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Sununu questions 'exorbitantly large' price of scenic overlook

Senior Political Reporter

October 02. 2013 6:34PM

LONDONDERRY -- Executive Councilor Chris Sununu said Wednesday the cost of a new scenic overlook on Route 302 across from the Mount Washington Hotel was "large" when it was originally set at $704,000.

But he said the price jumped to "exorbitantly large" when the Department of Transportation asked the five-member Executive Council for approval to spend an extra $175,000 to pay A.B. Logging of Lancaster for work it had already virtually completed to finish the project.

After raising questions, Sununu ended up voting along with the other four members of the council to approve the extra expenditure, but only because, he said later, Transportation Commissioner Chris Clement acknowledged the work had already been nearly completed and he did not want the contractor to "walk away" before finishing the job.

"I think we're stuck," he said.

A transportation department spokesman could not say how $879,000 for a scenic overlook compared to the costs of previously completed overlooks because there have been no similar projects for many years.

Clement told the council the job "was more difficult than first planned."

In a letter to the council, he wrote that the original contract was approved in June, but now needed to be increased by $175,000 because "the amount of existing ledge rock to be removed to construct the parking lot as well as the drainage system was greater than anticipated. Subsurface ledge elevations along the extent of the site were higher than indicated on limited boring information."

Removing the extra ledge would cost $129,000, he wrote.

The additional $46,000 would be spent for more stone to "construct and stabilize the back slope of the parking lot" and "to complete the pedestrian viewing area."

The project, he said, is 80 percent federally funded, with a 20 percent state match, using turnpike toll credit money, "effectively using 100 percent federal funds."

After the Executive Council meeting, Sununu, who as the operator of the Waterville Valley resort is a White Mountains area businessman, said he supported the original project although he had "an issue" with the high price.

"This was a big project, a project that a lot of folks in the North Country were taking a lot of pride in," he said.

He said the Mount Washington Hotel "did an incredible job reinvesting in itself," with investor CNL Properties putting in $60 million, Sununu said, "put it back on the map.

"The private sector had done their part," he said. "I like the idea of a scenic overlook there. I thought it was a little pricey, but it wasn't so much that I was going to try to stop it.

"This price increase is another 25 percent," Sununu said, "and now we're getting a little out of control here.

"But the long and short of it is that the work has already been done," he said. "That contract should have had the word 'retroactive' in it.

"The work is there and to not authorize it means the contractor would have walked away from the site today and left it, while open, looking like garbage.

"We were already down the path. We're past the point of no return," he said. "If the work had not been done and the facility was functional, there is no way I would have approved today's request.

"At a minimum, I tried to raise the point that the work should not be authorized until it comes before the council," Sununu said. "You shouldn't just assume you're going to get approval."

Sununu was the lone voice among Gov. Maggie Hassan and the five-member council to raise questions.

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