January 26, 2024

Pinewood Derby participants accelerate through annual day of racing

By Ed Pierce

Ask any member of Windham Cub Scout Pack 805 and they’ll tell you that one of the most exciting activities they participate in each year is the Pinewood Derby. Renowned for its speed, friendly competition and attention to detail, this year’s Pinewood Derby drew 34 Cub Scout racers whose model cars dazzled the audience gathered on Saturday, Jan. 20 at Windham Middle School.

Scouts show off the trophies they won during
Cub Scout Pack 805's Pinewood Derby on
Saturday, Jan. 20 at Windham Middle School.
Back row, from left, are Ian Bizier, Jackson
Bennett, and Drew Foxe. Front row, from left,
are Kye Fowler, Griffin Earle, and Owen
According to Casey Melanson, Cub Scout Pack 805 Cubmaster and Arrow of Light Den Leader, the scouts were given Pinewood Derby car kits in December containing a block of wood, four tires and two axles. The scouts then turned the kits into derby racing cars.

“Cars are cut, sanded, shaped, painted, stickered, and accessorized and each scout adds their own personality to their car design,” Melanson said. “Some scouts design for speed, others design for the Best in Show award. Either way, each scout is excited when the car of their imagination is completed.”

Come Derby Day, each scout races four times, once on each lane of the track to make sure that there are no advantages to one lane being faster or slower than another.

Powered by inertia, the racing results in a competitive and fun day spent with friends, family, and other scouts.

“This is something that every scout looks forward to each year. The scouts talk about it with each other and their families and get ready to design,” Melanson said. “As a leader it is always great to see the scouts thinking hard about how to shape and decorate their derby cars each year. And then race day comes and they are cheering each other on. They root for their den mates, their friends, and siblings. Sometimes it can get loud as the dens try to out-root each other to support their den mates.”

Melanson said that the Cub Scout Motto is “Do your best” and the Pinewood Derby challenges scouts to do that.

“This is the embodiment of building derby cars,” she said. “Not all of the cars will go fast, but the scouts know that they did their best in building and designing.”

As the day of racing begins, the names of four scouts called and they move to what is known as the “parking lot” to retrieve their cars. The scouts then place the cars at the starting gate, making sure that the cars are completely on the individual lane and are aligned straight. Once the cars are released, scouts move to the finish line area to watch their cars come down the track. As cars move down the track, they are timed with some exceeding speeds greater than 170 mph.

The track record for this year’s derby was set by Fourth Grade Webelos scout Jackson Bennett, Melanson said.

His third run on the racetrack clocked in at a scorching 193.26 mph, she said.

In addition to the racing activities, there are also prize giveaways and concessions at the annual event.

“The concession stand is hosted by the Fourth Grade Webelos den and their families,” Melanson said. “They served up hot dogs, pizzas, chips, fruits, drinks, and lots of desserts. The money raised from the concession stand is used to help plan the Annual Spring Fling where the younger dens cross over to their next level den.”

The Pinewood Derby is entirely organized and managed by Windham Cub Scout Pack 805 committee members, parents, and Boy Scouts from Windham Troop 805. Along with Cub Scout racing, the pack also hosts a separate race for Cub Scouts’ siblings, parents, and a Boy Scout Troop race.

Melanson said that trophies are awarded to the Top 5 racers, for Overall Best in Show and for Best in Show in the Cub Scout den.

“All Best in Show winners are voted on by the Boy Scouts from Troop 805,” Melanson said. “The top 5 racers and the Overall Best in Show are going on to compete in the Pine Tree Council District race in April, hosted by Pack 47 from Scarborough.”

The 2024 Pinewood Derby results included:

Fifth Place, First Grader Griffin Earle, average speed 189.21 mph

Fourth Place, Second Grader Owen Conroy, average speed 190.09 mph

Third Place, Third Grader Drew Foxe, average speed 190.18 mph

Second Place, Fourth Grader Jackson Bennett, average speed 192.15 mph

First Place, Second Grader Kye Fowler, average speed 192.39 mph

Overall Best in Show, Fourth Grader Ian Bizier

Siblings’ race, Kindergartener Hannah Bernard

Parents’ race, Scott Fowler

Troop race, Eighth Grader Matthew Melanson <

Workshop shares Raymond Comprehensive Plan progress

By Kendra Raymond

The Raymond Comprehensive Plan Committee held its first public workshop recently at Jordan-Small Middle School last weekend and residents gathered to learn about the work the committee has accomplished over the past year and a half. The event also provided hands-on opportunities for community members to get involved by sharing their vision for the future.

A poster displays suggestions for 
community services and facilities that
the Town of Raymond will need in the
future during a Comprehensive Plan
workshop last weekend at Jordan-Small
Middle School in Raymond.
Northstar Planning was contracted by the town to guide the process. Representatives Kate Burch and Sam Peikes hosted the event and shared a presentation. Several members of the Comprehensive Plan Committee were also in attendance.

Peikes said that the purpose of the comprehensive plan is to look at where the town has been, where it is going, and how to get there. It will create a framework to make plans and to help guide the town in decision making. The plan will address concerns such as housing, transportation, and the preservation of natural resources.

