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Upcoming lectures focus on NH forests, loons, and then geology

The annual Cottrell-Baldwin Environmental Lecture Series is underway at the Caroline A. Fox Research and Demonstration Forest, 309 Center Road, Hillsborough. The upcoming lectures take place from 7:00 to 8:30 p.m. and are open to the public free of charge.

  • Tuesday, March 26: “The Original Forests of New Hampshire” by Charles Cogsbill, forest ecologist and co-author of “The Changing Nature of the Maine Woods”
  • Tuesday, April 2: “New Hampshire’s Loons” by Harry Vogel, senior biologist and executive director of the Loon Preservation Committee
  • Tuesday, April 9: “More than Granite…An Introduction to New Hampshire’s Geology” by Frederick “Rick” Chormann, New Hampshire state geologist

More information is available via the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests event page: From the Ground Up.

The lecture series is co-sponsored by the Forest Society and New Hampshire Division of Forests and Lands.

Conservation and preservation: LCHIP grants in the Mt. Sunapee area

The Land and Community Heritage Investment Program (LCHIP) is an independent state authority working to preserve New Hampshire’s vital natural, cultural, and historic resources.

The 2018 LCHIP grants, announced in December, support two projects in the Mount Sunapee area: revitalization of the Goshen Grange building and land conservation along the North Branch of the Sugar River.

The Sunapee Mountain Grange #144

The Town of Goshen received $95,385 to help renovate the historic Grange Hall on Mill Village Road in the center of town. The grant will allow the Town to return the building to community use, providing needed Town and school office space.

The Sunapee Mountain Grange #144, Goshen, was listed on the N.H. State Register of Historic Places in 2003.

The structure (built in 1853) first served as a house of worship, the Christian Chapel. Then, a Methodist denomination acquired the building (1878 – 1887) and moved it from Brook Road to its current location in the center of the “Mill Village.”

In 1892, the third owner, the Sunapee Mountain Grange, took over the building.

In Goshen, as in numerous other rural New Hampshire communities, the Grange objective to create better farmers and better citizens was pursued through its regular weekly meetings in the hall. Besides providing “mutual instruction and protection,” these meetings provided the central social occasions in the lives of most members. …

From the 1890s until the conclusion of the Second World War, Goshen’s Grange Hall was at the center of the town’s economic, political, and social life. – History of the Grange Hall (pdf), authored by Goshen Historical Society members Bea Jillette and John and Mary Wirkkala.

The local Grangers ended their charter and donated the building to the Town in 2002. The Friends of the Goshen Grange has maintained the building since that time.

The restoration proposal is available for review at the Goshen Town Office. The total project cost is just over $190,000.

Conservation of Ruger land adjacent to Corbin Park

The Conservation Fund received an LCHIP grant of $200,000 to help create a 3,181-acre wildlife preserve in Croydon, Grantham, and Newport.

The North Branch Sugar River Conservation Project includes 2,400 acres of forest, 350 acres of ponds and wetlands, and miles of stream frontage, all open for public recreation including fishing and hunting.

This is a multi-faceted effort that will allow the New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission to acquire the property for public use.

Before his death in 2018, Willam Ruger Jr. sold the land to the Conservation Fund, a national non-profit. Other funding in part comes from the Pittman-Robertson Act, which provides federal monies (derived from the sale of firearms) for the management and restoration of wildlife. Ruger served as CEO of gun maker Sturm, Ruger & Co., the company co-founded by his father.

The conserved land abuts Corbin Park, a private game preserve, and runs along the North Branch of the Sugar River.

“The North Branch is a popular fly-fishing destination, heavily stocked by the state with brown, brook and rainbow trout. The properties connect to other woodland and wetland habitat, making nearly 49,000 acres of unfragmented habitat, the largest such block south of the White Mountains,” reported the Eagle Times.

The cost of the total project is about $3.5 million. N.H. Fish and Game is expected to take ownership in early 2019.

The 2018 LCHIP awards went to 42 projects across the state and they will receive $3.9 million in matching grants. Visit the LCHIP website for more information.

The photos are courtesy of the Land and Community Heritage Investment Program.

