What does a "Yes" vote mean
Why vote Yes?

Why is there a vote on March 8 anyway?

First, the why. 

Why do we have the following question on our March 8th ballot:
"Shall the Town reverse the action of the Town Council taken on November 1, 2021 to remove the Mill Pond Dam?"

  • The question is there because the Durham Town Council voted 7-2 on Sept. 13, 2021 to remove the Mill Pond Dam, and, by extension, drain the Mill Pond impoundment. 
  • Citizens who did not agree with this decision collected over 1000 signatures from registered Durham voters (750 required) to appeal this decision by the Town Council,   a process allowed in our Town bylaws/Charter as a means of checks and balances to our government.
  • This petition, certified by our Town Clerk on October 12, 2021, requested a reversal of the Town Council’s decision.
  • Because we are a representative form of government, the residents agree to let the Town Council make decisions or their behalf. That is why the petition could only request to reverse the Town Council’s decision. 
  • The reason the ballot question states Nov. 1, 2021, is that the Town Council did not want to have a separate special election for this issue, as our Town’s laws (Charter) states that a special election would have to be conducted with 90 days of the certification of the petition signatures.
  • To avoid this special election, the Town Council voted on Nov.1, 2021 to rescind their Sept. 13, 2021 vote and instead just place the matter on the March 8th ballot as stated above (which was actually all we ever wanted, to just let the voters decide!)  

What are we voting for, or against?

Second, the what.

What does a "Yes" vote on March 8th mean? 
A vote of ‘Yes’ means only that you agree the Town Council should not have voted on the issue of dam removal. It doesn’t even mean you necessarily agree with keeping the dam.  It simply means the voters should have decided this issue.

Because we are a representative form of government, a "Yes" vote means that the Town Council must come up with a new plan for the dam, knowing that a majority of the residents either 
    1)  do not want the dam and pond removed, and/or 
    2)  want the voters to decide this issue. The Town Council can then take up the matter in a future meeting and chart a new course for the dam and pond. ·      
The Town Council could: 
  1. Do what other communities have done, and adopt a more collaborative approach, forming a working group comprised of residents to propose alternatives. 
  2. Put out a request for bids (estimates at no charge to the Town) and get several competing bids for dam stabilization.
  3. Select a bid and vote to proceed with dam stabilization, or they could also place a bid, or all the bids, before the voters at the next election. 
  4. Proceed in any manner they deem appropriate because, ultimately, we are a representative form of government. The hope would be that they would proceed in an approach that represents the will of the voters.  

Why you might want to vote "Yes" on March 8, and some questions you might consider:

The Town Council had a Budget Session on November 26, 2018. To provide some high-level context, prior to this meeting, the Town had received a letter of deficiency from the NH Dam Bureau. The Town Administrator, Todd Selig, had proposed for the agenda and 2019 budget adding $300,000 at that time to repair or replace the dam. It was at this meeting that the focus shifted entirely to dam removal. Quotes from that meeting:

  • Todd Selig “My argument to you would be it’s time to remove the dam. From every perspective I evaluate, it’s time to remove the dam, but I wanted you to make that decision.”
  • Councilor Lawson “I would propose that we make a decision in this budget to fund $300,000 for the removal of the dam.”
Durham has spent in excess of $525,000 on 8 studies since 2011 trying to understand 2 things:
  1.  How impaired is the structure of the dam?
  2.  Why is the Mill Pond impaired?
In 2014, after spending $124,000 on the first 4 studies we knew the following fact as stated in this following quote from the 2014 study: 
  • TP (Total Phosphorus) concentrations in College Brook were three to four times higher than those observed upstream. Although flows are lower in College Brook than the Oyster River, reductions in phosphorus inputs to College Brook will be critical in the long term to reducing phosphorus concentrations in Mill Pond.”                
Before you decide on how to vote on March 8th, stop and think about the quote above. 

