WHITEFIELD — Residents, concerned about costs, overwhelmingly voted for selectmen to not negotiate to own the Clary Lake dam.

The special town meeting attended by more than 70 residents at Whitefield School was required because the owner of the dam filed a petition to release ownership at the beginning of April. 

The townspeople spent a large portion of the 90-minute discussion questioning members of the lake association and the manager of the company that owns the dam.

Residents who opposed town ownership of the dam said they were concerned that Whitefield would be stuck with future liabilities and the costs of maintaining the structure.

Halfway through the meeting, discussions turned toward personal disputes between some residents and the dam’s owner.

Paul Kelley, manager of Pleasant Pond Mill LLC, recapped his company’s failed attempts to restore the dam and lower mill property and fought off allegations from residents who said he is breaking state law.

The selectmen didn’t voice a strong opinion for or against owning the dam, unlike in Jefferson, where the select board recommended against owning it.

“It’s contentious,” Selectman Tony Marple said. “I think the selectmen have tried to be impartial about this.”

He said the important thing is to recognize that a solution for the ownership needs to be found at some point, because the Department of Environmental Protection could order the dam to be breached if a new owner isn’t found.

The towns with land around the lake — Jefferson and Whitefield — were required by the petition process to hold meetings by the end of May to decide whether residents want the municipalities to own the dam. Residents in Jefferson voted not to own the dam at that town’s meeting last week.

The department and Kelley disagree on whether the petition to release ownership has met the requirements outlined in state law.

Kathy Howatt, hydropower coordinator for the Department of Environmental Protection, notified Kelley two weeks ago that he didn’t fulfill the notification requirements before filing the petition and that the petition would be rejected at the end of the consultation period if it’s not withdrawn.

Kelley said the company plans on continuing with the petition process and will submit a report before the end of the consultation period, near the end of September.

Residents also voted to carry over around $4,900 for legal fees into the fiscal year that starts in July. 

Selectman Frank Ober said the board members proposed carrying the funds over as a safety net in case the town incurs unexpected legal fees while dealing with the issue of the dam.

The fees would be available for any legal issues, however, he said.

Paul Koenig — 621.5663
[email protected]

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