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Fish and Game Commission blasts Sununu on Lake Sunapee access

New Hampshire Union Leader

August 22. 2017 10:49AM
For 26 years, the New Hampshire Fish and Game Department doggedly pursued converting a 3.3-acre, dilapidated waterfront parcel into the only state-controlled, free-to-the-public, access point to launch boats onto Lake Sunapee. (Union Leader File)

CONCORD — The New Hampshire Fish and Game Commission unanimously voted to condemn Gov. Chris Sununu, charging he'd been controlled by a "few wealthy individuals" when he abruptly ended a 26-year effort to provide public access to launch boats onto Lake Sunapee.

The panel released a letter its chairman sent last week to Sununu defending wetlands permits the Fish and Game Department sought and obtained for construction on the Wild Goose property, which has been in Fish and Game hands since 1991.

"This boat access proposal has been in the works for over 20 years; however, not due to the lack of effort by the Fish and Game Department," wrote Fish and Game Chairman Stuart Tichy for the commission in his letter to Sununu.

"We feel the delay is due to a few wealthy individuals who have ownership on the shores of Sunapee and want to keep our sixth-largest lake as their own private domain." Tichy said Sununu's decision came without warning to the commission and stunned its members.

"We felt really strongly about this," Tichy said during a telephone interview from his Milan home Tuesday.

"I know it's not what the governor wants ... I don't know what the reasons are but hopefully he changes his mind," Tichy said. "He needs to change his mind on this."

The governor's spokesman, Benjamin Vihstadt, said Sununu's mind is made up.

He likened the project to the largest plane in the world billionaire Howard Hughes built for $40 million; it flew only once for a mile in 1947.

"The Wild Goose Site on Lake Sunapee had as much chance at success as the Spruce Goose," Vihstadt said in a statement.

"People have debated this flawed plan for over twenty years. Governor Sununu is determined to bring forward a feasible proposal that won't stall for another twenty years, and will actually allow Granite Staters greater access to Lake Sunapee."

Sununu stressed he's committed to finding an alternative for the public to get boats on the lake.

Tichy said he didn't have specific "wealthy individuals" in mind except generally those who own private docks with large boats on the water.

"Right now it is controlled by just a few residents who have public access. There is an association, I don't know their names," Tichy said. "I know the association itself has opposed our permitting and brought us to court and all the way to the superior court and the public has won against them."

Praise for Sununu

The Lake Sunapee Protective Association, local legislators and town officials abutting the project have all praised Sununu and said he understands the mounting problems working with what had once been the Wild Goose Lodges and Motel property.

"I think characterization of a few wealthy individuals is not true and uncalled for. About half of our membership is not on the lake, they are in and around the watershed," said June Fichter, executive director of the Lake Sunapee Protective Association.

"You have the residents in the towns of Newbury, New London and Sunapee and also Sutton and Newport. There is support all around for not building this large project at that particular site."

Ed Thorson is chairman of the Newbury Board of Selectman and said Fish and Game officials ignored the public safety threat. He said the ramp would have been at one of the region's most dangerous intersections, just off Route 103.

"Why are they so passionate about this site? Sure it had some support years ago when you were talking about a simple car-top boat launch but it then morphed into this huge pier sitting out of the water and tractor trailer-like vehicles needed to tow these big boats that would have to exit and enter onto traffic that's already going 50 miles per hour," Thorson said.

$400,000 already spent

The administration of the last five governors and a half-dozen Fish and Game executive directors have pursued permits for the boat launch, which has landed twice before the state Supreme Court.

The commission noted an environmental assessment completed last May concluded the Wild Goose property was the best spot for a boat launch for the public and estimate $400,000 has already been spent on this project.

The full May 2017 environmental assessment can be viewed below:

"Exhaustive studies have been conducted, public hearings have been held and attended by hundreds of residents, and signed petitions have been submitted by thousands, all in support of the Wild Goose site. It not only is the best site, it is the ONLY site that will meet the criteria as supported by the environmental assessment," Tichy wrote.

But state Rep. Karen Ebel, D-New London, said this isn't a case of elitists trying to block lake access. It's also not the only site or the best place for a boat launch, she said.

"People from all walks of life in this area, those who live on Lake Sunapee and those who do not, emergency workers, teachers, bus drivers and those who fish, small businesses and the towns of Newbury, New London and Sunapee oppose this location," Ebel said. "We strongly support the governor's action and we are working diligently to develop an alternative plan for public access that is free for all."

Public access

Catherine Corkery of the New Hampshire Sierra Club said the residents living around Lake Sunapee should have already approved easy boat access for the public.

"The lack of public access on Lake Sunapee is a disgrace to the people of New Hampshire and the taxpayers. Finally, there was movement toward public enjoyment of a beautiful lake only to be scuttled by Governor Sununu," Corkery said Tuesday. "The public and everyone else without the governor-endorsed privilege will have to wait for another day. The old adage is still true — It pays to have friends in high places."

The New Hampshire Union Leader examined all donors who raised the $1.4 million to help elect Sununu governor last November.

There were seven individuals who gave addresses from the Newport-Sunapee region that together gave $1,600, led by New London retiree James Rooney, who gave Sununu $500 in December 2015.

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