2016-01-01 / Front Page

Year in Review

A look back at the stories of 2015
By Wm. Duke Harrington Staff Writer


Luverne Preble, 80, sits on the steps of the Town House School at 135 North Road in Kennebunkport, where she attended grades one through eight. Built in 1900, the school closed in 1951 and was deeded to the Kennebunkport Historical Society four years later. In May, citing an advanced state of decay — note the lumber used to shore up one bowing wall — society members voted to tear down the building by the end of August, an act Preble is fighting to forestall. (Duke Harrington file photo) Luverne Preble, 80, sits on the steps of the Town House School at 135 North Road in Kennebunkport, where she attended grades one through eight. Built in 1900, the school closed in 1951 and was deeded to the Kennebunkport Historical Society four years later. In May, citing an advanced state of decay — note the lumber used to shore up one bowing wall — society members voted to tear down the building by the end of August, an act Preble is fighting to forestall. (Duke Harrington file photo) When history books about this era in the life of the Kennebunks are written, the overarching story of 2015 will be voter approval of a $56.5 million bond to improve school buildings in all three towns that make up RSU 21. Whether one is concerned with the impact building conditions have on a quality education or just with footing the bill, the effects of that vote will be felt for decades to come.

But the bond vote, as contentious as it was, was far from the only noteworthy thing to happen locally during the past 12 months – even if it may be the only item people will still be talking about in 20 years, when the bill is paid off.


With his father Charles Bragdon of Wells in the background, Stephen Bragdon, now a Scarborough resident, casts a line in the Mousam River last May from a shady spot beneath the Route 1 bridge at the Kesselen Dam in his native Kennebunk. (Duke Harrington file photo) With his father Charles Bragdon of Wells in the background, Stephen Bragdon, now a Scarborough resident, casts a line in the Mousam River last May from a shady spot beneath the Route 1 bridge at the Kesselen Dam in his native Kennebunk. (Duke Harrington file photo) So set this issue of the Kennebunk Post aside and pull it out when that final bond payment is made, to review the other stories that made the news in 2015, using this concise month-by-month breakdown:

January

Todd Shea left his job as Arundel town manager after 3½ years to become general manager of the Kennebunk Light and Power District. Shea beat out 40 applicants for the job and would continue to be in the news for the rest of the year, as the KLPD Board of Trustees wrestled with the question of what to do with its three dams on the Mousam River.


Tourists look down the Kennebunk River from the Mathew J. Lanigan Bridge, due to be replaced in 2017. Selectmen from Kennebunk and Kennebunkport voted recently to contribute up to $20,000 each to have scenic overlooks added to the new bridge. (Duke Harrington file photo) Tourists look down the Kennebunk River from the Mathew J. Lanigan Bridge, due to be replaced in 2017. Selectmen from Kennebunk and Kennebunkport voted recently to contribute up to $20,000 each to have scenic overlooks added to the new bridge. (Duke Harrington file photo) The RSU 21 board of directors launched debate on a proposal, eventually approved, that gave the superintendent the authority to make deals for advertising on school property, an area previously under the purview of the school board, and for contracts of more than 30 days at a time. Under the new policy, the superintendent needs to “seek the guidance” of the board only as he or she “deems appropriate.” The only formal requirement is that the superintendent must issue a “regular report” to the school board at undefined intervals “regarding advertising in the schools,” which may now be accepted purely on the merits of financial gain to the district, as opposed to the previous standard, which judged display advertising and sponsor logos on their educational benefit.


A view of the half-mile long stretch of Parsons Beach owned in common by members of the Parsons Beach Association — all descendants of the original owners — is seen from a home at the far end from the pubic access point. Kennebunk Selectmen voted July 9 to require a beach permit for parking on Parsons Beach Road, but it’s since become unclear if that requirement applies only to people visiting a section of the beach owned and leased to the town by one member of the association, or to the entire expanse. Left, a sign posted at Parsons Beach in Kennebunk notes that the beach is privately owned, and while the public is invited to enjoy the site, that access may be terminated at any time. (Duke Harrington file photos) A view of the half-mile long stretch of Parsons Beach owned in common by members of the Parsons Beach Association — all descendants of the original owners — is seen from a home at the far end from the pubic access point. Kennebunk Selectmen voted July 9 to require a beach permit for parking on Parsons Beach Road, but it’s since become unclear if that requirement applies only to people visiting a section of the beach owned and leased to the town by one member of the association, or to the entire expanse. Left, a sign posted at Parsons Beach in Kennebunk notes that the beach is privately owned, and while the public is invited to enjoy the site, that access may be terminated at any time. (Duke Harrington file photos) Meanwhile, Assistant Superintendent Kathryn “Katie” Hawes won the top job in RSU 21, officially taking over as superintendent. Hawes beat out 21 other applicants for the position.

February

Kennebunk paid a $3,400 fine assessed by the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for disturbing a 400-foot stretch of sand dune separating Great Hill Road from adjacent marshland, when crews from the town removed part of the frontal dune to create a road shoulder and an area to store snow from road plowing. Public discussion unveiled the inner workings of the public works department and by spring, the director would tender his resignation.

