Milford may use eminent domain Property owners balk at South Street project

MILFORD – The town might resort to eminent domain against property owners who are holding up South Street reconstruction.

The $1 million project to widen and beautify the narrow street in Milford has been delayed for years as town officials dealt with numerous hurdles, including the acquisition of easements from public utilities and property owners.

Project engineer Heidi Marshall, of CLD Consulting Engineers, told selectmen recently that getting easements from utilities has been difficult, although there has been recent progress with Public Service of New Hampshire.

“I am the most optimistic I’ve been in years,” she told selectmen as she and Bill Parker, the town’s community development director, updated them on the project.

Along with new sidewalks on both sides of the street to the railroad tracks, plans call for the gradual widening of the street, from 5 to 8 feet, on the west side, and utilities buried underground between Union Square (the Oval) and the Christian Science Church.

Between the church and the railroad tracks, overhead utilities will be moved away from the curb.

Marshall said one property owner strongly objects to new sidewalks and another objects to having utility conduits under the sidewalk. One reason for one property owner’s objections, she said, is that underground utilities would prevent future parking lot expansion.

As soon as these acquisition problems have been resolved, she said, the state Department of Transportation should grant approval.

Parker said later that eminent domain will only be undertaken if the town is not able to negotiate with property owners. There is a new easement plan, however, and once the owners see it, they might change their minds, he indicated.

If the town does take the land it will compensate owners with the market value of their properties, he said.

One issue that has been resolved is the old granite curbing that lines the street, which will be protected, Marshall said. Her firm has also created a document about all the effected parcels of land and how they contributed to the town’s history. She expects work to begin in late fall and only take a few weeks.

Selectmen were concerned about possible interference with the Pumpkin Festival in mid-October, but postponing the South Street project is risky, Marshall said, because federal funding runs out in 2015.

The town started putting money away in 2006 and approved appropriations over several years to match a federal grant. The project required $200,000 from the town, with federal funds covering the $800,000 balance.

“So many properties with a web of utility connections, and few easements due to the historic nature of the area, plus the very depth of federal and state requirements and reviews have made it a very difficult challenge,” Parker said in an email. “Far more than when originally conceptualized.”