Action Alert: Call to protect Mt. Sunapee, G&C meets Dec. 19

FOMS Action Alert

Dear Friends,

On Wed., Dec. 19, the Executive Council will vote on three changes to the operating agreement with Vail Resorts including a provision that enables West Bowl development at Mount Sunapee State Park.

Add your voice to protect our public lands, our Park, and our mountain area.

Join us in urging a NO vote on Sunapee amendments A, B, and C; please call today Councilors Kenney, Volinsky, Pappas, Prescott, and Wheeler.

The Mount Sunapee lease changes are unacceptable, fail to protect the public trust and the State’s financial interest, and are before the Council without the benefit of a public hearing.

Ski Area Lease Amendments A, B, and C

The citizens of New Hampshire and State government need an accountable public process for considering all Mount Sunapee lease changes including assignments, transfers, and sales.

Amendment A pertains to ‘change of control’ and allows Vail to parcel out and manipulate its interest in the lease without State approval, which limits State authority and accountability for the state-owned property. Additionally, the provision contains language that puts at risk rent due to the State under the lease.

Amendment B allows West Bowl expansion across the mountain’s wild western flank and enables resort and real estate development on private property adjoining the Park. Vail now owns 657 acres adjacent to the Park. See below.

Amendment C provides for a Mount Sunapee Advisory Commission yet evades legislative intent. N.H. RSA 12-A:29-a requires a commission to administer and oversee the ski area lease at Mount Sunapee. An advisory committee serves a different purpose and at the call of the Commissioner.

More about the West Bowl

A contentious expansion and condo plan created by Okemo/Mount Sunapee Resort more than a decade ago eventually morphed into a West Bowl plan approved in 2016, despite strong public opposition.

The controversy continues and for good reasons.

  1. Vail took over the Sunapee lease knowing that the 2016 West Bowl amendment was null and void.
  2. Vail has not revealed any construction plans for the existing ski area or an expansion and says it needs time to identify needs and plan for the future.
  3. Vail has not said how it will protect Mount Sunapee’s unique natural heritage. The plan approved for Okemo/MSR will cut through the rare, ancient forest and open up unknown risks for larger exemplary natural communities on the mountain.
  4. The Sunapee Highlands, recognized for its ecological importance, has been the focus of land protection efforts for more than a century. Introducing resort sprawl across an environmentally significant landscape is short-sighted and violates Mount Sunapee’s conservation legacy.

Policy choices do matter. We need to preserve our valuable natural resources, not endanger them.

And contracts have consequences. The West Bowl amendment:

  • Allows the operator to exempt certain income when calculating rent paid to the State.
  • Anticipates exempting West Bowl parkland from critical public protections given to Mount Sunapee State Park from the federal Land and Water Conservation Fund program.
  • Requires the State to give easements and exclusive parkland access to private development, while a 2016 side agreement commits the State to cost sharing for expenses (operations, repairs, and improvements, etc.) for associated construction outside the Park.

Need more info?

Please see FOMS Latest News and our library of documents.

Add your voice

Please speak up to protect the State’s financial interest, our mountain park, and the public trust. Call today Councilors Kenney, Volinsky, Pappas, Prescott, and Wheeler.

ADD YOUR VOICE

Executive Council defers vote on Vail Sunapee contract changes

The Executive Council on Dec. 5 voted to delay a vote on three changes to the Mount Sunapee area ski contract with Vail Resorts. The Governor and Council (G&C) next meet on Dec. 19 at the State House in Concord.

The amendments to the operating contract between the State and Vail include the controversial West Bowl expansion. The three provisions sent to G&C are significant and govern: 

  1. Change of control regarding the assignment, transfer, and sale of the equity interest
  2. West Bowl development
  3. Mount Sunapee Advisory Commission

You will find the amendments below. And you can listen to the Mount Sunapee discussion of Governor and Council via this audio clip (MP3 download).

 

To view a video of the G&C meeting, go to Newport Community TV Online. The Mount Sunapee exchange starts at 1:11.

