Water dominates Plainville’s politics these days.
The issue is not new in the town, which has faced water restrictions for more than 10 years. Several recent efforts to alleviate the shortage have raised objections, however, including sending water from a contaminated well to a North Attleborough treatment plant that fluoridates water.
To allow the treatment plan to go forward, the Plainville Board of Health voted to begin fluoridating the town’s water. But a group of residents, who call themselves Plainville Citizens for Safe Drinking Water, are fighting the move. They have gathered signatures from more than 10 percent of the town’s citizens, forcing the issue onto the April 1 ballot.
So, it’s no surprise that water dominated the candidates’ forum sponsored last week by the North Attleborough-Plainville Chamber of Commerce.
Voters who packed the selectmen’s tiny chamber listened to the six candidates competing for spots on the Board of Selectmen, the Board of Health, and the Water-Sewer Commission. They heard much debate about the ballot’s sole referendum question: Should the town fluoridate its water?
”In all the  years I’ve lived here, I’ve never seen so many upset citizens,” said Board of Health candidate Richard V. Flynn, who is challenging incumbent Timothy J. Pac. ”Groups are forming all over town, people are standing up, organizing, and saying, `Let’s take our town back.”’
Fluoridation and a second water issue – the town’s decision to cut a deal with the Shepardville Realty Trust to place additional wells near Lake Mirimichi – dominated the Water-Sewer Commission debate last week and was discussed in the other two debates.
The town paid Shepardville nearly $1 million for eight acres and agreed to have the planning board reconsider a 65-lot subdivision that the panel had vetoed. Residents on Hillside Road, which abuts the new wells and proposed subdivision, were upset. One Hillside Road resident, David Nelson, decided to challenge Michael A. Stoffel, an incumbent water and sewer commissioner.
Nelson denied that he was a one-issue candidate and said that his goal is not to stop the Lake Mirimichi wells from going on line.
This prompted Stoffel to say Nelson was ”flip-flopping” because he had previously said his goal was to stop the wells. Later, Nelson denied having said that, but acknowledged that he had expressed concerns about potential contamination of wells from two nearby polluted sites.
Stoffel, who has been on the commission since 1993, said that since the state Department of Environmental Protection’s tests of the wells indicate no threat from the polluted sites, the wells should be brought on line.
”Four hundred thousand gallons of water will be added per day if [the Lake Mirimichi] wells are brought on line,” Stoffel said. ”It will help meet our peak water demands and help with fire [fighting] flows.”
Water did not dominate the Board of Health debate, but it was an issue. Flynn said the Board of Health and other town boards were disrespecting the residents who gathered 545 signatures to put the fluoride question on the ballot, because the fluoridation plan has already been put into effect.
Pac said that Plainville had asked North Attleborough to hold off on fluoridating the water, but when that town didn’t do so, Plainville decided to accept the water because the water shortage is a ”larger issue.”
Flynn responded, ”We hate being marginalized, we hate being pushed aside, and that is what is happening here.”
Pac said, ”I don’t want to leave people with the impression that we haven’t involved citizens. … We have.”
The candidates also discussed air and noise pollution generated by the Plainville Truck Stop on Route 1. Flynn said he felt the Board of Health needed to work with the truck stop’s owners to control the pollution. Pac said that is already being done, and that the state has been brought in to do testing, but that the situation will not be easy to resolve.
The only race without an incumbent is the contest to replace Selectman Charles Smith, who decided not to run after two terms on the board. In that race, a veteran of Plainville politics, Robert H. Fennessy Jr., who was defeated in 1997 after two terms as a selectman, is taking on newcomer Arthur Sarkisian, who urged more citizen involvement in local politics.
”It’s true I have no political experience, but I have a strong business background. … I run a business [Hurd Chevrolet & Buick in Johnston, R.I.] that grosses over $40 million a year, and a town is nothing more than a business. There has to be fiscal responsibility,” Sarkisian said.
In addition to his previous civic service, Fennessey said he would also bring municipal experience from his job as Boylston’s town administrator. Fennessey asked Sarkisian if he had ever been to a selectmen’s meeting. Sarkisian said no.
Sarkisian asked Fennessey if his allegiance would be with Boylston or Plainville. Fennessey answered Plainville. ”It’s no different than any other job,” he said. ”Between 8 a.m. and 5 p.m., my allegiance is there, but the rest of the time it’s here.”
The two disagreed about converting the Beatrice Wood School into a town hall. Sarkisian said the town couldn’t afford the project and should instead sell or rent out the former school. Fennessey said the current Town Hall is much too small and should be replaced. He said the hall could be sold or rented out to help pay for converting the school.
Candidates agreed on many other topics. They said they were opposed to the Plainridge Race Track, but were prepared to live with it. The candidates said they would work to prevent Proposition 21/2 overrides, but would support one if it were needed.