Warner’s town administrator swings back

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Last week Jim Bingham, the town administrator who has faced some tough public criticism lately, leveled some pointed remarks of his own at John Leavitt, a member of the town’s budget committee.

At the board of selectmen’s meeting in town hall, Bingham said that Leavitt had made “comments that attacked my professional and personal integrity, in terms of my work and my work with board of selectmen” at a Dec. 27 budget committee meeting.

“You think about this, because this ticked me off,” Bingham told Leavitt at the selectmen’s meeting. “This was essentially a personal attack.”

‘You have to trust that we’re doing the best we can, that there’s nothing illegal, immoral and unethical going on.’

Kimberly Brown Edelmann, selectboard chair 

Bingham referred to a story on the front page of the Jan. 15 edition of the InterTown Record, which related Levitt’s remarks from the Dec. 27 budget group meeting. At the time, Leavitt said that there was “plenty of room for interpretation and manipulation” of data in a report on a town employee wage/compensation study that Bingham had discussed with the selectmen. “All the (relevant) information was going to the administrator (and) he was only telling you (selectmen) what he felt you should know, because he filters out what he thinks you don’t need to know,” Bingham read, quoting Leavitt’s remarks.

“If that’s not an attack or an accusation, I don’t know that is,” the administrator said. It’s unfounded, as far as I know… If there was any real evidence, I’d assume (you) would have brought that forward.”

“It sounds like you jumped to a conclusion that it was something (inappropriate) that Jim did,” Kimberly Brown Edelmann, the chairman of the selectmen’s board, told Leavitt. “You have to trust that we’re doing the best we can, that there’s nothing illegal, immoral and unethical going on.”

Leavitt replied that he never accused Bingham of acting improperly. “I made no allegations,” he said. “All I said was that (the study’s evaluation) was not always transparent… I said, there’s plenty of room for interpretation and manipulation (in the data). I did not suggest that was done.”

Bingham said that if the Leavitt had concerns about the administrator’s work, he should have gone directly to the selectmen. “The budget committee meeting was not the place to put that out (in public),” Bingham said. “Since I’m an employee, that becomes a personal issue… When you bring it up in a public forum, that’s inflammatory and damaging.”

After the Dec. 27 meeting, Bingham notified that budget committee that he would no longer attend its meetings because they were “too unruly,” and that “the history of sarcasm, condescension and personal attacks by some of its members towards myself, the department heads and our professional predecessors, makes the whole experience… demoralizing and extremely unproductive.” (Bingham did however come to a recent committee meeting.)

Bingham began his comments by asking Leavitt if he’d thought about his remarks and wanted to offer an apology.

But Leavitt refused, saying that he’d heard from other people who attended the Dec. 27 meeting and found it informative. Bingham and others in town leadership sometimes interpret vigorous questioning by the budget committee and others as “being contentious,” he said.

“Mr. Bingham called it a kangaroo court,” Leavitt said about the Dec. 27 meeting. “I call it democracy.”

Alfred Hanson, another budget committee member, suggested that some of the recent tensions between the committee and the administration were caused by the selectmen. He said that the board had recently approved some recent «wage increases, based on the wage/compensation study, without the usual level of input from the budget group and others.

Brown Edelmann said that she was mostly responsible for that and that the action has become a “learning opportunity for me, as the chairman… Maybe it wasn’t the smoothest move.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton New Hampshire, on Tuesday, January 22, 2019.

Advertisements

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.

 

Mink Hills poll highlights ATV complaints

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – According to a new survey, the majority of residents in the Mink Hills section of town are concerned about the increased use of ATVs and OHRVs in the area.

“Too many off-road vehicles, especially four-wheelers,” complained one resident in a feedback section of the survey.

“These vehicles have destroyed these roads and trails,” wrote another. “They drive over at fast speeds, splashing out the dirt with the water and leaving great sinkholes on the roads.”

“The current activity (level) is excessive,” wrote another. “There are times when great hordes of these four-wheeled trucks, covered in mud, come blasting past my house. They have just trashed the place.”

“I believe OHRV/ATV riding destroys the natural environment,” commented another. “And the noise level is unacceptable.”

