Council forums will take up reservoir land buy, track project

Amherst Town Hall.

Amherst Town Hall. STAFF FILE PHOTO

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 06-27-2024 7:18 PM

AMHERST — An 11-acre parcel off Sand Hill Road in Shutesbury is being purchased by the town of Amherst to protect the drinking water at Atkins Reservoir and to preserve the land.

The acquisition of the so-called Gage property was approved unanimously by the Town Council at its June 17 meeting as an appropriation outside the annual budget.

A memo sent in May from Town Manager Paul Bockelman, Department of Public Works Superintendent Guilford Mooring and Elizabeth Willson, environmental scientist for the DPW, explains the reasoning for buying the land for $108,700, the appraised price for the property.

“The Gage family reached out to the town with a desire to preserve the property. If purchased, the property will be preserved for drinking water supply protection with passive recreation allowed. The property consists of undeveloped woodland with two streams running across the property which flow into the Dean Brook, a primary tributary to Atkins Reservoir.”

Of the total cost, $65,220 is coming from a state Drinking Water Supply Protection Grant Program or other federal and state money. In the end, the town will pay about 40% of the purchase price, through retained earnings, or reserves, from the Water Department.

Bockelman said should the land remain in private hands, a concern is that it could be used for construction of a single-family home. Mooring said the town tries to place either restrictions or have outright ownership of properties within the “Zone A” of the reservoir.

The vote was taken at the same meeting at which councilors also approved lifting restrictions on various funding so improvements can be done at the high school track and field. The preferred option is for $3.36 million, which includes rebuilding the track and field and putting the field in a north-south orientation.

One restriction, for use of $800,000 in Community Preservation Act money, had required artificial turf be used for the improved playing field. Councilors voted 12-0 to allow a grass field surface.

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Councilors voted 10-3 to remove the mandate that the north-south direction be used to receive $900,000 in free cash, though made a “strong recommendation” that the existing east-west orientation be changed.

Finally, councilors voted unanimously against a Regional School Committee request to provide an additional $756,160 “gift,” from free cash, so the project can be done, instead recommending that Community Preservation Act funding be sought from all four member towns.

Scott Merzbach can be reached at smerzbach@gazettenet.com.