A discussion of the proposed municipal water ordinance for Waitsfield brought forth wide-ranging issues such as property rights, legal cost speculations and questions about the town’s commitment to the water supply for this project.
The Waitsfield Select Board, at an April 11 meeting, took public comment on a draft of the town’s municipal water ordinance. Waitsfield has a $7.6 million municipal water project underway. Construction started last fall and was to resume this spring. In November, a judge ruled that the town had not proven that the road where it drilled its well was a town road. That started the town down the path of condemning the land, while simultaneously negotiating with two property owners to purchase the two to three acres needed.
WATER SUPPLY SOURCE
At this week’s hearing, several town residents were present to discuss their concerns with the proposed ordinance and also pepper the select board with questions about the legal negotiations, legal fees and whether the town would abandon the current water supply source on Reed Road and seek another.
Town resident Chris Pierson raised several issues about the ordinance, including a provision that allows the town to sell water outside of the service area (the service area is Waitsfield Village, Irasville, Old County Road and Tremblay Road). Pierson asked how the town could get into selling water for commercial purposes. Robin Morris, who heads up the water task force, explained that that language is standard in municipal ordinances and said it was designed to allow the town to extend service beyond the town line to property owners in Fayston.
The board agreed to seek consultation with its attorney as to whether the intent of providing water to people whose property abuts the town system could be included in the ordinance.
Pierson told the board that the portion of the ordinance that addresses new construction and development within the service area was tantamount to taking property rights from people. The proposed ordinance requires that property owners who want to develop or expand their use beyond their current well or spring capacities tie into the municipal system.
“That strips everyone in the service area of their rights,” Pierson said.
“Our thinking is that if there is an existing well and it has adequate capacity, the property owner can expand without tying in. If more capacity is needed, the owner would need to attach to the public water supply,” explained board chair Kate Williams.
“Every time you drill another hole in the ground for a new well in the service area, you’ve limited septic capacity,” said board member Bill Parker.
“The issue is that we have a lot of wells and septic systems in the service area that are overlapping. Each new well creates a new well shield that takes away other people’s septic capacity. We want an ordinance that reduces the number of well shield overlaps in the service area,” Morris added.
CREATING PROPERTY RIGHTS
“I think you’re stripping away property rights,” Pierson said.
“I think we’re creating property rights. We’re creating ways for people to increase the uses and value of their property in the service area,” Morris responded.
Others present at the meeting asked about the legal status of the negotiations and asked the select board to respond to the rumor that a $100 million lawsuit had been filed against the town, and that the two landowners with whom the town is negotiating had spent $1.3 million in legal fees, while the town has spent $177,000.
Board members said they had not received notice of any $100 million lawsuit and said they could not speak to the landowners’ legal fees but noted that the town’s legal bills are public.
Williams gave an update on the negotiations and said the town had made an offer at the end of February and did not hear back from either landowner until last week.
“We are in the next stage of discussions with each of them. It’s a step in the right direction, it’s dialogue,” Williams said.