Fish and game director says Wild Goose launch unlikely

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The executive director of the New Hampshire Fish & Game Department is critical of a recent report recommending that the former Wild Goose campground property on Lake Sunapee be removed from a list of possible future public boat launch sites, but says he’s ready to move on.

Last week Glen Normandeau said that the recommendation of the Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission issued earlier this year likely ends any prospect of the local land developing a deep-water launch facility. “I don’t think anything is going to happen,” he said. “To me, that’s the way it is. I’ve got to move on… I’m not going to refight the last 20 years over again.”

‘I’ve got too much on my plate to go walking around looking at lots along Lake Sunapee when I have no money to spend on it.’

Executive Director Glenn Normandeau

It was more than 20 years ago when the state originally purchased the 3-plus former lodging facility with the goal of providing its legally required public boat access to Sunapee there. Over the years, fish and game has worked with other state agencies to develop the plan but opposition from local officials, the Lake Sunapee Protective Association and others has been strong. Twice the project was at the center of lawsuits suits brought before the NH Supreme Court, but the state’s efforts were upheld. Concerns were still being raised during the commission’s hearing about possible road safety issues related to the site.

Last year the legislature removed funding for the $2.1-million project from its capital budget. (Three-quarters of those funds would have been reimbursed by the federal government.) Not long afterwards, Gov. Christ Sununu established the 15-member commission and charged it to come up with alternative ways of accessing the lake.

Normandeau served on the commission and signed a minority report critical of its recommendation to abandon the Wild Goose site.

“From my vantage point, none of that got the ball moving very far down the road in terms of actual sites on Sunapee that could accommodate a reasonable amount of access,” Normandeau said last week. “There isn’t any.”

The executive director also disputed a recent claim by Neil Levesque, chairman of the commission, that fish and game is unwilling to consider other lakefront properties for launches at this time.

“People seem to want to ignore the money side of this equation,” Normandeau said. “I’ve had the Wild Goose site appraised recently and it amounts to a house lot on the lake. So, it’s worth about $1.2 million. We’re looking at a couple of million dollars to build the project, and I don’t even have that, never mind the money to buy another piece of property.

Normandeau did agree with Levesque that the long-running debate has only hardened viewpoints over the years. “This thing has been a battle on one one side or the other since it began. People pick sides on this thing, and no one is changing their opinions.”

If state officials follow through on the commission’s other recommendation, to transfer Wild Goose to the state’s division of parks, the fish and game department will no longer play a role in, the executive director noted. In that case, Normandeau said he’ll turn his attention to other fish and game projects.

“I’ve got too much on my plate to go walking around looking at lots along Lake Sunapee when I have no money to spend on it,” he laughed. “It’s kind of like going car shopping with an empty wallet.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on April 24, 2018.

 

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State board won’t stop Wild Goose termination process

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The state’s wetlands council reversed an earlier decision and ruled that several sportsmen organizations that want to build a public boat launch facility on Wild Goose do not have a legal right to halt recent council actions that effectively terminate the proposed project.

At the same time, the lawyer representing the sportsmen groups says the ruling last week could provide support for a similar request the groups filed in Sullivan County Superior Court. That action, like the one made to the wetlands council, would have forced the Department of Environmental Services (DES) to move forward with its initial plans to extend a wetland permit and build the launch facility at Wild Goose.

Conley’s decision states that the sportsmen haven’t shown that they would be directly affected by the termination of the wetland permit.

 

“I just think that if my clients don’t have standing with the DES (appeal process), then their action in the superior court is not foreclosed,” and can therefore move forward, said W. Howard Dunn of Claremont. Dunn is representing the New Hampshire Bass Federation, the Sullivan County Sportsmen and the Mountain View Gun club, as well as various other individuals and organizations.

The state is required to provide public water access to Sunapee and other major waterways, and purchased the Wild Goose land more than 25 years ago with the aim of providing a deep-water launch site for Sunapee on the property. But local opposition delayed the process and last year, the state legislature removed all funding for the project. Not long afterwards, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that the state would no longer consider the local land and officials should begin looking at other access options.

The ruling handed down on Tuesday, Apr. 17 by David F. Conley, an attorney who serves as a hearing officer for the wetlands council, affirms a decision made by the group last summer. At the time the 14-member council, which advises the DES about wetlands issues, denied a request from the fish and game department for a five-year extension of the wetland permit that would have allowed the Wild Goose project to move forward.

