NewburyportNews.com, Newburyport, MA

Local News

September 5, 2013

River Road closure debated in Merrimac

MERRIMAC — On a recent muggy Saturday afternoon, a family of four on an outing, three lazy kayakers, two bicyclists, one youthful jogger and a cormorant on a fishing expedition could all be seen enjoying a damaged one-half mile stretch of River Road that is now at the center of a controversy over its permanent closure.

The stretch of River Road that begins at the Skunk Road and River Road intersection and extends one-half mile west was washed out in the Mother’s Day storm of 2006. Since then it has sustained repeated battering from both Mother Nature and current federal fiscal policies.

The road continues to draw the public to its banks for pleasure and recreation, amid a controversy defined by at least two strongly held viewpoints: selectmen who recently petitioned for road closure and a group of residents who want to search more for resources to repair the road.

In recent years, a change in the frequency and severity of storms that further compromised the road as the drying up of federal funds to repair it has created a frustration for town officials and interested citizens who want to see it fixed.

Since 2006, the Board of Selectmen has been monitoring the road for safety, as well as researching engineering solutions and funding sources to satisfy both safety issues and the public who want to use the area.

Selectman Laura Mailman recently recounted the process.

“This has been a seven-year process during which [all] selectmen continued to meet with people to see if it could be fixed. [Selectman] Rick [Pinciaro] has worked hard to pinpoint reasonable expectations. He even took time from his vacation to meet with the director of the National Park Service to see if funding could be available,” she said.

In September 2012, selectmen voted unanimously to petition the Merrimack Valley Planning Board to allow them to permanently close the road to all traffic including vehicles, bicycles and pedestrians. This would cancel the town’s lease on the road and return the land to the abutting residents. This move would permanently remove all town liability and would protect the public from what selectmen view as a hazardous situation.

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