Conservation fund plays critical role in Piper peak purchase

Conservation fund plays critical role in Piper peak purchase



GILFORD — Of all the sources of capital that went into bringing the peak of Piper Mountain under protective status, one of the most critical in getting the effort underway was the Gilford Conservation Fund.

“It was the foresight of the town of Gilford in getting 100 percent of the land use change tax into the conservation fund that allows us to have something like this to show for that,” said Everett McLaughlin during Saturday’s dedication ceremony.

The town contributed $115,000 toward the purchase of the 2,044-foot-high peak and 273 acres of surrounding land, without relying on direct taxation. The money came from the conversion of land that had been held in “current use” into market-value property.

Current use recognizes the influence of taxation on a landowner’s decision to preserve open space and allows owners to avoid paying on the full market value of the land by setting aside 10 or more acres to be taxed based on their value as open space. The goal is to encourage the preservation of farmland and other undeveloped tracts of land.

The land use change tax is a fee charged when land that has been in current use no longer qualifies or is sold. The 10 percent penalty assessed on the “full and true value” of the land serves as a disincentive to develop it.

By law, the money goes into a town’s general fund, but RSA 79-A:25, II allows a town to place a portion — up to 100 percent — of that amount into a nonlapsing conservation fund that can be used for the purchase of land, easements, and other conservation purposes.

Gilford has done just that and, on Saturday, McLaughlin encouraged other towns to follow suit. “Get that 100 percent of the land use change tax,” he advised.

The decision requires a town meeting vote, and may involve a lesser portion of the tax going into the fund. Unlike most municipal appropriations, money placed in a conservation fund is non-lapsing, allowing the amount to accumulate until it is needed.

40-year climb – Relentless effort to preserve Piper Mt.

GILFORD — Four decades of effort and tenacity culminated in a celebration on Saturday atop the summit of Piper Mountain among the parties that have ensured the peak's preservation for use by future generations.
The dedication ceremony included champagne, ice cream and Piper Mountain blueberries — and the presentation of a plaque to Everett McLaughlin, credited with making the purchase possible.
Don Berry, president of the Lakes Region Conservation Trust that now owns the 273-acre property, said the $220,000 purchase was the collaborative effort of several organizations, as well as businesses and individuals who contributed the funds needed. The Gilford Conservation Commission and Gilford Land Conservation Task Force also spearheaded the effort, with support from the Belknap Range Conservation Coalition and the Belknap County Sportsmen's Association.
"From the beginning, this was at the top of our wish list," Berry said of the summit's purchase, "but it seemed that nothing was ever going to happen. Then, last fall, Everett accomplished the impossible, and told us the owner wanted to sell."
That still left the task of raising the money for the purchase, and Berry said the Samuel P. Pardoe Foundation stepped in with a challenge grant to help bring the campaign to a successful conclusion.
With the purchase, the conservation trust now owns contiguous parcels totaling 691 acres, and the town of Gilford holds conservation easements on that property, ensuring the protection of the forest habitat and preservation of the popular hiking trails. As part of the project, the conservation trust also granted an easement to the town of 86 acres the organization already owned.
Doug Hill, who serves on the Gilford Conservation Commission and the Land Conservation Task Force, said the town's voters in March 1979 had agreed to purchase the summit, but a title search showed that the seller they thought owned the property was not the owner, after all. The town was able to go ahead with the purchase of what has become known as the Whiteface-Powell tract, but, "The Piper Mountain tract somewhat eluded us."
After several years of litigation between the parties claiming ownership of the summit, Ernie Gould emerged as the owner and, in 2011, the conservation commission and land trust tried in vain to reach an agreement to purchase the property from Gould.
"We moved on to other things," Hill said, "but it left us with a doughnut hole." While land around the summit was now protected, the top remained in private ownership.
"We gave up," Hill said, "except Everett McLaughlin didn't give up. He was worse than the IRS: He tracked Ernie Gould down, kept after him on his cell phone, and finally showed up with this signed document. ... Nobody, not even Ernie Gould, can withstand an Everett attack."
McLaughlin deflected the accolades, thanking Gould and saying, without him, they would not have the property.
The purchase-and-sales agreement had been signed Aug. 17, 2016, but its terms included that the closing would have to occur no later than January 2017.
"When Everett came into the meeting," recalled Russ Wilkins of the Belknap Range Conservation Coalition, "he said it's all arranged; all you have to do is raise umpteen thousands of dollars to purchase it."
A massive fundraising effort followed, with $115,000 in seed money from the town's conservation fund. The Pardoe challenge grant helped to push the campaign over the top, Wilkins said, and he cited Grappone Ford of Concord and Piche's of Gilford as among the many businesses that stepped forward to support the purchase.
"I always say that conservation is good business," Wilkins commented. "This is what we do around here."
Conservation also is what McLaughlin does. Since he started a second career as a fisheries biologist with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service and moved to Gilford in 1984, he has repeatedly volunteered to protect the land. In dedicating the 2013 Gilford Town Report to him, the selectmen cited his protection of the 236-acre Weeks Farm in 2004, and the 332-acre Gage parcel on the east slope of Piper Mountain in 2013, as well as a number of smaller purchases in between.
McLaughlin joined the Gilford Conservation Commission and Land Conservation Task Force in 2006, and was named N.H. Audubon Society Volunteer of the Year in 2010. In 2011, he and his wife, Sandy, were grand marshals of the Gilford Old Home Day parade.
"This whole process wasn't the easiest thing in the world," McLaughlin said, "and we wouldn't be here without all of you."
Speakers also acknowledged the contributions of the late Dave Roberts, the Belknap County Sportsmen's Association's representative on the Belknap Range Conservation Coalition. Even during his illness, Roberts provided valuable maps and information, sharing his personal knowledge of the area. Piper Mountain's 2,044-foot-high peak was at the top of his list of priorities, as well, and he shared information about the effort with the sportsmen's club and encouraged its members to help with trail markers.


