BOE seeks compromise on easement

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The Region 16 Board of Education is seeking a compromise with the town of Beacon Falls on allowing equestrians to use this easement on the Woodland Regional High School property. –FILE PHOTO
The Region 16 Board of Education is seeking a compromise with the town of Beacon Falls on allowing equestrians to use this easement on the Woodland Regional High School property. –FILE PHOTO

BEACON FALLS — The Region 16 Board of Education has granted the town of Beacon Falls a conditional easement at Woodland Regional High School for local equestrians.

The board, which oversees schools in Beacon Falls and Prospect, approved a motion granting the easement following an executive session at its Oct. 8 meeting. The motion grants access only for horse riders to cross Woodland property under the following conditions: that the town pay all costs related to the completion of a survey and obtain liability insurance that indemnifies Region 16, and that Beacon Falls and its residents who utilize the easement clean the property of horse manure. The liability insurance must be maintained and reviewed by the district and its insurance carrier yearly, according to the motion.

According to the meeting minutes the motion was approved with board member Robert Hiscox voting against it and board member Nazih Noujaim abstaining.

“I think it’s an unnecessary step, but if it’s one that the board wants to take to feel secure then we’re willing to address what the issues are so the rights of the town are protected,” First Selectmen Christopher Bielik said.

The motion was sent to the town’s land use attorney and its insurance carrier for review, Bielik said. He said there are state statutes in place that indemnify municipalities and school district.

The town hasn’t officially agreed to the terms in the motion.

Bielik said last week there are some “minor wording issues” with the motion and once it’s been reviewed he will discuss them with the school board. He doesn’t see any major issues getting in the way of reaching an agreement.

“I think it should be a fairly quick process,” Bielik said.

The easement under discussion is an overgrown path off of Rimmon Hill Road. It’s used by local equestrians to cut through the school property between the athletic fields to get to Matthies Park, which borders the school land.

The easement issue first came up late in the summer of 2013 after a landscaper working at the school put up a fence blocking it. The fence, which was subsequently taken down, led horseback riders to question school officials as to why it was put up in the first place.
That was when some on the board learned that equestrians passed through the property.

On the advice of its legal counsel, the school board considered blocking the path permanently to avoid potential liability if someone gets hurt crossing school property.

Attorney N. Warren Hess III, the board’s counsel, recommended the board not let anyone traverse the property. In a January letter to the board, Hess wrote Region 16 would be assuming additional liability if it allowed anyone to pass through the property by horseback or any other means. Hess wrote if the board didn’t accept his recommendation, at a minimum it must contact its insurance advisor for additional input.

Bielik and local horse riders argued land records — dating back to a deed from 1938 when the land was conveyed from Milton Carrington to the Seymour Trust Co. — reference an easement and give the legal right for residents to pass through an easement on the property.

The easement referenced in the land records is not the same one at the center of the discussions. In Hess’ letter to the board he wrote the exact location of the easement from the deed is difficult to locate for many reasons including an indecipherable word in the original deed.

No action was taken on the matter for months as attorneys for the board and town reviewed the matter.

School board Chair Donna Cullen said the region’s first priority is the safety of its students and protecting the district. However, she added, “We also want to be good neighbors.”

Cullen said the motion would allow for a compromise to be reached.

“If the town approves it,” she said, “we feel we’ve had a good compromise.”