Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Wekepeke: Here we go again

I suppose it was inevitable. After a summer and fall or relative peace surrounding the Wekepeke Reservoir, Clinton Selectman Anthony Fiorentino has decided that it might be time to revisit the issue again. From this week’s Times and Courier:
Clinton - Anthony Fiorentino remains concerned with how Sterling views the Wekepeke lands, even as that town’s selectmen chairman says his constituents want action taken sooner rather than later.

“We’re left with trying to get a deal with the town of Sterling to try and collaborate and trying to maintain that property as it should be,” said Fiorentino, a Clinton selectman, citing Gov. Deval Patrick’s 2008 mid-year veto* of $250,000 in state money earmarked to repair Wekepeke dams. The state had earlier mandated that Clinton repair the dams, an estimated $1 million job.

Fiorentino said Tuesday he remains in favor of exploring new ways to generate revenue on the 564-acre Wekepeke parcel, owned by Clinton but largely located within the town of Sterling.

“I look at water as a renewable resource. The Wekepeke is something that we need to explore and not forget about,” he said, adding, “The town of Sterling has expressed interest in that water. The town of Clinton needs to protect that. It should be something we actively consider.”
This issue is never going to go away as long as the leaders of Clinton and Sterling see the water on that land as a money-making venture. Every last bit of “renewable resource” has not been placed on this earth so that it can be exploited and sold to bridge the budget gaps. It’s OK for a piece of property to be left dormant. Open space is a good thing.

It’s bad enough that some of the leadership in Clinton see the Wekepeke Reservoir and aquifer as nothing more than a money maker. But the Sterling Selectmen have been little better in voicing their opposition to Clinton’s plan. Long after Clinton rejected Nestle’s initial bid the Sterling selectmen finally decided that yeah, well, maybe selling the water wasn’t such a great idea so we’ll oppose it.

Opposing the plan when it was still a going question would have been the responsible thing to do, but Sterling’s selectmen dragged their feet to see what Sterling could get out of the deal, only to finally oppose it after a decision had been made and after months of near-unanimous opposition from those in town who voiced an opinion.

But when it comes to deciding what to do with the land, the Sterling selectmen have been all over the place. I don’t blame Fiorentino for thinking Sterling has designs on the reservoir, because this board of selectmen has tossed out a number of ideas on what to do with it. They’ve talked about hydro-electric power, forestry management (i.e., logging), and leaving it alone among other ideas. The fact that the Sterling selectmen can’t come up with their own proposal and stick to it understandably leads to distrust.

Ultimately, the only option that will gain widespread support in Sterling is to keep the land as it is and to upkeep the dams. No commercial development, period. Earlier in the year the Sterling selectmen mused about what it would take to buy the land. My proposal at the time was to purchase the land from Clinton for the same amount Clinton would have received had it contracted with Nestle, minus the $1.5 million to repair the dams, payable over the terms of Nestle’s original proposal. But I and others would strongly oppose even that plan if Sterling were to try to turn around and develop it.

The first step to solving the problem is for the Sterling Selectmen to strengthen their opposition to Nestle by extending it to all commercial and revenue generating activities. The parcel has been a passive, open space for over 40 years. It should stay that way.

*As an aside, the $250,000 was not cut by the governor’s veto, but as part of a round of Section 9C cuts. State law mandates that the governor reduce the budget in an effort to balance it if revenues come in below budget. A veto can be overridden, a 9C cut cannot. The governor did not veto the earmark when it was passed as part of the FY2009 budget.

July 3: Naughton's Wekepeke earmark in final budget
June 19: Write the state house to support the Wekepeke
June 19: Clinton signs Wekepeke restriction. Now what?
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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