Cow Island campout creates controversy


Conservation Commission member objects to town accepting easement


August 06, 2009
TUFTONBORO — The use of Cow Island dominated the discussion at the Tuftonboro selectmen's meeting last Monday, Aug. 3.

Police Chief Andrew Shagoury reported that the department received a call from a resident of Cow Island over the weekend questioning the legality of people camping on the beach. Shagoury said the policy could be read two ways, leaving the answer in doubt. He commented that the campers had a fire permit and were acting in good faith, but the neighbor complained. He suggested that the policy needs to "be cleaned up."

Selectman Bill Stockman spoke up to say that it was a goal of the town to have people use the land, which the town owns and that he "encouraged them to do it. The more people who use it the better." He continued, "There is a lot of encroachment by private owners. We've been working on a kayak and canoe loop. It's a nice public facility and if it is used more, people would respect the fact that the town has private property there."

Chairman Dan Duffy suggested that maybe a written permission form might be in order, but Mike Phelps, Chairman of the Conservation Commission, asked from the audience, "Why should they have to do any more than they did? A fire permit is written permission." He pointed out that people don't have to get written permission to use national forest land and said, "What if someone wants to go camping on the weekend and the town office is closed?"

Resident John Simms gave his opinion that the problem is encroachment and perhaps a sign should be posted.

Phelps suggested that the selectmen write a letter to all the owners on Cow Island explaining the town's policy on usage of its land.

The man who camped on the beach on Cow Island last weekend spoke up to say that the residents had their kayaks lined up on the beach, to which Conservation Commission member Gary Chehames responded that storage of items by owners on the beach is not appropriate. He related a story of picking blueberries on Melvin Island and having an owner call Marine Patrol to make him stop. The officer did not know that it was legal. He joined Phelps in suggesting that the selectmen send a note.

At that point, a man spoke up to say that he had made the call because his family has had property on the island for 60 years and never seen fires there. Sitting with two other people who identified themselves as island residents, he said that when he called to ask about the legality of the camping, the officer said camping was not allowed.

Stockman replied that the town has invested money in getting the Cow Island land surveyed and monumented and wants people to have access.

Shagoury brought up that there are no public facilities on the island, to which Stockman replied that there are 100 acres of backland owned by the town, and the usage so far doesn't indicate a problem.

The camper addressed the island resident, saying that he didn't think "it was very neighborly" to call the police without talking to him first. The island resident responded that he didn't call to get him in trouble – he just wanted to know if the activity was legal and he wouldn't know if he was telling the truth. The camper said, "I had the written fire permit."

Duffy suggested that they discuss the matter of signage and communication at the next work session. All agreed. That meeting will take place on Aug. 24 at 9 a.m. at the town offices.

In other police business, Shagoury said they have had four sexual assault cases that have presented privacy issues. He said they couldn't interview the suspect at the station. Victims may be interviewed at the Child Advocacy Center in Wolfeboro, but not suspects.

The department's year-to-date statistics show a trend upward in calls for service, motor vehicle stops, summons, arrests, felonies and incidents, and a downward trend in the number of accidents.

Code officer Jack Parsons commented in reference to the Ratcliffe/Holmes case that Town Counsel Richard Sager says that the suit is between the two neighbors. The town is satisfied that Holmes has met the stipulations in clearing his land of unregistered vehicles. Duffy added that the matter is on hold.

Fred Sargent reported on activity at the transfer station. Summer brings more refuse, and he said that the Swap Shop is time consuming to clean up. He noted that they processed 3,000 pounds of clothes this month.

Cell tower update

Stephen Stepanek of White Cliff Communications, LLC, offered an update on the cell tower. He said the company is pursuing every avenue to get the tower activated in the next six to 10 months and reported that they have had discussions with AT&T and Verizon, the Carroll County Sheriff's Office and the state police, all of whom are seeking to "get on the tower."

The need is for commercial as well as public safety purposes. The company will need to meet with the Zoning Board of Adjustment for a special exception. The 4G network, a voice over data system, is being updated nationwide and will give users access on their cell phones and Blackberries.

Tuftonboro Forum

Dan Barnhard asked for permission to link the Tuftonboro Forum to the town Web site. The idea had not been well received originally, so he came to the board to describe its purpose, that is, to serve the community with a place for an open exchange of ideas, an events calendar, photo gallery, and listings of items for sale and notices of help wanted.

