EagleTribune.com, North Andover, MA

January 20, 2008

Resident proposes changes to water withdrawal ordinance

By Meghan Carey , Staff writer

ATKINSON - Voters will have an opportunity this March to firm up the water withdrawal control ordinance they approved in September.

Carol Grant submitted two citizens' petitions for Town Meeting, one that would make the water withdrawal ordinance a health ordinance, and another that adds three amendments to the existing ordinance. It was Grant who petitioned for September's Special Town Meeting at which voters approved the water withdrawal control ordinance by a 2-1 margin.

The new law prevents businesses from extracting water and buying or selling such water. It gives selectmen the power to fine violators $1,000 a day, and residents the power to bring the matter to court if the town fails to enforce the ordinance.

Shortly after the September vote, Atkinson selectmen wrote to the state to find out if the ordinance was enforceable, and were told that it would best be resolved in court between the town and the affected party - likely Hampstead Area Water Co.

The issue of water control first came up when the Hampstead Area Water Co. submitted a preliminary application to the state Department of Environmental Services, seeking permission to install eight wells and withdraw more than 500,000 gallons of water a day. The application was found to be incomplete, but the water company can reapply at any time.

Grant said her petitions were written by the same lawyers who developed the water withdrawal ordinance, the Community Environmental Legal Defense Fund, and should give the town the weight needed to win if it is brought to court.

"It's like putting an extra wall around the castle, with the castle being the ordinance," she said.

Grant's first petition would direct selectmen to adopt the water withdrawal ordinance as a health ordinance.

By state law, selectmen have the right to adopt an ordinance that is necessary to protect the health, welfare and safety of the people, Grant said. An adequate supply of clean drinking water should apply under those conditions, she said. It would also stand alone.

"I think that's a brilliant move, because history shows New Hampshire courts have never overturned a health ordinance," she said.

The other petition Grant submitted would add a large section on how to enforce the ordinance. It makes businesses who deprive a resident of Atkinson or an ecosystem in town of clean water responsible to pay damages. It gives any person in town the right to take action if they believe their right to clean water has been violated.

Planning Board Chairwoman Sue Killam was wary of the amendments during an interview last week. The town can protect water quality, but it can't control water, she said.

"It's all in the water rights and the Groundwater Protection Act," she said. "The state is the entity that can regulate and restrict."

Selectmen Chairman Jack Sapia agreed that water issues are clearly outlined in state law, and he doesn't see a need to make any further changes to the water withdrawal ordinance.

"Let's make sure we work together to stay within legal boundaries," he said. "What expertise does the town have that the state doesn't have?"