The council had originally voted to allow the sportsmen’s organization to appeal the decision because the individual boaters and fishermen were aggrieved by the ruling.

Conley’s decision reverses that action and states that the sportsmen haven’t shown that they would be “directly affected” by the termination of the wetland permit.

“A general interest in a problem is not a basis” for a legal complaint in this case, Conley wrote.

“Allegations of adverse consequences to boating, fishing and swimming activities suffered by the members of the (sportsmen) organizations if the permit is allowed to lapse and the Wild Goose site is not constructed is the type of generalized harm to the public (that) our court has found insufficient to establish standing,” he noted.

Dunn said that his clients are considering whether to appeal the council’s ruling to the NH Supreme Court.

At the same time, they await the decision of the Sullivan Superior Court. “It involves the court making a judgment as to the authority of the DES,” Dunn noted.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, April 23, 2018.

 

 

 

 

Lake Sunapee access commission chairman blames NH Fish & Game for Wild Goose snafu

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The chairman of the recently disbanded Lake Sunapee Access Commission blames the NH Fish and Game Department for prolonging any hope that a state-owned public access boating facility can be built on the former Wild Goose campground property in town.

“Fish and game commissioners continue to fight for this site although it’s clearly not going to get built,” Neil Levesque of Concord said last week. “The state legislature decided not to endorse it, the senate didn’t, and the executive council didn’t. The area has some pretty strong safety concerns as well as a big price tag. And the fish and game commissioners are apparently not concerned about that.

“I absolutely believe, not only that the commissioners got it wrong (by recommending a launch be built) on Wild Goose, but after 27 years, why fight for something that’s not going to go anywhere? The fish and game department cannot move on,” he added.

‘It’s almost like a Red Sox-Yankees situation at this point.’

– Neil Levesque, commission chairman

 

Don Clarke of Claremont, a former director of the fish and game department, disputed Levesque’s viewpoint. “The only thing that the fish and game department and commissioners has been stuck on is furnishing the public with access to Lake Sunapee. And that’s what the law says fish and game is charged with doing,” Clarke said.

Levesque also complained that fish and game officials are so committed to their Wild Goose plan that they won’t even consider any other properties that may be available for a launch. “There are locations that can be used but the commissioners won’t go and look at them,” he said. “It’s ‘Wild Goose or burn the whole thing down.’ I found it to be very bureaucratic and sad.”

Clarke disagreed with that as well.

“We did look at plenty of other site for 27 years,” he said. “There was none as good as Wild Goose. The public does not have access that meets the criteria set forth in the legislation, which is that it be open 24 hours with no charge, and that either the state or federal government has to own the property.”

When Gov. Chris Sununu first appointed the access commission late last year, it did not even appear that Wild Goose property be reconsidered as an access site.

Sununu charged the 15-member group with finding other ways for boaters to access the lake and to make recommendations about other recreational uses for the Wild Goose land.

The commission’s final report suggests that the state try to expand free boat trailer parking at existing launch sites in the area while working to find a permanent deep-water launch site. It also recommended that further recreational development at Wild Goose be spearheaded by the state’s division of parks.

The bulk of the commission’s report, as well as most of the time at the group’s six public meetings, focused either on complaints against Sununu’s initiative to abandon Wild Goose or support for his viewpoint.

Levesque said that he was surprised at the strength of the opposing positions. “It’s almost like a Red Sox-Yankees situation at this point,” he said.

“What I found was that there was elements out there, mainly propelled by lawyers and lobbyists, who were pushing and are still wishing for Wild Goose,” he added. “The lawyers are making a lot of money off these sporting groups. They’ve the only ones who have won. In the end, the public still doesn’t have great access to Lake Sunapee. That’s the tragic situation.”

Levesque did not identify any legal entities working in support of the Wild Goose proposal. At this time the only lawyer publically associated with the efforts is W. Howard Dunn of Claremont, who is representing the Sullivan County Sportsman Club, the New Hampshire Bass Federation, the Mountain View Gun Club, and several other nonprofit organizations and individuals. The group has made a formal request to the state’s Wetlands Council to overturn a recent NH Department of Environmental Affairs decision that would effectively terminate any possibility of building a deep-water launch on the Wild Goose land.