Attendees were encouraged to share suggestions by placing notes on easel boards placed around the workshop. Topics included balancing the needs of year-round and seasonal residents, desired community services and facilities, and businesses that residents would like to see in Raymond.

A few great suggestions that emerged involved a farmer’s/artisan market, playground, park, hiking trails, skate park, community center, sidewalks, grocery store, laundromat, lakeside businesses with dock access, more restaurants (with outdoor seating), and a brewery. Someone even recommended a developed “Main Street” with community space, restaurants, and shops.

A map was provided where dots could be placed on areas thought to be unsafe to walk, bike, and drive. Another map offered input for areas that residents thought could be developed and other areas that should be preserved. Participants were also asked to weigh in on increased traffic concerns and new housing.

Both Burch and Peikes said that the lakes are the key to the town’s identity. Important factors include invasive species, water quality, and public access. Raymond is home to six summer camps, and their presence is significant to the town’s economy. The camps are one of the biggest employers, along with Sabre Yachts and the school department.

“Our goal is to preserve the lakes and waterfront and the people that live and work there,” said committee member Peter Leavitt.

Housing and population were also discussed. Census data shows that the town’s largest population is over the age of 65 and household size is shrinking. Raymond has just one senior citizen housing complex.

Transportation accessibility and safety were addressed. Maine DOT data suggests that Route 302 has a high crash rating, due to congestion, especially near the two sets of lights. North Raymond Road and Egypt Road were also pinpointed. Citizens are concerned about the lack of sidewalks and bike lanes in town.

Over the next nine months, the committee plans to finalize a vision statement. The next planned workshop will address a future land use plan with a map and narrative. There will be a goals, policy, and strategies spreadsheet. A single draft plan should be ready next fall and presented at a town meeting.

Results of the summer 2023 survey were compiled and are available on the website. Preliminary results show that residents love the sense of community, natural resources, and proximity to amenities. Citizens are concerned that too much development could pose a threat to the quality of life. Additional concerns raised were traffic on Route 302 and environmental impacts on water quality.

Leavitt said that the next online survey will be distributed in mid-March regarding land use. CPC members are hoping for a larger cross-section of respondents this time around. The initial survey was available June through September 2023. The survey garnered about a 5 percent response elicited from 206 residents. The total population of Raymond is 4,536.

The CPC meets the first Wednesday of each month at 6:30 p.m. All meetings are open to the public and available through ZOOM.

The next Comprehensive Plan workshop will cover future land use. It will be held from 6 to 8 p.m. March 19 at the Raymond Public Safety Building.

Raymond resident Brien Richards said he was pleased to have attended this latest workshop.

“It pays to be involved,” he said. “Your voice can make a difference.”

To review the Raymond Comprehensive Plan website, visit https://compplan.raymondmaine.org/ To sign up for email updates about the comprehensive plan, go to https://compplan.raymondmaine.org/index.php/sign-up-for-our-newsletter/ <

Windham’s new Public Works Director essential to infrastructure maintenance

By Masha Yurkevich

The title “public works director” carries a lot with it. As Google defines it, it is to “manage, plan, direct and review the daily activities and operations of streets and alleys, parks and cemeteries, vehicle and equipment maintenance, stormwater, and the flood protection system.” But there is so much more to it that is all behind the curtain.

Jon Earle is responsible for maintaining 
Windham's highways and town buildings
in his role as Public Works Director.
Jon Earle became Windham’s new Public Works Director in October and has been in the position now for three full months, succeeding the retiring Doug Fortier, who had served as Public Works Director since May 2004.

“I’ve always had a passion and interest in infrastructure and the opportunity to make a difference in the community I live in,” says Earle. “This position allows me to do both of these.”

Earle is originally from Lisbon, Maine and earned a bachelor's degree in civil engineering from the University of Maine. He also has a Certificate of Graduate Study in Public Administration from the University of Southern Maine and has completed innovation and leadership development training at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.

“My family lives here in Windham, and we have been here since 2009,” he says.

In his role, Earle oversees the Highway, Fleet, and Buildings and Grounds divisions along with Engineering and Solid Waste.

It’s not an easy role to oversee Highway Maintenance in Windham, which includes winter plowing as well as maintaining all town roads, ditches, shoulders, drainage, and other infrastructures; vehicle maintenance, which includes maintenance of all equipment from excavators and backhoes down to chain saws and hand compactors, as well as the police and town office vehicles.

He also is responsible for the town’s Buildings & Grounds Department, which includes care of the town’s cemeteries, nine municipal buildings, and two intersections.

Those duties are in addition to budgeting, seeking grant money for roads, working on capital equipment replacement plans, getting bids for anything from equipment purchase to buying winter sand and salt. Another part of his job is hiring when there are Public Works Department vacancies.

Prior to joining the town, Earle served as the Supervisor of Engineering Services for the Maine Water Company and was responsible for capital project delivery and oversight in 12 public water systems serving more than 32,000 customers across the state.

His role as Public Works Director is something of a reunion of sorts for Earle. He spent a little more than two years as Windham’s Town engineer in the past.

While we can enjoy a cup of hot chocolate and watch the snow come down, Earle and his team work diligently to make the roads safe for us to drive on.

“Certainly, no two days are the same,” he says, “but right now we are heavily involved with winter operations which involves monitoring upcoming weather, preparing our staff and fleet for upcoming storms, and monitoring the use of winter sand, salt, and calcium.”

