By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Sun
SARGENT’S PURCHASE — Nearly every one of the dozen members of the Mt. Washington Commission was on hand for the Friday, July 21, quarterly meeting in the Tip Top House atop the 6,288-foot summit when chairman Walter Graff, senior vice president of the Appalachian Mountain Club, called it to order.
This was the commission’s first meeting since July 1 when the Department of Resources and Economic Development was reorganized.
The state Division of Parks and Recreation, including both N. H. Bureau of Trails and N.H. Bureau of Historic Resources, and the Division of Forests and Lands have been realigned into the N.H. Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.
Two divisions, Economic Development and Travel and Tourism Development, now make up the N.H. Department of Business and Economic Affairs.
Parks and Recreation Director Phil Bryce acknowledged the leadership that both Sen. Jeb Bradley of Wolfeboro and Rep. Karen Umberger of North Conway had provided in June to secure $200,000 to allow a request for qualifications to go forward to properly assess the conditions of the Yankee Communications Building and the next optimal steps.
The state is facing having to make a significant investment, Bryce explained, which makes it critical that both fire protection and security issues are addressed.
“We’ll be looking to get accurate cost estimates and a full understanding of all the advantages and disadvantages of building a new building plus the disadvantages of ripping the Yankee Building down or retrofitting it for a new use,” Bryce explained. “We’re looking for a contractor who really ‘gets’ Mt. Washington, who really ‘gets’ it up here.”
Commission member Mark Ericson, regional technical manager for Townsquare Media N.H.-Portland-Augusta, has shared his knowledge with Bryce and state architect Tom Mansfield of the communications world occupied by the other 18 state tenants, including two-way radio, electronic, satellite and microwave.
WHOM, 94.9, is the station Townsquare owns that has its own concrete structure. WPKQ, 103.7 is the station it owns that has all its equipment housed in the Yankee Building.
Mt. Washington Cog Railway president Wayne Presby noted that concrete is not as resilient a building material as wood. Further, he explained, wind and snow load are both key factors. Presby noted that the excellent track record achieved by the 50- by 110-foot Sprung structure fabric building erected more than 10 years ago at the Bretton Woods Ski Area as an private alpine membership club demonstrates why unconventional buildings are worth considering.
Bryce also discussed how the commission might approach the topic of the summit’s “carrying” capacity, including septic disposal and fresh water, both of which are being studied or monitored.
Presby said that he believes that long-standing financial arrangements between the Auto Road and the state that governs how it pays for parking lot spaces on the cone should be examined.
“It’s a sweetheart deal,” he declared.
Auto Road general manager Howie Wemyss said he’d resist coming up with a quick defense for the status quo because he’d not been aware that Presby had planned to discuss these fees.
“The state is the “new kid on the block,” Director Bryce said. The Mount Washington State park was not created until 1964. Other entities, including the Auto Road and the Cog Railroad, “go back a couple of centuries,” he said. The Mt. Washington Carriage Road was completed and opened to the public in 1861. The Cog Railway reached the summit in July 1869. In August, President Ulysses S. Grant visited New England to escape the Washington heat and rode the Cog to the top of Mount Washington. Mount Washington Observatory President Sharon Schilling noted that the Obs is still working out entrance arrangements to the Summit Museum and that “relationships are intertwined.”
When Wemyss asked Presby how much the Cog pays the state for its post office space in the Sherman Adams Building, Presby replied that he had a deed: “legal rights.”
“We have to be careful of how we work together and interact at Mount Washington State Park — our flagship” state park,” Bryce said. “We want our relationships to work; otherwise it will affect our visitors and their experience.”
Chairman Graff noted that it could be time to once again continue have facilitated discussions. “We have to work together,” he said.
Graff thanked Forest Supervisor Tom Wagner, who recently announced he will retire from the U.S. Forest Service on Sept. 1, for the 16 years of service that he has given to the nearly 800,000-acre White Mount National Forest, including as a member of the commission protecting the alpine garden. Deputy Supervisor Clare Mendelsohn will become White Mountain National Forest acting supervisor. The vacant position is already being advertised.
Presby has not yet filled out a formal application for a building permit to construct at 35-bedroom skyline hotel, he said. He is waiting for the Coos County Planning Board for the Unincorporated Places to hold its public hearing on proposed zoning ordinance amendments at 6 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 2, at the state Fish and Game Building in Lancaster.
The Cog has already set new visitor records this summer, Presby said.
Mt. Washington Commission public member Paul Ingersol of Berlin, a former state representative, missed several meetings in a row because of two successful surgeries, but he happily returned to duty on Friday.