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22-year fight over boat launch on N.H. lake continues

Battle being waged in state courthouses

Lake Sunapee in Newbury, N.H., has public and private boat ramps, but officials say a 24-hour launch is needed.

JIM COLE/ASSOCIATED PRESS

Lake Sunapee in Newbury, N.H., has public and private boat ramps, but officials say a 24-hour launch is needed.

NEWBURY, N.H. — New Hampshire Fish and Game officials say no project in the agency’s history comes close in duration to the 22-year effort to build a boat launch on state-owned land on Lake Sunapee.

And with cases still pending in the New Hampshire Supreme and Superior courts, the 2012 boating season will close with the proposal’s fate uncertain. The scenic 3.3-acre parcel on the western shore of the state’s sixth-largest lake remains an overgrown refuge for deer and other wildlife.

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‘‘We still don’t know what the endpoint is going to be,’’ said Assistant Attorney General K. Allen Brooks. ‘‘It’s been a very long process.’’

The Lake Sunapee Protective Association and town of Newbury are the chief adversaries of the proposal to pave more than two-thirds of the property for an access road, parking, and two 12-foot-wide boat ramps. The launch would be open 24 hours a day and have security lighting.

The saga has its roots in the state’s pursuit in 1989 of 133 acres of property — most of it on the side of Mount Sunapee — that was in foreclosure after a developer’s plans to build 80 luxury homes fell through. A six-page letter written by Wilbur LaPage — then director of the state’s Division of Parks and Recreation — has been a focal point of the dispute.

LaPage said acquisition of the land was a top priority. He wrote that the 3.3-acre lakefront parcel ‘‘should be kept as natural as possible; no paving is necessary at this site.’’ He suggested a boat ramp of concrete logs to address ‘‘the urgent need for boating access.’’

The now defunct Land Conservation Investment Program obtained the property at auction for just over $600,000, after the program donated $10,000 for an appraisal. Both organizations agreed with LaPage’s vision for the property.

The property was turned over to Fish and Game to manage, and in 1990 the agency began its quest to turn the property into the primary public access boat launch on Lake Sunapee. Land Conservation Investment Program leaders have battled that pursuit from the outset, saying proposals for a paved access for motorboats is contrary to the conservation interests that drove acquisition of the land in the first place.

‘‘Our major concern is an environmental one,’’ said June Fichter, executive director of the program. ‘‘It’s the health of the lake. There are rules and regulations and we feel the state’s departments should be setting good examples and not be trying to get away with whatever they can.’’

Jeff King — Fish and Game’s statewide public boat access coordinator — said plans for the launch include the use of porous pavement to filter and minimize storm water run-off into the lake. ‘‘We’ve designed this project above and beyond any other project to protect the environment,’’ King said.

Fichter said there are five other public boat access points on the lake. King said they are either deteriorated or lack sufficient parking for boat trailers.

Jim Cassidy, manager of Bob’s Beacon Marina in Newbury, said he hears from boaters about the need for another ramp. ‘‘Local people are dead set against it because of traffic concerns,’’ Cassidy said. ‘‘From a driving standpoint, I totally understand that.’’

Responsibility to manage the Land Conservation Investment Program-acquired properties was transferred to the Council on Resources and Economic Development, which approved the boat launch proposal. But Merrimack Superior Court Judge Larry Smukler ruled in January that the council failed ‘‘to fulfill its statutory duty to balance conservation and recreation interests when managing public lands.’’

Attorney Greg Smith, who represents the Land Conservation Investment Program, said the council is supposed to manage conservation lands, not drastically alter them.

The town of Newbury opposes the launch mainly because of traffic and public safety concerns. Newbury Police Chief Robert Lee testified during a hearing last year that it can be difficult to get an unobstructed view when trying to pull boat trailers onto heavily-trafficked Route 103 — the highway that would lead boaters to the Birch Grove Road and the launch.

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