WEST NEWBURY — Selectmen have agreed to purchase a new pump-out boat, but are insisting the harbormaster program be made revenue-neutral going forward. The unanimous vote came during a meeting July 22 in which selectmen revisited the value of offering pump-out services to boaters along the Merrimack River.
Some feel the pump-out program uses taxpayer dollars for a service that benefits only a few in town. Still others argue the program is critical to maintaining water quality and environmental protections in the 5-mile portion of the river that runs through West Newbury.
After a presentation by Harbormaster Jim Riley and Finance Committee Chairman Dave Kapturowski on July 8, selectmen agreed to sign off on a state grant funded by the federal Clean Vessels Act that would allow the town to purchase a new pump-out vessel. As part of the CVA grant, the state reimburses 75 percent of costs associated with the purchase and the program, as long as the boat is used to provide pump-out services.
The current boat, built in 1997, has a faulty motor that would cost the town around $8,000 to replace. During the budget process last March, selectmen encouraged Riley to seek grant funds for the motor replacement. However, in June, Riley and Finance Director Tracy Blais were advised by the grantor to apply for money for a new boat instead because the grant program had unused funds available that needed to be used by the end of the fiscal year.
The grant will cover $64,750 of the $65,000 price tag to buy a new, larger boat. All equipment would be transferred from the current boat, which would then be swapped for an upgraded trailer for the new boat.
But Selectman Tom Atwood said that following the July 8 meeting, more information surfaced that made him question his vote. Comparing it to the process used by the Board of Fire Engineers in seeking to fund a new aerial ladder truck two years ago, Atwood said the proposal presented was incomplete, inaccurate and rushed. There was no mention on July 8 of the need for a new trailer and the assertion made by Riley and Kapturowski that doing away with the pump-out service would result in raw sewage being dumped into the river was simply untrue, Atwood said.