Washington voters approve budget, block funds for dam restoration


WASHINGTON >> Voters this week approved a $1.6 million fiscal 2017 budget proposal, but blocked an item seeking to raise funds to restore the Eden Glen Pond dam "to structural integrity."

The budget, which reflected a 2 percent spending increase over the fiscal 2016 plan, received unanimous support from voters, roughly 45 of whom showed up to the meeting on Wednesday.

The town also passed a resolution taking hard shots at the Baker administration and Massachusetts Broadband Institute for stalling the completion of the WiredWest broadband initiative, seen as an economic lifeline to commonwealth hilltowns like Washington.

The dam fix, totaling $111,000, would have fulfilled the earlier wishes of an October special town meeting, which voted to "restore" rather than "remove" the dam.

The crowd who showed up Wednesday apparently comprised different voters than the October special town meeting — this time, roughly two-thirds voted against the spending needed to see the dam vision through.

James A. Huebner, chairman of Washington Select Board, said he now expects town officials will set about looking for grant funds to carry out the second option — to remove the dilapidated structure.

"The ecological thrust is to get rid dams, so there's more grant money out there for projects looking to do that," Huebner said. "I expect that's what we'll do, but we're not there yet."

The structure must either be restored or torn down and cannot be left as-is, Huebner said.

Maintenance of Eden Glen Pond, formerly a town recreation and swimming area, lapsed long ago.

On the positive side, the town recently received a $750,000 Federal Emergency Management Agency grant to replace the nearby, inadequately sized Frost Road culvert, a job that will improve flooding and general conditions around the area.

That project should go out to bid in roughly six weeks, Huebner said.

Huebner expects to further discuss the dam issue at a Select Board meeting Monday.

Also approved by the town was a statement to be sent to the Baker administration strongly reaffirming Washington's support for WiredWest.

The statement chastised the administration and MBI — state overseers of the project — for "failing to implement the broadband plan" and "[thwarting] the decision of our town and other towns to work together through WiredWest."

It concluded by calling on the administration to "lift the so-called 'pause'" on the last-mile project connecting people's homes to the new infrastructure. If MBI fails to do so, the statement then called on the administration to "engage a private sector party to build the network for WiredWest."

"In my mind, it's the single biggest need that we have to ensure the economic viability of not only Washington but all of Western Massachusetts," Huebner said.

In 2015, Town Meeting approved borrowing Washington's $770,000 portion of the WiredWest bill by a margin of 102 to 7.

Contact Phil Demers at 413-496-6214.


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