To the editor:
Many thanks to Harry Bowen, former Merrimac selectman, for clearly and concisely summarizing the issues surrounding the proposed abandonment of River Road in his Viewpoint article on October 16. Merrimac voters are being asked to vote in the affirmative to “rescind the vote by selectmen for the petition issued to the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission for the discontinuance of the (River) Road.” Only the citizens of Merrimac are eligible to vote on that ballot item at their Oct. 21 Town Meeting, but Amesbury residents have an opportunity to influence the final outcome.
According to Anthony Komornick, transportation program manager for the MVPC, Amesbury residents are eligible to comment on the proposed abandonment because the affected roadway falls within 500 feet of the town line.
The section of River Road in question has been closed for over 7 years due to severe washout in 2006 and again in 2010. Funds had been appropriated to repair and reopen the road following the first flood, but subsequent requests for federal and state subsidies have been denied, influencing the decision to abandon the roadway.
The public needs to be made aware that “discontinuance” of River Road is permanent, not temporary. The selectmen are proposing that the land be returned to the abutters, but only after performing an extensive and costly amount of work to remove the existing asphalt and guardrails, after which they will offer property tax abatements to the current landowners.
The National Park Service encourages cities and towns, highway engineers and transportation planners to preserve and protect this country’s Scenic and Historic Roadways in an effort to help us retain our uniqueness. With the competing demands for infrastructure improvements, it’s understandable that the funds might not be available to repair and reopen the road at this time. However, if the money that would be spent to abandon River Road were allocated toward stabilizing it instead, it would allow engineers and other planners time to obtain the resources needed to fund a long-term solution.