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Peterborough orders repairs to dam in neighbor dispute

By MEGHAN PIERCE
Union Leader Correspondent

November 09. 2017 9:31PM




PETERBOROUGH — Selectmen have ordered a dam be repaired and a hydro-electric project continue despite a dispute between property owners.

The board decided Tuesday night at a packed public hearing following a site walk of the Bell Mill Dam on Nubanusit Brook between River Street and Nubanusit Lane.

Brenda Berry, who owns 3 River St., petitioned the board 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.

Porter doesn’t want the dam fixed, according to her attorney.

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

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

According to Berry’s petition, “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.”

Between the site walk and public hearing, selectmen met with town counsel.

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.

During Tuesday’s hearing, Porter’s attorney, Justin Richardson tried to establish Porter’s part ownership of the dam and her right to stop the repairs and hydro-electric project.

“We’re not here to debate the ownership of the dam, we’re merely here to make a ruling, if that’s what it’s called, on whether the dam should be repaired,” Selectman Tyler Ward said. “From our town counsel, that is what we are charged with.”

Richardson argued that only a small part of the project has to do with repairs to the dam, which could be done cheaply and easily.

“This project is all about the generation of electricity,” Richardson said. “Maybe the dam could be maintained at its current level? … There is a lot of ability to address the safety problems.”

Richardson added that according to the budget presented it would only cost $20,000 to make the repairs.

“This isn’t about safety it’s about taking the water rights that Margit Porter and Jay Porter own and using them for themselves, a commercial purpose,” he said of Berry’s request.

Berry said during the hearing that the hydro electric project would fund the repairs, which would prevent damage to properties, including her own.

Berry said it’s an emotional issue and she would like to reach out to her neighbor for an amicable resolution but that she considered it a miracle when she was approached by Lori Barg of Contoocook Hydro LLC about the hydro-electric project that would pay for the repairs.

“It’s a problem. I need to have that dam fixed,” Berry said. “I bought a house with a dam and a mill pond. It’s the beauty of the house. It’s why I bought it. That’s why I’ve been maintaining and paying taxes on it for the last 16 years. The dam needs work and Lori is a vehicle to that and she’s also doing a worthwhile project.”

Porter presented the board with pictures of the dam before and after work was done on it by Contoocook Hydro.

“This is all done without my permission,” Porter said, pleading with selectmen not to let the project resume.

“This is about someone trying to force me into an enterprise with them against my will," Porter said.

Posey Bass, a property owner along the brook, said the dam is old and needs repair, adding that water damage to the dam last year is now exposing the foundation of her house to erosion, where water hasn’t reached since before the dam was built.

“This dam has been in place since 1751 and the town wasn’t even incorporated until 1760. I have no idea what would happen to all our foundations over and beyond all aesthetics,” Bass said.

“We’re hoping at some point people can get together. To me it was heartbreaking to hear that neighbors were arguing over that,” Ward said.


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