Our story last week about Wilton’s Heritage Commission and Historical Society asking the Select Board to establish a right of way through private land to a 19th century cemetery brings into focus a dichotomy:
When do the needs or rights of a town override the concept of private property?
Well, in New Hampshire, it appears that under state law, governing bodies have the right to establish a right-of-way to get to cemeteries. Here is the salient passage in RSA 289:14:
“… The selectmen or mayor, in the exercise of discretion and in consultation with the cemetery trustees, may issue a permit for such temporary right of entry designating the particular place where the land may be crossed. The owner or occupier of the land may recommend the place of crossing which, if reasonable, shall be the place designated by the selectmen or mayor. The person exercising the right of entry shall complete the work on the cemetery and restore the right of way to its original condition, if it is disturbed.”
That seems pretty clear. The two Wilton boards have communicated with the landowner, not named in our story, but have had no replay. The Select Board will follow with its own letter and hope for better luck.
Given the specifics of this law, particularly the requirement that the right-of-way be temporary and that it be restored to its original condition if there is disturbance, we can’t see any reason the landowner would object. There could, of course, be very good reason but absent any communication from the landowner, no one, least of all the two Wilton boards and the Select Board, can have any idea what it might be.
That the selectmen are taking an interim step prior to moving to establish a right-of-way is smart and reasonable.
Let’s hope they hear from the landowner.