The survey was crafted by the Friends of Mink Hills, a local nonprofit organization that includes representatives from Warner, Bradford, Hopkinton and Hillsborough, as well as staff with the Central New Hampshire Planning Commission (CNHPC). The seven-question survey was mailed to 120 property owners that have land abutting a Class VI road in Warner; Class VI roads are typically dirt roads the town doesn’t maintain (i.e., pave, plow, etc.). Forty-seven respondents returned their surveys, according to Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner.

‘When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say (some non-club) riders don’t obey the rules…The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules.’

– Craig Tufts, a CNHPC planner

Tufts said that in the summer of 2017, some local people approached the CNHPC about problems in the neighborhood. “The Mink Hills region was very important to them and they had concerns over who was managing the (recreational) use in those areas,” he said. The residents wanted the CNHPC involved because they considered the ATV/OHRV challenges a regional problem, he explained.“So, the idea is: four towns, one region.’ … We’re all alike. We should step back and look at what’s going on, and ask, what are the solutions?’”

Mink Hills, which includes the town-owned Chandler Reservation as well as the state’s Chandler-Harriman and Ashandon forests, is made up of more than 15,000 acres, a patchwork of private and public lands, located mostly in Warner (although it also includes land in Henniker and the three other communities).

The area has both environmental and historical importance. It includes a 4.9-mile trail loop near South Sutton, as well as numerous other trails that are utilized for a variety of recreational activities, including mountain-biking and horseback riding. According to the survey, most local landowners especially enjoy hiking, walking and snowshoeing in the Mink Hills.

Complaints about ATV/OHRV use in the area has risen in recent years after both Warner and Hopkinton ease restrictions on their Class VI roads, allowing for increased use by the recreational vehicles. Mink Hills residents say that the motorized machines create unacceptable noise levels, stir up dust, and seriously damage the trails; in addition, some riders disregard local rules and damage private property.

Nancy Martin is a member of the town’s conservation commission but got involved with the issue as a private citizen after hearing some local complaints. (The commission mailed out the recent survey, but it has decided not to get directly involved with the controversial issues.) She’s attended some meetings of the Friends of Mink Hills group, and reported that representatives of the NH fish and game department and local ATV clubs were also invited.

“When we’ve talked to the ATV clubs, they say of riders who don’t obey the rules: ‘They upset us as much as they upset you,’” Tufts noted. “The clubs are really doing a good job with signage, etc., but there’s a lot of people who don’t see the signs and just don’t follow the rules. Some blatantly disregard them. They wander into (private owners) fields.”

But to Bill Dragon, president of the Bound Tree ATV Club of Warner and Hopkinton, the Friends of Mink Hills appear to be interested only in instituting more restrictions on ATV and OHRV activities. (The survey reports 67-percent of respondents favored restrictions on some roads, while 45-percent supported seasonal restrictions on ATV/OHRV use.)

“What’s not in (the survey) is what these (club) people do to keep those trails open,” Dragon said, explaining how clubs like his put in hours tending and clearing the recreational trails.

“We’ve tried to focus on the areas where there are these problems,” Dragon said, referring to conversation club members had at recent meetings with the Friends. “We had a map, and said, let’s look at where the majority of the complaints come from. We think we know where they are, but let’s look at it… We’ve (also) talked about trail relocations and other things,” he said.

Unfortunately, it’s been tough for the club members and the Friends of Mink Hills to agree on exactly how the issues can be resolved.

And that’s what Tufts, Martin and others are hoping to do. They want to create a strategic plan that outlines how ATV/OHRV use in the Mink Hills can be effectively maintained and policed – one that’s supported by most people living in and using the Mink Hills trails, and that can be used as a framework for town regulations.

But Dragon says that it’s difficult to get there when the local survey doesn’t even reflect the view of most people who live in and use the Mink Hills, simply because it was restricted to Warner landowners.

“We have about 50 members and many own property in the Mink Hills area,” Dragon said. “We’ve got members all the way up and down Bound Tree Road (in Hopkinton).

“I think if you asked the people that are using these public access roads – and that’s what they are, public roads – if you asked them (to participate), if they were added to the survey, they would far outnumber the number of people they now have on the survey,” the club president said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record, a weekly newspaper published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 6, 2018.

