By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
FRANCONIA – Gov. Chris Sununu approved the 10-year master plan for the Mount Washington state park this week and is expecting an estimate for a comprehensive environmental assessment of summit needs as part of his budget, Mount Washington Commission members were told Friday.
In a Jan. 26 letter to the commission, Sununu thanked members for their work to create a master plan for the top of Northeast’s highest peak.
Sununu said the spot “draws people from all over the world to our wonderful state and I am glad to see such thought devoted to ensuring that it is accessible for recreation, utilized for essential services, and preserved for future generations.”
The governor wrote: “I have received and reviewed the plan over the last week. It presents a number of great opportunities to pursue going forward…please consider this letter my approval for the Mount Washington Master Plan. I look forward to seeing the work of the Commission in the years to come.”
A copy of the final plan is here https://www.nhstateparks.org/getmedia/c528188b-c24b-4552-8d96-5f67e0db3ac1/MtWashMasterPlan-attachments-11-2022.pdf
The commission, which is made up of stakeholders from the Cog Railway, the Mount Washington Auto Road, Appalachian Mountain Club, the Mount Washington Observatory, State Parks, and Town Square Media, which operates towers on the summit, voted to pass the plan this past October with public input.
Those who attended public hearings on the plan in Conway and Concord expressed great concern for the fragile natural environment at 6,288 feet which is being visited by throngs of people each year.
The commission passed the document with the proviso that the state do a separate, full environmental assessment of impacts the summit faces due to climate change and human impacts and implement recommendations for not only access but for future and current buildings.
Sarah Stewart, commissioner of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, told the commission when it met for its quarterly meeting Friday at Franconia Notch State Park headquarters, the first since the master plan passage, that it would be good to have an estimate for the cost of the environmental assessment to be included in Sununu budget address. It is planned to be announced on Feb. 14.
She said the next step would be “to have a conversation with the capital committee on the directives given to us with this master plan and to seek a consultant with the expertise to make assessments at the summit.”
State Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, said a rough estimate of the cost would be good. He had been chair of the commission and stepped down as he is now Senate President. Bradley said the funding for that study might be found either in the capital budget or state surplus funds.
“I think given the revenue we are generating, I’d like to see it in one-time dollars in the operating budget,” Bradley said. “I am going to bring it up…I meet with him (Sununu) every Tuesday morning. If you could give me a rough idea that would be great.”
Any such contract would be required to go out to bid and then the recommended firm and contract would require approval of the five-member Executive Council which could take several months.
“It’s great news,” said Stewart, noting the process is moving forward. She said the Executive Council is aware of the current process.
FEES AND LEASES TO BECOME PUBLIC
Fees paid to the state for use of the facility at the summit will be something new that is included for consideration and recommendation by the commission when it moves forward, Stewart said.
Brian Wilson, who is the new state parks director, attended the meeting and said he is now absorbing information and working with summit staff. He said he will be “tracking where we are at, with leases and our partners.”
The Mount Washington Commission, which is advisory, would be able to get quarterly information on revenue taken in from leases and when leases are up for renegotiation. This will impact all members of the commission who also have leases.
Stewart said she wanted to know if there was a preferred format, such as a spreadsheet. This is part of an effort to provide the public with more transparency.
“This will be a new format,” Stewart said, “We are in the business of full transparency.”
She said there are a few matters up for review in the next few months.
CAPITAL IMPROVEMENTS UPDATE
The commissioners heard about a new state building available to parks in Gorham and progress on a new wastewater treatment facility at the summit, though work concluded in October and will resume in May or June.
This winter, there are discussions underway about the internet and broadband needs at the new treatment plant.
Parks are getting a new state facility in Gorham that has been transferred within the state and will help the parks with improved space for park retail supply operations off the summit.
Parks Director Wilson said he planned to do some community outreach and signage to let folks know that state parks have a new spot in town. He said it is located across from Libby’s before the train tracks and has about two acres and a building.
Also this winter, work is underway with Mount Washington Observatory staff on a new informational display which will hopefully include current summit conditions. It could be completed by the early part of the year.
There is also an effort to update some signage, including a revamp of all hiking trails on the summit including Appalachian Trail routes.
Wayne Presby, president of the Cog Railway, said there was talk in the previous master plan about the construction of a boot trail around the summit.
Ed Bergeron said that could be part of the environmental assessment.
Wilson said he and Patrick Hummel, park manager, have met to talk about “deliverables” on the master plan and there might be a visitor survey as part of the plan.
ED BERGERON NAMED NEW CHAIR
With Bradley stepping down as chair with his new responsibilities as the leader of the state Senate, commissioner for the public and Vice Chair Ed Bergeron was named the new chair of the Mount Washington Commission. Bergeron is a trained engineer.
MEETING SCHEDULE FOR 2023
The next meeting of the commission is scheduled for March 24. There will also be meetings on May 19, July 21 likely on the summit, Sept. 22, and Nov. 17.