CHINA — Complaints about low water in Branch Pond led selectmen to invite former dam owner Thomas Dinsmore to Monday’s meeting, but the board members agreed there’s not much they can do to solve the problem.

Dinsmore said the current owner, Stephen Coombs, a builder who intended to create a water-powered mill to grind locally grown organic grain, is a victim of the economy, and his plans to work on the building stalled. Dinsmore said that Coombs hopes to do some work on the mill this fall, after he finishes an out-of-state project.

Dinsmore said Coombs had to open the dam gates and lower water in Branch Pond to repair the foundation.

Town Manager Daniel L’Heureux said Coombs is not paying taxes and unless at least partial payment is received, the town can foreclose on the mill and the dam at the end of the year.

The mill building, the third to stand over the dam, has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1979. Dinsmore sold it to Coombs about eight years ago.

Dinsmore said by the time Coombs got Planning Board permits for his project, the economy was collapsing and Coombs has no money to work on the building. Dinsmore said Coombs is not making payments on the mortgage that Dinsmore holds.

Dinsmore said the history of the dam goes back to 1800, when settlers acquired the rights to flood upstream land and built the original Branch Mills dam to power a grist mill. Damming the West Branch of the Sheepscot River at Branch Mills created Branch Pond above the dam. The pond is partly in China and partly in Palermo.

Dinsmore said Coombs realizes that the low water level “must be getting old” for pond residents.

Resident Michael Gorman is unsympathetic to Coombs.

Gorman, also a builder, said Coombs, whom he supported before the Planning Board eight years ago, “hasn’t done anything” except to start work on the house that he bought next door and abandon it, exposed to the weather.

“It’s a shame, what’s going on down there,” Gorman said.

Levi Krajewski, a former Branch Pond Association president, said he will tell other pond landowners that Coombs hopes to get back to work this fall. Neither he nor selectmen were optimistic about stopping the complaints.

Since the property involved is private, selectmen said there is not much they can do.

The other two issues on Monday’s agenda also involved the south end of town.

Frederic Hayden of China and Dennis Keller of Palermo presented Hayden’s preliminary proposal to convert the former Farrington’s store in South China, now owned by Keller, into affordable (but not subsidized) elderly housing.

Hayden said if selectmen are interested, he will investigate whether the property can be used for that purpose and what funding sources are available. Selectmen unanimously encouraged him to proceed.

Board members unanimously approved a junkyard permit for Russell and Timothy Coston for the Coston property on Dirigo Road. In September, the Planning Board issued a permit for the metal recycling business Russell Coston runs, with conditions that included the requirement that the dispute with the town about an unlicensed junkyard be resolved.

Monday’s selectmen’s meeting followed two lightly attended public hearings.

The first was on proposed amendments to the appendices to the town’s general-assistance ordinance. During the meeting, board members approved the amendments.

The second hearing was on two Nov. 8 local referendum questions. One asks for approval of revised definitions relating to the town’s flood plain ordinance; the other asks for up to $7,500 from surplus for two committees implementing China’s 2008 comprehensive plan.

Resident Charles Plumer, the only member of the public to speak during the hearing, objected to combining the fund requests for the implementation and Thurston Park committees in a single question. He said he considers them two different issues.

L’Heureux, who drafted the ballot question, said he sees the appropriation request as a single issue, carrying out comprehensive plan recommendations.

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