Lyme Reaches Tentative Agreement With Landowner to Re-Open River Road

Valley News Staff Writer
Thursday, February 08, 2018

Lyme — The Selectboard on Thursday reached a tentative agreement with the owner of farmland along River Road to build a new route for a closed section of the road.

Town leaders and residents Arend Tensen and David Roby say their arrangement, made during a Selectboard meeting on Thursday morning, could open River Road by the end of the year, if engineering details work out.

A 600-foot stretch of the residential road has been closed since 2015 because of erosion caused by the nearby Connecticut River, forcing residents and town workers south of the barrier to take long detours to reach the heart of Lyme.

“All residents on River Road are very happy with this development,” Selectwoman Sue MacKenzie, who herself is a River Road resident, said on Thursday. “We only hope the engineering shows that it’s feasible.”

Tensen, the property owner, and Roby, who has the development rights, have been fighting an earlier plan of the town’s to divert River Road through the middle of the 52-acre parcel. MacKenzie said a new proposal from Right Angle Engineering of New London might make it possible to move the problem stretch of road roughly 50 feet to the east, away from the river, sparing much of the land and reducing costs.

“I’m very happy to be finding a solution that I think is the best proposal I’ve heard yet by far,” Tensen said on Thursday afternoon.

During that morning’s meeting, Tensen agreed to let town contractors visit the land and conduct tests to make sure their proposed method would work. A rock ledge stands to the east of the blocked section of River Road, and clearing it away with dynamite, which had appeared to be the only option before, could further endanger the unstable riverbank — and possibly some nearby homes, according to Erin Darrow of Right Angle Engineering.

Rather than use explosives, Darrow said, the town could bore holes into the rock and insert an expandable material that could fracture the ledge, making it much easier to remove.

“We feel very optimistic that there is an alternative approach that will cost a lot less than other estimates and that will be safe,” she said in a phone interview after the Selectboard meeting.

Darrow added that more data samples are needed to make sure that this technique would work.

Tensen said he and Roby would be willing to donate the 1.5 acres needed for this smaller-scale reroute if the plan proved feasible.

Tensen added, however, that his agreement was conditional on the plan’s workability and his ability to review and sign off on it.

“I’m very certain everything’s going to be fine,” he said, “but I have to make sure I agree with everything.”

Meanwhile, an eminent domain case has been making its way through the courts. The town has been seeking to take some of Tensen’s land for the longer bypass it originally proposed and ratified at last year’s Town Meeting, and he has been fighting to stop it.

Last month he proposed an alternative bypass that, while shorter than the town’s proposed route, would have looped farther east than the plan now under consideration.

MacKenzie said the court case could be put on hold as the newest option develops.

She also noted that the Town Meeting resolution, which made available $755,000 for a bypass, could give the town authority to pursue this simpler solution rather than the longer route it first put forward.

Residents, meanwhile, expressed excitement at the prospect of reconnecting the road within a year.

“I am really looking forward to re-engaging with East Thetford and the center of Lyme, including meeting up with old friends who are hard to stay in touch with now,” said Hoyt Alverson, who lives south of the barrier and has been avoiding roundabout trips to town.

“There’s been a price paid by everyone for this closure,” he added. “It just drives everything to a halt.”

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