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.

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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.

 

 

Sutton fire department addition delayed

By Ray Carbone

SUTTON – Plans to build an $800,000 addition to the town’s North Road fire station have been put on hold, according to Cory Cochran, chief of the fire department.

Late last week, Cochran said that the board of selectmen has directed the fire department building committee to reach out to an architectural engineering firm to rework the group’s original specifications.

“We put them out for bids (from construction companies) in the spring, and ended up with three proposals,” the chief explained. “We noticed that our bid specs didn’t work, they weren’t detailed enough.”

Proposed construction costs ranged from $1.4-million to $700,000. “We rejected them because of inconsistencies, so it’s back to the drawing table,” the chief said.

During the summer, the selectmen decided to get an architectural-engineering firm involved, Cochran reported. The chief later held a building site visit with Kelly Gale of KLG Architecture of Webster to discuss reworking the architectural/engineering plans.

 Cochran admitted that the delay could prove costly for the town and the department, 

 

The status of the project was scheduled to be addressed at the selectmen’s meeting on Monday, September 10. Cochran admitted that the delay could prove costly for the town and the department,

One town official said it was likely that the addition project, which was overwhelmingly approved by voters at this year’s annual town meeting in March, will likely reappear on the 2019 town meeting warrant.

In public meetings leading up to this year’s meeting, Chief Cochran noted that the town has been considering an addition since 2006. The original building was erected in 1974 and has had limited improvements since that.

Right now, the building doesn’t comply with National Fire Protection Association Standards and doesn’t meet the department’s needs, Cochrane said.

The proposed 30-by-45 square-foot single story addition, which would be constructed on the Route 114 side of the building, would provide needed office space, room for gear storage, an equipment storage bay, an updated kitchen and updated restrooms, the chief explained last week.

“There will be a larger meeting-training room because we’ve outgrown the meeting room that we have now,” he said. “And the bathroom will be with showers, so they’re be more locker-room style.”

The new space will also provide sufficient room for the emergency operations center, according to the chief.

Cochrane said he hopes to have a clearer idea about how to move forward with the addition project some time this month.

This story originally appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, September 11, 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.

 

 

Recreational rail trail could link Kearsarge-Sunapee towns to Concord

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – If Tim Blagden has his way, you may someday be able to walk or bike with your family from Concord to Newbury Harbor on a scenic trail that passes through some of the best towns in the state.

Blagden is the president of the Friends of the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail board, a nonprofit group that wants to create a 34-mile walkway/bikeway along the old Concord-Claremont Railroad line. The user-friendly facility would connect the towns of Newbury (the southern tip of Lake Sunapee), Bradford, Sutton, Warner and Hopkinton/Contoocook to the Capital City. It will be “spectacular,” Blagden says.

‘The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor.’

Tim Blagden, Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail

 

The Pumpkin Hill Road resident first got interested in public biking/walking spaces about five years ago. “Back in 2013 my kids wanted to go for a bike ride so I want looking for a rail trail online,” he recalled. “I found the Bike-Walk Alliance of New Hampshire and noticed that they were looking for an executive director. So I found a trail and ended up sending in my resume.”

Blagden had experience in sales and business development, and he ended up getting the job. Soon he was connecting with scores of outdoor enthusiasts, from ardent bicyclists and public health officials, to community planners and rail trail buffs. He was quickly convinced of both the health-related and economic benefits of providing alternatives to automobile traffic.

Then in 2014, Blagden noticed that the alliance and two rail trail groups that it supported might, in effect, end wind up competing with each other for the same grant money. So, for the sake of all of three organizations, he decided to separate the two trail programs from the alliance and take on the job of moving local project forward.

It’s a challenging endeavor, he admitted.

“The broad idea was to see if we could stitch back together a trail that substantially follows where the old railroad ran, from the Pierce Manse in Concord to Newbury Harbor,” he said.

The problem is that, unlike other rail lines in New Hampshire, the state government doesn’t own the former railroad company property. About half of the proposed 34-mile trek is already operating as trails, including the Stevens trail in Contoocook, the town-owned Tilley Wheeler Trail in Bradford, and the Warner and Newbury rail trails.

