Article 27 on this spring’s Ipswich Town Meeting would require ballot approval for Open Space purchases over $500,000, following Town Meeting approval of the expenditure. While the article may be well-intentioned, requiring a redundant special election would entail considerable time and taxpayer expense, circumvents the intention of previous Town Meetings, and would cripple the cost-effectiveness of the program.
The Ipswich Open Space, Recreation, and Water Supply Protection Fund was approved by Town Meeting in the spring of 2000 with a $10 million authorization.
The Open Space Bond made it possible a year later for Ipswich to partner with Essex County Greenbelt, the DEP, and the Town of Topsfield to protect a 40 acre lot on Topsfield Rd. surrounded by Willowdale State Forest that was slated for development. The town’s part was $300,000 of the $2,500,000 expenditure. The popular Willowdale trail system is maintained by the DEP at no expense to the town.
In the fall of 2001, a Special Town Meeting approved purchase of 91 acres on Jeffreys Neck Road, with assistance from the Trust for Public Land and reimbursements from state and federal funds. The popular Strawberry Hill trail leads to two small islands, winding through a scenic coastal landscape that would have been lost through development.
In 2003, the Town purchased a parcel between Mile Land and High Street with over 800’ of frontage on Dow Brook, a primary source of municipal drinking water. After reimbursement from a Massachusetts Division of Conservation Services Grant, the Town’s cost for the Dow Brook Conservation Area was approximately $150,000. Its paths are a link in the Bay Circuit trail, maintained by the Essex County Trail Association.
In 2007 the Town established the 85.5 acre Great Neck Conservation Area adjacent to Clark Pond to protect coastal wetlands and migratory bird habitat. After a $846,000 reimbursement from the US Fish and Wildlife Service and $554,000 from the Commonwealth of Massachusetts, the net cost to the Open Space Bond of the nearly $1.7 million purchase was $283,000.
In 2011, Town Meeting approved an additional $5 million Bond Authorization, specifying a need for recreational land acquisition. Last fall the Open Space Committee partnered with Essex County Greenbelt to obtain the former Pony Express fields for that purpose, and a special Town Meeting overwhelmingly approved the sale. At no cost to the town, the vulnerable headwaters of the Castle Neck River will be managed by Mass DEP and Greenbelt, whose contributions made the purchase possible.
The foresight of the 2000 and 2011 Town Meetings in establishing and continuing the Open Space Bond Authorization are why the Town has been able to work with state and environmental organizations, securing more in outside funding than we have spent. The ability to respond is a primary purpose of the Bond, and is the reason we have $6 million remaining after having protected over 700 acres of pristine Ipswich land that would have been lost forever to development. The Open Space Program as designed is an overwhelming success.
Gordon Harris, member, Ipswich Open Space Committee