By Lisa Loomis

Negotiations have resumed between the Town of Waitsfield and property owners from whom the Town wants to buy land for a wellhead protection area for a town water supply.

Waitsfield had scheduled a January 7 "necessity hearing" to formally begin the process of taking two small parcels of land off the Reed Road. Now, that hearing will be opened and then recessed as the town has re-entered negotiations for the land.

Originally the town warned the January 7 necessity hearing to present its plans to take "an interest in real estate adjacent to Reed Road incident to the development of a public drinking water source and fix the compensation to be paid therefore."

Now the town will continue its efforts to negotiate with two landowners, Virginia Houston and Jean Richards. Waitsfield needs to purchase .422 acres from Richards and .423 from Houston to complete a 125-foot radius around the well it drilled in the town right of way off the Reed Road. The well will provide the water for a municipal water system.

In 2006 Waitsfield tapped in a large aquifer within its town right of way on the Reed Road. That well is not too far from wells drilled by Virginia Houston in the 1990s when she tapped into what is thought to be one of the largest aquifers in New England.

If the town had moved forward with the "necessity hearing" the select board would have explained the need and process for taking the two parcels of land and then determined the appropriate compensation for the landowners. The town had the properties appraised and has already made an offer to each landowner.

Vermont statute requires that the landowners be paid fair market value for their land and that a town show the legitimate public interest that is served by the acquisition of private property.

Waitsfield is concurrently developing a public water and wastewater system and will ask voters to okay a bond vote for those projects next year. Once the wellhead protection radius is secured, Waitsfield plans to install a pipeline to bring the water to a storage facility on the former LeClair gravel pit off Bushnell Road -- assuming the bond vote passes. From there the water will be piped down Tremblay Road to Route 100.

The cost of the water and wastewater project is estimated at $7 million, of which the town has received $3 million in a USDA Rural Development grant and will bond for $4 million.

While Waitsfield has been seeking to purchase the two small parcels of land, Houston was appealing the town's action. She challenged the town's right to drill in the town right of way and lost that case in Vermont Superior Court. She took it to the Vermont Supreme Court, which late last month dismissed her lawsuit regarding whether the town could or drill in the right of way.