Court Asked to Save Sunapee Boat Launch

Valley News Correspondent
Thursday, September 14, 2017

Newport — The Sullivan County Sportsmen Club has joined several other parties in asking Sullivan County Superior Court to override New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu by ordering the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services to renew a key permit for a proposed boat launch on Lake Sunapee’s southwestern shore.

The plaintiffs, who include the New Hampshire Bass Federation and two residents, argue that the five-year wetlands permit was “erroneously” referred to the governor and Executive Council for renewal.

Sununu announced in late July that the matter of renewal would be removed from the Executive Council’s agenda, effectively ending the project.

“This project has been debated for the last 20 years and it is time to put an end to this flawed plan,” Sununu said at the time.

The New Hampshire Fish and Game Department purchased the Wild Goose site in 1990 and soon after began planning to develop the site. The Lake Sunapee Protective Association and the town of Newbury have vigorously fought the proposal, going to court but ultimately losing two appeals.

The court petition, filed three days before the five-year permit expired on Aug. 28, argues that state law vests authority to renew the permit with the Department of Environmental Services, which has already determined that the Fish and Game Department has met all the requirements for renewal.

“(Sununu’s) action and his position is moot since none of the DES statutes allow for, let alone require, Governor or Council approval of extensions of permits under these DES statutes,” the complaint, filed by attorney Howard Dunn, states.

If the permit is allowed to expire, the goal of providing access to all those who love to fish and boat will be defeated, the petitioners argue.

Rene Pelletier, assistant director of the water division at DES, said Tuesday afternoon that the department routinely seeks approval of the governor and Executive Council on “major” projects.

The initial wetlands permit, approved in 2012, was also approved by the governor and executive council, Pelletier said. “Historically, we have always done that.”

Pelletier said he had not seen the court petition but that it would be referred to the attorney general for review.

The petition states that existing accesses to the lake are inadequate because they: are open only to town residents; charge a fee for access and are not open during early morning or evening; pose the risk of damage to boats, trailers and tow vehicles; provide limited or remote parking.

The Wild Goose plan off Birch Grove Road calls for removal of 125 square-feet of bank and the dredging of 2,500 square feet of lake bed to an 8-by-60 foot permanent floating center pier to provide public access at no charge for seven days a week.

Don Clarke, president of the sportsmen club and a former Fish and Game commissioner, said in a phone interview on Tuesday that of the current lake accesses, only the state beach is owned by the state of New Hampshire. But is “too shallow and too narrow,” and improving it would create a risk to swimmers, who oppose that idea, Clarke said.

The Sportsmen Club said in a statement that the “environmental and other regulatory hurdles to such a project would be likely impossible to overcome.”

“There would continue to be no unrestricted, sufficient boat access to Lake Sunapee. The loss would be irreparable,” the court complaint states.

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.