Sunapee Access commission reviews history of long-running dispute

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – At last week’s meeting of the governor’s new Lake Sunapee Public Assess Development Commission, the 15-member group began probing the history of the 25-plus-year dispute about where to put a public launch on the state’s sixth largest lake.

The two-hour meeting began with several people testifying on behalf of the two major proposals that have been considered over the last two decades. The state-owned Wild Goose property in Newbury would be too expensive to develop and its location would create serious traffic problems in town, according to its critics. Supporters say the site has already passed several legal requirements for the required state-owned-and-operated facility, and that the proposed alternative Sunapee State Beach site is too small.

At the conclusion of the hearing held in the Legislative Office Building last Thursday, the commissioners listened to remarks made by fellow commissioner Glenn Normandeau, who is executive director of the state’s Fish & Game Department.

‘My own personal opinion is that it (turning the Sunapee State Beach into a primary boat launch) is not permit-able.’

NH Fish & Game Dept. Commissioner Glenn Normandeau 

When Normandeau mentioned the estimated costs of dredging the state beach for a launch site, Chairman Neil Levesque asked if the commissioner could bring that kind of specific data to the group for review. “Get as many (related) costs as possible to this commission,” Levesque urged.

The chairman also asked Normandeau to look into the question of whether the state has a valid right-of-way on properties adjacent to the state beach property that may impact the development of a boat launch there, and the Fish & Game official said he’d comply.

Lévesque said that Gov. Chris Sununy had asked the commission to consider other possible sites that could be used for a boat launch. “Have you looked at all the (available) spots on Lake Sunapee,” he asked Normandeau.

“Unless something has come up for sale that I’m not aware of, I can’t imagine there’s anything else,” the commissioner answered.

Earlier in the meeting, June Fichter, the executive director of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association (LSPA), said that her group had previously funded a conceptual plan for developing the state beach site as an alternative to the Wild Goose property.

“I’ve never seen this plan,” said Tom Quarles, a member of the NH Public Water Access Advisory Board who is on the commission. “Why haven’t we seen that?”

Fichter said that she would “absolutely” provide the paperwork to the group. “It is more than a plan,” she explained, but the document is not a detailed proposal. While it includes “some narrative research about how various regulatory” and other relevant issues could be addressed, it doesn’t make a specific proposal.

“It’s not our place to design a full-up plan,” she told Quarles.

Normandeau gave the longest testimony of the day, reviewing several issues related to developing a suitable public boat launch. When Fish & Game first took over the Wild Goose property, the Governor’s Council indicated that it was “going to be primary boat access on Lake Sunapee,” he said. But when it appeared that the state might acquire the George’s Mill launch property in Sunapee, state officials began considering utilizing Wild Goose simply for canoes, kayaks, etc.

After Sunapee residents rejected the George’s Mill transfer, the state’s attention returned to developing the Wild Goose property.

In 2008, Normandeau said that state officials met with LSPA officials at the state beach site to review the property. The state subsequently paid for extensive research on developing the small boat launch area there into a larger facility.

“My own personal opinion is that it’s not permit-able,” the commissioner said. He explained that dredging would be “a constant maintenance” issue and that there would likely be strong opposition from abutters. (Normandeau said he thought the current state beach launch site would be best suited for canoes, kayaks, etc.)

In 2010-2011, “a raid was made” by state officials on funds that were designated for the boat ramp project and “there’s never been much talk about putting (the money) back,” Normandeau told the commission.

The commission will hold its public next meeting on Thursday, Jan. 11, 9 a.m., at the Legislative Office Building.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 19, 2017.

 

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Warner gun range case still unsettled

Above – Attorney Paul Alfano, representing Norman Carlson of Warner, testifies before the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment  in the Christmas-themed Town Hall last week. – RC

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – For the third time this year, the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment voted last week to continue its public hearing on a special exception that would allow a Sutton man to build a $1.4-million indoor gun firing range and retail store on Warner Road nearby exit 7 off I-89.

At its regular town hall monthly meeting Wednesday night, the board primarily heard from attorney Mark Puffer of Concord, who is representing Eric Miller and his company, Dragonfly Ranges of Sutton. The lawyer responded to comments made at the November meeting by Paul Alfano, the Concord lawyer who represents Norman Carlson. Carlson, who is the founder and president of Madgetech, a 60-employee high-tech firm that sits next to the 2.9-acre lot where the proposed firearms facility would be built, has said he may move his operations out of Warner if Dragonfly’s range is constructed adjacent to his plant.

Early in the meeting, Alfano reviewed Carlson’s objections to the gun range site. He said a town zoning regulation that would allow “recreational and other amusements” in the zone where Dragonfly wants to build wouldn’t apply to its plans. “If you look at a common sense reading (of those terms),” he said, “it does not include this.”

Alfano also said that the gun facility would not meet a requirement that it be “desirable” in the neighborhood, based on the large number of area residents who have voice opposition to the project. And there are still unanswered questions related to its possible impact on nearby property values, ambient noise, and environmental issues, the attorney added.

‘This is not a referendum on firearms, and it’s not a popularity contest. This is a zoning case.’

– Attorney Mark Puffer, representing Dragonfly Ranges

 

“If you vote against this, it doesn’t mean your anti-gun,” Alfano told the board. “It means the application didn’t meet the special exception criteria.”

