State Won't Block Changes To Conservation Easement To Help Balsams Developer

Jan 13, 2016

Most of the furnishings at The Balsams were sold at an auction in 2012. The resort closed late in 2011 putting about 300 full or part-time employees out of work.
Credit Chris Jensen for NHPR

The top official with the Attorney General’s Charitable Trusts Unit said Tuesday there is nothing wrong with the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests's plan to modify a conservation easement to help the developer of the Balsams resort.

The change "does not propose or threaten a change of overall purpose," Thomas J. Donovan, the director of Charitable Trusts, wrote in a 12-page letter.

The society bought the 5,700 acre easement with about $850,000 from donors who were told it would block the Northern Pass project.

But late last year the society decided to allow Balsams developer Les Otten to use about 20 of those acres to expand the ski slopes.

In exchange Otten is expected to provide about 150 acres the Society considers valuable.

Had the changes not been approved, it would have complicated Otten’s efforts, which have strong support from Gov. Hassan, state development officials and local politicians.

Some of those who donated funds angrily objected to the change, saying they thought their donations would prevent any development.

But forest society spokesman Jack Savage said the conservation easement allows such changes and that information was on its website during the fund-raising campaign.

Savage said 1,600 donors were queried and only about five dozen responded with slightly more than half in favor.

“The general argument was that the impact was small enough in comparison to the benefit that a revitalized Balsams would provide economically that we should do it," he said.

Developer Otten is still working on financing for the project although some key state permits have been issued.