February 13, 2014WOLFEBORO — When Wolfeboro's Operating Budget (Article 9 on the Town Warrant) came up for discussion at the Deliberative Session on Feb. 4, Suzanne Ryan wanted to know if the town stands to recover legal fees incurred in the suit against Wright Pierce Engineers, designer of the faulty Rapid Infiltration Basin system, if the town prevails.
She also asked if the same amount ($500,000) allotted last year is also in this year's budget.
"Yes," answered Public Works Director David Ford. "It's the same amount, $500.000 in the sewer enterprise fund. It does not generate a tax levy." He went on to say that the matter is due to come to trial in April, with the town claiming $9 million in damages and the possibility of recouping its legal expenses.
At that point, Peter Atherton, the engineer who designed the system, approached the microphone and asked to speak. "You're not a resident," answered Moderator Randy Walker, with a reminder that the Atherton could speak only with permission of the body present.
Board of Selectmen Chairman Sarah Silk objected that the town's attorney was not present. With a suit pending against the firm, she said she felt it was inappropriate to let Atherton speak.
"Shouldn't we just speak to the article?" asked John R. White.
Bob Lemaire stepped up next to say that he's been following the progress of the suit and didn't feel this forum was the time to discuss the matter. Roger Murray immediately followed. As a member of the Friends of Wolfeboro Town Hall Murray usually finds himself in disagreement with Lemaire, but in this instance, said Murray, " I am in complete agreement with Bob. This is not relevant to the budget."
Ford stood and faced the audience and Atherton, standing at the microphone. "Peter Atherton is the engineer who designed the RIB. He put his stamp on the design. It's cost us $8.1 million and it failed. We've been working on this for four years, " declared Ford, who then said emphatically, "He's a fraud!"
Walker brought the matter to a voice vote. Yeah or nay? The nays loudly resounded. Whatever Atherton proposed to say would have to be in another forum.
[Editor's Note: Atherton submitted a letter to this newspaper with his remarks and the town responded. Read the exchange on page A13]
There were no changes to the article, nor to others that followed, pertaining predominately to public works matters, with the exception of an amendment by Ryan to remove the references to bonding $160,000 for the Public Works Garage Facility upgrade (Article 8). The vote was close, 49 - 45 in favor of paying for the upgrade in full this year, bumping the estimated tax impact up from .001 in 2014 to .08.