CHESTER – Plans to build an alternative water supply system for residents affected by groundwater contamination from LeClair’s Garage on Fremont Road are on hold.
Earlier this year, when selectman chair Steph Landau learned that the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES) was looking for ways to appropriately use settlement money from a multi-million-dollar lawsuit the state won against several oil companies over their use of MTBE (methyl tertiary-butyl ether), he started the wheels moving for potentially using that money to benefit Chester.
In the 1990s, to abide by requirements in the Clean Air Act, petroleum companies increased the amount of MTBE, an oxygenator, in gasoline to lower emissions. The law did not require MTBE, and other oxygenators like ethanol could also have been used. However, the same qualities that make MTBE good for reducing air pollution also make it highly water soluble, and it began to turn up in unsafe quantities in ground water.
Residents in the vicinity of the former junkyard have seen a reduction in the contamination in their wells in recent years, but previously the worst affected had counts of MTBE in their water way over the state’s minimum threshold. Though those residents now have water filtration systems in their homes paid for by the state, the board of selectmen agreed to move forward with a study that could remove the water headache for those residents altogether by installing a water system originating at Spring Hill Farm.
In July of 2014 selectmen authorized Nobis Engineering to explore the feasibility of a water system.
Jim Ricker, a geologist with Nobis, met with the board at its June 17 meeting to outline the results of that study, the first phase in a potentially multi-stage project to get clean water to the homes in question.
While the site was seemingly ideal for the project, with geology and landscape working in its favor, a major hurdle arose when the conservation easement on the land was investigated.
According to Spring Hill Trustees Chuck Myette and Brad Wamsley, the trust documents that transferred about 400 acres from resident Muriel Church to the town are stringent on the use of the land. Church had plans that her property would remain useful agriculturally for the town, and as such the documents that control the use of that property restrict most uses except for agriculture, forestry and recreation.
Myette explained that the easement is closely written for agriculture use, and he was made aware by the Rockingham County Conservation District, the entity that holds the easement, that to put a water system on the property would require a waiver from the Attorney General.
“I don’t want to rain on anyone’s parade here, as a water supply is important to the community,” said Myette as he delivered the news.
Both Myette and Wamsley indicated a desire to help with the project and did not express any disinclination regarding the work.
The selectmen discussed the wisdom of contacting the attorney general to gauge the potential for a waiver to be granted.
But overshadowing the practical considerations were the neighbors who are supposed to benefit from the project, as those in attendance were at least hesitant to engage in a project without any definite answers about the costs that they would need to shoulder.
Because the project is in such an early stage, there aren’t definite answers about what kind of water bills those using the system would pay or how things like equipment failure would be handled.
The selectmen asked the residents in attendance to speak with their neighbors and gauge their interest in such an endeavor before the town took any further steps; the residents agreed.