Hanover considers easement transfer for Lebanon pump station

By FRANCES MIZE

Valley News Staff Writer

Published: 11-30-2023 6:56 PM

HANOVER — The Hanover Selectboard is considering giving conservation easements it holds on 150 acres and six recreation trails in Lebanon to the city.

The easements and trails include the 130-acre Indian Ridge, which abuts the city-managed Boston Lot Conservation Area, and the Pond Conservation Easement, 20 acres off Route 120. The land is within Lebanon’s limits and the easements protect a corridor between Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center and Sachem Village, a housing complex.

Lebanon’s interest in the official acquisition of the easements is for the construction of a booster pump station to connect the Town of Hanover’s water system to DHMC, which would serve as a backup water source should Lebanon’s water supply to the hospital fail, said City Manager Shaun Mulholland.

A conservation easement is a restriction on a deed that limits the use of land, but it doesn’t transfer ownership. Money wouldn’t change hands if the easements were to pass to Lebanon.

The connecting booster pump station, which “has to go on” the Pond easement off Route 120, is budgeted at $800,000, but it’s “looking like it will come in under that,” Mulholland said. The pump will likely be built using American Rescue Plan Act money distributed through the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

Robert Houseman, Hanover’s director of planning and zoning, describes easements as “an encumbrance on other people’s property,” he said. “In this case, the easement we’re referring to are encumbrances on Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Health holdings in Lebanon.”

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Since 1987, the Town of Hanover has been responsible for easements on the land owned by the two entities. The college and the hospital — which moved from downtown Hanover to its current location off Route 120 in Lebanon in 1991 — support the transfer of the easements to Lebanon “because they obviously have a n interest in the interconnect,” Mulholland said.

“And also, why would we not be managing land in our own city?” he asked.

That’s been Hanover’s question too since around 2008, when conversations about the transfers first began.

Initial talk of the transfer stalled out as Lebanon opted to first do an analysis of how it manages its conservation holdings before taking on additional properties.

“Obviously, the town of Hanover having control over land in an adjacent community through a conservation easement is unusual,” Houseman said, particularly because such control entails annual easement monitoring to ensure that the stipulations of the easement are abided by.

Letters from Dartmouth College and Dartmouth Health to Rodrick Finley, Lebanon’s city engineer, note that the construction of the pump station falls a stipulation of the Pond easement that allows for “other limited development.”

The easements also allow for logging on the land, and the construction of trails for walking and skiing, and restrict against vehicular and bicycle use, as well as large-scale development.

Members of the Hanover Conservation Commission go out each year with a representative from Lebanon to walk land in the city’s limits.

“But that’s something we believe should be taken on by the Conservation Commission in Lebanon, or city staff,” he said. “In these properties that we’re identifying here, it’s very rare to see a problem.”

The transfer of the properties to Lebanon comes in a package of 12 other conveyances, including transfers of easements between the Town of Hanover to Dartmouth College, transfers to trustees of Pine Park, a natural area in Hanover, and the release of a deed restriction for a property on Goodfellow Road.

The effort is the first to make use of a new authority granted to the Hanover Selectboard by voters at this year’s Town Meeting.

Previously, transfer of land ownership, including holdings of easements, had to be approved by Town Meeting vote. But last May, expediting what can be a drawn out process, voters gave the Selectboard power to transfer, sell, dispose of and acquire lands.

Any such action, however, must include two public hearings before the Selectboard can vote on the matter.

The second hearing will be held on Dec. 11 at 7 p.m. in Hanover Town Hall, at 41 South Main Street.

The Selectboard is scheduled to vote on the transfers at its Dec. 18 meeting, which starts at 7 p.m.

If the Selectboard approves the transfer, the Lebanon City Council then must vote to accept the easements.

Frances Mize is a Report for America corps member. She can be reached at fmize@vnews.com or 603-727-3242.