Newry residents oppose Byways management plan
The three dozen people who turned out for a Newry public hearing Monday were skeptical of pursuing a management plan for the Route 26 Scenic Byway, and some, going a step further, said they want to eliminate the 40-year-old byway designation altogether.
Townspeople will vote Aug. 20 on whether they wish the town to continue participation in a review/update of a 2000 management plan for the byway, which runs for 3.2 miles through Newry and continues through Grafton Notch and Upton, for a total of 14 miles.
The Aug. 20 town meeting will also address several other issues that were presented at Monday’s hearing.
Since February the Grafton Notch Scenic Byways Committee, with representation from Newry, Upton, Bethel and Greenwood, has been reviewing the 2000 plan. The Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments is facilitating the update, along with another for a byway on Route 27. AVCOG has received a $40,000 grant to support the efforts and provide improvements, possibly including signage and bathroom facilities.
The review also initially considered extending the byway designation south to Route 2.
But from the beginning committee members questioned the whole idea of a management plan, concerned that it might result in regulations that would affect property rights.
On Monday Selectman Brooks Morton, who is also a member of the Byways committee, outlined some of the history behind the 2000 management plan, which was never formally adopted by the state.
While he said he had concerns about the plan’s possible implications, Morton said he had not seen any problems result from the original designation of the byway in the 1970s.
“I’ve lived on the Byway since it was created,” he said. “It hasn’t been a problem. It’s benign.”
Selectman Chair Wendy Hanscom said that by the recollection of the selectmen, the original designation “was kind of an honorary thing. I don’t think a corridor management plan came into it in the beginning.”
Keith Durgin, who said 90 percent of his land lies along the existing byway, said he was opposed to extending the byway and seeking any federal money because of possible restrictions involved.
Norm Clanton, who does not live along the byway, asked for a show of hands from people favoring continued work on a management plan. No one responded.
Sylvia Gray, who was a member of both the 2000 and 2012 committees, said “I think we’ve wasted enough time on it. Frankly, nobody on the committee seems to be for it. Every meeting is the same – you don’t get anywhere. My opinion is opt out.”
Durgin said the current byway is not maintained. “They can’t take care of what they have now,’ he said, noting that a scenic turnout in North Newry is covered with human waste, trash and diapers.
Hanscom said if voters reject further participation on the management plan committee, “I think the designation will stay there and nothing will happen, because there won’t be a group looking for money to extend it or anything else.”
Some residents worried that even if Newry opted out of the committee, the state might still continue the process.
“If we opt out and we’re unsure if they will continue, I’d be more comfortable getting it in writing that they will stop,” said Deb Webster.
Town Administrator Loretta Powers asked if townspeople wanted to simply keep the existing designation “with no strings attached, or get rid of what we have also.”
Several people responded, “Get rid of it.”
Hanscom said she would prefer that such a decision wait for the annual town meeting in March.
No one from AVCOG or the state attended Monday’s meeting.
Require nomination papers?
Also discussed at the hearing was a proposal from Powers that candidates for selectman and the School Board take out nomination papers ahead of a vote at town meeting.
Currently, candidates are nominated from the floor.
The suggestion follows the election in March of Morton as selectman. He unseated incumbent Jim Largess.
Gray said she supported a change of procedure.
“Ever since I’ve lived in this town, no one has ever run against an incumbent. If someone was retiring or resigning, people would make known that they wanted to be nominated. But this past year, no one knew that someone was going to run against Jim Largess until the day of,” she said. ‘That smelled a little bit, as far as I’m concerned, because I heard about it the day of, and I made some calls in support of Jim, but nobody was home, and what-not. You can’t really run a campaign on three or four hours before a vote. Brooks, I think you’re probably doing a good job, and it’s nothing against you personally. But I think to keep our politics honest, if people want to run they should take out nomination papers so everyone knows who’s running.”
Hanscom said such a move “would make it a more public and transparent process.”
Town officials said they will have more information on options at the Aug. 20 meeting. Some area towns that do require nomination papers hold votes for elected offices separately from the town meeting. Others, like Woodstock, vote during town meeting.
Other topics addressed at Monday’s hearing included authorization for selectmen to enter into three-year contracts for winter road maintenance, establishment of an ordinance to exempt active military members from paying excise taxes, and updates to the Unified Development Review Ordinance. Each subject drew a few questions, but no opposition.
The Aug. 20 town meeting will start at 6 p.m. at the Bear River Grange Hall.