Haverhill moves closer to protecting watershed land on Corliss Hill Road

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Dec. 14—HAVERHILL — The city moved one step closer to acquiring about 23 acres of land at 97 Corliss Hill Road that officials say is important to protecting the city's drinking water supply.

The City Council on Tuesday unanimously agreed to assign the city's option to purchase the property to Essex Greenbelt, a land conservation group that works to conserve farmland, wildlife habitat and scenic landscapes throughout the region.

The move allows Essex Greenbelt to buy the property from the owners, which is expected to happen by the end of March.

Once that happens, the city will own 13.7 acres of forested land for water supply protection and Greenbelt will own the remaining 9 acres of cleared land, which has been used for light agricultural purposes.

Greenbelt will hold a Conservation Restriction on that land ensuring it is always protected. It would also allow Greenbelt to maintain public walking, biking and horseback riding trails on the property.

"There will be mutual conservation restrictions as this is watershed protection property," City Solicitor William Cox said.

When it meets Thursday night, the city's Conservation Commission is expected to approve the language in a Conservation Restriction that will come under the commission's care.

In August, the council had approved a memorandum of agreement between the city and Essex Greenbelt Association Inc. that laid out the steps needed to protect the land.

Cox said that assigning the city's right of first refusal to purchase the land to Essex Greenbelt was the next step in the process.

This past summer, the city partnered with Essex Greenbelt to purchase the land to protect the drinking water supply now and into the future.

The property, which is listed for agricultural use under Chapter 61A, is near East Meadow River, which feeds into Millvale Reservoir, which provides about 60% of the city's drinking water, officials said.

Vanessa Johnson-Hall, assistant director of land conservation for Greenbelt, said the agreement calls for Greenbelt to contribute $250,000 toward the $400,000 purchase price of the land and the city will contribute $150,000 — which will come before the council for approval at its Dec. 14 meeting.

As a bonus to the city, she said an abutting neighbor has committed to preserving their farmland as well.

"So with both it means that more than 40 acres of important watershed land will be preserved," she said.

The partnership gained the support of the council and the mayor.

The public hearing Tuesday night saw no one speak out in favor or against assigning Greenbelt first right of refusal.

Councilor Thomas Sullivan said he didn't realize how important the land was to protect until he walked it with other council members.

"We all discovered just how precious and how important that is to our watershed," he said.

Councilor John Michitson thanked residents who pushed for protecting the land.

"I guess persistence does pay off," he said.

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