Published Date Written by Barbara TetreaultBERLIN – Property owners on Chapel Hill Road in Wentworth's Location Wednesday enlisted the support of the Coos County commissioners in their battle to get the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service to take action to stop erosion of the Magalloway River bank along the road.
A small group of property owners attended the commission's monthly meeting and found a receptive audience with the commissioners who have had their own battles with the Fish and Wildlife Service over the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge.
Ray Cyr, who has a family camp on the road, said the river bends there and is eroding a section of the road. He said one to three feet of the western riverbank is eroding each year and eventually the erosion will undermine and erode the road.
While the erosion directly impacts eight or ten properties, Cyr said the road is the only access to about 20 properties. He said most of the properties are camps but there is at least one full-time resident. He said many of the camps, including his, have been in the family for decades.
Cyr said the Umbagog NWR owns the riverbank, road, and surrounding land. Camp owner Rick Lessard said the refuge owns at least one of the camps but the former owner negotiated the right to continue to use the camp for six years. Eventually, the refuge plans to tear it down.
Cyr said the property owners have discussed the erosion issue with the refuge over the past few years. He handed out copies of two letters from Refuge Manager Paul Casey.
In the most recent letter dated May 1, Casey said no act of the Fish and Wildlife Service caused the current situation and the service is under no legal obligation to repair or maintain the right of way. He said that obligation rests with the property owners. Despite that fact, he said his supervisors said the service is willing to work with the property owners to find a reasonable solution.
Casey said the service looked at five options for addressing the issue. He said stabilizing the riverbank with concrete maps or sheet piling is not economically feasibility with the sheet piling option estimated at $1 million. Casey said he understood the property owners prefer stabilizing the bank and moving the road behind the properties. He said that option, estimated at $835,000, was costly and would adversely affect wetlands and require a new right-of-way across refuge lands.
Casey said the service is supportive of restoring shoreline vegetation to reduce the rate of the bank migration and would provide in-kind services and short-term technical assistance to help property owners if they choose to go that route.
Coos County Treasurer Fred King said the land was originally paper company property and the road was never a town road. The refuge purchased the property about six years ago. He said if the refuge owns the road, he believes it has an obligation to maintain it.
"This is so typical of the wildlife refuge. They don't care about people," said King.
Cyr said the property owners would like help in determining if the refuge has any legal obligation to maintain the road. He said a deed for property the refuge purchased in Sweat Meadows area had a clause requiring public access. Cyr said they would like assistance researching deeds and titles to see if there are similar clauses or legal stipulations regarding the road or public access.
As an unincorporated place, King noted Wentworth's Location falls under the jurisdiction of the county commission. Commissioner Tom Brady suggested the county attorney might be able to provide some legal assistance. But King noted the country attorney deals mainly with criminal cases. Brady asked how much money is in Wentworth's Location fund balance. King replied there is about $40,000. Brady proposed hiring Attorney Jonathan Frizzell to research the deeds and titles. Frizzell sits on the Coos planning board and has done legal work for the commission before.
The commissioners also recommended the property owners contact the state's Congressional delegation since the Fish and Wildlife Service is a federal agency. Cyr said the group has had contact with representatives of U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen and Kelly Ayotte and former U.S. Congressman Charlie Bass. He said N.H. Department of Environmental Service officials have also been notified.
Commissioners Paul Grenier and Brady agreed to do a site visit on Wednesday, July 31 at 5:30 p.m. Commissioner Rich Samson had already visited the site. The Coos planning board will be invited to join the tour.
In the meantime, Grenier moved the commission hire Frizzell to review the deeds to determine if the refuge has any legal obligation to maintain the road. The commission unanimously approved the motion.