Harrisville Conservation Meeting Minutes
December 6, 2017
Members present: Winston Sims, Harry Wolhandler, Les LaMois, Jay Jacobs, Andrea Polizos
Meeting opened at 7:00 pm.
Winston Sims reviewed the agenda. Harry Wolhandler, per his email, asked to add an item concerning the evaluation of appropriate Conservation Reserve Fund levels. Mr. Sims noted it would be added as item # 5.
Minutes of previous meeting
Andrea Polizos moved to accept the November meeting minutes as written. Les LaMois seconded. All voted in favor.
Report of SB representative
Jay Jacobs noted he heard of significant digging activity along Eastside Road on Silver Lake and that he would call the Building Inspector to get more information.
Separately, Les LaMois commented that a Main Street resident is experiencing high levels of sodium in his water, and that the DOT has been taking samples and determined his is the only property in the area affected. Mr. Jacobs thought the resident had a dug well and the question was raised whether the high sodium level was due to salt runoff from the road. Mr. LaMois stated he would confirm which RSA the issue referred to, believing the DOT would be responsible for any remediation work.
Harry Wolhandler asked Mr. Jacobs, as a matter of cultural conservation, the status of the Select Board’s decision on street lights for the town. Mr. Jacobs noted the SB hasn’t met since the public meeting last week and that the board would wait for the results of an upcoming study on the amount of light being emitted from the lights in the village and how much is actually being directed to the street. The group discussed the waste of light disseminated outward and upward in the conventional lights and the brightness shining in some residents’ windows. Jay Jacobs noted the difficulty for the SB in making its decision given the different perspectives and the need to make a decision for the greater good. The members reviewed the process to date and discussed further the opinions expressed at the public meeting. Several members expressed the desire to take more time. Jay Jacobs stated that doing nothing was not an option.
Statement of members’ interests
Returning to the issue of members’ individual interests, Andrea Polizos requested additional time to consult with Brett Thelen of the Harris Center on the culvert design issue.
Conservation Reserve Fund levels
Winston Sims then turned to Harry Wolhandler’s request to define a reasonable level of Conservation Reserve Funds based on at least some analysis of likely near-term and mid-term needs for cash retention and to recommend a revised policy for funds retention if the needed levels of funds are exceeded due to the unpredictable nature of LUCT (Land Use Change Tax) contributions to the reserves. Harry Wolhandler distributed a summary of his proposal which included a) to consider why to let reserve funds grow without limit and what is a reasonable level to maintain (excluding emergency needs); and b) revisit the Warrant Article proposed by the Selectmen, but not passed, to close the Land Conservation Trust Fund and return the $20,000 to the Town’s General Fund. Mr. Wolhandler noted that the HCC would still have roughly $67,000 through the LUCT fund.
Mr. Wolhandler expressed he believes $50,000 is a reasonable Conservation Fund level to have on hand to combat milfoil or knotweed or educate residents about various issues and that he sees the Selectmen’s point about why it doesn’t make sense to let the account just continue to grow and grow without limit. He added that he sees $50,000 as an adequate amount to handle the kinds of conservation activities the HCC would undertake.
As Mr. Wolhandler stated at last year’s Town Meeting, he proposed that the HCC take the year to assess the question and, unless it came up with a rationale for keeping the funds, the HCC would volunteer to return them. After meeting with the Select Board last week, Mr, Wolhandler suggested that the HCC support the Warrant Article at this year’s Town Meeting to formally return the money to the town. He further proposed that the HCC adopt as a policy not to retain funds past $50,000 that are contributed to the remaining LUCT funds unless an additional expense had a reasonable allocation. Les LaMois asked about gifts or legacies to the HCC following someone’s death. Harry Wolhandler responded that the HCC would then have the option to decide how to use the money, whether based on the donor’s vision or a certain need at the time. He added that if there were a significant need for funds during a given year, the HCC may not return anything to the town that year.
