Warner group looking at ways town can grow

Photo: The view from the front porch at Schoodacs Coffee & Tea on Main Street in Warner can inspire hope for the town’s business growth. (Courtesy of Schoodacs)

By Ray Carbone

WARNER – Things can be tough economically for small New England towns these days.

Municipal costs of both materials and employment regularly increase while property owners consistently complain about rising property tax rates.

But Charlie Albano, chairman of the town’s economic development advisory committee, says his hometown has an advantage over other communities.

“We have a Main Street,” he smiled, looking out onto the street from Schoodacs Coffees & Teas’s front porch one hot day last week. “It’s small and vibrant. And lots of small towns don’t have that, do they?”

The committee is also updating the town website to emphasize economic development and tourism, and working on a new visitor brochure aimed at drawing more Interstate 89 drivers into the village.

Albano and his ten-member group, which was appointed by the board of selectmen two years ago, hope to build on that strength and other positive community attributes to spur economic growth, make the town more enjoyable, and temper the tax rate.

Albano says that a large part of the committee’s job is simply educating citizens about the advantages and ideas behind economic growth for Warner.

For instance, some have suggested that attracting a large business into the town would significantly lower their tax bills. “What do you think it would do if we brought in a big business that added a million dollars in tax revenue a year for the town of Warner,” Albano asked rhetorically.

“It would drop the property tax rate by about two-cents per thousands (dollar of property value,)” he reported, which is much less than what most people would expect.

Warner could benefit from some kind of bigger facility, the chairman explained, but it should be one that meets locally articulated needs, is environmentally responsible, fits the town’s aesthetics, and provides new tax revenue.

Those are the goals listed in the town’s master plan and the standards the committee is using, he said.

The group has just finished working a survey that will allow residents to identify how they would like to see Warner grow. It’s also involved with a redesign of the town website that will emphasize economic development and tourism, and its planning to distribute a new town-themed visitor brochure this fall aimed at drawing more Interstate 89 drivers into the village.

Previous surveys have helped, he noted. In the past, residents have used them to indicate their desire for increased dining options in town and a local pharmacy. Now, the popular eatery called The Local is celebrating its fifth anniversary and the nearby Warner Pharmacy is only about two yeas older. In addition, the new Warner Public Market on Main Street, scheduled to open this summer, will feature locally sourced goods, providing more healthy food options, the chairman noted.

The committee’s new survey, which should be available in print and online within the next few weeks, might indicate that residents want a local dental office and/or more daycare options. “So, maybe we (town officials) should go seek a dentist,” Albano suggested.

Warner has an uncommonly large percentage of home-based businesses and some of those owners could benefit from access to economic development support, the chairman said. “We could look at creating a business incubator where a small business could learn how to grow and expand, how to do a business plan, modern marketing techniques, and more.

“Or, If a business wanted to expand or come to Warner, can we create and institute a new or existing tax incentive program,” he asked rhetorically.

Albano also suggests that Warner could benefit from an increased emphasis on tourism. While the town is known for its local museums, visitors may also be interested in more than 15 other businesses and activities in the community. “Tourism dollars circulate throughout a community,” he noted, without adding significantly to the cost of town services.

While the economic development committee is looking forward to reviewing residents’ input from its survey results this fall, it has already identified some tentative goals.

One is to develop a plan to permanently staff the parks and recreation department to increase awareness of local recreational opportunities. Another is to improve walkability in Warner with improved signage and street/trail development. The committee also hopes to raise the profile of agritourism in town.

Right now, the group is continuing to seek input from local residents and businesses. It meets the third Wednesday of every month and the meetings are open to the public. The next meeting is scheduled for Wednesday, June 20, from 6-8 p.m., in the town hall. (The meetings may soon be moving to a larger venue in the future so check the town website, http://www.warner.nh.us)

 

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, June 5, 2018.

 

 

 

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State board won’t stop Wild Goose termination process

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The state’s wetlands council reversed an earlier decision and ruled that several sportsmen organizations that want to build a public boat launch facility on Wild Goose do not have a legal right to halt recent council actions that effectively terminate the proposed project.

At the same time, the lawyer representing the sportsmen groups says the ruling last week could provide support for a similar request the groups filed in Sullivan County Superior Court. That action, like the one made to the wetlands council, would have forced the Department of Environmental Services (DES) to move forward with its initial plans to extend a wetland permit and build the launch facility at Wild Goose.