For more about the Vail contract changes, see:

See Amendments A, B, and C here:

  1. DNCR Late Item A Change of Control 2018Dec (pdf 3MB)
  2. DNCR Late Item B West Bowl 2018Dec (pdf 3MB)
  3. DNCR Late Item C Advisory Comm 2018Dec (pdf 3MB )

Governor Sununu added Mount Sunapee amendments A, B, and C to the Dec. 5 agenda as a late item, which precluded public review and comments on the specific provisions presented. The Secretary of State does not release and post ‘late items’ before the meeting.

Friends of Mount Sunapee believes the policy-making process that determines the future use and development of our State Park must be transparent and accountable and provide for meaningful citizen participation.

 

 

The three Mt. Sunapee contract changes and what next

The Friends of Mount Sunapee (FOMS) believes the owners of the state park, the people of New Hampshire, should have an integral role in guiding the future of their mountain park. However, it is no simple matter. Complex agreements govern the management and development of the state-owned ski area, which now has a new operator, industry giant Vail Resorts. 

In October, the Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources  (DNCR) asked the Governor and Executive Council (G&C) to approve changes to the Lease and Operating Agreement with Vail Resorts. The Council reviews state contracts.

In late September, Vail acquired the lease and Mount Sunapee Resort, which operates the ski area at Mount Sunapee State Park. The leasehold area encompasses approximately 1,135 acres of public land.

Before the Sunapee transaction closed, the Attorney General’s office (with DNCR direction) negotiated with Vail a side agreement that details specific changes to the lease. The terms affect public involvement and oversight and future development of the Park, including the controversial West Bowl expansion.

The lease amendment sent to G&C in October addresses:

  1. Change of control regarding the assignment, transfer, and sale of equity interest;
  2. West Bowl development; and
  3. Mount Sunapee Advisory Commission

What next?

Before a Council vote, the contract amendment (or amendments) need to return to the G&C agenda. Mount Sunapee is not on the agenda for the G&C meeting scheduled for Dec. 5.

Agendas are posted on the Friday before the Wednesday meetings of the G&C.

FOMS: Mt. Sunapee contract needs to protect the public interest

In a letter sent to G&C, FOMS expressed its opposition to the lease changes presented to G&C in October. The amendment, as worded, fails to protect the public interest including the State’s financial interest.

FOMS Position

Change of Control: This provision would allow the Vail to parcel out and manipulate the equity interest in the lease without State review and approval. We believe state government needs to follow an open public process before approving any transfers of the lease in part or whole.

West Bowl Development: This provision is both premature and inadequate. Vail has presented no development plans for the existing or an expanded ski area. Nor has Vail addressed the environmental concerns associated developing Sunapee’s western flank.

In the letter sent to the Governor and Executive Council on behalf of FOMS, Attorney Arthur Cunningham wrote:

“Any consideration of the West Bowl expansion should not occur until such time as the plans and specifications for the West Bowl expansion are complete. The plans and specifications must include any plans for development on the private property owned by Operator and any successors and assigns of any interest in the Lease…”

(Vail’s acquisition of The Sunapee Difference voided the 2016 West Bowl lease amendment granted to the prior operator.)

Advisory Commission: This lease term circumvents the legislative mandate that requires a commission to administer the lease vs. advise at the call of the Commissioner. The RSA, adopted in 1996 and reaffirmed in 2017, calls for an Administration Commission to oversee the ski area lease.

FOMS letter to G&C speaks to the specific provisions in the amendment with suggested contract language. See FOMS Publications.

Questions and concerns arise over Sunapee amendment

When the Sunapee contract changes came before the Executive Council in October, questions and concerns emerged.

Oct. 17 – The Executive Council voted 5-0 to table the Amendment and asked for more information.

Oct. 23 – Councilors Russell Prescott and Andru Volinsky participated in an Executive Council informational meeting, which delved into the history of the park, its natural heritage, and the three lease changes and whether the Council could vote on the revisions separately.

Oct. 31 – Councilor Prescott questioned DNCR authority and the Mount Sunapee Advisory Commission in an exchange with Attorney General Gordon MacDonald.

Prescott asserted that the N.H. legislature called for a commission to administer and oversee the ski area lease, not to advise.

