Displaying great discomfort over the controversial proposal to remove the Jackson Bridge Dam, the board of selectmen Thursday night declined a proposal to have voters decide the issue at the annual town meeting in March.
Instead, the board asked Town Manager Dan Hill to work with Town Clerk Gerald Hall in setting up a special town meeting and Australian ballot vote in April when the budgets are voted for Hardwick Elementary School and Hazen Union School.
The dam is located near Jackson Bridge which spans the Lamoille River at the end of Lower Wolcott Street (Route 15). The dam is owned by the HED, which in turn is owned by the town. Therefore, town and electric department officials feel the voters should decide the dam & #039;s fate. The department used to generate some hydro power by manipulating the dam & #039;s gates, but no longer does so. The dam is deteriorating and it will soon need some repairs if it is not removed.
Department officials no longer see any viable use for the dam and they recommend that it be taken out. Working with the HED and town officials, the Vermont Natural Resources Council staff in Montpelier has studied the dam. NRC scientist Kim Kendall has prepared reports showing that removal of the dam would produce environmental benefits in the river bed as well as in Hardwick Lake which is behind the dam. Kendall was present at the Thursday night meeting.
Nancy Stevens, chairwoman of the Hardwick Electric Department & #039;s board of commissioners, came to the meeting with that board & #039;s proposal to place an article on the town meeting warning, asking: "Shall the voters of the town of Hardwick authorize the Hardwick Select Board to approve the removal of Jackson dam on terms and conditions that are satisfactory to the select board?"
"We & #039;d like to see the dam out of there but this is something to be decided by the town," Stevens said.
Selectman David Wells was quick in saying that he disliked the wording of the proposal article.
"I don & #039;t like the idea that it & #039;s being thrown in our laps," said Wells.
On Thursday night, Vice Chairman Sherry Lussier suggested the town take control of the dam.
Stevens said that Lussier & #039;s idea had not been discussed by her board, but said it would probably be an acceptable plan as long as town officials realize some expensive work will eventually need to be done on the dam.
If the HED kept the dam, the costs of any future maintenance and repairs would be borne by its ratepayers who live in Hardwick as well as in other surrounding towns. Some of the out-of-town ratepayers feel they should have a vote on the proposal to remove the dam.
"Wouldn & #039;t it be fair to turn the dam over to the town and let the town do what it wants with it?" Selectman Todd Deuso asked.
Chairman Richard Brochu finally interjected that the selectmen should table the issue because more information is needed.
"The issue needs to be settled. We & #039;ve been at it for a long time," Stevens said.
Hill said if the vote is held in April there will be time for the board of selectmen to consider all its options and for townspeople to become fully informed on the matter.