But they’re all separated from one another in “little pieces, here and there,” Blagden noted.

In addition, there are 95 private and 47 public (e.g., town governments and state agencies) landowners that control the rest of the former railroad property. That means the Friends have to get easements from each one in order to build and maintain each section of the proposed trail.

“It looks impossible,” Blagden admitted, “but if you give people the opportunity to say yes, people are taking advantage of that opportunity. You tell them, we will turn this into a beautiful rail trail. That we’ll provide the service, we’ll raise the money for maintaining the trail, we’ll take care of it and you don’t have to deal with it. And you get a beautiful trail. And people are saying, yeah, that’s cool.”

It helps that property that connects with a public trail can increase in value by as much as $9,000, the Friends president noted.

In addition, a state study estimates that while completing the entire trail would cost about $4 million, it would have a true economic impact from out of state visitors of approximately $900,000 annually.

But Bladgen’s organization is moving slowly and respectfully, simply trying to raise awareness about the trail proposal.

“We are at the tipping point,” he said. “So we want to put something down that’s visible but not too costly in as many communities as possible, and let people experience it.”

This year, the group is adding two miles of trail linking Hopkinton to the Davisville State Forest in Warner. (A shorter Warner trail between Depot St. and Joppa Rd. was completed last fall.) In addition, a recreational trail program grant has been approved to put a new three-quarters mile trail linking the famous Appleseed Restaurant to the Pizza Chef in Bradford.

For more information about the Concord-Lake Sunapee Rail Trail, see concordlakesunapeerailtrail.com

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, July 3, 2018.

Local town administrators looking for ways to cut costs, expand services

By Ray Carbone

BRADFORD – Two years ago the town administrators from Bradford, Sutton and Warner got together to see if they could save their towns some money when the time came around to make their annual winter fuel purchases.

“Instead of Bradford buying 5,000 gallons, Sutton buying something like its 5,000 gallons and Warner buying its 10,000 or whatever, we did a joint fuel bid,” recalled Karen Hambleton, Bradford’s town administrator. “And we got a great rate.”

The administrative trio was so encouraged by the results they’re now meeting on a regular basis, exploring ways their towns can work together for their mutual benefit.

“For the past year the towns of Sutton, Bradford and Warner have had conversations about consolidating certain services, either for expanding services or because it would be more cost effective,” explained Elly Phillips, Sutton’s town administrator.

“I think there’s a lot of cool opportunities to save money here and there, backing each other up, helping each other out,” agreed Hambleton.

For instance the regular joint administrators’ meeting has addressed the idea of buying or renting equipment together in the future, according to Jim Bingham, Warner’s administrator.

“Take roadside mowing. Each town needs to do it for a few weeks in the summer and we always rent a tractor,” he said. “But when you look at what the towns are spending, we could own one in six years for what we’re paying for a single year’s rental.”

If issues related to storage, maintenance costs, insurance etc. could be agreed to, the towns might consider making a joint tractor-mower purchase, he suggested.

The towns could even look at shared professional services, the administrators noted.

“I’m talking about things like code enforcement, building inspections, planning or even town administrators – which I hate to say,” Phillips said. “The times are changing, and these little towns need professionals.”

The novel approach could attract more qualified professionals than what a single small community can afford to pay, according to Bingham.

To some extent the shared services idea has already been done.

When Sutton voters elected a new town clerk in March, Bradford helped out by allowing residents in their neighboring community to register their vehicles in Bradford for a few weeks, while the new employee received her necessary training, Hambleton said.

Of course the town administrators can’t make any cooperative agreements by themselves.

Hambleton, Bingham and Phillips have to win the approval and support of their respective elected three-member select boards before any deals can move forward.

But the trio says the possible savings and service improvements are worth the time and effort to investigate.

“It’s just a matter of changing the way we think,” Hambleton said. “It’s just appropriate to have our towns working together.”

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 26, 2018.

 

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