The West Bowl and other lease issues are mute “if we haven’t gotten to the crux of who is in charge,” said Prescott, who recommended adhering to the law.

An Administration and Oversight Commission is one of several items in FOMS Mount Sunapee comments submitted to State officials.

Nov. 14  – No Sunapee discussion occurred when G&C met.

G&C: Listen or view the Mt. Sunapee discussion

Add your voice 

Send your Mount Sunapee comments to the Executive Council members:

Joseph D. Kenney, Andru Volinsky, Russell E. Prescott,
Christopher C. Pappas, and David K. Wheeler.

More helpful resources

Update to this post (Dec. 2, 2018): Mount Sunapee does not appear on the agenda for the Governor and Executive Council meeting on Wed., Dec. 5, 2018.

Mt. Sunapee lease changes withdrawn for now, DNCR authority questioned

Listen to the Mount Sunapee discussion before the Governor and Council on October 31 via NCTV Online starting at 1: 17 in the video.

Last Wednesday (Oct. 31, 2108) Governor Sununu announced that the proposed lease changes for the ski area at Mount Sunapee State Park were removed from the Executive Council agenda and will return before the Council “in a slightly different form in a couple of weeks.”

Additionally, on October 31, Councilor Russell Prescott, questioned the authority of the Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources (DNCR) to oversee the operating lease at Mount Sunapee and cited a statutory requirement. Prescott pointed to the law (RSA 12-A, 29-a), which requires a commission to administer the lease.

Listen to the Mount Sunapee discussion before the Governor and Council on October 31 via Newport Community TV Online, starting at 1: 17 in the video.

An advisory commission is the subject of the third of three contract revisions being sought the Dept. of Natural and Cultural Resources.

The legislature called for a commission to administer and oversee the ski area lease, not to advise, Prescott asserted.

The West Bowl and other lease issues are mute “if we haven’t gotten to the crux of who is in charge. The public, I think, is not being served when the law is not being adhered to. The commission was supposed to oversee and administer the lease,” Prescott said.

MacDonald stated that the existing operating lease now makes “no attempt” to meet the statuary requirements of RSA 12-A. The submitted change is “progress from where we were” the Attorney General asserted.

Upon further questioning, MacDonald conceded, “it was as far as we could get with Vail.”

Director Phil Byrce (NH Parks and Recreation) maintained that the Department meets the intent of the law by engaging an “advisory’ committee.

However, Prescott further questioned the legality of negotiating the law and a lease amendment that falls short of a legislative mandate. He pressed the Attorney General to revisit the issue.

From 1998 to now, an administration and oversight commission was to be the authority managing the lease, Prescott said.

The lease amendments are the result of negotiation by the State with the new lessee, Vail Resorts. Vail took over the ski area lease at Mount Sunapee in late September.

Mt. Sunapee Side Agreement

A side agreement between DNCR and Vail shows the specific contract changes proposed by DNCR. The arrangement however also appears to limit DNCR in re-negotiating with Vail as long as the agreement is in effect. 

See DNCR Vail Side Agreement 2018Sept26 (pdf).

What next?

The Executive Council will likely reconsider three changes to the State contract with Vail as separate amendments on November 14.

Listen to the Mount Sunapee discussion before the Governor and Council on October 31 via Newport Community TV Online, starting at 1: 17 in the video.

Or download and listen to an audio recording of the Mount Sunapee discussion of Governor and Council on October 31, 2108 (MP3 file, 10 min).

 

Background info

The Council tabled three proposed ski area lease changes, including a West Bowl amendment, on October 17. A public information session to address Councilor questions followed on  October 23.

See FOMS library of related documents.

re RSA 12-A, 29-a (Lease Agreement Terms)  V. (a) The role of the state in the on-going lease of the ski areas, including the state’s regulatory authority and power. (b) The establishment of a prototype commission to oversee and administer the lease. (c) The operational responsibilities remaining with the state and how these responsibilities would interact with the lessee’s responsibilities.

FOMS Enews: Action alert to send Mt. Sunapee comments

Sign up to get FOMS updates via our Contact Form.

Here is a link to FOMS October 29 action alert.

