Advocacy group seeks data on new ATV park in Berlin

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CONCORD, N.H. (AP) – An anti-ATV group argued to the state Supreme Court on Friday that it should have had access sooner to state documents about the new ATV park in Berlin and that the state should do a better job enforcing the Right to Know law.

ATV Watch said the law should have guaranteed the prompt release of documents, including proposed locations and route details about the 7,200-acre North Country site. Lawyers for the state said the premature release would have hurt negotiations to buy the land.

Justices, however, questioned why they were even hearing the appeal. Most of the documents ATV Watch sought eventually were released and the state’s Right to Know law had exemptions for the balance, such as personal notes.

“Nonetheless, you have the documents now,” Chief Justice John Broderick said.

Attorney Joshua Gordon, who is representing ATV Watch, said the justices should focus on the state’s slow release of documents.

“There is no remedy for the violation of the letter and certainly the spirit of the law,” he said.

ATV Watch and the state said the judges should issue a ruling, anyway, to give both parties guidance on future Right to Know cases.

“This issue will come up again,” said Associate Attorney General Anne Edwards.

The original case stemmed from the state’s long-simmering plans to buy property to build an ATV park at Jericho Mountain State Park. ATV Watch sought state Department of Resources and Economic Development documents and other materials prepared for the governor and the Executive Council. The documents were not released within the five-day window required by the statute.

“Five days is a reasonable time for release,” said Andrew Walters, the group’s director. “In some cases, it took a year.”

Edwards said most of the documents were released, but the department wanted advice on others.

“The question was when they needed to be turned over and under what circumstances,” she said.

A lower court found the state “was in technical violation of the statute, some violations were not its fault and others were harmless.” Friday’s arguments sought to resolve what the consequences – if any – the state should face for the delay.

Broderick and the other four members of the court asked what penalties the state could face for future violations. While the law allows residents an opportunity to recover legal costs in some cases, those without professional legal counsel have little recourse. Broderick asked what could stop the state from dragging its feet for months until faced with a lawsuit.

The judges also questioned if the ATV Watch case weren’t about legal fees. Lawyers didn’t represent the group until after the documents had already been released.

ATV Watch countered that the state withheld an appraisal of the property until the governor and Executive Council were ready to act. The estimated value was shared with the landowner but not with the group, which requested the document.

“The cat’s out of the bag. What are you waiting for?” Broderick said. “If the landowner knows what the appraisal is, why can’t the public know?”

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