Written by Barbara Tetreault
CAMBRIDGE – The completion of the third largest conservation project in the state's history was celebrated Thursday in a ceremony at Umbagog Lake State Park.
A brisk wind blew off the lake as Gov. Maggie Hassan joined conservation and federal officials to mark the end of a seven year process that resulted in the protection of 31,300 acres surrounding the headwaters of the Androscoggin River at a cost of over $17 million.
Over 70 percent of the land involved, 23,000 acres, will remain under the ownership of Plum Creek Timber Company and continue to be managed as sustainable timberland. But a conservation easement prevents future development of the land and maintains public access to it for recreational use. Special protection will be in place on 2,000 acres where timber harvesting will be overseen by N.H. Fish and Game to protect habitat for white-tailed deer, American marten, and other animals.
Another 7,400 acres went into the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge and N.H. Fish and Game acquired 934 acres around the Greenough Ponds.
"We are pleased to protect the land and the jobs and economy it supports in Coos County. It was important to strike a balance between conservation of critical wildlife habitat and ensuring continuation of jobs associated with managing the many forest resources on the land, including being open to recreational users to hike, paddle, hunt, and fish," said Rodger Krussman, N.H. Director of Trust for Public Lands. The TPL headed up the project.
Krussman said the natural resources protected under the project include eight ponds, 12.5 miles of shoreland, and almost 60 miles of trout streams.
He spoke about the importance of protecting the land for the benefit of local residents but also so future generations can also enjoy the same relationship with the natural world.
Hassan echoed that theme, noting that kids in the future will be able to enjoy the same way of life. She said the state blends individualism and community in a way no other place does. New Hampshire, she said, is a leader in recognizing the importance of culture and heritage.
"We have a tradition of working together to protect our special places," said Hassan.
"Protection of these natural resources and recreation opportunities is what drives the regional economy for forest products and for tourism," said Jeff Rose, commissioner of the N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development.
"I can't believe I'm finally here," said Plum Creek Senior Vice President Jim Kilberg.
He recalled being contacted by the TPL over seven years ago about the 32,000 acres. Kilberg said Plum Creek has a history of engaging in conservation partnerships. But he said the Androscoggin Headwaters Conservation Initiative entailed five phases, two land purchases, and two easements.
The project required multiple funding sources, complex easements and appraisals but Kilberg said the ticking clock was the real challenge as it took over seven years to complete. But Plum Creek remained committed and the purchase of the easements by DRED was the final step.
"We felt this really was an historic project," said Kilberg.
The $7.4 million for the two easements came from the U.S. Forest Service's Forest Legacy Program, which in turn is funded by the federal Land and Water. Conservation Fund. LWCF monies were also used to purchase the acreage for the Umbagog refuge. Kilberg said the project would not have gone forward without the LWCF.
James Barresi, deputy director of U.S. Forest Service, Northeastern Region, said the headwaters project was one of the largest Forest Legacy projects in recent years.
Another important funding source was the N.H. Land and Community Heritage Investment Program, which helped purchase the Greenough land. Hassan noted in the last state budget she was successful in allocating funding to the program.
Representatives of U.S. Senators Jeanne Shaheen, Kelly Ayotte, and U.S. Congresswoman Annie Kuster read letters of support. Shaheen, who helped secure money for the project, said until recently the 32,000 acres had been the largest unprotected property remaining in the state.
Last Updated on Monday, 01 September 2014 20:34
Written by Barbara Tetreault
NORTH STRATFORD – Top local and state officials gathered Thursday to mark a major milestone in the development of the Ride the Wilds off-highway recreational trail system viewed as a major economic initiative for the North Country.
Ride the Wilds has completed Phase I and OHRV riders can now travel from Pittsburg to Lancaster without having to trailer their vehicles. In all Ride the Wilds consists of over 1,000 miles of OHRV trails with the majority of the trails on private land.
Gov. Maggie Hassan said the public-private partnership that has created the trail system is a "testament to the way we do things in the Granite State". She also applauded the fact it has taken only three years to get the project from planning to its current status.
