3rd piece of Snake River west bank offered for conservation easement

MEREDITH — The grant of a third conservation easement promises to forestall development along nearly the entire west bank of the Snake River, which runs for little more than a mile between Lake Winona and Lake Waukewan, enhancing protection of the quality of the town's water supply.

Speaking to the Board of Selectmen at a workshop this week, Mark Billings, chairman of the Conservation Commission, said that Donald and Patricia Bergeron of New Hampton have offered to 5.09 acres, with 720 linear feet of riverbank, of their 11-acre property, to the town as a gift in memory of Donald's mother. The town of New Hampton will take ownership of the land while the Meredith Conservation Commission would hold the conservation easement.

Billings described the property as a wetland that would not support either development or recreation. "It is not a buildable lot," he said.

The partnership between the two towns mirrors the arrangement for owning and managing two other properties along the river. In 2010, the towns, together with the Waukewan Shore Owners Association, which is now known as the Windy Waters Conservancy, purchased 8.57 acres with 2,841 feet of frontage on the river from Jacqueline Spear. Earlier this year the partners acquired 8.1-acres with 1,480 feet of shoreline abutting the Spear property to the south, formerly owned by Elizabeth Clingan Baird, with a $100,000 grant from the Aquatic Resources Mitigation Fund administered by the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services and $30,000 in matching funds. Like the Bergeron bequest, New Hampton owns both the Spear and Baird properties, on which the easements are held by the Meredith Conservation Commission.

With the Bergeron property , which abuts the Spear property to the north, some 5,000 feet of contiguous riverfront will be protected in perpetuity. Meanwhile, Center Harbor has designated the west bank of the river as a prime wetland, affording it protection under state law. Billings explained that the Meredith Conservation Commission has contributed $10,000 toward developing a stewardship plan for all three of the parcels on the west bank of the river.

Apart from heavy runoff and rains in the spring, the Snake River, which is choked with vegetation, flows sluggishly, making navigation challenging. However , Billings stressed that the river serves as a filter, capturing impurities that flow into the Lake Winona watershed, which sprawls over 3,317 acres.

Selectman Herb Vadney noted that the riverbank lies in New Hampton and questioned why Meredith would "get entangled" in the project. Selectman Nate Torr, who chairs the board, replied that "this is a partnership, not an entanglement" while Billings said the conservation easements held by Meredith ensured that this source of the municipal supply would forever be safeguarded from development.

At town meeting in 2009 the voters of Meredith authorized the Conservation Commission to contribute to qualified organizations to purchase property as well as to apply its funds to acquiring land beyond the town lines.