Wilmington and Whitingham weigh in on state's interest in TransCanada facilities


WILMINGTON — Residents and town officials are no doubt worried about how property-tax revenue would be affected if the state were to purchase TransCanada facilities.

But there's more to it.

"The residents and visitors of Wilmington use the many recreational facilities for various, year-round activities including boating, hiking, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, biking and more," the Wilmington Select Board wrote in a letter submitted Friday to the Windham Regional Commission. "There are agreements currently in place with several organizations including VAST (Vermont Association of Snow Travelers), the Windham Sailing Club and the Catamount Trail Association that should be continued. These recreational activities provide a substantial economic benefit to Wilmington and we would want these recreational facilities to remain open to all and maintained without an added cost to the town. Several Wilmington businesses that focus on outdoor recreation could lose all or most of their revenue if access to the lakes and trails on the TransCanada properties was restricted."

Zoar Adventure Center was specifically mentioned at Wednesday's board meeting. The business opened on West Main Street in August 2014, and rents out bicycles, kayaks and other outdoor-sports equipment to customers.

Cited too was High Country Marine, where boats and other water-ready equipment can be rented and launched on the TransCanada-owned Lake Whitingham, also known as the Harriman Reservoir. The body of water is more than eight miles long and has 28 miles of coastline.

The regional commission asked for Wilmington's input as the state discusses the potential purchase of power dams on the Connect and Deerfield rivers. Opinions from could-be-affected towns were solicited.

"We're totally against that," Whitingham Select Board Vice Chairman Allan Twichell said in a phone interview Sunday. "The state can't manage itself. How can they manage that? It would be a total disaster if they took it over."

Whitingham also penned a letter voicing concerns. The lake and associated land was of worry there too. But Whitingham also hosts a dam and generating plant.

The sale would "devastate this town," said Twitchell, who expected to discuss the issue more at a meeting this coming Wednesday.

"They don't pay taxes on state-owned land or only a certain percentage," he said, referring to the state. "It wouldn't be very good. And it isn't just us."

Wilmington Select Board Vice Chairman John Gannon said the state had not yet made a formal offer.

"All they've done is formed a committee at the governor's request to put together a bid," he told concerned citizens.

Wilmington officials met Thursday morning to write a letter. The town has "an affected area of 3,835 acres, with no dam facility, valued at $4.6 million on our grand list," the document stated.

Another concern in Wilmington involves public safety.

"We have several boat launches and beaches that are currently patrolled by the Bennington County Sheriff's Department from Memorial Day to Columbus Day. We would also like to see proper and effective water management," the letter said. "Currently, TransCanada maintains appropriate water levels for boating and fishing and carefully monitors water quality. We would also like to make sure that the employment requirements that TransCanada assumed when they purchased the facilities in 2005 are maintained and that no jobs will be lost through the transition."

Economics were returned to again later in Wilmington's letter.

"It is very important that the state's possible purchase include provisions to replace recreational costs on a dollar-for-dollar basis and not through a lesser program," the board said.

Contact Chris Mays at cmays@reformer.com or 802-254-2311, ext. 273.


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