"Ride the Wilds really is an economic engine for our entire state," Hassan said. "It's a boost for local businesses, it attracts new business, and it strengthens our entire travel and tourism economy," she said.
Hassan not only took a ride on a Utility Terrain Vehicle with North Country OHRV Coalition President Harry Brown, but the governor drove the five-seater on the return trip.
Several speakers emphasized the importance of private landowners to the initiative and urged riders to operate their vehicles safely and to be respectful of private land. Executive Councilor Joseph Kenny reminded the crowd that without the participation of private landowners there would be no Ride the Wilds.
North Country State Senator Jeff Woodburn said it is an initiative held together by a very fragile network.
"This is a great economic initiative, and a project that is held together by numerous organizations putting a lot of time and energy into something we all feel extremely passionate about," said Woodburn.
Jeff Rose, commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economic Development, said he had his first ATV ride the day before the celebration.
"Ride the Wilds is such an exciting initiative on many levels. It's opening, and making accessible to people of all ages, hundreds of miles of wild and scenic lands that are synonymous with the North Country. It's also providing an important economic driver for northern New Hampshire through tourism and other local businesses," Rose said.
Noting the attendance of Stratford fourth through eighth grade students, NH Assistant Commissioner of Safety Earl Sweeney said the project is really for the future of the North Country. He urged enthusiasts to follow the rules and make the project work. Sweeney said it is important for residents to serve as a model of good behavior for guests.
Fish and Game Executive Director Glenn Normandeau admitted to some trepidation when he was initially approached about the project. He said he was concerned about his department's resources and enforcement capabilities. Normandeau said his agency has worked with local and state police and the county authorized the Coos Sheriff's Department to help out. He too warned about the importance of respecting the private property owners.
"Participants must work to abide by the rules and avoid upsetting landowners who have been generous in allowing their properties to be part of the trail system," Normandeau said.
State Senator Andy Sanborn of Bedford said he and his wife consider the North Country their second home and he was pleased to be a partner in the project and assist with necessary legislation.
A special presentation was made to Ted Burns of North Stratford for his years of work promoting ATV riding in the North Country and for his strong advocacy for Ride the Wilds. Brown said 17 years ago Burns and a small group of enthusiasts put together a trail system of over 100 miles that at the time was the longest linear ATV trail system in New England.
"Without his strong moral character, his unrelenting determination, his fortitude, and his vision, we would not have Ride the Wilds – we would have to ride elsewhere," Brown said.
Hassan also signed four bills dealing with ATV issues. Woodburn sponsored all four bills, which he said grew out of a legislative study committee. SB 230 expanded the definition of OHRV to include utility terrain vehicles. SB 231 tightens the definition of a tractor to remove the registration of UTV as tractors. SB 232 reduces the maximum speed limit for OHRV excluding snowmobiles to 35 mph on state property. SB 240 allows a temporary 10-day registration for nonresidents from May through October.
Last Updated on Friday, 29 August 2014 19:19
Written by Barbara Tetreault
COOS COUNTY – Gov. Maggie Hassan today will help celebrate two very different projects that both showcase the beauty and wildness of the state's northern county.
In the morning, Hassan will cut the ceremonial ribbon opening the final segment of Phase I of the Ride the Wilds off-highway recreational trail network.
From there she will travel to Errol to commemorate the completion of the Androscoggin Headwaters Conservation Initiative, which permanently protects over 31,000 acres of remote forestlands and streams.
Just over a year ago, Hassan cut the ribbon marking the opening of Phase I of the Ride the Wilds network of 1,000 miles of interconnecting trails. Today, she returns to celebrate the completion of Phase I from Colebrook to Lancaster with the approval of the final two sections of trail in Columbia.
North Country OHRV Coalition President Harry Brown said the next two phases call for connectors between Groveton and Milan and between Lancaster and Gorham. There are also some smaller segments the coalition is working to get in place,
"There are lots of little pieces we are working on," Brown said.
The celebration today will take place at 10 a.m. the North Country ATV gazebo in North Stratford. After the ceremony, Hassan is scheduled to take a short ATV ride to 'Bear Bait' lookout.
