RANDOLPH — A public hearing on allowing a permanent memorial to the Fallen Seven motorcyclists on Randolph Community Forest land drew mostly support at the planning board Thursday night.
Planning Board Chair John Scarinza explained that the Gorham American Legion Post 82 approached the selectboard in early July about putting a memorial on a section of the community forest that abuts the section of Route 2 where seven members of the JarHeads Motorcycle Club were killed in a horrific accident in June. The motorcyclists, all current or retired Marines and their supporters, were headed to the Gorham post to set up for their annual meeting when the accident occurred.
The board turned the matter over to the Randolph Community Forest Commission, which oversees the 10,000-acre community forest. Scarinza, who also serves as chair of the Forest Commission, said it was decided that the planning board would hold a public hearing on the issue for the forest commission.
In discussions, Scarinza said it was agreed that if the project goes forward, the Gorham American Legion would serve as the activity manager for the memorial. He said the Legion is a local group and there is an open line of communications between town officials and the veterans organization.
Scarinza stressed both parties agree that the proposal is for a respectful memorial where people can reflect on the loss of their loved ones, friends, fellow veterans and bikers.
“It’s a memorial site. It’s not intended to be an event site,” Scarinza said.
Scarinza said on the first anniversary of the accident he expects the site might be busy and said that can be coordinated with law enforcement.
The former State Police Troop F commander said the town is considering allowing the memorial because the current situation with the makeshift memorial is not safe. Scarinza said motorists and motorcyclists are pulling in and out of the breakdown lane at the site. The American Legion proposal would get the memorial about 200 feet Route 2 and provide safe parking. Scarinza said there is an existing curb cut there that goes to an old gravel pit on the property. He said the commission would have to refresh that permit with N.H. Department of Transportation.
American Legion Post 82 Commander Mike Murphy said the granite monument would consists of two pieces joined to create an open cross. The monument would be five feet tall and five feet wide at the base and the etching will be determined by the JarHeads. An American flag pole would be erected about seven feet behind the memorial and be illuminated at all times. Murphy said there would probably be a couple of granite benches. Bill Arnold suggested one of the benches be dedicated to the first responders who were at the scene that night.
Scarinza and Murphy said a small parking place for five vehicles would be created and there would be a path made to the memorial. Murphy said a local contractor has volunteered to do the site work. Both the parking area and path would be made using crushed gravel.
Weather permitting, the memorial site would be open by Memorial Day and remain open until after Veterans Day, from dusk to dawn. Re-enforcing the message that the memorial is a place for reflection, no picnic tables or trash cans will be allowed there. Camping and overnight parking would also be banned. To alleviate abutters’ concerns, a port-a-potty will be placed at the site during summer months.
Murphy said the American Legion will take care of the maintenance of the site and will sign a memorandum of understanding with the town outlining its obligations. He said the cost of the entire project is estimated at $12,000 and said they are just $700 short of reaching that goal.
If approved, Murphy said he hopes to have the memorial completed before next year’s anniversary.
“This is not going to happen this year,” he said.
Once the memorial is constructed, Scarinza said the makeshift shrine that has developed in the Route 2 right-of-way will be eliminated. Murphy said the legion has already removed some stiff and carefully preserved it for family members of those killed.
Scarinza and Murphy were asked about other proposals for memorials for the Fallen Seven. The two said this is the only one the town will consider.
There was discussion about signage warning drivers that the memorial site is coming up. Scarinza said they can talk to the state about placing signs in both directions advising that the memorial site is coming up in a quarter of a mile.
Several people suggestions the state DOP widen the breakdown lanes there and it was suggested they attend the DOT’s Ten Year Plan hearing and make the recommendation.
Two people said they feel the community forest is not an appropriate place for the Fallen Seven memorial. One woman said the accident was terrible but the people involved have no personal connection to Randolph and the community forest.
“The town forest is not the right place for it,” she said, suggesting looking for a location closer to where the victims live.
Another resident said he feels the issue should be voted on at town meeting, with the entire town allowed to make the decision.
Scarinza said the forest commission will take up the issue at its next meeting on Oct. 2 and will accept comments until that date.
“No decision is going to be made tonight,” he said.
If the Forest Commission approves the memorial, Scarinza said it will go to the planning board for its approval because the agreement will be binding for longer than one year.
The seven killed in the horrific June 21 accident were Albert Mazza, 59, of Lee; Daniel Pereira, 58, of Riverside, R.I.; Michael Ferrazi, 62, of Contoocook; Aaron Perry, 45, of Lee; Desma Oakes, 42, of Concord; and Edward and Joan Corr, both 58, of Lakeview, Mass.