To the editor:
During the October 29th Fall Town Meeting Norton voters will have a unique opportunity to complete a process started 26 years ago. In 1986 the Town of Norton purchased the Norton Reservoir from the Wading River Reservoir Corporation for the purpose of preventing the Reservoir from being drained and then developed for commercial use. The goal also was to restore it for regional recreational use for everybody. A vote for a citizen's petition to purchase Pheeny's Island will almost complete the protection of the Reservoir, a municipal treasure that secures open space, protects wildlife, and expands recreational opportunities.
The 500+ acre Norton Reservoir was created in the 1860s by damming the Rumford River for fire protection of a woolen mill a few hundred yards downstream. Over the decades people used this body of water for various recreational activities, including boating, swimming, and fishing. In the 1950s the quality of the water began to decline as more and more effluent from the old Mansfield sewerage treatment plant entered the Reservoir. This added fertilizer produced a serious weed problem for swimmers and boaters. Chemical treatment was attempted to solve this problem, but it was expensive and didn't work.
In 1986 the residents of the Town of Norton voted to purchase the Reservoir from the Wading River Reservoir Corp. This now seemed feasible since Mansfield had built a new sewerage treatment facility downstream of the Reservoir. By 1992 approximately 800 households in the Norton Grove area had tied into the sewer system, adding about 150% to the cost of each gallon of their water. In 1994 a Diagnostic and Feasibility study for dredging the Reservoir was completed. The Conservation Commission spent much time studying this plan and even obtained permits to carry out this work but by 1997 came to the conclusion that it was not economically feasible to carry out this project. From studies I carried out with some Wheaton students as well as the work of others it is clear that the quality of the water has improved significantly since the Town purchased the Reservoir.
Most people believe that Norton owns the whole Reservoir, but it doesn't. Pheeny's Island (triangular shaped and about 7 acres) and a tiny one near Rt. 140 remained in private hands when the Reservoir was bought in 1986. The name derives from a family who built a vacation home on the island which subsequently was destroyed by fire in the late 1950s. Pheeny's Island was not posted as private property and over the decades people used it for a wide variety of recreational purposes, especially picnicking, swimming, and kayaking. Others went out there to bird watch and enjoy a little bit of unspoiled nature. A few years ago people living on the nearby shore (350 - 500 ft away according to Google Earth) spotted Bald Eagles perched in the tall trees and then diving for fish and other food. These birds, national symbols of our country, have been seen and photographed for several years in various seasons, as recently as August 29th of this year. Incidentally, for decades many of the nearby neighbors took it upon themselves to police the island and pick up trash.
These same neighbors and many others from around town have now joined together in an effort to have the Town of Norton purchase Pheeny's Island from the current owners for the purpose of preserving this wonderful place of unspoiled nature. We want all residents to be able to visit the island in the future and see it just as it is today and has been for so many years. The owners have placed the island on the market and now the Town has the opportunity to seal the deal for future generations. Commercial development of the island, currently banned because it is zoned for residential use only, would result in the removal and alteration of over a hundred trees. It would take generations to recover from this loss. Please come to the Fall Town Meeting on October 29, 7:00 PM at the Norton Middle School and vote to purchase Pheeny's Island.