Hopkinton school officials object to shooting range; planners keep moving application forward

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Officials with the Hopkinton School District say the construction of a proposed shooting range/retail gun store in this town, and nearby two of their town’s schools, would not be in the best interests of the teachers and students.

“The existence of a gun range in close proximity to Hopkinton Middle School and High School impacts the students’ and faculty’s sense of security,” Superintendent Steven Chamberlain wrote in a recent letter to the Hopkinton board of selectmen. “Members of the school community feeling safe is of paramount concern.”

The letter is part of a package of materials gathered by the Hopkinton selectmen in response to a request from the Warner planning board. The planners are currently considering a $1.4-million shooting facility application for a site on Warner Road, near exit 7 off I-89 and about three miles from the Maple Street location of the two Hopkinton schools. Due to its proximity to Contoocook village, the Warner board invited input from Hopkinton residents and officials, as well as the nonprofit Central New Hampshire Planning Commission.

The Warner planning board members decided to move forward with the suggestion of an environmental study (of the proposed shooting range site).

At the planning board’s meeting held in town hall on Monday, May 15, the members accepted the materials gathered by the Hopkinton selectmen, including approximately 80 messages from various members of the community.

The planners also reviewed a letter from the regional planning commission, according to vice-chairman Barbara Annis. The commission recommended that the applicant, Eric Miller of Sutton, hire a licensed traffic engineer to consider traffic issues around the planned site, off Route 103 near MadgeTech, Inc. The letter also suggested that an independent environmental engineering firm “review and make recommendations on the suitability of the range’s design to prevent nuisance noise impact,” as well as the possibility of toxic materials being released into the environment, Annis explained.

The traffic issue was also mentioned in the Hopkinton school district letter. “(The shooting range/store) will sit on a defined training route for the Hopkinton middle school and high school cross-country, Nordic skiing and track programs,” it reads. “Increased traffic increases risk.”

Late last week, Jim O’Brien, chairmen of the Hopkinton board of selectmen, said that his board mentioned the matter of “lead abatement” related to discharged firearms at the proposed facility in its own letter to the Warner planners. “We’re not lead experts, but we’ve heard a lot of concerns, so we asked them to pay special attention to that,” O’Brien said.

The possibility of pollution problems at the range is something that developer Miller had heard before, from both Warner and Hopkinton residents. On Friday, he said that lead from discharged ammunition at the range would primarily be captured by bullet traps near the target areas. In addition, lead particles released into the air by firearms would be gathered by a up-graded air filtration system, he explained. “The typical HVAC system for a building this size should cost about $25,000,” he said. “Ours will run in excess of $200,000…. The air leaving the building (will be) actually cleaner than the air that enters it.”

At a previous planning board meeting, Chairman Ben Frost explained that his group invited input from the regional planning commission and from Hopkinton officials because the proposed shooting range is close to Hopkinton and could be seen considered to have regional impact.

But neither of the two groups will have any legal standing regarding Miller’s application, he said, which the planning board will decide in a public vote.

The Warner board members decided to move forward with the planning commission’s suggestion of an environmental study at the conclusion of last week’s meeting. They asked Miller to give the town $2,500 to pay for the work. Miller said that he delivered the check the next day.

But the planning board rejected the traffic study proposal from the commission. At a previous meeting, the members indicated that Warner Road would be able to handle any additional traffic generated by the shooting range without any problem.

Annis said the members now have until their next meeting on June 1 to review all the materials that’s been submitted in recent weeks. That includes “multiple letters, both pro and con” on the shooting range project, she said, as well as all the correspondence and 20 pages of information that was provided last Monday night by attorney Paul Alfano of Concord.

Alfano represents Norman Carlson, the founder and president of MadgeTech, in the resident’s efforts to derail Miller’s application. In March, Carlson announced his intention to move his high-tech company out of Warner if the shooting facility is allowed to move forward on the land adjacent to his plant. Approximately 60 people are currently employed at MadgeTech and Carlson is looking at expanding his operation.

