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 selectman wants court to restore his petition article language; hearing scheduled this week, voting next week

By Ray Carbone

SUNAPEE – A court hearing scheduled for Thursday could have a significantly impact the ballot that town voters see at the polls next Tuesday, March 13.

A Sullivan County Superior Court judge is set to listen to a request from John Augustine, a selectman, and other residents, identified as “Concerned Citizens of Sunapee,” to reverse a change in the language of a petitioned warrant article that was approved last month at the town’s annual deliberative town meeting on Feb. 16. Augustine claims that the article, which he initiated, was altered in a way that muddied its original intent.

John Augustine decided to initiated the petition warrant article that would let town voters consider the question when they go to polls on election day.

\The town of Sunapee “acted unlawfully in disregarding (the petition’s) language,” according to the court action, because state law requires that “no warrant article shall be amended to eliminate the subject matter of the article.”

The issue is related to a decision made by the Board of Selectmen to change the insurance system that the town uses for its employees. According to Donna Nashawaty, the town manager who proposed the new plan, the idea was to terminate a so-called “Cadillac” plan to a high-deductible “site-of-service” plan. Nashawaty said the change could save the town $70,000 this year but, as a way to smooth the transition for its employees, the selectmen agreed to pay 100-percent of its premiums for this year.

Augustine was reportedly only person on the five-member board of selectmen to oppose the idea. “I thought it was unfair (for the taxpayers),” he said.

After he was unable to convince his fellow selectmen, Augustine decided to initiated the petition warrant article that would let town voters consider the question when they go to polls on election day. Augustine collected enough signatures to have the petitioned warrant article on the deliberative session ballot: “Should the town employees contribute more than zero percent towards the cost of their monthly health insurance premium?”

(As an “SB-2” community, Sunapee held its annual “deliberative” town meeting last month, where warrant articles were discussed and, if approved by the majority, altered; voters give final approval or disapproval on election day.)

At the deliberative session, former school board member Shaun Carroll proposed changing the language of Augustine’s article: “Since the town employees this year are being offered a high deductible health insurance plan at a lesser cost to the employee and the taxpayer, shall both share in that savings?”

Voters at the meeting approved the change, but Augustine believes that the town representatives made an egregious mistake. “While New Hampshire election law allows for a petitioned warrant article to be amended, the amended language cannot change the subject matter and the intent of the original petition warrant article,” he said. “The original petition warrant article was focused on ‘cost,’ whereas the amended article is focused on ‘savings.’”

“The amended warrant article entirely eliminated the subject matter of the original warrant article,” according to his legal action. “The subject matter of the amended warrant article deals exclusively with whether town employees should share in the savings, if any, derived from moving to a different health insurance plan. (It) eliminated the subject of whether the taxpayers consented to bear the tax burden for the employees or whether they voted to (support) a cost-sharing arrangement… The (town) acted unlawfully in disregarding the petitioners language seeking to require the town employees to share in the cost of their health care insurance premiums, as specifically stated in the petitioned warrant article.”

Augustine wants the court to order the town to restore his original petition warrant article wording prior to next Tuesday’s voting.

Last week, Augustine said that he’s not sure how voters will respond to his question but he wants to allow them the opportunity to provide some input for the selectmen to consider.

“This would let the voters voice their opinion,” he said. “And if their opinion is that they thought the employees should pay something, then change it for 2019. But we don’t want to get stuck for 100-percent of the costs when it’s a reasonable expectation that those costs will go up year after year.”

Both Augustine and Nashawaty agree that the 2018 health insurance plan cannot be changed at this time, and that the petition warrant article (whatever its language) is not binding on the selectmen but is only advisory.

In addition, Nashawaty said that the selectmen have not indicated that they intend to keep the town’s contribution to the employees health insurance cost at 100-percent in the future.

The court hearing is schedule for Thursday at 10:30 a.m. in the Sullivan County Superior Courthouse in Newport.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on March 6, 2018.

 

 

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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