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Smoke seekers

Civil Air Patrol Scott Davis

J. Scott Davis, a major with the Civil Air Patrol’s New Hampshire Wing, is shown here with one of the planes CAP members use to scout the state for brush fires. (Adam Drapcho/Laconia Daily Sun)

NH’s Civil Air Patrol provides fire reconnaissance for the state


GILFORD — The Civil Air Patrol, as the civilian auxiliary wing of the U.S. Air Force, has aerospace education, cadet programs and disaster response as its three main missions. But, in New Hampshire, the state wing has another responsibility: patrolling the state for fires. And, according to J. Scott Davis, a major with the Civil Air Patrol, 2016 has been a busy year for fire patrols.
The New Hampshire Wing of the Civil Air Patrol began fire flights about eight years ago. Prior, the state’s Department of Resources and Economic Development contracted with fixed-base operators, who charged more for the services. The Civil Air Patrol is able to provide the service for much less, because they use planes owned by the Air Force and the pilots fly for no other reward than time in the air. The Civil Air Patrol only bills DRED for the operational costs associated with the flight. Davis said many of the pilots consider the fire flights, as they do the Civil Air Patrol in general, as a form of service.
“You do it for the satisfaction of doing it. It’s rewarding, it’s fun, it’s disciplined,” said Davis. “You’re not out there on a joy ride, you’re accomplishing a specific task or a mission.” Many in the Civil Air Patrol have a background that includes military or commercial flying, he said. “It’s a way to stay involved in aviation and to give back.”
And the fire surveillance flights are useful, Davis said, because the unique vantage point of a small-plane pilot makes brush fires easy to spot, even compared to someone in a fire tower. The pilot’s advantage has to do with altitude, obviously, but it also has to do with visual interference. When looking laterally along the ground, an observer is looking through air that is thick with humidity and particulates, such as pollen, pollution and dust. The air is clearer once off the ground.
And, when smoke is spotted from above, it contrasts clearly against the dark ground.
“The smoke is really very identifiable from a plane. We can fly a route and see a lot that the towers can’t,” Davis said. In addition to the location and size of the fire, the pilots can also provide information on nearby water sources, the nearest road access or any obstacles that may get in the way of firefighters.
“I have found several along the Kancamagus Highway, they were just smoldering on the ground,” Davis said.
On high fire danger days, typically in early spring, after the snow has melted but before the leaves have returned to the trees, DRED issues an order for the Civil Air Patrol to scout the state for smoke. There are two routes, one for the southern half of the state and one for the north, both of which take a few hours and can be flown out of Laconia.
“This year we flew 14 or 15 consecutive days,” he said. Though the fire reconnaissance flights are generally a springtime activity, though the dry conditions this year might lead to fire flights this fall, when the trees drop their leaves.



J. Scott Davis, a major in the New Hampshire Wing of the Civil Air Patrol, scouts the state for smoke. (Courtesy photo)

Belknap County radio network fails, $6,000 repairs approved


LACONIA — Malfunctions of the Belknap County Sheriff Department's microwave communication network will be addressed through a $6,000 budget transfer approved by the Executive Committee of the Belknap County Delegation Monday.
"We want a better explanation than we have for this," Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) told members of the committee after he was pressed for an explanation of the request by Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont), who noted that it was apparent that the equipment had not been working for some time and wondered why it hadn't been fixed.
Taylor said he had hoped Belknap County Sheriff's Department Chief Deputy David Perkins would be present to explain what is happening with the communications network equipment, but that Perkins was busy talking with attorneys about an ongoing court case and wasn't available.
He said commissioners were concerned that they hadn't been alerted to the problems by the department and had only found out through a message from Two Way Communications, which contracts with the Sheriff's Department for repair and maintenance of the communications system, that there were problems.
The letter from Two Way Communications System said two of the microwave communications systems that are served by the Belknap Mountain tower at Gunstock are not responding, and a Pinnacle Hill link in New Hampton has been down since early summer.
The company said that the microwave network is not part of the maintenance agreement with the county but that it would have climbers retrieve the microwave units from the Belknap Mountain tower so they can be serviced. The Pinnacle Hill tower has no access for climbers and will require using a crane to get climbers to the top of the tower. Two Way Communications said that it appears that the Pinnacle Hill link is misaligned or that a a new cellular antenna has been installed in its path.
Taylor said it appears that the old communications system used by the department is still in place and that it has allowed the department to continue its communications with no serious interruptions but that the old system will at some point be removed and that it is crucial that the microwave system be repaired before that.
Committee members agreed that it is important to have the work done before winter sets in and authorized the $6,000 transfer, even though the situation had not been explained to their satisfaction.

