Franklin Farm leadersdon't want town well nearby
Franklin Farm leadersdon't want town well nearby
CUMBERLAND - Volunteers with the Historic Metcalf-Franklin Farm are strongly urging the Town Council to drop any plans for a new town well on the east field that's part of the 65 acres owned by the town on Abbott Run Valley Road.
Five well sites are under consideration, they pointed out during last Wednesday's Town Council meeting. Why not use the other four?
The group of 25 attending the council meeting last week waited until almost 10 o'clock to send three members to the microphone with their message.
The board's vice president, Julie Guerin, led off.
Members of the Franklin Farm community, she said, "have grave concerns about the proposed well. There are significant reasons why it should be removed from the list of considerations," she said.
Calling the farm, "an essential legacy to the farming community that is Cumberland's heritage," she told the council that any drilling would disrupt the hay field for years to come and violate the town's agreement with state preservationists that bans new construction on the farm site.
Town Council President James Higgins appeared weary and perplexed, questioning several times why the council was hearing objections to a plan still in the study stage.
"We don't even have a proposal in front of us," he countered.
But Guerin persisted. "There are five properties and Franklin Farm is one of the top, we want to get out in front, before decisions are made."
Looking at Mayor Daniel McKee, Higgins questioned, "Will we get to approve the location?"
McKee told him there'd be a point when a contract would need approval that cites a specific location. "But there's a whole bunch of work that needs to be done first. We're more than two years away."
Rumblings of worry about the well plans had prompted the town last week to post a four-page outline about the well plan on its website.
Water Supt. Chris Champi was not available to comment this week. But the outline acknowledges some impact on the farm.
The bottom line: If a well is approved for the east field, a structure will be needed to house chemicals, water quality monitoring equipment and controls. One option might be an underground vault "with no visual change to the landscape." However, a fence would be needed around the vault and well that "will not be visible from Abbott Run Valley Road."
An access road to the well would be needed but "would be as inconspicuous as possible and be made of gravel, not asphalt or concrete."
Additionally, there would be restrictions on the use of the field because a 400-foot protective radius around the well is required by the state Department of Health. A variance might reduce that to 100 feet. No pesticide, herbicide or organic fertilizers, such as manure, would be permitted inside the radius.
Town leaders are anxious to develop more well sites because the water coming out of Cumberland's ground is so much cheaper than the cost of processing it at the Nate Whipple Highway treatment center or buying it from Pawtucket.
Last year a $109,500 contract was awarded to the engineering firm of Woodward & Curran to begin the exploration process.
Town officials also acknowledge disruption during the exploratory stage as test wells are dug that require onsite equipment and later heavier construction equipment on the field during a two-month construction phase.
The other four well possibilities are also on town land: Scofield Farm on Nate Whipple Highway; 10 Staples Road; Long Brook off Little Pond County Road, and the Blackhall property near the Highland water tank.
Last fall, Champi listed Franklin Farm and Schofield Farm as the most promising.
Asked this week if the town might consider dropping Franklin Farm, McKee, in an email, told The Breeze, "It makes sense to follow up on all possible options that will provide future clean water sources at the lowest possible cost to the rate payer."
"Chris Champi is looking at the best options and Franklin Farm continues to be under consideration. A final decision will be made when all the information on multiple town owned sites being tested has been completed."
McKee added that "maintaining the integrity of open space" continues to a priority.
About questions over restrictions on the farmland, town Solicitor Thomas Hefner told The Breeze later the east field was purchased earlier than the barn and house area on the west side of Abbott Run Valley Road and isn't subject to any historic easement.
He said, in fact, "The lot in question was purchased with approximately $545,000 in state water resources money to be used for the protection preservation and improvement of the town's water resources."
The year was 1995 and Rick Alger was mayor.
Hefner said the attempt to tie together the parcels, purchased a decade apart, "is rather lame as the funds they were talking about were for the two-acre parcel purchased during the (David) Iwuc Administration that includes house and barn. Totally different."
Guerin talked to the council about improvements made since the town's 2005 purchase of the final piece of the farm that historians hailed with recognition on the National Register of Historic Places because of the intact fields, farmhouse and barns.
Citizen activity since then has included:
* Farming - Some 124,000 pounds of vegetables have been raised over the course of several summers, most of it donated to the Rhode Island Community Food Bank.
* Restoration - The farm's barn has been reroofed and the walls reshingled using money from a 2007 grant and private donations, as well as the fields.
* Education - Children attend summer day camp on the property.
Higgins finally told the group he understands "you're against anything, any intrusion by outside forces, that is your position. We understand that. It's like the Monastery; no one wants to build there."
Then he repeated, "It's really not before us at this point."
The presentation ended with an historic overview from board member Frank Geary that took the land back to the Wampanoag natives.
Geary referenced the loss of the Tower-Flagg historic barns, also on Abbott Run Valley Road, where builder James McKee is completing a new subdivision.
Said Geary, "Cumberland recently lost another link to our past with the demolition of the Tower-Flagg property," where in 1747 the Town Council held its first meeting in the "Biscuit House." The barn had been named to the National Register of Historic Places.
As though making Geary's point for him, Higgins replied, "What property? We don't have any knowledge of that at all."
Said Geary, "It was razed to build a cul-de-sac of houses without any regard to history. It's great history, gone."