Freedom — December 27, 2009 — One of the lake’s oldest and largest businesses was the focus of the year’s biggest news story, and it was not a happy one. Westward Shores Campground and Marina filed for bankruptcy protection in July; but what led up to the filing, and what followed, made the story even more newsworthy.
In early May, returning campers received a memo saying campsites would be sold as “condo units” and down payments would be accepted until the end of the month. The condo conversion, according to the property’s managers, was the idea of long-time customers who wanted equity in their sites.
Within hours, however, dozens of campers took to the Internet to dispute the claim that the idea came from campers, and to accuse principal owner Charlie Smith of running the business into the ground and masking its deteriorating financial condition. Smith downplayed the allegations, yet within weeks his primary lender foreclosed and set a date for an auction sale. Negotiations ensued, but Smith and co-owner Anthony Aversa ultimately filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection.
There was no protection to be had from a vocal segment of campers, however. They continued to complain online that they were being kept in the dark, and they called for a general meeting to get their questions answered and their concerns addressed. But the meeting never happened.
Enter “Westy Shores,” an anonymous online correspondent with an apparent insider’s knowledge of the business who positioned himself (or herself) as a kind of Internet Robin Hood, promising to take up the campers’ cause and fill the information void.
Using the email name “WWSWatchdog,” “Westy” distributed an array of court documents from cash flow projections to a list of the campground’s creditors to an accounting of who was being paid what during the bankruptcy period – all peppered with commentary and questions.
Sometimes the tone was taunting, but more typically “Westy” spoke directly to campers to define legal terms, explain courtroom proceedings and urge everyone to stay informed. After recommending that campers ask the court to establish an escrow account to protect deposits for the 2010 season, about a dozen people did so.
Since the bankruptcy filing in July, the campground’s principals have declined to speak on the record, citing the ongoing legal case. Campground manager John Hardie did, however, publicly offer to meet individually with any camper at any time, an offer he says still stands. At the end of November the court authorized the owners to hire a law firm to pursue the condo plan while work continues on reorganizing the business.
In another major news story, 38-year old Massachusetts resident Chris Haynes died when his snowmobile hit an embankment near Berry Bay and he was thrown from his machine. After learning that emergency crews had difficulty reaching the accident scene, Haynes’ family turned their grief into positive action by raising money to buy Freedom a winter emergency transport vehicle called a “snowbulette.”
Weeks before Haynes’ accident, two visiting snowmobilers went through the ice near Spindle Point, and one of the operators was in the water for 30 minutes before being rescued. Year-round residents warned visitors that parts of the lake can’t hold the weight of snowmobiles even during the coldest months; and one posted a map online showing the places to avoid.
Spring rescues of kayakers are common on the Saco, but the rescue of a kayaker on the Bearcamp in June was a reminder that local rivers can be dangerous too. Swollen by heavy rains, the river pinned the kayaker to a downed tree and then swamped the fire department’s airboat after it was sent to the rescue. No one was injured, but officials said the kayaker’s life jacket probably prevented him from drowning.
Law & Order
It took two trials, but Ossipee Lake resident Sean Fitzpatrick was convicted of murdering his lake neighbor, Michael Zamitti, Jr., and another man, a bystander, at a business near Boston. At the trial, Zamitti’s wife tearfully testified she had been having an affair with Fitzpatrick, her neighbor on the lake, and the case was covered in lurid detail on the “Dateline NBC” crime program.
In Concord, Assistant State Attorney General Richard Head approved environmental violator Donald Lee’s application for a home equity loan despite a pending Superior Court motion to give Ossipee Bluffs Association a lien on Lee’s property for its full value. A judge issued an emergency order overruling Head and granting the Bluffs group its lien. It’s expected that the cost of the state-ordered remediation of Lee’s damage to Ossipee Lake will exceed the value of his property.
A group of Freedom residents, including several former town officials, used the Right to Know law to establish that the town spent more than $20,000 defending the ZBA’s 2007 decision to abandon the boat storage limits it previously set for Ossipee Lake Marina. The storage limits were restored by a Superior Court judge in January, but in June the Selectmen voted to appeal the decision to N.H. Supreme Court after marina owner Kevin Price said he would pay for it.
Hiker and mountain mapmaker Bob Garrison found himself under suspicion by state officials after new trails were discovered blazed on easement lands in the Ossipee Mountains. The property was closed to the public but later re-opened after Garrison, who calls himself the “Trail Bandit,” admitted he made the trails by removing vegetation and spraying herbicides.
Last minute scheduling problems caused the postponement of a $15,000 project to treat Danforth Pond’s milfoil with chemicals. During the winter, funding for the project was cobbled together after the state said it couldn’t help because it had just $60,000 in its budget to cover $450,000 in proposed milfoil control projects. The Danforth Pond treatment is now scheduled for 2010.
Pickerel Cove, at the tip of Broad Bay near Cassie Cove, became the sixth location in the lake system to succumb to milfoil infestation. The weed was confirmed by DES after residents reported it to Ossipee Lake Alliance. Ossipee officials are considering the state’s recommendation to treat the weeds with the chemical 2,4-D in the spring, a plan that will require replenishing the town’s milfoil fund at Town Meeting.
It was a good year for local landmarks, including the Freedom Village Store. Volunteers revived the historic site as a place to socialize over coffee and as a destination for visitors looking for a slice of country life. Under manager Nancy Griffin, nights of music, poetry and story-telling were added to the mix.
North on Route 153, a last minute deal was struck to save the Eaton Village Store after funds were found to purchase an easement for a new septic system on adjacent land. Eaton’s favorite gathering spot for breakfast and lunch, the store doubles as the town’s post office.
There was also a happy ending to last year’s fire at Kranky Frankie’s on Route 16 in Ossipee with the planned reopening of the building as a 99-seat restaurant. The owners named it Sunny Villa after the 1930s-era family restaurant that served visitors and residents for more than 50 years at the site.
In Freedom, a plan to buy land and move municipal functions to a new complex on Ossipee Lake Road was put on hold after a group of residents organized as Freedom Cares and argued the change would alter the character of the village and leave historic buildings empty. Voters at Town Meeting agreed, and an architectural firm was hired to put all options on the table, including updating and refurbishing the current Town Office building. Eventually voters will decide which plan will prevail.
Funny or Dumb?
An April news release on the CMI Motorsports website said the company would start work on its long-stalled Tamworth racetrack thanks to an $18.5 million award of federal stimulus funds. Area contractors were invited to bid on the work, but were furious when they learned the announcement was a joke. Even after the hoax was revealed by a reporter, company officials left the notice posted for another ten days, saying they hoped it would flush out “the perpetrator.”
In what sounded like a hoax but was true, a state press release announced that the Madison Boulder was for sale, along with 27 other state-owned properties that were no longer “viable” because they cost money to maintain and don’t generate revenue. Before anyone had a chance to consider purchasing and monetizing the 5,000 ton glacial erratic – the biggest in New England and one of the largest in the world – the state changed its mind and withdrew the offer.
Lake residents Jennifer Molin, Dennis Gould and Jean and Ian Marshall deserve special mentions this year, as do DRED’s Don Kent and DES’s Amy Smagula. At the Carroll County Independent, newly-hired reporter Daymond Steer got off to a great start with his feature article about the Thurrell family reunions on the big lake.
To everyone who volunteered, contributed or otherwise helped out to make the lake a better place, all the best for 2010!