By Alana Melanson
FITCHBURG -- The Fitchburg Water Division and the North County Land Trust are looking to purchase and conserve 163 acres of Fitchburg Reservoir watershed land in Ashby and Ashburnham, which would also be open to passive recreation.
The land, which is split up into two parcels, 53 acres located entirely in Ashburnham and 110 acres mostly in Ashby with a portion in Ashburnham, is owned by Helen Kirby, 83, of Ashburnham.
North County Land Trust Executive Director Janet Morrison said Kirby is very interested in conserving her land and protecting the wildlife there. She said the land is also adjacent to the Wiita Conservation Area in Ashby, for which NCLT holds a conservation restriction.
"Conservation of this property will help protect Fitchburg Reservoir, which is a core habitat in the state Natural Heritage and Endangered Species Program," Morrison said.
Morrison and Fitchburg Deputy Water Commissioner Denis Meunier went before the City Council Finance Committee Tuesday evening and received their approval on the expenditure of $400,000 in the water enterprise fund's reserve account for land purchases.
According to Meunier, the plan is for the Water Division to purchase outright the 110-acre parcel for $250,000, while the NCLT will purchase the 53-acre parcel and the city will purchase the conservation restriction for $95,000. He said another $16,950 will be spent on administrative, appraisal and other fees, bringing the total cost to $361,950.
Meunier said the land is located just north of the Fitchburg Reservoir and is "a fine piece of watershed land identified by the Water Department for well over 10 years now as being desirable to add to our watershed land to offer protection to the water supply of the citizens of Fitchburg."
Meunier said the land has been of high priority to annex, as there are several tributaries running through that directly feed the reservoir.
"Watershed protection is vital to the quality of our water, both now and for the foreseeable future -- hundreds of years in the future," he said.
According to Morrison, the 110-acre parcel would be open to the public for passive recreation, while the 53-acre parcel would be available for passive recreation, education and nature study.
The entire sale is contingent upon receipt of a Drinking Water Supply Protection Grant from the state Executive Office of Energy and Environmental Affairs.
Meunier said the grant, if awarded, will reimburse the water enterprise fund 50 percent of the purchase cost and about 25 percent of the fees, for a total reimbursement of $176,725.
Additionally, NCLT will donate $71,250 and Kirby has agreed to donate $50,000 back to the enterprise fund after the sale, he said, leaving the Water Division with a net expense of $63,975.
Councilors were impressed by Kirby's generosity, and have invited her to come to the next full council meeting to personally thank her.
Kirby declined to comment on the sale of her land prior to the awarding of the grant.
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