For Earle, his favorite part of the job is the variety and that he is learning new things every day. In his position, he says that he hopes to leverage technology to bring more efficiency to the department.

“Some people may not realize that cemeteries are under the responsibility of Public Works,” says Earle. “Through the leadership of Brian Morin, our Building and Grounds manager, we oversee 26 cemeteries in Windham and work with families to coordinate services during difficult times.”

Earle also added that he would like to advocate for Public Works to be viewed as first responders, similar to Windham Police and Fire Department staff members.

“Together, we are the backbone of the community and without safe and passable roads, they are not able to provide the crucial services needed in the community,” he said. <

January 19, 2024

WCA student woodworking project to be displayed at Beacon Pizza

By Ed Pierce

Students at Windham Christian Academy are learning that projects they work on in wood shop at the school are useful in real-world problem solving, collaboration, building confidence, and creativity. One such project is now hanging in a popular local restaurant to be admired for years to come.

Windham Christian Academy students built a ukelele and
painted a Maine lighthouse scene during a school
woodworking project that was donated to Beacon  Pizza
in Raymond. From left are WCA wood shop teacher Bob
Berry, Beacon Pizza owners Robert and Pamela Wing,
WCA sophomore Eva Schroeder and WCA senior
Ella Johnson. The ukelele will be permanently displayed
at the restaurant. SUBMITTED PHOTO
Bob Berry teaches wood shop at Windham Christian Academy and says his students have been working for the past months on projects using natural materials to construct objects while safely using woodworking tools. When an idea for a new project was proposed of creating a ukelele, two students thought they could contribute significantly and with Berry’s assistance they could build the musical instrument from scratch.

“I’ve had Ella Johnson in my class for four years now and she’s very talented,” Berry said. “I saw some of the art and objects hanging on the wall at Beacon Pizza in Raymond and thought that we could work on something with the students and donate it to them.”

The interior walls of Beacon Pizza contain donated paintings and artwork with Maine themes and a mounted electric guitar that a patron made for the restaurant. Berry says seeing what others have done inspired him to have his students do something to donate too.

He pitched the idea of constructing a ukelele mounted on a Maine-related landscape scene to Johnson and she agreed it would make a great project to work on in the school’s wood shop.

Berry searched online and found plans as to how to build a ukelele and Johnson, a senior, thought of adding it to a wood surface with the restaurant’s logo and a depiction of the Portland Head Light lighthouse in Cape Elizabeth.

The project was different from many of the others that WCA students had worked on previously, such as building boats made of strip wood, and enthusiasm among students was high for the new activity as the ukelele project began to take shape.

“First we had to have a solid design before we could do anything else,” Berry said. “During that process, Ella discovered that her original drawings required additional help.”

That’s when Eva Schroeder, a sophomore, stepped in to collaborate on the project.

“Eva’s a wonderful artist and she helped Ella by sketching the objects out in pencil for the wood surface portion,” Berry said. “We had to keep everyone focused but everything was very consistent, and they were both excited to be a part of this special project.”

Then using materials donated to the school’s wood shop by Sabre Yachts of Raymond, construction of the project started under Berry’s direction.

It took about a month from start to finish to build the ukelele. While that was going on, final design and the pencil sketches were prepared by Schroeder and Johnson for the wood surface base, and everything was coming together quickly for the project.

The final part of the student work was the detailed painting applied to the wood surface of the base by Johnson.

“When it was all done, everyone at the school just marveled at what a wonderful job these two students had done with this,” Berry said. “It’s really amazing.”

On Jan. 12, Schroeder, Johnson, and Berry presented the ukelele and artwork to Beacon Pizza owners Robert and Pamela Wing at the restaurant.

“Those kids are really talented,” Robert Wing said. “We even found some bowling pins in the drawing which was very special to us as my wife started making pizzas with her mother when they operated the bowling alley in Raymond years ago. This will be something that we will remember for a long time.” <

Corey announces candidacy for Maine House as independent

By Ed Pierce

Former State Representative Patrick Corey has announced his candidacy for the Maine House District 107 representing part of Windham as an independent.

Patrick Corey has declared his intent
to run for state representative in
Windham's District 107 as an
independent. He previously served
four terms in the Maine House 
representing District 25 from
2014 to 2022.
Prior to statewide redistricting for the 2022 general election, Corey served four terms starting in 2014 representing Windham’s District 25 as a Republican in the 127th, 128th, 129th, and 130th Maine Legislatures. While serving in the Maine House, Corey was a member of the Inland Fisheries and Wildlife, Criminal Justice and Public Safety, Appropriations and Financial Affairs, Veterans and Legal Affairs, and Elections committees. He also served on the Joint Select Committee for Marijuana Legalization and Implementation.

“I’m running for Maine House District 107 in 2024 as an independent candidate to put my experience, knowledge, and dedication to service to work for you,” Corey said. “After serving eight years, term limited for the 2022 cycle, in the Maine House of Representatives, I became unaffiliated with a political party. I timed this switch in my voter registration with the same day the new Legislature was sworn in. My constituents were served by the candidate they elected until I was no longer in office and people who worked on my campaigns would be OK with my change in status. Becoming independent was a personal decision and one I grew into based on my service and seeing how Maine’s people were left underserved by our two-party system.”

