Bow revives talks of bringing Concord water to junction area

Monitor staff
Published: 7/5/2017 11:42:23 PM

In 1971, when the city of Concord requested a $2.25 million federal grant to upgrade its water treatment plant, former city manager John Henchey wrote that the grant would allow the plant to become “the nucleus of a regional water system,” servicing the areas of Bow, Boscawen and the Pembroke-Allenstown water districts.

It’s been well over 40 years since that request was granted, and while Concord’s water needs and sources have expanded, its system has not. And as its neighbor, Bow, looks to expand its economic opportunities, a decades-old debate between the two municipalities has resurfaced: Should Concord extend its water services to the junction of interstates 93 and 89?

Opinions on the subject are split down municipal borders.

Steve Shurtleff, New Hampshire’s House of Representatives Democratic leader and Concord city councilor at-large, said the issue has come up time and time again in Concord, most recently about eight years ago, and the council was resistant then, too.

“We’re sympathetic to the issue, and we wish the very best to Bow,” he said. “But water has been an issue in the city for a long time. ... Concord has to be thinking about providing for its current and future businesses and residents.”

Colleen Hunter, Bow select board member, said she felt differently.

“We’re going to do our best to take baby steps forward,” she said recently after meeting with Concord mayor Jim Bouley, which she viewed as a positive step. “Our hope is that people will begin to think regionally.”

Bouley is certainly aware of the regional argument, but like many discussions in the state, he said the issue comes down to having a competitive tax base and an economic advantage.

“We rely on property taxes to fund our services, and water is one of those things that command a tax base,” he said. “As we see costs (to provide services) increase and look at the challenges we have, I’m not sure regionalization is something we need to be thinking about.”

To understand the conflict between the communities, you have to go back to the ’70s, right around when Concord made its water treatment grant request.

The water quality at the junction was a problem then, according to New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services documents, and Concord was required to provide water service to 18 homes on Hall Street in Bow to address well pollution problems.

Department of Environmental Services documents state that the junction’s groundwater is laced with radium, radon, arsenic, uranium and industrial solvents, much of which comes from past land use. Additionally, the groundwater is acidic and corrosive, which can cause heavy metals to dissolve and contaminate the water supply.

DES has been encouraging Concord to reach out and help its neighbor since 1996, documents show, when John Grappone of the Grappone Auto Group reached out to Concord’s city council to extend the water services. Grappone also reached out to Concord in 2009 with the same request.

Rene Pelletier, DES’s environmental programs administrator, wrote two letters to Concord’s city council in 1996 and 1997 on the subject, calling the issue one of “importance to the mission of this agency and to the economic well-being of the state.”

“I do not believe that the core community can separate itself from its region,” Pelletier wrote then, “rather, the core community is a critical part of the regional economy, if not state economy. To the extent that this is true, Concord’s policy on out-of-town water service would in the long run be self-defeating.”

“Policy” refers to a line in Concord’s waterworks ordinance, added in 1984 according to Concord’s code administrator Michael Santa. The line states, “Water shall not be distributed beyond the City limits without a specific vote of the City Council authorizing such distribution.”

What caused the council to add that line? It’s unknown, but Bouley said “sore feelings” linger in Concord after a prominent business left the city for Bow, although he declined to name the business.

According to Bow’s Community Development Department Director Matt Taylor, Grappone Automotive Group moved to Bow in the early 1980s and purchased their Toyota dealership in 1983. According to the company’s website, Grappone began planning to move to Bow around 1982.

Grappone is one of the businesses that suffers from the junction’s water quality the most: Grappone president Larry Hynes said the company serves bottled water instead of tap and has signs in its bathrooms encouraging guests not to drink the water. He said the company also has to replace its hot water heater at least once a year.

While the company may pay taxes in Bow, Hynes said its impact extends into Concord. He said 26 percent of the company’s workforce lives in Concord, according to Hynes, and the company reports donating $3.1 million from 2003 to 2015 to Concord charity efforts.

“We’re certainly grateful for the Concord area’s customer support,” he said. “But we’ve been dealing with this for years, and it’s not getting better.”

(Caitlin Andrews can be reached at 369-3309, or on Twitter at @ActualCAndrews.)

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