Conservation easements take center stage with selectmen


by Tim Croes
Staff Writer - The Baysider
December 18, 2013
ALTON — The Alton Board of Selectmen met on Wednesday, Dec. 11, and discussed conservation easements near Mount Major, police grants and the Emergency Management 911 Notification System.

The board was missing members Bob Daniels and Cydney Johnson during the meeting.

The board discussed three parcels in town that are being proposed to become conservation easements. The three plots include a 75-acre parcel near the Mount Major trailhead, 100 acres between Mount Major and Straightback and a 450-acre parcel near the end of Reed Road.

Russ Wilder, the head of the Belknap Range Conservation Coalition, Tom Howe, of the New Hampshire Forrest Society (NHFS) and Earl Bagley, the Chairman of the Alton Conservation Commission (ACC), discussed the three parcels.

Howe explained that the three access agreements would cost $230,000 and would come from the land use tax. Howe explained the main reason for putting the parcels into conservation would be to remove the development rights from the parcels.

Chairman Loring Carr questioned the language on what activities were allowed. Howe explained that mountain biking, ATVs or horseback riding could be allowed, but aren't guaranteed. Howe said it was important to establish a minimum that is guaranteed that includes hiking, walking, snowshoeing and snowmobiling on the trails.

Member Dave Hussey asked about putting a zipline on the property, and Howe said the NHFS could consider any proposal.

Howe said without conservation, any of the private landowners could wake up and say I'm done with the public using my property. Howe reported that 98 percent of the property is privately owned in the area around Mount Major.

Howe said concerns over the parking area, trash and toilet facilities could be addressed in the future if the NHFS takes over the parcels.

Bagley talked about the fire department having to perform rescues and said the fire department could be up much more often than it is now.

Carr suggested that language be added to the agreement that allows for the ACC to meet annually with the NHFS. Carr also suggested that the ACC should be consulted about any major changes to the trails.

The actual acreage of the three parcels is 468 acres, 107 acres and approximately 75 acres. The third parcel hasn't been surveyed.

The total fundraising goal for the project is $1.8 million and Wilder reported that $940,000 has already been raised. Howe reported that the total purchase price for the three parcels is $1,050,000.

Howe said that the third parcel isn't a done deal, but a contract has been created for all three parcels with the three owners. Howe said he could get a guarantee from the director of the NHFS about the third parcel. He said the NHFS has closed on every major project it has committed to.

The board voted by a 2-1 vote to approve the $230,000 for the easements, with Hussey opposing over concerns that the deal could fall through, and Carr and member Marc DeCoff voting in favor.

Russ Bailey, the town administrator, reported that two monitoring wells have been installed on the Dahl property near the landfill. He said that manganese and arsenic levels were high, but that there were was no volatile organic compounds (VOC) contaminations found in the testing. DeCoff questioned when the property could be subdivided and Bailey said it would be up to the board.

The board discussed the heating in the west side restrooms and approved fixing the furnace at a cost of $2,500, with the option at looking at heat pumps running with electricity.

The board also approved purchasing new tires for the loader at the transfer station. The old foam filled tires will be sold for $1,000 and new tires will cost $7,587.

Bailey reported that the Belknap County Commissioners would like to meet with the selectmen and he said he would try and schedule a meeting in January.

The board approved updating the tax maps, at a cost of $2,625.

During public input, Jeffrey Clay questioned the recent review by town attorney Jim Sessler about Daniels sending e-mails to members of the budget committee. Clay felt it was only a violation if action was taken through e-mail. He felt the board owed Daniels an apology, and felt there wasn't a violation of the Right to Know law. He also questioned the town referring matters to Sessler as often as they do because of the cost. He also questioned holding a meeting via telephone.

The board approved the minutes of the Nov. 4 and Nov. 18 meetings.

Police Chief Ryan Heath came before the board to discuss police grants. The grants will pay for a digital camera and fix-mount tablets and a mobile computer system in the cruisers. Heath said the grants are matching 50/50 grants. A total of $38,803.07 will be coming from the asset forfeiture fund and $9,200 will be coming from the operating budget. Heath said that systems would provide time savings and reduce legal expenses, and the board approved the grants.

The board discussed the special event application by the St. Katharine Drexel Church for a 5k road race. Heath said police presence is needed for the race, and he noted that the race also has a 10k loop. The board approved the special event application with adequate police details required.

Lieutenant Todd MacDougall gave the board an example of the Emergency Management 911 Notification System. Messages or texts can be sent to cell phones and messages can be left on land line phones. Land line phones are automatically signed up, and people with cell phones or who are interested in receiving messages via e-mail can sign up at www.nhe911.org/selfregistration.

Bailey talked about improvements to the town Web site. Changes will be coming in the next couple of months. Bailey reported that meeting videos are available on the town Web site.

The board approved a final contract for finishing the roof on the new construction and demolition section at a cost of $40,200.

The board approved a request from the fire chief for an additional $7,500 to $8,000 needed for ambulance coverage for the remainder of the year. The money is available from the fire department operating budget.

DeCoff said he would like to see the cost of the rescues at Mount Major. He pointed out that people can't be charged during a rescue unless they are transported from the scene.

The board approved items from the town assessor, including abatements, administrative abatements, an excavation permit and a timber warrant.

The board also approved allowing the housing for elderly on Spruce Street to pay only the town portion of the tax rate.

The board approved a special primary on Jan. 21 for the opening on the executive council. An additional ballot will also be included on March 11 election for the position.

The board discussed the plans by the Mount Major Snowmobile Club to not cover the Jones Field Bridge with plywood to protect it. The board approved blocking the bridge with a boulder to protect the bridge from being destroyed by snowmobiles during the winter months.

The board also approved the special event application for the Big Lake Half Marathon on May 10, with a set up date of May 9.

During public input, Raymond Howard said he was disappointed in the town using the asset forfeiture fund for cameras and computers. He felt the issue was voted down last year and Bailey said a new cruiser with a camera was voted down last year. DeCoff said there is a limit on what the asset forfeiture fund can be used for.

Barbara Howard said she didn't want the police department calling her house. The system requires a response before a message is played, and Howard felt this is a way the department could track who is home. She asked about opting out for a land line and Bailey said he would look into it.

She provided an example about the 911 system not working properly when she was following a drunk driver and said it's useless to call 911.

The next scheduled Alton Board of Selectmen meeting is on Monday, Jan. 6, at 6 p.m. at the Alton Town Hall.

Tim Croes can be reached at tcroes@salmonpress.com or 569-3126

Thanks for visiting NewHampshireLakesAndMountains.com