Last month, Alfano asked the Merrimack Superior Court to overturn a ruling by the Warner Zoning Board of Adjustment that granted Miller an acceptable “amusement and recreation service” variance for his firearms project. Alfano’s court action claims that not all abutters to the site – including MadgeTech – were legally notified about the ZBA hearing and, therefore, the variance is invalid. A decision from the court is expected on June 26.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, NH, on May 23, 2017.

 

 

Planning board chairman says ex-official asked to squash gun range

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – At a public hearing regarding the application for a proposed retail gun shop and firing range last week, the chairman of the planning board said that he had recently received a phone call from a former town official who asked if there was a legal way to terminate the firearm operation’s application.

“I paused,” Ben Frost told the group of about 25 people in the Town Hall audience. “Then I told this person that it was an inappropriate question to ask, but it would also be grossly inappropriate for me to answer.”

Frost said it wasn’t proper for anyone to ask how to use the town’s legal process to halt a legally submitted application. “That’s now how this board operates,” he said, “and that’s not how any board should operate.”

The same night last week that Warner’s planning board met, the Hopkinton selectmen voted to join in support of the legal action against the town’s ZBA decision to let the firearms development move ahead.

Frost said that in his role as planning board chairman, as well as his profession as an attorney and as a professional planner, it wouldn’t be proper to discuss how to derail the shooting range plan. “I took an oath to uphold the Constitution for both the state of New Hampshire and the United States,” he continued, adding that he was obliged to always be “fair, objective and honest.”

Frost did not name the official who called him but said that he extolled the virtues of MadgeTech, Inc., the high-tech company that’s been at the forefront of opposition to the facility. The caller addressed how the 20-year-old business has benefited the town and that it employs many local people.

But Frost rejected the caller’s plea to somehow favor MadgeTech over the applicant. “We’ve all taken an oath of office,” the chairman said he told the caller.

After the comments, both Norman Carlson, MadgeTech’s president and founder, and Eric Miller, the applicant for the firearms facility, joined the small crowd in applauding Frost’s remarks.

Frost’s unusual comments reflected tensions that have been building ever since early March when Miller announced his plan to build a $1.4-million modern, environmentally conscious retail gun store and shooting range.

Initially, public support seemed to favor the project. When it was presented to the planning board and the zoning board of adjustment, several people said the area could use an indoor shooting range. They also praised Miller’s plans for mitigating noise and possible pollution issues.

But in recent weeks, opposition has grown. MadgeTech’s president and founder Carlson said that if the shooting facility is built next to his plant, he will move the company out of town. He also complained that neither he nor two other abutters to the 2.9-acre lot on the edge of the Davisville State Forest were properly notified of the recent town hearings. Like others, Carlson has raised concerns about public safety, noise and possible pollution issues. Last month, he requested that the two boards re-schedule their public hearings.

The ZBA turned aside the request and Carlson then appealed that decision to Merrimack Superior Court. A court ruling on the legality of the ZBA decision is expected in late June.

The planning board did consider rescheduling a hearing, especially after some Hopkinton residents complained that the project would be closer to their Contoocook village than to Warner, which made it of regional impact. So the planning group voted to invite representatives of the neighboring town as well as representatives of the Central NH Regional Planning Commission to participate in an upcoming meeting on May 13.

The same night last week that Warner’s planning board met, the Hopkinton selectmen voted to join in support of Carlson’s legal action against the town’s ZBA decision to let the firearms development move ahead.

Recently, the InterTown Record learned contacted the two abutters that Carlson complained were not property notified about the recent hearings. Representatives of both the NH Department of Transportation and the state Division of Forests and Lands indicated that they have no objections to the firearms facility.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, N.H., on May 9, 2017.

Local Farmers Market may be the state’s first

 

 

By Ray Carbone

Who knows where the world’s first farmers market was? Historians point to ancient Egypt, and American foodies know of an 18th century operation in Lancaster, Pennsylvania, that’s still working.

