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Barnstead selectmen address Valley Dam issues

July 06, 2010
BARNSTEAD — Some changes are slated to take effect at Barnstead's Valley Dam.

Selectmen came to a consensus last week to restrict swimming and to impose a curfew on the site, which has been the subject of many complaints by neighbors for the last several years.

Selectmen reached this decision at their June 29 meeting after holding a lengthy discussion on the current situation with the dam as a board and with Jim Gallagher, chief engineer of the Dam Bureau at the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

For the past several years, residents of Valley Dam Road have complained to the town about noise, littering, traffic disruptions and lewd acts occurring at the dam site by people who patronize the area to swim, boat or lounge. Because the dam is owned by the state and leased to the town, town officials and police officers found it hard to enforce rules.

Gallagher explained to selectmen last week that the town signed a lease with the state Water Resources Board, the predecessor to the Dam Bureau at DES, in 1984. The lease, he said, stated that the property would be used for boating and public recreation.

The property is owned by the state, Gallagher continued, all restrictions set on the site have to apply to both town residents and non-residents, as the town has to treat all of those who patronize the area equally.

Gallagher added that law enforcement at the site lies in the hands of the town's police department.

Board Chairman Jim Barnard questioned how the police department could enforce things when they don't have full regulatory authority over the site.

"How can they enforce something when they don't have the authority?" Barnard asked.

Gallagher said that the town can control such things as hours of operation at the site.

Board Vice Chairman Andy Houle asked, since both town residents and non-residents have to be treated fairly, why the town couldn't shut down the dam for recreation for everyone.

"Why don't we just shut it down for both?" Houle asked.

Gallagher said that if the property was shut for all recreation, the town would not be living up to the terms of its lease with the state, which, he said, could be terminated by the town, and the state would reclaim full authority over the property.

Barnard, though, said that the complaints from residents needed to be addressed.

"These people have legitimate complaints," he said. "We've got to come to a situation here where we can satisfy all of these people."

A few residents from Valley Dam Road showed up to last week's meeting. The most vocal among them, Dottie Sowards, said that the situation has worsened over the years.

"It's an ongoing problem," Sowards told selectmen towards the beginning of last week's meeting. She said that when residents tried to address the matter with some of the rowdy patrons themselves, they had beer cans thrown at their vehicles and car windows shot at.

Only a portion of Valley Dam Road is a Class V grade, meaning that it's maintained by the town. Part of the road is Class VI, meaning that it is not maintained by the town and is essentially a private road.

Selectman Bob LaRoche suggested at last week's meeting that a way to deter the problem might be to limit the area to just fishing and boating.

"If you just say fishing and boating, it would be easier to enforce," he said.

After Gallagher said he felt that limiting the site to just fishing and boating would not violate the terms of the lease, LaRoche's colleagues voiced their agreement with his suggestion.

After talking to the residents present at last week's meeting, selectmen came up with a curfew time for the site, as well.

No activities will be allowed to take place at the site past 7 p.m. and swimming, littering and alcohol use will be prohibited. The town will also try to impose parking restrictions on the road.

Selectmen will send an official letter to the state outlining the changes that they agreed upon.

The residents of Valley Dam Road present at last week's meeting said that they were satisfied. Sowards went as far as to hug each selectmen after the consensus was reached upon.

Other business

In other business, selectmen checked in with new Fire Chief Mark Tetreault after two weeks on the job. They discussed a number of items with the chief, including department apparatus, the possibility of starting a fire explorers program with Gilmanton and the possibility of relocating a fire station farther north in town sometime in the future.

Selectmen also met with Nick Rott and Eileen Murley of Barnstead Fire-Rescue, Inc. (BFRInc.) to discuss how to go about addressing memorial donations that may be made out to the fire department now that it's under full municipal control. The selectmen discussed the possibility of creating an expendable trust for the donations, but such a trust would need approval of the voters at Town Meeting.

In the meantime, selectmen suggested that if Rott and Murley feel that the intention of people donating money is to have the money go to BFRInc., then the checks have to be clearly written out to BFRInc.

Next meeting

The selectmen meet every Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in their office at Town Hall.

Littleton Chmber
Martin Lord Osman
Varney Smith
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