Focus appeal squelched by DES; agency hands track builder permit #2
TAMWORTH — Cards fell the way of Club Motorsports Inc. last week and again on Monday, when the state made two decisions in favor of the developer of the proposed motorsports park on the side of Mount Whittier.
New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services Friday stood by its July 29 decision to grant CMI a wetlands permit, rejecting a challenge by citizen's group Focus: Tamworth. Then late Monday the agency approved a second major permit—a site-specific permit stating that water quality degradation will not occur as a result of the project.
"This is big permit number two," said gratified CMI spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne, . "Not only has DES denied the appeal, they've now issued a site-specific permit also known as alteration of terrain."
DES Friday declined an August request by Focus: Tamworth to reconsider the wetlands dredge-and-fill permit granted to CMI in July. The local group appealed in August on the grounds that DES-suggested revisions made by CMI to initial plans, actually increased wetlands impacts, rather than decreased them, contrary to DES findings and issuance of the permit. "They changed them quite a bit after the initial plans" said Focus Tamworth spokesperson Kate Vachon. "CMI filed one set and then redid plans because they didn't get all the land they wanted. DES went back and said you need to make more changes."
CMI did and DES granted the wetlands permit which stated, "... the project will not significantly impair the existing wetlands, surface waters, and groundwater resources."
"Our contention is that more land is impacted, theirs is that it's not," said Vachon, arguing that the state agency should have taken into account revisions based upon its own new demands. She says DES did not, and Focus wants to know why. "That's our question," Vachon said. "That's why we appealed it."
DES spokesperson James Martin explained that requests for reconsideration are frequently denied in the absence of starkly new information. "Generally requests to reconsider need to be substantial with significant amount of new information involved," he said. While he could not comment specifically on the Focus: Tamworth appeal, he said project opponents often file blindly in hopes that something will come up and catch a snag during the process. DES Wetlands Bureua Administrator Collis Adams was unreachable for comment.
Martin also said it is usual for for an appeal to move on to the Wetlands Commission after a refusal by DES to reconsider.
"There is clearly no new info," said Tranchemontagne. "DES came back with a list of questions... there was no change. The wetlands delineation did not go up. I don't know where they're getting that. Focus is grasping at straws." Tranchemontagne added that wetlands delineation was decision-making agreed upon by DES, the US Army Corps of Engineers and the Tamworth Conservation Commission.
Focus: Tamworth has also contended that DES should have deferred decision-making on the wetlands dredge-and-fill until the site-specific process was over. "DES did not address many important issues raised by the Tamworth Conservation Commission, including stormwater management, the effect of runoff on abutters and the impact of increased water flow on stream banks near the project. It deferred those items for consideration during the process that approves or denies CMI's Site Specific permit. Focus: Tamworth contends that DES should also have deferred its decision on the dredge-and-fill permit until the Site Specific process is completed," an August 18 press release read.
Now that the site-specific permit has been granted that contention appears moot. Vachon said she had not seen the newly issued permit and could not comment on it specifically. However, she said, the appeal process for the wetlands dredge-and-fill will certainly roll on and Focus has been told it could take up to a year.
According to Vachon, the watchdog group is unshaken from their mission to protect the growth interests of Tamworth by imposing local control. "Economic development is our core reason for being," she said. "Our aim in life is to make sure all local laws are being enforced."
"The reconsideration request was a required first step in the process," explained Charles Greenhalgh also of Focus: Tamworth. He said the group has hired legal, engineering and environmental experts to scrutinize the Club Motorsports proposal. "As long as we believe the facts support reconsideration or appeal, we will continue to pursue the process. The reasons for our appeal still appear convincing."
There are several more possible steps in the appeal process; next is a hearing before the New Hampshire Wetlands Council. The Wetlands Council includes the commissioners of the departments of Resources and Economic Development, Fish and Game, Transportation, State Planning, and Safety, plus seven members appointed by the governor. The appointed members include a conservation commission member, an elected town official, natural resource experts and members of the construction and marine industries.
The Wetlands Council’s decision can be appealed to the Carroll County Superior Court, and then to the New Hampshire Supreme Court. Either the Wetlands Council or the courts can instruct DES to deny the permit or to impose additional conditions. A public hearing on a third major CMI permit application will be held jointly by DES and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers on Wednesday, October 6 at 7 p.m. at the K.A. Brett School in Tamworth.
CMI's Valley Motorsports Park development is located in wooded land on the north face of Mount Whittier off Route 25 in Tamworth, approximately two miles west of the intersection of Routes 25 and 16. The proposed 242 acre, $28 million development will include a more than three-mile, European-style road course for drivers and motorcyclists to develop and practice driving skills and attend performance and safety driving schools.