A plethora of guinea pigs temporarily overwhelmed the Animal Welfare Society in West Kennebunk, when it agreed to take in 73 of the animals from a pet owner unpracticed at population control. The original brood grew given that some of the pigs arrived already pregnant. Within weeks, the shelter was able to find homes for all of them.

Too much white had towns seeing red, as – in marked contrast to the start of the current season – heavy snows from late November 2014 on had road budgets exhausted by February, with Kennebunkport and Kennebunk eyeing overruns of $70,000 and $110,000, respectively.

March

Although it had been percolating on the back burner for Kennebunk selectmen for more than a year, the question of refurbishing the town’s skateboard park ran into public opposition when residents got word the town was eyeing a move of the facility to Parsons Field. Opposition quickly coalesced, culminating in a citizen’s petition that blocked the move at the polls in June, while the leader of that movement, Shiloh Schulte, rode the wave of public opinion into a seat on the board. Meanwhile, by year’s end, the question of what to do about the park was once again on the back burner.

KLPD held its first public meeting on the fate of its three Mousam River dams, due for relicensing by the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission. Although the dams’ current operating license does not expire until 2022, the path to re-approval is long and expensive, requiring trustees to declare by 2017 whether they will pursue a new license, or else tear out the dams. More than 100 people attended a March 31 hearing, a crowd that surprised trustees somewhat, with most arguing in favor of returning the river to its natural flow after more than a century of industrial and power generating use.

April

Parents expressed concern with RSU 21 over standardized tests, arguing that a letter circulated by the district did not advise them of their right to opt out of testing for their children. The letter was redrafted, although some parents said it was still too vague, but by that time testing was almost complete, and the state legislature had killed a bill that would have forced school districts to be more explicit in telling parent of their rights.

As discontent over the RSU 21 school renovation bond began to mount, voters in Kennebunkport circulated a petition to withdraw from the school district. Selectmen were criticized by school boosters because all five signed the petition. Some board members said they felt their town was forced to pay more than its fair share of both the building bond and the annual RSU operating budget, while others said they simply felt it was a worthy topic for public debate. When the time came to vote in June, the public resoundingly killed any further talk of pulling out of the school district, with 64 percent of voters deciding not to fund a withdrawal study.

May

As it geared up to change vendors for its solid waste and recycling efforts, Kennebunk also became the first town in Maine to offer curbside composting as part of a municipal contract. The town gave We Compost It! of Portland an exclusive deal to offer the service in town on a subscription model, with residents who choose to participate paying $8.26 per month for weekly pickup of organic materials.

With a series of visioning sessions under their belt, residents and business owners in Kennebunk’s Lower Village began to float the idea of a name change, suggesting that “lower village” sounding off-putting to upscale tourists. That idea failed to gain traction with selectmen. However, by year’s end the board had followed through on another idea to come out of the meetings, expansion of the Lower Village TIF district.

At year’s end, the Federal Aviation Administration announced new rules requiring the licensing of all unmanned aerial drones, but a Cape Porpoise business was ahead of the curve, gaining what was believed the first commercial drone license issued in the state. Maine HDTV, run by Bill Lord and Don Johnson, uses the drones primarily to shoot footage of homes for real estate advertising videos.

June

The Dutch Elm Golf Course in Arundel celebrated 50 years of operation this month while, in July the Senior Center in Kennebunk marked its 25th year. At the golf course, it was a low-key event, but the senior center marked the occasion by inaugurating an annual award for seniors making a difference in the community, and by bringing the Portland Symphony Orchestra to the Waterford Center on Main Street for an outdoor concert attended by more than 1,000 people.

After several months under an interim town manager, Arundel hired Keith Trefethen of Wells from among 33 applicants for the top job. For Trefethen, who had been commuting daily to a town administrator’s job in New Hampshire, it was good to come back home.

A house fire on Cat Mousam Road in Kennebunk killed 2008 Kennebunk High School graduate Kyle Szlosek, who was in town visiting his sick mother. It was believed to be the first fire fatality in Kennebunk in more than 20 years.

In response, the fire department would end up teaming with the Red Cross to distribute free smoke detectors town-wide to anyone who wanted one.

July

Kennebunk selectmen got into a brief kerfuffle over access to Parsons Beach. After arranging with one local property owner to charge a parking fee at the access road to the site, the town was waylaid by other beach owners, who wanted parking to remain free. Eventually, that side won out and Parsons remained one of the few places in town where visitors can visit the shore without paying to park.

Arundel Cottages, a gated community at 1976 Portland Road (Route 1) in Arundel, began taking reservations for its homes. Full build-out of all 259 units on the property, covering nearly 300 acres at an estimated cost of $68 million, is expected to take seven to 10 years.

