Support for Becket spring runs dry as voters opt to close freshwater source

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BECKET — A long-standing spring on Route 20 is slated to be decommissioned.

Becket voters decided against saving one of the last freshwater springs in the region on Tuesday, during their Special Town Meeting. But residents in support of the spring said the fight is not over.

"We're just going to keep at it and see what we can do," said Becket resident Gail Kusek, who founded a nonprofit around the mission of saving the spring.

Two articles on the town meeting warrant asked voters to approve purchasing and installing the equipment necessary to install ultraviolet filtering at the Route 20 spring, which the Department of Environmental Protection required in order to keep the spring open. Both measures failed, with nearly 200 voters participating in the meeting.

Voters spoke during the meeting about not wanting to spend the money, and without the money spent on filtration the town can't endure the liability.

Estimates from Housatonic Engineering Co. show that the cost of preserving the spring, which would include applying the ultraviolet system and building a concrete enclosure around it, would have cost around $85,000 upfront. Continued annual maintenance would have cost at least $2,500, town officials said.

In order to close the spring, the town must physically block off the water source with concrete or boulders.

While the state considers the spring a public water system, the water source is on private land owned by the Deerhaven Lot Owner's Trust. Michael Lavery, a member of the Select Board, has said the property owner has made clear its intentions to cooperate with the town.

Complicating matters is a "pork chop" strip of land that separates the spring from Route 20, the state highway. Lavery said the property owner, Lawrence C. Rogoski, has told town officials not to cross the land, which they would need to do in order to shut the spring down.

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Rogoski couldn't be reached for comment.

"In order for the town to close the spring, they have to trespass on his land," Kusek said. "Hopefully that will slow things down a little bit."

Kusek said she hopes the issue buys her time to find an alternative solution, or to reopen another since-closed spring down the road so the town doesn't go without a natural water source.

She plans to consult legal advice, apply for grants and check out the water quality at Jacob's Well.

"That land happens to be for sale right now," she said. "They just capped the well, and there's still some water coming out. But I don't know how good it is."

Paul Merrill, who lives in Connecticut but has a home on Center Pond, said he hadn't been allowed to vote on the matter on Tuesday because he isn't a full-time resident. Still, he said, Becket — and its freshwater springs — have held an important place in his family's life since his great-grandmother took up residence in Becket, where the clear air would help her asthma.

"There's some history for me," he said, noting on his way into town his family would often make a pit stop at the spring. "There's a huge amount of people who use it."

He said those who aren't full-time residents bring in more than half of the town's tax dollars, yet his voice was lost in the mix on this issue. He said he planned to help Kusek fight the issue at the state level.

"I'm going to try to get to DEP to see what can be done to not destroy the thing," he said.

Amanda Drane can be contacted at adrane@berkshireeagle.com, @amandadrane on Twitter, and 413-496-6296.


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