State Enacts Law Eliminating Local Control Over CMI-Style Racetracks

Concord — May 5, 2004 — A law signed by Governor Craig Benson has created a new class of racetracks that are virtually exempt from local regulation. Effective May 4th, paved tracks that are two miles or more in length and designed for “high performance driving” and “supervised amateur competitions” may no longer be regulated by communities as motor vehicle racetracks.

The new law has the immediate effect of overturning the racetrack ordinance that Tamworth voters approved to give the town a measure of control over the track that Club Motorsports, Inc. (CMI) plans to construct on historic Mount Whittier near the Tamworth-West Ossipee border. The new law effectively denies the town any authority to regulate noise, lighting, hours of operation and other such matters that were embodied in the ordinance.

In a New Hampshire Public Radio (NHPR) interview on May 7th, the law’s lead sponsor, Senator John Gallus of Berlin, made no secret that his bill, SB 458, was designed to overturn the Tamworth ordinance. As reported on NHPR’s website, Gallus said that towns don’t need special committees to control projects like CMI’s.

“This is a private facility, member-only racetrack, not a spectator sport kind of thing like Loudon, so it is not a burden on municipal services,” Gallus told reporter Trish Anderton. Gallus went on to say that towns can use zoning as well as state and local environmental regulations to control such facilities. Tamworth does not have zoning.

Although SB 458 was introduced to the legislature on January 7th, some four months ago, it received no attention outside the legislature despite hearings on January 14th and February 3rd. Indeed, every effort appears to have been made to limit the bill’s visibility.

A listing from the legislature’s Consent Calendar provided to Ossipee Lake Alliance states that the purpose of SB 458 is to define “driving instruction and exhibition facilities” that offer “instruction and training for safe driving skills and adverse weather driving techniques.” The wording of this document, which was distributed to legislators, is identical to the language of the bill except that it omits the words “high performance driving” from the sentence. CMI defines its proposed facility as a high performance driving club for racecars and motorcycles.

With little visibility, SB 458 literally raced its way through the state’s labyrinthine political process in just 60 days, suggesting a sense of urgency usually reserved for matters of grave public interest.

The bill was introduced to and expedited through the legislature by the Transportation Committee, which is chaired by Senator Joseph Kenney. Kenney represents Tamworth and the other communities most directly affected by the proposed racetrack, including Ossipee, Freedom, Madison, and Sandwich. An e-mail request to Kenney from Ossipee Lake Alliance to comment on SB 458 has not yet been responded to.

Less than two weeks ago, approximately 500 people packed the Department of Environmental Services hearing in Tamworth on CMI’s wetlands application for the track. A majority of those in attendance stated their opposition to the project, with town officials and others noting that CMI had failed to address the provisions of the town’s racetrack ordinance in its application.

Asked about rumors that CMI’s application was being “fast-tracked” by the state, hearing chairman Collis Adams said there was no fast-tracking, but noted that the state was obliged to review all such applications in a timely fashion.

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