Clarke said that Dunn is donating his legal services and the attorney refused to comment, saying only that he has “120 human beings as clients.”

 

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on April 17, 2018.

 

 

 

 

Sunapee commission turns thumbs down on Wild Goose site

by Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission, which was appointed by Governor Chris Sununu late last year, has issued a report essentially agreeing with Sununu’s appraisal that the state-owned former Wild Goose campground property in town should not be included on a list of possible sites for future public access boat ramps.

“We strongly recommend​ that the Wild Goose site be removed from consideration as a

Department of Fish and Game boat launch site,” according to the report, which was issued several weeks ago. The move will “release the department from its focus on the Wild Goose development and empower it to find a more acceptable alternative for a deeper-water boat access point on Lake Sunapee,” the report reads.

The report (says) the fish and game department… did not give sufficient consideration to… traffic safety, inadequate residential buffering, expense…

But the 15-member commission, which Sununu charged with developing a plan to expand boaters’ access to the lake, as well as advancing some alternative proposals for the Wild Goose land, did not identify any other possible launch sites and left ideas about the property’s recreational development to the state’s division of parks.

The state agency “should make its own determination as to the suitability of the site’s use, consistent with its mission to provide public access,” the report reads. “This may include providing fishing, car top boat/canoe access, picnicking, or even camping opportunities.”

While Sununu’s charge to the commission did not include reconsidering the state-owned Wild Goose property as a launch site, much of the discussion at the group’s public meetings – and in its final report – focused on the 3-acre state-owned land.

That’s not a surprise, given its history. In 1990, officials purchased it with plans to develop a deep-water public access site that could be used by larger boats. (Smaller vessels can use the State Park in Sunapee.) Then in 1999, they indicated that they might forego the idea because Newbury residents were considering letting the state manage their town-owned Georges Mill launch site.

When that plan fell through, the state turned its attention back to the Wild Goose property but local opposition grew. Some residents and town officials said developing the two-ramp project would create significant traffic and environmental problems for the area. Several legal challenges followed, but the state won them all, as well as all the necessary construction and environmental permits to begin work on the combination launch and parking lot area. The state legislature even earmarked $2.1 million for developing the launch and parking area in 2017. (The federal government will reimburse about three-quarters of the cost.)

But the money was removed from this year’s budget and Sununu opted to withhold an application to extend the site’s needed wetlands permit. (That issue is still being litigated in the Sullivan County Superior Court.)

The commission’s report criticizes the fish and game department’s “determined pursuit” of the Wild Goose project, noting that the department “did not give sufficient consideration to what was reasonable in relation to other concerns, most notably traffic safety, inadequate residential buffering, expense, existing boat access and environmental impact.”

As an example, it points to the department’s definition of the state-required “reasonable access” to the public waterway. “The position of fish and game has been that the state should provide access for 100-percent of boat-types, 100-percent of the time, for free, for as many boats, regardless of the costs, concerns of the community, and safety hazards. This is as realistic as a motorist expecting the state to construct a highway for the capacity of the busiest day of the year, without regard to community, safety nor cost.”

There is already five boat launches on Sunapee that are open to the public at little or no cost, the report reads. “Thousands of boats are accessing the lake annually, approximately three-quarters of which are motorized boats,” it states. “There is no access crisis.”

It also gives attention to “unresolved traffic and safety concerns regarding trailer boat traffic patterns entering and exiting Route 103 to and from the Wild Goose site… The safety concerns of the Wild Goose site voiced to the commission by police, fire and emergency officials were critical to (our) recommendations.”

Finally, the report recommends abandoning the prospect of developing the proposed launch site to “end the long-term divisions and concerns associated with (it.)”

“For almost three decades, the high impact plan to create a boat launch for trailered boats there has been controversial, dividing people and communities. It has cost the (fish and game) department, the state and constituencies hundreds of thousands of dollars. The result is a stalemate,” it concludes, adding that the overall issue of increased access remains unresolved.

Three commission members – including Glen Normandeau, Fish and Game’s executive director – signed a minority report that sharply disagrees with the full board’s opinion. “Finishing the development of the Wild Goose site is the only realistic way to provide the type of site that the commission agrees Lake Sunapee lacks and needs,” it reads. “(We three) strongly believe that Wild Goose provides the only realistic possibility for providing adequate public boat access to Lake Sunapee in the next few years.”

 This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, April 11, 2018.

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