Students revolt over corn dogs removal

“We, the people of Londonderry Middle School, would like to notify you on how we feel about the new dumplings. WE HATE THEM.”

About two years ago, we reported on the great corndog revolt in a New Hampshire middle school. Read about it here.

 

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Warner mulling costs of employee pay increases and fire safety measures

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Town leaders are looking at two significant financial items as they prepare for the annual town meeting coming up in March.

According to Jim Bingham, town administrator, the board of selectman will be presenting voters with a long-delayed increases in town employee salaries, and the cost of installing new fire suppression systems in some municipal buildings.

The fire suppression system is the most expensive item. Bingham said recently that he was still researching how much it will cost to complete the safety requirements for the town hall, the public works garage and the transfer station.

Related: Warner wage study ignites war of words

The three-member board is particularly concerned about the public works garage, especially after fires at similar facilities in Henniker and Hopkinton caused major damage in those nearby towns. In at least one of those instances, virtually all the town’s valuable equipment stored in the structure was destroyed, Bingham noted.

In addition, because the public works facility and the transfer stations are located outside the village, they are not on the local municipal water system. “So we have to construct a holding tank, a cistern, there” the administrator said. “That could cost well over $200,000, maybe close to $1 million.”

The selectmen are reviewing those costs, as well as approximately $60,000 that would pay for fire suppression in the town hall, Bingham said.

The salary increases  would total about $50,000 but Bingham said that when the particular of each current employee is factored in, the increase will likely be closer to $30,000.

The pending salary increases are related to a wage and compensation study that an outside consultant completed for the board last year. The members have been reviewing and considering the consultant’s recommendations for some months now, Bingham said, and has decided to move forward with several actions, including changing to a new system of employee steps and grades that are linked to years of service to the town as well as job-related education and training.

“This is not the first time that the town of Warner has done this,” Bingham said. “This is actually the third time we’ve had salary adjustments. The first was in the early 2000s, then we did another in 2009. And, now in 2018. So it seems like every seven to eight years we have to look at our salary structure and our job descriptions, and update them to keep them within the (local) market range.”

The town employs 28 full and part-time employees so when the current compensation package is compared to the newly approved one, the overall salary increases for the year would total about $50,000. But Bingham said that when the particular of each current employee is factored in, the increase will likely be closer to $30,000.

 

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.

Wage study spurs war of words in Warner

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – A long-delayed wage study commissioned by the board of selectmen is at the center of a dispute between the board and its administrator, Jim Bingham, on one side and several residents, including some members of the budget committee, on the other.

In recent weeks, the disagreement had led to several developments. Mike Cutting, chairman of the budget group, has discussed the idea of submitting a warrant article at the annual town meeting that would restrict the selectmen from taking certain wage-related actions in the future; Bingham, the town administrator, has told the budget committee that he will no longer attend its meetings; and John Dabuliewicz, the selectman’s representative to the budget group, has said that’s he’s not seeking reelection, partly as a result of criticism he’s received related to his board’s work on the wage study.

Related: Town mulls town raises, fire safety measures

“Are we (selectmen) perfect and have we always been open,” Dabuliewicz asked rhetorically, according to the unapproved minutes of the Dec. 27 budget meeting. “No, we haven’t… But we’ve done the best we can and we are trying to do the best we can, and I resent the fact that people only talk about you when they have criticism… And that’s one of the big reasons I’m not running again.”

At the most recent budget committee meeting in town hall last Thursday, Jan. 3, Cutting read aloud an email message from Bingham sent earlier in the day.

“After much thought, reading the minutes and listening to the recording of the (Dec. 27) meeting, I feel that a reassessment of how these meetings are conducted needs to be made immediately,” Bingham wrote. “The culture of the proceedings must change towards one of civility, respect and orderly discussion. As I have no assurance that the hostile tone of the last meeting will not continue (at the Jan. 3 meeting), I have decided not to attend tonight’s meeting.

Police chief Billy Chandler said he was told that no (wage) decisions would be made until the selectmen met with department heads, but he was never invited to meet with the board before a plan was announced.

“The dynamics of the budget committee meetings are too unruly and 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 of attending budget committee meetings demoralizing and extremely unproductive,” he added. “This is a problem that has been quietly yet resentfully endured for a number of years, but for me, no longer.”

