CHESHIRE – Some 440 acres off of West Mountain Road will not be sold to the state Department of Conservation and Recreation after voters at Monday night’s town meeting overwhelmingly rejected a warrant article that would have allowed the Selectmen to sell the land.
The state, which has expressed interest in the land in previous years, would add the 440 acres to the Mount Greylock State Reservation, conserving the watershed in perpetuity.
The article, placed on the warrant by a citizen’s petition started by former Selectman Frank Polastri, was defeated, 148 to 44. Had the article passed, it would have transferred 750 acres encompassing the town’s former water supply from the Water Department to the Selectmen.
The town had to abandon the reservoir in the early 1990s after the state Department of Environmental Protection ruled the supply was susceptible to groundwater contamination, and the town would need to build a water filtration system to use it.
Selectman Paul Astorino said funds from the land sale would be applied to pay down a $1.2 million judgment – the result of interest accumulation on a $500,000 ruling against the town for taking a 10-acre plot by eminent domain for a well over a decade ago.
The town is currently paying $108,000 a year on the judgment for a well that was never viable as a water supply.
“In addition, we’ll receive a payment in lieu
of taxes from the state of about $10,000 a year,” he said.
However, voters seemed to be swayed by Water Commissioner Francis Waterman who pleaded with voters to stave off the sale, allowing the Water Department time to determine if the land is suitable for wind turbines.
“We just recently applied for a grant to do a feasibility study, which is a 95 percent match for up to $85,000,” he said. “It will only cost the water department $4,250 for the study, which takes 12 to 15 months. This is an opportunity for the town of Cheshire. If you sell the land now, it’s gone. All I ask you is to not sell the land before we know our options.”
Waterman also argued that should the land be found suitable for wind power, the town would qualify for an additional $400,000 for design and development from the state.
He also told those in attendance that should the land be developed for wind power, there was a potential to make money from land leases and taxes on the turbines that could be applied to the land judgment.
“We’ve also made $122,000 from three different timber sales,” Waterman said.
Not everyone agreed with Waterman’s pleas.
“This idea of wind power comes up every few years,” one voter said. “To me, not selling the property is like putting money under the mattress instead of in the bank.”
Resident Sharon Chalmers questioned how much money from the past timber sales had gone to pay down the loan for land judgment.
“None,” Waterman said. “The sales happened before the judgment. It’s been used to defray the cost of water for the water users.”
In other business, voters unanimously approved the town’s $4.9 million fiscal 2012 budget, which requires a $280,000 Proposition 21Ž2 override vote on Monday, June 20 to be fully funded. Polls at the town’s Senior Center will be open from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m.
Also passed were articles approving the appropriation of $80,000 from free cash to reduce the tax rate; a transfer of $21,992 from the fiscal 2011 foundation budget for the Adams-Cheshire Regional School District to reduce the tax rate; and an article allowing the Water Department to borrow $556,000 from the U.S. Department of Agriculture for the installation of water meters.
Two articles submitted by Polastri calling for the transfer of the 750 acres and for the abolishment of the Water Commission, were tabled. Town Counsel Edmund St. John III had submitted opinions stating the article for the transfer of land was redundant and could cause every resident to sign over the deed.
It was also St. John’s opinion that the article calling for the abolishment of the water commission was illegal, since it did not transfer the commissioners’ powers to another board in town.
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