Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Might the Wekepeke restriction have teeth after all?

A couple of weeks ago, I questioned the terms of the proposed Wekepeke conservation restriction being negotiated between Clinton and the state and wondered why the Board of Selectmen would be holding their deliberations in secret. According to today’s Telegram and Gazette, the doors will be opened on May 7:
CLINTON— It’s a dilemma that has dogged officials here for months: Should a conservation restriction be placed on the Clinton-owned Wekepeke reservation in Sterling so Clinton can get a $353,600 state grant to help lower a $2.7 million debt exclusion approved last year for the Rauscher Farm property in Clinton?
In a special meeting yesterday morning, the selectmen decided to air the question to the public at the May 7 selectmen’s meeting.

Because the discussions have been held in secret (dubiously, in my opinion), information about the Wekepeke restriction has been hard to come by, but a couple of little nuggets in today’s piece suggest that the state may be trying to put some real teeth into the restriction.. First, from Selectman Kevin Haley:
“Things have changed,” Mr. Haley said. “If we can’t even use that property, it could be a burden to the town with upkeep year after year. We need to find out exactly what it can be used for. And at this point, do you want to tie your hands even more with a conservation restriction?”
Haley appears to be worried that those of us in Sterling with too much time on our hands might actually have been right when we argued that a Nestle-style proposal would not have been a permitted use in the first place. But then he adds that the restriction would “tie [Clinton’s] hands even more.”

What would be more restrictive than not being able to use the water for commercial purposes? Not being able to build out the land at all? Not even being able to develop the land for a golf course or other commercial recreational development? Could the state be pressuring Clinton to preserve the parcel for open space? It looks like that might be the case. Donald A. Lowe, director of the Clinton Community and Economic Development Office, provides another hint:

“It seems like there is little the town can get out of [the Wekepeke] rather than open space.”
Which was the whole point of the conservation restriction when it was first proposed in 2001: to protect the Wekepeke as open space. The question facing Clinton is whether or not it is worth it for Clinton to protect open space in Sterling so that it can pay to acquire and preserve open space in Clinton.

The selectmen should approve the restriction and signal their support for preserving open space wherever it lies.

Previous coverage of the Wekepeke:
April 25: What would Sterling accept at the Wekepeke?
April 11: What does the Wekepeke Restriction actually say?
April 11: Clinton does the right thing
April 9: Sterling should offer to buy Wekepeke at Nestle's price
April 6: Sterling selectmen to oppose Wekepeke plan, but to what extent?
April 4: Vermont looking to restrict Wekepeke-style projects
March 27: This can't be helpful
March 25: Tough decision ahead for Clinton
March 21: Nestle's proposal could change everything
March 21: Nestle nominated for "Corporate Hall of Shame"
March 19: Sterling Selectmen disappoint at Wekepeke forum
March 16: Sterling should oppose Nestle...the right way

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