Lawmakers embrace expanding Lake Sunapee boat access

A proposed, two-year capital budget would expand public boat access to Lake Sunapee and eliminate the need to develop this state-owned parcel known as the Wild Goose site.

CONCORD — The nearly 30-year battle about expanding public access for deep water boats onto Lake Sunapee could be at an end thanks to bipartisan work on a capital budget containing public works projects across the state.

The state Senate late last week joined the House of Representatives endorsing $740,000 to improve the boat ramp at the Lake Sunapee State Park Beach, one of the recommendations of a commission Gov. Chris Sununu created to identify the best way to expand access on the state’s fifth largest lake that has no state-controlled, deep water boat launch.

For 28 years, the Fish and Game Commission had been pursuing a new launch on the so-called Wild Goose site that was opposed by lake resident groups and local boards from abutting towns due to concerns over traffic and environmental impacts.

House Deputy Speaker Karen Ebel, D-New London, was one of the leaders in the campaign to block Fish and Game from developing Wild Goose, a former hotel and campsite the state acquired in 1990.

She agreed this expansion must happen in a way that doesn’t spoil what makes the park’s beach such a popular spot for residents and tourists to visit.

“State Parks sees its main mission in that location as the state beach and park experience, not boating but improving the already popular ramp in a location that is not fraught with traffic safety problems. (This) is, to our mind, the best thing to do under the circumstances,” Ebel said Saturday.

“We are thankful for the funding and the Legislature’s support of this project. It’s a great compromise in the best New Hampshire way.”

Sen. David Watters, D-Dover, chairs the Senate Capital Budget Committee.

“It may not be ideal to have a boat launch and a beach in the same place but this makes sense and it does away with the Wild Goose project that was such a political fiasco,” Watters said. “We are told this is workable and it will be good to get this done.”

Ebel said this project would include dredging the beach launch to accommodate larger boats.

Still searching

Fish and Game officials have said if this came to pass they would continue to search for other deep-water public access points along the lake.

The Sunapee boat ramp work is one of the few changes lawmakers made to the capital budget that Sununu first proposed last February.

The two-term Republican Sununu along with his GOP allies continues to fight against House and Senate budget writers over spending and tax changes for the two-year operating budget.

Sununu has already threatened to veto that plan if it spends too much or contains new taxes.

In contrast, lawmakers from both parties have overwhelmingly embraced the few alterations to Sununu’s capital budget and the governor hasn’t to date signaled any disagreements with them.

House Public Works and Highways Chairman John Cloutier, D-Claremont, said he’ll recommend his committee next week endorse those changes the Senate made to the budget the House passed on a 362-5 vote in April.

“I would hope we could concur but it’s up to the final committee; they have the final say,” Cloutier said.

Serving his 14th term on the panel, Cloutier said he could only recall one other time in 2001 when reaching agreement on a capital budget did not require naming a team of negotiators from the House and Senate to hammer out the differences.

“Both sides and both parties have really kept in close contact throughout the process,” Cloutier said.

Site was 2017 roadblock

The Wild Goose controversy was one of the bitter fights over the capital budget in 2017.

At that time, former House Speaker Gene Chandler, a Bartlett Republican, had backed the development while ex-Senate President Chuck Morse, R-Salem, was set against it.

Ultimately, a $2 million expansion for the Wild Goose property was taken out of the final compromise.

Weeks later, in July 2017, Sununu sealed the project’s fate when he pulled the plug on extending an environmental permit needed to keep the Wild Goose design alive.

The capital budget passing the Senate 24-0 last week contained more than $300 million in total spending, including about $125 million in state-backed bonds that leveraged more than $150 million in federal grants.

Another $24 million would come from highway fund expenses and nearly $8 million from other sources.

Agriculture Commissioner Shawn Jasper, a former House speaker from Hudson, brokered another compromise to complete on time a $17 million renovation of the Hudson Career and Technical Education Center.

The state would spend nearly $14.5 million and under this concept the trustees of a nonprofit dedicated to improvements at Alvirne High School in Hudson would loan the state the rest of the money.

Under this deal, the state would pay back that loan in the next capital budget.

Without this additional money, Jasper said the project would be delayed and it would cost taxpayers another $900,000.

Jasper said he’s not aware this loan concept has ever been used in the past.

“It is unique but this trust that supports Alvirne has some assets. As long as the trustees go along with it, this is a way to keep this renovation and upgrade of the center on schedule, and it’s really long overdue,” Jasper said.

Other projects would complete renovations at the Rochester technical high school and a life science building at the University of New Hampshire in Durham; upgrade the access road to the minimum security prison in Berlin; and start the process for upgrading an engineering technology building at Nashua Community College.

“Much of our focus with this budget is on work force development because the labor pool is so tight and employers are crying out for more trained workers,” Sen. Watters added.