Raymond Fortier has declined Canton’s offer to buy his dam on Lake Anasagunticook. Good.

Let eminent domain begin.

About four years ago, Fortier was warned by the Defense, Veterans and Emergency Management Agency to make needed dam repairs or the state would levy fines and force closure of the dam, because Fortier’s “continued disregard for proper maintenance…[is] a threat to public safety.”

Fortier has since continued to disregard maintenance, despite repeated requests from the state and citizens of Canton. In 2004, MEMA discovered one of the gates at the dam was leaking badly, and Fortier had not followed state guidelines while making an attempt to shore the dam.

At the time, MEMA predicted the dam wouldn’t last the winter. It did, and Fortier continued to rack up MEMA and Department of Environmental Protection violations, as many as 15 by 2006.

Last May, the state ordered Fortier to leave the dam’s overflow sluice gates open because, if closed, the spring runoff would almost certainly destroy the dam. At the time, the state again noted the integrity, structural stability, function and operation of the dam constituted a threat to public safety.

Fortier left the gates open, and the water level in Canton lake dropped six feet below normal.

This meant less enjoyment of the water by recreational users and the potential of lower property values along the shorefront, but the greater danger is poor quality drinking water. Less water causes the lake temperature to rise, which requires more vigorous and expensive water treatment before it is piped for consumption.

In October, only after a petition by Canton citizens, the state started fining Fortier $500 for each day he refused to repair the dam, allowing the water level to climb. That fine now stands at more than $97,000 and growing, so it’s no wonder Fortier decided not to accept the town’s $60,000 offer for the dam.

It wouldn’t even cover existing fines.

Fortier owes the town more than money. As the dam owner, he’s responsible for maintaining property he knows is critical to public health. The town can, through eminent domain, force the sale of private property for public purposes.

If there was ever a situation in which eminent domain is right, this is it.

The town’s drinking water is at stake, and Fortier is dissinterested in his property and less interested in responding to orders to keep it repaired.

Townspeople are showing more interest in the health of the dam than Fortier. They raised donations for repairs, formed committees to come up with long-term solutions and petitioned the state to force Fortier to comply with repair orders. When taxpayers offered to buy the property from him, Fortier’s response was to transfer the assets to his company, R.J. Fortier Hydro Power, Inc.

The people of Canton have a right to protect their water supply, and they cannot rely on Fortier to protect their interests. An eminent domain action is the way to go here.

And fast.

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