Meeting Minutes of the Select Board

 Location:  Town offices Date:  December 9, 2021  
 Opened:    7:00 pm Adjourned: 8:30 pm  

Select Board Present: Andrea Hodson, Kathy Scott_____________________________

Attendees: Police Chief Mike Tollett, Pamela Thayer, Peter Thayer, Lee Garland, Dick Stone, Donna Stone, Scott Stone, Akhil Garland, Ryan Stone, Mary Marchese, Tom Andrews, Andrew Maneval, David O’Neil, Don Scott, Les LaMois, Pegg Monahan

Public Hearing – Emergency Lanes – RSA 231:59-a
Andrea Hodson opened the public hearing to consider whether the town should declare an emergency lane along a section of Blood Hill Road, per RSA 231:59-a. The hearing is in response to the placement, without permission from the town, of boulders and plow stakes within the right of way along the subject section of Blood Hill Road. The board declared this to be a safety hazard for first responders and public safety officials and the public attempting to travel along this road.

Donna Stone stated for the record her request for a continuance and submitted a letter for the record accordingly. She noted the rocks and stakes were placed in order to protect their stone wall and their land. She discussed the road width along the stretch of Blood Hill as being 12’ wide, with narrower and wider sections along the way, and stated the rocks are placed at 13’ width. She added that then-town attorney Silas Little stated in a June 25, 2021 public meeting that property owners can maintain their walls on both sides of the boundary marker. The continuance was requested until such time as the Stone’s surveyor can complete his work, on or before April 2022. Ms. Stone stated that, should the survey show they have no ownership of the land, they will remove the rocks. She also described the history of land ownership within her family and the emotional nature of the issue.

Pamela Thayer also discussed some of the history of this section of Blood Hill Road and stated that the recent placement of the boulders presents a safety issue to the neighbors who rely on the open area, created by John Hansel, for safe passage.

Dick Stone spoke to say, since taking ownership of their land in 1977, no real issues have occurred with neighbors along the road. He described the width of land between the stone walls on either side and the issue of the covering of a section of stone wall. Ms. Hodson reminded the public that the focus of the discussion was consideration of the declaration of emergency lane status and passage on the road and not about anything else.

Scott Stone referred to the RSA being discussed and the need for an emergency need for the general public. He stated that emergency vehicles and tractor trailers can pass and that the specific guidelines outlined in the RSA do not apply here. He also questioned the authority of two select board members to adopt such a declaration.

Ryan Stone asked what reason, other than safety and encroachment, were of concern to the board? And he wondered if the board had consulted law enforcement, fire and the Road Agent and had physically attempted themselves to pass along the road. The board noted it would state the findings that compel their decision.

Mary Marchese spoke to the steep hill out of their driveway and the frequent need to have to back out and pull over and how scary it is for her in bad weather conditions.

As Assistant Fire Chief, Dave O’Neil spoke to his experience driving emergency and rescue trucks through there and his having witnessed tractor trailers driving through.

Tom Andrews spoke to other sections of road where passing is possible, but not from his and Ms. Marchese’s driveway to Prospect Street. He wondered if the boulders and stakes could be moved until such time as legal issues could be resolved after which time they could live with the resolution.

Dick Stone submitted a photo into the record of a tractor trailer hauling an excavator. He doesn’t believe there is an emergency and that the 12’ width of the road allows for safe passage. He hoped to discuss other issues which the board did not consider relevant but which he believes constitute the emergency situation.

Donna Stone agreed that the 9’ width section at the far entry of the Thayer property was narrow and needs an additional culvert for drainage to prevent an emergency. She discouraged the board from using the RSA as a convenience given that the RSA language requires a public safety need for an emergency lane to be declared.

Scott Stone then noted that abutters to the Class VI road sign a waiver of liability so town has no liability if emergency vehicles cannot get through. He read the second section of the RSA 231:59-a as follows: “No expenditures shall be made under paragraph I unless the selectmen, following a public hearing, declare the relevant class VI highway, private way, or portion thereof, as an emergency lane, and make written findings, recorded in the minutes of the meeting, that the public need for keeping such lane passable by emergency vehicles is supported by an identified public welfare or safety interest which surpasses or differs from any private benefits to landowners abutting such lane.”  Ms. Hodson noted that it is this specific language that compels the board.

