BETHEL —  The Bethel Water District has been directed by the Maine Attorney General’s Office to hold a public hearing after a draft proposal for the future of its Newry watershed is complete.

Brent Angevine, the chairman of the district’s Board of Trustees, said last week the proposal, which will address four goals set out for the watershed, should be ready within “a couple of months.”

Pursuing those goals would require modification of a trust deed established in 1925 by William Bingham, who gave the 2,358 acres to the water district.

To protect the BWD’s water source on the land, Chapman Brook, the trust deed restricted activity on the parcel to just enough wood harvesting to pay taxes owed to Newry (approximately $4,000 currently).

Bingham also stipulated that if the land ever stopped serving as the water source, that it should go to the state to become a park, wildlife sanctuary, game preserve or state forest.

The land stopped serving as a water source in 2007, when a flash flood caused extensive damage.

Current BWD trustees said last fall they wanted to keep ownership of the watershed as a backup source of water.

They also listed several other goals:

• Undertake more wood harvesting, in order to help fund infrastructure improvements and keep water rates low.

• Clear up the legal status of a long-standing land lease with Sunday River Ski Resort as it relates to the trust.

• Allow public access for trails and recreation.

The proposal prompted concerns among some local municipal and conservation officials.

Some were hesitant to modify the trust deed because, they said, it might set a precedent that would make landowners unwilling to put their faith in such trusts as a way to protect their land in the future.

Ultimately, the question of the trust must be settled by a judge.

The Maine Attorney General’s Office must prepare a court complaint outlining several violations of the trust by BWD.

A draft of such a complaint alleges that the BWD is in violation of the trust because the land is not being used as a water supply; that the land lease to Sunday River is a violation; and that the proposal by the BWD’s Board of Trustees to increase timber harvesting for capital improvements would also be a violation.

An agreement proposal between the BWD and the AG to settle those issues must be worked out.

When the two documents are completed, both will be filed in Oxford County Superior Court.

At the BWD board’s monthly meeting last week, Angevine said he had met recently with Asst. Attorney General Linda Conti to discuss the goals and process.

Once a proposal is crafted, Angevine said, “she wants us to have a public hearing, and invite the Newry and Bethel selectmen, and all other interested parties, and take public and written comment.”

After that, he said, “it will go to court and it’s up to the judge at that point, unless we don’t agree with her findings.”

Several members of one organization that had concerns about a modification met last week with Conti.

Steve Wight, president of the Mahoosuc Land Trust’s Board of Trustees, said Tuesday that Conti did not describe what the nature of her proposal would be, “except to say that in cases like these the state likes to see land left in local control and the donors wishes followed as closely as possible.”

Editor’s note: The writer is married to Joe Aloisio, a member of the Mahoosuc Land Trust Board of Trustees. He also is the engineer for Sunday River Ski Resort, which leases land from the BWD.

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