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Union Meadows purchase off the table for Wakefield

Owner will protect properties from development through another buyer

by Thomas Beeler
Editor of The Granite State News
January 31, 2013
WAKEFIELD — Conservation Commission Chairman Dave Mankus came to the Jan. 23 Wakefield Board of Selectmen meeting to inform the board that the owner of the 121 acres in Union Meadows will not extend her purchase agreement with the town. He was also there to ask the board to agree to transfer one of the grants that was to be used in the purchase to another buyer.

Mankus said the owner is still committed to putting the land into conservation and protecting it from development. She is currently in discussions with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests.

The owner's decision brings to an end the controversy in town over the purchase for $150,000 of 121 acres for conservation using $135,000 in grants. The grants were $50,000 from the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) and $85,000 from the N.H. Fish and Game Department. The Fish and Game funding was controversial because it involved purchasing a conservation easement on the properties using federal funds. The easement would have restricted uses of the property and, critics contended, opened the door to federal control of the land. A few critics asserted that the project was part of the covert imposition of Agenda 21, a voluntary non-binding agreement on sustainable development adopted at a U.N. conference in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Some residents opposed to accepting the grant said they would favor the town purchasing the property itself for the $150,000.

Mankus asked the board if they would agree to transfer the $50,000 LCHIP grant awarded to the town to another buyer who would use it for the same purpose. The board voted 2-1 to allow the transfer, with Selectman Charlie Edwards voting against it.

Following the vote, Nancy Spencer Smith of Moose Mountain Regional Greenways and a Wakefield resident said her board had voted to give $20,000 to the Wakefield Conservation Fund to compensate for the money spent to develop the Union Meadows purchase proposal and get the land surveyed.

Article 20

The decision also brings into question the validity of Article 20, which has already been placed on the March ballot. That article was submitted by petition of 58 registered voters. It requires that voters be asked to approve the purchase of the 121 acres as originally proposed by the Conservation Commission (raising $150,000 for the purchase but using the $135,000 in grants). With the purchase agreement now invalid, if voters approved the article, Mankus pointed out that the town would raise $150,000 to no purpose.

Town Administrator Teresa Williams said she was reviewing options on what to do about the article with Town Counsel Rick Sager. Secretary Toni Bodah pointed out that money articles like this one can be modified at the Deliberative Session, bringing the amount to zero, even while the language of the article remains unchanged, as state law now requires.

Videographer Ed Comeau of www.governmentoversite.com stated that a proposal like Union Meadows should not happen again, and that the town should reconsider the process by which conservation land acquisitions are done. He recommended setting up a committee to make sure that everyone is heard on a proposal before any money is spent.

Conservation Commission member Relf Fogg said his opposition to the land acquisition was based on his belief that he would be violating his oath of office if he allowed accepting a grant that would allow the federal government to take control of the property.

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