Newry voters reject Scenic Byway
By an overwhelming vote of 46 to 10, Newry voters Monday rejected supporting the development and implementation of a corridor management plan for their section of the Route 26 Scenic Byway.
Since February the Grafton Notch Scenic Byways Committee, with representation from Newry, Upton, Bethel and Greenwood, has been reviewing and updating a plan created in 2000.
The Androscoggin Valley Council of Governments is facilitating the update, along with another for a byway on Route 27. AVCOG received a $40,000 grant to support both efforts and provide improvements, possibly including signage and bathroom facilities. The grant money was made available for tourism-related improvements along the road, but not to the road itself.
State Scenic Byways Program Coordinator Fred Michaud has also been participating in the review.
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.
The question of whether the town should continue with the plan was put on Monday’s warrant at the request of Selectman Brooks Morton.
Selectman Steve Wight argued in favor of the designation. He said there would be economic benefits, whether directly or indirectly, for most businesses. Some people who come here first as tourists may settle permanently and spend money locally, he said.
“The whole area is in it together,” said Wight. “People come to this area because of the scenic beauty. One of the reasons they find out about it is because they see the byway on a map. It seems like we’re shooting ourselves in the foot to say we don’t want the scenic byway. We’re all in the tourism industry, whether we like it or not. We don’t have the mills anymore. We have the tourism industry and part and parcel of the tourist industry is the scenic byway.”
And, he said, “The interesting thing to me is the committee has been driven heavily by non-resident property owners who are concerned that if we do any more with the byway, we may, as a town, decide we want to vote to have a new ordinance that might affect what they can do with their land.”
He said the key point is that the power rests with Newry voters.
“We would have to vote [to establish ordinances] as a town. The state doesn’t put ordinances in place,” he said.
But, countered Lia Paliocha, “There are a lot of people who are residents here who don’t want the byway, and do not want any more restrictions on their land.”
Another resident said she did not want either the town or the state telling her what to do.
Morton, who was also a member of the Byways committee, said he believes that online maps designating the byway would likely remain online, regardless of Newry’s decision.
He also said that since federal highway acts in the early 1990s, “funds that historically went to the highways now fund byways, bike paths and loop trails. Our message to the state should be, ‘You manage your 60-foot right of way, and we’ll manage our land.’”
Rob James echoed Morton. “We don’t need the byway. It’s the same old thing. The state comes in and says there’s no new ordinances, but don’t they want to work with the town and create a few new ordinances and tell us what we can do with our land. They can stay off our land. They can manage their 60 feet and leave us alone.”
At Wight’s request, the vote was taken by secret ballot.
Selectmen will now write a letter to Michaud notifying him of the result and ending Newry’s participation on the committee.
Residents were also asked if future candidates for office should take out nomination papers and get signatures ahead of the annual town meeting.
Candidates have traditionally been nominated from the floor. Supporters of the nomination papers approach said townspeople would have a better idea of their choices beforehand.
However, such a format would not prevent other candidates from being nominated from the floor as “write-ins.”
Beth Bean, focusing her argument primarily on incumbent officials, said she saw no need for a change. She said she believed that over the past decade, office holders had become “complacent” and had not made enough effort to get the word out that they were again candidates. She said they should campaign each time their seat came up for reelection.
Others questioned the advantage of nomination papers, if people could still be nominated from the floor.
Hanscom said, “I think a good way to sum it up is if they choose to they can take out papers and be real public about their campaign, they can do that. But you can nominate from the floor.”
When the vote was taken, it ended in a 23-23 tie. To ensure an accurate count, Hanscom asked for a secret ballot. After a few more minutes of discussion on the issue, ballots were cast, with a result of 29 in favor, 24 opposed.
Another article asked if townspeople wished to exempt eligible active duty military personnel from paying excise taxes on vehicles.
Norm Clanton, a military veteran, said those serving in the military “don’t make a lot of money for what they do. This is a way for us to say, ‘It’s not much, but we’re going to do this for you.”
His comments were met with applause, and the vote was unanimous in favor.
On another article, townspeople authorized selectmen to enter into three-year contracts for winter maintenance of town roads. The board will now sign a contract with Cross Excavation.
The last article of the night, to take $2,000 from Surplus to apply to the Assessors Expense Account, was easily approved.
Town Administrator Loretta Powers said selectmen had trimmed that part of the budget this year after a significant amount was left in the account the previous year. But the assessor spent more time on projects than anticipated, she said.
A sixth article was inadvertently omitted from the warrant, and will have to be dealt with at a future meeting. It included changes to the Unified Development Review Ordinance.
Route 26 work
After the meeting State Rep. Jarrod Crockett, who attended and spoke briefly, elaborated on future MDOT plans for Route 26. He said the state plans to apply a layer of pavement to Route 26 from Newry Corner to the New Hampshire border before winter.
“This is a substantial project, however, it is not the rebuild the road needs,” he said. “The scenic byway designation and management plan would have added additional weight to applying for federal funds in the future.
“Many people would like to see a bike lane added to that portion of Route 26 for safety and tourism reasons. That being said, property rights concerns associated with a management plan appears to be a greater concern to landowners in the corridor.”
Byways next steps
Fred Michaud was asked recently what would happen to the byways process without Newry.
He said the process will continue for the remainder of the participants, even though Newry will not be part of it. Although there had been indications that Upton would no longer participate, either, Michaud said there has been no formal notification from the town.
He was also asked about interest among some Newry residents to “de-designate” the 40-year-old byway designation in the town.
“The decision to rescind the designation is up to the commissioner of transportation. The byway likely will not be undesignated, but Newry will not be shown as part of it, provided the commissioner decides to rescind the designation for the Newry section only,” he said.
Michaud also said he wanted to respond to a comment at a public hearing on the byways issue two weeks ago, at which one resident said the state does not keep up good maintenance and cleanliness at a scenic turnout in Newry. Michaud said MDOT does not have “rest areas” on Route 26 from Route 2 to the New Hampshire border.