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Doug Hill and Don Berry look on as Everett McLaughlin accepts a plaque for his role in pursuing the conservation of the summit of Piper Mountain. (Adam Drapcho/The Laconia Daily Sun)

County supports Gunstock — With Silber dissenting, Delegation agrees to revenue anticipation note



LACONIA — Following a public hearing Monday night, the Belknap County Delegation agreed to issue a revenue anticipation note that would cover the operational costs for Gunstock Mountain Resort during the 2017-18 ski season, with Gunstock repaying the money from its winter revenues by April 1, 2018.

Prior to the hearing, the Gunstock Area Commission met to approve an extension of a separate memorandum of understanding that would provide a one-time payment of $175,000 to the county, after which the commission and delegation would continue negotiations on a longer-term agreement that would address the concerns some county representatives had raised.

Gunstock Commission Chairman Sean Sullivan announced the one-year agreement at the start of the hearing before the delegation, and Delegation Vice-Chairman Raymond Howard (R-Alton) moved to accept the document.

Rep. Norman Silber (R-Gilford) stated his opposition to the request and questioned Sullivan and Gunstock General Manager Greg Goddard about the resort’s cash position. He maintained there was no statutory authority for such a memorandum of understanding, saying instead Gunstock’s enabling legislation required a payment far in excess of the $175,000.

According to Silber, the 50-year-old statute requires Gunstock to turn over to the county any accumulated revenue greater than 25 percent of any profits remaining after meeting obligations "if required by the County Delegation."

"Any calculation of the true value would be vastly in excess of $175,000," he stated, adding, "I object to taking any vote on the MOU because it’s not required under the statute, and the commissioners are not acting in good faith."

He received no support for his position, and the delegation agreed to the MOU with Silber casting the only dissenting vote.

Silber then fulfilled an earlier promise and called for the entire Gunstock Area Commission to resign "for failure to observe the statutes" — but his motion had no second and was dismissed.

Goddard then presented the request for money in anticipation of revenues, which he described as being similar to a line of credit for a business. Because most of Gunstock’s expenses occur ahead of the winter ski season, cash flow becomes a problem during the fall, particularly in October and November, and the note allows the ski area to borrow the operating capital it needs.

The County Delegation must approve of the revenue anticipation note in order for Gunstock to approach the bond bank to obtain the loan. The ski area then would repay the loan from winter proceeds. Seventy percent of Gunstock’s revenues come during the winter ski season, Goddard said.

With Silber’s single negative vote, the delegation approved the revenue anticipation note.