By Ray Carbone
NEWBURY – The fight to develop a public boat launch site for Lake Sunapee on the Wild Goose property is moving forward.
The long-delayed Department of Environmental Services (DES) project suffered a major setback last year when Gov. Chris Sununu urged the executive council to remove it from its list of proposed 2018 projects in favor of finding and developing a new site. He appointed a commission that’s considering other possible locations, including the Sunapee State Beach, while the DES refused to apply for an five-year extension for the project’s wetland construction permit.
But the chairman of the DES’ wetlands council has given new life to supporters of the Wild Goose site. He’s rejected the state’s formal request to dismiss an effort by the Sullivan County Sportsmen and others that would have required the DES to reverse course and apply for the permit extension. The Sportsmen’s group, which includes the New Hampshire Bass Federation, the Mountain View Gun Club, and several other nonprofit organizations and individuals, says the DES should have followed its usual protocol by seeking to extend the permit as its done previously since it’s already approved the construction project, rather than acquiescing to Sununu.
The Sportsmen’s group says the DES should have followed its usual protocol by seeking to extend the permit… since it’s already approved the construction project.
In a decision handed down January 11, George W. Kimball, chairman of the council, addresses the state’s two main arguments for dismissing the Sportsmen’s appeal.
One is that the organizations don’t have any legal standing in the case because they are neither abutters nor one of the original groups involved in the long-running legal dispute. Kimball wrote that the groups – which include fisherman and others with recreational interest in Sunapee – should be considered as a part of the general public that has a stake in the use of the project, just as the Lake Sunapee Protective Association (LSPA) has been allowed a voice in opposing the Wild Goose development.
The second argument states that extending the construction permit does not guarantee that the Wild Goose project will be developed. Kimball wrote that the group is only asking that the construction permit be extended to keep that option open, rather than follow Sununu’s lead. “(They) merely request that the permit be granted the five-year extension, an extension they assert was unlawfully and unreasonably denied,” he writes. “The appeal may be futile as an attempt to construct the project but the (group) states that it might save the state money and time later.”
Whether or not the effort turns out to futile is not a factor in request, he concludes.
The state purchased the 3.3-acre Wild Goose property off Route 103 in 1990 with plans to develop it into a public boat launch that would meet the state’s requirement to provide access to the general public.
But Newbury town official joined with the LSPA and others in opposing the idea, saying the facility would create significant traffic and environmental problems.
Supporters say that the property has already been approved by the DES and that current access is inadequate.
The dispute has faced years of litigation and Sununu said he hoped to move public access issue forward by abandoning a “flawed and controversial idea that has not gone anywhere in 20 years.” The 15-member Lake Sunapee Access Commission that he appointed has been holding a series of public meetings and is planning to make a recommendation next month.
Attorney W. Howard Dunn of Claremont, who is representing the Sportsmen’s group, said he’s encouraged by the recent decision because the language that Kimball used in his ruling may indicate that he’s favorably disposed to the concerns raised by the Wild Goose supporters.
But he acknowledged that the question is not entirely resolved. Since Kimball’s ruling, he said, the state has filed an appeal of his decision, and Dunn has filed a response to the appeal.
This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, February 6, 2018.