Downtown disruption

01 06 utility update

In a bucket truck at the intersection of Gilford Avenue and Union Avenue this week, Gordon Brown with Eversource Energy helps the company complete a $1.6 million project to replace over 100 utility poles in Laconia. (David Carkhuff/The Laconia Daily Sun)

Underground utilities to replaced starting in spring


LACONIA — Downtown businesses may face disruption this spring, summer and fall as Eversource Energy replaces underground cable and transformers dating to the 1960s.
"It will include scheduled outages, and once the equipment is being replaced, it could affect power to some customers, but they will be given notice in advance," said Kaitlyn Woods, media relations specialist in New Hampshire for Eversource Energy.
"We will be working with the businesses in scheduling the outages and doing everything we can to mitigate any disruptions," Woods said. "And the project will significantly enhance reliability to businesses and residential customers in the area."
Crews will concentrate on Church Street and Beacon Street east and west, where all underground utilities will be replaced, Woods said.
The underground system in Laconia serves about 175 customers, but there will be a total of about 321 customers that will benefit from the upgrades once they're completed in the downtown, she said.
RH White Civil Contractor in Bow won the contract for digging and trenching, which has begun. Due to frost in the ground, the job has been suspended until spring, Woods said.
Eversource Energy will award bids for two replacement phases, when new infrastructure will be installed, Woods said. The job, costing $1.2 million to $1.4 million, should be done by the end of the year, Woods said.
Communication will be important as the tourist season starts.
"We're working to keep the city updated," Woods said.
The project is part of the operating budget for the utility, she said.
"The project is paid from our operating budget, which is covered in our rates under the distribution charge, which is used to maintain our electric system," she said.
The work is part of a timetable of replacements for equipment dating to the 1960s.
"It's just beyond its life so it's time to be replaced," Woods said.
"The project is designed to be expandable, so as the downtown grows, if we need to, it will make it easier to connect new customers," she said.
Eversource Energy is finishing a separate project, the replacement of more than 100 utility poles in Laconia. Costing $1.6 million, this project includes stronger wires, new transformers and the installation of an automatic switching device at the Messer Street substation. This device can reroute power to 533 customers following an outage, Woods said. The automatic switching device at the Messer Street substation will lay the foundation for the future installation of additional similar devices, she said.
Joe Purington, Eversource vice president of electrical operations, explained in a press release, "The work we are completing in Laconia will establish a foundation for the installation of smart switches, which will enable our system operators to re-route power to customers when an outage occurs. This automated equipment requires no human action, which allows us to restore an outage almost instantly. In many cases, customers are not even affected by the outage."
The improvements will make the electric system more resistant to severe weather, ice and wind, reducing the risk of an electrical outage, the company reported.
"We are anticipating wrapping that up in mid-February," Woods said.
In an unrelated, state project along Winnisquam Lake, Eversource Energy was asked to move utility poles due to the relocation of guardrails, Woods said.

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'Cadillac prices for Yugo results'

Gilford Budget Committee chairman criticizes amount spent on schools


GILFORD — Gilford spends $22,000 a year on each of its students, but ranks in the middle of the state on standardized tests, and that's made Budget Committee Chairman Norman Silber unhappy.

Silber took the opportunity at the end of the Budget Committee's public hearing Thursday on the proposed 2017-18 budget to tell the sparse audience that research from the state Department of Education indicates that tests taken last last school year show that of the 58 school districts in the state, Gilford ranked 25th.

He estimated the district spends $22,000 per student, has a 10 to 1 average student-teacher ratio, has a 24 percent free-and-reduced lunch population and an average SAT score of 1160. The numbers show that 64 percent of the students were proficient in English and 49 percent were proficient in mathematics.

"I am not impressed," he said, adding the school district is paying "Cadillac prices for Yugo results."

Silber couched his critique of the school district somewhat by saying that he knows that in general teachers are undercompensated and that being a teacher is a very difficult profession.

He went on to say that at a previous meeting, a person spoke and said that she wasn't happy that teacher salaries were begin discussed in public.

Silber pointed out that as long as teachers and employees of the school district are being paid by the taxpayers, a discussion of their salaries is fair and reasonable.

He said the function of the Budget Committee is to be "the watchdog for the public taxes."

In a previous meeting, the Budget Committee had earlier voted 6 to 3 to reduce the proposed 2017-18 budget to this year's default budget plus the bond payment for the elementary school or $25,903,694.

Superintendent Kirk Beitler said the School Board met briefly after Thursday's public hearing and voted not to recommend the Budget Committee's adjusted budget.

Voters will get once chance to change the bottom line of the budget at the deliberative session of School District Meeting on Feb. 9 at 7 p.m. in the Gilford High School auditorium.

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‘Problematic’ streets will still be plowed, for now


LACONIA — The City Council this week gave the Department of Public Works a green light to proceed with its effort to formalize the status of nearly 50 streets, representing 7 miles of roadway, in the city, which director Wes Anderson has described as "problematic."

In a memorandum to the council, Anderson notes that state law (RSA 231:59) stipulates that municipal highway funds can only be spent to maintain Class 4 and 5 public highways that have been formally accepted as such by the city and not private roads. The department, he explained, has determined that the streets it has identified as "problematic" may not quality as Class 4 or 5 public highways.

City Manager Scott Myers assured residents that no changes to the plowing and maintenance schedule are imminent and none will be made during the winter months.

The department has identified 18 paved streets — altogether 1.5 miles — in the downtown, Lakeport and The Weirs, most dating to the 19th and early 20th centuries that have been maintained and improved, but not formally accepted as city streets. Another 11 paved streets, amounting to 3.5 miles, in the rural reaches of the city also have no record of being accepted as city streets. There are a half dozen private roads which are currently plowed by the city. There are almost 2 miles of gravel streets, for which there are plans, but no records of having been accepted. And there are eight so-called "paper" streets that appear on development plans but were never built or were built on either private or city property with no right-of-way.

Anderson outlined four approaches to resolving the issues with the "problematic streets." In accord with state law, he said that the city will cease plowing maintaining those streets determined to be private roads. At the same time, some private roads may be designated "emergency lanes," which the city may keep open not for the benefit of abutting residents but to provide emergency vehicles timely access to other public streets. Other streets may be improved to city standards and accepted as city streets through the betterment process, by which abutting residents are assessed for the cost of the improvements. And finally streets may be formally accepted as city streets in their present condition.

Anderson said there were several reasons for correcting the situation. By plowing and maintaining private streets, he said that the city attorney has cautioned that the the city was at risk of incurring liabilities should it contribute to conditions that cause personal injury or property damage. Moreover, plowing and maintaining some private roads may create a precedent leading residents of similarly situated streets to seek the same services. Finally, he said that he must provide an inventory of class 4 and 5 roads to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation, which uses it to calculate the city's highway block grant, and without sound documentation cannot include the "problematic" streets in his report.

Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) balked at the prospect of following Anderson's suggestions. "I'm not comfortable that there are not other options to what you've presented here," he said. "These options cause a lot of problems and are not responsible to our responsible to our citizens." He questioned the risk of liability and asked how many instances have arisen. "I can't recall any financial impact," he said."This doesn't seem to be a humane way of working to a decision, holding to a legal standard without applying sound reasonable judgment." He suggested seeking a legislative solution and proposed tabling the issue.

But Councilor Bob Hamel (Ward 5) acknowledged the problem and said "we've got to start somewhere." He moved to authorize Anderson to pursue the process he had begun and return to the council for guidance once he had framed his recommendations. With only Lipman dissenting, the council voted to proceed.

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