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Selectmen authorize Quarry Road improvements

April 28, 2009
ALTON — Residents of the Quarry Road-Gilman's Corner area in East Alton arrived in force at the selectmen's April 23 meeting to hear details on the re-construction proposed by Highway Agent Ken Roberts.

Explaining that the treacherous condition of the existing roadway caused one of his department's trucks to flip last fall, resulting in $80,000 in damage, and that an ambulance later sank into the road, Roberts announced plans to re-build the entire road.

The re-construction plan also called for the 'Y' intersection where Quarry Road meets Gilman's Corner Road to be converted into a 'T' intersection, with the existing right-hand side of Quarry Road closed off at that point and replaced with a grassed-in area that Roberts described as a park, and a pair of problematic trees on the left-hand side of the intersection removed in order to improve visibility.

Faced with what he described as a "real saturation problem down there," Roberts also proposed replacing existing culverts and putting in a new underdrain system that he said would draw in "quite a bit of water."

A total of 22 trees along the road have been marked for removal as part of the project, he said, some of them dead or dying and on the verge of coming down to either block the road or injure residents.

Gilman's Corner Road resident Peter Ferber lobbied heavily for the preservation of the large pine tree on the northeast corner of the intersection, explaining that to him, the tree represented the rural character he and other residents have come to appreciate about the area, and which the town's Master Plan seeks to preserve.

"It's a monumental tree," he said, suggesting that sight lines up Gilman's Corner Road could be improved by removing some of the saplings and undergrowth around the large pine.

Commenting that there was no evidence of any accidents or close calls at the intersection over the years, and that the traffic volume on Quarry Road is limited primarily to local residents who use it to access Roberts Cove Road or Route 28 north, Ferber said that while he appreciated the town's efforts to address the condition of the roadway, "I like the natural way [that corner] looks."

Replying that his proposal for the intersection had been based on the town's driveway regulations (which require 250 feet of visibility in both directions), Roberts said the decision on whether the pine stays or goes ultimately rests with the selectmen.

If the board were to compromise, and ask him to leave the large pine in place, however, the smaller ash trees behind the pine would have to come out, he added.

Noting that the crotch of the pine was close to the ground, with "a lot of weight" at the top, and that the entire tree appeared to him to be ravaged by red heart, Selectman Dave Hussey advised Ferber and his fellow residents to prepare for a power outage if it remained in place, due to its proximity to nearby utility lines.

"If Kenny wants to take this down, he should take it down," Hussey said. "I understand it's nice to look at, but it's going to split."

Town Moderator Mark Northridge, a resident of nearby Drew Hill Road, agreed with Ferber that the tree should be preserved.

Board Chairman Steve McMahon said his concern with saving the tree was the fact that "it will cost us that much more down the road."

"It looks to me like it's going to die," he said, commenting on the number of dead limbs he noticed in a photograph submitted by Ferber.

With Roberts agreeing to work with residents to save whatever trees he could, McMahon moved to grant approval to the re-construction plan as presented.

"I don't like this," Selectman Loring Carr said, adding that he felt the "quirky little intersection" was a New England hallmark worthy of preservation, and that the money would be better spent elsewhere.

Roberts replied that his proposal was aimed at addressing serious safety issues at the intersection.

Hussey agreed, commenting that he had seen a number of drivers yield at the intersection when they should have stopped.

While he was all for the preservation of Alton's rural character, he added, "Safety's safety."

"It just seems like we're losing a little bit of our character," Carr replied, commenting that he didn't see any issues with the existing intersection that he felt would necessitate Roberts' proposed improvements.

The board voted 4-1 in favor of McMahon's motion, with Carr dissenting.

Conservation easement causes a stir

Having secured the approval of the Conservation Commission, developer Brian Hunter came before the board last week seeking their approval for a conservation easement he negotiated for with resident Peter Farrell in exchange for permission from the state to move forward with a 14-lot subdivision on Pearson Road.

Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen, representing Hunter, explained that due to the impact the proposed subdivision would have on the Winnipesaukee watershed, Hunter was ordered by the state Department of Environmental Services (DES) in 2005 to mitigate the situation by establishing a conservation easement somewhere within the surrounding area.

With the nearly four-year process at an end, and the Conservation Commission voting on April 9 to accept the easement, she said, Hunter was asking the selectmen to formally accept the easement on the town's behalf.

Selectman Pat Fuller commented that although she realized how long and costly the process had been for Hunter, and would not block the easement for that reason, she saw no benefit to the town.

Pointing out that the language of the easement enabled Farrell to retain logging rights, meaning that he could clear-cut the property if he so chose, Fuller also noted the fact that the parcel was not contiguous with any other town-owned conservation lots.

"It's a strip of land in the middle of nowhere," she said. "I don't know what the town is ever going to do with it."

