Derry continues to mull future of Williams Dam Changes made to draft Town Warning

Kevin Beattie brought up the future of the Williams Dam. All photos by Bruce Frauman.

By Bruce Frauman
©2019 Telegraph Publishing LLC

The future of the Williams Dam in Londonderry continues to be a topic of concern for town residents and officials. At the Jan. 7 Select Board meeting, Emergency Management Director Kevin Beattie said that a grant to study the effects of a breech of Williams Dam is off the table.

Beattie said he learned that the FEMA grant he was planning to apply for was more for “mitigation of the dam itself” than to look at the safety of the downstream area in case of a breech. Beattie said he would look at other options to get what he was looking for. The Williams Dam sits under Route 11 east of downtown Londonderry. More states are moving toward dam removal to restore wetlands, streams and wildlife habitat, as well as eliminate failing dams.

Board member George Mora asked if an engineering study on the dam itself is still a good idea in addition to Beattie’s need to look into the safety issues.

Board member Bob Forbes questions the removal of the dam.

Board member Bob Forbes said there is not a consensus about what should happen to the dam. He said state agencies and others feel the dam should go, yet when he was working on repairs to the gate, a state official expressed concern that silt was running down the river. Forbes said this would happen with no dam, so the whole discussion does not make a lot of sense to him.

Mora said, “The dam is in poor condition, so shouldn’t we be looking at precisely how poor the condition is and what we need to do to maintain it if we are going to keep it?” Forbes said he has a 40-year history of trying to preserve the dam. He said at least one fire department wants to keep the dam to provide a water source for a hydrant, but the dam is so full of silt, the water is not always available. He added he is among those who don’t see a reason to take it out, but at the same time would find it difficult to spend a fortune maintaining and repairing the dam.

Board member Jim Ameden suggests dredging the pond.

Board member Jim Ameden said he would like to dredge the mill pond so it actually could hold some water, but the state has rejected that idea. Ameden added that historically Londonderry has been a mill town, so preserving a piece of that history, if possible, is important to him. Londonderry resident Cynthia Gubb said people picnic near the pond and the waterfall, created by the dam.

Ameden said if the dam is removed, the pond will turn into a pool of mud. Town Treasurer Tina Labeau said it took years for the mud to disappear after the South Londonderry dam failed.

Forbes and Ameden said the possibility of installing a hydro electric facility might be the way to go.

School ballots, changes to
draft Town Warning

Taconic and Green Regional School District director Dick Dale said a warned article will be submitted to voters on Jan. 22 with an informational session to be held at the Manchester Elementary-Middle School, 80 Memorial Ave., at 7 p.m. on Tuesday, Jan 15. Dale said the intent is to pass a provision to the T&G organization article that allows town clerks to count ballots when T&G requires an Australian Ballot and transmit the results to the T&G clerk via email or phone.

Dick Dale addresses concerns about merging T&G votes on Town Meeting Day.

Dale said that on Town Meeting Day in 2018, all the town clerks ferried their ballots to Manchester so they could be co-mingled before being tallied, creating “an absolute horror for all of our clerks.” If the amendment passes, the T&G clerk will co-mingle the results of all the towns and report total votes to the Secretary of State.

The board reviewed articles on the draft Town Meeting warning that are new this year or changes from last year. Treasurer Tina Labeau was uncertain over the amount of a possible renewed policing contract with the Vermont State Police, and added the original amount of $86,000 as a new Article 10. Ameden proposed citing last year’s amount of $40,000, then talking with Lt. Anthony French of the VSP to see what it can offer this year. Mora said the time available from officers for overtime work devoted to Londonderry has been diminishing. Ameden said the board may propose a different amount at the Town Meeting. You can read the draft warning by clicking here.

Forbes said alternatives to the VSP would be “a lot more money” to Winhall Police or the Windham County Sheriff. Ameden and Mora both noted that the VSP still cover Londonderry regardless of a contract and that their presence has made a difference.

Kelly Pajala, who sits on the Parks Board, explains some of the changes planned for Pingree Park.

Beattie introduced a letter from the Londonderry Volunteer Rescue Squad seeking an increase to the town’s appropriation to $10,000 from $6,000, due to the rising number of calls and the increasing cost of medical equipment and supplies. The squad is also seeking support to pressure the Southwestern New Hampshire District Fire Mutual Aid to improve the quality of its radio equipment. Londonderry pays $32,000 annually for dispatching services. Ameden said the quality of their dispatchers is excellent but the quality of transmission from the radio repeater on Stratton Mountain is getting much worse. Ameden will write a draft of a letter to be distributed to other towns affected to see if they will also agree to put pressure on the mutual aid district to improve transmission.

New this year is a request for $80,000 from Phoenix Fire Company No. 6 to purchase a new fire truck at a total cost of $160,000, according to Ameden, and $5,000 to the Londonderry Parks Board to install a pump track at Pingree Park. Parks Board member Kelly Pajala said the pump track would replace the upper ballfield and consists of “jumps and curves” for kids who are learning to mountain bike. There would be one for younger riders and another for the older kids. The total cost of $10,000 is expected to come from appropriations from neighboring towns, fundraising, grants and donations of labor and equipment.

Two pickle ball courts at Pingree Park are being planned privately with the encouragement of the Parks Board.

Traffic Committee Report

Gail Mann will work with Larry Gubb to find out the cost of the town’s water and sewer needs.

Dale also read a 2-1/4 page Traffic Committee Report, dated December 2018, that includes background information, some results of the Windham Regional Commission traffic studies and the VTrans Safety Audit on Thompsonburg Road, six recommendations and three suggestions for Select Board requests of VTrans regarding Routes 11 and 100. A copy of the text can be seen here. 

Thanking the committee, Forbes said there is a lot of information for the board to review and study. He said, “Some things are probably quite doable in principle and some things are more difficult … We have to do our job as a board in evaluating the report and seeing where we go from there.”

Ameden said a lot of the recommendations deal with signage and tree cutting. As road commissioner, Ameden said tree cutting will be a priority this year. He said the town has a right-of-way on these roads but the town tries to engage land owners in discussions about which trees to remove. Ameden said sometimes agreement is not easy to come by.

Planning Commission members Larry Gubb and Gail Mann agreed to board chair Jim Ameden’s request to find out the cost to study the town’s water and wastewater needs.

Gubb said the commission is still gathering information. Mann said they need to find out what the potential health problems are with having water supplies and septic systems close together on many residential and commercial properties.

In other business

Board member George Mora, left, and new Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe.

New Town Administrator Shane O’Keefe said he is happy to be serving as the town and zoning administrator and had a great first week. O’Keefe said the town staff is “phenomenal, helpful and understanding,” and he looks forward to working with the board and community. O’Keefe asked the board for a discussion on goals for him in a future meeting for the next six months so he could dedicate “my time the best way I can.”

The board agreed to exempt O’Keefe from the Vermont Municipal Employees Retirement Program. O’Keefe said his retirement will come from the International City Managers’ Association.

Town Clerk Kelly Pajala said residents can now register their dogs and purchase annual Transfer Station permit stickers from the clerk’s office.

The board voted to not continue membership in the Okemo Valley Regional Chamber of Commerce as the fee went up to $149 and no one felt it offered much value to Londonderry.

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