Ryan Stone asked if the declaration also should include other, more dangerous, sections of road, not just that one section?

Pamela Thayer subsequently expressed extreme disappointment in the lack of some neighbors’ concerns for safety.

Andrea Hodson summarized that the board was here because of the placement of boulders and plow stakes in the right of way of Blood Hill Road without permission from the town.

Dick Stone returned to the 9’ wide section at the Thayer entrance, described by Ms. Marchese and Mr. Andrews, that gets washed out year after year due to clogged ditches and narrow width of road. He agreed with their concern.

Ryan Stone asked about the board’s interpretation of the right of way and if the town has the exact layout of the road. The board stated it is a 3-rod road, 49 ½ feet in width, and it includes not only the traveled portion but the areas on either side of this, and that this question is leading the board for this circumstance and others to consider having the town roads surveyed. The board is not disputing who owns the land underneath. Mr. Stone questioned the town’s certainty of the right of way. The board noted it would get to its findings shortly.

Donna Stone reiterated that the board’s intent is to get the Stones to move their boulders, not to declare an emergency lane, and she found this disrespectful to them and the people of Harrisville. She felt harassed by the board. The board reviewed that it had asked the Stones twice, and is asking them again, to remove the boulders.

Ryan Stone wondered if the possibility were open for compromise, where his parents’ stone wall, which is the latent subject of the ongoing dispute, could be returned to a condition approximating its previous condition. The board noted any maintenance could not be done by the town but would have to be done by abutters.

Peter Thayer offered his understanding that the historical layout for roads such as Blood Hill is 3 rods, and that the maintenance for these roads was always the shared responsibility of the traveling public and abutting landowners. He sees the usage now as being restricted by the placement of the rocks and that, for the first time in 300 years, the right of way is not free and clear.

The chair asked Ryan Stone if he was interested in facilitating that conversation about a private resolution if other parties were interested in discussing it and Mr. Stone welcomed anyone interested to contact him.

At 7:40 pm, Chair Andrea Hodson closed the public hearing. She entertained a motion for the Select Board to declare Emergency Lane status under RSA 231:59-a on the segment of Blood Hill Road starting at the entrance from Prospect Street and extending along the portion of the road where the boulders and the plow stakes have been placed, to give the town authority to remove the boulders in order to address the public need for keeping the lane passable by emergency and ordinary vehicles. Kathy Scott so moved. Ms. Hodson seconded.

Ms. Hodson then cited that what compels the board begins with the residents who live on the road and includes others driving ordinary vehicles, those who plow and maintain the road, and emergency responders. The boulders and stakes placed in the right of way narrow the road in such a way that two cars traveling in opposite directions cannot pass each other without one having to back down or pull over, a challenge under stormy, low visibility, icy or muddy conditions. These people need to use this road to get to their homes and are subject to unsafe conditions. The board added that the boulders and stakes also obstruct plowing and road maintenance.

The emergency lane declaration allows the town to remove the obstructions and impediments. Following completion of the work, the road can revert to its Class VI status. The board noted it was offering the Stones another opportunity to remove them and otherwise the town would remove them and send them the bill. The board voted 2-0 in favor.

The chair reread the motion and reread the findings and the public’s need for safe passage.

The board moved on to its regular business as follows:

Agenda and minutes – The board approved as submitted.

Board and committee updates – Kathy Scott updated Andrea Hodson on the Planning Board site visit to Wilderness Trail and on the Historic District Commission and Conservation Commission’s current work and budget preparation.  The Transportation Committee will meet with the Select Board on Tuesday morning, December 14, at 9:30 am at town hall.

SB Interim Board Appointment –  Also at its upcoming Tuesday meeting, the SB will open submissions for the interim SB appointment, announce candidates and discuss.

Other business – The SB signed the pay warrants in the amount of $837,894.13. and $3,145.15.