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Selectmen will ask NHDOT Commissioner to abandon some RR tracks

September 11, 2013
WHITEFIELD — After a full discussion of townspeople's objections to the possibility of having up to 150 empty boxcars stored by the N. H. Central Railroad on state-owned tracks from Parker Road north to Jiffy Mart, select board chairman Wendy Hersom polled the 35 people and learned that no one on hand wanted more boxcars stored in town.

She and selectman Mark Lufkin immediately reached consensus that the board would write to NHDOT Commissioner Christopher Clement to start the process of abandoning the section of state-owned tracks from Hazen's Road near the airport to the Bethlehem town line, allowing the tracks to be pulled up. The board will not seek to abandon the tracks that lead north to Lancaster and Groveton or south to the Mountain Division and the Conway Scenic Railway.

Railroad Operations Engineer Brian Lombard of the Bureau of Rail and Transit of the state Department of Transportation (NHDOT) provided the state's rationale for allowing boxcars to be stored on unused track. Each boxcar generates $1 a day for the N.H. Central, 20 percent of which must be spent on track repairs with five percent going to the state and five percent to the town.

Townspeople, including Planning Board chairman Ed Betz and other Board members, former moderator Ken Russell, Leon Geil, and Ray Bergeron believe that the unsightly boxcars — "rural blight" — act as a deterrent to tourism and attract vandalism and vagrants.

Furthermore, stored boxcars would cut off access for snowmobilers to reach Whitefield's downtown and foreclose the town from becoming part of the larger "Ride the Trails" network of ATV trails.

Lombard explained that it could cost up to $20,000 to go through the state's formal track abandonment process and take a year.

The meeting started on a somber note when Pauline Glidden of Whitefield, who was widowed early in August, asked the select board to speak to Cemetery Trustee chairman Edgar Cormier about her experience at the Park Street Cemetery. Glidden explained that she had purchased a family plot of 10 lots earlier this year. When her husband died two months later, his coffin was placed at the edge of a sandpit. The family had to scramble to bring in topsoil and the funeral home, enough grass-like material to make the area look dignified. "It's hard to lose someone but to have something like this happen just makes it worse," Glidden said. "I don't want this to happen to anyone else."

Lufkin said that the board would ask Cormier to come in and discuss the matter. "We'll get back to you," he pledged.

Bob Stiles of Whitefield offered to buy for $1 the town hall clock tower that was accidentally nearly consumed by fire from the burn pit at the Transfer Station so he can have a replica created from its pattern for a future town building. Lufkin said he would talk it over with his fellow selectmen.

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