Conley’s decision states that the sportsmen haven’t shown that they would be directly affected by the termination of the wetland permit.

 

“I just think that if my clients don’t have standing with the DES (appeal process), then their action in the superior court is not foreclosed,” and can therefore move forward, said W. Howard Dunn of Claremont. Dunn is representing the New Hampshire Bass Federation, the Sullivan County Sportsmen and the Mountain View Gun club, as well as various other individuals and organizations.

The state is required to provide public water access to Sunapee and other major waterways, and purchased the Wild Goose land more than 25 years ago with the aim of providing a deep-water launch site for Sunapee on the property. But local opposition delayed the process and last year, the state legislature removed all funding for the project. Not long afterwards, Gov. Chris Sununu announced that the state would no longer consider the local land and officials should begin looking at other access options.

The ruling handed down on Tuesday, Apr. 17 by David F. Conley, an attorney who serves as a hearing officer for the wetlands council, affirms a decision made by the group last summer. At the time the 14-member council, which advises the DES about wetlands issues, denied a request from the fish and game department for a five-year extension of the wetland permit that would have allowed the Wild Goose project to move forward.

The council had originally voted to allow the sportsmen’s organization to appeal the decision because the individual boaters and fishermen were aggrieved by the ruling.

Conley’s decision reverses that action and states that the sportsmen haven’t shown that they would be “directly affected” by the termination of the wetland permit.

“A general interest in a problem is not a basis” for a legal complaint in this case, Conley wrote.

“Allegations of adverse consequences to boating, fishing and swimming activities suffered by the members of the (sportsmen) organizations if the permit is allowed to lapse and the Wild Goose site is not constructed is the type of generalized harm to the public (that) our court has found insufficient to establish standing,” he noted.

Dunn said that his clients are considering whether to appeal the council’s ruling to the NH Supreme Court.

At the same time, they await the decision of the Sullivan Superior Court. “It involves the court making a judgment as to the authority of the DES,” Dunn noted.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, April 23, 2018.

 

 

 

 

Lake Sunapee access commission chairman blames NH Fish & Game for Wild Goose snafu

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The chairman of the recently disbanded Lake Sunapee Access Commission blames the NH Fish and Game Department for prolonging any hope that a state-owned public access boating facility can be built on the former Wild Goose campground property in town.

“Fish and game commissioners continue to fight for this site although it’s clearly not going to get built,” Neil Levesque of Concord said last week. “The state legislature decided not to endorse it, the senate didn’t, and the executive council didn’t. The area has some pretty strong safety concerns as well as a big price tag. And the fish and game commissioners are apparently not concerned about that.

“I absolutely believe, not only that the commissioners got it wrong (by recommending a launch be built) on Wild Goose, but after 27 years, why fight for something that’s not going to go anywhere? The fish and game department cannot move on,” he added.

‘It’s almost like a Red Sox-Yankees situation at this point.’

– Neil Levesque, commission chairman

 

Don Clarke of Claremont, a former director of the fish and game department, disputed Levesque’s viewpoint. “The only thing that the fish and game department and commissioners has been stuck on is furnishing the public with access to Lake Sunapee. And that’s what the law says fish and game is charged with doing,” Clarke said.

Levesque also complained that fish and game officials are so committed to their Wild Goose plan that they won’t even consider any other properties that may be available for a launch. “There are locations that can be used but the commissioners won’t go and look at them,” he said. “It’s ‘Wild Goose or burn the whole thing down.’ I found it to be very bureaucratic and sad.”

Clarke disagreed with that as well.

“We did look at plenty of other site for 27 years,” he said. “There was none as good as Wild Goose. The public does not have access that meets the criteria set forth in the legislation, which is that it be open 24 hours with no charge, and that either the state or federal government has to own the property.”

When Gov. Chris Sununu first appointed the access commission late last year, it did not even appear that Wild Goose property be reconsidered as an access site.

Sununu charged the 15-member group with finding other ways for boaters to access the lake and to make recommendations about other recreational uses for the Wild Goose land.

The commission’s final report suggests that the state try to expand free boat trailer parking at existing launch sites in the area while working to find a permanent deep-water launch site. It also recommended that further recreational development at Wild Goose be spearheaded by the state’s division of parks.

