Ossipee—September 26, 2019—Federal Emergency Management Agency had been urging the town of Ossipee to bring Westward Shores Cottages and RV Resorts’ campsites into compliance with floodplain regulations by next month, but apparently that’s changed, says attorney Rick Sager, who is defending the town from a lawsuit filed by campers.
This revelation came to light during a Carroll County Superior Court hearing Sept. 19.
Westward Shores is located in Ossipee on Nichols Road. It has frontage on the Bearcamp River and Ossipee Lake. Since 2015, Northgate Resorts of Grand Rapids, Mich., (which recently purchased the Glen Ellis Campground in Glen) has owned it through limited liability companies Northgate Ossipee LLC and Northgate Ossipee Lessee.
Since August of last year, about 90 Westward Shores campers have been suing the town and Northgate to keep “existing structures” at the campground.
There are a total of 280 “existing structures” in Westward Shores. An exhibit in the case describes them as being “tow trailers, fifth wheels, destination and park model trailers and model homes.”
Campers also have “campsite improvements” at Westward Shores. The amended lawsuit, dated June 13, describes those improvements as things like “stick built” rooms, sheds, carports and decks.
In 2017, FEMA told the town it had to bring the structures into compliance with floodplain regulations in order to maintain “favorable” insurance rates.
Northgate told campers in May that structures would have to be brought into compliance by October or face removal. Some campers say their structures predate the regulations and are exempt.
Attorneys representing the parties were in Carroll County Superior Court on Sept. 19 before Judge Amy Ignatius for a hearing to determine if the claims were similar enough that they could be heard as a class. About 40 people sat in the gallery during the hearing.
The campers say they purchased weren’t warned about the FEMA issue and that Northgate collected a 15 percent commission on their purchases.
“Northgate willfully and knowingly engaged in an unfair and deceptive practice which rises to the level of rascality identified by the N.H. Supreme Court as covered by the N.H. Consumer Protection Act for which 23 plaintiffs are owed damages and attorneys fees pursuant to RSA 358-A:10(I),” states the lawsuit.
The campers’ attorney, Patricia Panciocco of Panciocco Law in Bedford, said the number of campers seeking to be heard as a class is 21.
During the hearing, Ignatius said it was “unclear” to her who exactly was requiring something be done about the campers’ properties.
She received an answer from Sager of Sager Law in Ossipee.
“Originally we were dealing with a gentleman at FEMA, Anderson, I think his name was,” said Sager, adding this person gave the town until Oct. 18 of 2018 to bring the campers into compliance and that was extended to Oct. 18, 2019.
“Now, he has been promoted or moved to a different part of the U.S. government, and the person I’ve dealt with more recently is saying there is no firm deadline, that FEMA doesn’t have a right to inflict a firm deadline. So, that’s where we are right now.”
Put simply, said Sager, the town is being pressured by FEMA. The town believes the structures built before the flood plain ordinance was imposed in the 1990s would be “grandfathered” so long as they hadn’t been expanded.
Some date back to the 1980s. “Now they decide to enforce. That just doesn’t seem right,” said Panciocco.
Panciocco said that campers were told verbally that their units would be grandfathered from the floodplain ordinance.
She told the judge that it would cost $7,000-$18,000 to move the units out of the floodplain and that they would never have purchased the units if they knew they might have to incur this expense.
Ignatius asked Northgate’s attorney, Roy Tilsley of Bernstein Shur with offices in Maine and New Hampshire, if Northgate planned to remove the units in October.
Tilsley said Northgate was in “no hurry.” “The town wants to keep FEMA happy, and I want to keep the town happy,” said Tilsley. “We will wait till you make a decision.”
Tilsley said campers had the right to keep their structures at Westward Shores for only one season at a time so he wondered how they could possibly be grandfathered. He would also prefer the 20 cases be heard separately.
Paniocco said originally 99 people were plaintiffs in the suit but some have dropped out. The judge kept asking about the other 70 or so who would be outside the class action.
Paniocco said the 70 are still suing because they want to know the answer to: “Is it equitable for whomever it is imposing this deadline and come in and wipe out all these units when for years there as been no enforcement?”
But the 70 wouldn’t qualify as a class in terms of the consumer protection claim, she said.
Ignatius, at the end of the hearing, made references to the complexity of the case.
“Is that all a lot clearer than it was before or less clear than ever before?” Ignatius joked to the lawyers. Ignatius had yet to rule at press time.