Wilton’s New Reservoir project to appear as warrant article

  • Wilton select board members approved a warrant article aimed at making the New Reservoir in Wilton into a recreation area during a regular meeting on Monday, Jan. 29, 2018. (Ashley Saari / Monadnock Ledger-Transcript) Ashley Saari

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Wednesday, January 31, 2018 6:11PM

A presentation to develop a recreation area at the New Reservoir in Wilton stirred controversy during a select board meeting Monday night.

Chris Balch, of Wilton, said the idea to develop the reservoir that’s adjacent to the Isaac Frye Highway came about during an unofficial poll at Town Meeting last year where residents expressed interest in developing the area into a recreation destination. The area is currently fenced off because of its status as a public water supply, although the town doesn’t currently draw from the source, and there are signs around the area that read “No Swimming” and “No Animals.”

In a previous interview with the Ledger-Transcript, select board member Kermit Williams said even though the area is fenced off and posted people still use it to fish and boat. Formally developing the area would legalize activity that’s already happening there, he said in the interview.

Balch told select board members that the project would be completed in three phases. The first, he said, would cost about $20,000.  It’s unclear what the other two phases would be comprised of or what each would cost. The lump sum would cover the cost of establishing a road, parking spaces, and things like wooden walkways. It would not cover maintenance that would be required over time, Balch said during the meeting.

Bart Hunter, who is on the town’s conservation commission but shared his opinion with the Ledger-Transcript as a resident, said he thinks the proposal is a “good idea.” Hunter lives on Davisville Road about a half of a mile away from the project. 

He said the area lends itself to the development that’s being proposed – there’s already a road, much of it is logged, and a lot of the parking already exists.

“It’s not like they’re taking a bulldozer and building a road and a parking lot, a lot of it already exists,” Hunter said.

He said the wooden footbridges proposed for the area would guide people to use the paths, which would minimize the project’s environmental impact. It’s possible some kids would wander off the wooden planks, he said, but the majority of people he knows don’t want to get their shoes muddy and wet.

Hunter said he especially likes the project because it would be Americans with Disabilities, or ADA, compliant.

“We don’t have any real ADA facility in town and I think this would be a great opportunity to implement one,” Hunter said.

But some residents are pushing back against the proposal.

Ruth Smith, who lives on Sand Hill Road in Wilton, said that she is not opposed to the reservoir being opened up for recreation purposes, but that repairing the dam should come first.

Smith was on the committee that formed as a result of last year’s Town Meeting discussion about the reservoir but has since stopped attending the meetings. She said the group was originally tasked with fixing the dam and exploring recreational uses for the area.

“The dam came first, but then recreation kind of took over,” Smith said as a reason why she’s now opposed to the project. 

She said the approach seems financially irresponsible.

Smith said the dam at the reservoir has received at least three letters of deficiency from the state since 2001. She said an engineering firm out of Bedford estimated in 2015 that it would cost the town $160,000 to make all of the necessary repairs to the dam. Today, that number is closer to $200,000, Smith said. She expects it’s a number that’s only going to continue to rise over time.

“I think the money could much better be used for the repair of the dam,” Smith said.

Hunter said there is a weep in the dam at the reservoir but that it has been there since it was built about 100 years ago. 

“There’s no sagging in the dam, it’s not something we have to worry about right now,” Hunter said. 

He said there seems to be a lull in big projects across Wilton, and feels that $20,000 to implement the recreation area isn’t a large amount. 

“I think it’s a good time to do this project and it’s a good project,” Hunter said.  

Smith said she is also concerned about environmental degradation to the area if the proposal were to pass. She said runoff from the road could result in higher pH levels in the water, that people would likely wander off designated paths, and that there’s a potential for litter to be left behind if the spot becomes a popular destination.

Smith said Garwin Falls in Wilton, a popular summer destination, garnered some attention online this summer and was trashed as a result of the spike of people traveling to the spot. She said she could see a similar scenario playing out at the New Reservoir if it’s developed.

As it is, Smith said, a few sneaky swimmers, fishermen, and kayakers use the spot, and she has no problem with that. If the committee were to prioritize issues with the dam, she said, she wouldn’t be opposed to developing the space for recreational purposes.  

On Monday night, select board members voted to adopt the first phase of the New Reservoir project as a warrant article. Residents will vote on the article during Town Meeting in March.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.