The bulk of the commission’s report, as well as most of the time at the group’s six public meetings, focused either on complaints against Sununu’s initiative to abandon Wild Goose or support for his viewpoint.

Levesque said that he was surprised at the strength of the opposing positions. “It’s almost like a Red Sox-Yankees situation at this point,” he said.

“What I found was that there was elements out there, mainly propelled by lawyers and lobbyists, who were pushing and are still wishing for Wild Goose,” he added. “The lawyers are making a lot of money off these sporting groups. They’ve the only ones who have won. In the end, the public still doesn’t have great access to Lake Sunapee. That’s the tragic situation.”

Levesque did not identify any legal entities working in support of the Wild Goose proposal. At this time the only lawyer publically associated with the efforts is W. Howard Dunn of Claremont, who is representing the Sullivan County Sportsman Club, the New Hampshire Bass Federation, the Mountain View Gun Club, and several other nonprofit organizations and individuals. The group has made a formal request to the state’s Wetlands Council to overturn a recent NH Department of Environmental Affairs decision that would effectively terminate any possibility of building a deep-water launch on the Wild Goose land.

Clarke said that Dunn is donating his legal services and the attorney refused to comment, saying only that he has “120 human beings as clients.”

 

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

 

 

 

 

Sunapee commission turns thumbs down on Wild Goose site

by Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – The Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission, which was appointed by Governor Chris Sununu late last year, has issued a report essentially agreeing with Sununu’s appraisal that the state-owned former Wild Goose campground property in town should not be included on a list of possible sites for future public access boat ramps.

“We strongly recommend​ that the Wild Goose site be removed from consideration as a

Department of Fish and Game boat launch site,” according to the report, which was issued several weeks ago. The move will “release the department from its focus on the Wild Goose development and empower it to find a more acceptable alternative for a deeper-water boat access point on Lake Sunapee,” the report reads.

The report (says) the fish and game department… did not give sufficient consideration to… traffic safety, inadequate residential buffering, expense…

But the 15-member commission, which Sununu charged with developing a plan to expand boaters’ access to the lake, as well as advancing some alternative proposals for the Wild Goose land, did not identify any other possible launch sites and left ideas about the property’s recreational development to the state’s division of parks.

The state agency “should make its own determination as to the suitability of the site’s use, consistent with its mission to provide public access,” the report reads. “This may include providing fishing, car top boat/canoe access, picnicking, or even camping opportunities.”

While Sununu’s charge to the commission did not include reconsidering the state-owned Wild Goose property as a launch site, much of the discussion at the group’s public meetings – and in its final report – focused on the 3-acre state-owned land.

That’s not a surprise, given its history. In 1990, officials purchased it with plans to develop a deep-water public access site that could be used by larger boats. (Smaller vessels can use the State Park in Sunapee.) Then in 1999, they indicated that they might forego the idea because Newbury residents were considering letting the state manage their town-owned Georges Mill launch site.

When that plan fell through, the state turned its attention back to the Wild Goose property but local opposition grew. Some residents and town officials said developing the two-ramp project would create significant traffic and environmental problems for the area. Several legal challenges followed, but the state won them all, as well as all the necessary construction and environmental permits to begin work on the combination launch and parking lot area. The state legislature even earmarked $2.1 million for developing the launch and parking area in 2017. (The federal government will reimburse about three-quarters of the cost.)

But the money was removed from this year’s budget and Sununu opted to withhold an application to extend the site’s needed wetlands permit. (That issue is still being litigated in the Sullivan County Superior Court.)

The commission’s report criticizes the fish and game department’s “determined pursuit” of the Wild Goose project, noting that the department “did not give sufficient consideration to what was reasonable in relation to other concerns, most notably traffic safety, inadequate residential buffering, expense, existing boat access and environmental impact.”

As an example, it points to the department’s definition of the state-required “reasonable access” to the public waterway. “The position of fish and game has been that the state should provide access for 100-percent of boat-types, 100-percent of the time, for free, for as many boats, regardless of the costs, concerns of the community, and safety hazards. This is as realistic as a motorist expecting the state to construct a highway for the capacity of the busiest day of the year, without regard to community, safety nor cost.”

There is already five boat launches on Sunapee that are open to the public at little or no cost, the report reads. “Thousands of boats are accessing the lake annually, approximately three-quarters of which are motorized boats,” it states. “There is no access crisis.”