Jay Jacobs stated he sees two separate issues and noted the Conservation Reserve Fund account is not a fluid one and its funds wouldn’t be available in an emergency because it requires a vote at March Town Meeting. Mr. Jacobs also stated he thought the fund was originally set up for conservation land purchases.
Harry Wolhandler asked if anyone was opposed to giving that fund money back to the town. Winston Sims offered some thoughts, after thanking Mr. Wolhandler for putting together his proposal. Mr. Sims wondered if the proposal conformed to the HCC’s legislative mandate in RSA 36A and could be legally done. Mr. Wolhandler asked again about revisiting the Warrant Article and if Mr. Sims saw any problem with returning the money to the town. Mr. Sims said he thought it was way too early to address any of the questions because he didn’t think Mr. Wolhandler had put forth his best case. He added he thought Mr. Wolhandler would want to see the experience of other Conservation Commissions along these lines and to research what approaches they might have taken to a similar issue. Mr. Sims saw it as a new and different idea. Andrea Polizos asked if the group could talk about one issue at a time, because they are so different. Les LaMois agreed.
Mr. Wolhandler explained he saw it first as a question of whether or not the group thinks it needs above the amount of $50,000 and, second, as the two opportunities for action. He asked if anyone other than Winston was opposed to giving the $20,000 back to the town? No one expressed opposition or thought there would be a problem with the state. Other members also didn’t think it was worth researching what other conservation commissions are doing.
Andrea Polizos asked if the $20,000 was specifically earmarked for land acquisition and Winston Sims stated yes and for expenses related thereto. Harry Wolhandler restated he was proposing that the HCC revisit the Warrant Article from last year, given that the HCC has studied the matter as promised in the time since and has not come up with a need that is large enough to need those funds. Jay Jacobs seconded the idea.
Winston Sims then stated he didn’t believe the group had had adequate time to review Mr. Wolhandler’s proposal and that he was speaking as an individual. The group disagreed, stating he was speaking for the HCC, which he had been asked to do at last year’s Town Meeting and which he did do. Mr. Wolhandler stated he repeatedly raised the question this year about potential needs for the money and no one has come up with a valid reason to retain those funds. Mr. Sims disagreed, stating there may be reasons based on what other conservation commissions have done. He added he thinks they may be seeking other reliable sources of funds that may be used either to assist with conservation easements or for the acquisition of land itself. Mr. Sims didn’t think Mr. Wolhandler had approached either the Silver Lake Land Trust, the Monadnock Conservancy or the Harris Center. Mr. Wolhandler stated that Mr. Sims had asked him to come up with a proposal and this was it. He then read the last two paragraphs of his written proposal, as follows:
The Harrisville Conservation Commission has considered the Selectmen’s request to return the approximately $20,000 in the town-established Conservation Reserve Fund mentioned in their 2017 Warrant Article. Essentially this item would reinsert last year’s Warrant Article for approval again this year with one difference: the Article would be proposed by the Conservation Commission, rather than by the Selectmen, with a note that it is supported by the Conservation Commission.
Per discussion at Town Meeting, we’ve taken the past year to review the appropriate uses for all conservation reserve funds. After eight months of discussion there are no significant appropriate uses for this fund, so we propose to return this section of reserve funds to the town for other uses. Perhaps it could go towards putting in more traditional looking street lights, a cultural conservation issue that will be under town consideration this year.
Mr. Wolhandler asked to have the proposal included in the night’s meeting so that the Selectmen would have adequate time to consider it during their budget process prior to the 2018 Town Meeting.
Mr. Jacobs confirmed that the fund was established originally for the purpose of purchasing land outright and that he didn’t think Mr. Wolhandler’s proposal was complicated or needed to be reviewed and that it was up to the HCC to decide if it wants to make the recommendation because, ultimately, the townspeople will decide the matter.
