|Lanesborough Can't Solve Pontoosuc Access Disputes|
|By Andy McKeever, iBerkshires Staff|
06:26PM / Tuesday, July 10, 2012
LANESBOROUGH, Mass. — The town's hands are pretty much tied when it comes to neighborhood disputes over lake access.
Dozens of residents filled the meeting room on Monday hoping to find resolution to lake-front disputes.
After multiple arguments over the town's enforcement over left-behind trash, parking, storage and general upkeep of the access point to Pontoosuc Lake, the town organized a Pontoosuc Roads and Right-of-Way Committee to research ways to alleviate complaints.
However, the study revealed that the majority of the rights of way are owned by the homes and residents will have to work out those details by themselves.
"We don't think tonight that we will resolve any problems or any disputes," committee member and Selectman Robert Barton told a crowded room in Town Hall on Monday when the committee presented its findings.
The committee was formed last fall with the hope of clarifying responsibilities of those who use the accesses. The lake access rights date back to the early 20th century, when the land was subdivided between households. The committee found they are deeded to those who live in particular neighborhoods.
"The right of ways we reviewed are all private; meaning they are owned by individuals and not by the town. That's important because it limits what the town can say or do about them. This is private property," Barton said. "The town has a relatively modest role in these right of ways."
The committee reported that all the town can do is have the police increase enforcement of parking and storing items in the rights of way because they are reserved as a fire lane — per a 1988 bylaw that restricts items such as parked cars, gazebos and vegetable gardens. Barton said they town will have to ask police to increase enforcement.
The private rights of way are mostly in the Narragansett Avenue neighborhood. The access points at the end of the side streets of Bull Hill Road are mostly town owned.
"The abutters own to center line of each right of way," committee member Jack Hickey said
The resolution of these issues come down to basically neighbors working together or fighting it out in court. Barton added that liability for injury falls on the owners of the rights of way, so they should double check with their insurance company to ensure coverage.
"Get everyone to check their deeds and see who has the right of way and those folks might want to get together and talk about who is going to mow it and who is going to make sure the beach is clean," Barton said. "I would hope that this kind of shared mentality is possible."
The roads in those neighborhoods have also posed a problem and the committee will be presenting those findings at a later date. Those issues mostly focus on water runoff that is bringing silt downhill and into the lake but town officials are also worried about legal issues in maintenance.
Committee member Robert Barton presented the findings that showed that there was little the town could do.
"Runoff is the biggest issue but there are issues with plowing — some of the roads the plows can't turn around. There is a legal issue with the town maintaining private roads and we're going to try and resolve that," Barton said.
Hickey said every time there is a rainstorm the water quickly drains into catch basins or direct underground pipes — that the town installed on the private property without easements — and then into the lake. Those actions may have made water runoff damage to properties worse.
"We acknowledge that these things exist and something is going to have to be done at some point," Hickey said.
Lake Pontoosuc Rights of Way in Lanesborough