BETHEL — Selectmen have approved spending $2,000 to $2,500 of Bingham Forest Authority money for a survey/title search of Daisy Bryant Road.

The decision this week followed a sometimes-contentious meeting last week of the BFA, at which member Jarrod Crockett argued against Selectman Don Bennett’s plan to talk individually with a dozen landowners on the road. The select board wanted to try to avoid spending everyone’s money in court to determine if the town has a valid easement over the road to access the forest for recreational purposes.

Crockett also said that Bennett had the potential appearance of a conflict of interest that he should have disclosed at last week’s selectmen’s meeting, when the decision to approach the landowners was made.

At the BFA meeting, Crockett quizzed Bennett on how he was conducting discussions with the landowners. Bennett said he had already talked with several of them, and had determined they did not have a problem with the traditional use of the road for access to the Bethel Water District reservoir or logging operations. The issue, he said, is the recreation access.

But Crockett said the individual approach was problematic.

“You’re going to conduct 12 different negotiations,” he said. “When you do one-on-one, different stories can come out.”


Crockett also said he, as an attorney, could not ethically be involved in a process that dealt directly with people already represented by their own attorney in the dispute. He said he might have to resign from the board if the situation was not resolved in a way in which he would feel comfortable.

He also said the decision to take Bennett’s approach was a political one, and all parties would be better served by seeking an objective declaratory judgment from a court. Then, if needed, the issue could go to mandatory mediation with a trained mediator, he said.

“I want to get it out of the political process,” he said.

Crockett also said that Bennett, a logger who has worked with the New England Forest Products company — which is also the BFA’s forestry company — should have disclosed that relationship at last week’s selectmen’s meeting, when it was decided he would talk to the property owners. Crockett noted Bennett had said he talked with landowners about continued timber access.

“It’s going to benefit the same company you work with,” Crockett told Bennett.

Crockett said that while it was not normally an absolute necessity to disclose the relationship, Selectman Peter Southam, also vice president of the Mahoosuc Pathways nonprofit that built trails on nearby Bethel Water District land this summer, abstained from voting on the road issue last week. That, said Crockett, created a “heightened standard” for avoiding the appearance of impropriety.


“A financial relationship is substantially greater than on a volunteer board,” Crockett said.

He said that while he thought Bennett’s “heart was in the right place” in volunteering for the task, “the disclosure should have taken place. I don’t think he did it with malice, but he needs to remedy it.”

Bennett acknowledged that he worked with the company when working for landowners.

He also said his approach for discussing recreational access on the road would be: “I’m going to talk to people and get general feelings.”

He said that in listening to Crockett give his advice to go the legal route, “All I hear is ka-ching, ka-ching, ka-ching,” he said. “All somebody is asking is that between now and March there be some kind of conversation with people who haven’t had any. The feeling out there is, ‘why do it if there’s nothing left (of BFA money for recreational development), and spend $80,000 to $100,000 on legal fees?'”

Crockett wondered if the best path might be for the town to hold another town meeting to see if residents still want to pursue the Bingham recreational/management plan, which they approved several years ago. Some Daisy Bryant Road residents have claimed that sentiment has turned against the project in the wake of the issues that have arisen.

The BFA board ultimately voted to recommend to selectmen to do a survey/title search of the road easement. They had made the same recommendation at last week’s selectmen’s meeting, along with a recommendation to seek a declaratory judgment, but the board rejected both in favor of Bennett’s proposal. The selectmen, however, did then agree to get an estimate for the survey, which they received and approved at Monday’s meeting.

Town Manager Christine Landes also said the town would advertise for a new BFA member, following the resignation last week of Chris Hayward, whose three-year term expires in 2017.

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