A citizen’s group calling themselves Focus: Tamworth staunchly oppose the facility citing concerns about noise and the potential impact on the vast Ossipee aquifer, the largest of its type in the state. But other townspeople support it believing the assessed value of the $28 million facility will help ease the local tax burden and provide needed jobs.
"It was better designed and flown than the stealth aircraft," Rep. David Babson Jr. (R-Ossipee) of Senate Bill 458 that was signed by the Governor in March and became law on May 4.
"It pulls the rug out from underneath democracy," Babson said of the measure.
But Tranchemontagne says the process was completely open and subject to public hearings over a two-month period.
"Quite frankly I can understand why opponents might be upset – they weren’t paying attention," he said.
Rep. Harry Merrow (R-Ossipee) said he plans to file a bill to repeal the law this fall.
"I’m definitely against this legislation," Merrow said explaining that he believes it violates state law by negating the rights of selectmen. While Merrow said he doesn’t have a public opinion either for or against the track, he opposes this law.
"This bill in effect re-names the track as something other than a race track and then goes on to remove any authority of the selectmen to provide any control over it. Although by definition it is readily apparent that this was designed to apply to the track in Tamworth it would apply to any track in the state that met this definition. In other words it takes authority away from the town which I certainly am not in favor of," he said.
But Tranchemontagne maintains that Tamworth still has a number of methods available to regulate the proposed development of the motorsport club.
Club representatives, he said, are willing to meet with town officials at any time to work on issues such as noise, lighting and hours of operation and hammer out a binding agreement that they would live up to.
"It’s good business to be a good neighbor and that’s what we’re going to be," he said.
The project still needs to obtain a wetlands special use permit from Tamworth’s Planning Board and get a dredge and fill permit from the N.H. Department of Environmental Services.
Rep. Betsy Patten (R-Moultonboro), who chairs the Carroll County Legislative Delegation, said she is busy tracking down copies of the House and Senate record to learn the details of how the measure passed.
"I know it’s a concern to everyone, but we need to find out what happened," said Patten.
One of the key questions that must be answered, Patten said, is if CMI based in Derry filed its application to build the private motorsport club before the town posted the Race Track Ordinance.
According to Merrow, the bill originated in the Senate. It was assigned to the Transportation Committee who held a hearing before the measure went before the full Senate for a vote. From there it was passed to the House. Their Transportation Committee heard it and then sent it to the full House for a vote.
The Committee forwarded the bill to the House by putting it on the consent calendar. Usually reserved for bills that have the majority of a committee’s support, legislation forwarded to the House by this means is expected to garner passage in the House. The House Transportation Committee Chaired by Rep. Robert Letourneau gave the measure an "Ought to Pass," recommendation. The entire consent calendar is approved by one voice vote.
Rep. Sherman Packard (R-Londonderry), chairman of the House Transportation Committee, said hearings on the bill were held in late January and early February. It was common knowledge, he said, that the proposed legislation would benefit the private motorsport club.
"We were told that in no way was (the bill) going to usurp local control," said Packard explaining he was unaware that Tamworth does not have any zoning.
"We defined something that was brand new. It’s not a racetrack. All our committee agreed," he said.
"It’s a disgrace," Rep. Babson said of Senate Bill 458 maintaining the law came in under the radar because of non-descript language used to detail its purpose in the calendar. It was listed as "SB 458 relative to private driving instruction and exhibition facilities."
Senator John Gallus (R-Berlin), the prime sponsor of the measure, said the issue was one of definition.
"There is nothing devious going on. This defines the difference between a professional racetrack like Loudon and a private club," he said. The only reason the measure ended up on the consent calendar, he said, was because there was little opposition.
"There is not one single sponsor from Carroll County," said Babson.
The description of the bill on the consent calendar said, "This bill defines driving instruction and exhibition facilities. 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."
"At the heart of this issue is the town’s ability to self regulate," said Charles Greenhalgh, an attorney and spokesman for Focus: Tamworth.
By exempting private driving and instruction facilities from local regulation of motor vehicle racetracks, the bill renders Tamworth’s Race Track Ordinance (RTO) toothless, he claims.
He charged that CMI had the legislation submitted even before the group applied for its first permit, a dredge and fill application to the DES.
CMI participated in meetings of the RTO Committee, nominated members and submitted a draft ordinance that was approved by Tamworth Selectmen on October 1. At Town Meeting in March, 84 percent of local residents voting endorsed making the ordinance permanent.
"At no time did they (CMI) ever indicate that they were planning this end run around the democratic process," said Greenhalgh.
Focus: Tamworth has asked area lawmakers to work to revoke the law.
"The RTO doesn’t apply. It’s not a race track," Tranchemontagne said of the proposed private county club that will cater to an exclusive clientele of motorsport enthusiasts. The facility is distinctly different from N.H. International Speedway. There are no facilities for spectators, there will be no night racing and the cars using the facility will be street legal, not race cars equipped with high-horsepower, loud engines.
Rep. Mark McConkey, (R-West Ossipee) said it is still not clear to him whether the law guts the RTO. House Speaker Gene Chandler, (R-Bartlett) has asked for legal research to determine the law’s impact. According to McConkey, Chandler now believes the law won’t negate local ordinances. Tranchemontagne agrees saying the town could still regulate the facility by adopting zoning or a noise ordinance. The developers have already pumped $3 million into the project and have yet to break ground, he said; stressing CMI is in for the long haul.
With friends and constituents who both favor and oppose the racetrack, McConkey said the issue is an important one for him. While at first blush the law sounds like it was designed to make an end round around local control, McConkey said, he wants to learn more about it before he passes judgment. CMI has indicated its willingness to work with the town and its interest in being a good corporate neighbor, he said.
"If the town and legislators got duped I’m sure we’ll act quickly to remove it," McConkey said of the law.