CHATHAM – In the mid 1980s, it was clear that the town's drinking water system needed to be expanded, but the private company that owned it lacked the resources to undertake such a project. In 1985 the town purchased the system, but to oversee the ambitious goal of extended municipal water to most of the town, the right person needed to be found.
It wasn't easy, but selectmen persuaded long-time finance committee member William Schweizer to take on the task.
“He had expertise from his construction and engineering background to do the expansion,” recalled Town Moderator William Litchfield, then a member of the board of selectmen. “He did a tremendous job.”
Mr. Schweizer, generally regarded as the architect of the water system expansion, died Nov. 13. He was 92.
Along with expanding the newly-acquired water system, Mr. Schweizer also began the modernization of the town's sewer system, which at the time served just the downtown area. And as a long-time board member and former president of the Chatham Conservation Foundation, he helped to secure open space that helped protect well fields and watersheds.
“We knew we needed to engage in trying to protect the water supply for the town,” said Andrew Young, a former selectman and Conservation Foundation board member. “There isn't going to be any other source.”
Less than half the town was served by the Chatham Water Company when the town purchased it. In some parts of town where there were small lots, problems were beginning to crop up with contamination of private wells.
“He saw pretty early on that expanding the public water supply was important” and that despite concerns about the expansion allowing more development, the failure to protect the water supply also had costs, Young said.
Mr. Schweizer served on the water and sewer commission from 1987 until 1991, by which time the water system had been extended to more than 80 percent of the town. Today nearly 100 percent of businesses and residences are served by town water.
Mr. Schweizer began serving on the finance committee in 1968. Litchfield said he was “remarkably competent and complex, a detail-oriented wizard with numbers.” He recalled Mr. Schweizer carrying a large binder filled with financial documents, and he would grill town officials on spending requests calling on his deep knowledge of previous budgets.
“Bill was a smart guy and willing to do the math to really think about the implications, the cost of various proposals,” Young said.
Mr. Schweizer received a degree in civil engineering from Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute in 1949. He served in the Army from 1954 to 1956 and ran a development company, working mostly in the Sandwich area.
“He cared deeply about the community,” Litchfield said, adding that Mr. Schweizer was also active in AFS and the Eldredge Public Library. “Bill was a wonderful asset to the community in just a variety of ways.”
Contributions in Mr. Schweizer's memory can be made to the Chatham Conservation Foundation, Inc. and the Eldredge Public Library.