Sportsmen Club, others, can move forward with Wild Goose appeal

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.

 

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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.

 

Sunapee Lake access group to host public meeting

By Ray Carbone

SUNAPEE – The state’s new Lake Sunapee Public Boat Access Development Commission will be holding a public meeting in the Newbury town office Thursday, Nov. 30, from 3 to 5 p.m.

The meeting is the latest in a series of pubic hearings the group is using to gather input from various stakeholders about plans to develop a public boat launch site on Sunapee. The public is invited to attend.

The commission was formed earlier this fall after Gov. Chris Sununu announced his intention to abandon the long-delayed plan to create a boat launch at the Wild Goose property in Newbury. The commission is charged with identifying a new site and with developing alternate plans for the 3.3-acre Wild Goose land, which the state purchased 1990.

The attorney general recently filed an appeal, asking the court to dismiss the wildlife group’s suit. The attorney representing the group said that he is preparing a legal response to the AG’s request.

While that process is moving forward, a group of New Hampshire residents who have fishing and other interests on Sunapee has filed a lawsuit seeking to overturn Sununu’s actions. The group, which includes the New Hampshire Bass Federation and the Sullivan County Sportsmen and the Mountain View Gun club, as well as Gary Clark of Merrimack, the author of the popular “Clark’s New Hampshire Fishing Guide,” charges that the state Department of Environmental Services violated its own procedures when it agreed to abandon its Wild Goose plans at the governor’s request.

The state’s attorney general recently filed an appeal, asking the Sullivan County Superior Court to dismiss the wildlife group’s suit. The attorney representing the group, William Howard Dunn of Claremont, said last week that he is preparing a legal response to the AG’s request.

The recently appointed 15-member commission includes two state representatives, as well as representatives from the NH Public Water Access Advisory Board, the NH Fish and Game Department, the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES), the NH Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, and residents of New London, Newbury and Sunapee.

Rep. Dan Wolf (R-Newbury) supports the DES’s decision to abandon the Wild Goose plan. He said the proposed project would create major traffic problems in Newbury, the construction costs are unreasonable – estimated to be over $100,000 – and that there are environmental concerns. “In my opinion it’s not the right site to put a boat launch,” he said.

A better option would be to establish a boat launch at the Sunapee State Beach in Newbury, Wolf suggested. “There’s an opportunity there to create parking space on the access road going in, and to refurbish the boat ramps at the beach,” he said. The project would be cost-effective and safe, he added.

But Dunn said that adding a state-owned-and-operated boat launch on the state beach would be the “ruination” of the recreational area.

“Endangerment of the state beach is an important aspect of this,” the attorney said. “There can be up to 50 kids there (on a summer day).” Ten towns use the state beach for organized community recreation, he added.

In addition, some of the beach area has already been shrunk by snowmaking equipment, Dunn said, so taking more space is impossible. “It would make it smaller yet; it would reduce parking in the area and it would possibly reduce that very expensive play area there.”

State law requires that there must be public access to any waterway that’s larger than 10 acres, according to Dunn. His clients have to buy boating licenses and purchase relevant equipment that is taxed, and part of those collected funds are supposed to go towards paying for boating access, he added. In addition, a federal grant is available that would pay for more than one-half of a launch site on the Wild Goose land, the lawyer concluded.

An earlier version of this story incorrectly stated that Rep. Wolf and Rep. Karen Ebel (D-New London) are part of the commission. We regret the error.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 28, 2017.

 

State wants court to dismiss Lake Sunapee access case

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – State officials want the Sullivan County Superior Court to dismiss a suit that would bar the NH Department of Environmental Services (DES) from moving forward with a plan to abandon a long-planned public boat launch site on Lake Sunapee.

In papers filed in the court in August, several people and nonprofit organizations with recreational interest related to the lake asked the court to have the DES ignore a proposal from Gov. Chris Sununu to ditch the state-owned Wild Goose property on the southeastern shore in favor of a different location. The governor says that the planned site has “met with significant public opposition, including extensive litigation involving multiple appeals to the New Hampshire Supreme Court” and, therefore, “it is necessary to assemble a variety of perspectives” on selecting a new site.

In Sept., Gov. Sununu signed an executive order establishing the Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission to find ‘alternative opportunities for expansion of boat access.’ 

 

The group includes the New Hampshire Bass Federation, the Sullivan County Sportsmen and the Mountain View Gun club, as well as Gary Clark of Merrimack (author of the “Clark’s New Hampshire Fishing Guide,” now in its fifth edition) and longtime fisherman Richard Smith of Hancock.

They claim that the DES was wrong to go along with Sununu’s proposal by withholding an extension of the Wild Goose’s permit for construction of a docking facility. According to their action, the DES’s own regulations demands that it approved the extension, despite a vote by the governor and the executive council not to approve it. “(Sununu’s) action and position is moot since none of the DES statutes allow for, let alone require, the governor and (executive) council approval,” it reads.

But in the court action filed on Oct. 17, the NH attorney general’s office argues that the group’s request that the DES okay the extension is on shaky legal ground in several ways.

For example, the group claims that withholding the approval would means that the boat launch will be built and, as a result, the state will meet its legal obligation to provide public access to all of the state’s waterways. But the group’s request for access that is “sufficient” is “subjective and conclusory, with no facts to support a finding that a fundamental problem regarding access to Lake Sunapee currently exists or will continue to exists.”

In addition, the group’s legal action “assumes that the issuance of the permit equates to construction of the (docking) project,” the AG’s office argues. There would still be costs related to the docking construction and the state’s budget has no money for the work at this time, it notes.

The state’s dismissal request also claims that the group members don’t illustrate any specific damage that is done to them by the denial of the permit extension, especially since they would be allowed to participate in future discussions about building a launch site at another location on the lake.

In September, Sununu signed an executive order establishing the Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission to research and evaluate “alternative opportunities for expansion of boat access at Lakes Sunapee.” The commission will also consider other potential uses for the three-acre Wild Goose site, which the state purchased for a possible boat ramp in 1990. A report is scheduled to be issue in March 1, 2018.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 7, 2017.

(Image from GoodFreePhotos.com)

 

 

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