NH Fish and Game Dept. wants to hold onto Wild Goose site on Lake Sunapee

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – At a public meeting last week, Glenn Normandeau, the executive director of the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department, said that his office is looking at ways to leverage the state-owned Wild Goose property in Newbury in order to develop a public boat launch site on Lake Sunapee – even if Wild Goose is not where the facility is located.

Fish and game still prefers building its required launch on the Wild Goose land. However the agency is considering alternatives, including selling the land and purchasing another waterfront lot, or entering into an agreement with one or more local towns that would allow the pubic to use their municipally-owned launch sites.

Normandeau made his remarks to other members of the state’s 12-member Council on Resources and Development (CORD), which is part of the state’s office of strategic initiatives, at a meeting in the state’s department of education building on Thursday, Nov. 8. CORD is charged with facilitating interagency communications and cooperation relating to environmental, natural resources and growth management issues.

‘We cannot commit to any specific use or investments at this time, especially considering that we have tens of millions of deferred maintenance across the (state’s) parks system.’

– Sarah L. Stewart, commissioner of NH dept. of natural & cultural resources

At the meeting, Normandeau outlined the 20-years-plus history of his department’s efforts to provide a required public access facility for Lake Sunapee boaters, including two cases decided by the NH Supreme Court and numerous hearings before boards associated with the state’s department of environmental services.

“This (Wild Goose) project has been to CORD twice in the past, and twice CORD voted to support putting our boat ramp sites there,” the director said. “The property was purchased for this purpose, given to this agency for this purpose. And I have directions from both our commission, in a 11-0 vote, and the public water access advisory board, in a 9-1 vote, to try to retain control of the property.”

Fish and game’s management of the Wild Goose site is in now question after the Lake Sunapee Boat Access Development Commission, appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu, issued a report recommending that the Newbury land be abandoned as a possible launch site and alternative uses for the land be considered. (One suggestion is that it be made into a state park controlled by the state’s department of natural and cultural resources.)

“We wish to retain the property, at the very least, pending an alternative site being found,” Normandeau told his fellow CORE members. “It would be unprecedented to removed a property from one agency that wants to retain it and give it to another. And, I would not consider that a great precedent… We have a strong feeling that it should not be transferred to another agency.”

Instead, the director said that the land could provide needed financial resources.

“We might consider going to the legislature to see if we can sell the property at fair market value and use the money as a start to getting the money we’d need,” to purchase an alternative piece of waterfront land and/or to cover cost related to developing a new launch facility, Normandeau explained.

(Typically, state-owned land deemed surplus by one department is transferred to another. The director said the state officially estimates that the 3.1-acre Wild Goose property would be worth $1.2-million on the open market.)

Normandeau also noted that because Wild Goose is known to be in the state’s public access land inventory, it serves to encourage local towns to consider allowing the public to use their town-operated launch sites. “It would behoove us to keep that property in the access program,” he said.

Earlier in the meeting, Sarah L. Stewart, the commissioner of the department of natural and cultural resources, said that while her agency had never requested management of the Wild Goose land, it would be obligated by statute to accept it if it were to be offered.

“It is important for me to include in our comments that developing, maintaining, managing and staffing property takes resources,” Stewart added. “We cannot commit to any specific use or investments at this time, especially considering that we have tens of millions of deferred maintenance across the parks system.”

CORD’s next meeting is tentatively scheduled for January 10. At that time, the committee is expected to review what could be next step regarding the Wild Goose land.

This story originally appeared  in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 13, 2018.

 

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Public trust is central to new Sunapee access legal appeal

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – A group of sports enthusiasts’ organizations and interested private citizens have filed a new appeal to the state’s decision to deny a wetlands building permit that would have allowed the construction of a public boat access facility on Lake Sunapee.

In papers submitted to the Sullivan County Superior Court in Newport on Oct. 10, William Howard Dunn, the attorney representing the groups, reaches back to the English common law that is the basis for the American judicial system and even ancient Roman law.

Those systems support the idea that some properties – like New Hampshire’s lakes – are held in a “pubic trust” by the state government. “(As) stewards of public waters, the state safeguards the right to use and enjoy public waters,” he quotes from a previous case; Dunn also notes state statues that direct the state to “control the use of public waters and the adjacent shoreline for the greatest public benefit.”

The attorney quotes from a 60-year-old Gilmanton lawsuit… and from  a California case that found that members of the public ‘have standing to sue to protect the public trust.’

The issue of public access to Sunapee has been debated for more than 20 years. For some time, the state ‘s department of environmental services (DES) and its fish and game departments sought to build a facility to comply with the legal mandate that reasonable access be available to everyone. In 1990 the state purchased the former Wild Goose campground in Newbury and developed plans to construct a facility there.

