Woodstock temporarily puts brakes on roadside spring study
Woodstock selectmen decided last week to put plans for a hydrological study for the Roadside Spring on hold until they can meet with abutting landowners.
Members of the Woodstock Conservation Commission initially met with the board last week to discuss finding the remaining funding for the study.
Last month the WCC’s Marcel Polak brought three proposals to the selectboard for the study of the Route 26 spring.
The study would determine what protections in the wider area around the spring might be needed to preserve it over the long term.
Polak recommended consultant St. Germain-Collins of Westbrook with a bid of $2,900, the cheapest among those offered.
He said a grant is available to pay for part of the work, with the remaining $1,450 to be made up by the town.
The board discussed then whether one of two available town funds would be appropriate to use for that purpose.
An $80,000 fund that came from Patriot Renewables is to be used soley for land conservation, Polak said.
Another option was an account containing approximately $30,000 is funded through fees paid by developers applying for projects, generally for the benefit of the town.
The board eventually agreed to have the Planning Board make a recommendation on which fund to use, to bring back to selectmen.
At last week’s selectmen's meeting WCC member Jim Chandler said the conclusion was that neither fund was appropriate. That prompted a discussion by selectmen.
But a wider-ranging discussion by the selectmen also took place, with concerns about the study involving private property rights, as well as about the need to maintain a good relationship with the Giunta family, which owns the property on which the spring sits.
Use of funds
Chandler said the $80,000 is intended for purchases of large areas of land, and drawing on it now would take away from that.
“It seems like that would be more like for a Buck’s Ledge, or if we did find that from the study that if there are large areas that if they were fully developed, would impact the spring, that might be appropriate for conservation easements or something of the sort,” he said.
Selectman Steve Bies disagreed.
“It’s for land conservation purposes only, and even though this is water, it seems very much land-based to me. It does seem entirely appropriate.”
Chandler said the fund had its origins in concerns about visual impacts on state land from the wind project, and would be “for mitgating for that kind of an impact - for easements or purchases.”
The spring study, he said, “is getting information about a resource.”
As for the focus of the study, Chandler said “the scope of the survey is not just that little piece of land. That land, for the near future, is protected. By calling that a public water source, there are some limits within 300 feet of the wellhead. Our concern is beyond 300 feet. Where does this water come from, and what are the land uses that could negatively impact it? What steps need to be taken to ensure the water quality that we’ve enjoyed for so many years?”
Selectman Ron Deegan asked for clarification if the $80,000 fund would be appropriate to purchase land to protect the spring, if needed, should such land come up for sale.
Chandler said he believes purchase or an easement would be appropriate.
Jane Chandler, also a WCC member, noted the good relationship with the Giuntas and expressed her appreciation for their pledge not to sell their land.
But, she said, “it’s not written into the deed that it will be forever protected.”
Picking up on her point, Town Manager Vern Maxfield said, “I’ve heard, that being the case, that we shouldn’t be putting town money into land we don’t own.”
Jim Chandler pointed out that the town already spends money on the spring, in the form of water quality testing and minor maintenance of the pipes.
Selectman Steve Bies worried about the reaction of other surrounding landowners to a study.
“By trying to make a public issue on a private piece of land, are we necessarily rubbing someone the wrong way?” he asked. "It would be to the town’s benefit to get an easement, but I don’t feel it should be our goal to get an easement because that’s someboy else’s decision entirely. What really matters is the relationship with the Giuntas. It matters more than that there’s no easement. That’s what really needs to be preserved.”
The WCC members reiterated the importance of the relationship with the Giuntas.
Jim Chandler also said a study would likely not be invasive of the surrounding land, and would look “at the lay of the land and how underground water sources function, and what could potentially affect the source.”
Polak said he could find out if a hydrologist would need to go onto property to do the study. If that were the case, he said, it would only happen with landowner permission.
Deegan then suggested that before proceeding with a study, the board and WCC meet with landowners in the area surrounding the spring, in order to explain the study and get their feedback.
Maxfield was tasked with identifying property owners to include.