By Elizabeth Rose
---- — MERRIMAC — The selectmen again initiated a discussion and issued a statement about the prospect of funding to repair a half-mile stretch of River Road closed to vehicular traffic since 2006.
Rick Pinciaro, chairman of the Board of Selectmen, stressed that all options to uncover funding reserves to repair the road have been, and continue to be, pursued.
Pinciaro recently met with the state Department of Transportation (DOT) chief engineer to discuss a variety of present and future funding options. He said that much of several billions of federal transportation funding is earmarked to rebuild the New York financial district suffering from Superstorm Sandy damage and will not be available to state projects for a number of years.
He also stressed that, once new funds become available, the competition for them will be fierce. A road which neither impacts the economy nor the transportation needs of Merrimac, as this stretch of River Road is described, will most likely not be a high priority for such funds.
A section of River Road that hugged a steep section of riverbank along the Merrimack River collapsed in a May, 2006 flood. That stretch of scenic roadway, between Merrimacport and Skunk Road, has been closed ever since.
The current Massachusetts funding for local bridge repairs is an exclusive bridge bond and will not target road reconstruction. Pinciaro also pursued two options presented by residents Rob Atwood and Ron Barnes. He said that both of these, one through the National Park Services and the second through Essex Coastal Scenic Byways, are meant for other types of projects and will never target roads.
Pinciaro also stressed that the selectmen have followed their due diligence in calling on the expertise of town partners such as Merrimac’s insurance carrier to determine the town’s level of risk. He explained that when insurance is contracted the carrier has now transferred the risk that the customer previously held. If the risk is too high the carrier will add exclusionary language, increase the costs or deny coverage altogether.
The insurance carrier was adamant that the risk associated with the public using the road is unacceptable and places the town at risk of costly lawsuits or having insurance cancelled. The only acceptable option is to fence off the area from further use.
Laura Mailman, selectmen clerk, said that if funds became available in the future and the road was already returned to private use then eminent domain would allow the town to re-institute the easement.
Selectmen continue to look at reopening River Road