Corey said that over the last decade, partisanship at the Maine State House has grown out of control.

“At the beginning of my service, in 2014 it paled in comparison to what we witnessed nationally. Sadly, Augusta now mirrors Washington,” he said. “Being a moderate through my legislative service, I thought I could sway members of my party to the center. Over time, I became aware this was an impossible task, a realization echoed by moderate members on both sides of the aisle.”

According to Corey, our two-party system has resulted in bad governance, the inability to be self-reflective and act appropriately, policy objectives that are often rooted in the values of political extremes rather than the moderate views held by most Mainers, along with only offering binary and often miserable choices.

“When one party controls all the levers of government, they adopt a “winner-take-all” viewpoint and exclude others from the governing process,” Corey said. “When they share power, rather than striving to find common ground, they obstruct one another. I want to be clear. Those that serve in government and choose to serve as a member of a party are differently motivated than your typical registered voter. Up until this upcoming primary in Maine, people needed to be registered in a party to participate. Due to this past requirement, registered voters sought out those they ideologically aligned with and had the opportunity to pick that party’s candidate for the general election. This was by design. The parties have worked hard over the years to convince the electorate that there are only two ways voters should define themselves and that the only viable options for representation are members of their parties.”

He says he’s running again for the Maine House to make government work for the people once more and to introduce and endeavor to advance “good governance” legislation that enhances accountability, integrity, responsiveness, inclusivity, and transparency.

“My interest is in promoting positive policy based on its merit, not where or who it comes from and to hold politicians accountable for their transgressions regardless of who they are politically aligned with and within the law,” Corey said. “My promise is that I will always be receptive to not only hearing my constituent’s views but trying to understand where they come from.”

While in office, Corey said he took great pride in his work with the Windham Legislative Delegation including former State Senator Bill Diamond and former State Representative Mark Bryant.

“Whenever an issue was important for our community, we managed to put partisanship aside, working together on behalf of our constituents,” Corey said. “This wasn’t only recognized and appreciated by the people we represented, but by our colleagues in the State House as well. I will work to foster that type of collaboration and goodwill in the next Legislature.”

He said that running as an independent candidate will require him to collect twice as many signatures to get on the ballot.

“The upside is that I love talking with folks and hearing about what’s important in their lives,” Corey said. “I can collect them from Democrat, Republican, Green Independent, Libertarian, and unenrolled and independent voters. I really want a mix of party affiliations on my petition to run. Let me know if you would like to help me get on the ballot. I am grateful for your past and future support.”

Corey is a marketing and communications professional that also creates and sells original fine art. He is the President of Windham Neighbors Helping Neighbors, a nonprofit that provides emergency heating assistance for Windham residents, and he serves on the board of the Sportsman’s Alliance of Maine. He lives in Windham with his wife Sheila. <

In the public eye: Manchester School crossing guard strives to keep children safe

Editor’s note: This is another in an ongoing series of Windham and Raymond town employee profiles

By Masha Yurkevich

Every school day for the past year and a half, Betty Van Vliete steps out into the middle of Route 302 to control the traffic and allow buses, cars, and pedestrians to safely get into Manchester School in Windham.

Betty Van Vliete is a familiar
face for many in her work as a
 crossing guard on Route 302
allowing buses, cars and
students to safely enter the
grounds of Manchester
School in Windham. She has
worked in traffic control for
the Windham Fire and
Police Departments for the
past 26 years.
Betty has resided in Windham for 28 years and she greets every day with a smile despite putting her life on the line for the safety of the children and the community.

Originally from Westbrook, Betty has three grown children, grandchildren, and great-grandchildren. She’s been with the Windham Fire and Police Department for 26 years where she helps traffic, setting up roadblocks and helping traffic get through during crashes.

“I think what else really helps me with this job is that I am not intimidated by the busy traffic and dangerous roads,” she says. “I was trained by Mr. Peasley, he was our team captain.”

Her time with the Windham Fire and Police Department has taught her that safety precautions come first, and she knows how to space cars so that she can step out safely and let the buses though from Manchester School.

When Betty lived in Westbrook, she was the team leader of the Westbrook Crossing Guards where she was for two years before moving to Windham.

“I always thought that if this job opened, I would love to have it,” said Betty. “And I guess someone heard my prayers. I like helping people. I like all aspects of my job. I just enjoy what I do.”

Betty said that getting people to slow down is the most challenging part of what she does, sometimes because drivers may not see her but also because some are inattentive and simply don’t pay attention.

“I’m a mom, I’m a grammie, I’m auntie, and I’d like to go home,” says Betty. “I like keeping people safe, but I want to go home, too, and be safe, standing by for a few minutes while the children cross the road or while the buses drive out.”

Betty’s job demands that she be aware of potential situations at all times.

“When you step out into that road, you have to have eyes on the back of your head to be aware and look out for anything and everything,” she said. “There’s no need to rush. It’s not just one specific driver, sometimes drivers just have so much on their minds and are in a hurry, but they need to slow down and be attentive. I love the kindness of some of the parents, the teachers, the bus drivers, and the staff.”

