Only someone who had never seen it would forget to put Gregg Lake on a map of Antrim -- or contemplate making it radioactive. It's a crystal gem wrapped in green hills, its silky waters fed by mountain springs.
But the folks at the Department of Energy never saw Antrim. Only someone who hadn't been in the Monadnocks area of southwestern New Hampshire would see it as a nuclear waste dump site. Antrim gets off comparatively easy. Washington, 15 miles northwest, gets wiped out, as does most of Hillsborough; and Bradford and Windsor might as well be nuked, too.
I should explain about Antrim. You haven't heard about it, and we who love it are just as glad. Hancock, five miles south, is almost painfully picturesque and aware of being the site of "Our Town." We're not as big as Hillsborough, or as chic as Peterborough. But we are beautiful and simple, and as Mary Allen says -- she's on the task force to foil the federals from turning her town into an outhouse for the nuclear power industry -- "we never wanted to be a museum. We live in our history."
Antrim, you learn from a rock set on the rise in the road on the edge of town, was founded in 1755 by James Aiken, a veteran of Roberts' Rangers. It was incorporated in 1777, and the rock tells you that every man except one "marched to the call of Lexington." Isabel Nichols, the town librarian and drama coach, assures me that that one man actually did join up later.
We have the Goodell cutlery factory, gorgeous air, superlative drinking water and no end of civic spirit -- everyone pitches in. As Beverly Tenney, matriarch of the Tenney family, which has lived and farmed in Antrim since 1792, says, "Historic New England is no place to put something like that."
Keith Boatright, a retired Navy captain who picked Antrim from all the places he had seen in a lifetime's roving, just got the federals off his land -- they wanted to build a hydroelectric power plant on the North River. Now, newly elected to the Board of Selectmen, he's doing battle again. His wife, Jan, is a volunteer with the Citizens' Task Force, which was formed in Hillsborough within days of the shocking announcement that the area had the dubious distinction of being one of 12 possible dump sites.
"How much can you trust their promises about safe deposit when their map shows 202 as a four-lane highway, and they leave off the town water supply?" asks Mark Tenney. "I just want to see those waste trucks going over the frost heaves in the road in the spring."
The officials of DOE's crystalline repository section made no field trip. They just fed geological literature about New Hampshire's granite formations into their computers and came up with the awful idea of cutting a swath of 78 square miles through those lovely hills. The one amenity they observed was to cut out a grid to preserve the birthplace of Franklin Pierce, our 14th president.
They propose to dig a 400-acre surface site, dig down 2,000 feet and construct underground tunnels to hold the canisters with the nuclear waste. They will commandeer a control zone, with fences and watchtowers, of up to 20,000 acres. The "public comment" period ends April 16. The comment that greeted two representatives of DOE at a wild, jammed February meeting in Henniker came in the form of shouts, jeers and hisses until 2 a.m.
"They don't know anything about the water movement in the rock," says Boatright, "or the Ossippee fault. We have documented 2,500 wells in this area. The veins of water in the granite go for miles and miles. If those canisters leak, our water supply is contaminated."
Antrim put the opposition to the proposed nuclear dump on the warrant of its annual town meeting. The word "production" was deleted from the article at the behest of conservatives who didn't want to "muddy the waters about Seabrook," the nuclear power plant scheduled to open in September, and produce more radioactive waste. Outrage over the proposed dump unites all from the Clamshell Alliance to the Daughters of the American Revolution. Antrimites complain that Seabrook's most vociferous advocate, Gov. John H. Sununu, isn't nearly as militant as is Maine's Gov. Joseph E. Brennan, who is leading the charge against two proposed sites in his state.
Antrim residents voted an antiwaste war chest of $9,000 -- that's $5 for every man, woman and child in its current census.
If Antrim stays on DOE's list, it will be five years of suspense and falling property values before residents know their fate. Says Dick Edmunds of Edmunds Hardware: "I put my whole life here, and now I don't know if I can stay."