You might ask yourself before you vote, if we knew this in 2014, then why did we keep spending more money, in excess of $400,000, doing 4 more studies? Before you try to answer that, consider this: The Mill Pond is impaired to such a degree that it is on the List of Impaired waterways, commonly called the 303(d) list. It is on that list for 3 impairments: Dissolved oxygen, phosphorous, and chlorophyll. Once a state designates a water body as impaired, the EPA has oversight. Once a water body has been added to a state’s list of impaired waters it stays there until the state develops a Total Maximum Daily Load (TMDL), approved by the EPA, that ultimately needs to be achieved for each type of impairment. The goal is to meet the required water quality parameters as spelled out in the EPA Clean Water Act. Once a TMDL is developed, a water body is no longer on the 303(d) list, but it is still tracked by the state and the EPA until the water quality is fully restored.

There are  3 main feeder sources to the Mill Pond: the Oyster River, Hamel Brook and College Brook (which runs through UNH, with large sections of it paved over). Hamel Brook and the Oyster River are either not impaired or not impaired as much as College Brook. College Brook is also listed on the 303(d) list as impaired for the same reasons as the Mill Pond. A 2018 study found that nitrogen load (which results in increased Phosphorous and decreased Oxygen) is predominately coming from Commercial sources in UNH and downtown Durham, (i.e., all the recent development). And it is worth noting the impairment to the Mill Pond has been a recent development in the past 2 decades, corresponding to the development. 

In 2018 the MS-4 Permit was approved by the EPA. MS4 stands for Municipal Separate Storm Sewer System. Its intent is to put measures in place to identify and address non-point sources of pollution, like runoff from pavement, fields, lawns, etc. Once this was issued, towns, like Durham (which falls under the MS-4 permit based on its population/geography size), started to worry how they were ever going to address the impairment in the Mill Pond. The best high-level description we found for what the MS-4 permit is came from this government website:, “The MS4 permit is a regulation that will require certain regulated communities to clean up what are termed impaired waterways.” 

One could easily surmise after reading the above that it is going to be difficult for the Town to address the actual problems that lead to the impairment. Certainly, any solution would have to involve UNH. One might also surmise, as we believe the Town may have, if we remove the dam, then the impaired impoundment disappears. But the reality is that the actual cause of the impairment, College Brook, will now simply flow into the Great Bay estuary. 

The Mill Pond serves as a retention pond for the Town and UNH. Thanks to the dam we can see we have an issue in need of just and sensible resolution.  Removing the dam merely sidesteps the problem and seems to get the Town off a hook it needs to address rather than evade per the EPA’s goals with its Clean Water Act. 

We think a much better approach, and certainly the more environmentally appropriate action, is to address the cause of the impairment, not just eliminate the "impaired" waterway. 

So, A "Yes" vote on March 8th will begin the process of actually initiating the correct environmentally correct approach

If you are still not convinced, consider this ONE FACT from Table 3.3-3 Summary of Findings - Ecological Screening Assessment of Sediment Sample Analytical Results on page 60 of VHB’s November 2020 study:

 “Of the 18 sediment samples taken from the Mill Pond and Upstream, 11 showed high risk of adverse effects to ecological receptors for PAHs (Polynuclear Aromatic Hydrocarbons).  17 of 18 samples showed high risk of adverse effects to ecological receptors for Metals (arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury).” 

To summarize that fact, consider the definition of a ‘receptor’, it’s a “human or other living organism with the potential to be exposed to and adversely affected by contaminants”. ·

Consider these health impacts of PAH’s: Polynuclear aromatic hydrocarbons are extremely important because they are associated with genetic damage and diseases. Also, the compounds persist in the environment, leading to increased problems over time. PAHs are toxic to aquatic life. In addition to toxicity, these compounds are often mutagenic, carcinogenic, and teratogenic. Prenatal exposure to these chemicals is associated with lowered IQ and childhood asthma.

Now consider this: 
  • 60% of the sediment samples “showed high risk of adverse effects to ecological receptors for PAHs”. 
  • 94% of the sediment samples “showed high risk of adverse effects to ecological receptors for Metals (arsenic, cadmium, chromium, lead, and mercury).”
Why vote "Yes"?
Think Erin Brockovich.