It fills her heart when she sees waves and smiles and makes her feel appreciated for what she does.

Parents say that they are very glad to have a crossing guard who is so devoted in what she does and always goes the extra mile to keep the chaos under control on Route 302 during such a busy commute. Parents also say that it takes one brave woman to be out there in the middle of the road in some of the crazy weather conditions.

Galina Mulin, whose son attends Manchrester School, says that it’s nice to see such dedicated people such as Betty.

“Betty doesn’t do it for the money but does it because she wants to make a difference in the community,” says Mulin. “I hope she will continue to serve Manchester School kids for many more years to come.”

Manchester School Assistant Principal Kristal Vargo-Ward says that Betty is just wonderful at what she does.

“She has a great personality and great thinking about the safety of our students, parents, and bus drivers. Her focus and priority are safety. She does a wonderful job; it's a busy place out there in the mornings and afternoons. We couldn't’ do this without Betty and I want to emphasize how fortunate we are to have her. Her job may sometimes be overlooked, and we don’t see her in person every day, but she plays a huge role and is an important member of our community and school. She is perfect for this job, and we are beyond fortunate to have her.”

For Betty, she’s pleased doing what she does.

“I like keeping people safe and I like working for the community, I love to give back,” she said. “I see the little kids on the school buses smiling and waving, and I love it so much. Sometimes a passerby will stop and give me a hot coffee.” <

January 12, 2024

Town councilors approve sewer rate increase in South Windham

By Ed Pierce

After reviewing a study about the sewer rate for South Windham customers, Windham Town councilors unanimously approved a rate increase effective in March during a meeting on Tuesday evening.

Windham Town Councilors have raised the base
sewer rate for South Windham for the first time 
since 2009 and the measure is expected to have
those who use more water pay a greater share
of operating the sewer system there.

According to information in the study, the current South Windham Sewer Fee structure was developed and agreed to by members of the town council during late 2008 and early 2009 in response to the Windham/Gorham Conveyance project. The existing sewer fee structure has been in place since April 2009, and the rates for base users, excess usage above base, and ready to serve charges were unchanged until councilors voted to approve a rate change schedule that started in May 2020 and runs through July 2023.

The South Windham Sewer Rate Study was prepared by Windham Finance Director Susan Rossignol, and Windham Economic Development Director Tom Bartell and used rate modeling details provided by Portland Water District Executive Director of Administration David Kane.

Through the years, the South Windham Sewer fund has been underfunded by sewer fees for each year since the construction of the current treatment system. The study outlines that to maintain affordability for the residents of South Windham Village, the Town of Windham, through its annual budget, chose to subsidize the small number of South Windham sewer users.

Construction of the Windham/Gorham Conveyance project removed the local treatment plant and replaced it with a sewage transport system from South Windham Village through Gorham to the Portland Water District wastewater treatment plant in Westbrook and extended the reach of sewer collection from the South Windham Village to include the Maine Correctional Center on Mallison Falls Road in Windham.

The rates in April 2009 were established as $48.84 for 500 cubic feet of wastewater per month and $3.24 for 100 cubic feet of wastewater above base which is the monthly average usage of single-family residences in the South Windham Village, or about 125 gallons per day.

In May 2020, councilors kept the $48.84 rate for monthly wastewater, but raised the wastewater above base fee to $7, which increased to $7.75 per month in July 2022 and $9.77 in July 2023.

The rationale for the most recent sewer rate changes is to make equal the cost of the cubic feet of wastewater and the cost of the above base rate.

The study recommended a rate increase for South Windham users to $51 for 500 cubic feet of wastewater per month and $10.20 for 100 cubic feet of wastewater above base and keeping the Ready to Serve sewer fee unchanged at $30 per month.

Assistant Town Manager Bob Burns said the rate change moves some of the burden of the cost of the annual assessment from the Windham budget onto the large wastewater users in South Windham such as the Maine Correctional Center.

He said the rationale for the sewer fee structure is that the annual cost of the system assessed by the Portland Water District would be allocated over the total number of Base Rates. The number of Base Rates assigned to a property would be based in general on the Design Flows model of the Maine Subsurface Wastewater Disposal Rule.

Burns said the rate increase amounts to about a 4 percent hike and is designed to shift more cost to larger water users in South Windham.

The study summarized for the town councilors the effects of new Design Flow guidelines, particularly as it relates to the Maine Correctional Center and the most recent construction activities there, and the reallocation of the Base Rates to the Maine Correctional Center’s published population numbers and other developments in South Windham Village.

The council vote was 6-0 with Councilors John Henry, Bill Reiner, Jarrod Maxfield, Marris Morrison Nick Kalogerakis and David Nadeau voting for the increase. Councilor Brett Jones was unable to attend the meeting. <

Presumpscot Regional Land Trust continues to expand outdoor recreation opportunities

With work continuing this year on the second phase of the East Windham Conservation Area, the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, which partnered for the project with the Town of Windham, has announced that another nearby conservation project has been completed.

The Presumpscot Regional Land Trust has conserved 44 acres
near downtown Westbrook, safeguarding a significant stretch
of the Presumpscot River shoreline spanning 3,300 feet, and
protecting about 30 acres of forested wetlands.
In collaboration with key partners including Westbrook Housing, Intercultural Community Center, Westbrook Recreation and Conservation Commission, and Westbrook Community Center, the land trust has successfully conserved 44 acres of land for open space and outdoor recreation near downtown Westbrook.