But legal challenges from both the town and the Lake Sunapee Protective Association delayed the project for years. The opponents say there is sufficient public access to the lake (although not a state-owned/operated facility), and that dangerous traffic problems on Rte. 103 would result from using the Wild Goose land.

After years of administrative, legislative and court-related wrangling, it looked like the Wild Goose site would be developed. Then Gov. Chris Sununu announced last year that he was pulling the plug on the project because it had lingered unfinished for so long, causing widespread discord in the community. The move was opposed by the NH fish and game department but, not long afterwards, the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) denied a request from fish and game official to extend it wetlands building permit for the site; for years, the five-year building allowance had been approved several times previously.

The local sport organizations (including the Sullivan County Sportsmen, the NH Bass Federation and the Mountain View Gun Club) joined with Gary Clark, author of The New Hampshire Fishing Guide, and others asking the DES to reconsider its ruling. But an officer with the DES’s wetlands board dismissed their appeal, stating that the groups lacked legal standing to question the decision.

Last August, Dunn filed the sports groups’ initial request, asking the court to overturn the state’s actions and force it to move ahead with building a public access facility on the Wild Goose land. At that time, he argued principally that the state had acted incorrectly and in opposition to its own legal responsibilities, bowing to political pressure.

In his latest filing, Dunn focuses more on the state’s actions based on long-standing legal precedents, as well as its own laws and regulations.

“By law, the nature of these things (that) are common to mankind – the air, running water, the sea and consequently the shores of the sea” are part of the public trust, he writes, quoting from a lawsuit filed by the National Audubon Society in California in 1983.

“This rule, that such land are held by the state in trust for the public at large applies to all states, as it was upheld by the U.S. Supreme Court,” Dunn adds. “New Hampshire came to hold the public trust in its waters and shoreline when it joined the union” (in 1776).

The attorney also quotes from a 60-year-old lawsuit filed in Gilmanton to illustrate that New Hampshire courts have recognized that common law rights are applicable to “private individuals.” The California case also found that members of the public “have standing to sue to protect the public trust.”

“The denial of the (wetlands building) extension is a breach of trust by the public trust,” Dunn concludes. “By refusing to grant the wetlands permit, the (state) has violated its own duty under, not just under (state) law but also under common law under the public trust doctrine.”

The legal filing asks the court to order the DES to grant the fish and game’s wetlands building permit extension to August 28, 2022, and to allow the sportsmen organizations to continue to be considered in future actions under the “public trust” doctrine.

In response, DES’s legal team did not object to the new filing, but it argued that the case had already been decided. In addition, the group said that it would appeal the court’s decision if the ruling goes against the agency.

At this time, there’s no indication when the court will issue its final ruling.

This story originally ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, October 23, 2018.

 

 

Plans to abandon Wild Goose move ahead

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – State officials met with members of the public last week to hear their concerns about the recommendations of the Lake Sunapee Boat Access Development Commission announced earlier this year.

The commission’s final report suggests that the state abandon its long-delayed plan to create a state-owned and operated deep-water lake access facility at the former Wild Goose campground in Newbury, and look for alternative sites. It also recommends that parking at the Lake Sunapee State Beach be increased to allow for more use of the smaller, shallower launch there.

‘The issue is not public access. The issue is (the need for) increased parking.’

– June Fichter of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association

Last week’s hearing, held in Department of Revenue Administration building on Pleasant Street, was held before the Council on Resources and Development (CORD, part of the planning division of the state’s Office of Strategic Initiatives). CORD consists of 12 department heads who are charged with facilitating interagency communications and cooperation relating to environmental, natural resources and growth management issues. The commission’s report involves the fish and game department, which currently has jurisdiction over Wild Goose land, as well as the state’s division of parks that would take over the property and develop it for other recreational purposes.

About 20 people spoke to the council, and the arguments were familiar.

Opponents of the commission’s recommendations said that Wild Goose is the only viable site for a deep-water boat launch on the lake. Supporters point to serious traffic problems that would develop in Newbury.

June Fichter, the executive director of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, said her organization supports the commission’s recommendations because it puts the focus in the right place. “The issue is not public access,” she said, adding that boat traffic on Sunapee has increased about 270-percent over the last 16 years. “The issue is (the need for) increased parking.”

Gene Porter, a member of the state’s public water access advisory board and a representative of the state motorized boating population, said the commission’s report was “weakly reasoned.”

“These boaters, fishermen and water skiers want first-class access to Sunapee just as they have on Winnipesaukee and Squam,” he said.

CORD will hold its next meeting on September 13 when it will begins considering whether or not to accept the access commission’s recommendations.

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

 

 

 

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