By Alex Lippa
---- — For years, Plaistow Selectman Daniel Poliquin said there has been a disconnect between Plaistow and Haverhill.
“It’s like there’s a so-called brick wall at the border,” he said.
But leaders of both municipalities are trying to change that.
Haverhill Mayor James Fiorentini and Plaistow Town Manager Sean Fitzgerald met last week as they work to improve the communication between the two communities.
“There are a lot of common concerns and challenges that Plaistow and Haverhill should join together on,” Fitzgerald said. “That dialogue will continue and there may be some great opportunities that come of it.”
Fitzgerald said the two have talked “occasionally” in his five years as town manager, but it’s something he hopes to do more routinely.
“We’re making sure we’re aware of issues and concerns that are in Haverhill and Plaistow,” he said. “We want to try to share local responsibilities and do our best to keep open lines of communication.”
One issue which could be discussed is a solution to Plaistow’s water problem.
For decades, Plaistow has been trying to figure out a way to provide its residents with a public water supply. One possibility that has been discussed is extending Haverhill lines into Plaistow.
“If they come to us with a master plan on where they want to put water and sewer, and then present us with the costs, then it would be something where we’d look at the different alternatives,” said Bob Ward, Haverhill’s water and sewer director.
Sven Amirian, director of the Greater Haverhill Chamber of Commerce and a former Haverhill city councilor, is a supporter of the possibility.
“I don’t think it has to be a divisive issue,” Amirian said. “There’s a middle ground to be had here and I think that it could be a benefit to both municipalities.”
Haverhill already provides water to some Plaistow businesses, including Shaw’s, CVS and other businesses at Stateline Plaza in Plaistow. The property owners pay 150 percent of Haverhill’s rate for the water.
But Haverhill has to be careful not to become a good neighbor at its own expense, Amirian said.
“Haverhill could fear the potential economic advantage to Plaistow being a tax-free shopping area,” Amirian said. “But no one wants anyone to suffer. Haverhill could benefit financially by doing this.”
Haverhill City Council president Robert Scatamacchia said he was fine with providing water, but providing sewer lines was a deal breaker.
“If we were to provide them with wastewater, then it would jeopardize commercial and industrial development in Haverhill,” he said. “Allowing Plaistow to tie into our (wastewater) system would be a mistake financially.”
Haverhill City Council vice president Mike Hart said there is a benefit to working with Plaistow, but only to a point.
“I think it’s good for us to get along,” Hart said. “But there is always a sense of competition. We have difficulties in Haverhill with being a border community and constantly dealing with the tax issues. We really don’t want to push Haverhill shoppers across the border. There is always that sense of not wanting to help their commercial endeavors to the point where it hurts local people.”
But Poliquin said the businesses they are trying to bring to town wouldn’t affect Haverhill.
“We aren’t just trying to bring a lot of restaurants here,” Poliquin said. “We’re looking at medical, arts and research development. These are facilities that may not want to be located in Haverhill or Ward Hill because they are more community based with direct access to residents. They’d be more accessible in a community like Plaistow. There just seems to be the big concern that Haverhill is going to lose part of its economic resources and I don’t think that’s the case, I feel that they’d be enhanced”
David Van Dam, Fiorentini’s chief of staff, said any discussions about future partnerships with Plaistow were preliminary.
“Right now, it’s just a discussion about what could make sense,” Van Dam said. “We’re seeing what we could do to work together.”
Fiorentini was unavailable for comment last week.
The two municipalities are closer to agreement when it comes to the Massachusetts Bay Transportation Authority being extended across the border. New Hampshire is currently conducting a $659,000 study on the possibility of a commuter rail and layover station coming to Plaistow.
Scatamacchia said bringing commuter rail to Plaistow would be a positive development.
“Getting an MBTA station in Plaistow would be great,” he said. “ I don’t see a negative impact. It will allow residents of Plaistow and Southern New Hampshire, the convenience of staying in Plaistow.”
If a layover station moved to Plaistow from its current location in Bradford, Hart said, it would benefit Haverhill residents.
“Especially during winter, it would make significant noise and would bother some people in Bradford,” he said. “That could go away in a more remote location in Plaistow.”
Poliquin could see the potential positives of a Plaistow MBTA station for Haverhill as well.
“I think it would reduce their traffic situation,” he said.
But Van Dam said the city thrives on the busy atmosphere of the Haverhill and Bradford train stations.
“Those stations are both heavily utilized,” he said. “We enjoy having commuters come in and we certainly know if they put a station in Plaistow we may get less.”
But while divides remain between the communities, leaders of both municipalities are trying to make it work.
“It’s always important to be good friends and be in good standing with your neighbors,” Van Dam said.
“This isn’t North Korea and South Korea,” Fitzgerald said. “We are all one region and we all serve under the same American flag.”