Hanover road plowing debate goes on
While the appeal on the winter maintenance of the South Shore Road in Hanover is over, the issue is not.
Oxford County commissioners last week affirmed a 2003 vote by selectmen to close the narrow, one-mile dirt road to winter maintenance for 10 years.
But with that 10-year period coming to an end, selectmen will have to revisit the question this year.
That gives Jeff Eaton, the road resident who has led the charge to get the road re-opened to maintenance, as well as the appeal effort, another chance.
The road runs on one side of Howard Pond. Property owners have paid jointly to have the road plowed privately for 20 years, he said.
But Eaton, who said there has been more home construction and improvement along the road in recent years, argues that the property owners should get plowed out in return for their tax dollars. He pays $2,300 a year on his small, winterized camp.
About three dozen homes or seasonal camps are on the road, and about seven are used in the winter. Eaton, who has lived therefor four years, claims that taxes from all those properties account for 23 percent of the town’s municipal budget.
The cost this year for plowing is about $3,000, $225 per property owner, according to an e-mail provided by Eaton.
But he said for that price, the private contractor does not come by as frequently as a town plow likely would. He said the plowing issue is a matter of safety, to have continuous ambulance and fire truck access.
The property owners, however, do get a benefit for not getting plowed by the town, according to town officials. They get a 15 percent adjustment on the assessment on their land (a claim that Eaton disputes, saying the town can’t produce records to show what the difference in assessment would be).
Selectman Richard Stratton said he has been told some road property owners, particularly those who only use their property in the summer, have no interest in having the town plow and, in turn, readjust their assessment. He said he is confident from speaking with the town’s assessing agent that the assessment adjustment is correct.
The town estimates the cost to take over plowing at $13,000 a year, a figure that also includes the annual installation of a snow fence in an open area and a contingency amount in case a front-end loader is needed.
Eaton still plans to press his case.
He had based his recent argument to the commissioners on procedural issues. Eaton said that proper public notice was not given for a public hearing that preceded the 2003 town meeting, and that therefore the closure decision was not valid. Eleven road residents signed his petition appeal to the commissioners.
The commissioners did not buy the case.
When the selectmen take up consideration of another extension on the closure, Eaton will this time argue substance and fairness, he said.
“That’s where [the argument] belongs,” said Stratton, who represented the town at last week’s commissioners’ meeting.
He also acknowledged that there had been some confusion on procedural rules as the town dealt with the issue.
Eaton says he will cite a section of state law addressing road maintenance closure. The law provides that selectmen may close a road to maintenance based on population, use and travel.
Eaton will turn that around and claim all of those have increased, justifying reopening it.
Stratton, saying that he believes more camps have been winterized over the years and there may now be more usage, speculated, “I predict it will be a different conversation in 2013 than it was in 2003.”
But, he said, he was not predicting the outcome.
“We are a small town with limited resources,” said Stratton. “Our job as selectpersons is to figure out what services the town needs and wants, and then is willing to raise taxes to pay for those services.”
In addition to the plowing issue, Eaton also said the town does not maintain the road well overall. He said his truck was flooded last spring when he drove into an area where a broken culvert spilled water across the road.
He also cites a 2003 newspaper account describing an appeal then to the county by South Shore Road residents about winter maintenance. The account said commissioners sided with the town on the understanding that Hanover would upgrade the road to pavement.
Stratton, who was not involved then, said he was told by other town officials that the understanding was that selectmen would consider an upgrade, but they later found significant opposition in town to the potential cost.
Bringing the road up to a higher standard had been proposed at the 2002 annual town meeting, at a cost then of $50,000. The record showed that residents voted to pass over the article.
Stratton acknowledged that even if the town started plowing South Shore Road today, the winter maintenance would be for a road that is “limited.”
“It is not an improved road,” he said.