Lawsuit against Bradford, employees could take some time

PHOTO: The former Candlelight Inn in Bradford village has reopened as the Bradford Village Inn, but it cannot operate legally as a lodging establishment until a lawsuit filed by the owner against the town is resolved. (Ray Carbone/photo)

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – A local innkeeper’s lawsuit against the town and two local officials may not be resolved for more than a year, according to documents filed in the U.S. District Court in Concord.

In March, Joseph Torro, the owner of the historic Bradford Country Inn on Greenhouse Lane, sued the Town of Bradford, as well as Mark Goldberg, chief of the fire-rescue department, and Marilyn Gordon, the town treasurer, for allegedly conspiring against his efforts to re-open the 121-year-old lodging facility after he purchased in August 2014. Court papers filed in July indicate that a jury trial would likely last about three or four days’ but a tentative start date is still about one year away, on August 20, 1019.

In separate documents, both (employees) deny all charges of illegal or improper behavior.

Earlier this month, Judge Andrea K. Johnstone, who is presiding over the case, asked the two sides to consider mediation to resolve their dispute. “By April 1, 2019, the parties shall inform the court whether they intend to mediate,” she wrote.

Rick Lehmann, the attorney representing Torro, said he’s preparing for a trial by jury but he’s open to discussions with lawyers representing the other sides. “If they want to talk, we’ll talk,” he said.

Torro claims that Goldberg and Gordon, who were romantically involved, used their political influence to create unfair roadblocks to operating the lodging business, including conspiring with the selectmen to withhold property tax abatements and trying to unfairly enforce fire safety/safety codes. He’s asking for $2 million in monetary damages as well as an indeterminate amount of punitive damages.

In court paperwork filed earlier this summer, the attorneys representing the town and the two employees disputed the innkeeper’s claims.

In separate documents, both Goldberg and Gordon deny all charges of illegal or improper behavior.

“(Goldberg) denies that he attempted to destroy (Torro’s) business prospect,” the fire chief’s document reads. “(Goldberg) notes that he never ran the Candlelight Inn (the former name of the property),” as charged by the current property owner.

In her court response, Gordon refutes Torro’s claim that she had to sell the Candlelight Inn because she was not a successful business owner, and that she and Goldberg wanted Torro to also fail in the hopes of her eventually regaining the property.

In the town’s court paperwork, officials deny that their employees treated Torro differently than other property owners regarding his request for a fire permit and tax abatements. “The abatement application could not be granted for the 2014 tax year because the application was filed too late,” the town attorneys claim. “An abatement could not be granted (for the 2015 tax year) because the application was submitted too early.”

The town’s legal response also questions Torro’s arguments regarding the reasons for any alleged unfair treatment by Goldberg and Gordon. “While the town notes that it lacks information regarding the alleged subjective motivation of Goldberg and Gordon describe, it disputes the characterization of their actions as well was (Torro’s) allegation that there was a conspiracy, discrimination and/or abuse of government power and influence.”

This story first ran in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on August 28, 2018.

Plans for $42-million senior housing project in small NH town moving forward

By Ray Carbone

NEW LONDON – New London Hospital’s plans to bring a new senior living community to the region are moving forward, the project’s developers told the board of selectmen last week.

At the group’s meeting in town hall on Monday, August 6, Joe F. Hogan, manager with Continuum Health Services/Development, LLC, of Lewiston, Maine, showed the board an artist’s rendering of the projected $42-million project, which would be located on 50-plus acres adjacent to the hospital grounds. The new facility, called New London Place, would combine independent living cottages, one-bedroom independent living apartments, and assisted living quarters, as well as extended care and memory care services, he said.

If everything moves forward in a timely manner, Continuum hopes to break ground on New London Place some time next year with the goal of finishing the initial construction within 18 months.

“Our primary core business is that we take care of elderly people,” Hogan said of Continuum, citing the company’s four current developments in Maine, including Sentry Hill in York Harbor.

Speaking by phone from her Maine office later in the week, Sarah Adams of Continuum said the business “provides housing, healthcare and hospitality services for (over-55) communities that we design, develop, own and manage.”

