By MICHAEL KITCH, LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The City Council took the first tentative steps Monday toward addressing the nearly 50 streets Wes Anderson, director of Public Works, calls "problematic" by agreeing to designate six as "emergency lanes" and accept two as city streets. However, they stopped short of proceeding further out of concern for the cost of the undertaking and chose to explore "a legislative solution" to the issue.
Earlier this month, Anderson informed the council that state law (RSA 231:59) stipulates that municipal highway funds can only be spent to maintain Class 4 and 5 public highways that have been formally accepted as such by the city and not private roads. The department, he explained, has determined that nearly 50 streets it has identified as "problematic" may never have been formally accepted as city streets and may not quality as Class 4 or 5 public highways.
Moreover, Anderson explained that Primex, the company that carries the city's property, casualty and general liability insurance, has advised city officials that it considers these streets private roads. By plowing and maintaining these streets in violation of state law, Primex claims that the city has forfeited its sovereign immunity as well as its coverage for any personal injury or property damage arising from its presence on them, For instance, if a city employee were injured while maintaining the street or a pedestrian were struck by a city vehicle, the city would not be insured against any liability, but would itself bear all the costs of the claims.
At the same time. Anderson said that he must provide an inventory of class 4 and 5 roads to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, which uses it to calculate the city's highway block grant. Without sound documentation the "problematic" streets cannot included in the inventory, which he estimated could reduce the cites grant by approximately $30,000.
The Department of Public Works has identified 18 paved streets — altogether 1.5 miles — in the downtown, Lakeport and The Weirs, and another 11 paved streets, amounting to 3.5 miles, in the rural reaches of the city with no record of being accepted as city streets. There are half dozen private roads, which are currently plowed by the city and almost two miles of gravel streets, for which there are plans, but no records of having been accepted.
Anderson proposed designating six streets as "emergency lanes," which the city can keep open, not for the sole benefit of abutters, but to serve a public purpose by providing timely access to other city streets or facilities. As "emergency lanes," Bell Street Extension between Franklin Terrace and Franklin Street and Crossover Street between Durkee Street and Addison Street "emergency lanes," which will enable plow trucks to travel continuous routes. Likewise, Lane Road and Pickerel Pond Road from Meredith Center Road and Parade Road facilitate an efficient plow route reducing the time required for snow removal. Channel Lane and Hillcrest Drive provide access to city pump stations.
Anderson also outlined the process for accepting "problematic" streets as city streets. It begins with researching the history of the street not only in city records but also in those of Gilford or Meredith, to which parts of the city once belonged, as well as those of the county and the state. The findings would then be review by an attorney. A petition would filed, perhaps including a survey of the specific street, to the Planning Board, which would hold a public hearing, inviting abutters and mortgage holders, and finally a recommendation would be presented to the City Council.
Anderson recommended applying the process to Tremont Street, which runs from Pleasant Street to North Main Street, and Park Street, which runs from Elm Street to Gold Street in Lakeport, as "test cases."
The council balked. Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) described the process as "expensive and potentially unnecessary ... a monstrous amount of work" and "an ordeal to put our citizens through" that is not justified by the risks. "Maybe there is no way to avoid it," he said, "but I think we should give it the college try, before we go down this path." He suggested seeking a legislative solution to spare the time and expense of the acceptance process that Anderson outlined.
Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) agreed, but cautioned against knowingly refusing to take steps that could prove to spare the city significant expenses in the future. proposed
Councilor David Bownes (Ward 2) offered a motion to schedule a public hearing on Anderson's proposal to designate the "emergency lanes" on Feb. 13. At the same time, the council directed the mayor and city councilor to begin seeking a legislative solution by meeting with local lawmakers. And finally the council requested a report on how much has been expended to date in addressing the issue of "problematic" streets and the projected cost of proceeding further in the absence of appropriate legislation.