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Townshend Wants PILOT Increase For Dam

Howard Weiss-Tisman
The town of Townshend wants to convince other members of a four-state compact that it is time to increase payments in lieu of taxes for the Townshend Dam.

It's been more than 40 years since Townshend has seen an increase in the payments in lieu of taxes it receives for the Townshend Dam, and town officials are testing the waters to see if they can bump up those annual payments.

The Townshend Dam was built on the West River to provide flood protection for properties in the Connecticut River Watershed. 

To allow space for the dam, the U.S. government took about 1,000 acres off of the Townshend tax rolls. The town receives a payment in lieu of taxes, but the amount Townshend receives has been frozen since 1982, and now officials are trying to increase the annual payment.

"This town has done its part, and this dam is protecting the assets down the river,"  says Townshend Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Hege. "It's time for them to realize just exactly what the town of Townshend is contributing to Massachusetts and Connecticut, and fairly pay us for the loss of the property and the revenues we can longer get."

Townshend Dam is part of a 12-dam flood control system in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts. The three states, plus Connecticut, make up the Connecticut River Valley Flood Control Commission.

Hege says the Townshend Dam has saved cities like Hartford and Springfield, Massachusetts millions of dollars through flood control.

Every time a consumer spends a dollar at a strip mall along the I-91 corridor in Massachusetts and Connecticut, Hege says, the people of the Windham county community deserve at least some recognition.

"We've lost a valuable resource, while Connecticut is benefiting," Hege says. "They're allowed to build in places they otherwise would not have been able to build. And they can take in the revenues that are associated with that building, and yet they're not sharing that with the state of Vermont."

The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers manages the dam and each year the town receives a check for $5,656, as a payment in lieu of taxes.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
The Townshend Dam and Townshend Lake Recreation Area. The dam was constructed to protect properties in the Connecticut River Watershed from floods.

Connecticut and Massachusetts contribute to the payments, which are made to towns in all three states that have flood control dams.

The dollar amount is based on a formula that goes back at least 40 years, and the property assessment used to calculate the payment for the Townshend land is frozen at about $205,000.

The most recent town-wide assessment valued the West River property at $1.1 million, so town officials say they are receiving about a quarter of what they would be collecting if the land was on the grand list.

"It's time for them to realize just exactly what the town of Townshend is contributing to Massachusetts and Connecticut, and fairly pay us for the loss of the property and the revenues we can longer get." - Townshend Selectboard Chairwoman Kathy Hege

Connecticut River Valley Flood Control Commission Administrator Angela Mrozinski says this is not the first time Townshend has asked for an increase, but when the commissioners have looked at the numbers in the past, they've determined that the 1982 payment formula is sufficient.

"The amount of effort and time involved in re-evaluating the formula to re-evaluate the payments, just far outweighs the benefits that any one town would receive," Mrozinski says. "Some towns, their payments would go up if we were to re-evaluate. Some towns, their payments would go down. The estimate that we've evaluated, the payments wouldn't go up tremendously much, and so we just feel that it's not worth it."

Any change in the formula would have to be approved by all four states.

The issue surfaced in Townshend after Tropical Storm Irene ruined the Townshend Lake Recreation Area, which is just upstream from the dam.

Credit Howard Weiss-Tisman / VPR
The Townshend Lake Recreation Area saw very little use this summer due to large deposits of silt caused by Tropical Storm Irene.

Irene dropped tons of silt in the lake, and the historic storm impacted the watershed so much that silt continues to wash downstream.

In the past, the commission has pointed to Townshend's benefiting from having a recreational area. But Hege says what the town has is a mud pit and a payment in lieu of taxes, that is about a quarter of what it should be.

It will be up to the Army Corps to dredge the lake, and Hege says that is going to be even harder than getting an increase in the PILOT payments.

But Hege wants to try to convince the commission members that Townshend businesses are losing revenues as local residents and tourists give up on swimming, boating and fishing in the silt-clogged lake.

Townshend is trying to get representatives from Vermont's congressional delegation to visit the site, and the town hopes to raise the issue again at the commission's meeting on Dec. 4.

"The members of this community have gotten to the point where they're not happy with the condition of the dam and with the fact that they're subsidizing it without receiving the revenues that Connecticut and Massachusetts are taking in," Hege says. " Nobody seems to care, and nobody seems to want to do anything about it. It's time that they work with everybody and find out what the situation is. The way it was in 1959 is not the way it is today, and they need to understand that."

Howard Weiss-Tisman is Vermont Public’s southern Vermont reporter, but sometimes the story takes him to other parts of the state.
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