FOMS ENews October 29, 2018

The controversial West Bowl amendment is back before the Governor and Council. On Wednesday, October 31, the Executive Council will take up three changes to the ski area lease at Mount Sunapee State Park including a West Bowl amendment. Read more…

 

 

Video: Councilors question Mt. Sunapee lease amendments at info session

Last week the NH Executive Council held an informational meeting on the proposed lease amendments for the ski area at Mount Sunapee State Park. The session was held on October 23, 2018, at the State House in Concord.

View via Newport Community TV Online.

The video starts with Councilors Russell Prescott and Andru Volinksy speaking with Forest Society representative Will Abbott. To hear the earlier discussion, see FOMS prior post for an audio recording of the meeting.

Meeting participants included Commissioner Sarah Stewart (Department of Natural and Cultural Resources), Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, Senior Assistant Attorney General Dianne Martin, Sabrina Stanwood (Natural Heritage Bureau) and Will Abbott (Forest Society).

An audio recording of the meeting and more info including how to contact Executive Council members is available via FOMS prior post.

Audio: Councilors question Mt. Sunapee West Bowl and other lease changes

The Executive Council held a public meeting on October 23 to get more information about three proposed amendments to the ski area lease at Mount Sunapee State Park. Listen to the discussion via Google Drive Share, download MP3:

https://drive.google.com/file/d/1B6VA4NjriHejrG65C0WWR84weD0-5yNb/view?usp=sharing

Two of the five councilors, Russell Prescott and Andru Volinsky, attended and asked questions on Tuesday.

Meeting participants included Commissioner Sarah Stewart (Department of Natural and Cultural Resources), Attorney General Gordon MacDonald, Senior Assistant Attorney General Dianne Martin, Sabrina Stanwood (Natural Heritage Bureau) and Will Abbott (Forest Society).

When Governor and Council met on October 17, the councilors voted 5-0 to table the proposed Mount Sunapee lease changes to allow time to get more information and consider the DNCR request.

The Council will take action on the West Bowl and other lease amendments when it next meets on October 31.

Friends of Mount Sunapee opposes the West Bowl amendment and seeks an Administration Commission to oversee the ski area lease, as called for by law.

See FOMS recent alert.

Now is the time to call or email Executive Council members:

District 1 – Councilor Joseph D. Kenney
District 2 – Councilor Andru Volinsky
District 3 – Councilor Russell E. Prescott
District 4 – Councilor Christopher C. Pappas
District 5 – Councilor David K. Wheeler

West Bowl Amendment

The most controversial lease amendment would extend to Vail the West Bowl expansion option, although Vail has yet to disclose any ski area development plans within or outside the existing leasehold area. Vail assumed the Mount Sunapee ski area lease and operations last month.

The West Bowl amendment would enable resort and real estate development on land adjoining Mount Sunapee State Park. The expansion plan would allow for extending the park boundary while supporting the build out on private property held or assigned by Vail. The private development would retain perpetual easements and access to the State Park, according to the proposed lease amendment.

Other Resources

Send a Letter to the Editor
NHPR Reporting
Contact Us

Councilors want more info on Mt. Sunapee lease amendments – audio 10.17.2018

Here is the audio of the Executive Council discussion on Oct. 17, 2018, about Mount Sunapee and the proposed lease amendments. (eight minutes, mp3)

 

Last week, the Executive Council voted 5-0 to table lease amendments for the ski area at Mount Sunapee State Park. The councilors asked for more information and time before deciding on three lease changes, including a West Bowl amendment.

Vail Resorts took over the lease and operations of the state-owned ski area last month.

Executive Council Public Notice 10.23.2018

Executive Council Mount Sunapee meeting Oct. 23

The council will hold an information meeting on Tues., Oct. 23 at 1 p.m. at the State House (Executive Council Chambers). The meeting is open to the public. Click on the public notice (to the left).

Questions and comments about Mount Sunapee

It is essential to contact the Executive Council members with your questions and comments on the lease changes proposed for the ski area at Mount Sunapee State Park.

We welcome your comments and questions, as well. See FOMS contact page.

See FOMS prior post for more info.

 

 

Copyright 2018 Friends of Mount Sunapee