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River Road Landowner Seeks Alternative Fix in Lyme



Valley News Staff Writer
Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Lyme — The landowner fighting town efforts to reroute River Road through his Lyme property is now proposing an alternative solution to reconnect the partially closed road.

Arend Tensen, an area attorney and farmer, said his plans to build a bypass on his property could save taxpayers thousands in construction costs, while also sparing much of his 52-acre property from the impact of building a larger town-approved connector road.

Lyme also could forgo further litigation as part of an ongoing court battle to take 5.6 acres of Tensen’s property through eminent domain, he said.

“We see this as a middle ground that can resolve the entire matter and hopefully have River Road open this year,” Tensen said in a phone interview on Tuesday. “It has far less environmental harm and less damage to important farmland, and makes a lot more sense.”

Tensen’s proposal would build a roughly 1,200-foot bypass through his property, connecting both ends with undamaged proportions of River Road, according to Pathways Consulting, the Lebanon-based engineering firm hired by Tensen.

The new proposal is a departure from town plans, which call for a 2,350-foot connection between River Road and East Thetford Road through Tensen’s property, which is used to grow corn for cattle.

The new proposal was presented to the Selectboard and about 12 members of the public last week. That meeting was meant to start a dialogue on the preliminary plans, Tensen said.

The proposal is familiar to many town officials, Selectboard member Sue MacKenzie said. In fact, it was one of the first options they explored when discussing how best to repair River Road.

A nearly 600-foot stretch of the road has been closed since 2015 because of structural concerns primarily blamed on erosion from the Connecticut River.

The roadblock effectively cut the road in two: there’s a short piece running north to East Thetford Road, and a longer portion that runs south to Route 10. Neighbors on the southern end have complained of having to drive long distances through Hanover to reach the rest of town.

“At this point, it is something that we already have considered,” MacKenzie said of Tensen’s plan.

The town’s engineers felt the route wasn’t feasible because of grading issues and wetlands in the surrounding area, she said. Instead, they decided it would be better to divert the road through Tensen’s property.

That decision resulted in residents voting, 161-148, in March to appropriate $755,000 for the road project. Voters also approved taking a portion of Tensen’s property to reconnect River Road.

MacKenzie said the town is still open to striking a compromise, though, so long as plans are structurally sound and safe for drivers. Tensen has agreed to deliver formal designs for the bypass in the coming weeks, she said, and the Selectboard plans to review the proposal at that time.

“If this is a viable proposal, we’ll certainly look at it,” said MacKenzie, who lives on River Road. “We’re just going to wait until we receive those plans.”

Residents of River Road also are awaiting more information. Many appeared skeptical of the project during last week’s meeting, according to Marianne and Hoyt Alverson, who also live on the road.

“We’re very hopeful that they’ve come up with a solution,” Marianne Alverson said on Tuesday, adding the couple also is doubtful that Tensen’s proposal will be the right fix.

Neighbors who live in the area of the proposed bypass have warned that the threat of erosion problems on the section of road is increasing, Marianne Alverson said.

Hoyt Alverson said he was struck by Tensen’s proposal, which was accompanied by talk of town-incurred costs and troubles associated with litigation involving the road.

Tensen has opposed the town’s eminent domain plans, first before the state Bureau of Tax and Land Appeals and now in Grafton County Superior Court.

The case was expected to be heard earlier this month until Judge Lawrence MacLeod recused himself hours before a scheduled hearing. Court officials haven’t provided a reason for the recusal.

“(Tensen) made it clear. They’re not going to allow the town’s proposed bypass to take place and they would tie it up in court indefinitely,” Hoyt Alverson said of last week’s meeting.

However, Tensen contends that he’s trying to find a solution that works for everybody: one that reopens River Road and allows him to maintain his farmland.

As soon as the engineering and design work is completed on his proposal, Tensen said, he will formally bring it before the Selectboard.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.