State appears ready to back Westboro rail yard cleanup

  • Rymes Propane & Oil's location in the Westboro Railyard in West Lebanon, N.H., on Dec. 21, 2017. (Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 9/2/2021 9:34:46 PM
Modified: 9/2/2021 9:34:55 PM

WEST LEBANON — A little more than four years ago, the executive director of the Lebanon Area Chamber of Commerce sent a letter to New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu asking for help.

The historic Westboro Rail Yard, once a gateway into the city, had become a blight, and after years of wrangling between city and state officials, appeared no closer to a cleanup.

Rob Taylor, a lifelong Upper Valley resident, was sick of looking at the rail yard’s crumbling buildings and wanted Sununu to break the deadlock.

“Why do the residents of Lebanon have to look at this site every day when something can and should be done for the betterment of the entire area and the region?” Taylor asked in the April 2017 letter that he later characterized as a “shot across the bow” of state officials.

Now, it appears Taylor and city councilors, state lawmakers and volunteers who championed the 22-acre site’s cleanup are on the cusp of getting what they want.

The New Hampshire Executive Council is expected this month to vote on an $832,000 effort to demolish the Westboro yard’s four dilapidated buildings — a bunkhouse, roundhouse, sandhouse and chimney — and pave the way for a future public park.

“We could be on the precipice of something big,” Taylor, who now serves as the land use and community development administrator in Enfield, said in his office Thursday.

“It takes something like that cleanup in West Lebanon to sort of really get things rolling,” he added.

City officials think so too. The property’s cleanup, which is aided by an offer from the city to deposit rubble at the Lebanon landfill, is just the first step of efforts to spur redevelopment in West Lebanon.

Once demolition is complete, they hope to lease the site from the New Hampshire Department of Transportation for 100 years.

Ideas for a public park incorporating both riverfront land and where the dilapidated buildings now stand include a playing field, amphitheater and trail along the waterfront that could someday connect to the River Park development along Route 10 and possibly stretch to the Wilder Dam.

DOT officials seem to be on board with many of the plans, according to City Manager Shaun Mulholland, who is charged with negotiating a deal.

So far, he said, the state has agreed to lease Lebanon a strip of land along the Connecticut River along with portions of the rail yard that surround a propane offloading facility.

Even if the park is approved, part of the rail yard could remain in active use.

The city’s request for land for the park will have to go through the state Council of Resources and Development, made up of commissioners and their appointees, and the legislative Long Range Capital Planning and Utilization Committee. It’s possible that will take years, Mulholland warned.

“We’re in a good position at this point,” he said. “Things are moving along effectively.”

But before the city can lease the rail yard, the five-member Executive Council must agree to the demolition.

The state DOT hopes to award the job to Claremont-based Pine Hill Construction, the lower of two bidders that answered an advertisement earlier this year. According to a memo prepared for the council, the job would be complete Nov. 19.

“I don’t see any problems with that contract whatsoever,” Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, said after reviewing the packet.

“It’s been a long process, but I’m glad it’s finally here and we can move forward with this project,” Kenney — who represents the Upper Valley, North Country and parts of the Lakes Region — said of the demolition.

The Executive Council might have to wait until mid-September for the vote, though. That’s because its Wednesday meeting was postponed when Sununu’s office announced he was not feeling well following a trip to Kentucky. The governor took three COVID-19 tests, all of which came back negative.

Patrick Herlihy, director of the DOT’s Bureau of Aeronautics, Rail and Transit, said in an email Thursday that he doesn’t believe the Executive Council postponement will delay completion of the demolition project.

Tim Camerato can be reached at or 603-727-3223.

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