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Laconia's Hutchings now chairing planning commission

MEREDITH — Warren Hutchins, chairman of the Laconia Planning Board, was elected president of the board of executive directors of the Lakes Region Planning Commission at its annual meeting Monday night at the Inn at Church Landing.
Hutchins succeeds Stan Bean of Gilmanton, who has been chairman for three years and was presented with an award of appreciation for his service.
Bean said that the period he served as chairman was one of transitions, including the hiring of a new executive director, Jeffrey Hayes, to replace Kim Koulet, who had headed the regional planning group for 30 years.
''Historically the commission has focused on growth management,'' said Bean, who observed that a new era of community resiliency is underway in which growth has slowed considerably creating new challenges for Lakes Region communities.
He said that a new master plan for the area, which will be discussed in September, and is being prepared under the umbrella of the Granite State Future program, will be ''an important expression of what we value in the Lakes Region.''
Hutchins said that the plan will include goals and strategies which will help local communities adapt to changes in the area.
He praised Bean as a ''role model for all of us involved in our community'' and said he had spent more than 20 years involved in Gilmanton after retiring from the U.S. Forest Service in 1992.
He said that the commission is very fortunate to have Jeff Hayes as its new executive director, noting that he had previously been the executive director of North Country Council, which is another of the states nine regional planning commissions.
Awards of Excellence were presented to the City of Laconia for its bio retention system, installed near Paugus Bay, which captures and cleans runoff water of 80 to 90 percent of its hydrocarbons and 70 to 80 percent of nutrients.
Luke Powell, assistant director of Public Works for Laconia, who headed up the project, accepted the award on behalf of the city and said that one of the major challenges for all communities in the area is working with an aging and undersized infrastructure.
The Tuftonboro Conservation Commission also received an Award of Excellence for sponsoring a town-wide private well sampling event which involved 122 homes in its first round of testing and 183 in a second round.
The Kim Ayers Award for environmental advocacy was presented to Dan Paradis of Bristol, who has long been active with the Bristol Planning Board and the Pemigewasset River Local Advisory Committee.
Featured speaker at the event was Department of Resources and Economic Development Commission Jeffrey Rose, who described the work of the four-pronged department which he heads and said that workforce development, which involves many Lakes Region manufacturers, is one of his highest priorities, along with the promotion of tourism and foreign trade.
He will soon be embarking on a trade mission to Turkey, along with Governor Maggie Hassan, and noted that New Hampshire firms used to do $3 million a year in business with that country but it has risen to $8 million and is continuing to grow.
An association of 30 communities, the Lakes Region Planning Commission has active programs in land use and environmental planning, transportation, watershed preservation, economic development, mapping and technical assistance, and information services.


Jeffrey Hayes, left, new executive director of the Lakes Region Planning Commission and Warren Hutchins, right, chairman of the commission, present Luke Powell, assistant Public Works Director for the city of Laconia, with an Award of Excellence for the city's project involving a bio-retention system which filters runoff water before it enters Pauses Bay. (Roger Amused/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 12:46

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Scan for Indian artifacts now likely to delay development of Belmont's recreation trail

BELMONT — Phase I of the BRATT recreation trail hit another speed bump late last week when an engineering company said there are areas along the proposed trail that may need further archeological review.

Town Land Use Planner Rick Ball said he learned about the possibility of an additional archeological review and brought it to the selectman's attention at the Monday meeting.

"A significant length of the trail could be impacted — over 1,000 feet," Ball said yesterday.

He said the affected areas are in unspecified places where the proposed route of the trail moves upland from the railroad tracks along Lake Winnisquam.

This development is another obstacle in the road to build the recreational trail that will connect to a similar trail in Laconia at some point in the future. Running from Lake Winnisquam to the Laconia border, the BRATT (Belmont Recreational Alternative Trail Team) trail is about 1.5 miles long.

This past year, voters at town meeting approved moving some money from a future trail or a Phase II capital fund into the Phase I capital fund giving the town enough money to complete the proposed route.

Ball said he has been in contact with the state archaeologist who said that the town may be able to move forward with the easements and the bids for the non-affected portion of the trail if the town agrees to commit to archeological studies that are needed.

Advanced archeological studies for public works projects in the Lakes Region are not unusual. Typically, teams of archeologists will dig test pits to look for American Indian remains or evidence of prehistoric activity.

The exact locations are kept secret so as to prevent unlawful excavation.

