By Chris Jensen, InDepthNH.org
The Coos County Commissioners on Wednesday told the Coos Planning Board to investigate allegations that an illegal road was built up Mount Washington alongside The Cog Railway.
The county commissioners will then review the planning board’s report and consider what action “if any” is appropriate, commissioner Paul Grenier said at the meeting in Berlin.
“Keep The Whites Wild,” a tiny environmental group, hoped the commission would agree that the Cog didn’t have permission to build the road and violated zoning regulations designed to protect a fragile, high-altitude environment.
It is the county commissioners’ responsibility to enforce zoning regulations.
Cog Railway owner Wayne Presby said there is a trail – not a road – within his 99-foot wide right-of-way for The Cog.
He said it is on land disturbed in 2008 when the state dug a 15-foot wide trench to run cables to buildings on the mountain top.
Presby said the trail is legal and those who are complaining either don’t understand the zoning regulations or are misrepresenting them.
“We are allowed by right under the Coos County zoning ordinance to have a snowmobile trail, an ATV trail. Just a regular trail,” Presby told reporters outside the meeting.
The trail will primarily be used for recreation such as backcountry skiing, snowshoeing and hiking, he said.
“We are not going to encourage people to be taking ATVs up and down the mountain – or snowmobiles,” he said.
But he said he might “experiment” with grooming the trail using a snowcat and using a snowcat to take tourists to the top.
“As far as I am concerned, those are all recreational activities that are allowed within the zoning ordinance,” he said.
But Jason Reimers, a lawyer for “Keep The Whites Wild,” told InDepthNH.org the zoning regulations were clearly violated and a snowcat is too big to be considered an ATV.
Presby disputes that point and says snowcats are routinely used for grooming recreational trails. In addition, he said, the snowcat would be operated on private land so the state’s definition of an ATV doesn’t matter.
“I don’t have to meet any of those criteria,” he said.
Reimers said it is a good idea to have the Planning Board review the matter, but the commissioners are responsible for enforcing zoning violations.
Commission chairman Tom Brady he wasn’t sure how long it would take the planning board.
Planning board chairman John Scarinza couldn’t immediately be reached for comment.