New London Hospital invited Continuum to come to town, she said. “New London Place is an ongoing project that New London Hospital has wanted to do for 17 years,” she explained.

The hospital does not have a financial stake in the senior housing development, Adams said, both Bruce King, its president and CEO, and Douglas Lyon, chairman of its board of trustees, have been consulting with Continuum’s staff to insure that the design and functionality of New London Place is suitable for the local community.

“New London Hospital is very keen to have additional senior living options for the residents of town because so many of them now leave (for other facilities),” she explained. “And because it’s adjacent to the hospital, you can keep your same physicians.”

The scope of care at new New London Place will allow residents to “age in place,” which research indicates is the best option for aging people, Adams noted.

The first phase of the project will be construction of the four-level central building called The Lodge. Adams said it will be “the size of two football fields” and contain both rental and condominium units; the rental units will include 47 assisted living units, 26 independent living condominium units, 20 units for memory care and five independent living units. The Lodge will also include dining facilities, libraries, a spa, a theater, arts and crafts space, and offices with “lots of amenities that one would expect to find in a premier retirement community,” Adams said.

In addition, the facility will house a medical staff and a working relationship with New London Hospital’s physicians. “We’ll be hiring registered nurses, nurse practitioners and nursing aides,” she noted. “They’ll be available 24 hours a day for all the residents.”

Once the first phase is completed, plans should move forward for constructing 33 3-bedroom cottage homes on the grounds, each measuring approximately 1,500-1,700 square-feet, Adams said.

Both the independent living apartments and the cottages will be available for sale or rent; construction on the cottages will move forward as the market dictates, she added.

Before any facilities are built, New London Place must be approved by both local and state authorities. Earlier this year, the town zoning board of adjustment approved two requests for minor zoning variances, and the planning board is currently reviewing the proposal.

If everything moves forward in a timely manner, Continuum hopes to break ground on New London Place some time next year with the goal of finishing the initial construction within 18 months.

At the selectmen’s meeting, Hogan indicated that Continuum is planning to open a sales office in the area sometime after the first of the year.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on August 14, 2018.

 

 

Lake Sunapee access will be focus of hearing in Concord this week

By Ray Carbone

CONCORD – The NH Office of Strategic Initiatives’ (OSI) Council on Resources and Development (CORD; part of OSI’s energy planning division) is scheduled to hold a public hearing this Thursday addressing the long-debated issue of public access to Lake Sunapee.

The CORD agenda lists “public comment” as its first item.

The council will be discussing the recent report of the Lake Sunapee Public Boat Access Development Commission issued in the spring. The 15-member commission, which was appointed by Gov. Chris Sununu, recommended that the state abandon its original plans to build a mandated deep-water state-owned and managed public boat launch at the former Wild Goose campground area in Newbury. The report suggests that the 3-acre property be considered for other recreational uses, but made no specific recommendation about an alternative site for the boat launch.

CORD, which consists of representatives from 12 state agencies, was formed to provide a forum for interagency cooperation regarding environmental, natural resources and growth management issues and policies. The group is required to adhere to the state’s Smart Growth Policy, outlined in the 2016 Smart Growth Report.

Thursday’s hearing will be the first since the commission wrapped up its work several months ago. The CORD agenda lists “public comment” as its first item; anyone wishing to present written comment must notify the OSI by emailing Michael A. Klass (michael.klass@osi.nh.gov) OSI’s principal planner, on or before Wednesday, July 11, at 4:30 p.m.

Klass, who joined the state agency in November, has worked as an private attorney dealing with land use, real estate development, property disputes and related litigation.

The meeting will take place in the NH Department of Revenue Administration’s training room at 109 Pleasant Street (Medical & Surgical Building) in Concord, Thursday at 1 p.m. The building is handicap accessible and, for security reasons, everyone attending must sign in and show a valid photo I.D. Driving directions are available at https://www.revenue.nh.gov/contact-us/documents/campus-map.pdf

More information about the hearing is available at https://www.nh.gov/osi/planning/programs/cord/index.htm, and questions can be addressed to Klass at 271-6651 or Micheel.klass@ois.nh.gov

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 10, 2018.

 

Blog at WordPress.com.

Up ↑