By Gail Ober
THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
GILFORD – After a discussion that began with a bang and ended in a whimper, selectmen agreed Wednesday night to ask voters at next week's deliberative session to consider "studying" and not "discontinuing" Wood Road.
Because the words "to discontinue" are already on the warrant and it is too late for the town to remove it entirely, it can be changed by the body before it goes on the March 8 ballot.
Wood Road is a small road off Bickford Road which is off Cherry Valley Road on the Alton side of Gunstock. There is one house at the end of it owned by Mark and Nancy Watson whose primary residence is in Groton.
The Watsons met with selectmen last night and first spoke through their attorney, who subtly threatened them with a lawsuit when he said board members should reconsider their recommendation to discontinue the road or face the possibility of costly legal bills and lengthy litigation.
Tensions escalated when Mark Watson told them they had purchased the house with the knowledge it was on a public road and were concerned about not being notified by mail about the possibility the road would be closed. Town Administrator Scott Dunn said the process was duly noticed in the newspapers and the board visited all of the properties.
Watson threatened the board with the possibility of claims for diminished property value, the loss of a pending sale, and decreased emergency services.
The idea of closing Wood Road began in spring of 2015 when Public Works Director Peter Nourse suggested discontinuing five roads that appeared to be personal driveways that he felt the town shouldn't be maintaining. Selectmen examined all of them and determined that Wood Road was a driveway and recommended a warrant article to discontinue it as a Class V Road, which is the only way a town can discontinue a road.
According to one official, the town only heard from the Watsons on the day of Wednesday's night's selectman's meeting and not during the process that began seven months ago.
Watson told the board that the lower portion of Wood Road is used as an access to trail head parking for Belknap Mountain, a statement that was later confirmed by Bill Carpenter, the administrator land management within the N.H. Division of Forestry.
Watson also said that people park on Wood Road, especially during prime hiking season, and in some instances cars are parked all of the way down to Bickford Road. He said it's not unusual for people to park in his actual driveway.
He was also concerned about his personal liability for injuries to hikers if the road were no longer town-owned to which Dunn said he couldn't answer because he couldn't give legal advice.
Tensions eased when Nancy Watson told the board she really didn't want the town maintaining the driveway portion of the road and would be quite satisfied if they used the left access road to the trail head parking area as the turnaround for the snow plow. She said they already maintain the driveway portion.
It was at this point the board agreed to amend the warrant from the floor at the deliberative session.
Public Works Operations Manager Mia Gagliardi said yesterday that starting now, the town will only be plowing Wood Road to the turnoff for the trail head.