In many New Hampshire towns, the budget committee plays an important role. The members serve as a final financial “check-point” in the annual budget crafting process, reviewing the selectmen’s proposed budget. But because budget committee members are usually not as ingrained into the town’s day-to-day workings, their meetings tend to be less structured and more casual than those of other town boards.

The selectmen and Bingham say that the Warner group’s meetings have sometimes crossed the line into disrespectful behavior.

The selectmen originally commissioned the wage/compensation study from Thorton & Associates, a human resource consulting firm based in Maine, in 2017. Its goals were to clarify town job descriptions and compensations packages, as well as to evaluate the wage structures as compared to other local communities.

The selectmen began evaluating the consultant’s report in early 2018, according to Dabuliewicz’s comments at the Dec. 27 meeting, and the three-member board is still working through the final details of job descriptions. Because the project took longer than anticipated, the selectmen recently approved pay raises for several town employees based on the new plan, which took effect in December.

At the Dec. 27 budget meeting, some committee members and several other residents criticized the December raises, saying that selectmen shouldn’t have okayed the pay increases.

“The precedent (in Warner) is that anything that is going to be a long-term major expenditure goes before the town (at the annual meeting), and this did not go before the town,” said Martha Bodnarik, a member of the committee, according to the minutes. “This is an every-year increase because you have put in in (the budget annually).”

At last week’s meeting, Cutting suggested that a citizens’ warrant article could be drafted for consideration at the March town meeting that would require all future salary increases be included in the annual operating budget, and “not be paid until (the budget) is adopted by the town meeting.”

At the Dec. 27 meeting, some residents also criticized the wage study’s methodology, which they claimed didn’t provide enough input from department heads, placed too much emphasis on comparisons to other towns, and was needlessly motivated by fears about employee retention.

John Leavitt and Alfred Hanson were particularly harsh, asserting that the process of evaluating and implementing the new wage plan wasn’t sufficiently open to the public.

Bill Chandler, the town’s police chief, admitted that he was “a little disappointed” in how the process worked. According to the minutes, Chandler said he’d was told that no decisions would be made on his department’s wages until the selectmen met with department heads, but he was never invited to meet with the board before a plan was announced.

Leavitt said that he and others have requested sometimes information from Bingham’s office about the selectmen’s work on the wage package but haven’t received much response. “There are many situations where no data is supplied from the town,” he said.

The comment seemed to put the finger at Bingham, who was frequently the target of the criticism about the study, according to Kimberley Brown, chairman of the selectmen.

Late last week, Brown said that the meeting minutes on the town website do not accurately convey the unkind tone of some remarks aimed at the town administrator.

“It was pretty horrible, the way he was treated,” she said. “It was brutal.”

Brown added that, regardless of what’s been said, she has confidence in Bingham’s integrity and abilities.

She also said she understands his decision to not attend future budget committee meetings, if he’s treated disrespectfully. “I don’t see why he should go,” she concluded.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, N.H., on Tuesday, January 8, 2019.

Small print leading to better cell phone service for small NH town

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – When about 50 residents gathered at the elementary school to discuss the town’s future this summer, there was thing that concerned people who were interested in developing the town’s tax base.

“I don’t see how you’re going to get any businesses to come to Bradford, unless we have a cell tower,” said one person, as others nodded in agreement.

Walter Royal, the town’s building inspector and code enforcement officer, knows about the problem.

“There’s no signal in town,” he said last week. “There’s a couple of places where you can get a signal and you can make phone calls, but most people find that you can’t. You may be able to text something but not make a call.”

As a result, many residents still have a landline even though that service may not work for emergency services during a local power outage.

Now town leaders are cautiously optimistic that a long-delayed solution could be near.

Several weeks ago, Walter Royal (Bradford’s building inspector/code enforcement officer) was able to connect with a Verizon employee who promised to look into the delay.

Royal said he’s recently spoken with a representative of Verizon, the telecommunications company, and was told that the company hopes to provide improved cell service to the community before the end of the winter.