Earlier this year, Ride the Wilds received a $152,492 three year federal grant to market the initiative which many see as a way to help revive the sagging North Country economy.
Three weeks ago the Jericho ATV Festival in Berlin drew an estimated four thousand people and four major ATV manufacturers to the festival, which has grown every year.
In the afternoon, Hassan will travel to the Umbagog Lake State Park in Errol to speak at the celebration of the Androscoggin Headwaters Conservation Initiative. The five-year project by the Trust for Public Land raised over $16 million from a variety of sources to protect 31,343 acres of land surrounding the headwaters of the Androscoggin River. Ownership of 7,452 acres was transferred to the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge. But majority of the land, over 70 percent, remains in private ownership and in timber protection but an easement prevents development and maintains public access. The final piece was the sale of 934-acres containing Greenough Pond and Little Greenough Pond to N.H. Fish and Game. The two ponds are considered two of the three remaining wild trout ponds in the state and their acquisition was a high priority for Fish and Game.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 August 2014 19:48
Written by Barbara Tetreault
By Sarah Kinney
Coos County Superior Court Justice Lawrence MacLeod dismissed Robert Balon’s lawsuit against Gorham Public Works Director Austin “Buddy” Holmes in an order issued August 14.
In a separate letter from the Attorney General's office dated August 21, Chief Investigator Richard Tracy told Balon that, from the evidence presented, he did not see that the town of Gorham or the police department was targeting him.
Balon alleged that he was maliciously targeted and treated unfairly by Holmes, in his capacity as public works/highway director.
In his suit, Balon said Public Works employee Roland Blais contacted Holmes on Sept. 28, 2011 to report Balon was taking photos on Gorham airport property, which is posted as private property. Holmes called Gorham police and Balon was arrested at his home on a criminal trespassing complaint. The following year, the complaint was placed on file without a finding in First Circuit Court in Berlin.
Balon then filed a civil suit against Holmes, alleging he had been “purposely and maliciously targeted” by Holmes. Balon charged he was treated differently than others who have been on airport property, such as Gary Davis of Gorham, who was not arrested after being found hitting golf balls there.
He said that Holmes’ actions went against the fair and equal treatment clause in Article VIII of the Town of Gorham employee handbook.
Balon also presented a petition Holmes had signed to dissolve the budget committee, of which he was a member.
Balon sought $160,943 in damages – three times Holmes’ annual wages in 2011 - for affecting the Balon family's finances and reputation.
On July 28, Holmes filed a motion to dismiss, which was granted by NH Superior Court.
“The plaintiff [Balon] has failed to allege any tortious, criminal, or other unlawful acts by the defendant [Holmes]. The allegation set forth in the plaintiff's writ/complaint, even if assumed to be true and factual, do not articulate a recognized civil cause of action under New Hampshire law. As such, the plaintiff's complaint is dismissed for failure to state a claim upon which relief might be granted,” MacLeod's decision read.
In Tracy's letter, he writes that just looking at Balon's experience compared to Davis' he could understand why Balon might perceive unfair treatment, but he thought it was not a good comparison.
“Police officers have wide discretion as to how they respond to any particular situation and are expected to use their judgment in deciding best to respond,” Tracy wrote. He added that as a police officer himself, he knew there were different factors taken into consideration when responding to a situation, such as previous encounters with the people involved, the seriousness of conduct, and whether the alleged offense was purposeful or negligent.
Last Friday, Balon filed a motion for reconsideration with the court. He wrote that his “Motion for Supplement” submitted on August 13 was not addressed or taken into consideration.
“I also filed a ‘Motion to Reconsider’ on August 22, 2014 that has new documents of which has not been ruled on as of this day,” Balon said. “The Town has cost my family money for years and continues to cost all the taxpayers of Gorham money with their mismanagement throughout our Town.”
At Monday’s Board of Selectmen meeting, Gorham Town Manager Robin Frost said she suspected the decision would not change.
The board had previously released a statement saying that the town will defend its employees.
This is the third lawsuit brought against a town employee by Balon, and he has also filed a suit against the town. None have been successful.
Last Updated on Wednesday, 27 August 2014 19:42