BERLIN – Progress has been made in finding a solution to stop the erosion of the Magalloway River bank on Chapel Hill Road in Wentworth's Location.
Several Chapel Hill Road property owners attended the Coos County Commission meeting yesterday to report on a far less costly proposal to handle the issue. They also asked for help in raising the money to address the problem soon.
Last July, property owners asked the commission for help to stop the erosion before it undermines and erodes the road that provides access to about 20 properties. Most of the properties are camps and second homes.
The Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge owns the riverbank and road. In a May letter to property owners, refuge manager Paul Casey said the Fish and Wildlife Service is under no legal obligation to repair or maintain the right of way. He said the USFW looked at five options for addressing the issue but costs ranged as high as $1 million. He said the cost of the option favored by Chapel Hill property owners - stabilizing the bank and moving the road behind the properties - was estimated at $835,000. Casey said that option would adversely affect wetlands and require a new right-of-way across refugee lands.
The commission authorized Attorney Jonathan Frizzell to research whether Fish and Wildlife Service had any legal obligation to maintain the road. Frizzell reported back that his research shows the Fish and Wildlife service has no legal obligation to maintain a right-of-way or even to maintain the bank of the river.
Cyr said after reading about the situation, Northern New England Field Services, based in Stewartstown, met with property owners and Casey. The firm put together a proposal to obtain the necessary permits and rip-rap the entire 880 feet of bank. Northern N.E. Field Services would do the required trucking, blasting, geo-textile material, and place the rocks.
Cyr said Casey agreed the refuge would provide access to rocks from its property as well as access to its land. He said the refuge also agreed to remove any trees impacting the work.
The total cost of the company's proposal was under $100,000 – a substantial reduction from the options outlined by the refuge.
Cyr asked the commissioners if there was funding available to cover the cost of the project. County Treasurer Fred King said he believed the money the county receives from the federal government for student tuition and payments in lieu of taxes to the unincorporated places could be used. He noted Wentworth's Location is an unincorporated place and the commission serve as the select board for it.
"I believe the money is there," King said.
County Administrator Jennifer Fish said Congress has not yet approved the 2014 PILOT for federal lands.
Commissioner Paul Grenier asked if the property owners were willing to share some of the cost. Cyr said he thought about half could afford to contribute to the project.
King said he believes the federal government has a responsible to pay and urged the commissioners not to give up on that option. Grenier said the property owners need a decision before the federal government can act. Cyr said they would like to see the work done by next summer before a major storm causes more damage. Property owner Alan McLain said if the bank starts to erode the road, it will create a safety problem.
Grenier proposed the commission look at options to pay for the project. In the meantime, because the project is over $5,000, he said it must go out for bid. King suggested in their capacity as selectmen for the unincorporated places, the commission could waive the bid requirement. Grenier said he was not willing to do so because public money is involved.
The commission agreed to have Fish put the project out for bids. Commission Chair Tom Brady said once the bids come back, he will schedule a commission meeting in the Wentworth's Location area.