Compensation still an issue for towns with flood plains
HOPKINTON - In the last legislative session, the town thought the fight with the state for compensation for lands taken for flood control was over. Once again, the struggle to get the money they're owed had hit a snag.
In the 1950s, New Hampshire and Massachusetts entered into a compact to create flood control measures, including dams and reservoirs in New Hampshire, to help communities downstream in both states avoid flooding when the snow melt and spring rains came. The measures called for taking large parcels of land to create the flood control areas in 18 New Hampshire towns. In exchange for the loss of tax revenue on the land, the towns were to be compensated on a yearly basis with Massachusetts paying 70 percent of the lost revenue and New Hampshire paying 30 percent.
In Hopkinton, nearly 4,000 acres of land were taken and the town was to be paid $200,000 annually, according to Jim O'Brien, chairman of the Hopkinton Board of Selectmen. But when Massachusetts hit financial trouble almost a decade ago, the state stopped paying New Hampshire for reimbursing the towns. Then the checks stopped coming from New Hampshire when it was decided that until New Hampshire got money from Massachusetts, the state was under no obligation to pay the towns for the flood lands.
State Sen. Andy Sanborn, who represented Hopkinton before moving to Bedford, said New Hampshire is required to pay the towns for the flood zones regardless of whether Massachusetts is paying its share.
"These towns have no legal authority to sue the state of Massachusetts," said Sanborn. "Only the state can sue Massachusetts."
Last year, Sanborn was able to push through a bill that re-affirmed New Hampshire's obligation to pay the towns for the land and emphasized the need for the attorney general to use every legal means to secure compensation from Massachusetts. Everyone involved, including O'Brien, thought the matter was settled. But then the budget of Gov. Maggie Hassan was released and there was no money for compensation.
"It's really frustrating," said O'Brien. "We shouldn't have to come to the state to get something the towns are owed."
Sanborn has once again filed a bill in the Senate to appropriate $800,000 to compensate the communities, but while the House works on its budget, the bill has been tabled. But Sanborn said there's no guarantee that the appropriation will be added to the budget. Additionally, Sanborn said that the final line in House Bill 2 actually repeals the law passed by the legislature last year demanding that the state pay the towns.
"How can the state expect the people to respect the law if the state is picking and choosing when to respect its own laws?" said Sanborn. "This is hypocrisy in action."
Senator Sylvia Larsen, who represents Hopkinton, said Attorney General Michael Delaney sent a letter to Massachusetts Attorney General Martha Coakley in January demanding that the state comply with the terms of the compact, but suing the state may be difficult.
In the meantime, Larsen said she isn't convinced that the $800,000 will be included in the budget.