Hollis board moves to protect its water interests

HOLLIS – The town has yet to decide about joining the newly formed Merrimack Valley Regional Water District, but the Board of Selectmen voted Monday night to work to protect the town’s legal and financial interests in its aquifer.

The water district would seek to run water utilities if Nashua acquires Pennichuck Corp., the company that currently serves local public water customers, through eminent domain. Late last month, the water district became official when representatives of seven municipalities signed a charter creating the management body. Nashua, Litchfield, Amherst, Londonderry, Bedford, Pelham and Pittsfield have signed up to join the district.

Hollis’ aquifer supplies 40 percent of the Pennichuck Corp. water supply, according to selectmen’s Chairman Mark Johnson. Pennichuck serves 68 customers in town, he added.

If Nashua obtained Pennichuck Corp., the value of the various water sources that make up the watershed would have to be determined.

Selectmen voted 4-1 to seek independent intervener status for legal discussions about the fair market value of the town’s water assets. Johnson said intervener status would give the town a chance to express a position.

“The town of Hollis and its residents will be affected by these decisions,” Johnson said. “When the arguments are made, we want an opportunity to respond.”

Selectman Vahrij Manoukian voted against applying for intervener status, saying there might be some hidden cost to obtaining that legal designation.

Selectmen on Monday also discussed a land purchase approved by voters at the last Town Meeting to expand the Pine Hill Cemetery.

The town voted in March to authorize a $610,000 bond to buy about 13 acres of former orchard property adjacent to the cemetery, but selectmen recently received results of environmental studies that might impact the value of the parcel.

The studies, conducted by Stone Hill Environmental, show that pesticide-residue levels in some of the soil samples exceed state standards for chemicals such as arsenic, DDT and dieldrin.

The study also states, however, that “the residual concentrations at the site under the expected future use as a cemetery is likely to pose significantly less risk to human health,” than they would if the land were going to be used as someone’s back yard. The study also suggests ways to remediate the soil to further minimize any potential health risks.

Selectman Dick Walker said it would be in the taxpayers’ best interests if the town shared the environmental data with appraisers before the town closes on the purchase of the land, in case the information affects the land’s value.

The board will vote next week whether to have the appraisers consider the Stone Hill studies. Those studies are also available to the public at Town Hall.