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Peterborough selectmen deny reconsideration of Bell Dam decision

Union Leader Correspondent

December 08. 2017 12:47AM
Peterborough's Bell Dam with Nubanusit Lane behind it. (Meghan Pierce/Correspondent)

PETERBOROUGH — Selectmen denied a request from a Nubanusit Lane woman to reconsider an order they made last month that the Bell Dam in the Nubanusit River be repaired, which would allow a hydroelectric project to continue despite a dispute between the woman and her neighbor across the river.

Brenda Berry, who owns 3 River St., petitioned the board on Sept. 27 asking selectmen to issue an order to repair/rebuild the dam, which is partly on her property and partly on land at 4 Nubanusit Lane owned by Margit Porter.

At a public hearing last month, Berry told selectmen she had partnered with Lori Barg of Contoocook Hydro LLC in order to fund the much-needed and federally mandated dam repairs. Berry said without the hydroelectric project she would not be able to afford the mandated repairs.

At the same hearing, Porter’s attorney, Justin Richardson, said Porter wishes to establish her part ownership of the dam and her right to stop the repairs and hydroelectric project.

In a letter to selectmen asking for the reconsideration he said Porter is not opposed to the repairs, but is opposed to the hydroelectric dam project.

In a Nov. 17 letter to selectmen, Richardson says the board’s Nov. 7 decision to order the repairs to continue was flawed since the board had not received information Porter had submitted to the town as part of its decision process.

Additionally, he said, the selectmen had directly and indirectly received comments outside of the public hearing process about the project.

Richardson cited one correspondence to selectmen from El King, who has contracted or leased with Contoocook Hydro, he said, in which King claims Porter is opposing the repairs which, if not completed, would cause a health hazard by creating a swampy area of mosquitoes and ticks, and mice to transport them.

“These statement are untrue, and it was a legal error for the board to consider these comments outside of the public hearing,” Richardson said.

He also cited comments to selectmen that were not presented during the public hearing, but were relayed to board members through town officials saying that Barg claimed that Porter came to Berry’s property and “created a hostile work environment for (Contoocook Hydro’s) crew.”

Tuesday night board members discussed the request to vacate their Nov. 7 decision and reconsider the matter.

“I can tell you that it did not influence my decision,” Selectman Barbara Miller said of the new information.

Selectmen then unanimously agreed to deny the request.

Berry invoked a law not used in more than 20 years; it mandates local selectmen settle dam disputes, according to Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett.

The Bell Mill Dam was a hydropower dam when constructed in 1751 and later was converted for use as a hydroelectric dam.

According to Berry’s petition for the board to decide the matter initially, “The Bell Mill Dam is in a state of disrepair and poses a threat to Ms. Berry’s downstream property and other properties as well as to the recreational users of the Nubanusit Brook.”

On Nov. 7 selectman agreed the dam needs repair and voted unanimously to order repairs by Berry by Oct. 1, 2018.

The board made no specifications on how the work should be done and by whom, only that the petitioner, Berry, should bear the costs.

Energy Local and County Government Peterborough

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