Carroll County: Law Redefines CMI Facility as No Racetrack
By Terry Leavitt
Friday, May 14, 2004
Reps, Residents Surprised, Ask for Repeal
TAMWORTH — Tamworth residents and their state representatives say they were caught unaware by the recent passage of a bill that appears to invalidate the town’s racetrack ordinance. Some of those representatives plan to work to repeal the bill next year.
The three N.H. Representatives who represent Tamworth, Harry Merrow, David Babson and Mark McConkey, all of Ossipee, said the bill slipped through on a consent calendar vote and none of them realized that it pertained to Club Motorsports’ Tamworth plans.
“How did I miss this? I have no excuse,” said Merrow, but he added that after reviewing the description of the bill presented in the House, “Ask yourself if you would have associated this with the Tamworth Racetrack.”
The description Merrow and other representatives saw states: “SB 458, relative to private driving instruction and exhibition facilities. OUGHT TO PASS Rep. Robert J. Letourneau for Transportation: These are facilities that provide instruction and training for safe driving skills and adverse weather driving techniques. These facilities can also exhibit vintage motor vehicles. This bill clarifies where these facilities fit with respect to the current law, so that existing state law, which applies to professional spectator facilities does not apply to private instructional facilities. Vote 13-0.” There is no mention of a motorsports country club or road course or amateur driving competitions in the description.
The bill came out of committee with no opposition, and was placed on the consent calendar in the House. Consent calendar bills are not debated before they are voted on in the House. Merrow said, “The consent calendar is normally reserved for what is hoped to be bills that the committee members nearly all agree on and that it is felt that the Full House will agree on.”
He said, “I’m not sure how others handle the consent calendar, but in my case I review the bill title, read the description and if the recommendation of the committee seems reasonable, I move to review of the regular calendar items that will be discussed on the floor.”
Babson and McConkey said they missed the item because they did not recognize its significance either.
“The blurb should tell you what it’s about and it didn’t,” Babson said. “I’m opposed to the process in which this bill got passed.” He said, “Nothing is in there that would even give you an idea this is about the Tamworth Racetrack and that’s how we missed it.”
McConkey said he has been in favor of the project in the past, and has heard from many Tamworth residents who favor it. “But my opinion is certainly waivering at this point in time,” he said. “I’d like some answers. If the town was duped, I definitely will work with Harry to repeal it. I took CMI at their word that they will abide by ordinances, and it doesn’t look good right now.”
McConkey said he had been approached by a Club Motorsports representative in December and asked if he would be interested in sponsoring legislation for them, but he declined because he felt it was too controversial.
The representatives all said they have been receiving many comments about the passage of the law.
McConkey said he has received new comments from people on both sides of the issue. “For the most part, people who were for it are still for it. And the people who were against it are even more against it.” But he added that there were some people who told him they thought the process was “underhanded.” He said, “I know some really good residents in Tamworth who feel betrayed by it and want some answers.”
Merrow said, “I do not have a public opinion either for or against the track as I consider this is something to be decided by the majority of the residents in the town in which it resides. However, I am strongly opposed to this bill and the way in which it went through as it takes power away from local authorities regarding what goes on in their communities.” “Had I realized what it was at the time I would have done my best to see that it was defeated,” Merrow said. He said he will continue to fight to protect local control.
Proponents of the SB458 said all the proper procedures were followed in presenting the bill and moving it through the Legislature.
Club Motorsports spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said the law clarifies the businesses and supports its position as something different from a Loudon International Speedway kind of track. “We’ve always maintained that we’re not a racetrack. We’re a roadcourse with a country club. I believe we are legitimately a different entity. I think part of the problem is we’re a facility that nobody understands because they haven’t seen the like of it.”
He also said, “I didn’t feel it was my job to publicize it,” when the legislation was being presented in Concord. “Because we are battling against a group of activist opponents who are doing their best to defeat us, it is not in our best interest to reveal our strategy.” He noted that Club Motorsports has already invested $3 million in the project and has to protect that investment.
“As far as I know, the only people who are pushing Merrow to do something are people who have been opposed to our project,” he said. “We’ve had a lot of people say this is good news because that thing [the town racetrack ordinance] went way beyond where it should have gone.”
Tranchemontagne said, however that he believes “People might be legitimately concerned about the local control issue,” and reiterated that Club Motorsports wants to be a good neighbor and is willing to sit down with Tamworth selectmen and work on issues such as noise and light considerations.
He added, “If the real issue is noise, then pass a noise ordinance and we’ll have to abide by it.”
When the bill was presented in Senate and House Transportation committees, however, the focus of the discussion was clearly on the proposed facility being planned in Tamworth, and a Club Motorsports lobbyist, Teresa Rosenberger, was present to answer questions from committee members.
In the Senate, Sen. Joe Kenney of Wakefield, who represents Tamworth, chairs the committee. He said he regarded the bill as one that tried to define a new type of business, and said it is common when the legislature recognizes a new type of business to pass a law to define it and state who has oversight of the business.
He added, “We have a habit of passing legislation with no rule making authority” then going back and making changes to the law later. Kenney defended the process and said that he believes the definitional part of the law is a good start, although it may need “a little tweaking.”
As to the second part of the legislation, which exempts such facilities from the law regulating race tracks, Kenney said he did not realize all the repercussions of that section, but added “It wasn’t done in my mind to pre-empt that [the Tamworth Racetrack Ordinance].”
He met with Tamworth residents to discuss the matter Monday and said he will try to present legislation to form a committee to study the issue before this session closes, with an eye to presenting some new legislation in the fall. He also said it is not clear whether the law invalidates the town’s ordinance and he is seeking a legal opinion on that matter.
Focus: Tamworth issued a statement about the new law, which it said has many residents angry and upset.
“At the heart of this issue is the town’s ability to self-regulate,” said Focus Tamworth spokesman Charles Greenhalgh. “The state gives towns the right to write and implement a racetrack ordinance. Tamworth chose to exercise that right…Now in a move that has left us all in shock, the state legislature has torn the ability to self-regulate from our hands and placed it squarely in the hands of private developers.”
To say that Focus Tamworth was taken by surprise is an understatement, he said, adding, “That was the purpose of the way it was done, to take people by surprise.”
John Mersfelder, chairman of the Tamworth Conservation Commission submitted a letter to the editor in this week’s edition of the Independent (A14), saying the work of the commission has been undermined by the bill, and questioning Club Motorsports’ silence. “The developer stood mute, apparently knowing full well that SB458, which had been passed by the N.H. Senate, made the voter approval of the local ordinance a travesty,” he said.