Ossipee – October 5, 2009 — New Hampshire’s court system is jammed and getting worse – not just from the number of new cases entering the queue, but also from a shortage of judges and a pattern of repeated delays and continuances. So it’s unusual that three significant local legal fights – one new and two of them many years standing – are scheduled to take place in three rounds in the span of four days this week.
Miami Lenders vs. Westward Shores Campground
First up is the legal tussle between Westward Shores Campground and a group of Miami real estate investors operating locally using the Star Wars-like name WBCMT 2007-C33 West Ossipee, LLC. Call them the “Lender,” as the court does.
In a series of bank sales and mergers, the Lender this spring acquired, apparently without specifically seeking it, the mortgage for the campground, one of the lake’s biggest businesses. Discussions ensued, the campground defaulted on its loan, one thing led to another and the property was advertised for sale at a foreclosure auction even as camp officials were denying the business was in financial trouble.
Further discussions ensured, optimistic statements about a settlement were issued, one thing led to another and on July 9 the owners of campground, Charlie Smith and Anthony Aversa, filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy to stop the foreclosure auction and give them time to reorganize and turn their campsites into condo camping units, a plan that has been approved by the town but not the state.
Last month, the Lender returned to court to ask that it be allowed to proceed with the auction, claiming the owners lacked sufficient working capital and had made no progress on a reorganization plan. They said the campground’s customer base was eroding and their $8,927,720 secured claim on the property was more than the property’s estimated $6,000,000 liquidation value.
In a response last week, Smith and Aversa disputed the Lender’s valuation of the property and the amount the Lender is owed. They said almost half of the campsites have been rented for the 2009-2010 season, and the eventual sale of campsites as condo units will “substantially exceed” the amount they owe the Lender.
On Tuesday the 6th, a judge will hear from both sides in the case in U.S. Bankruptcy Court, District of New Hampshire.
CMI vs. Tamworth
Off the lake, but close-by and thus not out of mind, a group of investors continues to seek approval to construct an upscale European-style motor track to race cars, motorcycles and snowmobiles in the Ossipee Range near Mount Whittier, a peak named for the famous American poet John Greenleaf Whittier.
Announced in 2003, the track project, overseen by a company called CMI, predictably polarized the zoning-free community of Tamworth into camps favoring potential new jobs and revenue and camps worried about environmental damage and noise pollution.
With the community distracted and squabbling, CMI quietly turned its attention to Concord where its public relations firm eagerly lobbied pliant politicians to establish a new class of driving instruction racetracks in the state – a bill that just happened to void Tamworth’s ability to regulate CMI in regard to issues such as noise, lighting and hours of operation.
After it became law, local elected officials professed they hadn’t understood the bill’s implications. In a notable departure from the general hand-wringing, however, the bill’s main sponsor, Berlin Senator John Gallus, harrumphed to NPR that dismantling Tamworth’s control was precisely the point, helpfully adding that local communities “don’t need special committees to regulate projects like CMI’s.”
Years of hearings, lawsuits and too-many-rulings-to-count by state, local and federal officials ensued, and by 2007 it appeared the track was finished. Headlines in the Conway Daily Sun proclaimed “Supreme Court Deals Latest Blow to Racetrack” and, four months later, “CMI Loses Again in Tamworth.” The Carroll County Independent ran an editorial pointedly titled “Racetrack Group Should Call it a Day,” declaring it was time for the investors to find another mountain.
But the CMI case soldiers on. This week, lawyers for CMI, the Town of Tamworth and the grassroots activist group Focus Tamworth will make oral arguments in State Supreme Court in regard to a 2006 Planning Board decision to deny CMI’s application for a Special Use Permit that is a prerequisite for the project to proceed.
CMI appealed the denial to State Superior Court and a judge remanded it to the town, asking the Planning Board to be more specific about the reasons for the denial. The town appealed to State Supreme Court, and on Wednesday the 7th that’s where all parties will be found.
OBA vs. Donald Lee
Last on this week’s fight card is the latest installment in the long-running Ossipee Bluffs Association (OBA) vs. Donald Lee case, which will play out in Hillsborough County Superior Court on Friday the 9th.
Once notable primarily for its riveting courtroom testimony documenting 18-years of bumbling and buck-passing by state environmental officials, the case has now acquired additional notoriety for being unresolved three years after a judge ordered Lee to “forthwith” remediate the damage he caused to Ossipee Lake – a decision Lee did not appeal.
In a titillating sidebar to a case that is filled with them, the State Attorney General’s office made headlines this spring by authorizing Lee to sign a $150,000 home equity loan on his lakefront home despite the fact that the estimated cost of the court-ordered remediation is higher than the value of the property, and despite the fact that OBA had a motion already pending in court asking that it be granted a lien on the property to ensure that the remediation would be paid for.
But sloppy communication and lack of coordination in Concord isn’t news. The real story of OBA vs. Lee is delay. A search of news headlines on Ossipee Lake Alliance’s website plots the torturous recent path of the case from “Bluffs Wants Environmental Violator Held in Contempt” (June 2007) to “Environmental Violator Lee Gets More Time to Explain Himself” (November 2008) to “Environmental Remediation Left High and Dry Again” (May 2009).
Come Friday, three years after Lee was found responsible for the environmental damage he caused to the lake over an 18-year period starting in 1988, and more than two years and four continuances after OBA asked the court to force him to comply with the court-ordered remediation, a state court judge will once again consider OBA’s motion to find Donald Lee in contempt.