A new cell antennae is slated to be attached to a tower that’s located on a hill behind the local office of the local school bus company, Student Transportation of America (Valley Fire Equipment), on Route 114 near the intersection with Route 103, said Karen Hambleton, the town’s administrator.

The cell tower was originally erected five years ago by the Structure Consulting Group, a real estate advisory firm based in Arlington, Mass. that services the telecommunications industry. At the time the consulting firm told town leaders that it was working under a contract with Verizon, and that cell service typically follows within a few months of construction.

“But there’s been no activity,” explained Hambleton last week. Several public safety organizations are already using the tower, she added, which is “one of the reasons we’re cranky.”

In the spring, Verizon submitted its antennae application, but the town heard nothing more from the company in months.

Several weeks ago, Hambleton tried to connect with the consulting firm. When she was unsuccessful, she asked Royal to look into the issue.

Royal said that the original contact number associated with the project was no longer in service, so he reached out to someone at a Verizon facility in Fryburg, Maine.

When that proved unprofitable, he went back and looked at the application and found a contact name and phone number – but in tiny print.

“The plans were shrunk down, so they’d fit on an 8½ ”-by-11” page. So, I had to blow it up, I had to enlarge it,” he said. “And, when I did, there it was!”

Several weeks ago, Royal was able to connect with a Verizon employee who promised to look into the delay.

“He said he’d expedite it to have the base equipment put in this winter and the antennae up (soon afterwards.),” Royal related. “He said he’d told his higher-ups at Verizon that I was really (angry) at them. I think he was getting a little upset, probably because he thought the project was much further along.

“But no one could see his name on the plans.,” the town employee laughed. “Now I know his name… And I know where he lives!”

The above photograph of the Student Transportation of America/Valley Fire Equipment building on Route 114 in Bradford, was taken b y and is the property of Carbone Productions, LLC. This story first appeared in the InterTown Record newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 18. 

Snowstorm brings down trees and wires, but not town workers

By Ray Carbone

The recent area snowstorm resulted in scores of downed wires and tress, power outages, road closures, cancelled school days and a marathon work session for some town employees in the Kearsarge/Sunapee region.

“It was a lot of snow,” said Dennis Pavlieck, Newbury’s town administrator, “but we’re used to a lot of snow. We’re New Hampshire folks!”

Snowfall totals ranged between 18 inches in Springfield to 4-to-5 inches in parts of Sutton and Warner. The snow was heavy and wet, pulling down trees and tree limbs and dropping power lines, which caused electrical outages all over the area.

‘My department is a group of dedicated staff that took time out of their regular jobs to assist the community.’

– Dan Ruggles, chief of Sunapee’s all-volunteer fire dept.

Eversource, the company that services most of the local area, reported close to 100,000 outages around the state between Monday evening (Nov. 22) when the storm began and early Wednesday evening (Nov. 24); more than 60 percent of those were north and west of Concord, an area that includes many Kearsarge/Sunapee towns, explained William Hinkle, a spokesman for the power company. By Friday afternoon (Nov. 30), no local outages were reported.

Officials with the Kearsarge Regional School District said that the towns hardest hit by the storm were in the district’s northernmost communities of Wilmot, Springfield and New London. All district schools were closed both Tuesday and Wednesday, due to poor road conditions and power outages. On Wednesday, electric power was out at the district’s elementary school in Bradford.

During the height of the storm, reports indicated that virtually all of New London and a major section of Wilmot were without electricity.

The storm generally dumped more snow than was predicted, making for long day for public works and safety staffs in local towns.

“Our shift started on Monday night at 9 p.m., and went right through to 5 p.m. on Tuesday,” said Bob Harrington, public works director for New London.

Officials in Newbury and other local towns reported similar long hours for their road crews.

“The town of Sunapee received about 12 inches of snow that was mixed with rain,” said David Cahill, that town’s police chief. “We had at one point eight roads closed due to wires and trees.”

Jim Bingham, Warner’s town administrator, said four roads in his town were inaccessible for several hours and Pixie Hill, the town clerk/tax collector in Springfield, reported a section of Rte. 114, the town’s main thoroughfare, was closed until late Wednesday morning.