Winston Sims stated the commission has no idea what requests might come in, or when, or for how much. Mr. Jacobs emphasized that the fund doesn’t have enough in it to do much, and Mr. Wolhandler cited an example last year when the HCC had an opportunity to purchase an easement and decided it wasn’t in its bailiwick. Mr. Jacobs noted he would discuss the matter with the Select Board and if, for some reason, they didn’t want it as a Warrant Article, it still could be added by petition, though he didn’t think that would be necessary. Mr. Wolhandler felt, based on his informal discussion with the Selectmen, that they were in agreement about the proposal.
When Mr. Wolhandler asked if he could make his motion, Mr. Sims remarked that he didn’t think Mr. Wolhandler had conducted adequate research or talked to the principal land trusts that operate in the area and Mr. Wolhandler replied that, for the eight months he has been asking Mr. Sims, Mr. Sims has offered no response. When Mr. Sims asked Mr. Wolhandler for the request he made to the HCC to undertake this study, Mr. Jacobs stated point of order and requested that the Chairman accept Mr. Wolhandler’s motion and, if seconded, to carry forth a vote on the issue as that was the proper parliamentary procedure and that was the Chairman’s job.
Mr. Sims asked that the motion be defeated and that the funds be left alone, as the he believed the group hadn’t had the opportunity to discuss opportunities brought to the town that involve the purchase of an easement or of land.
After requesting again to make his motion, Mr. Wolhandler moved that the Conservation Commission endorse the Warrant Article put forth by the Selectmen in 2017 and sponsor that same Warrant Article for 2018 Town Meeting to return the Harrisville Conservation Funds of approximately $20,000 to the Town General Funds. Jay Jacobs seconded the motion.
During discussion, the group revisited the exact wording of the 2017 Warrant Article as follows: Land Conservation Capital Reserve Fund. To see if the Town will vote to discontinue the Land Conservation Capital Reserve Fund created in 2008. Said funds which would accumulate with interest to date of withdrawal are to be transferred to the municipality’s General Fund.
Andrea Polizos asked what the HCC hadn’t done, and which it was expected to do, with those funds. Jay Jacobs responded that the funds are not HCC funds, but town funds to purchase conservation land. Mr. Wolhandler added that the LUCT funds are available for the same purpose but, at the time the Conservation Fund was established, that wasn’t a large amount.
Mr. Sims stated he didn’t think the group had the stated purpose for the original establishment of the Land Conservation Trust fund and that Mr. Wolhandler’s proposal had more to do with the town budget than with conservation. Mr. Jacobs, Mr. Wolhandler and Mr. LaMois ardently disagreed, with Mr. Jacobs noting the proposal arose out of last year’s Town Meeting. Mr. Wolhandler reminded MR. Sims that Mr. Sims had asked him in August to prepare a proposal for the group, and Ms. Polizos and Mr. LaMois noted Mr. Wolhandler had raised the issue several times. Several members asked the Chairman to move the question for a vote. Mr. Wolhandler restated his reasons for the proposal. The group again requested that a vote be taken and the question moved. Mr. Sims reiterated he didn’t think adequate discussion had taken place. Mr. LaMois responded he believed plenty of discussion had occurred on all of the issues at hand and that, on any issue, you could dig deeper and deeper with no limit, or else you could take action. Mr. LaMois suggested a vote, and he and Ms. Polizos stated that Mr. Wolhandler has addressed the group on the issue since Town Meeting. Ms. Polizos added she could see waiting until January to vote on it but Mr. Jacobs noted that the Warrant Articles had to be prepared as soon as possible. Mr. Wolhandler agreed and Ms. Polizos said she was fine with that. Mr. Wolhandler added that, given the timing, the hearing on the proposed Warrant Article could be rolled into the town budget hearing.
