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Riprap cost estimate plummets, commissioners to bid project

October 16, 2013
BERLIN — The county commissioners acting in their capacity as selectmen for the Unincorporated Place of Wentworth Location shifted their opinion at their Oct. 9 meeting on whether or not they would be in favor of spending accumulated funds to solve an ongoing erosion problem that jeopardizes the embankment of the Magalloway River and thus Chapel Hill Road, both owned by the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge.

At an earlier meeting, after the county's lawyer, Jonathan Frizzell of Colebrook reported to the commissioners that the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service has no legal obligation to maintain the road that runs in front of some 20 camps and seasonal homes, providing them their only access.

The commissioners backed away from taking on responsibility for what Refuge Manager Paul Casey estimated to be a $800,000-plus fix.

When camp-owner Ray Cyr of Chester and several other property owners came to the Oct. 9 meeting, however, they had an estimate from Northern New England Field Services (NNHFS) of Stewartstown that was a fraction of the one discussed by Casey. Part of the very substantial difference in price is because USFWS would allow the boulders needed to riprap nearly 900 feet of the River's embankment be taken from the Refuge and to cut down any trees deemed in the project's way. The local firm's estimated price included blasting and hauling as well as installing rocks and geo-textile fabric. Cyr reported that USFWS indicated it would assist the property owners as long as it did not incur any costs, responsibility or liability.

When county treasurer asked about the availability of fund balances, county administrator Jennifer Fish replied that Congress has not yet approved the Payment in Lieu of Taxes (PILT) for non-taxable federal land for FY 2014.

In 2013 the Unincorporated Places and Cos County received $340,000 in PILT payments.

The commissioners directed Fish to find out and report to which UPs or other accounts these monies are ordinarily allocated. Federal PILTs are made on a per-acre basis; certain UPs incur no expenses, however.

When Grenier asked if private property owners could chip in to cover some of the project cost, Cyr replied that likely half could and half could not.

Commissioner Paul Grenier of Berlin said that any project over $5,000 must go out to bid, and this one should not be an exception.

Fish was directed to put the project out to bid, and the two members of the press on hand were asked not to publish NNHFS' estimate since doing so would give competitors an unfair advantage.

King said if the figure was published that in the future he would arrange to have these kinds of discussions in smaller groupings to avoid the constraints of the state's Right to Know Law.

Grenier assured the reporters that that would not happen.

Chairman Tom Brady of Jefferson pledged that when the bids were ready to be opened he would schedule a commissioners' meeting in Wentworth's Location, but not in a private home.

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