Local sportsmen groups continue to fight for LakeSunapee access at Wild Goose

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – Despite two recent setbacks, the Sullivan County Sportsman Club, the NH Bass Federation and others are continuing their efforts to have the state move forward with its long-delayed plan to develop a public access boating facility on the Wild Goose property in town.

Attorney W. Howard Dunn of Claremont, who is representing the organizations and some individuals, has filed a Motion for Reconsideration with the NH department of environmental services’ wetland board after a hearing officer overturned the board’s original decision to allow the sportsmen groups to have a say in the state’s recent relevant actions.

‘The state has an obligation under its statutes to provide access for the public, including (the groups), to Lake Sunapee.’

W. Howard Dunn, attorney

In his legal paperwork, Dunn argues that the officer erred when he disqualified the groups because the full board had earlier decided that the sportsmen organizations are legally recognized as “aggrieved” or “directly affected” parties.

“The state has an obligation under its statutes to provide access for the public, including (the groups), to Lake Sunapee on state-owned land without barrier or impediment,” he added, noting that the board’s recent decision to not apply for an extension of the site’s wetlands permit could “cause forfeit of the state’s only option to this mandate.”

In recent weeks, the Wild Goose plan has absorbed two major blows.

First, the 15-member Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu recommended that the NH fish and game department abandon the proposed site. Then the wetlands board decision disqualified the sportsmen groups’ interests.

Glen Normandeau, executive director of the department, said he’s ready to “move on” from the Wild Goose site project. “I’ve got too much on my plate to go walking around looking at lots along Lake Sunapee (for possible alternative launch sites) when I have no money (in the budget) to spend on it,” he said.

While Dunn’s appeal to the wetland board moves forward, the sportsmen groups still have a legal motion pending in Sullivan Superior Court that could force the state to develop Wild Goose. It claims that the state had already committed to the project and that recent actions by the governor, legislature and others do not supersede that decision.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on My 8, 2018.

 

 

 

 

 

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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.

 

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.

Gun range project could land in Concord or another NH town

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – Since his efforts to build a retail gun store/indoor shooting range in Warner were defeated last month, resident Eric Miller says he’s heard from numerous local communities that are anxious to see if his new business can be established in their towns.

Speaking by phone from his home here late last week, the owner of Dragonfly Ranges said that he’s seriously considering several potential locations, including two in Concord. “There are two (spaces there), and one is large enough for indoor skeet/trap shooting,” Miller explained. “So, I’m seriously considering doing two ranges. One for skeet/trap shooting and the other the more traditional range,” like the was proposed in Warner, he explained.

The two locations are “within four or five miles of each other,” Miller noted.

‘What I’m looking at right now is speed-to-market. It took a year for this to play out in Warner and I’m not spending another six months (delayed).’

  • Eric Miller, owner of Dragonfly Ranges

 

Miller said he’s decided against appealing the Warner zoning board of adjustment’s recent decision to deny a variance that would have allowed his $1.4-million firearms facility to be constructed on Warner Road, despite the urgings of his attorney. “My lawyer has said in no uncertain terms that the zoning board violated state law (by rejecting the variance request), and he has written me a very detailed analysis, even though I’ve told him I’m not looking to appeal this,” the business owner said.

“What it comes down to, quite simply, is that if I appeal then the judge would likely send (the case) back to the another zoning hearing,” Miller said. “And since its their (members) intend to violate state law, the only thing I could expect is that they would try to conceal their preconceived opinions and hide their real biases better than they did this go-around… It’s not a good investment of time.”

“What I’m looking at right now is speed-to-market,” he said. “It took a year for this to play out in Warner and I’m not spending another six months (delayed).”

Planning officials in Concord have assured Miller that there are numerous locations around the city – including some on Main Street – where he would have no problem opening up his retail gun store/shooting range operations. “We’d need no more than a building permit,” he said.

In Warner, Miller was unable to convince the five-member ZBA that his proposal was allowable under the town’s legal definition of a “permitted use” for a zoning variance. During the last year, a significant number of area residents said that they did not feel the facility was a good addition to the community because of concerns about noise, pollution and safety. Last month, the ZBA voted 3-2 to turn aside Dragonfly’s variance request.

Miller said that since the group’s decision, he’s received invitations from officials or private citizens in Hillsboro, Newport, Grantham, Springfield and Hopkinton, as well as City of Concord and his Sutton hometown, offering to discuss the possibility of locating his facility in their towns. Some involved procuring land and constructing a new building, something he’s not interested in at this time. Miller wants to rent space in an industrial-style building to speed his opening, he explained.

The business owner said he hasn’t yet developed any plans for the 2.9-acre Warner property he bought last year in hopes of constructing his facility.

“So far I’ve had three offers (to buy it),” he said. “One of them, of course, being from Norm (Carlson).”

