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Windham Selectmen Debate Land Preservation

August 5, 2008

By Terry Date, The Eagle-Tribune, North Andover, Mass.

Aug. 5–WINDHAM — A proposal to place 83 acres of town conservation land into a permanent protective easement stirred debate among the selectmen last night.

The land is made up of two parcels near Goodhue Road, clustered among several hundred acres of conservation property. Residents will vote on the proposal, Article 2, on Sept. 9 as part of the Special Town Meeting warrant.

Supporters of Article 2 said there are 190,000 reasons for doing so — a $190,000 water supply land grant from the state if the property is put into a conservation easement under the stewardship of a third party.

Selectman Charlie McMahon said the grant would go into the town’s conservation fund to buy additional conservation land, bolstering that fund at a time when dollars are hard to come by.

Opponents of the article objected to a provision that would prevent the town from ever using the property for anything but conservation land. To do otherwise would require eminent domain proceedings in court and a financial penalty.

“I don’t have a crystal ball, I don’t know what the town’s needs will be in the future,” said Selectman Galen Stearns, who supports conserving the land but does not want to weaken the town’s control over it.

Conservation Commission Chairman Jim Finn countered that residents have consistently voted to preserve land in town, and their will should be respected as much as the will of anyone who might want to build there.

Selectman Roger Hohenberger also said he supports conservation, but objects to language that would require the town to revert to eminent domain to use the land for other purposes.

Hohenberger especially objected to a provision that would require the town to pay a penalty to the third-party easement steward, Southeast Land Trust, if Windham claimed the land for other purposes through eminent domain.

Ellen Snyder, a representative for the land trust, said after last night’s meeting that it is possible the penalty provision could be changed. She said it is included in the agreement as a safeguard against violating the conservation easement.

Under the easement, members of the Southeast Land Trust would walk the land each year to ensure it is being preserved for its scenic beauty, drinking water protection, recreation and agriculture.

The article needs a simple majority vote for approval.

It will be discussed, and can be amended, by residents at the Aug. 12 deliberative session, scheduled for 7 p.m. at Town Hall.

Selectmen are expected to vote on their recommendation for the article at the deliberative session.

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