Cal Prussman, Newbury’s highway administrator, said that Stoney Brook Road was closed for most of Tuesday, and that Bowles Road was closed to through traffic for several days. In addition, the 50-plus homes on Bay Point Road, a dead end off the Sunapee State Beach access road, were temporarily cut off from the rest of the town on Tuesday until storm damage could be cleared.

Harrington echoed the thoughts of several town public work managers throughout the area, commending the work of his staff while thanking local police and fire departments for their assistance in the emergency.

Dan Ruggles, Sunapee’s fire chief, said his volunteer department responded to 29 calls of wires down, trees on wires, blown transformers, car accidents and providing support for the town’s highway department clearing damage across roads between Monday night and Tuesday evening.

“My department is a group of dedicated staff that took time out of their regular jobs to assist the community,” he added.

Ruggles and Cahill reported that Sunapee opened its safety service building as a warming station during the storm. “As a result, we did see a couple of residents take advantage of the safety service building,” Cahill said.

Throughout the storm and its aftermath, police officers did welfare checks on elderly folks and others who could be vulnerable during the outages, the police chief said.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, December 4, 2018.

Old firehouse, daycare proposal, economic development addressed

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – It was an informal conversation, but at a public meeting of Warner’s economic development advisory committee (EDAC) held in the town hall Thursday, Nov. 15, residents discussed ideas about what to do with the town’s old fire station.

The fire department will be moving into its modern facility around the end of this year, so the old brick building on Main Street will soon become vacant. Some residents have proposed selling the property which means it would be added to the town’s tax rolls while other suggest converting it into another community facility.

Among the most popular ideas raised at the recent meeting was using the old firehouse for a brewery or small restaurant, or developing it into a community and/or senior center.

Charlie Albano, EDAC’s chairman, said that he’s read about research that called daycare an ‘economic engine’ for a community.

The proposal that generated the liveliest discussion centered on creating a facility that would include some kind of daycare center. Emma Bates, a resident and local business owner who is part of the EDAC, said that she’s spoken to numerous young mothers in town who’ve expressed interest in a local daycare.

“The (Simonds Elementary) School has a Boys & Girls Club but there’s a lot of needs for younger children,” Bates told the group of about 30 people. “Until they reach school age, there’s nothing in town to send them to. A community center that includes a daycare space that could be used for preschool children (would be beneficial).”

Another resident said that a local licensed daycare would make Warner more attractive to younger people and Charlie Albano, EDAC’s chairman, said that he’s read about research that called daycare an “economic engine” for a community.

In addition, daycare facilities create demand for other local services, including food businesses, he said.

Another resident reported that the New Hampshire Telephone Musuem in town is planning to expand at its current Main Street location, which will impact the lower floor space now used by the Warner Firefighter Museum. She said she spoke with Ed Raymond, the fire chief, if he’d ever considered being at the old fire department station.

“I’d love to know if there is a significant firefighter museum in New Hampshire,” she added, “and, if there’s not, it could be a pretty tremendous opportunity.”

Albano said that the several local museums already attract tourists to Warner, and that his committee has learned about specific tourism communities that are now identified.

“It’s a huge, well-respected community,” the resident added, referring to firefighters and their supporters. “I think it (a state firefighter museum) would bring people to town.”

The discussion about the old firehouse was preceded by a presentation that Albano did about a recent town survey down by his committee. The survey is building on information gathered in earlier surveys to help identify ways that Warner could grow economically.

The new survey only gathered information from 136 respondents, which is less than 10-percent of the town’s population, but taken together with the earlier polls it does suggest certain kinds of businesses many people would like in their community, he said. Among specific options, small restaurants were the most popular, followed by small retail stores, and a medical or dental office, Albano reported.

Eighty percent of respondents favored increasing musical and other cultural events to attract tourists, and 70 percent said that programs like the Warner Fall Foliage Festival were an important part of the community.

Following the meeting, Albano said that the EDAC will be using the results of the new survey to help create a new town website and a new tourism brochure. When the website is completed, it will include the full survey results as well as two sections: one for economic development and one for a ‘Welcome to Warner’ tourism-focused page.

“We can also use the new website to advertise, for example, for a dentist and a restaurant,” Albano said. The EDAC hopes to have the new website established soon, he added.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, November 30, 2018.

 

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.

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.

 

 

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