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State to fix Hawley’s state forest roads

  • Hawley Fire Chief Greg Cox at the closed gate on Middle Road in Dubuque State Forest in Hawley in June. Irene washed portions of the road and one bridge out. Recorder FIle Photo/Paul Franz

  • Hawley Fire Chief Greg Cox walks down what used to be Middle Road in Dubuque State Forest in Hawley in June. Irene washed portions of the road and one bridge out. Recorder FIle Photo/Paul Franz



Recorder Staff
Friday, August 11, 2017

HAWLEY — For several years, town officials have been asking the state to improve the roads that run through the Dubuque State Forest. Now some of the roadblocks are being cleared, as the state Department of Conservation and Recreation negotiates a contract for resurfacing two state-owned roads running through the nearly 8,000-acre forest. And the work will start next month.

Selectboard Chairman Hussain Hamdan said that “Our understanding has been that DCR intends to make repairs to Hunt Road and Middle Road, with the project beginning late this summer and running into next year. However, we don’t actually have anything, including a start date, in stone.”

A spokesman for the DCR has confirmed that the department recently completed a bidding process for resurfacing the two roads and is negotiating a contract.

“While the paperwork of a final agreement with the contractor is still being prepared, the DCR has already committed to taking the initial steps necessary to reopen both roadways,” says an emailed statement from the DCR office. “Last year, DCR Commissioner Leo Roy took preliminary steps to prepare for resurfacing, including tree-clearing and surveying of the damaged roads.”

On Friday, Hamdan received an email from Roy, saying that the DCR will repair the roads and coordinate with the town on the timing of gate openings and closings. After the roads are fixed, the DCR is to provide materials for road maintenance, if the town Highway Department can do annual maintenance, such as grading. Roy said the work should begin in September and be mostly complete by next fall.

Roy said he is planning to come for the “Hawley Day” town celebration around 1 p.m. this Sunday, Aug. 13. The total event, from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m., takes place at the Sons and Daughters of Hawley 1846 Meetinghouse, at the intersection of East Hawley, Buckland and Plainfield roads.

Hamdan said the Selectboard has been talking with Roy for nearly a year about the road repairs, which town officials have said will cost at least $1 million. Roy has come to Hawley twice to discuss the issue, Hamdan said.

“There has been a lot of work involved in getting necessary permits, especially since Middle Road runs next to a brook, which raises wetlands law issues,” said Hamdan. “I do not know how much the state plans on spending.”

For several years before Tropical Storm Irene washed out the roads, there were complaints in town about the condition of the state-owned roads running through the state forest property. But the flooding from Irene in August 2011 caused these and other state forest roads to be closed to vehicles. The road closure also made it impossible to drive from one end of town to the other without taking detours through neighboring towns.

In April 2016, the Selectboard sent Gov. Charlie Baker a letter asking him not to allow the DCR to purchase more Hawley forest land until the roads running through state forest property were in better condition.

In that letter, they wrote: “Middle Road is critical to providing access for emergency response to a large part of the state forest, without requiring detours of five to 10 miles. … The Middle Road fiasco is just the latest chapter in the 30-plus-year saga of Hawley trying to get the state to adequately maintain its roads in order to provide safe access.”

The letter goes on to say that the road is the designated emergency evacuation route for residents in the northwest part of town, should Route 8A again be severed by flooding, as it was during Irene. The destruction, during Irene, of Hunt and Hallockville roads has meant that the town’s 337 residents can’t get from one side of town to the other without detouring through Plainfield.

Hamdan said the DCR, the Selectboard and the highway superintendent have an informal understanding that, once the roads are rebuilt, the town will be responsible for general maintenance while the state will be responsible for addressing major damages that might be caused by a future storm like Irene.

“One of the reasons the DCR would like the town doing this is that we have more experience and better-suited equipment for dealing with (unpaved roads). From a public safety perspective, it also makes sense for us to keep the roads passable,” Hamdan said. “If the roads had been property maintained by the state prior to Irene, the resultant damage may have been lessened.”

Hamdan added that the town won’t plow those roads in the winter, which may benefit the snowmobilers who use them.

Hamdan said there are a number of other old roadways in the forest, but “So far, there is nothing conclusive on what will be done with those other roads.”