Situated within one mile of downtown Westbrook, the Rivermeadow Nature Preserve is strategically positioned to serve the needs of the community, being easily accessible to about 8,000 residents, accounting for 40 percent of the total population of Westbrook.

This landmark conservation project safeguards a significant stretch of the Presumpscot River shoreline, spanning 3,300 feet, and protects 30 acres of precious forested wetlands. The preservation of this natural habitat not only enhances the ecological resilience of the area but also provides a haven for diverse flora and fauna.

"We are thrilled to have successfully conserved 44 acres of land near downtown Westbrook, ensuring that this green space will be preserved for generations to come. This project wouldn't have been possible without generous contributions from nearly 200 families and the invaluable support of our dedicated partners: Westbrook Recreation and Conservation Commission, Cornelia Warren Community Association, Casco Bay Estuary Partnership, Westbrook Housing and Westbrook Development Corporation, and Evergreen Credit Union" said Will Sedlack, Executive Director of the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust.

A number of community collaborators will be involved in the upcoming year on the design and building of the trails so they are welcoming to all, including Westbrook Housing, Intercultural Community Center, Westbrook Recreation and Conservation Commission, and Westbrook Community Center. Their commitment to community well-being and environmental stewardship has been instrumental in the success of the Rivermeadow Nature Preserve project.

With the land now protected, the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust is excited to move forward with the next phase of the project. In 2024, the Land Trust will design and construct trails that will provide the public with the opportunity to immerse themselves in nature close to home.

"We look forward to welcoming the community to explore and enjoy the natural beauty of Rivermeadow Nature Preserve in the fall of 2024 after we complete a new trail system. The creation of these trails will not only promote outdoor recreation but also foster a deeper connection between residents and the environment," added Sedlack.

As the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust continues its mission to conserve and enhance natural spaces, the Rivermeadow Nature Preserve stands as a testament to the positive, transformational impact that collaborative conservation efforts can have on communities. The organization extends its gratitude to all partners and funders for their unwavering support and eagerly anticipates the community's engagement with this new and vibrant public resource.

The East Windham Conservation Area opened to the public in December. Work there is continuing on a parking lot and construction of new trails. A formal dedication and Grand Opening will be held sometime this spring.

The conservation area’s Phase Two opening will take place this fall once the remaining five miles of trails are built, including a universal access trail, which can be navigated by those with limited mobility and will lead to the scenic overlook and pond views. A third phase of the project is planned for future years and will include an observation tower.

For more information about the Presumpscot Regional Land Trust, visit prlt.org. <

WHS Key Club students volunteer on Polar Express Train Ride

By Jolene Bailey

Over the course of the holiday season there were many events to help celebrate and bring smiles into communities and student members of Windham High School’s Key Club took advantage of that to brighten the holidays for those in need.

The Key Club is a volunteering group whose goal is to help support local communities and bring positive change. It’s a way for students to get involved to practice and encourage leadership abilities and build character while performing public service. Students try to reach for a certain amount of volunteer hours per quarter and WHS Key Club members found that over the holidays by donating time at the Maine Narrow Gauge Railroad’s Polar Express Train Ride in Portland.

The Polar Express ride runs roughly 45 minutes and is conducted from November to December each year and is strictly manned by volunteers. The train is split into nine carts and rides at what is designed to be the North Pole.

On the train ride, there are activities, such as reading the Polar Express book, dancing, and listening to Christmas music, having a golden ticket punched, and interacting with Santa and his bell elf. Each cart contains one or two volunteers dressed up as a chef elf.

“A chef elf is there to interact with kids and make their time at the North Pole magical. while also being there to help Santa and anyone else.” said WHS student and Key Club member Alyssa Cooper.

When stopped at the North Pole, outside the train windows are filled with lights. This “North Pole” dedicates the middle of the train ride where Santa comes to visit and talk with every boy and girl. Santa additionally brings the children a gift, a bell representing the one in the Polar Express book.

The bell given is from a “bell elf,” another volunteer position.

“The bell elf follows Santa throughout the train holding a red felt bag and giving each kid a bell. The volunteer dresses up in an elf costume and looks more like the role of an elf,” said Cooper.

Although a volunteer bell elf requires less interaction with the public, because before reaching the North Pole the passengers do not know of them, just handing out bells can prompt a child’s smile.

When the elf volunteers get off the train, their work is not done. Preparing for the new and upcoming rides, they help pour hot cocoa into cups for passengers while making sure everyone has a drink and cookies.

This year, some WHS Key Club volunteers served as chef elves and bell elves.

“This is my second year doing the Polar Express. I came back because of all the fun I had making new friends with people volunteering and on the train. It’s just a great way to interact with people and get into the Christmas spirit.” said Cooper.

Overall, the WHS Key Club has interacted with this program for many years and plans many more to come.

“This program is very engaging and inclusive when it comes to people,” Cooper said. “Everyone is into something.” <

January 5, 2024

Portland Water District Trustees approves $108.7 million budget for 2024

The Portland Water District’s Board of Trustees approved a combined $60.1 million water and wastewater operating budget and a $48.6 million capital budget for 2024 at its Nov. 27, 2023, public meeting.

