Big land buy on Amherst ballot

Property considered beneficial for preservation of resources

AMHERST – It looked as if the Feb. 3 town De­liberative Session would be fairly routine, with mostly additions to capi­tal reserve funds and the town operating budget on the warrant.

That changed with Ar­ticle 31. Instead of the $100,000 for the Conserva­tion Commission’s open space land fund as writ­ten on the warrant, select­men’s Chairman Dwight Brew asked to amend the article to $1 million to al­low the town to preserve nearly 230 acres of forest and wetlands.

The property is part of a 352-acre tract about a mile and a half southeast of the Village, and it is be­ing "actively marketed," said Brew, who laid out the reasons for the pur­chase: protection of drink­ing water, preservation of wildlife habitat and outdoor recreation.

The gross price is $1 million, but the New Boston- based Piscataguog Land Conservancy has agreed to raise half and the Conservation Commission has $50,000 to contribute, so taxpayers would be asked to pay $450,000. "The fact that we have this opportunity is a small miracle," Brew said.

The land is on top of a large aquifer, and preserving it is "the best way to keep the water clean and plentiful," he said. An appraisal done a few weeks ago showed the cost per acre is in the midpoint of the value range, and with the town only being asked for half the purchase price, the selectman said, this is "not just a good deal for Amherst, but a bargain." The opportunity came in late December, he said, and the Conservation Commission asked the conservancy to investigate. "We realized this is a lot of money," Brew said.

The one-time tax rate increase would be 29 cents per thousand, or $95.70 for a $330,000 house. George Bower, of the Amherst Land Trust, said at the meeting that years ago, Amherst lost an opportunity to buy the entire Pond Parish area "with its enormous water resources." Pennichuck supplies water to the Village area, and, "If Pennichuck went away, Amherst would have a water resource to replace it," he said. The three lots in question total 227.5 acres and are bounded by Spring, County and Upham roads.

The town Ways and Means Committee is unanimously in favor of the purchase, as is the Board of Selectmen. Voters at the Feb. 3 Deliberative Session voted to amend the article to $450,000. "The city of Flint, Michigan, would love to have this opportunity," Selectman Tom Grella said. Election Day is Tuesday, March 8.

Kathy Cleveland can be reached at 673-3100 or kcleveland@cabinet.com.