EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

December 18, 2013

Windham water study in doubt with selectmen divided

By John Toole
jtoole@eagletribune.com

---- — WINDHAM — Selectmen split 2-2 on asking voters to consider funding a $35,000 water study, potentially forcing proponents into a petition drive to get the issue to Town Meeting.

The board left the door open to reconsidering the decision as soon as next week because of the tie vote.

Selectmen Phil LoChiatto and Al Letizio Jr. favored putting the question before voters during their meeting Monday.

Selectmen Kathleen DiFruscia and Roger Hohenberger were opposed.

Selectman Ross McLeod was absent from the meeting.

The town’s Economic Development Committee has pushed for months to get the study funded, either through the town budget process or a warrant article question to voters.

Town Administrator David Sullivan told the committee’s chairman, Ralph Valentine, the group would have until Jan. 14 to collect signatures of 25 registered voters to get the question on the Town Meeting ballot.

The committee sees establishing municipal water service in the Route 111 and Interstate 93 area as key to getting more commercial development in town.

The study would look at the feasibility and potential costs.

Letizio, who also serves on the committee, told selectmen no group in town has opposed studying the issue.

DiFruscia warned a public water system could come at high cost to the town for little benefit.

But Letizio said a study itself doesn’t commit the town to building a water system.

“This is not us getting water,” Letizio said.

Hohenberger wondered whether everyone in town would benefit from a public water system established in commercial neighborhoods.

Valentine countered that they would because economic development could potentially lower everyone’s tax bills.

He acknowledged the Economic Development Committee had not spent a lot of time pursuing alternate means of funding the study, in part because members didn’t want to delay the research.

“We don’t want to wait,” Valentine said.

DiFruscia, expressing frustration over a lack of information about potential costs for a water system, told Valentine he was asking a lot of taxpayers.

But Valentine defended the study as a way to get those answers DiFruscia wants.

“We’re at step three of a lot of steps,” Valentine said.