For the second time this year, residents in Jefferson and Whitefield voted against pursuing ownership of the dam impounding Clary Lake.
The towns were required by state statute to “consider and act” on ownership of the dam at public meetings as part of a petition process by dam owner Pleasant Pond Mill LLC for release of ownership of the dam – a process which could potentially end in a breach order from the Department of Environmental Protection if no new owner is found.
An initial petition was filed by PPM in early April, but the company submitted a second petition on Sept. 27. Jefferson and Whitefield were required to vote in response to both petition processes.
A separate petition process by members of the Clary Lake Association and others asking the DEP to set a water level on Clary Lake has been ongoing for nearly two years, but no water level has yet been set.
Jefferson’s special town meeting, held Nov. 18, took barely five minutes to complete.
Selectman Jim Hilton made a motion for Jefferson not to take ownership of the dam, seconded by Wayne Parlin.
David Hodsdon, a resident who lives on Clary Lake, proposed Jefferson take ownership of the dam and transfer it to the Clary Lake Association – a group which has been attempting to negotiate so far unsuccessfully with PPM to buy the dam.
Hilton cautioned against such a move, since Jefferson might become stuck with the dam if that process somehow fell apart.
However, Hilton said, “I think, eventually, the lake association should become the owner of the dam.”
Hilton’s negative motion passed, 10 votes to 3.
Whitefield’s special town meeting, held Nov. 19, lasted about 30 minutes. Most of the meeting was taken up Selectman Tony Marple’s review of background information surrounding the issue.
Marple reviewed three potential paths for Whitefield: taking ownership of the dam, which allowed the town to repair and preserve the dam and therefore preserve the lake, an option that could come with unknown costs and potential liability; facilitate discussions between the owners of the dam and other interested parties; or take no action, which would require no expense but would leave Whitefield without say in the future of the dam.
After Marple concluded, only a few people spoke before former Selectman Tom Colpitt moved the question.
The motion was to authorize the Whitefield Board of Selectmen to negotiate for ownership of the dam, with final approval of an agreement to be approved by the voters.
“We all know why were are here. Let’s get down and do it,” said Marlene Sullivan. “We’ve been through this before.”
Beth Vigue said she was frustrated that Whitefield had to go through this process all over again. A great deal of time was spent discussing this issue last spring and it angered her the town was required to do it all over, she said.
“We should do what Jefferson did last night and get it over with,” Vigue said.
Ann Roberts responded to Vigue saying this was an important issue and there would be no harm in going through the negotiating process because the town would still have the final say whether or not to take ownership.
“This is a very, very important issue we are talking about. We are losing very important resources, she said.
Colpitt said the town already owns a dam in Coopers Mills.
“In my opinion it’s a liability. Why would we want another one?” he asked. “I make a motion to move the question.”
The motion to move the question passed, and the question authorizing negotiations subsequently failed to pass by a sizable margin.
The meeting, a statutorily-required consultation of PPM with abutting property owners of the lake regarding the second petition from release from dam ownership, began with tension and tempers but discussions after the official meeting concluded turned polite and potentially productive.
On Nov. 18, George Fergusson, a member of the association’s negotiating committee, said an offer in the form of a letter presented to Paul Kelley, the manager of PPM, at the Oct. 15 meeting has not been responded to.
According to Fergusson, Kelley will not discuss a potential sale of the dam without a non-disclosure agreement, but agreeing to non-disclosure would not work because the association board and membership would need to be up to speed in order to approve purchasing the dam.
Kelley said he has been in touch about negotiations with Marple, who had agreed to serve as a mediator between the two parties, but the association has not yet provided a draft non-disclosure agreement for the process to continue.
Neither party has elected to share the terms of the offer outlined in the letter.