State Kills Race Course Bill

Concord — May 6, 2005 — Despite strong testimony by state Sen. Joe Kenney, R-Wakefield, Thursday HB 90 failed to pass the N.H. Senate by a 14-10 margin.

The vote ended a year-long drive by local officials to repeal SB 458 – legislation many believe paves the way for a multimillion-dollar driving complex to operate unregulated in Tamworth.

The defeated bill would have armed towns across the state with tools to control small-scale, exhibition-style practice raceways, like the Tamworth project, planned for Mount Whittier by Derry developer Club Motorsports, Inc. A measure of control was lost last year, when SB 458 redefined the CMI track as a private practice facility, separating it from larger and louder Loudon-style raceways, and exempting it from town laws designed to regulate traditional racetracks.

CMI spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne Thursday commended the Senate, on what he called a vote against freezing new business out of small, cash-strapped New Hampshire towns. “Had they voted for this bill, they would be sending a chilling message to businessmen to be wary of Carroll County and our state,” Tranchemontagne said. “We spent $2 million already, for them to change the rules a year later, sends a chilling message to new business coming in to the state.”

State Sen. Lou D’Allesandro, D-Manchester, an ex-Kennett High teacher and football coach, voted against HB 90 to aid economies in the towns south of Conway, plagued in recent decades by losses in industry. “From an economic standpoint, that area needs help,” D’Allesandro said. Senators, he said, were unsure that CMI could operate with HB 90 in place, and many feared the company would move on, taking with it 50 promised jobs and major tax revenues.

Kenney said after the session on Thursday that his was a vote for local rule, and not anti-business, calling it the hardest decision of his Senate career.

“It was a tough vote today, I followed my conscience,” he said. “It was my most difficult vote here in the last eleven years. I can go home tonight and sleep well, and say I did the right thing.”

While debate over the track has polarized Tamworth, pitting Club Motorsports Inc., against citizens’ group Focus: Tamworth, Kenney said his stance on HB 90 does not represent an allegiance to either side.

“It’s not because I support Focus Tamworth,” Kenney said. “I’m not in any camp. I’m doing what I feel is right on this issue.”

“Don’t tell me I’m anti-business,” Kenney demanded in the Senate Thursday. “I grew up in a small town, in Carroll County, with a father who ran a restaurant, who raised five kids, and knew the value of a dollar.”

“I represented a third group here today,” he said after the vote. “People who are for the track but are upset by the process… concerned that the process was not fully disclosed,” he said. “Ultimately this is about the process I think local communities deserve.”

Kenney declared a “day of resolution” for HB 90, wiping clean a year of allegations of deception surrounding SB 458’s passage in the Senate, levied by HB 90 sponsors.

“The process has now been vindicated by having this whole thing carried out,” he said. “No one can say they didn’t know there was a bill in the House and Senate to recall SB 458.”

Focus:Tamworth spokesman Steven Gaal said his group was deeply disappointed by the Senate vote, but heartily thanked HB 90 sponsors, state Reps. Harry Merrow, R-Ossipee, and David Babson, R-Ossipee. The bill gave the group a chance to speak out, he said, adding that CMI still needs two major permits before it can begin to pave a 3.3 mile course into Mount Whittier’s northern slope.

“We certainly had the ability to speak on this issue, ” Gaal said. “We we’re heard,” he said. “The next move is up to CMI, there are things they have to comply with or challenge.”

“The ball is in Focus’ court,” Tranchemontagne contested Thursday. “They’ll probably sue the town.”

Kenney said afterwards that New Hampshire towns will now need to change their zoning laws, if they hope to regulate the new kind of motorsports development under SB 458.

“Towns will now read this, and go back to their ordinances, to planning boards and zoning boards, and make adjustments,” Kenney said. “They will have to react.”

However, Tamworth and over 20 other N.H. towns have no zoning, and in the wake of HB 90’s failure, these towns must rely on other means of regulation. “Tamworth’s issues will be settled by the local community and the courts,” Kenney said. “It’s up to the local community, developers, and Focus.”

Tamworth passed a sound ordinance last March, petitioned by Focus members to target only private driving tracks, like the CMI facility. But developers have protested that noise limits in the ordinance are so restrictive, they would stifle a lawnmower, and many expect CMI to push for a loosening in court.

Tranchemontage Thursday said CMI is considering how it will proceed under the ordinance, and said while the company cannot operate under the noise ordinance, it has not yet decided to sue Tamworth.

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