CMI Sues Tamworth

Tamworth — December 13, 2006 — Racetrack builder Club Motorsports Inc. revved its legal engines Friday, simultaneously suing the town for denying a wetlands permit last month, while motoring up to Tamworth on the same day to file a second application for the same permit. The latest legal action adds fuel to a long-drawn firestorm of controversy in this small rural hotbed of politics, where feuding between neighbors, much of it over development, has become all-too-commonplace.

And now, apparently for the first time in the explosive track saga’s recent history, town government has been pulled into court. The fiercest legal battles, part of the company’s well documented struggle against environmentalists to build a massive mountainside driving park, have been fought lately between private parties.

CMI and its opponents, including activist citizens’ group, Focus:Tamworth, have been at each other’s throats for years. The two sides have slogged through lawsuits and appeals, joining watching camps of pro- and anti-track backers in a spiraling cycle of resentment. But the town has pointedly stayed out of recent legal turf battles waged mostly in courts in the southern part of the state, with local politics providing a rich backdrop.

Now, the CMI suit challenges the planning board’s rejection of a special use permit under the town’s wetlands ordinance, and municipal government is inexorably in the fight. CMI president and CEO Lloyd Dahmen this week called the developments “not unexpected.”

Indeed, many, including the board’s attorney, Rick Sager, who could not be reached this week, have said repeatedly that it was a certainty that either CMI or Focus:Tamworth would sue, depending on the outcome of November’s high-intensity vote. Sager’s secretary said he was on vacation.

Focus:Tamworth spokesperson Kate Vachon declined to comment on the suit because she had not read it, but continued to commend the planning board for upholding the town law.

Introducing a third vector to the increasingly complex legal fray, now, since planners have ruled overwhelmingly that CMI’s proposed wetlands crossings violated town rules, the company has also reactivated its appeal of an earlier Focus win that sent them seeking the town’s permission. The group sued CMI over a year ago, after the company had said it didn’t require the town permit — arguing that its state and federal OK’s were enough. Meanwhile, Focus:Tamworth continues to challenge some of those high-level environmental approvals. An appellate authority rejected at least one of the appeals, but another one, challenging noise levels set in a U.S. Army Corps of Engineers permit, is pending.

The newest CMI application, filed in Tamworth on Friday, replaces the one just rejected. The application asks planners to allow CMI to run a road to the uplands of its Mount Whittier site. CMI does not request approval to affect any other wetlands, Dahmen said. The last package that was rebuffed also had asked for permission to alter numerous wetlands, including streambeds where heavy arches would carry portions of track over moving water.

“We are due the right to have access to our land,” the president said by telephone Tuesday. “We reviewed the actions of the planning board and we have filed an appeal of the results.

“We did what they asked us to do,” Dahmen said of the company’s court-ordered return to Tamworth in answer to the pro-Focus decision handed down in a superior court. He added that CMI notified the supreme court in a brief letter of the planning board’s rejection, in accordance with an order from that court that had also stayed the appeal.

The weeks-long run up to the board’s pressure-cooker of a November decision was swamped by forced recusals by three of the planning board’s members, rumors of threats being issued and accusations of pandering on both sides. Few expected the conflict to end there.

“Surprise, surprise, that was turned down,” Dahmen said. “This was not something that anybody didn’t expect.”

When the dust settled in the school gym, all but one member had found CMI had not met the technical merits of the ordinance, and that the Derry developer had not done enough to safeguard the forest’s fragile wetlands.

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