Rockingham voters question hydro dam purchase

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(Host) Voters in Rockingham approved a $4.7 million town budget at the their Town Meeting Monday night. They’ll go to the polls on Tuesday to vote by Australian Ballot on an $8.8 million school budget.

Rockingham’s attempt to purchase the Bellows Falls hydroelectric generating facility wasn’t on the town warning, but it was a topic of conversation. Late last week town officials mailed a 10-page handout on the proposal to local households. After years of litigation, Rockingham recently struck a deal with the plant’s bankrupt owner, U.S. Gen New England. The town now has until October to buy the hydro facility for $72 million.

During the meeting, Lister Laurie Rowell asked the select board how much is being spent on establishing a municipal utility:

(Rowell) “How much is it costing us to pursue municipalization? How are we going to pay the bills? And how much is it going to cost us in the future?”

(Host) Last year citizens voted for funds to pursue the hydro project. But Rowell faulted the board for also dipping into money set aside in case the town loses its legal battle over taxes with U.S. Gen.

Select Board Chairman Lamont Barnet says the recurring struggles with its largest taxpayer are all the more reason the town should own the plant:

(Barnet) “If we don’t purchase the hydro facility- this is the future we have to look forward to. Every April this company – or whoever the company is that ends up buying it – will come in and see us and say, We think this is worth such and such. It’s a tremendous cloud. Every year you could be looking at a 10 to 15 to 20 percent increase in your taxes, depending on who’s in the courts.”

(Host) The town is seeking an investor to contract for the substantial power the plant can produce after Rockingham’s needs are met.

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