It also gives attention to “unresolved traffic and safety concerns regarding trailer boat traffic patterns entering and exiting Route 103 to and from the Wild Goose site… The safety concerns of the Wild Goose site voiced to the commission by police, fire and emergency officials were critical to (our) recommendations.”

Finally, the report recommends abandoning the prospect of developing the proposed launch site to “end the long-term divisions and concerns associated with (it.)”

“For almost three decades, the high impact plan to create a boat launch for trailered boats there has been controversial, dividing people and communities. It has cost the (fish and game) department, the state and constituencies hundreds of thousands of dollars. The result is a stalemate,” it concludes, adding that the overall issue of increased access remains unresolved.

Three commission members – including Glen Normandeau, Fish and Game’s executive director – signed a minority report that sharply disagrees with the full board’s opinion. “Finishing the development of the Wild Goose site is the only realistic way to provide the type of site that the commission agrees Lake Sunapee lacks and needs,” it reads. “(We three) strongly believe that Wild Goose provides the only realistic possibility for providing adequate public boat access to Lake Sunapee in the next few years.”

 This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper, published in Sutton, New Hampshire, on Tuesday, April 11, 2018.

Gov. Sununu appoints new Sunapee boat access group; locals want court to overturn his decision to ditch Wild Goose plan

By Ray Carbone

NEWBURY – Several local sportsmen associations and at least two residents have mounted a legal challenge to Gov. Chris Sununu’s plan to ditch a long-delayed proposal for building a public access boat launch on Lake Sunapee’s southeast shore.

The governor is moving forward with seeking an alternative to the local site.

Sununu signed an executive order recently that establishes the Lake Sunapee Public Access Development Commission. The group will research and evaluate “alternative opportunities for expansion of boat access at Lakes Sunapee,” according to a press statement issued by his office. It will also consider other uses for the three-acre Wild Goose site that the state purchased for a possible boat ramp in 1990.

The new executive order says that the state’s original plan to build a boat ramp on the 3.3-acre land off Birth Grove Road has “met with significant public opposition, including extensive litigation involving multiple appeals to the New Hampshire Supreme Court.” At a result, according to the order, “it is necessary to assemble a variety of perspectives” before moving forward with both a new lake access plan that will be supported by a majority of the public as well as a new development goal for the Wild Goose property.

“The (F&G) letter charged that ‘a few wealthy individuals’… want to keep the lake ‘as their own private domain.’

The 15-member commission will include two members of the state legislature 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 (appointed by those town’s boards of selectmen). Residents and/or shoreline property owners from the same three towns would be chosen by the governor.

On Friday, Ben Vihstadt, the Sununu’s press representative, said the governor has not yet announced members of the commission, but that the group will meet at least once a month with the goal of issuing a report by March 2018.

The idea of developing the Wild Goose site has been debated for decades.

While the state is legally obligated to provide pubic access to Sunapee, many area residents, including both Newbury town officials and the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, have long opposed the local project. The opponents argue that there already is adequate public (although not state-owned/operated) access to the lake, and that the local site off Rte. 103 could create significant traffic and environmental issues.

Supporters of the Wild Goose plan say state officials have already approved the Wild Goose site and that the current ramp access points are inadequate.

The state’s courts have twice sided with the supporters, defeating legal challenges to the proposed ramp. However, Sununu may handed the opponents a victory when he decided last month to not seek an annual renewal of the DES wetland permit needed to build a ramp on the site.

“Trying to salvage a flawed and controversial idea that has not gone anywhere in over 20 years and that was left without funding by the legislature is not a viable plan to increase public access on Lake Sunapee,” Sununu said. “My priority remains bringing forward a real proposal that will actually allow Granite Staters greater access to our Lake Sunapee.”

Shortly after the announcement, the fish and game commission took the unusual step of publically asking Sununu to reconsider his decision. The letter charged that the Newbury project was delayed because it’s opposed by “a few wealthy individuals” who own shoreline property near the Wild Goose land and want to keep the lake “as their own private domain.”

Now, the Sullivan County Sportsman Club, the NH Bass Federation and others have petitioned the Sullivan County Superior Court to reverse Sununu’s decision, saying that only the DES has the authority to decide on the status of a wetlands permit.

This story first appeared in the InterTown Record weekly newspaper of Sutton, New Hampshire on Tuesday, Oct. 3, 2017.

 

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