By RICK GREEN, THE LACONIA DAILY SUN
LACONIA — The gated communities of South Down and Long Bay have dropped their legal challenge to the proposed extension of the WOW Trail, at least for the time being.
The Department of Transportation, which owns the land where the path would be extended and was the defendant, had contended the lawsuit was premature and should be dismissed.
Backers of extending the Winnisquam-Opechee-Winnipesaukee Trail through a railroad corridor from Lakeport to the Weirs have not yet filed project plans with the city or state.
Robert Carey, the plaintiffs' attorney, said in a legal filing that Gretchen Gandini, executive director of the WOW Trail organization, testified in a deposition that her group has no timeframe for the trail extension, hasn't raised money for it and does not have cost estimates.
Superior Court Judge James D. O'Neill III granted Carey's request to withdraw the case. The lawsuit can be refiled later.
Gandini said this is what she had been expecting.
"Strange as this may sound," she said, "I sort of feel the need to say thank you to South Down Shores and Long Bay leadership. This lawsuit has reminded us just how many people enjoy the WOW Trail, believe in our mission, and are devoted to helping us continue the trail to Weirs Beach and Meredith. Let there be no doubt, we remain as committed as ever to helping transform this publicly-owned land into a spectacular year-round public recreation space for ALL State of New Hampshire residents and visitors to enjoy. I’m certain that a completed regional trail linking neighboring communities together and showcasing our three beautiful lakes will fast become one of the Lakes Region’s best amenities, drawing vacationing families back year after year and enhancing the quality of life for those of us fortunate enough to call the Lakes Region home.
Bruce D. Miller, president of the South Down Shores Recreation Association, and Dick Bordwell, president of the Long Bay Association, said in a letter to homeowners that the lawsuit was filed in May because trail backers said publicly they would be filing formal plans “within a couple weeks.”
Miller and Bordwell said in the letter that their legal counsel recommended the litigation be withdrawn “as it is highly likely that the court will view the action as premature and refuse to hear the case.”
“We have accepted the recommendation and the court has been notified that we are withdrawing this action; but we are preserving all rights to resubmit at a future date,” they said in the letter. “We have not diminished our legal position or resolve to prevent the WOW Trail from coming through our communities. We will take legal action when the WOW organization moves forward.”
Some homeowners in South Down Shores and Long Bay contend the trail would impede their access to the bay, harm views and disrupt privacy.
Proponents say the path would be good for neighbors, the broader community and businesses, while providing much-needed public access to a beautiful area. They say plans for the trail predated the private, gated communities.
Two earlier phases of the 10-foot-wide path now take it from the Belmont town line to Elm Street in the Lakeport area of Laconia.
Ultimately, trail backers hope to extend it not only to The Weirs, but all the way to Meredith.
The rail line is used by a sightseeing train during the tourist season. A fence would separate the tracks from the trail, and is another point of contention for homeowners.