By GARRY RAYNO,
Class warfare is a term heard frequently in the throes of political battles and viewed as a shameful device to divide our supposedly classless society.
America may not have a caste system like India or even a well-defined class structure like Great Britain, but we certainly have at least three distinct classes: upper, middle and lower, with little empathy for the other’s problems.
When a politician juxtaposes say a wealthy industrialist – his lifestyle and perks with the low-paid workers who helped built that empire, but struggle to keep their homes and send kids to college – his opponent will always cry foul and level the charge of class welfare.
That is an obvious example. More often it is much more subtle and perhaps more sinister.
A couple of decades ago, lawmakers decided every major water body — i.e. state-owned lake — should have a public boat launch so the public could enjoy the water.
Several large lakes in the central part of the state were the genesis of this edict. If you did not own land along the lake front or rented some abode with access, then the state-owned water body was essentially off limits.
Quiet, peaceful Squam Lake with its stately houses and long-held family compounds was often cited as an example. On Squam Lake, access was an inherited right.
The Fish and Game began the program and over the years has opened, built, rehabilitated and maintained public access boat ramps on almost all of the major water bodies in the state.
The most recent one to open is on Lake Winnipesaukee.
Before the program began, the Land Conservation Investment Program (LCIP) purchased a 133-acre parcel on Lake Sunapee in Newbury at a foreclosure auction for $603,614. The property included a little more than a three-acre site on the water.
The Wild Goose site was later given to the Fish and Game Department to develop a public boat launch under the new program.
The Public Water Access Advisory Board voted in 2004 to develop the site as a public boat launch.
And since that time it has been war between the three lakefront towns and the state.
Initially, towns urged the state to consider expanding the boat launch that already exists at Lake Sunapee State Beach, but that is another state agency, the Department of Resources and Economic Development, and it balked at the proposal saying there was limited space for parking vehicles with boat trailers.
Fish and Game proposed a plan for Wild Goose that drew immediate criticism from environmentalists and area residents who claimed it would degrade the environment and local property values, negatively impact several abutting small businesses and be a highway safety hazard.
Fish and Game redrew its plan to better protect water quality at the site and received a wetlands permit, but the other issues have not changed in a decade.
The site is not far from Newbury Harbor on busy Route 103 where the speed limit is 50 miles-per-hour. The access road to the site is below a knoll making it dangerous to enter or exit the site if you are hauling a boat behind a vehicle.
Next to the site is a long-time, family-owned business, Davis Cabins, that rents rustic cottages in a pristine setting leading down to the lake.
Like most other tourism businesses in the Granite State, it is not large and its viability can change quickly with a few, rapid economic or environmental shifts.
And the other problem for Fish and Game is money.
In order to build the boat launch, Fish and Game needs state capital funding and that has been a problem.
Lawmakers have been reluctant to fund the project without knowing the agency is ready to proceed. And politics has also played a role with key lawmakers in the House and Senate opposed.
This year the capital budget included money for the $2.1 million project, but the Senate removed the money and prevailed in keeping it out during the conference committee between House and Senate negotiators.
That put one nail in the Wild Goose coffin and then Gov. Chris Sununu put a stake in its heart by refusing to have the Executive Council vote to extend the wetlands permit for the project.
Sununu argued as opponents had for some time “it is time to put an end to this flawed plan.”
The governor said the state would work with residents to find a better solution to increase public access to the lake.
Currently, there are five public access areas to launch a boat into Lake Sunapee, all town owned. Most have limited parking but for years people have found a way to put boats on the lake without a state-owned launch. Most opponents, including the Newbury selectmen and the Lake Sunapee Protective Association, do not object to a state-owned boat launch just one at Wild Goose.
After Sununu pulled the wetlands permit from the Executive Council’s agenda last month, Fish and Game was not content to let a dead goose lie and urged Sununu to reconsider his decision in a letter from Fish and Game Commission chair Theodore Tichy.
Tichy noted the 20 years the agency worked on the project and then said, “We feel the delay is due to a few wealthy individuals who have ownership on the shores of Sunapee and want to keep our 6th largest lake as their own private domain.”
That was not the end of the “class warfare” from the Fish and Game chair.
“To throw this away because of the selfish feelings of a few individuals should be a crime, as New Hampshire Statute states, ‘No individual or corporation shall prohibit public access to public waters.’”
And like a one, two punch, the Sullivan County Sportsmen’s Club sued the state Department of Environmental Services in Sullivan County Superior Court saying the agency has the authority to reissue the permit, not the governor.
“This is setting a dangerous precedent for who manages our wildlife resources in this state,” said Don Clarke, former Fish and Game commissioner and the sportsmen’s club’s president. “Whether it’s the Fish and Game Department, where the professionals reside, or whether it’s the governor who can change with every election.”
The suit will certainly continue this fight a little longer but both the commission and the sportsmen’s club are certainly using the “average Joe” versus the wealthy outsiders argument to give their side legs.
It is true that to own a home on Lake Sunapee today you either have to be wealthy or your family had to have the foresight to purchase property decades ago, but that applies to every water body of any size in the state.
The issue of class has taken over the question of whether the Wild Goose site should be used for a public boat launch.
There are a lot of good reasons why it shouldn’t that have nothing to do with “the rich folks just want to keep the riffraff off their water.”
But it is much easier to play the class warfare game, particularly in today’s toxic political climate, rather than admitting you made a mistake.
Garry Rayno can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
Garry Rayno’s Distant Dome runs exclusively on Manchester Ink Link and InDepthNH.org, where Rayno will explore a broader perspective on State House – and state – happenings. Over his three-decade career Rayno has closely covered the NH State House for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Foster’s Daily Democrat, and his coverage spanned the news spectrum, from local planning, school and select boards, to national issues such as electric industry deregulation and Presidential primaries. He is former editor of The Hillsboro Messenger and Assistant Editor of The Argus-Champion. Rayno graduated from the University of New Hampshire with a BA in English Literature and lives with his wife Carolyn in New London.