Mr. Sims stated this was his first view of this and this statement from Mr. Wolhandler. Members continued to request that Mr. Sims vote on the question. Mr. Sims proceeded to discuss his reasons for disagreeing with such an action and attempting to introduce new information. Mr. Jacobs requested that the Vice Chairman take over the meeting because the Chairman refused to call the vote. Mr. LaMois agreed with Mr. Jacobs that the meeting should be turned over to the Vice Chair. When Mr. Sims continued to raise new matters, Mr. Jacobs stated that the question had been called and the Chairman refused to follow the parliamentary process that asked for a vote to be taken now. Mr. Jacobs stated he would officially ask for a motion to have the Chairman removed from the discussion and have the Vice Chairman handle the vote. Members reiterated that the question had already been moved and that the discussion had already taken place. Mr. Wolhandler requested that the Chairman respect what the board members would like to do, and he asked the Chair if he would call the vote.
Mr. Sims responded that, with great reluctance, he would, his reluctance based on his belief enough discussion hadn’t taken place. Mr. Sims asked for all those in favor. The vote was 4-1 with Mr. Sims opposed.
Mr. Wolhandler suggested tabling the remaining questions in his memorandum for another night. Others agreed. Mr. Sims once again stated he did not believe evaluation of the matter had been adequately addressed.
The group then turned to two additional areas of interest expressed by Mr. Wolhandler. Mr. Wolhandler elaborated briefly on a discussion held at a previous meeting about balancing conservation interests with the objectives of the town to grow and develop responsibly and thoughtfully. He sees these ideas as compatible and the group agreed. Mr. Sims welcomed additional thoughts on this from Mr. Wolhandler and the group if, and when, anything new arose. In addition, Mr. Sims noted Mr. Wolhandler’s interest in continued education efforts on water protection, lake hosts and kiosks and other forms of water protection, such as leaflets on water runoff and septic system design, technology and shoreline plantings to protect water quality and wildlife. Mr. Sims commented that the HCC has used their funds to engage in these efforts, with the exception perhaps of septic system design and technologies. Mr. Wolhandler added he supports buying large quantities of booklets on rainwater runoff protection, etc. and keep them in stock to distribute to waterfront residents and continue efforts like on different issues over time, perhaps tying them in to Community Conversations. Jay Jacobs suggested making this information available on the town website and using the website to promote other HCC interests. Mr. LaMois expressed interest that the HCC continue its various efforts related to water protection. Andrea Polizos requested that the group repair or redo the sign next to the kiosk at Harrisville Pond. Andrea will attend the Nelson Conservation Commission on January 11 to hear Colin Lawson discuss culvert design and animal movement and will report back. Harry Wolhandler asked her to please find out if there is a remediation effort by the state for runoff sediment (e.g., along Nelson Road) that goes from culverts on state roads into Harrisville Pond or other water bodies. He will email the question to Andrea Polizos.
Approval of conference and workshop expenditures
Mr. Sims reviewed for the group his expenses of $210 from workshop attendance through the year. Mr. Wolhandler made a motion to approve the submission of the $210 in expenses and reimbursement of the Chairman. Andrea Polizos seconded. All voted in favor.
Proposed HCC budget
Mr. Sims then reviewed the proposed budget for 2018 which he will submit to the Select Board for approval. Winston Sims moved to submit a budget of $1200, which would include the current budget of $966 plus additional expenses for workshops, association dues and meetings and conferences. Andrea Polizos seconded. All voted in favor.
Keene Sentinel article
Mr. Sims brought to the group’s attention an article from November 27, 2017 which outlined bodies of water in the state which are listed as threatened or impaired. Members questioned the methodology and locations of the study, noting it mentioned pH levels in Silver Lake outlet and stream, Cemetary Brook, Russell Reservoir and Beaver Pond but that the town’s VLAP studies contain all the needed information. Mr. Sims stated his concern was the study has nothing to do with VLAP. The group agreed rain and a heavy concentration of leaves could account for such results. Mr. Sims will forward the report to the group.
Disposition of Patton lands
Hazardous materials: management
Meeting adjourned at 9:10 pm