South Down, Long Bay gearing up to fight WOW Trail extension


LACONIA — Proponents of extending a paved public trail along Paugus Bay are raising money and preparing plans for city approval, while residents of two gated communities along the proposed path are gearing up for a potential legal fight to stop the project.

The 10-foot-wide Winnisquam-Opechee-Winnipesaukee (WOW) Trail now runs from the Belmont town line to Elm Street in the Lakeport area of Laconia.

Backers say the trail has been popular with locals and tourists alike, is good for business and boosts property values. Police say the path hasn't caused the kind of problems some had feared.

The proposed 5-mile extension would extend the existing path to Weirs Beach along a railroad right of way that skirts the bay and the private communities of Long Bay and South Down Shores.

Long Bay's homeowners' association recently emailed a PowerPoint presentation to residents saying that, if the path is built, they will lose privacy to thousands of pedestrians and bicyclists.

"Users will see our amenities (beaches, pool, bocce & tennis court, chairs, & bathrooms) and want to use them," the document stated. "Trespass is the entry level crime that leads to more serious misdemeanors and felonies. Our security costs will increase as security teams deal with trespassers."

It also stated there would be a greater chance for vandalism and burglaries and that property values could go down.

Dick Bordwell, president of the Long Bay association, said residents' access to the bay could be disrupted by fences that would be needed along the trail to keep people off the railroad tracks, which are used by a scenic rail line during the tourist months.

"In general, most people are not in opposition to the trail itself, but are just in opposition to the fact that the intention is to bring it right through our community and introduce a large contingent of people to a private community," Bordwell said.

"About 150,000 people will use the trail on an annual basis," he said. "Long Bay and South Down combined are in an area of 2,400 people. This would destroy any form or fashion of privacy for this community."

Bordwell said people purchased their homes in the area with an expectation of privacy. 

Backers of the trail extension should try to find an alternate route, and residents are willing to fight the project in court if they have to, he said.

Bruce Miller, president of the South Down Shores association, said concerns over crime are real.

He pointed to a public records request made to the Laconia Police Department. The report showed 131 police calls over six years along the existing trail, including for vandalism, public intoxication and fighting.

The existing stretch of trail goes through a largely urban zone, while the proposed extension would be in a more lightly populated, residential area.

Laconia Police Chief Matt Canfield, who frequently runs on the WOW trail, said the occasional public intoxication or vandalism call may happen near the trail, as is true anywhere in an urban area.

Fewer problems would be expected on the extension, he said.

"When you get up that far, that's quite a haul for someone to walk up to do what, trespass?" he said. "I wouldn't think you'd see a problem. I wouldn't be overly concerned."

Canfield said that before the existing WOW trail was built, people said it would lead to crime.

"There were a lot of concerns that it would be a conduit for crimes like burglaries," he said. "We really haven't seen that."

Allan Beetle, who owns Patrick's Pub, is the foremost proponent of the trail extension and is involved with a nonprofit organization that supports the project. He said the group expects to net $35,000 to $40,000 in an annual sweepstakes ball it will hold Saturday at Gunstock Mountain Resort.

That money, together with about $150,000 the group has already raised, would serve as seed money for the trail extension. Government grants would largely support the project, which could cost as much as $4 million.

Engineering plans are being compiled and it could be a few months before a proposal is ready to submit to the city.

Beetle said people who live near such trails often like to use them and end up being their biggest supporters.

A 2012 economic impact analysis by the Belknap County Economic Development Council for a completed WOW Trail estimates net new visitor spending at $1.78 million annually. The analysis also stated that properties close to trails tend to see a positive impact on property values.

Beetle said the railroad right of way, which offers unobstructed views of the bay, is the best place to put the trail. Across the country, no-longer-used or little-used railroad corridors have been used for biking, walking and running trails and can be developed without the need of purchasing private land.

He said trail users are a positive, not a negative, for a community.

"These are the types of people you want coming by your property," Beetle said. "They are the type to call police if they saw a problem. They pick up trash and say 'Hello' when they pass by."

Crucial vote coming on jail funding

LACONIA — The Belknap County Delegation will meet at 7 p.m. on Monday, May 22 to take up a request for a a $229,500 supplemental appropriation from the Belknap County commissioners. They will hold a public hearing on the request and are expected to vote on it following the hearing.
The request includes $136,500 for the Corrections Department and $93,000 for the Sheriff's Department.
Commissioners maintain that the funds are needed in order to allow the new $8 million, 18,000-square-foot, 72-bed Community Corrections Center to open as planned this fall and for the Sheriff's Department to be able to meet its statutory obligations.
Belknap County Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray has said that without the four additional corrections officers cut from his budget by the delegation, he will not be able open the corrections center and operate it safely.
The supplemental appropriation proposal calls for hiring three corrections officers on July 1 and another on Sept. 1.
In a letter to the editor published in Thursday's Laconia Daily Sun, Gray reiterated his position that he could not recommend opening the corrections center without the new officers. He said in the letter that he is hoping for a large turnout from the public at a presentation he will give on the new center at 4 p.m. Monday which will be followed by a tour of the new building.
He noted in his letter that the Belknap County Delegation voted 15-0 in favor of the $8 million bond for the community corrections center in November of 2015 and had been told prior to the vote that staff and programming costs were estimated at $650,183.
County Commissioners were scheduled to discuss the community corrections center when they met Thursday afternoon. They received an update from Dave DeVoy, (R-Sanbornton), chairman of the county commission and also the chairman of the Jail Planning Committee, about the latest date that work can be halted on the project if supplemental funds are not approved.
DeVoy said last week that "the drop-dead date is Aug. 15," after having been told by Andre Kloetz of Bauen Construction that is the date that work has to start on removing a women's bathroom in the old wing. The space will then be filled with a new air exchange system. Once that occurs, the old wing of the jail would no longer have sufficient bathroom facilities for female inmates.
Superintendent Gray has said that without the new officers, parts of the current jail would need to remain in use and that female prisoners would have to be transferred to another county, which would cost $34,500 a month.

Self-storage facility to hold grand opening

GILFORD — The owner of a self-storage facility near the Laconia Airport will hold a grand opening celebration this weekend to mark the completion of a new set of storage units on the hillside behind his home base.
Richard Letendre, owner of New Hampshire Self Storage, said his company has a temporary occupancy permit for the property and now needs only to complete the landscaping and grounds work, which includes plantings, to obtain a permanent permit from the town.
"It is renting up quickly," he said, and he plans to order a second building once the permanent permit is in place.
The grand opening on Saturday will include a live broadcast by Mix 94.1FM, between 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., to promote the climate-controlled "Big Boy Storage Box" that is available for boat storage or other uses, available in sizes up to 40 feet deep, with 12- by 14-foot-wide insulated, power-operated panel doors.
The "toy box" units offer individual access around the perimeter of the building, while climate-controlled interior units also are available. The property also has full coverage by security cameras.
"We do expect a good acceptance by the public," Letendre said, adding that he is working on plans to add more storage on the upper lot.
New Hampshire Self Storage also has locations in Hooksett, Manchester, Meredith, Wolfeboro, and Shawmut, Massachusetts.