Manchester could see big payment after NH Supreme Court digging-fee ruling
MANCHESTER — The New Hampshire Supreme Court decided that the cities of Manchester and Concord can charge fees to companies that dig up city streets to reach buried utility lines, a decision that means at least $3.4 million for Manchester, city officials said.
The Supreme Court order, issued Friday, ends a seven-year dispute between the cities and the Liberty Utilities gas company. It was the second appeal the court heard in the complicated challenge to city ordinances.
“Of course we will accept and comply with the ruling of the court,” said John Shore, a spokesman for Liberty Utilities.
The cities charge Liberty a damage fee of $5 per square foot when it cuts into city streets. The fees jump to as much as $15 a square foot when companies cut into recently paved streets. A trial court had decided the lower fee was proper but not the enhanced fees. The Supreme Court reversed the trial court and said both fees were proper.
“This is a big win for the taxpayers of Manchester and means that we will be able to make a bigger investment into the repaving, reconstruction and rehabilitation of city roads,” Mayor Ted Gatsas said in a statement.
Gatsas predicted that other New Hampshire municipalities will consider similar road degradation fees.
Manchester has allowed Liberty to fund a bond to cover the fees while the court case was ongoing. The bond amounted to $3.4 million in February, said Tim Clougherty, the city’s assistant public works director.
Liberty had paid the Concord fees all along, Shore said.
The windfall can only be spent on roads, according to Gatsas. He said he wants a report from the Public Works Department about where the money could best be spent; he said concerns have been expressed recently about downtown alleyways.
He said some of the funds should be put in reserves.
The Public Utilities Commission has ordered Liberty to replace about 200 miles of cast iron and bare steel gas lines throughout the state. Shore said about 95 miles remain, with half of that in Manchester.
Liberty will make the fees part of a future rate-setting case, Shore said. He estimated that the rates will add $1.50 to an average customer’s annual gas bill.
The New Hampshire Supreme Court order follows: