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Town Meeting: Lyme opts to keep public access for Old River Road

  • Lyme, N.H., resident Inger Imset listens during Town Meeting, held on the Lyme Common on Saturday, May 15, 2021. Ballot clerks Marya Klee, left, and Kris Pekala check voters in for the meeting. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News — Jennifer Hauck

  • Lynn McRea, of Lyme, N.H., asks a question during Town Meeting, held on the Lyme Common on Saturday, May 15, 2021. Sitting beside her is her husband, Michael Whitman, who was this year's Lyme citizen of the year recipient. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Jill Muntz, of Lyme, N.H., follows the discussion during Lyme's Town Meeting, held on the town common on Saturday, May 15, 2021. Behind her are Dan Kovarik and Kristin Clark, who moved to Lyme just this week. ( Valley News - Jennifer Hauck) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. Valley News photographs — Jennifer Hauck

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 5/15/2021 10:44:34 PM
Modified: 5/15/2021 10:44:33 PM

LYME — By a narrow margin, Lyme voters have decided to turn Old River Road into a public trail that would also allow vehicular access to landowners.

But in choosing to retain the entire town right of way, voters have again put the town at odds with Arend Tensen, who owns land along River Road and who had hoped the town would give up the old road’s southbound lane, which is more severely undercut by the neighboring Connecticut River.

Residents who voted five years ago to establish a bypass of the damaged roadway along the river, and turned around and voted Saturday to make the full width of the road into a public trail are “hypocrites,” Tensen, a farmer and personal injury lawyer, told his fellow townspeople.

“Let’s be consistent,” he said. “Let’s use one lane for a trail.”

The debate over Old River Road took place on a fine day to hold Town Meeting under a tent on the town common. In addition to debating at great length what to do with 1,053 feet of a road that the town spent more than $500,000 to bypass two years ago, Lyme residents approved a $2.5 million municipal budget, a $7.5 million school budget and a variety of other articles, most of them financial.

One article, a proposal to replace the elected overseer of public welfare with one appointed by the Selectboard, went down in defeat by voice vote.

The meeting warrant included two proposals for Old River Road, one that would have discontinued the lane closest to the river and turned the other lane into a Class B trail, which would have allowed only foot and bicycle traffic, and one that would have turned the entire roadway into a Class A trail, which allows vehicle access.

Selectboard Chair Judith Brotman proposed an amendment to the first option to make the trail Class A, rather than Class B. That option would have given the western lane of the roadway back to the landowners, while still retaining a 12-foot-wide trail for public use and vehicle access.

After debate, voters opted to table that proposal in favor of debating the full-width Class A trail that was approved by a ballot vote of 75-66, rendering the other plan moot.

Residents expressed concern that if the former roadway was going to be used as a trail it would need parking, but an effort to amend one of the plans to include parking failed in a voice vote.

Tensen said that if the town was willing to give up one lane of the road, he’d be willing to donate land for parking. That offer now seems unlikely.

The town’s Conservation Commission preferred to keep the full width of the road as a trail.

“The town has a rare opportunity to create public space along the river,” Blake Allison, the commission’s chairman, said during the meeting.

“I don’t think we should be talking about privatizing long-standing public access to a beautiful spot,” resident Hoyt Alverson said.

After the meeting, Tensen said he supports establishing a trail, but the town’s decision to hold the full width of the right of way “does limit how I can use my property.”

The River Road debate began in 2015, when a stretch of the road was closed due to erosion from the river. Tensen, who owns 52 acres, and the town ended up in court over a proposed bypass, eventually settling on a deal under which the town paid Tensen $87,500 for an easement over 3.7 acres of his land. The bypass opened in 2019.

That deal didn’t include the disposition of the closed road. Tensen was hoping the voters, hypocrites or no, would see fit to give him the land under one lane of the road.

“I’m not willing to cooperate with the town when they continually disregard my property rights,” he said.

Selectboard member Ben Kilham sees this as a possible end of the road, so to speak.

“I don’t feel the town should be expending any future money on it,” he said.

Any work on the trail would be paid for by private donations, Brotman said.

Board members said the town would have no liability to maintain the trail, though it will remain a public right of way.

Meanwhile, erosion is likely to continue.

“What happens in the future is up to the river,” resident and school district moderator Bill Waste said.

In other business

■The Lyme Foundation named Michael Whitman as its Citizen of the Year and voters gave him a standing ovation.

“I don’t have anything to say except ‘Thank you,’ ” Whitman said. “This is the best place in the world to be and I’m very. very grateful. Thank you.”

■The Selectboard amended the town budget to add $103,000 as part of a tax assessment settlement with FairPoint Communications, now known as Consolidated Communications.

Lyme had been among dozens of New Hampshire towns taken to court by the telecom company over the town’s assessments of the company’s infrastructure.

“It’s not a great settlement,” Selectboard member David Kahn said. But “if we were to continue to litigate, there would be a good chance that we would lose.”

The total settlement is for $200,000, with a second payment to be made next year.

■The Lyme School Board elected to use money from a variety of reserve funds to reduce the tax impact of the budget, including $243,000 from a high school tuition fund.

The resulting budget is nearly $280,000 higher than the current year’s, an increase of around 3.8%.

■Everyone in attendance wore a mask during the meeting but removed them to speak into the microphones, which were wiped down between speakers.

Alex Hanson can be reached at ahanson@vnews.com or 603-727-3207.




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