Mark Evitts, president of the Hidden Valley Property Owners Association, and David Smith, a board member of the same association, worked closely with Tuftonboro Board of Selectmen Chair Carolyn Sundquist over the summer and fall to place a “stone wall,” as Evitts characterized it, along Brown Road to block vehicles with boat trailers from accessing Lower Beech Pond.
Emails from Evitts and Smith, which are public records as defined by RSA 91-A (the Right to Know law), as well as correspondence between the selectmen and Ted and Carol Steinman, were obtained through a Right to Know request made by Tuftonboro resident Guy Pike last month.
Smith wrote to Sundquist on August 3 that, “The longer this takes the longer the threat of milfoil infestation continues.”
Evitts made the concern more explicit on September 5 when he wrote to Sundquist:
As you probably know by now, we have installed a stone wall along the Steinman’s property at the head of Lower Beech Pond. The goals of the project were two fold:
- To keep boat trailers and large boats from backing down into the pond and to thereby reduce the threat of exotic weed introduction into the pond;
- To keep trucks and cars off the road shoulder/pond bank to limit further compression of the soil and to stop/limit erosion/road water runoff.
I’d appreciate it if you would focus on the second goal when discussing this at your public meetings. I may be overreacting, but I fear a disgruntled person might purposely introduce milfoil into Lower Beech Pond. Thus, if we don’t emphasize this goal in public no one will get any bad ideas.
Sundquist told Smith in an email on August 3, “At this point the water access could be blocked by boulders but the side of the road should not be blocked.”
However, on August 25, Sundquest emailed Road Agent Jim Bean, “I advised the Steinmans to go ahead with placing boulders in front of the access.”
It’s not clear whether Sundquist advised the Steinmans in person, over the phone, or by email. Pike said his Right to Know request was for “any and all communications” to or from town elected officials or employees on the subject of access to Lower Beech Pond. The selectmen did include in their response to Pike a two-page email that has been completely redacted other than Sundquist’s email signature. The selectmen did not give Pike any explanation why the two pages were redacted, so it’s impossible currently to determine if the redacted email might be from Sundquist to the Steinmans advising them to “go ahead with placing boulders in front of the access.”
According to the attorney general’s memorandum on the Right to Know law:
The public body must have a basis for invoking the exemption and may not simply mark a document “confidential” in an attempt to circumvent disclosure.
In addition, the attorney general further states:
The governmental entity should retain a copy of both the redacted and un-redacted record. The governmental entity producing the record should also include an explanation of why certain information has been redacted or removed from the record. For example, if a record contains both public information and confidential medical information that has been redacted, the person requesting the record should be informed that the record has been redacted to prevent disclosure of confidential medical information. It is helpful to cite the applicable section of the Right-to-Know law or the other legal authority which exempts the information from disclosure. The person seeking the governmental record can then easily independently assess the appropriateness of the redaction.
After Sundquist advised the Steinmans to “go ahead with placing boulders in front of the access,” they did just that, as Evitts wrote in his September 5 email.
However, the “stone wall,” as Evitts described it, is within the town’s right of way, according to a letter the selectmen sent to Ted and Carol Steinman on October 17.
The Selectmen have reviewed the issue of the very large rocks placed in the Town’s right-of-way on Brown Road. The placement of the rocks was not authorized by the Board of Selectmen. In your discussion with Board Chair Carolyn Sundquist and Code Officer Jack Parsons, it seems there was a misunderstanding of what was allowed at the time. Chairman Sundquist advised that you would only be able to close off the access to Lower Beech Pond with a couple of large rocks. She also mentioned the possibility of a No Parking sign, but never authorized blocking off the right-of-way. Chairman Sundquist apologizes that she may not have been specific enough in what was allowed.
The selectmen then requested that the Steinmans “move the boulders from the right-of-way to your property line as soon as possible.”
The Steinmans replied in a letter to Sundquist on November 15:
In a good neighbor gesture, and discussed with you and Jack Parsons in advance, we left a 3-foot wide opening at the head of the pong to allow small boats, canoes, kayaks to be carried in. We complied with the direction of Jack Parsons to keep the rocks 3-feet back from the road so as not to interfere with plowing. Our contractor, Jake Dawson, spoke with Tuftonboro’s Road Agent, Jim Bean, in advance of any work to clarify the correct placement of the rocks.
We have tried to be good citizens and we have worked with the town in good faith to develop a plan to address the erosion problem. A group of us banded together this summer to personally fund the rock warrior, which we view as a first step in this Erosion Control Project. We spent approximately $3,500 on the project, so I’m sure you can understand our dismay when we received your request to remove the rocks. Again, our objective is simply to protect the lake and by extension the surrounding property values while enabling all to access the pond through our property.