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Road built by Cog Railway under scrutiny of nonprofit

Union Leader Correspondent

December 14. 2017 12:56AM
A conservation group that opposes the plan of the Cog Railway, whose Base Station is shown here Thursday, to build a 35-room hotel just below summit of Mount Washington has alleged that the Cog has constructed a snowcat road without county and state permits. (John Koziol/Union Leader Correspondent)

BERLIN — Before considering a zoning enforcement request, the Coos County Commission Wednesday decided it wants input from the Coos County Planning Board as to whether the Cog Railway built an unpermitted road on Mount Washington.

Meeting at the Coos County Nursing Home, the three-member commission had been scheduled to discuss the complaint filed by Keep the Whites Wild, a nonprofit group that was formed last year in response to the Cog’s proposal to build a 35-room hotel, the Skyline Lodge, on the tallest peak in the Northeast, 1,000 feet below the summit.

KWW maintains that the hotel would harm the mountain’s alpine zone and last month — through its attorney Jason Reimers — also alleged that what the Cog is calling a recreational trail parallel to its tracks is, under the zoning ordinance for unincorporated places, actually a private road.

Private roads are not permitted in the Steep Slopes overlay district, Reimers wrote in asking the county commission to find that the Cog had violated the ordinance.

Wayne Presby, the owner of the Cog, has said the railway didn’t need permission to build what he called a multi-purpose “recreational trail” that can also be used for track maintenance and emergency responses on the mountain.

Both Reimers and Presby attended yesterday’s commission meeting, and afterwards both were confident the Planning Board would uphold their interpretation of the ordinance.

Presby, who has spoken of potentially operating a snowcat tour on the trail, said a snowcat is “trail-grooming equipment” and as such is considered to be an all-terrain vehicle, which is a permitted use.

He said that between 2004 and 2007, when the Cog operated a wintertime “snow train,” a snowcat ran from the base station to 4,000 feet.

The “trail” the Cog built this year was the connection of two previously existing sections, said Presby, adding hikers and skiers have used those sections for “more than a century.”

He questioned the impact of the trail and said he could show 50 studies whose conclusion is that hiking causes “degradation.”

“I don’t see how they (the planning board) can’t” agree that the trail is a permitted use, said Presby, because “it’s allowed right by ordinance.”

Reimers and KWW co-founder David Govatski agreed the commission’s referral of the Cog road/trail to the planning board was appropriate.

“I don’t think anyone objects to the Cog railway per se,” Govatski said, but people do object to harmful actions, like the proposed hotel and the construction of the road/trail.

“The issue is the disturbance of the alpine zone,” he said.

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