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Meredith urged to take stance on water levels

December 22, 2010
MEREDITH — Several waterfront residents of Lakes Winona and Waukewan are asking the board of selectmen to take a stand on lake levels.

In November, Town Manager Phil Warren and the Waukewan Watershed Advisory Committee received a letter from Steve Doyon of the Department of Environmental Services seeking the town's recommendations on the levels of Lakes Waukewan and Winona under the control of the Waukewan Dam as part of the DES' ongoing investigation into the best ways to manage the dam and the water level.

Warren and members of the board expressed frustration with the request, saying the state made it clear the town had no purview over the dam and the matter was the responsibility of the state.

Warren drew up a draft letter based on comments made by the selectmen in that night's meeting and showed the draft to the selectmen.

The letter states that Meredith's position is limited to the operation of town facilities, including the boat ramp and the drinking water supply. On the second point, Warren wrote that the water quality of Waukewan and Monkey Pond weigh heavily in any lake level decisions. In the third point, Warren recommended that the DES weigh testimony and information provided by residents around the lake, including surrounding communities.

Several lake residents urged the town to flex more muscle in the process. Residents presented surveys that had been done around their respective areas of Lakes Waukewan and Winona.

Byron Bedard, a resident of Sanbornton with property on Bonnie Shores, said he had to have a new well dug due to the low lake level. His well had been in place since 1999 and never had any problems until the lake level dropped, which he said was a similar story for other residents. In one survey, he said he had 103 participants with 101 wanting a higher level and two satisfied with the lake level.

"Such overwhelming responses by people who have a direct interest in the lake should compel you folks to reconsider taking a bland or noncommittal response to the DES ruling," Bedard said.

Penny Burke of New Hampton also shared survey results, saying 72 people out of 107 were satisfied with the lake level. Duncan McNeish said a petition has also been submitted signed by 120 Waukewan residents wanting to see a higher lake level. McNeish said many people did not know what the lake's normal level had been in the past.

"If you don't render a decision on this you are doing the voters and constituents of Meredith a disservice," McNeish said.

Other residents shared stories of what has happened to their property with the lower lake levels, including the inability to swim and boat to the waterfront disappearing entirely. Some residents also shared experiences they had with the DES where they said officials were less than helpful.

Selectman Peter Brothers said the letter does urge the DES to consider such testimony from residents, including testimony shared during the public hearings that took place over he summer. He said the DES made it clear that this was an interim plan and would be taking information on it to render a decision.

"I find it very difficult as a Board of Selectmen member to advocate for a particular level," Brothers said.

Brothers urged residents to share their data with the DES so it can make a decision, saying such a decision does not come under the purview of the board.

Other members of the board agreed with this, saying the town was repeatedly told the dam and the water levels were under the authority of the state and not the town.

Selectman Miller Lovett, however, said the town should be advocating for a specific water level and flexing more muscle on the issue.

"Our citizens, including tonight, have been asking that the selectboard take an aggressive position on this matter," Lovett said. "I think what our citizens need is for us to be arguing for them more aggressively. What the people are asking us, I believe, is to take a stronger position."

Lovett also asked for the minutes of the meetings where the selectmen chose a position on the matter that reflected in the draft letter. Warren and other board members said there would not be any specific statements as the matter was generally discussed over the course of a few meetings.

Selectman Nate Torr recommended that the letter make reference to residents' testimony and input that generally called for a higher level. Other members of the board agreed, saying they would not be comfortable advocating for a particular lake level.

Warren included such a sentence in the letter under the third point, saying many residents overall have strongly advocated for a higher water level.

Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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