In New Hampshire, you may need look no further than Warner. Bob Bower, the owner of Kearsarge Gore Farm, said his town’s small, seasonal outdoor market has been operating since 1976. That would make it 41 years old when it opens up during the annual Spring Into Warner community arts festival Saturday.

But is true? After all, when did someone start tracking the exact day that local farmers first began gathering in a single spot to sell their goods, instead of than simply hawking them from a wooden stand in front of their farms?

Well, as we’re learning in this fake news era, the truth is sometimes relative.

“Some time ago, I said that the Warner Area Farmers Market is the oldest, continuous-running farmers market in the state,” Bower joked, “and nobody said anything different. So we’re going to lay claim to that until somebody tells us different.”

It’s entirely possible that the 67-year-old local farmer is right. In the 1960s, New Hampshire farmers began losing their connection to local communities after large food distributors began providing a richer variety of products. Along with the shift in from local farms to big outlets like Weeks Dairy for dairy products, the changes had what Bower called “a serious impact” on local agriculture.

‘To be a good farmer you need to be the most intelligent person in the world. You need to know about soil science, animal husbandry, business. You need to be a mechanic, a carpenter, a philanthropist and a weatherman.’ – Bob Bower of Kearsarge Gore Farm

“A lot of farms went out of business,” he said. “Dairy farms went from thousands (of cows) to a few hundred. And the apple orchards were no longer profitable because it became too difficult and expensive to market their products and compete.”

It was a tough situation, but it brought on some positive changes. “It was a good opening for the people who wanted to try a slightly different business model, who wanted to do things in a slightly different way,” Bower recalled. “And one of those was to start community farmers markets.

The Warner Area Farmers Market wasn’t very big when it was started by an eclectic group of local people. A half dozen vendors would sell fruits, organic veggies and homemade goods to 20 or 30 customers.

“I remember there were quite a bit of plants and crafty type of stuff,” said Bob Heslop, who managed the operation for many years. “It was mostly hobby farmers, retired people raising vegetables and (farm) owners.”

Heslop sold wooden objects made on his nearby property. “At that time it was quite a fad, in the early seventies, all those homemade things,” he noted. Robert W. Heslop Woodworking is now known up and down the east coast for the handmade manufactured wooden pushcarts he produced.)

Charlie Brown sold winter squash, summer squash and his paintings of local landscapes, and local elementary school teacher Mary Alice Lamenzo hawked rocks and crystals. “She was into that New Age-y stuff,” Heslop recalled.

Lamenzo was also heavily involved in the protests against the Seabrook Nuclear Power Plant in the 70s and 80s. “She was very proud of the fact that she’d left some of here crystals inside the nuclear reactor,” Heslop said.

Judy Courser of Courser Farm brought homemade baked goods to the market for many years. “It was anything that people had, but it had to be grown or made in New Hampshire,” she said.

Bower started going to the market in the early 1980s. “I brought whatever we had on my family farm, like lettuce,” he said. “My mother spun and wove wool, so I’d bring some woolen products. I went down there with a pickup truck with lots of purple cabbages in it one day, and I’ve been going back every week since. Now we sell whatever people want: maple syrup, lamb, pork, and our ‘world famous’ salad mix.

“To be a good farmer you need to be the most intelligent person in the world,” Bower reflected. “You need to know about soil science, animal husbandry, business… You need to be a mechanic, a carpenter, a philanthropist and a weatherman. To have a good farm is both an art and a form of knowledge.”

What keeps him coming back to the Warner Area Farmers Market every week? “I’ve been down there every Saturday for the last hundred years or so,” Bower joked. “I came back (after the first time) because it was fun. It was not just part of your job but it was part of keeping contact with the local farming community, with customers and with other farmers and friends. It is a social event and a commercial endeavor – it’s inseparable. It’s an integral part of Warner life.”

The market is opened every Saturday from 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. There’s often a local musician or two on hand to entertain customers. The vendors pay the musicians a little, then send them home with some fresh vegetables.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, N.H., on May 9, 2017.

