Ouellette noted for outstanding service

LACONIA — Mayor Ed Engler presented the 28th Debra Bieniarz Memorial Award to Dianne Ouellette, who has managed the lunch program at Memorial Middle School for many years, when the City Council met this week.

Surprised and humbled by the honor, Ouellette insisted on sharing the award with her staff. Apart from providing sustenance, Ouellette, who refers to her students as "cherubs," offers cooking lessons and counseling services, often taking children under her wing, and always has a cookie for the many returning to visit with her after leaving middle school.

The award, which recognizes outstanding service to the children and youth of the Lakes Region, honors the memory of Debra Bieniarz, who served the city and its youth with uncommon devotion, dedication and distinction as a member of the Laconia Police Department before her death in 1987.

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The droid you’re looking for

MOULTONBOROUGH — A self-taught drone operator who has started his own business using the unmanned recreational vehicles to create stunning videos from on high says that many of those who will be receiving drones as Christmas presents this year can do themselves a favor by learning about the restrictions placed on their operation, especially when it comes to commercial use.
Charlie Lyle, whose full-time job is working as a lineman for the New Hampshire Electrical Co-op, has started his own business known as NexGen Aerial Imaging and says that he has had to pass many hurdles to obtain the right to use his drones for commercial purposes.
“I had to get a Section 333 exemption from the Federal Aviation Administration in order to operate my drones commercially and even had to become a licensed pilot in order to qualify. There are all sorts of requirements – from having a registered tail number to filing flight plans in advance when you’re within 5 miles of a public airport – that most people don’t know about,’’ said Lyle.
Lyle is concerned that many of those who will be receiving drones as gifts this year have no idea of how to fly them responsibly and may cross the line from having the drone as a hobby to trying to make money with it.
“They may think they can go out and sell videos they make without any problem. But that’s specifically forbidden by FAA regulations,” said Lyle. Even businesses which want to use drones in their line of work need to get a Section 333 exemption and have their drones operated by a licensed pilot. Lyle earned his pilot’s license this last summer by taking lessons at Emerson Aviation at the Laconia Airport.
He noted that large companies like Amazon want to use drones for deliveries, which will raise many more issues to be dealt with.
Drones have become so popular in recent years that the FAA is scrambling to keep up. Concerns have already been raised over privacy issues as well as drones flying near airports and public events.
In February, the agency proposed regulations on the private use of drones weighing less than 55 pounds that would limit use to daylight and require they be kept within the operator’s line of sight. The FAA has also issued temporary licenses and certifications to some companies for commercial purposes on a case-by-case basis.
The Consumer Electronics Association says the vast majority of drones which are being sold are inexpensive hobby-style drones with limited range and capabilities and cost $150 or less.. Other more complicated models sell for over $1,000.
Lyle has three drones, a DJI Inspire with advanced capabilities as well as two smaller DJI Phantom, which he does the bulk of his work with with. They have a gimbal, a gyro-stabilized mount, which keeps the high-definition SLR camera that they carry perfectly balanced so that there is no wobbling for the video .
He also uses a hand-held DJI Ronin 3X, which costs around $3,000, for other applications and has already created videos for Miracle Farms in Moultonborough and Stevens Landscaping and says that he can perform a number of other services, ranging from weddings to roof inspections.
Lyle got the idea of using drones after having spent hours walking five miles along a power line to see what had happened to cause an outage.
“We couldn’t put it back on line until we had checked everything out. If I had a drone, I could have checked out the line a lot quicker and saved a lot of effort.”
Since then he’s been learning about drones, how to use them and how to edit the final product caught on camera.
“They’re really amazing,” he said. “They can hover in the same spot being held in place by GPS technology and are programmed to take the same route back to where they took off if something goes wrong with their communication system.”
Lyle says that he would like to see his company develop a concentration on utility inspections and is looking to establish himself in the local market as a reasonably priced alternative to what he sees as a future wave of businesses competing for customers with their drone services.

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Opechee Conference Center to close

LACONIA — The Conference Center at the Lake Opechee Inn and Spa, which has long been home to the Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction as well as various other civic and commercial events, will close in June.

Michelle Dupont, the owner and operator of the complex, said Thursday that "the space will be renovated, reconfigured and repurposed for commercial use as we continue to expand and develop the property." She stressed that the closure and conversion of the Conference Center will have no effect on the Lake Opechee Inn and Spa and O's Steak & Seafood, both of which will continue to operate on the site.

The Conference Center represents approximately 30,000 square feet of the 187,000 square feet of building space on the 12.5 acre lot. The inn, spa and restaurant account for some 40,000 square feet, warehousing space amounts to about 87,000 square feet and another 30,000 square feet is leased to a manufacturer.

"We're not expanding our restaurant and hospitality businesses," said Dupont, who added that the Lake Opechee Inn and Spa will continue to host events like weddings, parties and meetings of a size suited to the capacity of the facility. She said that in deciding to close the Conference Center she anguished most over the future of the Greater Lakes Region Children's Auction.

Dupont said that she is confident that once the space is renovated "it will be filled by a commercial enterprise." Although she declined to identify the prospective tenant, she indicated that it would most likely be a firm relocating operations to Laconia.

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