U.S. Guard Parking Expansion Could Impact Lebanon Wetlands

Lebanon — The New Hampshire National Guard is looking to clear just under an acre of wetlands to expand parking at an armory facility on Heater Road, raising concerns from city officials of worsening drainage conditions in what is known to be a flood-prone area.

The Great Hollow Brook runs along the edge of the armory property bordering Route 120 through a channel that is fed via culverts under Heater Road, which flooded during last week’s heavy rains. At Monday’s regular meeting, Planning Board member Nicole Cormen described the land near the facility as a “low functioning wetland that is still functioning surprisingly well for flood storage ... considering what just happened.

“I just get really uncomfortable with clearing what’s basically the only remaining forest (in the area),” Cormen said. “I know it’s not high value — we’re not talking virgin-growth or anything — but these trees actually suck up a lot of water.”

In her comments, Cormen emphasized how much that section of the Route 120 corridor has already been developed, with more construction slated for the near future. In the last year, Hypertherm and Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center have opened new facilities on Heater Road. Two other nearby projects — a hotel and conference center as well an office building and parking garage — have both been approved but are waiting for pending sewer work at the intersection of Route 120 and Etna Road, which is estimated to be completed in less than two years.

At the armory, the National Guard is proposing to update the facility by clearing about 36,000 square-feet of forested wetland in order to make room for an additional 20,000 square-feet of paved parking and 31,000 square-feet of gravel parking , according to estimates from Lebanon Senior Planner David Brooks. The guard is proposing to build two “gravel wetlands” that would serve as rain gardens on the site, which would allow the facility to treat its own stormwater, according to New Hampshire National Guard Captain Logan Kenney.

Kenney said in its current state, rainwater on the property “just sheets off into city domains,” and the facility, built in 1947 according to city records, has not been upgraded since the 1950s.

“Right now, we have no treatment at all on site, but the (rain gardens) would be able to treat our site for an 100-year storm; that’s the theory,” Kenney said.

Because the property is owned by the state, Planning Board members were essentially asking politely for their requests to be considered by the National Guard, without real jurisdiction in the matter. In her comments, Cormen questioned whether the National Guard had considered porous pavement for its parking areas , which would allow water to seep through into the ground.

Kenney said he pushed for a more porous surface for the parking lot, but, “Unfortunately, the technology and the federal government’s acceptance of the technology haven’t met each other yet.” He said the newer paving methods require “a lot of oversight,” and the National Guard’s higher-ups are “very leery of ... going down that road at the moment.”

“Unfortunately, we’re not able to do it,” Kenney said. “It’s too cost-prohibitive.”

Kenney said that the National Guard armory houses Military Police vehicles as well as armored vehicles, which are extremely heavy and move only once a month or so, leading to wear and tear on the pavement. He said that about 250 are assigned to the facility where drills are typically held once a month on a weekend.

Planning Board member Joan Monroe said she was “extremely concerned” with the amount of paving slated for the armory, and given last week’s flooding, she emphasized that vegetation buffers are “the best, the easiest, and the cheapest flood insurance.”

The National Guard will also upgrade its facilities, but city planners said the exterior of the buildings and their footprints would not be affected. Kenney said that the upgrade would be for the facility’s other purpose aside from drilling soldiers, which is to serve as an “emergency release center” in case of disasters.

“Right now, the site is unfit for that and it has been for a while,” Kenney said. “ ... It’s really a relic of the Cold War era in the sense that it’s cheap construction — they just threw it up. We’re trying to bring it back to what the original intent for the property was.”

Lebanon Planning and Zoning Director Andrew Gast-Bray said the National Guard is not required to come back before the Planning Board prior to implementing any of its plans, but he estimated that they would anyway.

“I’m encouraged by the dialogue that we’ve had thus far,” said Gast-Bray. “They’ve seemed very cooperative when they didn’t have to be.”

Ben Conarck can be reached at bconarck@vnews.com or 603-727-3213.