From the N.H. Union Leader
Raymond—May 9, 2020—Raymond town officials are criticizing the governor’s Economic Reopening Task Force, saying their voices are still being ignored as several towns fight to keep people from coronavirus high-risk areas from packing New Hampshire campgrounds.
At a virtual selectmen’s meeting Thursday, Raymond Town Manager Joseph Ilsley questioned the way the state is now defining campground “members” because it allows seasonal campers, many of whom come from Massachusetts, to still camp in New Hampshire as campgrounds are being allowed to open during the coronavirus pandemic.
Gov. Chris Sununu has said campgrounds would be open only to New Hampshire residents and so-called “members.”
Raymond officials have expressed concerns about how Pine Acres Resort in Raymond could open safely and have been trying to hammer out an agreement with the campground that addresses various issues.
Ilsley said the town sought clarification on the definition of members from the Attorney General’s office on May 5 and was told that members were those in a “membership program” that existed before Sununu’s executive order was issued on May 1. Ilsley also said an AG representative explained that seasonal campers were not considered members and that campgrounds could not redefine a program to fit the definition of a membership after the fact.
“In essence, this position from the AG limited access to the private campground in Raymond to New Hampshire residents and was consistent with the governor’s publicly stated positions. In addition, this definition successfully found a balance to allow for the reopening of campgrounds while still addressing the concerns expressed by municipalities across the state regarding localized outbreaks and risk to first responders,” Ilsley said.
Ilsley insists the state has now changed its definition of member, saying the town was told by an AG representative on May 6 that anyone who made a deposit on a campsite prior to May 1, which would include seasonal campers, was considered a member and that the new definition followed a discussion about concerns over seasonal campers and repayments of deposits. He said the AG’s office further indicated this change in guidance had come from the governor’s office.
State Sen. Bob Giuda, R-Warren, who spoke at Thursday’s meeting and serves on the governor’s task force, confirmed that seasonal campers are legally entitled to camp.
Ilsley said the policy that now allows seasonal campers is inconsistent with the governor’s “public message of safety first and not enticing or inviting people from Massachusetts to come to New Hampshire communities.”
Associate Attorney General James Boffetti claims the state has not changed its definition of member and that it is possible that the AG representative may not have articulated the definition clearly to the towns.
Boffetti said his office has received a number of inquiries about what constitutes a membership and that it’s “something that involved a legal or monetary commitment to a particular campground site that existed” prior to the emergency order on May 1.
“I think this was simply a miscommunication and nothing more than that,” Bofetti said Friday.
Ilsley and selectmen have also voiced concerns about potential conflicts after learning that Bruce Berke, managing partner of Sheehan Phinney Capitol Group, a Concord-based government relations and lobbying firm, has a seat on the governor’s task force.
Raymond officials questioned the relationship between the Capitol Group and the law firm Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green, which has been representing Pine Acres while the town has been trying to negotiate an agreement.
When Ilsley asked if the Capitol Group had lobbied on behalf of the campground, Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green attorney James P. Harris, who represents Pine Acres, said he couldn’t say. He added that Pine Acres didn’t hire a lobbying firm.
Paul Voegelin, chief operating officer of Sheehan Phinney Bass & Green, described the Capitol Group as an “entirely separate entity.”
“There is no conflict of interest between our representation and Capitol Group’s involvement with the governor’s task force,” he said.
Boffetti, the associate attorney general, also disputed Ilsley’s suggestion that the state’s definition of campground member may have been influenced by lobbying efforts.
“We take pride in not getting involved in the political back and forth,” he said.
Officials from Raymond and other communities have complained for weeks that their concerns have been ignored at the state level and Ilsley raised the issue at Thursday’s meeting when addressing Giuda, the state senator.
“For clarification, the task force is not looking at the municipalities’ concerns,” Ilsley said.
Giuda responded, “That’s correct … We’re looking to stay within the guidelines of the CDC, OSHA and those folks, OK, and we do a pretty good job with that.”
Giuda stressed that the task force is interested in how to open businesses.
“We don’t deal with municipalities. We don’t deal with the local health officer things. We’re looking more at Phase 1, Phase 2, Phase 3 to get the economy back on track,” he said.