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Windham officials balk at water proposal

WINDHAM — A warrant article asking voters to approve a $35,000 study exploring the possibilities of bringing municipal water to Windham may not appear on next year's ballot.

Following a lengthy discussion at Monday night's meeting, the Windham Board of Selectmen voted against placing the warrant article on the ballot, with two of the four board members present voting "nay" on the matter.

Economic Development Committee spokesman Ralph Valentine, the article's presenter, still has the option of collecting 25 citizen signatures in order for the item to appear as a citizen's petition at the March Town Meeting.

Voting "nay" on the article's inclusion were Selectmen Kathleen DiFruscia and Roger Hohenberger.

Hohenberger said he couldn't support such an expense. "I'm against it for the simple fact that you're asking the entire town to pick up the price of something that will only benefit a small portion," he told Valentine.

Hohenberger added that he was skeptical that any municipal water line would be extended beyond the Route 111 commercial area, meaning a number of the town's residents and business owners would see no benefit from the eventual changes.

"It's a lot of money to ask for," DiFruscia agreed, adding that she "imagined that a new municipal water line down Route 111 would come with much blasting."

"As I try to weigh all the benefits, I just don't think municipal water is absolutely necessary to extend development," Difruscia said.

Valentine has been advocating for the item's inclusion in next year's budget for the past several months and has spoken on the subject before various town boards and committees, as well as the School Board.

He said the town has everything to gain by extending municipal water and many citizens, particularly business owners, have voiced support for the study.

A January 2012 municipal study on the cost of public services indicated that new commercial development would result in a net gain of 78 cents for every tax dollar collected in Windham, while the town's master plan calls for an increase in the commercial tax base to 10 percent of total valuation by 2014.

Valentine further noted that the water study might give more options to residents in a neighborhood off Route 111, where 40 homes are struggling with the presence of arsenic traces in their wells.

He declined to identify where, exactly, that neighborhood is located as several owners asked him not to, citing concerns about diminishing property values.

"But overall, 20 percent of the wells in New Hampshire suffer from high arsenic levels," Valentine said. "So as we go forward, one in every five wells we drill in Windham will have some arsenic in it."

Most of Windham's homes rely on individual bedrock wells for their water, though the town also has around 70 public wells. The largest of those wells serves approximately 200 homes.

Board Chairman Phil Lochiatto voted in favor of the putting the water study before voters.

"I think bringing water to town would be a good thing. It would actually feed our aquifers," he said. "And to me, this study is a good thing because it's the only way for us to fully understand the issues."

Selectman Al Letizio echoed Lochiatto's sentiments.

"I'd say the number one deterrent of economic development in our town is the (lack of municipal water)," he said. "That's a huge deterrent."

Valentine now has until Jan. 14 to submit a citizen's petition on the water study should he decide to do so.

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