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New Ipswich

State halts improvements on dam easement

Work at ball field in violation of flood-zone restrictions at Dam Site 35 on Binney Hill

  • The state has stopped further building or improvements at a local town ball field built on conservation land. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The state has stopped further building or improvements at a local town ball field built on conservation land. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)
  • The state has stopped further building or improvements at a local town ball field built on conservation land. <br/><br/>(Staff photo by Ashley Saari)

NEW IPSWICH — Two weeks ago, New Ipswich Baseball League President Mark Krook got the Select Board’s OK to put some finishing touches on the ball field that occupies town-owned conservation property. But the state has since stepped in and put a halt to that, saying the addition of a backstop and fill to the area are in violation of restrictions placed on the property by the state as part of an easement agreement with the town.

The baseball field is located at Dam Site 35, located at the Smithville Cemetery on Binney Hill. It’s town-owned land managed by the town’s Conservation Commission, but it is also part of a state flowage easement. A flowage easement secures the right for the state to temporarily or permanently flood an area.

When the baseball league started to bring in additional fill and put up fencing to act as a backstop at the field as part of their improvements, it caught the attention of the Conservation Commission, which had not been consulted about the upgrades to the field.

Because the land is part of the state’s flowage easement, it’s not supposed to have any structures built there. If the land was flooded, it could carry any structures down stream and cause blockages. Structures that aren’t meant for human occupation can be built with the approval of a district engineer, if they don’t significantly impact the flood capacity of the area. The league is also not supposed to add additional fill to the area, as every yard of fill is a yard less of water the area can hold. If the state ever had need of the dam, for example to create a reservoir, the water would occupy the area where the ball field currently stands, according to Town Administrator Roberta Fraser.

Road Agent Peter Goewey said in a phone interview Wednesday that over the course of the past two year’s field improvements, he has brought in 48 yards of infield sand to the baseball field.

Conservation Commission Chair Bob Boynton told the Select Board at the board’s Tuesday night meeting that there wasn’t a problem with the way the Little League had been using the field prior to those improvements. It is only the increased scope of the work that caught the attention of the Conservation Commission and the state Department of Environmental Services.

The state has already sent surveyors to look at the land and determine the extent of the work, and whether it will be detrimental to the flowage easement. There are more state surveyors scheduled to come out and continue the assessment within the next week, Boynton told the board. For now, the league has been told definitively not to build any more structures, but as of now they are still allowed to continue using the field as it stands, until informed otherwise by the state.

Krook questioned what constituted a structure. Boynton and Lawrence both replied that it was anything man-made: portable restroom facilities, snack stands, bleachers, even a pitching mound could all count as structures, they said.

Lawrence asked Boynton if there was any other conservation land in town that would be suitable for a ball field, if there were any issues with continuing at the dam. Boynton said that there wasn’t really any other place that had the space.

Lawrence asked Krook if there were any other fields he knew of that the practices and games could move to, if there was a need. Krook said that the program serves over 400 children between the baseball and softball programs, and utilizes all of the town’s current fields, including the fields at both the high school and middle school in the summer.

The town voted to use the land at the dam as a ball field in 1990, and it has been used by the Little League sporadically since then, and the league began to take steps to create a more formal diamond in 2002.

The Select Board will meet next on Tuesday at 6:30 p.m. in the Town Hall. The Conservation Commission will meet next on May 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Town Hall.

Ashley Saari can be reached at 924-7172 ext. 235 or asaari@ledgertranscript.com. She’s on Twitter at @AshleySaari.

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