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Another Special Town Meeting on Clary Lake Dam
Where and When is the Special Town Meeting?
On Nov. 19, 2013, Whitefield will hold a special town meeting to consider possible Town ownership of the Clary Lake Dam. The meeting will be in the school at 7 p.m. The single warrant article reads,
“To see if the Town will vote to authorize the Selectmen, on behalf of the Town, to negotiate an agreement to accept ownership of Clary Lake Dam, including all property rights owned by the dam owner and necessary to maintain and operate the dam, on such terms and conditions as the Selectmen deem advisable, subject, however, to final approval by the voters before the Selectmen execute the agreement.”
Why Another Meeting?
This is the same language that was considered and rejected earlier at a special town meeting on May 30. So why is the Town hold another meeting on the same thing? The short answer is that State law requires it.
The dam’s current owner, Pleasant Pond Mill, LLC (“PPM”), originally submitted a petition to give up ownership of the dam in April, 2013. As part of the process for relinquishing ownership of a dam, the law requires towns having impoundments created by the dam must meet to consider taking ownership of the dam. Whitefield held the required meeting and rejected the proposed article. However, prior to the meeting the State Department of Environmental Protection (“DEP”) advised PPM that the petition it had filed was defective due to improper public notice. PPM did not withdraw its petition and the special town meeting was held.
In September 2013, PPM filed a second, new petition to give up ownership. The DEP accepted the new petition and dismissed PPM’s first petition since it could not meet the notice requirements. As a result, the process was restarted anew with the second petition. As a new proceeding, the law requires a town meeting be held on the new petition. Under the law, such meeting must be held within 60 days of the petition being submitted to a town.
What Passing the Article Would Mean
To meet the legal requirement for a special town meeting, the Selectmen have chosen to present the same warrant article as used for the May 30 meeting. The Selectmen have not identified any significant new issues or information that would necessitate a different question be put before the voters. The warrant article authorizes the Selectmen only to negotiate an agreement with PPM for the Town to accept ownership of the dam. However, such an agreement would not be completed unless and until the Town votes to authorize the agreement, so the voters would have the final say on taking over the dam, once specific terms and conditions are known through negotiations between PPM and the Selectmen.
Other Possible Owners
Under the law, other persons can make proposals to assume ownership of the dam. They might include a lake association, a conservation group, state agencies or private individuals. The dam owner may accept any offer it finds to be acceptable. However, the dam owner cannot reject an offer that includes no money for the dam other than enough money for the real estate transfer costs. If such an offer is not accepted, the petition to relinquish ownership would be rejected by the DEP and the owner would continue to be responsible for the dam.
What if a New Owner is not Found?
Under the law, if a new owner for a dam is not found, the current owner will be authorized by the State to drain the lake and remove the dam.
Water Level Issues
There is a separate, although related, proceeding also under consideration by DEP that has a very important impact on Clary Lake. In January 2012, landowner George Fergusson petitioned DEP to set mandatory water levels. The purpose of such a petition is to have water levels held at specified elevations at various times of the year in order to protect uses of a lake including recreation and fish and wildlife habitat. The DEP held a public hearing on the petition in August 2012 and as of early November 2013, had not yet issued a decision. Having a final determination on the request for water levels in the lake would greatly assist parties interested in owning the dam since they would know what legal and operating restrictions would be on the dam as a result of regulated water levels.
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