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Peterborough dam ownership dispute halts hydroelectric project

Union Leader Correspondent

October 22. 2017 10:33PM

PETERBOROUGH — Plans to repair the Bell Mill Dam and convert it back into a hydroelectric dam again are on hold because the land owners are divided on the project.

“Brenda Berry and Margit Porter have partial ownership of the dam included in their deeds, but it is how that ownership is actually manifested that took up over an hour of the select board meeting the other night,” Assistant to the Town Administrator Nicole Macstay said in an email Thursday. “The select board has requested that they summarize their arguments and submit them in writing by the end of the day October 27. Once we have those summaries they will be included in the public record.”

The Peterborough Board of Selectmen plans to set a November hearing date, Macstay said.

Brenda Berry, who owns 3 River St., sent a petition to Peterborough Board of Selectmen on Sept. 27 asking the board to issue an order to repair/rebuild the Bell Mill Dam located on the Nubanusit Brook in Peterborough, which sits partially on Berry’s River Street property and partially on 4 Nubanusit Land, owned by Margit Porter.

Peterborough Town Administrator Rodney Bartlett said Thursday that Berry owns half and Porter owns half, but it’s not clear what owning half of a dam means, and that is part of the dispute.

He added that the RSA being cited by Berry hasn’t been cited in more than 20 years.

Lori Barg of Contoocook Hydro LLC said Thursday her company began the federally mandated repair work recently, but was stopped by Porter.

Barg said FERC has ordered the repair be made before winter.

“Ms. Porter has interfered with those efforts to repair the dam by claiming that she is the owner of that portion of the dam beginning at the center line of the structure to the river bank located on her side of Nubanusit brook. To this end, Ms. Porter has accused Contoocook Hydro, LLC of trespassing and has caused Contoocook Hydro, LLC to be served with a cease and desist order to stop all repair efforts to the Bell Mill Dam as it physically sits on her property,” Berry’s petition to the selectmen says.

After the repairs, Contoocook Hydro had plans to add patent-pending equipment to the dam with permission from Berry that would make the dam hydroelectric again.

“According to my attorney, we have all necessary permits and leases in place,” Barg said.

Selectman Barbara Miller said Wednesday the board had been excited that hydro-power was returning to Peterborough and had its eye on the 10 other dams in town as potential hydroelectric dams.

According to state RSAs, in a dispute over a dam it is up to the board of selectmen to decide the matter.

The Bell Mill Dam was a hydro power dam since it was constructed in 1751 and was later converted to a hydroelectric dam.

“Although originally a part of various manufacturing enterprises, the dam generated hydro electric power between 1984 and 2006 pursuant to the current FERC Exemption held, at the time, by River Street Associates, Inc. Contoocook Hydro, LLC acquired its FERC Exemption as a transferee of River Street Associates’ interests in December 2016,” according to Berry’s petition before the board of selectmen. “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.”

Like Miller, Barg sees the potential for hydroelectric power in Peterborough, the state and nationwide.

“New Hampshire was born on hydro power. This dam dates from 1751,” Barg said. “We have all this falling water. We have gravity … how can we have more local businesses, the local economy, use the local resources that are all around them. … Peterborough has been a real seed for renewable energy and would like to continue to be a seed for economic development and renewable energy.”

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