Town officials mull buying private land around Mount Warner wells 

By SCOTT MERZBACH

Staff Writer

Published: 08-17-2023 1:15 PM

HADLEY — Town officials are discussions buying privately owned land near the Mount Warner wells, which could be the first step in reactivating the town’s back-up water supply through an estimated $12 million construction project.

Department of Public Works Director Scott McCarthy told the Select Board Wednesday that a water assessment management plan that includes refurbishment of the Mount Warner wells comes at a significant cost, with no public grants available, and the state offering only low-interest loans to cities and towns.

“We really need the water, the town could really benefit from it, but it comes at a very expensive price,” McCarthy said.

Still, McCarthy said the town should continue talking to landowners with properties in the 400-foot buffer zone of the wells. These should be acquired so the town controls area, even if a new plant is not built immediately.

“It would be nice to own the property and have total control,” McCarthy said.

The wells, though a good water source, have been shut down for a number of years and need treatment to meet the drinking water standards set by the state’s Department of Environmental Protection, McCarthy said. The water is high in iron and manganese, though the perchlorate contamination has gone away.

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McCarthy also is seeking money to study the town’s water system, including water rates and the existing facilities. and where problems exist.

In 2022, Hadley and Amherst shared a $69,950 grant from the Water Management Act Grant Program, a coordinated effort by the Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs and MassDEP to maintain healthy rivers and streams, and improve degraded water resources. This money would support the rehabilitation the wells on Mount Warner as a product of ongoing strategic and collaborative discussions with Amherst officials about enhancing and increasing efficiency for each community.

The two tanks on Mount Warner hold one million gallons and 200,000 gallons of water, and have been the backup water supply for Hadley since the treatment plant for the Callahan wells on Bay Road opened in 2004.

McCarthy said any long-term project would benefit Hadley, as well as other towns.

“We would have more than enough water,” McCarthy said. “It would take a lot of burden off Callahan.”

In addition, the town could make money by selling water to neighboring communities.

Hadley and Amherst officials in spring 2020 signed memorandums of understanding related to possible shared services for both water and wastewater that are in effect through the end of this year.

Select Board member Randy Izer said it makes sense to start with identifying the land that would need to be purchased and determine whether the town can acquire it.

While the town is exploring building a new Department of Public Works headquarters, Select Board member Jane Nevinsmith said it might make sense to incorporate the Mount Warner wells infrastructure into that project.

Only Select Board member Joyce Chunglo expressed concern about the approach of partnering with other communities, noting that the Mount Warner wells contamination could be the result of fireworks shows put on by the town of Amherst near McGuirk Alumni Stadium at the University of Massachusetts campus.

“I've been on the board long enough to know that's where the contaminants were coming from,” Chunglo said.

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

 

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