NORTH ANDOVER — Town Manager Melissa Murphy-Rodrigues signed closing documents Wednesday for the town’s purchase of 400 Great Pond Road for $1.8 million.
The basement of the house sits below water level at Lake Cochichewick, presenting an environmental hazard to North Andover’s drinking water that the town wants to eliminate. The threat of contamination from an oil-based heating system and stored chemicals in the house also forces the town to lower water levels at critical times.
“The stone foundation actually allows water to go in and out of the lake and it floods the basement of this property,” Department of Public Works Director Jim Stanford said at Town Meeting in May.
The closing on the 7.8 acre property was authorized by the Select Board on Monday, for a sum that exceeded the $1.7 million that was appropriated at Town Meeting for the house.
“That’s from the Water Enterprise Fund, so there is no tax impact to that,” Stanford said.
As Murphy-Rodrigues told the Select Board at their meeting Aug. 15, when she first announced that an agreement with the owner had been reached, the additional $100,000 will come from ARPA funding.
“At the next Select Board meeting, the board will be creating the steering committee to help advise us on the potential reuse” of the property, Murphy-Rodrigues said.
At Town Meeting, Stanford described several such uses that the committee may want to consider, once the town has cleaned up the basement.
“You could keep it as open space,” Stanford said. “You could relocate the house. You could sell the property if you needed to, the remainder lot.”
Stanford said that the house had “just come on the market” in the spring, which was why he couldn’t suggest detailed plans for its future use at Town Meeting. But he said the Water Department had been looking at the property for years.
“The water intake for the water treatment plant is right in front of this property, so if there was any type of contamination that got into the lake itself, it absolutely would make it into the water system,” Stanford said. “We do have a good water treatment plant, and we would try and filter it out, but that is a concern from a water quality standpoint.”
The threat of contamination already has an impact on how the town manages the supply of water from the lake in the summer, when usage doubles due to increased irrigation, Stanford said.
“It’s not that we have an issue with the amount of water we have in town,” he said. “It’s just that it would be a better management if we could keep the water level going into the summer months.”
A report presented to the Planning Board in January found that, if current levels of usage continue, the town’s water supply should be adequate until at least 2035, even if North Andover’s population were to grow by 6 percent.
While drought is a concern, and the lake was 10% lower than normal at the height of this summer’s drought, as Stanford said in August, that wasn’t enough to require a mandatory watering ban.
Stanford said that “it would just be nice” if the town could maintain water levels in periods of high demand, but instead “we have to lower the lake whenever it does rise up into this basement, which means that we’re actually controlling the lake for the entire town based on one property.”
“It’s not that we’re raising the lake,” Stanford said. “The lake rises and falls on its own based on weather conditions. It’s really, are we going to open up the hatch and let 180 million gallons go out to the ocean.”
As an added benefit, Stanford said that buying the house will allow North Andover to protect an additional 700 feet of lake frontage.
“The more frontage we can protect, the better off we will be from a water system standpoint,” he said.