 

MadgeTech inadvertently created lot where shooting range proposed

Co. opposes project; narrowly missed out on buying same land

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Since it was announced in March, plans to build a $1.4-million shooting range and gun store have been strongly opposed by Norman Carlson, the founder and president of MadgeTech, Inc. At public hearings and in private conversations, the high-tech company’s leader has expressed concerns about possible safety issues that could result from locating the firearms facility adjacent to MadgeTech’s plant on Warner Road. He’s even said that if the project moves forward, he will move his plant, where 60 people are now employed.

But there’s some irony to Carlson’s pronouncement.

State officials said that the 2.9-acre lot where Eric Miller of Sutton wants to build his shooting range and store would not be available if MadgeTech’s boss hadn’t inadvertently indicated that he had an ownership interest in the land.

Carlson denies that, but admitted that he doesn’t know the whole story.

NH Forests and Lands could have penalized MadgeTech by demanding that the poles be removed and the area restored, but the agency instead worked with Eversource to come up way to work out a solution, rather than close the business (MadgeTech) down.

The story began developing about two years ago after Carlson determined that MadgeTech needed more electrical power. He contracted Eversource and the electric company said it would be able to provide the service if it had a legal right-of-way permission to take down trees in the area to make room for utility poles.

According to Bob Spoerl, a land agent with the NH Division of Forests and Lands, Carlson somehow thought that he owned property and approved the right-of-way.

But the land was actually part of the Davisville State Forest, the land agent explained.

“I don’t believe that’s accurate,” Carlson said of Spoerl’s recollection. “I told Eversource that we needed more power so they said, we’ll bring it in… They chose the location, not me. I know I signed something for the state for the (poles) to be put in there, but I don’t know the whole story. I always knew that I didn’t own that land.”

However the mistake occurred, it presented a problem for the state forestry agency. “We normally try to stay two tree heights back from power lines,” Spoerl explained. “The idea is that if one tree falls, it could fall on another.”

Forests and Lands could have penalized MadgeTech by demanding that the poles be removed and the area restored, but Spoerl said the agency instead worked with Eversource to come up way to work out a solution, “rather than close the business (MadgeTech) down.”

After input from several state officials, the decision was made to sell an oddly shaped 2.9-acre lot that has been separated from the rest of the forestland by the utility poles. Carlson said he offered to buy it for $60,000 but the state wanted $90,000.

Without an agreement, the agency moved to a sealed bid process that’s outlined in state regulations. “We have a minimum bid, which is the (land’s) appraised fair market price, plus $1,100,” Spoerl explained.

In the end, the state received two high bids. One was Carlson’s $57,000 offer. The other, from Richard M. George of Webster, was for $57,100. George, who lives nearby the building site, won the land with a bid that was just $100 higher than Carlson’s.

When Carlson learned about the situation, he contacted George and offered him $5,000 to withdraw his bid.

George refused, but later told Carlson he would sell the company president the lot for $100,000.

“He (Carlson) never got back to me,” George said.

“I should have bought it,” Carlson said recently. “Then I wouldn’t be dealing with a stupid gun range now.”

Now, Carlson has suspicions about the bidding process.

“It’s supposed to be a sealed bid but I do believe somebody told (George) what my bid was,” he said, noting the slight difference between their two offers. “I believe that with all my heart.”

George said he just “picked the number out of thin air” for his bid.

“I had no sense of who was going to bid on it. You bid just above the minimum bid, and you chose an odd number because most people tend to use round numbers.”

Land agent Spoerl said that the problem with the land was the result of a “cascading amount of errors” by various parties but that there was no attempt to deceive MadgeTech’s president.

“We let him know what was going on. I don’t know how we could have made it more fair. We sent him a letter (on Feb. 25, 2016) with the minimum bid information that said, you need to consider this when you’re bidding on it.”

While the situation regarding the gun shop and shooting range is still unresolved in town, the state forestry division has gained something positive from the local dispute.

“Now we’ve got good contact with the electric company,” Spoerl said. “So they now have a GIS (global information system) in all their trucks that identifies all state of New Hampshire property.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, N.H., on May 2, 2017. See whole edition here.

 

 

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