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Dartmouth Buys Rennie Properties

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/16/2017 12:22:01 AM
Modified: 9/16/2017 12:22:14 AM

Hanover — Dartmouth College officials say they have bought five properties around Rennie Farm, the school’s lab waste site, since launching a program to compensate landowners in February.

That makes for an outlay of about $3.4 million in Dartmouth’s ongoing bid to stabilize a market roiled by fears of contamination from the hillside where the medical school buried thousands of pounds of lab animals about 50 years ago.

The value assurance program, as Dartmouth’s real estate initiative is known, allows landowners to apply for reimbursement when they sell their property below market value.

Dartmouth also may buy homes outright if they can’t sell — an arrangement that has led the school to acquire several of the properties located closest to Rennie Farm, a roughly 200-acre tract off Hanover Center Road.

Given the amount of time that has passed and the small sample size available, a Dartmouth official who helps the program, associate general counsel Ellen Arnold, declined to hypothesize on the effect on the local real estate market.

But anecdotally, she said, “the program seems to be doing what we wanted and it seems to have calmed some of the concerns in the neighborhood.”

Concern about potential real estate turmoil in the area was spurred by news almost two years ago that a chemical called 1,4-dioxane had been found in a private residential well on Rennie Road.

Dartmouth officials believe that the 1,4-dioxane, a solvent component that the Environmental Protection agency classifies as a likely human carcinogen, came from Rennie Farm.

An underground “plume” of the substance was traveling through groundwater until January, when officials switched on a system of pumps meant to siphon away and treat the contaminant.

Arnold said one more property was under contract, and after that there were no more requests in the queue. Dartmouth hasn’t yet reimbursed a landowner for an under-value sale to a third party, but only because no one has asked for it, she said.

“We haven’t turned anyone away,” Arnold said. She added later, “We’ve been able to compensate every owner who’s come to us.”

The areas eligible for the value assurance program are limited, however, and some residents have expressed concern that they are being left out despite experiencing skittishness from potential buyers because of Rennie Farm.

Over the past seven months, a group of neighbors calling themselves the North Hanover/Lyme Steering Committee have retained an attorney to persuade Dartmouth to expand the program’s area and make its terms more favorable to homeowners.

Arnold said she and other Dartmouth officials had been in “ongoing discussions” over the last couple of months with the residents’ lawyer, William Walsh of the New York City firm Weitz & Luxenberg.

Still, Dartmouth does not anticipate expanding the number of properties that are eligible — unless it receives some proof that new areas are in direct danger of contamination.

“It was science-based,” Arnold said of the program area, which includes land Dartmouth deems in direct risk, plus a buffer zone, “and based on the investigation that we’ve had ongoing for a number of years.”

Reached by phone on Friday, Walsh declined to comment.

A co-chairwoman of the committee, Hanover resident Ellen Waitzkin, also declined to comment, saying she hadn’t received information about the talks directly.

Arnold on Friday declined to identify the landowners who had received buyouts from Dartmouth through the program so far.

Although it’s unclear which are related to the value assurance program, Grafton County real estate transfer records show that since February, Dartmouth has acquired several properties along Rennie Road, which runs north and east of the waste site, and Hanover Center Road, to the south.

Those include a 1700s-era farmhouse directly across from the entrance to Rennie Farm, a hilltop family home a short distance along Hanover Center Road, and at least one property on Rennie Road beyond the home where the contamination was first found.

The property where 1,4-dioxane first appeared in private drinking water was transferred to Dartmouth this past spring, records show.

The now-former owners of those other properties could not be reached for comment on Friday.

Rob Wolfe can be reached at rwolfe@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.




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