Explaining that the town would be receiving an easement on twice the amount of wetlands that would be affected by Hunter's subdivision, Guldbrandsen said the easement would also preserve both the clarity of the Winnipesaukee watershed and a corridor for local wildlife, and would provide protection for an endangered species of Patagonia that grows on the property.

Suggesting that Guldbrandsen had contradicted herself, Hussey (who has had experience in forestry) said that after witnessing first-hand the damage that logging trucks and equipment can do, he did not believe that either the wetlands or the endangered plants could be preserved if Farrell decided to log the property.

"I don't want to hold this up, but I wish we could find some way to stop the logging," he said.

Pointing out that under DES regulations, any logging that took place on the property could not have any effect on the wetlands, Guldbrandsen said the site met the state's required ratio of forested uplands and low-lying wetlands.

A skeptical Hussey asked how logging trucks would be able to access the uplands without crossing the wetlands.

Asked by Fuller why the property wasn't made available without the caveat of the logging rights, Guldbrandsen explained that she and Hunter had been focused on the subdivision, and had tried to look at parcels of land that fell within the Winnipesaukee watershed, calling up landowners to see who might be willing to negotiate an easement.

"We had to come up with a solution where the landowner was interested in giving up development rights," she said, adding that, "the state really drove this."

Board Vice Chair Peter Bolster noted that there are existing logging roads running throughout the property, which he said had been logged in the past.

"You don't log on a road; you log the whole property," Hussey commented, adding that while he knew as a former planning board member what Hunter had gone through to negotiate the easement and would not vote against it, he wanted to see the Conservation Commission start picking better pieces of land than the one in question, which he described as "absolutely worthless."

Commenting that the selectmen were under no obligation to accept the easement if they felt that it was not in the town's best interest, Carr (who agreed with Fuller that the easement would provide no benefit to the town) said he saw the situation not as an exchange of wetlands for more wetlands, but as an exchange of cash for "an old wood lot."

Guldbrandsen noted that the easement would not place a burden on the town, and had already been embraced by the Conservation Commission, which would hold it.

The board voted 4-1, with Carr dissenting, to accept the easement.

With a heated discussion ensuing over whether or not the board felt it necessary to send a message to the Conservation Commission asking it not to approve any similar easements in the future, Carr moved to schedule a joint work session with the commission.

Bench of Friendship update

Resident Jeannie Ferber appeared before the board to provide them with an update on the status of the "Bench of Friendship" hand-crafted by blacksmiths in the Ural mountains in honor of the 200th anniversary of diplomatic relations between Russia and the United States.

Explaining that the bench had been given to Alton in recognition of the efforts of her organization, Access to Ideas, to provide books to Russian libraries, Ferber said she had spent the past year trying to find the right spot in which to display the bench, and had chosen the Gilman Library, whose staff hopes to turn the vacant lot on the north side of the building into a community garden, with the bench as a centerpiece.

In an effort to fulfill the blacksmiths' intention of giving the bench to the entire Lakes Region, Ferber said she approached the Wolfeboro Board of Selectmen in February with the idea of hosting the bench at their town docks during the summer.

They approved the idea, she said, adding that the Wolfeboro board had expressed congratulations to Alton and sincere thanks for the town's willingness to share the bench with others.

The bench, she said, is currently on display at the John Adams National Historical Park in Massachusetts, and will be arriving in Alton on July 14.

Keeping the economy in mind, she added, Access to Ideas has planned a "modest" bench welcoming ceremony at the library on July 14, with the official dedication ceremony to be held that evening on board the Winnipesaukee Belle.

The organization hopes that the bench "will simply bless the community," she said, noting that the project has generated "nothing but positive news coverage" for both Alton and the United States as a whole.

"It will stand as proof of the good we should be free to share with each other," she said.

Traffic Circle meeting May 12

Town Administrator Russell Bailey announced during his bi-weekly report to the board that the state Department of Transportation has scheduled an informational meeting on improvements to the Alton Traffic Circle for Tuesday, May 12, at 6 p.m. at the Gilman Museum.

Odds and ends

In other business, the board authorized the owner of the Owl's Nest dock (which sits on town-owned property) to complete necessary repairs; voted to install 'No Parking' signs on Hidden Springs Road at a cost of $438.48 at the request of St. Katharine Drexel Church; set Monday, May 25, as the date of the 2009 Memorial Day parade; approved an application for the annual Lake Winnipesaukee Relay Race; awarded bids for catch basins (in the amount of $2,832), culverts ($2,896), road-side mowing ($40 per hour), gravel ($38,208), and GeoTech fabric ($470 a roll); and granted a pole license to the New Hampshire Electric Co-op on Chestnut Cove Road.

Next meeting

The board's next meeting has been scheduled for Monday, May 4, at 6 p.m. in Town Hall.

Brendan Berube can be reached at 569-3126 or bberube@salmonpress.com

Martin Lord and Osman
Salmon Press
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