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Plainfield seeks emergency authorization to shore up River Road

  • Nancy Franklin, left, co-owner of Riverview Farm, asks officials gathered on River Road in Plainfield, N.H., on April 27, 2021, whether they considered moving the road away from the Connecticut River instead of rebuilding the road bed caused by erosion. At center is Executive Councilor Joe Kenney and at right is engineer Erin Darrow. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Geoff Hansen

  • Plainfield Town Administrator Stephen Halleran talks about the town's limited budget to repair the road bed on River Road due to erosion along the Connecticut River in Plainfield, N.H., on April 27, 2021. (Valley News - Geoff Hansen) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com. valley news — Geoff Hansen

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 4/28/2021 8:59:19 PM
Modified: 4/28/2021 8:59:17 PM

PLAINFIELD — Town officials are pushing to fast-track repairs to a roughly 150-foot embankment that’s been eroded by the nearby Connecticut River, hoping to avoid an expensive road-closing collapse.

Engineers last week asked for an emergency authorization from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services that would allow them to shore up the embankment — located between Riverview Farm and McNamara Dairy — without going through a lengthy permitting process.

If action is not taken this summer, officials worry they’ll be forced to take on a costly road reconstruction project that could cut off several Plainfield businesses from Route 12A.

“There’s a concern that failure could happen, and that it’s imminent,” Erin Darrow, owner of New London-based Right Angle Engineering, told more than a dozen people gathered at River Road on Wednesday morning.

Darrow said she was contacted by town leaders a few weeks ago regarding their worries that a portion of the road could fall into the Connecticut.

She added that some efforts to patch problems were attempted last fall but it’s since become clear that a larger project to address the riverbank is needed.

“It’s already starting to slump here. It’s basically being held up by roots,” Darrow said, pointing to a cracked area of pavement.

For the time being, the failing portion of River Road is cordoned off by concrete barriers, creating a small one-lane section.

Darrow was joined Wednesday by members of the Plainfield Selectboard, DES officials, Executive Councilor Joe Kenney and nearby property owners. All agreed that they want the state and town to work out a timely solution.

“We already figure we’re not paving any roads this year because the one chunk of money we’ve got is going into River Road,” Town Administrator Steve Halleran told the crowd.

If the erosion continues unchecked and the problem grows, he said, the town could be forced to seek federal and state aid to help pay for repairs.

“We do not have the money to spend several hundred thousand bucks here. We just don’t,” he said.

Business owners also said they cannot afford to lose easy access to Route 12A, which connects to River Road on its northern end near the Lebanon city line and also several miles south near the Cornish town line. Closing the northern access point to Route 12A would cut off McNamara Dairy and portions of Edgewater Farm, or at least force traffic on a lengthy detour to the south.

“It’s a main thoroughfare for getting raw products in,” Paul Franklin, co-owner of Riverview Farm said after the meeting.

While people would still be able to access his business, Franklin said, trucks that transfer produce between River Road’s many fields would be hampered, as would those taking dairy, maple products and produce to markets in surrounding communities.

“It would be very inconvenient to go the southern route,” he said.

Darrow said she’d like to start repairs in June, once the river recedes to a level that allows contractors better access.

Her early plans include lining the embankment with large rocks. In a best-case scenario, Darrow said, a Meriden contractor could do the work in a week’s time.

However, that will largely depend on how quickly the town can work to compile engineering documents and whether the state decides to issue emergency authorization.

Karl Benedict, supervisor of DES’ public works subdivision, encouraged Darrow to reach out to state conservation officials to see if work could impact endangered species.

He added that town officials also should carefully study a 2019 project to repair Route 12A near River Road after an embankment washed out, undercutting about 400 feet of roadway and uprooting the guardrail.

That state-led effort cost about $2.5 million to complete, but surveys and information compiled then could prove handy to future Plainfield projects, Benedict said.

Darrow also has experience repairing roads affected by the Connecticut River. Her firm designed the rerouting of River Road in Lyme over a 3.7-acre piece after that road faced similar erosion issues.

Darrow said that whatever fix is ultimately approved needs to last. It wouldn’t serve taxpayers to spend money redoing repairs she said.

“Nobody wants to come in here twice,” Darrow said.

Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com or 603-727-3223.




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