Signed by then Gov. Craig Benson on May 4, 2004, RSA 287, say members of the citizen’s group Focus: Tamworth, was passed for the sole benefit of Club Motorsports Inc., which wants to build a 3.1-mile European-style road course on a 251-acre tract on the north face of Mount Whittier in Tamworth where members of the private club could put pricey, high-end motorcycles and cars through their paces.
Focus: Tamworth opposes the CMI proposal because of concerns about noise and the potential impact on the Ossipee aquifer.
Other people, including the Tamworth Board of Selectmen, however, endorse the track because of its potential to bring more tax money into town coffers while providing jobs and also acting as a catalyst to attract new businesses to the community.
The N.H. House of Representatives recently approved HB90 by a vote of 273-76, but did so only after defeating the recommendation of its Municipal and County Government Committee that it was ITL — inexpedient to legislate.
Likewise, there was an incongruity in that the Transportation and Interstate Cooperation Committee was being asked — after having supported it last year — to undo the legislation that became RSA 287.
Rep. Harry Merrow, R-Ossipee, who was one of the sponsors of HB90, told the committee and the standing-room only crowd in Room 101 in the Legislative Office Building, that the bill "is not about the race track," which he personally supports, but about home rule.
The Legislature did not fully understand and appreciate that Senate Bill 458, which became RSA 287, would have such a negative effect on home rule, he continued, which is why the House and the New Hampshire Municipal Association now both want it struck from the books.
Attorneys for Focus: Tamworth say RSA 287 rendered the town’s Race Track Ordinance meaningless.
"Please support correcting an error that we all made last year," Merrow implored the senators.
But State Sen. Bob Boyce, R-Alton Bay, objected to the suggestion that the Transportation Committee on which he served in 2004, erred on SB458.
He also took exception to claims that the bill was adopted in a "questionable or underhanded way," pointing out that "it was very clear what this bill was doing."
Mariette Ross, who is a member of the Tamworth Board of Selectmen, said the town "did not lose local control" when the Legislature passed HB458, adding that she and her fellow selectmen also do not support HB90.
A member of Focus:Tamworth claimed that SB458 was "changed for their (CMI’s) benefit, drawing a rebuke from State Sen. Bob Flanders, R-Antrim, who stressed that Tamworth residents have it within their power to pass ordinances relative to the CMI operation.
State Rep. Peter Schmidt, D-Dover, who serves on the Municipal and County Government Committee, said it was his "considered opinion that the Legislature (by passing SB458 last year) blundered into a situation that it would rather not be in."
A "pernicious aspect" of SB458, he continued, is that is sets "a dangerous precedent" in that a developer, unhappy with rulings on a local level, appeals to the Legislature for special action.
State Rep. Harry Gale, R-Sunapee, who is also his town’s moderator, countered that home rule was "a straw man or a straw woman" and condemned insinuations that SB458 had been passed "under cover of darkness."
For the Legislature to repeal any bill because a small portion of a community didn’t support it, "is ludicrous on its face," he said.
Attorney Susan Duprey, who represents CMI, counseled the Transportation and Interstate Cooperation Committee not to be "fooled" by cries of loss of local control.
"What we have here is a group of opponents who cannot gain control" of the development of the motor sports park through Tamworth’s municipal regulatory process, she said, and who instead have gone to lawmakers.
Duprey likened what track opponents were doing to "a zoning ordinance for one" — her client.
To a question from Transportation Committee member Peter Burling, D-Cornish, Duprey replied that Focus:Tamworth doesn’t want "to work this out. They want this dead."
Judy Silva, of the NHMA, said SB458 was definitely "a local control issue," that the association missed in 2004.
Had the NHMA been aware of that bill, it still would have had the same concerns as it does now with HB90, she said, because "this goes well beyond Tamworth" and issues like the one in that town are ones "that should be addressed at the local level."