Peterborough’s Bell Mill Dam project in flux

  • A hydro company that is interested in producing energy at the Bell Mill Dam on the Nubanusit Brook has been stalled due to a property owner has accused crews of trespassing on her property. Ben Conant—Monadnock Ledger-Transcript

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Thursday, October 19, 2017 9:30AM
The Bell Mill Dam hydropower project in Peterborough is in limbo as two landowners dispute the property’s future.

The Bell Mill Dam hydropower project is in limbo after Peterborough select board members pushed a decision about its fate off until a future meeting.

A public hearing was held Tuesday after a petition was submitted to the town by an attorney on behalf of Brenda Berry, of River Street, who co-owns the dam located on Nubanusit Brook. Berry supports Contoocook Hydro’s plan to generate power at the site. Another co-owner of the dam, Margit Esser Porter, of Nubanusit Lane, has not granted the hydro company permission to work on the dam.  

On Tuesday, Porter made her case against Contoocook Hydro LLC, and its president, Lori Barg, who said the company is under a federal order to repair the dam this fall.

“I don’t know if anyone has ever faced having their property taken from them without their permission by an outsider who uses fear, manipulation, financial burden and aggression as various forms of intimidation,” Porter said during the meeting on Tuesday. “But I can tell you firsthand that when your peaceful place, your sanctuary, your home is threatened it is unsettling to the very core of your being.”

Barg said crews started making repairs on the dam when efforts were halted by Porter who she said started yelling at them for trespassing while they were working on private property. The hydro company was issued a cease-and-desist order.

Porter said she is getting physically ill from the stress and anxiety over the situation.

She told the board that she has lived in Peterborough for about 31 years or nearly half of her life. Much like the town’s slogan, Porter said she has always believed Peterborough was a“Good Town to Live in.”

Her recent experience with Barg is changing that perception.

Porter said she first learned about the project in January on a voice message. Porter said Barg had entered into a lease with the co-owner of the dam and planned to use the site as a pilot space for a hydro invention she created. Porter said she called Barg back and was looking forward to discussing the proposal and drafting a lease. Porter said they tried to meet in person for months, but Barg kept canceling. Months later, the two finally connected.

“She showed up without any draft lease for me to review, instead she handed me a stack of papers stating that in effect she believed I had no rights whatsoever,” Porter said. “Lori’s first words to me as she handed me this stack of papers were, ‘I don’t need you. I’m only here to tell you that in person as my lawyer has instructed me to.’”

Porter said she broke out in hives and went flush. She was stunned.

“I’m a pretty straight shooter, I’m pretty direct,” said Barg in a phone interview Wednesday. “I do not like when people use fear and manipulation on me and I try hard not to do it on others. My efforts have been collaborative, that’s always been my intent. I’m much more about collaboration.”

Porter said it became apparent the first time they met that Barg may not be a person she wants to enter into an agreement with.

She said Barg told her the company would pay for the dam’s insurance, liability, and cover the costs of the structure’s repair. Porter said Barg made it seem like she should be grateful for the conditions. But Porter said the dam doesn’t need saving. She said it’s not a high-hazard dam based on what’s downstream and could operate as a free-flowing river. 

Porter said she notified Barg that she was planning on opting out of participation in the project this summer while she was recovering from medical complications, which she said was, in part, brought on by the stress of the hydro project.

Barg said as a person who has been diagnosed with cancer multiple times, she empathizes with Porter’s situation and truly meant an email that she sent that says “please take care of your health.”

“I’m not interested in causing anyone heartache in any way,” Barg said. 

Berry made a brief comment at the end of the public comment session on Tuesday. She said she is upset that the project has become such an issue, and that she regrets that Porter is so unhappy about the situation. But, she said, she bought the piece of property knowing that there was some potential to utilize the dam.

“I paid a premium for the property knowing those things and thinking I would get a dam,” Berry said.

After hearing Porter speak, select board members Barbara Miller and Tyler Ward voted to hold another public hearing regarding the matter at a later date.

Abby Kessler can be reached at 924-7172, ext. 234 or akessler@ledgertranscript.com.