He said it is modeled on the town of Sandwich's "Sandwich Board," which even includes transportation needs.

Duffy said that when Barnhard first talked to him, he did not realize that he wanted to have just a link on the Web site, not to be part of the town's Web site itself, but after hearing Barnhard's explanation, he saw no problem with it.

Selectman Carolyn Sundquist said that she had been a member in its early days and had subsequently dropped out, but that if it is linked to the Web site, more people might join in. Barnhard agreed and added that there are controls to maintain a respectful discourse.

As they discussed the matter, a smile was growing on Selectman Bill Stockman's face. He said that he couldn't contribute to the discussion since he doesn't read his e-mail, a fact that was no secret to most of the audience.

"I had a secretary printing everything out for me. We must have gone through about two reams of paper a day. I can't keep up with it," he exclaimed. He says he does his office work between 4 and 6 a.m., and he doesn't have another two hours to devote to e-mail.

Stockman went on to say that he goes to business meetings and (gesturing as if he is working a Blackberry) "They tell me that without Twitter or Facebook, I'm lost, but I still subscribe to the Granite State News!" So, "Don't ask me my opinion," he said, laughing.

The vote to allow Barnhard to link the forum to the Web site passed with Duffy and Sundquist voting in the affirmative and Stockman abstaining.

Easement discussion

When the minutes of the July 27 selectmen's work session were in the process of approval at the start of the meeting, Chehames asked that the minutes be tabled until the next meeting so that he could write a paragraph to insert into the minutes, properly registering his disapproval of the CJ Winny LLC conservation easement that the selectmen approved at that work session. The board agreed.

During public input time, he then elaborated on the matter of the conservation easement. He expressed displeasure that though he arrived at the July 27 meeting just a few minutes after it started, that the selectmen had already voted to approve it.

He said that the Conservation Commission had sent a memorandum to the board on July 21 with six proposed changes to the agreement with CJ Winny LLC regarding the proposed Ridgeway Estates subdivision. The board agreed to four of the six changes, but Chehames said he wanted a chance to discuss why two of the changes were left out.

He said that the Conservation Committee was of the opinion that the easement did not benefit the town, for it is mostly wetland, which he said is protected already, and there is no public access. He claimed it creates a liability and that the town has to take on costs and administration when it assumes stewardship of the property, while the developer gets a tax write-off.

Chehames posed the questions, " What is the motivation? What is the consideration?" several times in the course of the discussion.

Duffy apologized for having moved along on the matter before Chehames arrived at the work session, but explained that the board had signed an agreement in July 2008, following an adjustment by the state and that they felt it was reasonable.

Chehames said that he didn't feel it was executed in the proper manner since there was not a public discussion of the two excluded changes and recommended that the board return the agreement to the attorney for that reason and have further discussion on the matter.

Chehames argued that the board should negotiate for limited public access.

Duffy responded, "It is swamp. It is not attractive to use it, and the planning board approved it."

Chehames said again that he wants limited access for the public, the same as that which "he will allow his people."

Duffy replied, "It's a done deal. We've signed it. The man needed to build on the land, and we've held him up for six years. It's time to move on." Duffy turned the discussion over to his fellow selectmen, saying that he was "getting his dander up."

Stockman commented that in his opinion it is not a tax issue and the land is of value to citizens as a green space.

Chehames then asked Duffy if he was going to make a motion. Duffy replied, "I'll take it under advisement."

Other business

Stockman said that Lyle Cheney had called to express concern about road agent Jim Bean's proposed extension of a culvert that drains on his land. Stockman commented that the more times water is diverted on its way downhill the better, and that he personally did not have a problem with Bean extending the culvert three feet on either side. The purpose is to keep the plow truck from going down into a hole along the side of the road when clearing the road. Duffy and Stockman plan to meet with Cheney and take a look at the culvert together.

The board agreed to post a sign at the Pier 19 dock saying, "Use at own risk" to absolve the town of liability.

Stockman commented that of seven recent private property sales, four were off in price by 25 to 30 percentr. One was 50 percent less than the value set by the town. He added as long as everyone is in the same boat, the "state will let us slide for a while."

The next selectmen's meeting is scheduled for Monday, Aug. 17, at 9 a.m. at the town offices. A work session will be held on Monday, Aug. 24, at 9 a.m. to discuss posting of property at Cow Island and communication with owners. They expect to have the results from the Public Facilities Committee by that time as well.

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