Sale of portion of parcel in Cheshire could boost town coffers

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CHESHIRE — Selling part of a 715-acre, town-owned parcel to the state could infuse some needed cash into Cheshire's coffers to pay down debts and blacktop roads, Selectmen and Town Administrator Mark Webber say.

"We have to," Carol Francesconi, chairwoman of the Select Board, said on Thursday. "We need the money. We just went through a [Proposition 2 1/2] override vote to fund our schools. If we could get some of our debt exclusion off the books we could do our roads. I don't know of anybody who doesn't think this is a good idea among town officials."

Earlier this year, the state deemed a bridge on Sandmill Road unfit for crossing because of deterioration of the undercarriage. The town Highway Department has been at work fixing the bridge, but it required the town's fiscal 2015 blacktopping money.

"We just did potholes," Francesconi said.

In 2012, the state offered to buy 440 acres of the swath, which contains a former alternative town water reservoir, but voters rejected the measure because the Water Department was in the process of spearheading a feasibility study to test the site for its wind energy development potential, said to be great.

The state offer at the time was $1 million.

Water Commissioner Francis Waterman said then, "The feasibility study is going to put the information in my hand so I can stand here and say: 'This is a great project' or 'Let's sell the land.' That's all we're asking for."

Voters rejected the sale 241 to 174 in May 2012.

But last year voters at the annual town meeting passed a new wind energy bylaw requiring that any turbine be set off from homes by at least a half-mile and emit limited noise, making the site a difficult, if not impossible, sell.

Francesconi said the wind initiative is "dead," so far as she knows.

The potential $1 million from the state if a sale were to occur would go toward paying down the town's Hoosac Valley Middle and High School project debt, the town's new fire engine and blacktopping roads, Francesconi said.

"This is the preliminary discussions at this point, and the sale would have to be approved at annual town meeting [in June]," she said.

The remaining several hundred acres — apart from the 440 desired by the state — the town would keep for its own use, potentially for extra cemetery space, Francesconi said, as the town cemetery is located nearby on West Mountain Road.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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