Robb on the Radar, Part II

An Uncertain Future for Robb Reservoir

An aerial view of Robb Reservoir in autumn color. (photo: Eric Aldrich)

An aerial view of Robb Reservoir and surrounding lands in autumn. (photo © Eric Aldrich)

When we left off, it was the mid-1970s and the owner of the Robb Reservoir property was looking to make his fortune off the land. His efforts continued into the 1980s. The next thing we knew, he had sold 50 percent interest in the “Stoddard Main Company” (the official name of the Robb Reservoir property) to a long list of West German investors. This would further complicate future land protection deals.

The Nature Conservancy also took an interest in seeing the 1,600 acres protected. I don’t know the details, except that no deal was reached, but they did eventually acquire a major property just to the north of Robb: the 1,268-acre Loverens Mills Preserve, known for its rare Atlantic white cedar swamp. Also of note and abutting Robb Reservoir to the east was NH Audubon’s dePierrefeu-Willard Pond Sanctuary, which the Harris Center helped to expand in the late 1980s. And to the west, now connected to SPNHF’s Peirce Reservation by conservation easement lands, was the newly protected Andorra Forest — 11,000 acres centered on Pitcher Mountain.

Connecting the Dots

It was becoming more and more evident to the conservation community that this was a great opportunity to link two large and growing clusters of protected highlands: the Andorra Forest to Peirce Reservation and Loverens Mills Preserve cluster — to the north — with the Skatutakee and Thumb Mountains and Bald and Robb Mountains cluster, to the south. The Robb Reservoir property and approximately four miles of the Contoocook’s North Branch made the ideal link, their lowlands and wetlands being ecologically complementary to the protected highlands.

A New Threat

A map of the original subdivision plans for the Robb Reservoir property.

A map of the 82 building lots planned for the shores of Robb Reservoir in the 1980s. Click on the image for a larger view.

The next round of discussions, heading into the 1990s, began with the purchase of an option to buy the Reservoir and surrounding land, contingent on getting subdivision approval from the Stoddard Planning Board, by a developer from Northampton, MA. The developer had no interest in the “limited” development that was previously proposed; rather, he envisioned more than 80 house lots ringing the Reservoir! The Planning Board and the great majority of Stoddard residents were not in favor of the scheme, but could it be legally stopped? Following the first Planning Board hearing on the proposed development, Carol Foss, long-time director of wildlife programs for NH Audubon, wrote a letter to Planning Board Chair Charlie Fossberry, noting that Ospreys (then listed as threatened) and Bald Eagles (still on the federal endangered species list at that time), were slowly recovering and periodically seen fishing in Robb.

I went under the radar, suggesting to Chairman Fossberry that the board might be well served by hiring our attorney from the purchase and sale of Greengate back in 1985-86, who was also an expert on state road laws. The attorney made sure that the town and state were aware that road traffic from the 82-lot subdivision would all empty out onto the Old Keene to Concord Road, which ends at Route 123, very close to its intersection with Route 9. State permitting became drawn out and problematic. Meanwhile, the legality of a number of the lots was called into question, because they involved wetland crossings and/or did not meet leach field requirements. So, although the proposed road network was flagged and many leach field test pits were dug, the developer’s option eventually ran out before the requisite approvals were granted.

The option was not renewed, thus ending another round of the Robb Reservoir saga. But it was far from over. Read Part III of the story here!

–Meade Cadot