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Select Board, North Pond supporters discuss citizen’s petition

SOUTHWICK – The Select Board held a discussion Tuesday night with the women who started a citizen’s petition last week regarding the preservation of open space adjacent to Congamond’s North Pond.

Michelle Pratt and Sabrina Pooler were able to receive 151 of the 150 signatures that is required in order to turn a citizen’s petition into a warrant article at a special town meeting. The petition was started to get a warrant article created that would go to special town meeting and see if voting residents would allow the town to bond the remaining $1.2 million left to preserve the North Pond property.  The special town meeting will be taking place on March 19 at 6:30 p.m. in the auditorium of Southwick Regional School

A number of North Pond supporters attended the meeting on Tuesday night in the Select Board conference room at the Southwick Town Hall. (Photo by Greg Fitzpatrick)

During the discussion, Town of Southwick Chief Administrative Officer Karl Stinehart informed Pratt and Pooler, since they started the citizen’s petition, it’s up for them to decide how many years the town would be bonding the $1.2 million if it was approved at special town meeting. Having the option to bond the money up to 30 years, Pratt was unsure at this time as she’ll look to do more research on what would be the best decision.

“Obviously we want to make a decision that is in the best interest of the taxpayers in the town,” said Pratt.

Stinehart also added that if a decision was made to do a 30-year note, that would involve a lot of interest. Pratt reminded the Select Board that this was not the plan they had in mind.

“This is kind of the last thing we wanted to happen at this point in time,” said Pratt. “We couldn’t take a chance at losing this precious project.”

Besides the $1.2 million going to special town meeting, there will also be a warrant article at that same meeting to see if the town will allow $500,000 to be taken out of the Community Preservation Committee’s account. Pratt made a request to see if the warrant article for the $500,000 could go before the warrant article for the $1.2 million. The Select Board said that they would take that request under advisement.

Select Board Chairman Joe Deedy informed Pratt and Pooler that he spoke to the land owner, Denise LeClair-Robbins earlier on Tuesday. Deedy said that LeClair-Robbins doesn’t appear to have interest in taking a lower figure than the $5 million that the North Pond land has been appraised for.

The Select Board is seen discussing a petition to present a warrant article at a March 19 town meeting with the citizen’s that created it. (Photo by Greg Fitzpatrick)

“She has no interest at all in playing with the number,” said Deedy. “She just seems to be disappointed.”

However, Pratt was pleased with Deedy speaking to the property owner.

“We definitely appreciate you doing that,” said Pratt.

With both warrant articles at the special town meeting requiring a two-thirds majority vote, having either one or both of the warrant articles to pass would be critical to preserving the land. Although North Pond supporters and Franklin Land Trust, the prospected purchaser of the land, have until June 30, 2019 to raise more money, the state has a deadline of March 31 to see how much committed money the Franklin Land Trust has towards the project.

It’s suspected that if the Franklin Land Trust comes to the state on March 31 too short of $5 million, the state might not want to provide the Franklin Land Trust with any more additional money towards the project if they are still in need of it.

In November of 2016, the Massachusetts Departments of Energy and Environmental Affairs as well as Fish and Wildlife awarded the Franklin Land Trust two grants that totaled $1.4 million. 

On Saturday, people throughout the community will have yet another opportunity to donate money towards preserving North Pond, as Pratt is hosting a fundraiser and information night. For more information, visit the Save North Pond page on the Franklin Land Trust website.

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