Published DateCONCORD — An apparently innocuous bill that carried the New Hampshire Legislature by wide margins — the Senate 18 to 0 and the House 254 to 74 last week — has roiled the rift among Republicans.
Senate Bill 11, supported by the New Hampshire Municipal Association, authorizes municipalities to create water and/or sewer districts in order to provide drinking water, fight fires, manage wastewater and promote development.
After the bill passed the Senate and reached the House, lawmakers received a "red alert" from Ken Eyring of the Southern New Hampshire 9-12 Project, warning that it would enable the state to usurp the rights of individuals to water. "If you own a well," it read, you will soon not own it. If you collect rain water, you soon will not be allowed to and you will be fined or arrested if you do."
Susan Olsen, Steve Macdonald and Skip Murphy writing on GraniteGrok, the conservative online blog based in Gilford, quickly took up the cry, claiming that the bill would lead to the expropriation and taxation of water. "If this doesn't say "future collectivism" written all over it," Murphy wrote, "nothing else will. Limited? Government control. PUBLIC RESOURCE — no private ownership for you! We, the collectivist WE must and are obligated to manage it for all."
In her weekly column in the The Weirs Times, Representative Jane Cormier described the bill as "the mother lode of over-reaching government," which gives rise to the theme that the state owns all water in N.H." and can "tax and control the water in your well, rain barrels, and on your property."
The preamble, or "purpose" section, of the bill sparked this reaction. It reads that "the waters of New Hampshire constitute a limited and precious public resource to be protected, conserved, and managed in the interest of present and future generations. This requires careful stewardship and management of water and wastewater within the state."
This language has been enshrined in state law since 1985 with none of the dire consequences forecast by Eyring and his followers. Nor was this language essential to the bill. In fact, to mollify opponents of the bill, the House deleted it.
The sole purpose of SB-11, according to its sponsors, is to clarify existing statutes to enable the towns of Stratham and Exeter to enter an agreement to provide water and sewer infrastructure for commercial development, which would include a governing body authorized to levy assessments, without creating an entirely new political subdivision.
Seven of the 13 Republican members of the Belknap County Convention — Reps. Richard Burchell of Gilmanton, Guy Comtois of Barnstead, Cormier and Stephen Holmes of Alton, Michael Sylvia of Belmont and Herb Vadney and Colette Worsman of Meredith — voted against the bill and three — Reps. Don Flanders and Frank Tilton of Laconia and Dennis Fields of Sanbornton — voted in favor. Reps. Bob Greemore of Meredith, Chuck Fink of Belmont and Bob Luther of Laconia did not vote.
Four of the five Democrats from the county — Reps. Lisa DiMartino of Gilford, Ruth Gulick of New Hampton, David Huot of Laconia and Ian Raymond of Sanbornton — voted for the bill. Rep. Beth Arsenault did not vote.