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Winter ban on Hoit Road Marsh heats up before lawmakers

  • John Messick of Loudon testifies about the Hoit Road Marsh on Wednesday. Messick was one of dozens who showed up before lawmakers to discuss a ban. GEOFF FORESTER / Monitor staff

Monitor staff
Published: 2/12/2020 6:07:48 PM

There are the usual neighbors of the Hoit Road Marsh. The ones who are fed up with the noise, who sat at their homes winter after winter dreading the motorcyclists screaming across the ice on the pond down the road.  

Then there’s Gail Lopata. She’s also neighbor of the pond – perhaps its closest abutter, she told a House committee hearing Wednesday. 

And Gail Lopata has no problem with the bikes.

“My house doesn't shake,” she told the House Recreation Committee. “My windows don’t shake. I have three dogs. They deal with it. I deal with it. I don’t have to go to another room in my house. I don’t have to turn up my TV, so I can't hear them. I don’t have trash at my property. No one.”

She was in favor of overturning a winter ban that was implemented last year as part of the state budget process with little to no public input.

Some in the packed committee room shook their heads quietly as she spoke.

Members of the New Hampshire House Recreation Committee – none of whom represent Concord – listened to hours of testimony about a neighborhood issue that’s boiled over in recent years. The issue is a local one, but because state law gives sole jurisdiction for large lakes and ponds to the state, the issue requires the Legislature to get involved.

Last year, state lawmakers inserted into the budget a ban on vehicular use of the marsh – with no specific hearings or notice. This year, amid an effort to reverse that action, the concerns of both sides finally received a public forum.

Lopata argued that from her perch, one of the closest to water, the concerns were overblown.

“No one’s ever bothered me,” she said. “I’ve never seen the police. I’ve never had an issue. That’s why I’m here because this should stay.

“It’s for family and it’s taken care of,” she said.

Other neighbors feel differently. Many described an escalation in the use of the pond by ice motorcyclists in recent years.

Robert Rivers works from his home near the pond. In past winters he’s needed to drive to the Loudon library with his laptop to get some peace and quiet, he said.

“The noise is constant and relentless,” he said. “If you limit this riding to the middle of the week, I’m going to have to find another job.”

But the riders themselves said the activity builds community. And they said that the motorcycles need to be registered and inspected by the state, meaning the noise they produce is regulated.

The hearing brought in a formidable crowd from both sides, forcing committee chairwoman Suzanne Smith to move to a larger venue.

Wednesday’s amendment, introduced weeks ago by Rep. Jack Flanagan, a Brookline Republican, would provide what Flanagan says is a compromise: an allowance of use of the pond in winter on certain days: Monday, Thursday and Saturday, after 10 a.m. until dusk.

But while Flanagan worked with the motorcyclists and the state Fish and Game Department, he did not consult area neighbors ahead of that compromise, irking some in the room Wednesday.

“It was somewhat rushed because I was working with the Fish and Game,” he said in an interview afterward, explaining the decision not to consult with neighbors.

“You gotta understand: We’re talking six hours. It’s dark after 4, it’s cold before 10. What would a compromise be? Right now, there’s no riding. Before there was riding all the time.”

Concord lawmakers have been listening to the neighbors more closely. Concord Mayor Jim Bouley, a State House lobbyist, reached out after fielding several complaints from neighbors. At Bouley’s and the city council’s request, State Sen. Dan Feltes agreed to take legislative action, choosing attach the ban as part of the budget process last spring.

Flanagan’s amendment attaches to a broader bill that seeks to expand off-road vehicle trail development in the North Country.

The Resources Committee will take executive action on the amendment and the underlying bill in the coming weeks.

(Ethan DeWitt can be reached at, 369-3307 or on Twitter at @edewittNH.)

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