Felony First issues
The committee also authorized the transfer of $2,500 in the County Attorney's office budget in order to hire part-time workers to help with general office filing.
County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen explained that the new Felony First program at the Superior Court level has increased the workload for her office and more help is needed with routine office procedures, at least temporarily, and that the gap could be filled by utilizing part-time clerical workers already employed by the county.
When she presented her request for the transfer last week to the Belknap County Commission she explained that the new Felony First procedures had proven to be a benefit to her office from the standpoint of being able to work out earlier case resolutions because she has information available she would otherwise would have had to wait several months to obtain.
She said that in view of the electronic filing system for the Felony First program, in which she receives all information on felonies electronically, it seems unusual to her that Belknap County Superior Court still requires a hard copy for all filings.

Cleaning up
The committee also approved the transfer of $3,500 to allow Facilities Manager Dustin Muzzey to contract with a private cleaning contractor for some services at the Belknap County Complex and the Sheriff's Department. Muzzey explained that a part-time position in his department has not been filled and that it is unlikely that he will be able to fill the position. He said contracting with a private company would enable the work to be accomplished without resorting to overtime pay for his staff.

Dumais now on Gunstock Commission


LACONIA — Rep. Russ Dumais (R-Gilford) was appointed to a five-year term on the Gunstock Area Commission by his fellow legislators on the Belknap County Delegation Monday night.
His appointment came at a meeting at which Delegation Chairman Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) told legislators that no agreement has yet been reached on a memorandum of understanding between the commission and the delegation, which expires at the end of 2016 and provides for $175,000 per year payments by the county-owned recreation area to county.
"If no agreement is reached, there's no more MOU," Tilton told the delegation.
Dumais has been one of the legislators representing the delegation in those discussions with the commission, which was established in 1959 and removed authority over the day-to-day operations of the Gunstock Recreation Area from the Belknap County Commissioners and placed it in the hands of a five-member commission, whose members are appointed by the county delegation.
He replaces Commission Chairman John Morgenstern of Gilford, who had applied for a third five-year term on the commission. Other candidates included Bill Quigley of Gilford, who had been director of marketing and sales at Gunstock Mountain Resort for 10 years, and Dr. Wayne Domin of Meredith, a physician with Caring for Women in Laconia with 36 years of experience in the Lakes Region.
Dumais received eight votes and Quigley and Morgenstern each received one vote. Rep. Mike Sylvia (R-Belmont) abstained from voting, maintaining that the county should not be in the ski business at all.
Members of the delegation involved in the negotiations have pressed for Gunstock to increase its annual payment to the county, citing support extended to Gunstock during financial problems it experienced in the early 1990s which resulted in county taxpayers having to pay for bond issue costs which normally would have been paid from Gunstock's profits. The Gunstock Area Commission does not have authority to borrow money and must seek approval from the county in order to finance its projects, with the county bearing ultimate responsibility for the payments.
Tilton said that a memorandum of understanding was first reached in 2001 between the county and Gunstock which provided for payments of $150,000 per year, to the county and that it was increased to $175,000 a year in 2011.
Brain Gallagher (R-Sanbornton) said that the delegation has been looking to negotiate an acceptable plan going forward which would increase the amount paid by Gunstock to the county from its enhanced profits in recent years in order to reduce the amount raised by taxation.
Rep. Ray Howard (R-Alton) said that "taxpayers are still on the hook for a couple of million and need to be made whole" and said that he was concerned abut Gunstock competing with privately owned businesses.
Morgenstern said that during his time on the commission the resort has doubled its revenues and made investments in summer attractions which have enabled it to generate additional earnings which have offset bad winter, like last year when total revenue from all operations, including skiing, dropped to $9,096,039, down by over $2.35 million from the previous year. Net revenue for the year was a negative $1 million, forcing the use of reserve funds in order to maintain operations..
He said that the commission has been willing to negotiate a new MOU which is reasonable but needs to build up its depleted reserve funds in order to provide stability for its operations. Gunstock has a goal of $1 million for an operations reserve fund and $500,000 for capital expenses.
Morgenstern said that he was confident that in three or four years Gunstock should be able to substantially increase its contribution to the county.
Dumais said that he is hoping to bring a different perspective to the commission and cited his experience in the ski business as general manager for the Alpine Ridge Ski Area and Alpine Slide, as well as having been a selectmen in Gilford during the time Gunstock experienced financial problems in the 1990s.