The town and Eastleigh Farm were able to work out a compromise.
The Framingham Board of Selectmen approved the gist of a plan crafted by Town Manager Bob Halpin that gives Eastleigh Farm until Nov. 1 to install a well and take itself off of the municipal water supply. The proposal would defer payment of town water bills until a well is installed.
Eastleigh Farm has never paid for its water.
Selectman Dennis Giombetti’s motion stipulated that the town would not help with funding or in-kind services for the well but would do whatever it could to expedite any permitting processes that would be necessary.
If Eastleigh Farm owner Doug Stephan fails to put in a well by Nov. 1, the town will bill the farm for consumption of water retroactive to July 1, the beginning of the current fiscal year.
Framingham Selectmen asked Halpin to monitor the progress of the Eastleigh Farm well installation and if some unforeseen situation arises that puts in jeopardy the Nov. 1 completion date, he is to inform the Selectmen.
“This is positive progress,” said a buoyant Stephan after the meeting. “We are moving to a conclusion and a settlement. There’s been a lot of chaffing and raw nerves but now we are moving forward.”
The proposed well would be more than adequate to supply the farm’s needs, said Stephan.
A number of residents spoke in favor of the town billing the farm for water citing fairness to the home and business owners in town who must pay for water.
Stephan has repeatedly indicated that the burden of water bills would most likely force him to give up the farm to developers.
Halpin characterized the Selectmen's action as a compromise.
“There’s a strong sentiment in the community to preserve the farm,” he said after the meeting. “It’s part of the cultural heritage of the town. We have to balance a legitimate effort to bill for the water with preserving the farm.”
“The best solution is for the owner to install a well,” said Giombetti. “The farm would still be connected to town water and the owner understands that if he needs to use town water he would pay the prevailing rate.”
The situation has been simmering since 2010 when the town first installed a water meter at the farm.
For decades, the farm had received free water thanks to handshake agreements that gave the town easements to run pipes across the farm’s pastures.
When the town got around to billing the farm for water this spring it caused a split in the community.
Advocates of preserving the farm took the position that Eastleigh is an asset to the town and should be given some consideration, especially in these dire economic times for all farms. Others contend that everyone who consumes town water should pay.