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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