A Portland Water District employee
gives a tour and explains how the
system works during a public tour
of the district's Water
Plant last fall. COURTESY PHOTO  
The capital budget allocates $13.4 million to water projects, $9.4 million of that to replace aging water mains. An additional $32.8 million is targeted at wastewater projects.

The budget incorporates a water rate adjustment which adds an additional $1.52 to a typical monthly water bill for a single-family residence. This adjustment represents a 5.9 percent increase from comparable 2023 water rates. The rate impact to other users including commercial, fire protection and other customers averages 6.4 percent.

The adjustments will take effect in January 2024. A public hearing and notification on the rate adjustments took place in November.

Much of the operating budget’s increase can be attributed to higher electricity and chemical costs, as well as higher debt service expenses, said Michelle Clements of Portland Water District.

She said a significant portion of the capital increase is related to construction of a new North Windham Wastewater Treatment Facility ($10.0 million) and for several upgrade projects at the East End Wastewater Treatment Facility ($15.8 million) in Portland.

Each of these efforts is receiving large investments from the state and federal government to offset a portion of the investment costs, Clements said.

The 2023 Comprehensive Budget can be found on PWD’s website at www.pwd.org.

Water Assistance Program

Clements said that a total of 241 Portland Water District customers received nearly $290,000 in benefits through the two-year-old Maine Water Assistance Program.

The federally funded program, designed to help income-eligible households maintain vital drinking water and wastewater services, targeted customers with unpaid bill balances, property liens for water utility non-payment, and those facing disconnection notices.

The number of customers served – 242 – was the highest amount of any water utility in Maine. The average amount of assistance was $1,179 per qualified customer. The exact total of assistance was $284,230.

Portland Water District promoted the program via its website and newsletter and sent letters to eligible customers with unpaid bills.

“We realize these are tough economic times for some of our customers,” said Seth Garrison, Portland Water District’s General Manager. “And we know the PWD provides critical services that our customers cannot live without. We were proud to have been able to market the program to make sure that our customers were fully aware of the available funds, and we’re pleased to have helped a significant number of them.”

The limited-time program was made possible through the American Rescue Plan Act. It allotted $4.7 million in Maine specifically to help people maintain water utility services. The Portland Water District partnered with MaineHousing, which administered the program, to provide a straightforward option for customers to get the assistance they needed.

Calendars available

The water district’s popular Sebago Lake to Casco Bay Calendar (formerly Images of Sebago Lake Calendar) is now available to the public. You can pick up your copy from the outdoor receptacle at the Sebago Lake Protection Office, located at 1 White Rock Road in Standish or PWD’s Customer Service Lobby at 225 Douglass St. in Portland. Calendars are available from 8 a.m. to 4:30 p.m., Monday through Friday, while supplies last. <

Maine requests Federal government initiate preliminary disaster assessment

AUGUSTA – The Maine Emergency Management Agency has requested that the Federal Emergency Management Agency begin conducting a Preliminary Damage Assessment of the storm that struck the state the week before Christmas, the first formal step toward requesting a Major Disaster Declaration from the Federal government.

Nobody was hurt when this tree crashed
through the roof of a home in Raymond 
during the week before Christmas.
As water levels recede and damage becomes more evident, MEMA has begun working with local partners to estimate the cost of damage caused by this week's storm, which left hundreds of thousands of people without power and caused significant flooding and infrastructure damage.

At the direction of Maine Gov. Janet Mills, MEMA has requested that FEMA dispatch Federal officials to Maine as soon as possible to begin the process of conducting the Federal Preliminary Damage Assessment, in which FEMA reviews and validates damage assessments gathered by local officials.

If FEMA, as expected, agrees that the costs associated with the storm are beyond the capabilities of the state to address, the governor will formally request a Major Disaster Declaration from the President.

Governor Mills and MEMA Director Pete Rogers said Maine residents impacted by the storm can help by reporting their property damage by dialing 2-1-1. That information provided will help the state in estimating the full impact of the storm and request the maximum amount of Federal aid available.

"Anyone who experienced property damage from this week's severe wind, rain, and flooding should report it by dialing 2-1-1. Sharing your information will help the State of Maine request the maximum amount of Federal disaster funds available to help Maine people and communities recover and rebuild," Mills said. "My Administration will use this information and other estimates collected by MEMA to request a Major Disaster Declaration from President Biden as soon as possible, which, if granted will help unlock important Federal funding to support our recovery."

Other state officials concur.

"MEMA continues to work around the clock to keep Maine people safe and to work with our partners to assess the severity of damage left in the storm's wake," said MEMA Director Pete Rogers. "I ask the public to help us in our response efforts by reporting storm and flood damage by calling 211."

Additionally, MEMA's Emergency Operations since has processed several resource requests to support local warming centers and shelters, transportation of supplies, generator transport, coordination with utilities in high-risk infrastructure restorations and public alerting in flooded areas.

MEMA is working closely with the Maine Department of Environmental Protection to identify and mitigate hazardous material concentrations as water levels recede and damage becomes evident.

Last week, Mills declared a State of Civil Emergency for most Maine counties to mobilize all State of Maine resources to assist and support response and recovery efforts and position the State to seek Federal disaster support in the coming weeks.