But Puffer said that Alfano was being somewhat disingenuous about the gun-rights issue. “Remember at the (original) October hearing, the very first thing he said was that ‘Eric Miller did not talk about the elephant in the room, which was that guns kill people,” he recalled, classifying the statement as “incendiary.”

“This is not a referendum on firearms, and it’s not a popularity contest,” Puffer said. “This is a zoning case.”

He noted that proposed Walmart stores are frequently opposed by various members of a community, but the company is allowed to build because its stores meet the zoning requirements.

Puffer also argued that the firing range is allowed as a “recreational” special exception under the town’s zoning regulations. “It’s akin to an indoor tennis facility, a roller-skating rink or an ice skating facility,” he said.

The attorney then disputed Alfano’s claim that noise, pollution and property values issues had not be refuted, stating that Miller had responded to each in paperwork that submitted to the board. And he said that while Miller was at all public hearings, several experts who had filed reports in favor of Carlson’s objections were not. “None of them came here to be questioned,” Puffer told the board.

The ZBA will continue the gun range hearing at its next meeting on Wednesday, January 10 at 7 p.m. in the town hall.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record of Sutton New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 19, 2017. 

 

 

Opponents, supporters of Wild Goose plan have their say at public hearing

NOTE: The NH’s new Lake Sunapee Public Access Commission will hold a public hearing at the Legislative Office Building in Concord this Thursday, Dec. 14, at 9:00 am. At its recent meeting in Newbury, the commission announced that it would soon begin seeking input from state officials about the issue. – RC

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – At a recent public meeting of the new Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission, the ongoing debate was renewed between those who favor developing the state’s long-planned plan to build a boat access facility on the Wild Goose property and those who claim the site is unsuitable.

Approximately 70 people attended the two-hour gathering of the state’s new 15-member board at the town offices on the afternoon of Thursday, Nov. 30.

The issues have been “fought over for more than 25 years,” said Chairman Neil Lavesque.

Neil Lavesque, the group’s chairman, told the crowd that Gov. Chris Sununu had formed the commission several months ago in the hope that it would find a “New Hampshire solution” to the unresolved problems related to granting greater public boat access to the state’s sixth largest lake.

The issues have been “fought over for more than 25 years,” Lavesque reminded the group. People will need to work together to come up with a solution, even if “everyone is not going to be happy” with the outcome.

During the meeting, the commission members mostly listened as people outlined their opinions.

Dick Smith of Hancock, who called himself a lifelong angler and a member of the state’s public access water advisory board, said that he “knows a little about boat access, fishing and so forth.” “I feel like I’m here to represent the one-quarter million people who fish in New Hampshire every year,” he said. “It’s apparent that public access should be expanded on Sunapee. The question is where would be the best site for that.

“The citizens of New Hampshire own that lake, all of us equally,” he added, affirming the state’s legal authority over the waterway. “It’s held in a public trust. We also own the Wild Goose property, and its intent when it was bought was for it to be for provide public access to the general public, and it still is.”

Smith said the state has already invested about $450,000 into a plan to develop a Wild Goose facility, and that when it’s completed the federal government will pay for three-quarters of the total costs. The plan has been approved by the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) and the NH Supreme Court has twice turned down legal challenges to the site’s development.

“There’s an awful lot of support for Wild Goose,” he concluded.

But Ed Thorson, the chairman of the Newbury board of selectmen, said there are problems with the location. “It’s dangerous. There are already many accident on that stretch of road,” he said. “The speed limit on Rte. 103 is 50 mph, but in reality many of the motoring public is going much faster. The site distance at either end of Birch Grove Road is not adequate to safely have boats and trailers pulling out onto a very busy Route 103. “

June Fichter, the executive director of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association (LSPA), agreed with Thorson, arguing that Wild Goose was a bad choice. “Although purchased purely for conservation purposes, along with another 100 acres on Mount Sunapee, Wild Goose is much better suited for car-tope access, for canoes and kayaks,” she said.

Fichter asked the commission members to encourage relevant state agencies to work together to develop the Sunapee State Beach recreational area to increase parking and develop the launch facility there.

State Rep. Dan Wolf (R-Newbury) supported Fichter’s stance. “The state beach works,” he said, adding that the costs of renovating that facility would be much more economical than the proposed Wild Goose development. “There are plans drawn up,” Wolf added, referring to the state beach parking challenge. “There’s a way to do it.”

Attorney Howard Dunn of Claremont, who is representing several organizations and individuals that are suing the DES for not moving forward with the Wild Goose development, said that the idea of developing the state beach site was flawed.

“It’s been degraded a little bit by the snowmaking equipment there but it’s still a terrific place to swim,” he said of the public beach. “But it needs protection from having this kind of boat access there.” Dunn said that if the state doesn’t use the Wild Goose site, he doubted that there would ever be a state-owned public access facility on Sunapee.

State Rep. Peter Hanson (R-Amherst) reported that he’d recently introduced a bill in the legislature that would restore funding for the development of the Wild Goose site, adding that problematic traffic issues could be resolved by reducing the speed limit on Rte. 103 and taking other precautionary measures.

At the hearing’s conclusion, Chairman Lavesque said the commission would meet again on Thursday, December 14, at 9 a.m. in the Legislative Office Building in Concord, and the public is again invited to attend.

The group plans to soon start speaking with public officials about the Sunapee public access issue, then move into a deliberative session in advance of a final decision. Gov. Sununu has asked the commission to issue its recommendation by March 2018.

This story first appeared in the Inter-Town Record of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 5, 2017.

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