After several weeks of complaining to town staffers about perceived zoning violations, a crowd of Lower Village residents turned out at a Kennebunk selectmen’s meeting to take their concerns public. At odds was a property on Doane’s Wharf Road purchased earlier in the year by Fred Forsley, owner of Federal Jack’s restaurant. The residents were irate Forsley was using the residential property for valet parking at the restaurant. It would take several months, but before the year was out, the zoning board of appeals would side with the residents, ruling 2-1 that commercial parking was not allowed, although some parking was reserved for use by slip renters at an adjacent marina.

August

Graves Memorial Library in Kennebunkport broke ground when it became the first library in the state to name a writer-in-residence. Local author Bridget Burns said she would use the space afforded to her to begin work on a history of the Freedom Farm, which she now owns, a property renowned for housing refugees from Eastern European during World War II.

An11th-hour effort to save the Town House School – targeted for demolition by its owner, the Kennebunkport Historical Society – paid off. Following publicity of efforts to rehabilitate the 115-year-old one-room school house, anonymous donors came though with enough money to stabilize the building, convincing the historical society to give it one more winter, in hopes a permanent fix can be realized.

A vandal who had been tagging property in Kennebunk for more than a year with a silhouette of the mythical Sasquatch beast made headlines with he defaced a historic marker. Within weeks, the mystery would be solved, and the graffiti artists named as Freeman Hatch, age 36.

September

Kennebunkport resident Danny Smith, 26, was credited with saving the life of a young swimmer whose heart stopped when he jumped off Picnic Rock in the Kennebunk River. As a result, Smith became one of the first recipients of a “challenge coin,” a program initiated by Kennebunk Police to honor locals who go above and beyond to help others.

Arundel celebrated its 100th birthday with a community party while selectmen continued to debate property purchase options for a new town hall, having deemed the current structure out of date and beyond redemptions. Late in the year, a decision appeared to be near at hand as selectmen zeroed on a lot across from Arundel Ford on Route 1.

October

The Kennebunk Light and Power District released a long-awaited report that seemed to raise as many questions as it answered, although it finally put a number on the cost to relicense the Mousam River dams, pegging the cost at something between $8.8 million and $11.7 million, given the need to build fish passages. Four options for tearing out one or more of the dams were deemed to hit ratepayers for between $1.5 million and $4.7 million. Meanwhile, KLPD announced plans to get into the solar power business, with a project to build a 3.7-megawatt solar array on an old air field near the Wells town line.

A stench detected as far away as Old Orchard Beach was traced to an Arundel farm, and the composting operation of Dubois Livestock & Excavating. The town has been in a legal battle with the farm owners for more than a year over the composting operation. Although the farm lost a superior court case last year over the town’s right to inspect and license the site, it has continued to refuse entry to town staffers. In December, the town’s board of appeals rejected Dubois’ complaint that the planning board erred in ruling its application incomplete.

November

In a tale of local girl makes good, Tatum Milley, age 9, of Kennebunk, was crowned Grand National Champion for her age division, while finishing fourth in the World Championship at the Morgan Grand National and World Championship Horse Show in Oklahoma City.

Plans to rebuild the Perkins Grist Mill were put on hold until resolution of a lawsuit filed by abutters of the Kennebunkport property who want to stop the project. The original mill, built in 1749, was in operation until the 1930s. It later became a restaurant and its life ended at the end of an arson’s match in 1994. The Kennebunk Conservation Trust purchased the 1.7-acre lot, which includes the Clem Clark Boathouse, and submitted an application to rebuild the mill to its original specifications as a means to revive interest in the town’s history as a working waterfront. But abutters say the project would be too noisy, too dangerous and too much of a hazard to the environment.

A developer known for several high-profile projects got in hot water with Kennebunkport selectmen. After signing a Sept. 8 consent agreement with selectmen on behalf of Fishing Pole Lane LLC – a 60-acre site that includes 36 luxury cottages at 354 Goose Rocks Road better known as the Hidden Pond Resort – Tim Harrington agreed to pay a $22,100 fine to the town for a host of violations at the property. But a land swap with an abutting land-owner designed to cure one of the issues – a deck built without a permit too close to a property line – was not completed by the due date on the agreement, resulting in fines of $100 per day.

December

After 18 years and 94 productions, the final curtain fell at the Arundel Barn Playhouse. Owner Adrienne Grant announced she would sell the property, located at 55 Old Post Road, to the newly-formed development group Vinegar Hill LLC. The sale was expected to close by year’s end and the new owners have said they will convert the space into a concert hall, shifting the site’s focus from musical theater to musical performance.

Finally, Kennebunk selectmen twice refused to help fund a polling project initiated by No Place Like Home (NPLH), a nonprofit grassroots group that aims to help senior citizens “age in place” and remain vital members of their community. Town funding would have won a grant from AARP to complete the project, but selectmen complained first that the cost was too high and then, when the request was lowered, that the proposed poll was too loosely structured.

Many of these stories will continue to develop in 2016 and we invite you to send in letters to the editor with your predictions for how events will, or should, unfold. Write to editor@kennebunkpost.com.

Staff Writer Wm. Duke Harrington can be reached at news@kennebunkpost.com.

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