State Mulls Impacts of Planned Parking Lot and Nearby Waste Lagoons at Mount Sunapee

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Courtesy photo

Mount Sunapee in Newbury


NEWBURY – Questions about the need for Vail Resorts to spend $900,000 to clear trees and create a fourth parking lot and how that might change the capacity on trails and lifts for skiers and riders at Mount Sunapee State Park are now under consideration by the state.

State Rep. Dan Wolf, R-Newbury, who is also a long-time member of the Mount Sunapee Advisory Committee, is hearing from the town’s conservation community, an advocacy group opposed to commercialization of the state-owned ski area and others as the lease holder tries to deal with peak parking overflow that occurs about four times a year on average.

While there is an alternative at the state beach for parking, overflow of another kind appears to be part of the concern.

Tucked up above the rotary near Mount Sunapee State Park and up toward the ski area, near the proposed parking lot are three little known sewage lagoons and spray field that contain septic effluent from the ski area in need of being drained by the fall.

When sprayed over these fields for more than 50 years, the condition of the unlined lagoons and their potential to overflow ultimately into the pristine waters of Lake Sunapee became a focal point of discussion at the recent annual operating meeting.

Wolf said he is not taking a position on it but has a few questions.

The first is what is the condition of the lagoons and spray system, how does the parking lot’s needs correlate with the mountain’s overall comfortable carrying capacity of about 6,000 skiers and riders, and what is the practical need for the proposal to the state, which is the landlord.

Also, how does that change the balance in capacities at the ski area, what is the condition of the lagoons and what are potential encroachment issues if a new parking lot is constructed.

The matter is being addressed now at the state Department of Environmental Services and the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources.

Peter Disch, general manager of Mount Sunapee Resort, could not be reached for this story after attempts by phone and email to contact him as directed by the resort’s operator.

On June 11, as required by the lease agreement, Vail Resorts offered its annual operating plan, which includes the expansion this summer of the parking lot to accommodate fewer than 300 vehicles. There were no plans to improve the nearby lagoons.

Andrew Koff, state DES hydrologeologist, said there are no signs that lagoons are leaking but the state has testing underway in nearby Beck Brook which flows into Lake Sunapee and the ski area needs to obtain an alteration of terrain permit, but has received other permitting.

“They have extensive monitoring around the facility,” he said, and they meet all applicable standards for the lagoons and spray field. He said the department had concerns about the separating distance of the proposed parking lot to the spray fields of 100 feet but said he believes that is something they will be able to achieve. 

The Friends of Mount Sunapee is a group that from the outset of the state lease of the ski area has opposed commercial operations and advocates for the land to be used as a park.

A newsletter sent out by the organization said the proposed project “does not meet the criteria set forth in the 1998 lease agreement. The project calls for the removal of five and a half acres of forest and the elimination of seven thousand square feet of wetlands. This includes most of the forested area on both sides of the upper part of the main access road. Where trees once stood, park visitors will be greeted by a sea of gravel and blacktop. This will permanently degrade the quality of the Sunapee State Park visitor experience.”

“Additionally, site reviews by the Newbury Conservation Commission, revealed the proposed parking lot abuts an antiquated sewage treatment facility installed in the late 1960’s. It has long ago passed its 20-year service life. Sewage from the resort is pumped to three open, unlined lagoons and then sprayed into nearby fields surrounded by forest and wetlands. There appears to be leakage from one of the unlined sewage lagoons into nearby Beck Brook which outlets into Lake Sunapee. The lease states, ‘The operator shall maintain the leased premises in first class condition. The operator, at its own expense, shall undertake all maintenance of the facilities.’”

Attempts to reach officials for the organization were unsuccessful.

The FOMS newsletter said the response from Vail is “to ignore the immediate impact of the sewage issue and pursue the parking lot expansion. A report commissioned by Vail stated ‘Mount Sunapee Resort has considered some facility (sewage treatment) refurbishment in past years but found the projects were too costly.’”
Vail Resorts, which is based in Colorado and owns or operates 42 ski areas including New Hampshire’s Attitash Resort and Wildcat ski area, has a long-term lease with the state.

Sarah L. Stewart, commissioner of the Department of Natural and Cultural Resources, who chaired the June 11 meeting, said the state Department of Environmental Services is also looking into the matter.

In an email to, Stewart said, “Our meeting on Tuesday was very productive. Peter Disch (of Vail Resorts) provided a comprehensive recap of their ski season, including mention of the new ‘ski-through lighthouse’…and s’mores mobile. He also mentioned continued collaboration with the League of NH Craftsmen as they prepare for the Craftsmen Fair this August…it is the 60th year the Fair has been at Mount (Sunapee) State Park.

“I allowed for much public comment which was orderly, thoughtful, and very congenial. As I said at the meeting, Mount Sunapee State Park is a beloved natural resource and deserves the attention and care from the local community. We will continue to work with Vail, local constituents, and our sister agency experts to ensure transparency and a high standard of stewardship,” Stewart said.

An opportunity for written comment on the annual operating plan closed June 17. She said the department received 14 comments which will be reviewed by her agency.

“I have also received additional emails from members of the public requesting a public hearing,” Stewart said.

The existing and approved, five-year master development plan which is in effect through 2025 is here

In addition to her approval, she said the DES is handling all the permits and an official from that department attended the annual operations plan meeting.

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