On Dec. 27, Mills joined State and County Emergency Management officials to survey flooding along the Kennebec River in Augusta, and she received a briefing on ongoing storm response and recovery efforts from Rogers and Maine Commissioner of Transportation Bruce Van Note at MEMA's Emergency Operations Center. <

The governor also visited Skowhegan to survey damage caused by flooding from the Kennebec River and met with local and county emergency management officials to receive an update on local response and recovery efforts.

She has released several heating, food and other safety recommendations as Maine residents confronted the impacts of prolonged power outages across the state as the result of the storm.<

Americorps Seniors Sock Drive starting across Maine

AmeriCorps Seniors programs throughout Maine will be collecting new socks to donate to homeless shelters, soup kitchens, and organizations supporting those in need throughout the state. Take part in the Warm Heart, Warm Feet campaign by donating new pairs of warm socks at your local Reny’s Department Store between Jan. 6 and Jan. 31.

Since 2019, the Warm Heart, Warm Feet campaign has donated almost 6,000 pairs of socks as part of Gov. Janet Mills' inaugural Maine Day of Service.

Maine’s AmeriCorps Seniors programs are organizing the sock drive. RSVP, sponsored locally by the Southern Maine Area Agency on Aging, meets community needs with rewarding volunteer experiences.

The Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs, sponsored locally by The Opportunity Alliance, offer opportunities to tutor and mentor children and support independent living for older adults.

About the Southern Maine Agency on Aging RSVP Program

The Retired and Senior Volunteer Program is a national program funded by AmeriCorps Seniors and sponsored locally by the Southern Maine Agency on Aging. RSVP acts as a clearinghouse, connecting volunteers to positions at dozens of nonprofits throughout Cumberland and York counties. For more information: www.smaaa.org or call 207-396-6595.

About The Opportunity Alliance Senior Volunteer Programs

The Foster Grandparent and Senior Companion programs are national programs funded by AmeriCorps and sponsored locally by The Opportunity Alliance in York and Cumberland counties.

Since 1974, Senior Companions have provided assistance to older adults who have difficulties with tasks of daily living that help them remain living independently. Founded in 1965, Foster Grandparents provide emotional and educational support to children in the classroom.

For more information: www.opportunityalliance.org/volunteer or call 207-773-0202. <

Additional financial support for electricity bills available to Maine residents

AUGUSTA – The Governor’s Energy Office (GEO), Maine Public Utilities Commission (PUC), Office of the Public Advocate (OPA), and Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) are partnering to encourage eligible Maine residents to apply for financial assistance with their electricity bills this winter.

DHHS is sending letters to 67,000 Maine residents eligible for the Low-Income Assistance Program (LIAP) with information on how to receive financial assistance.

The LIAP program, administered by the PUC, received a boost from $15 million to $22.5 million this year when lawmakers and the Governor provided one-time additional funding for the program from the unappropriated surplus of the General Fund. The PUC also expanded income eligibility for the program, which together with increased funding will allow it to serve 46,000 additional Maine residents this season.

"The Governor’s Energy Office applauds the work of the PUC to expand Maine’s LIAP program in partnership with the OPA and DHHS to deliver support to Maine people,” said Dan Burgess, Director of the GEO. “Targeted programs like LIAP are important resources for helping Maine people lower their electric bill and stay warm this winter.”

The Chairman of the Public Utilities Commission agrees.

“We are pleased to announce the expansion of the LIAP program this year,” said PUC Chairman Philip L. Bartlett II. “With additional funding, thousands of Mainers will be eligible to participate in this program for the first time. We encourage all who receive the letter to review it and contact their utility as soon as possible.”

The letters from DHHS are expected to arrive soon and all recipients need to do is show the letter to their electric utility to automatically receive LIAP benefits. Contact information for Maine’s electric utilities is included in the letter.

“OPA thanks DHHS for streamlining the application process by providing a letter to all eligible ratepayers that they can simply show to their utility to automatically qualify for a credit on their utility bill,” said Public Advocate William Harwood.

State officials encourage recipients to not dismiss the letters if they receive one.

“We encourage participants in the Department’s programs to keep an eye out for these letters,” said Ian Yaffe, Director of the DHHS Office for Family Independence. “Spending five minutes or less to present the letter to your utility can mean spending much less on your electricity bill this winter.”

DHHS encourages those who do not receive a letter and need assistance to submit an online form to have their potential eligibility evaluated. The forms are available online at https://www.maine.gov/dhhs/

The amount of financial support through the LIAP program is variable depending on household income, size, and other factors. Those who are enrolled in the Low-Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) do not need to apply for LIAP as they will automatically be enrolled.

Although Federal forecasts anticipate energy prices in the Northeast to be lower this winter compared to the prior two years, the region continues to be over-reliant on fossil fuels, in particular natural gas for electricity generation. Furthermore, Maine is the most home heating oil dependent state in the U.S. with over 56 percent of households relying on either heating oil or kerosene as their primary source of heating.

The GEO recently released its 2023 Winter Heating Guide to help Mainers save money on home heating and stay warm this winter. The guide includes key information, helpful tips, and links to online resources where consumers can find heating information, options, and assistance programs. <