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Eastman Mulls New Sewer District

Grantham — The Selectboard last night agreed to hold a special meeting on Saturday, Aug. 17, to vote on a petition to create a new sewer district at Eastman.

Those living within the proposed district boundaries, established by the Selectboard, would be eligible to vote.

Phil Schaefer, who lives in the proposed district and submitted the petition, said if the vote passes, the new district would have to negotiate for purchase of the sewer system from the current owners, the Eastman Community Association.

However, complicating the issue is a pending purchase and sales agreement entered into by the Eastman Community Association and Eastman Sewer Company to sell the system to the Village District of Eastman. The state Public Utilities Commission is reviewing the agreement, but Schaefer said the PUC will hold off on a decision until after the August vote.

The village district already operates the water district at Eastman.

According to Schaefer, Eastman has about 1,200 to 1,300 properties, nearly all of which use public water and comprise the Village District. But only about 530 properties are on sewer. He and the petitioners oppose sale of the sewer system to the Village District of Eastman because it would give voting rights to residents with water only. The district sought by the petitioners would comprise mostly just sewer users.

“The vast majority of voters in the Village District don’t have sewer connections and they would control the vote on the budget for sewer users, how much and for what uses,” Schaefer said after last night’s Selectboard meeting.

Maynard Goldman, president of the privately-owned Eastman Community Association, warned the Selectboard at its June 12 meeting not to act upon the petition for several reasons, including the existing contract under review by the PUC.

“You will be setting up a potential for a round of lawsuits and legal action which is going to be a colossal waste of everybody’s time and money,” Goldman told the board, adding that the town of Grantham will most likely get dragged into the dispute. “I suggest that you think long and hard about the usefulness of that effort.”

Goldman also said the Eastman Community Association has no intention of transferring control of the system to a new district, regardless of the vote. He pointed out that the Village District already twice approved votes in support of buying the sewer system.

At the March annual meeting of the village district, voters appropriated the funds for the purchase and voted by a two-thirds majority to have the Village District assume the debt remaining for previous sewer upgrades, a debt now guaranteed by the Community Association.

In response to Goldman’s comments on June 12, Selectboard member Connie Jones said the board would just as soon “not get into the middle of politics of Eastman,” but under state law the town governing body, upon receipt of a petition with 10 or more signatures, is required to set the boundaries, call a meeting and let the voters have their say on how they want to proceed.

“We have spent a lot of time, a lot of money in getting all this together and by law and by our attorney’s (recommendation) what we have to do is follow that law and we are doing just that,” Jones said.

She emphasized that the board must stay “neutral” and not purview to involve itself in Eastman’s deliberations but it must adhere to state law.

Last night, Jones reiterated that once the vote takes place, the town would no longer be involved.

In a phone interview earlier this week, Goldman said the Village District is authorized to run a sewer district and the Community Association believes sale to the district is “in the best interest of the association.”

“This new proposal has nothing to commend it,” Goldman said. “This is an attempt by a small group to make things difficult.”

Goldman, who did not attend last night’s board meeting, could not be reached for comment on the board’s decision to move forward with a vote on Aug. 17.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at ogrady56@yahoo.com.