Ball said he should have more information for selectmen by the next meeting and is still optimistic that bids can go out this construction season.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 12:40

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County jail planners remain loyal to program component outlined by consultant

LACONIA — Members of the Belknap County Jail Planning Committee, meeting one night after their proposed plan for a borrowing $2.96 million was rejected by the Belknap County Convention, took aim at what they said were misconceptions of the plan by critics and decided to stick with the community corrections concept of their proposed plan while embarking on an educational campaign to build support for it.

"We're going to have make some programatic and growth compromises to get the price down,'' said Committee Chairman Ed Philpot (D-Laconia). But he said that the real question for the committee was whether or not they still believed in the community corrections model.
And the answer from committee members was that they did.
County Corrections Superintendent Daniel Ward said that he believed that the Ricci Greene consulting firm that the county hired produced the right plan and the committee should not abandon it. ''I support them and I support their findings. The program design is right. To throw it away and go to somebody else is foolhardy.''
"The price is the problem,'' said County Administrator Debra Shackett, who said she that she thought it odd that critics of the estimated $42.6 million price tag were willing to make comparisons to Wilkes County, North Carolina, where a jail is being built for $10.63 million, but not to other counties in New Hampshire, where the most recent jail project, a 150-bed facility in Grafton County, was completed two years ago at a cost of $31,245,605.
Members of the committee have in recent months been working to reduce the price tag of the proposed 94,000-square-foot, 180-bed facility to less than $30 million and had hoped to achieve that with a schematic design which would have cost $360,000 but was rejected by the convention along with $1 million for a new HVAC system for the current jail and $1.6 million for the three-year lease of a 48-bed temporary housing unit.
Shackett said that she had been in contact with the Ricci Greene firm and said that they were eager to return to the city to help the committee work though its current difficulties. ''They said when they first presented the plan that it never goes through the first time.'' She was instructed by the committee to talk with them again and set up a meeting with the committee, which will hold off on its twice-monthly meetings until they can meet with the consultants.
Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that the committee will have to wait until January and a new convention has been elected. ''We're wasting our energy with this audience,'' said Wiggin, who along with other committee members were highly critical of alternatives raised by opponents of the committee's plan, including County Convention Chair Colette Worsman (R-Meredith) who has supported sending the entire population of the county jail to other counties.
"Closing the jail and moving them elsewhere is not sustainable economically,'' said Wiggin, who said Worsman had no idea of the long-term prisoner transportation problems that would create.
He also questioned how the local police departments would be affected by having no county jail to take prisoners to and having their police officers have to drive those they arrested all the way to Dover in the middle of the night while leaving the town without police protection.
Ward said that he had held discussions with all police departments in the county and developed charts showing how expensive it would be.
Committee member Alida Millham of Gilford said those numbers should be shared with the public so that they would know it was not a viable plan to ship prisoners out of the county.
Also criticized was a plan championed by Dave DeVoy of Sanbornton, who is a candidate for the Republican nomination for the county commsssion seat currently held by Philpot, to move women prisoners out of the current jail and house them in the administrative wing of the Belknap County Complex.
Commission Chairman John Thomas (R-Belmont) said it would be tremendously expensive to rework that wing and that the reality was that it could not be used as a hail.
Wiggin said he had huge security concerns about that proposal and that it was ''as stupid as taking all the prisoners out of the county.''

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 01:29

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Jail planning debate again exposes lack of much common ground

LACONIA — Skeptical of the recommendations of the Jail Planning Committee, the Belknap County Convention this week refused to authorize borrowing almost $3-million to improve conditions at the county jail and fund planning for a new facility.

The Beknap County Commission the commission requested $2,960,000, of which $1-million would be invested in replacing the HVAC system at the existing jail, components of which could be incorporated into a newly constructed facility. The $1.6-million would be applied to a three-year lease for a temporary housing unit with capacity for 48 inmates. The remaining $360,000 would fund a schematic design for a new county jail, without which the cost of the project cannot be accurately estimated.

County administrator Debra Shackett distributed a spread sheet to lawmakers showing that the debt service on the borrowing would add four cents to the property tax rate in the city of Laconia and nine towns and three cents to the tax rate in Belmont.

Rep. Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, ruled that the convention could not vote on the three elements of the request separately, but must consider the request in its entirety. Her ruling was challenged.

After nearly three hours of discussion, the motion to approve the request, which required a two-thirds majority or 12 of the 16 members present and voting to succeed, failed by a vote of seven in favor and nine against.

Speaking to the request Dan Ward, Superintendent of the Department of Corrections, explained that the jail consisted of four separate buildings, each constructed in different years between 1890 and 1987 and each with a separate air handling system. "There is no air circulation in parts of all four buildings," he said, noting that the systems had been removed or are impaired. "I don't think there is any question about the air quality," he said. "These are safety issues we're talking about."

