BELLOWS FALLS -- New Hampshire maintains it still owns the Vilas Bridge, even though a group of frustrated Vermonters "claimed" it for their state earlier in the week.
Citizens Mike Smith, Jake Stradling, Emily Peyton, Bellows Falls Trustee Andrew Smith and the Rev. Torin Brooks convened on the Vilas Tuesday afternoon to read a public statement and post a declaration stating Vermont now owns the closed bridge that connects Bellows Falls to Walpole, N.H. Brooks said a stipulation in New Hampshire state law allows anyone to "claim" a piece of property five years after it has been abandoned.
But New Hampshire Assistant Attorney General John Conforti told the Reformer the group is misguided on a few points. First of all, he said, the specific statute referenced pertains to abandoned intangible property. Conforti explained this means non-physical property, like bank accounts, money orders and insurance proceeds. He said the statute (Chapter 471-C) is a fairly long and elaborate one, but nothing in it would apply to the Vilas Bridge.
Conforti also objected to the notion that the 635-foot-long structure has been abandoned. Built around 1930 as a "Symbol of Friendship" between Vermont and New Hampshire, the bridge was closed to vehicular traffic in 2009 following a semi-annual inspection that found continued deterioration of the reinforced bridge deck. Efforts to repair the bridge have been delayed due to lack of funds. Business owners and residents in Bellows Falls say the closure is hurting local businesses because traffic through the downtown area has been cut off.
Brooks said on Friday only part of the statute refers to intangible property, while another portion pertains to other kinds of property. He acknowledged on Tuesday the event was a "stunt," but said he wanted to bring more attention to an issue that is upsetting a lot of townspeople. He told the Reformer he wants to hold New Hampshire accountable.
"It sounds to me like they don't care. And that's not OK with me," he said Friday, adding that he has gotten a lot of positive feedback following Tuesday's demonstration.
Brooks said the bridge is showing signs of damage from the harsh winter.
Brooks and the others, with a Green Mountain Boys flag, walked to the New Hampshire side of the bridge to post copies of a declaration claiming the bridge as property of Vermont after reading a statement about their justification for doing so. Brooks told the Reformer the declarations, which were posted with black duct tape, had been ripped down by the next day.
Domenic Poli can be reached at email@example.com, or 802-254-2311, ext. 277. You can follow him on Twitter @dpoli_reformer.