The powers of a conservation commission are largely advisory; its decisions usually are recommendations to other government bodies with decision-making authority. The single instance in which a commission is required to hold a public hearing is before using money from the conservation fund to acquire "any interest in real property" (RSA 36-A:5, II). Notice for such a public hearing must conform to RSA 675:7: it must be posted in 2 public places and published in a newspaper "of general circulation in the municipality" at least 10 calendar days before the public hearing, counting neither the day of posting nor the day of the hearing.
The only other mention of public hearings in connection with conservation commissions is found in RSA 482-A: 11, III on fill and dredge applications filed with Department of Environmental Services’ Wetlands Bureau (see Appendix III for RSA 482-A; Chapter X for explanation): "In connection with any local investigation, a conservation commission may hold a public informational meeting or a public hearing, the record of which shall be made a part of the record of the department." One NH municipality holds public hearings on all fill and dredge applications. There town staff, rather than the applicant (who does pay for the mailing), sends abutters a notice as required by RSA 482-A and includes a note that commission will discuss the application at its meeting on a specified date. Abutters attend the meeting to comment on the proposal.
A commission may wish to solicit opinions through a public hearing or informational meeting on issues other than land acquisition or dredge and fill applications. An informational meeting is less formal than a public hearing. In the former, a proposal is explained and those present, whether attendees or sponsors of the meeting, are invited to ask questions and engage in a general discussion of the proposal. The reason for holding such a meeting is to ensure that a proposal is completely understood. Modifications may be made in a proposal as a result of the meeting, but its objective is not usually to decide on the merits of the proposal.
The purpose of a public hearing is to assist members of the body holding the hearing to make a decision based on the most complete information possible. At a public hearing, a proposal is presented, and opponents and proponents state their views. Members of the body holding a hearing may question speakers directly, but others should address questions to the chairman. A public hearing might proceed as described in the outline below, adapted from The Board of Adjustment in New Hampshire: A handbook for local officials (Office of State Planning, 1988, p. A-3).