect great vocals, strong dance, characters that really tell their story and comedy. Director Wassack summed it up:

“The entire show is fun and silly. And will leave you feeling happy.”

Shrek premiers at Windham High School Auditorium on Friday, January 15 at 7 p.m.  Two performances follow on Saturday, January 16 at 2 p.m. and 7 p.m., and again the following weekend on the same days and times. Admission is $10 adults, $5 students