Plastic bag ban, broadband bond, budget pass easily in Walpole

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WALPOLE, N.H. — Town Meeting voters approved everything on the 2020 town warrant Saturday afternoon, in a meeting that was marked with plenty of discussion, including about the new coronavirus that is upending life all over the country.

Some New Hampshire towns postponed town meeting because of the epidemic, but in Walpole it was standing-room-only in the Town Hall.

Voters overwhelmingly approved a symbolic ban on single-use plastic bags, the product of a petition drive led by two Walpole high school students who told residents something must be done to drastically reduce the use of plastics in the environment.

While current New Hampshire law does not give towns the right to enact a local ban, such legislation is pending in the legislature.

The two students, Ruby Frithsen, 16, and Sidney Curven, 15, both students at Fall Mountain Regional High School, had started collecting signatures for a petition last fall when former presidential candidate Pete Buttigieg visited Walpole.

Curven said they quickly started getting signatures from the people waiting in line.

But the students' actions, which were applauded by Walpole Select Board Chairman Steve Dalessio, didn't go unchallenged.

Resident Leroy Watson had urged residents to reject the plastic bag ban, saying that new plastic bags were more sanitary than old bags that shoppers would bring from home.

Watson said some stores, such as Shaw's, do have programs for recycling plastic bags.

But on an overwhelming voice vote residents rejected Watson's suggestion, and they approved the girls' effort.

Curven and Frithsen said after the vote they anticipated that someone might bring up the coronavirus argument.

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"Last night, I was laying in bed thinking someone would bring it up," said Curven.

Voters also approved a new broadband network that will be built and operated by Consolidated Communications, and which is promised to bring high speed internet to every corner of the town.

Voters also approved the Select Board getting involved in the relicensing of Great River Hydro's hydroelectric dams on the Connecticut River, after hearing from the former chairman of the Walpole Conservation Commission that the operation of the Bellows Falls dam was leading to severe erosion along the river.

All money articles passed and it wasn't even close.

Voters approved the $4.6 million town budget, which is up 3 percent from last year's spending plan. They also approved spending $200,000 on renovations and repairs to the Town Hall, including the town clerk's office, and replacement of the reuse center at the town's recycling center.

Voters approved a plan that will give residents the option of a new broadband internet service at a cost of $9 a month. Walpole follows several other New Hampshire towns in the partnership with Consolidated Communications. Walpole residents approved a $3.2 million bond that will be paid entirely by the telecommunications company. The vote was overwhelming, 135-2.

And voters approved a series of financial articles to support the operation of the Walpole Police Department, including buying a new cruiser and outfitting it. Voters also approved new radios for the police department.

One article that generated some discussion was setting aside $20,000 toward studying the feasibility of building a new police station, or adding on to the existing one.

The current station, which is located in the village of North Walpole, has outlived its usefulness, said Chief Michael Paquette, who said any new station should be located centrally in the town.

Paquette said the station is so tiny that officers have to use the same table to process evidence, clean their guns and eat lunch. With only a few dissenting voices, voters approved spending the money to start the process.

Dalessio said the Select Board would appoint a committee to study the matter, and likely use the $20,000 to hire an architect to do some planning.

Contact Susan Smallheer at ssmallheer@reformer.com or at 802 254-2311, ext. 154.


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