, Newburyport, MA

December 10, 2012

Merrimac selectmen vote to close River Road permanently

By Warren P. Russo

---- — MERRIMAC — The continuing problems with River Road will soon end, as will the road itself.

Repeatedly washed out by storms, eroded by runoff and undermined by the Merrimack River, the Board of Selectmen last week agreed to permanently close River Road to traffic of all types — including automotive, bicycle and pedestrian.

“It doesn’t make any sense to spend $4 million to repair this road, only to have it do it all over again in a few years,” said Selectman Ricky Pinciaro.

Since access to existing lots along the road is not from River Road and homeowner access will be unaffected, the closure poses no difficulties for anyone, according to selectmen.

“That section of road has been closed for six and a half years,” said Chairman Earl Baumgardner.

“With wash coming down the slope, plus the riverbank erosion on the other side, it’s simply not sustainable. Erosion has now gone underneath the roadway, adding to the hazard.”

Tony Komornick, transportation and program manager for the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, appeared at the meeting to lend his support to the decision to permanently close River Road.

“You’d have to build a bridge-like structure for the few people who use the road,” added Selectwoman Laura Mailman.

The second major issue before the board concerned the abuse of town-owned rights-of-way to the McLaren Trail.

According to Sandy Venner of the Open Space Committee, abutters have been abusing trail access points that border their property.

“We’ve been observing for a long time that the end of the trail looks horrible because some people park lots of cars on it,” said Venner.

“Someone else cut down a bunch of trees that were on town-owned property and stacked them up like firewood.”

The Open Space Committee is considering investing in a survey to determine the exact boundaries of the trailhead, which is only 50 feet wide. However, committee members are reluctant to spend the money for a survey without assurance from town officials that abusive abutters will be fined for infringing on town-owned property.

One abutter, according to Venner, planted grass over the trailhead parking area adjacent to his home to make it look like part of the property and make it easier to sell. Although the ruse worked and the house sold, the new owner was misled and is now in violation for infringing on town-owned property.

DPW Director Bob Sinibaldi suggested that a good first step would be to find out who actually owns the land.

“Maybe you just need to have an informational meeting with the abutters,” he said.

In a related issue, selectmen are considering a plan to sell off the many miscellaneous unbuildable small parcels of town-owned property scattered throughout Merrimac to raise money for the water system improvements. Such sales, however, would require the approval of the Open Space Committee.

“We’re looking at a 17 or 18 percent increase in the base rate and a 33 percent increase in the gallon rate,” noted Baumgardner.

Venner expressed the opinion that “the Water Department and the Sewer Department should be self-supporting,” but Pinciaro demurred, saying that “we have to find some additional revenue to offset the cost of these state-mandated water system improvements.”

“Selling off all those small parcels wouldn’t really affect anything,” said Mailman. “We have so many projects in the works right now — roads, water, etc. — that we’re just putting Band-Aids on open wounds.”

The appropriateness of selling Merrimac’s small, unusable parcels will be brought up at Town Meeting, and selectmen asked for the support of the Open Space Committee in this regard.

In other news:

A new tax rate of $15.45 per thousand has been set.

Mileage reimbursement rate for FY 2014 will be set at 56 1/2 cents per mile.

A $650 quotation for the installation of an inverter valve was approved for the Senior Center, to forestall another toilet backup.