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Builder strikes deal with state over development of island home

By DAVE SOLOMON
New Hampshire Union Leader

January 02. 2018 9:28PM

Welcome Island before (top) and after Robert Brown's improvements. The 0.18-acre island is located near Stonedam Island at the mouth of Meredith Bay in Lake Winnipesaukee. 



A former marine contractor facing $1,000-a-day fines as of Jan. 1 in a years-long legal dispute over his island home on Lake Winnipesaukee in Meredith has reached a settlement with state environmental officials.

As a result of a consent decree approved in December by Belknap County Superior Court Judge James O’Neill III, Robert Brown will get to keep the home intact. But he will have to pay $25,000 in penalties in addition to the more than $30,000 in penalties and $6,000 in state attorney fees paid so far.

Brown will also have to pay for a shoreline stabilization project, approved by the Department of Environmental Services, and “shall bear any other costs associated with repairs to related erosion on Welcome Island,” according to the settlement.

Brown bought tiny Welcome Island (aka Wilcomb Island) in 1986. It had nothing on it but a one-story camp and two single-slip boathouses. In 2005, he started construction on a three-bedroom contemporary home with two-and-a-half baths, a two-slip boathouse and luxury amenities.

In 2009, three years after construction was completed, the DES sued Brown in Belknap County Superior Court, claiming he violated the Fill and Dredge in Wetlands Act when he built the 2,944-square-foot home and an attached two-slip boathouse on the 0.18-acre island.

Brown had a building permit from the town of Meredith and claimed he was told in 2005 he met all shoreland requirements. Many of the circumstances surrounding what Brown was told and what the permits allowed are in dispute.

The legal battle went on for years, with Brown at one point agreeing to tear down a portion of the building to comply with the DES order and avoid more fines. He later reneged on that agreement, claiming he was not in good health at the time and did not understand what he was signing.

In July, O’Neill ordered Brown to make all the changes to the property agreed to in a previous consent decree by Aug. 31, or pay penalties of $100 per day between Aug. 31 and Oct. 31, $500 a day between Nov. 1 and Dec. 31, and $1,000 per day after Jan. 1, 2018.

At that point, several lawmakers became involved, claiming that Brown was a victim of heavy-handed prosecution by environmental regulators.

“Mr. Brown wants to leave this as a legacy property for his family as we all would want to do,” said North Country Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield. “State government should be educating, not penalizing.”

At a Sept. 1 meeting with newly appointed DES Commissioner Robert Scott, Brown was accompanied by a legislative delegation consisting of Kenney, state Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, and state Rep. Herbert Vadney, R-Meredith — all of them pressing for an immediate settlement.

Giuda, in a letter to commissioner Scott, called the DES handling of the situation “a gross misapplication of the department’s mandate.”

Brown has consistently declined to comment on the case, but in the settlement agrees that “the state at all times acted properly and within its authority with respect to its representations and enforcement actions related to this dispute.”

In return, the state accepts that the property as it exists, “may be sold as legal and unencumbered.”

dsolomon@unionleader.com


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