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Durham town council plans to hold Mill Pond dam vote in March

Mill Pond Dam, Durham, N.H.
Dan Tuohy
Mill Pond Dam in Durham, N.H.

Durham’s town council voted to pass three motions on Monday that would put the fate of the Mill Pond dam on the town ballot in March.

The vote follows a petition to reverse the town council’s original decision to remove the dam. The petition was certified last month.

It is the first successful referendum petition since the town’s charter was adopted in 1987. The town’s charter says a special election must be held 30 to 90 days after the petition’s certification.

But town officials say the COVID-19 pandemic makes it difficult to schedule a special election on the issue, and the only available date for an election to be held at the Oyster River High School is during winter vacation. They say moving the vote to March could provide better voter turnout.

In order to move the date of the vote from the 30-90 day period after the petition’s certification, the council voted to pass a motion to rescind their September decision to move forward with dam removal and to pass a similar motion with the added requirement that funds not be spent on the removal until voters weigh in on March 8.

Mill Pond Dam in Durham
Dan Tuohy
Mill Pond Dam, Durham, New Hampshire

The council passed a third motion to submit a proposition for the March 8th election that would ask voters to weigh in on whether to reverse the town council’s decision taken November 1st.

Jeffrey Hiller, the leader of the petition effort, says he and other supporters of stabilizing the dam question whether the town is acting in accordance with its charter.

“The petitioners that signed the petition to have the council reconsider their vote were acting in good faith, we just want to make sure the town is acting accordingly in good faith,” Hiller said.

Some Indigenous leaders and environmental advocacy groups support the decision to remove the dam. They say the dam’s removal could restore the health of Mill Pond and the Great Bay estuary.

Opponents to the removal note Mill Pond dam is one of few Ambursen-style dams in New Hampshire, and want to prioritize its historical preservation. Some did not agree with the assessment that the dam’s removal would help resolve impaired water quality.

The town’s attorney provided a legal opinion that the town could proceed as planned.

The petitioners continue to meet about their next steps.

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