Carlson is the founder and president of MadgeTech, Inc., the high-tech firm located adjacent to Miller’s property. He led the legal fight to defeat the firearms facility proposal, so the Miller admitted to having some reservations about his offer. “I’m not the emotional type but, it (selling to Carlson) certainly wouldn’t be my first choice.”

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

 

Warner high-tech firm buys two smaller Newport companies

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – The local company that’s been embroiled in efforts to stop the construction of an indoor shooting range in town is expanding its business by purchasing two Newport companies

MadgeTech, Inc., an industry-leading manufacturer of high-tech data loggers, has bought Matrix Air/Pollution Research and New England Solar Concepts, both located on Sunapee Street. The deal was announced in a recent press release issued by MadgeTech earlier this month.

The new, expanded business wants the deal to allow it to manufacture high-quality products in growing fields including HVAC and alternative energy.

 

Matrix has been manufacturing a variety of air filtration and purification systems for businesses and homes since 1983, according to the company website. “For decades, New England Solar Concepts has been helping home and business owners,” according to the press release, “(by) specializing in the installation of photovoltaic electric and thermal solar panels.”

Financial details of the purchase were not disclosed to the public.

Norman Carlson, the founder and president of MadgeTech, said that his company has been negotiating with the owners of the Newport firms for months. “The recent acquisition was the perfect opportunity to support local businesses while complementing our commitment to providing the necessary resources needed to ensure safety and quality across influential industries worldwide,” he commented.

The new, expanded business wants the deal to allow it to grow and manufacture high-quality products in growing fields including HVAC, alternative energy, food processing and life sciences, according to the press release.

Carlson started MadgeTech more than 20 years ago. Today, the company employs about 60 people at its plant and its data loggers are used around the world for security and safety.

Carlson opposed a project proposed by Dragonfly Ranges to build a 16-lane firing range and gun retail store next to his plant’s Warner Road facility. The Warner business owner threatened to move MadgeTech out of town if the firearms facility was built, because his employees had safety concerns about its proximity. But the zoning board of adjustment rejected Dragonfly’s request for a zoning variance last week, effectively killing the proposal.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on January 16, 2018.

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.

Charges dropped against Sunapee man

By Ray Carbone

SUNAPEE – All charges against a local man charged with illegally altering an email message written by a political foe of his wife’s in a local school board race have been dismissed.

In a ruling in Newport District Court last week, Judge Gregory E. Michael ruled that state prosecutors made a mistake when they charged Joseph Furlong, 40, of Sunapee with two counts of illegally altering an email with the aim of influencing the results of an election (Class A misdemeanor) and one count of forgery (a Class B misdemeanor) related to being an accomplice to the incident.

The incident goes back to March 2016 when, several days before the annual municipal elections, several residents attending a local basketball game were surprised to receive an email message from a woman running for a school board seat.

The message appeared to portray another school board candidate negatively, and alleged sender later told police that she saw an immediate negative backlash from the message.

She later lost the election and Heather Furlong, Joseph’s wife, who was one of three candidates running to fill two vacant seats on the Sunapee school board against the woman, was elected.

‘Although the actual activity complained of by the state (attorney general) may be the same, the conduct of (Furlong) in the three new charges is different, as is the proof necessary for a guilty finding.’ – Judge Gregory E. Michael

 

Within days, Police Chief David Cahill began looking into the situation. Several citizens told him about unusual encounters with Joseph Furlong and the chief questioned the man, who was a producer of the American Builder reality TV series.

Furlong denied sending the altered email but indicated that he was close to finding out who had.

Later that day, Cahill received an email from Adam Gaw of Londonderry claiming responsibility for the doctored message. Cahill suspected that Furlong had “invented” Gaw to take responsibility for the misdeed.

Because the case appeared to involve election fraud, the state attorney general’s office was soon involved.

It took almost one year before the original six charges were filed against Furlong this past March. (Heather Furlong immediately resigned from the school board.)

Days later, Gaw confessed and took full responsibility for altering the controversial email message.

In July, Brian W. Buonamano of the attorney general’s office withdrew the original six charges against Furlong and filed the three newer ones, claiming that had acted “in concert with and/or aided” Gaw to alter the message, and to commit forgery.

But James D. Rosenberg, Furlong’s attorney, asked the court to dismiss the charges. The lawyer said that Gaw’s confession meant that Furlong was now being charged with actions that were significantly different than what was in the original charges. The new actions would require a different kind of defense and, in any case, the legal time limit for charging Furlong for new actions ran out in early March.

Last Tuesday, August 22, Judge Michael agreed with Rosenberg. “Although the actual activity complained of by the state (attorney general) may be the same, the conduct of (Furlong) in the three new charges is different, as is the proof necessary for a guilty finding,” he wrote in his ruling.

In addition, the judge said that the legal statute of limitations “should be liberally interpreted in favor of the defendant (Furlong).”

At press time, there was no information available regarding Gaw’s legal status regarding the charges.

 

 

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