Belknap population grows just a little but deaths exceed births

LACONIA — Belknap County was among six of the 10 counties in the state where the population increased between 2010 and 2014 according to estimates released yesterday by the United Census Bureau, but the rate of growth was slowest of the six.

Altogether the Census Bureau estimates that the population of the state rose by 10,347, from 1,316,466 to 1,326,813, a rate of growth of 0.8 percent.

The Census Bureau estimates that the population of Belknap County grew only 0.4 percent between 2010 and 2014, adding just 213 people to rise from 60,092 to 60,305. During the period the number of deaths exceeded the number of births by 401 — 2,712 to 2,311. However, 585 people migrated to the county, 293 of them from abroad and 292 from elsewhere in the state or the country.

Strafford County, with the cities of Dover, Rochester and Somersworth, posted the highest rate of estimated growth at 2 percent, as an increase of 2,458 raised the population to 125,604. The populations of Rockingham and Hillsborough counties, the two most populous in the state, increased 1.8 percent to 300,621 and 1.1 percent to 405,184 respectively while Grafton and Merrimack counties grew by 0.6 percent and 0.5 percent.

The population shrunk by 4.2 percent in Coos County, 1.5 percent in Sullivan County, 1.3 percent in Cheshire County and 0.9 percent in Carroll County.

Deaths outnumbered births in five counties: by 686 in Coos County, 555 in Carroll County, 401 in Belknap County, 80 in Sullivan County and 51 in Grafton County.

Spring crush: Marine contractors are still trying to catch up to last year's dock damage

LACONIA — The mild weather this week likely inspired lakeside property owners to dream about warm days to come — when they will untie their boat for a day on the lake, or just sit on the dock with a book and cup of coffee. But, winter has one last abuse to hurl their way: spring ice damage.

In an ideal spring, the weather would gradually warm, allowing lake ice to soften before it is broken up and pushed around by wind, said Dave Farley, owner of Diversified Marine Construction in Gilford.  "A mild ice-out year is one when it's warm and the ice gets to a 'candled' state." Though it could still be a foot thick, spring ice is softened, he said, by vertical candle-like holes that melt through the sheet. If such a sheet of ice pushes into a structure, it is likely to simply break apart without causing harm.

Damage from ice occurs in the spring when the wind is able to push ice when it's still thick and solid. While the large chunks of ice may not be moving too fast, they have a lot of weight behind them, and anything in their path will suffer from the impact. Dock pilings are knocked over, even stone breakwaters will topple if struck by a moving sheet of solid ice.

Then, there's what happened in the spring of 2014.

"What happened last year, in April we had a lot of warm rain, the rain brought the lake to over full status," said Farley. Because the water level rose, it also freed the ice from the shoreline and brought the water level up even with the decking of many docks. Many of his customers not only suffered a damaged piling, they lost their whole dock. There were so many docks needing repair that his company had to limit their work to only their long-term customers. Even then it took months to fix all the docks.

Glenn Fuller, construction manager for Watermark Marine Construction, said his crews were also swamped last spring. "Last year was one of our worst years," he said. Fuller thinks there's a new development that has made Lake Winnipesaukee more vulnerable to ice damage: the proliferation of water circulators placed under docks to keep expanding ice from destroying their dock in the middle of winter. With so many waterfront properties utilizing the circulators, there's increasingly less contact between the ice and the shoreline. "If the ice isn't connected to shore, it gives that big parcel more space to move. Once it gets moving, it's very hard to stop."

Watermark was so busy with dock repair orders last year that it's still trying to catch up, he said, so Fuller is hoping the ice is kinder this spring. "We never caught up last year. Right now, with regular construction work, we're booked into the summer."

Fuller thinks the lake ice is lingering this year longer than usual. In some places, such as Alton Bay and in Moultonborough, it's still two feet thick. The rain that fell yesterday will help advance the melting, he said, but he declined to predict if this year would be easier than last. "It's hard to forecast, it's at the will of the wind."

Farley was optimistic, noting that the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association was forecasting a cooler than normal spring, which should allow for the ice to soften before it starts moving around. However, he also wasn't making any predictions. "Of course, Mother Nature's a powerful woman and she's going to do whatever she wants."

Gilford has list of questions for Arbo Ministries

GILFORD — Selectmen last night delayed making a final decision about granting Arbo Ministries of 14 Curtis Road any property tax exemption.

After consulting with it's attorney, the board instead agreed to send a letter asking 13 questions of Barbara and Steve Arbo — inquiring about religious activities and functions for the upcoming year and the actual amount of space in the home on the property that will be used for those functions.

Other questions including one about the denomination, sect or creed of Arbo Ministries and the credentials or certifications of its ministers, pastors or religious leaders who are engaged in potentially tax exempt activities at the property.

The property is currently assessed at $590,530.

Arbo Ministries of Texas purchased the former Smiling Hill Farm as some know it, or the Guild Farm as others know it, last year for the purposes of "teach(ing) and preach(ing) the gospel of Jesus Christ through every means possible – ie books, CDs, radio, Internet and public services."

The ministry initially applied to the Zoning Board of Adjustments for a special exemption to the existing zoning ordinance for use as a church but later withdrew its application after agreeing with the Planning Board to create a "home-based" business instead.

The ministry's application said the property is 2.88 acres and 55 percent of that is for support of the parsonage, 10 percent will be used for ministry offices and 35 percent will be used as a prayer center.

Since the purchase and the approval of the "home occupation", Arbo Ministries has used the property for religious activities six days in September of 2014, six days in October, five days in November, one day in December, five days January and two days in February, according to the ministries records submitted with its request for tax exemption.

The selectmen indicate this is about 7-percent of the 181 days that passed until the date of the request.

Selectmen also want to know if Arbo Ministries is seeking an exemption for 100 percent of the property. Town Appraiser Wil Cocoran said his company's review of the application and approval by the Planning Board indicates it could be eligible for 35 percent of its holdings being property tax exempt.

Selectmen also asked Arbo Ministries if it would be willing to make a payment in lieu of taxes (PILU) because, despite its stated mission, it still uses town services like roads, fire and police to function.

Selectmen also told the ministry that its request was for the tax year beginning in April of 2015 so any outstanding taxes owed to date will not be considered.

The board said it would reevaluate the request once it has all of the answers and has given the ministry 30 days to file a reply.