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Lyme Officials Say River Road Plans on Hold

Valley News Staff Writer
Published: 12/1/2017 11:53:30 PM
Modified: 12/6/2017 6:27:37 PM

Lyme — Plans to relocate a portion of River Road in Lyme to make it a through road again are on hold as a Grafton County Superior Court judge decides whether the town can take 5.6 acres of private property through eminent domain.

Town officials want the land to build a bypass around 600 feet of River Road, which was deemed unsafe and closed nearly two years ago.

But the landowner contends the project isn’t necessary and doesn’t warrant the damage that would be done to agricultural soils and wildlife habitat if the project were completed.

“I didn’t ask for this fight but I believe it is a mistake to put this road, this extensive road, through this important wildlife corridor and farmland,” said Arend Tensen, the owner of the property, which consists of about 40 acres.

The town filed a “declaration of taking” on Tensen’s property in April, shortly after Town Meeting, when residents voted, 161-148, to appropriate $755,000 for the bypass project.

Tensen filed an objection with the state Bureau of Tax and Land Appeals, moving the matter to Superior Court.

“There has to be a cheaper, more sensible solution than what’s been proposed so far,” said Tensen, a Lebanon attorney, adding he would like the town to return to the drawing board.

“I would just like to find a solution that works for everybody,” he said.

However, town officials view the bypass project as the best available option to reopen a section of the road south of the East Thetford Bridge that was closed in 2015 after engineers found signs of significant erosion underneath.

Area officials have since pointed to operation of the Wilder Dam as the culprit, and blamed associated fluctuating water levels for undermining the road’s integrity. The dam’s owners have contested that notion.

The road has continued to erode, Lyme Selectboard member Sue MacKenzie said on Thursday. Other portions of the road also are showing signs of erosion, compromising its integrity and worrying officials that homes could be cut off, said MacKenzie, who herself lives on River Road.

While the road is closed, residents have been forced to take long detours — sometimes driving to Hanover — to get home.

Although the closing represents an inconvenience to residents, there is no need to build the bypass, said David Roby, who previously owned the land Tensen farms off River Road through a trust. 

Municipalities are allowed to exercise eminent domain only when there is a necessity to take land, Roby said.

“River Road functions perfectly well as a dead-end road,” he said.

Some also might regard the closing of the road as an improvement, Roby said, noting that it had been used as a shortcut for commuters coming from Thetford.

“That traffic’s gone,” he said. “It’s a tremendous change for the positive, I think.”

MacKenzie said the town will continue to fight for the bypass, saying the court has yet to issue a hearing date.

Lyme officials also are making another attempt at recouping some of the costs spent repairing the road.

Earlier this month, the town filed a request to the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission, asking it to force Great River Hydro to pay about $510,000 for road repairs.

Great River Hydro purchased the Wilder, Bellows Falls and Vernon, Vt., dams from the previous owner, TransCanada Hydro Northeast, last year. The company is now before FERC to relicense the dams.

“Back when the initial license for the dam was given, the dam operators had to elevate River Road and reconstruct it in several areas,” MacKenzie said.

When that was happening in the 1940s and ’50s, she said, there was an understanding the dam owners were responsible for the condition of River Road. The town would like that historic understanding to continue, she said.

Great River Hydro has yet to respond to the request in FERC filings, but a similar letter sent to TransCanada last year wasn’t fruitful.

The dam companies have argued the Wilder Dam isn’t responsible for the erosion experienced on River Road, and have continued to release studies showing only “flood discharges” are capable of reducing the Connecticut River’s banks.

“Needless to say, we completely disagree with the recent studies by Great River Hydro,” MacKenzie said.

  Tim Camerato can be reached at tcamerato@vnews.com.

Correction

Lyme resident Arend Tensen g rows corn on land that may be taken under eminent domain in an effort to reroute River Road. An earlier version of this story incorrectly described who farms the land. 




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