Wednesday, June 18, 2008

Clinton signs Wekepeke restriction. Now what?

According to this morning's Telegram and Gazette, the Clinton Board of Selectmen finally signed the Wekepeke conservation restriction a mere seven years after town meeting approved it. In an uncharacteristic show of benevolence, the Clinton board is actually going to let someone else see it:
[Chairman Kevin] Haley said the conservation restriction on the Wekepeke, Clinton’s former public water supply, would be made available for the Sterling selectmen.
As I've argued previously, the Clinton board has been stretching the Open Meeting Law to it's limits by holding these deliberations in executive session. For all we know, the restriction could be as limited as prohibiting people from driving clown cars around the reservoir (although other indications suggest it probably has more teeth than that).

(If I lived in Clinton, I think I'd be quite frustrated at the board's penchant for operating either in executive session or without public comment. According the article in this morning's T&G, the board adjourned the meeting last night without allowing any of the 25 or so citizens who had attended to comment on the Rauscher Farm issue. At least in last night's case, citizens spoke out against the adjournment to the press after the meeting; in the secrecy surrounding the conservation restriction, I'm not aware that any Clintonian challenged the board's loose interpretation of the Open Meeting Law.)

According to last Friday's Clinton Item, one of the sticking points on the Conservation restriction has been the question of whether or not Clinton would be able to use the Wekepeke as a public water supply in the event Clinton needs the water at some point in the future. In an effort to address Clinton's concerns, Sterling selectman Paul Sushchyk responded in Tuesday's paper that the Clinton board has nothing to worry about:
Sushchyk said Sterling residents are against any commercial water pumping operation at the Wekepeke. Last year, Nestlé Waters of North America began looking into striking a deal with Clinton for the water at the Wekepeke. This created a great deal of controversy before being rejected by the Clinton Board of Selectmen. Sushchyk said Nestlé would have had to come before Sterling for a zoning change at the Wekepeke. However, he said Clinton would not need to get permission from Sterling to draw the water for municipal use.

“Those are two different things,” Sushchyk said. “I don’t think anyone has a problem with Clinton drawing water for its own use. That is clearly what the aquifer is for.”
I don't know that Selectman Sushchyk accurately describes the feelings of the people in town. Whether or not anyone in Sterling would have a problem depends on the meaning of the word "draw."

If by "draw," Sushchyk means Clinton can take water out of the surface reservoirs as outlined in the acts of 1876 and 1882, the Selectman is probably right. Few if any Sterlingites would have a problem with Clinton using the waters of the Wekepeke for the purpose it was originally set aside.

But if "draw" means pumping water from the underground aquifer, there would likely be opposition (including from Sterlingites like me). While a plan whereby Clinton pumped water from the aquifer for municipal use would be closer to the original use than the plan to turn the water over to Nestle, it still would be a different method of extraction than originally approved. One of the bases for opposing the Nestle plan was that pumping from the aquifer was not an allowed use, only extraction from the surface waters was permitted.

That's why the wording of Sushchyk's comment to the Item is troubling. Back in February, then Clinton Selectman Robert Pasquale asserted "We own the aquifer." He was widely criticized; while Clinton clearly owns the reservoirs and the land surrounding them, the aquifer is much, much larger than the Wekepeke land and provides water to homeowners and wells in both Lancaster and Sterling.

Hopefully Sushchyk was misquoted when he suggested that the aquifer is "clearly" for Clinton's use. That is a position that few Sterlingites would support.

Previous coverage of the Wekepeke:
May 2: Naughton secures funds for the Wekepeke
April 29: Might the Wekepeke restriction have teeth after all?
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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