LACONIA — Over the objection of councilors David Bownes and Bob Hamel, the City Council has agreed to plow and salt two private roads, Pendleton Beach Road and Boathouse Road, both in The Weirs area.
Bownes said it was a poor precedent to set and could lead homeowners on other private roads to seek such services.
The Public Works Department has been struggling to deal with issues surrounding private roads in the city.
State law generally requires that public money not be spent on private roads, however, it makes an exception for "emergency lanes" to serve residents.
There are about 55 private roads in Laconia that receive some city services.
The city wants to resolve the matter because there could be legal liability concerns if an accident were to occur while the city was working on a private road. Many municipalities in New Hampshire are dealing with the same issue.
The city could do an as-is acceptance of the roads, so they wouldn’t have to be brought up to current road standards. That wouldn’t work with Pendleton Beach Road and Boathouse Road, as deed restrictions require that they stay private.
The other option, which the City Council took, was to designate the roads as emergency lanes, stipulating that the city needs to provide winter road-clearing services for emergency purposes.
“This ensures it is plowed so fire trucks and police can get down there,” Anderson said. “If they don’t plow it, fire trucks can’t get down there, or they might damage the truck.”
Pendleton Beach Road has already been receiving city snow-clearing services, but Boathouse Road has not. Before Tuesday’s City Council decision, the city had notified residents on Pendleton Beach Road that the city would discontinue those services.
Bownes said his concerns centered on Boathouse Road.
“I think Pendleton Beach Road is an easy question and that qualifies as an emergency lane,” Bownes said.
“The evidence is thin as it relates to Boathouse Road as an emergency lane. For better than 10 years, they’ve been plowing it themselves. I don’t think it is appropriate. The council thought otherwise.
“The concern is that other residents living on private roads might ask for similar treatment.”
Attorney Paul Fitzgerald, a former two-term mayor of Laconia, represented neighbors who wanted the city to provide snow-clearing services on the two roads.
He said he doesn’t think the council action will lead homeowners on many other private roads to seek city services.
“They would still have to meet the criteria for what is required to designate something as an emergency lane,” Fitzgerald said.
He said houses along the two roads developed as a traditional neighborhood, similar to other areas of the city. It is not a separate subdivision.
“We thought there was a fairness argument,” Fitzgerald said. “They pay the same taxes and fees as those living on public roads, and without some type of winter maintenance, you are going to have a situation where emergency vehicles can’t reach these folks.
“City vehicles could get hung up in this area and delayed from other calls.The fire department also needs access for water rescues and ice issues.”
Anderson, the Public Works director, said a list is being prepared of how many of the 55 roads in question could be accepted by the city.
“We’re looking for a solution for everybody,” he said. “We’re not trying to pull up the plow, so to speak.”