Moratorium Conflicts with Umbagog Land Swap
Could Delay ATV Loop Trail

September 14, 2012
By Barbara Tetreault
The Berlin Daily Sun

PINKHAM NOTCH – The Coos County Commissioners found their push for a four-year moratorium on federal land purchases in the county put at risk a land swap between the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge and the state Division of Forest and Lands. The land swap is being sought by the commission and local ATV clubs to allow a countywide ATV loop.

The North Country OHRV Coalition is working to develop a Great North Woods ATV loop that would allow riders to travel from Berlin to Pittsburg south to Stratford and through Nash Stream to Berlin. About a quarter of a mile of the proposed trail between Success, Errol and the Thirteen Mile Woods goes through the southwest corner of the refuge. Because the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service does not allow ATV use on refuge land, Refuge Manager Paul Casey said the agency is willing to do a land swap with the state to allow the trail to go through.

The proposal is for the refuge to swap the approximately 80-acre parcel for the 130acre Big Island State Forest in Wentworth Location. Because Big Island State Forest was purchased with LCHIP funds, Casey said the state cannot give up fee ownership. Instead the state will give the refuge a super easement that will turn management of the property over to the refuge.

Casey said Fish and Wildlife staff and the state have put together an exchange agreement that is now ready to undergo legal review.

But in the meantime, Casey said U.S. Fish and Wildlife Regional office received the letter from the commission asking for a four-year moratorium on any expansion of the refuge. He said since Big Island State Forest is not within the acquisition boundary of the refuge and Fish and Wildlife will have to pay the state to compensate for the acreage difference, it is considered a land acquisition. He said the regional office asked why he was spending time on the land exchange in light of the commission’s request for a moratorium on land purchases. Casey said he never received a copy of the letter from the commission and felt blindsided when his regional office asked about it.

County Administrator Sue Collins said she thought Casey and the service were splitting hairs. She said both parcels are not on the tax rolls. She also noted that while the commission requested a moratorium, there is not one in place.

Commissioner Paul Grenier said he agreed with Collins that the land swap did not qualify as a land acquisition. He said the commission was referring to large land acquisitions, not a 100-acre swap.

CommissionerTomBradyaskedhow to resolve the issue. Casey requested a letter from the commission stating it is working with the refuge on this particular project and supports the land acquisition involved. The three commissioners voted to have Collins draft such a letter.

Commissioner Burnham Judd asked how soon the transaction could be completed. He said he sees the trail as a major economic development initiative. Casey said the agreement has to go through legal review. But he said once that review is finished, he plans to seek a transitional permit that would allow the trail to be used while the transaction is being finalized.

Casey reported that the Androscoggin River Headwaters project will largely complete the expansion of the refuge in New Hampshire. He said there is no more significant acreage within the proclamation boundary of the refuge in the state.

Earlier in the meeting, the commission approved a proposal to have North Country Council prepare and advertise a Request for Proposals to do an economic impact study of the Umbagog refuge. County Treasurer Fred King outlined the proposal to the commission. He said North Country Council is experienced in doing such RFPs and is neutral over issues regarding the refuge. The proposal calls for NCC to be paid $5,000 to write the RFP and review the various proposals submitted. King said the refuge has increased its boundaries beyond the original scope when it was first proposed and it is time to look at its impact on the local economy and quality of life.

Judd asked how the study will be funded. King said the Trust for Public Lands has agreed to contribute to it and there is money in the county’s unincorporated places budget. He said he is requesting Fish and Wildlife Service help with the cost and is talking to the state and other organizations.

* Commissioners Paul Grenier and Tom Brady praised Chairman Bing Judd’s years of service to the commission. Judd was defeated Tuesday in his bid for re-election. Brady said he has enjoyed working with Judd on the commission. Grenier said when he got on the commission, he was told Judd was a ‘larger than life’ figure who was gruff and tough. Grenier said he discovered Judd also had a big heart and especially worked hard to take care of the county’s elderly residents and its two nursing homes.

“That’s the legacy you’re going to leave behind. And what better legacy can you leave than that you looked after the people who needed us the most,” Grenier said.

* Administrator Sue Collins reported she received proposals for appraising and surveying the administrator’s house on the county grounds in West Stewartstown as requested by the delegation. She said Androscoggin Appraisals of Berlin submitted a proposal of $475 and Trumbell & Associates of Lancaster submitted a proposal of $700 for the appraisal. F.W. Cowan & Sons, Dana Masson of Canaan,Vt., submitted a $1,400 estimate to survey a five-acre lot.

 

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