Rep. Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) questioned the cost of the project and the portability of the system. Commissioner Ed Philpot (D-Laconia) said that the $1-million estimate was based on similar work at the Belknap County Superior Court and acknowledged that while the major components of the system could be used in a new facility the duct work could not. Vadney agreed that the jail is "close, muggy and smelly," but called for "a cheap temporary job" rather than a significant investment to address the problem.

Ward said that the temporary housing unit would limit the liability to the county of housing women in the attic, where there is only one means of access and egress as well as increase capacity to ease over crowding and recover classroom space used to house inmates. He assured the convention that no additional personnel would be required to manage the 48 inmates, who would simply be moved from one area to another.

Brian Gallagher, a Republican candidate for the House of Representatives from Sanbornton, was in the audience and he was troubled by the prospect of borrowing for a term of 10 years to fund the three-year lease on the housing unit, noting that the county would be paying for seven years for what it was use for only three. Tilton questioned the very legality of borrowing to finance a temporary structure, citing a state statute that restricts the borrowing authority of municipalities and counties to "public works or improvements of a permanent nature." He said "you can't do it legally."

Philpot assured the convention that the request had been reviewed by bond counsel, who expressed no reservations.

Ward said that without a schematic design, the cost of a new facility could not be estimated. "If you want to know if its a $10-million, $15-million, $20-million or $30-million building," he said, "you have to take the next step."

When Rep. Bob Greemore (R-Meredith) suggested setting a fixed cost and asking what could be built for that amount, Ward replied "you're asking me to throw out the four years of experience and knowledge of all the people who know about this," stressing that the design would be based on the need.

Tilton, presumed that the design was based on the report by Ricci-Greene Associates of New York, which proposed a 94,000-square-foot facility with 180 beds costing $42.6 million. "What have you changed in the scope of the project?" He asked. Gary Goudreau =, an architect advising the Jail Planning Committee, said that one housing unit had been eliminated, which he said could spare $10-million in costs. However, without a schematic design, he said "we don't know that for sure."

Vadney noted that Ricci-Greene projected that the facility would require 25 additional personnel to operate, emphasizing that "we can't just look at this as a building, but must consider both the cost of the building and its operating costs."

Attorney Mark Sisiti reminded the convention that Belknap County and Coos County are the only two among the state's 10 that "have not taken a good hard look at their jails." The other eight, he continued, have built new jails. Merrimack County, he noted, "built two jails by trying to keep it cheap."

"I've had the wonderful opportunity of going in and out of the jail for 35 years," Sisti continued. Describing conditions in the facility as "despicable," he said "this facility falls far short of any facility in the state. It's trouble," he warned. "Inevitably you're going to have to build and you don't want the federal court telling you you have to construct a new jail. And you haven't got a lot of time," he remarked, adding sooner rather than later the county will be faced with a lawsuit. "I'm not here to be a fearmonger," he said, "but there's a group that's going to sue and they should."

Echoing Sisti, Sheriff Craig Wiggin said that he county would lose control of day-to-day operation of the jail if there were a "federal takeover" and warned that "the costs will much greater than if we take ownership of this now."

David Devoy of Sanbornton, who is running for the seat on the commission opened by Philpot's retirement, told the convention that "the commission could radically change in the next few months," urging the members to continue their discussion after the election. He repeated his plan to move the women from the jail to space now occupied by administration at the county complex and expand the numbers of inmates kept on electronic bracelets.

Worsman reminded the convention that it would be less expensive for the county to place as many as 150 of its inmates in the Strafford County Jail and transport them back and forth from Laconia for court appearances than to operate its own jail. Rep. David Huot (D-Laconia) countered that "we can't order other counties to accept our prisoners. Not for $50 a day."

"We're not a third world country," said Rep. Bob Luther (R-Laconia). "We need to do something now. It's got my vote."

The nine opposed, all Republicans, were Reps. Richard Burchell of Gilmanton, Guy Comtois of Barnstead, Charles Fink and Michael Sylvia of Belmont, Greemore, Vadney and Worsman of Meredith, Stephen Holmes of Alton and Tilton of Laconia.

Four of the five Democrats on the convention were present and all — Reps. Lisa DiMartino of Gilford, Ruth Gulick of New Hampton, Huot of Laconia and Ian Raymond of Sanbornton — voted to approve the borrowing. They were joined by three Republicans — Dennis Fields of Sanbornton and Don Flanders and Luther of Laconia.

Beth Arsenault, a Democrat representing Laconia and Belmont, was absent and did not vote.

Rep. Jane Cormier (R-Alton) resigned her seat on May 28, leaving the convention with 17 members.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 June 2014 01:17

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