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Lincoln in holding pattern on levee repairs

March 26, 2014
LINCOLN— Town meeting provided a majority vote for proposed repairs to the Bunker Lane levee. However, the $1.2 million bonded item did not achieve the 60 percent threshold for passage. As a result, officials in town are in a holding pattern on the next move.

The levee sits on private property. However, a 1960 "Assurance of the Town of Lincoln," signed by the selectmen at the time, requires action from the town to protect the levee. The document was created after town meeting authorization and at the request of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers. The now 54-year old document requires the town to "maintain and operate all the works after completion in accordance with regulations prescribed by the Secretary of the Army."

Although levee failure is not deemed likely in the near term, compliance visits in recent years have noted problems at the site. Tropical storms Irene and Sandy led to concern that repairs are needed to protect homes in the area. The structures along the levee generate more than $300,000 in annual property tax payments.

Town Manager Butch Burbank said next year's town meeting will likely be the next time the levee issue goes before voters. "We're probably a year away from another vote," Burbank said on Friday.

Another complicating factor is the potential regulatory reach of the state Dam Bureau. The agency believes the levee meets the definition of a dam. Previously, the town has worked with the Army Corps exclusively on oversight of the levee. The assurance signed by the town in 1960 was strictly between the town and the federal government.

A difference of opinion previously prevailed between the town and the state on whether the structure meets the definition of a dam. "We did question their authority," Burbank said of the Dam Bureau's jurisdiction.

Burbank said a spring inspection by the state is likely. He believes any state report will note existing deficiencies in the structure. The town also expects updated flood mapping data on the area. The maps will be provided by the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

The town had been drafting rights of way to allow work on the levee. Providing the proposed easements to landowners along the levee did not proceed, however. Without funds to make any repairs, the easements would not have been needed this year, anyway.

Regardless of whether the state controls the situation, the defeat at the polls created a stark reality. "We're unfunded," Burbank said. Even if the Dam Bureau requires local action later this year, the town would not be in a position to do anything. A special town meeting could subsequently occur, but that requires authorization from Grafton County Superior Court. "I don't think we're ready to go there," Burbank concluded.

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