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City orders evacuation of 'deplorable' apartments

LACONIA — City officials yesterday shuttered a four-unit apartment building at 145-147 Union Avenue, displacing five adults and eleven children, where Fire Chief Ken Erickson, who serves as the city's health officer, said they found numerous violations of the fire code and sanitary conditions he described as "deplorable."

Erickson, who spent several hours in the building with Code Enforcement Officer Steve McClusker, said that smoke detectors were not working, while corridors and doorways were obstructed, in some cases by clothes dryers that were installed in hallways. He said that garbage and debris was strewn about the four units and common spaces, which were "infested with flies."

Erickson said that officials were drawn to the building by complaint from the mother of a male tenant who lived there with his father. The building was immediately evacuated, its power disconnected and posted as "uninhabitable," Erickson said.

Residents of two of the four units received rental assistance from the Laconia Housing Authority (LHA) under the federal government's so-called Section 8 program. Erickson said that Dick Weaver, executive director of the LHA, "was shocked to see what his agency was paying for" after walking through the building.

Although the city welfare officer was on hand to arrange shelter for the residents, Erickson said that some chose to stay with friends or relatives and two went to the Carey House, the nearby shelter operated by the Salvation Army, but none sought assistance from the city.

Erickson said that repeated attempts to contact the owner of the building "came to no avail."

According to city records the building has been owned by Walter and Janet Hutchinson doing business as WJK Realty Corporation, with the address of a post office box at Winnisquam, New Hampshire, since June, 2004.

WJK Realty also owns a property at 322 Union Avenue and a building with commercial space and residential units at 322 South Main Street. Walter Hutchinson is listed as the owner of a single-family home at 34 Doloff Street and Janet Hutchinson as the owner of a three-unit residential building at 46 Winter Street.

"We're forming a task force to go after the irresponsible landlords aggressively," Erickson said. He noted that city officials will work closely with the LHA, which intends to withhold rent assistance for housing units that fail to pass inspection by the city. "We're going to make sure they clean up or have no tenants."

Noting that that there are many conscientious and responsible landlords in the city, Erickson said "if you're going to be a property owner in the city of Laconia, "you're going to have to do it the right way.

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 July 2014 12:29

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Wind farm company reps met by small army of protestors

by Thomas P. Caldwell

ALEXANDRIA — Well in excess of 100 sign-carrying opponents of wind power from five local towns lined the road in protest when the project developer and attorney for EDP Renewables arrived July 15 at the Alexandria Town Hall to seek a building permit for a meteorological tower.
Jennifer Tuthill of Alexandria, wife of Selectman George Tuthill, said she and the other protesters were there "to show this multinational company that we want no part of it".
Residents had voted against allowing wind farms in the town in 2013 and, this year, they passed a "rights based ordinance" or RBO that claimed the authority to regulate what happens in the town, specifically banning "unsustainable energy systems".
EDP Attorney Mark Beliveau told the Board of Selectmen, "We don't believe the rights based ordinance is enforceable ... but even if it is, it addresses a wind farm, not a meteorological tower, which is a passive collection structure." He went on to note that the RBO refers to projects controlled by state and federal authorities, while the 80-meter tower EDP is proposing does not fall under those jurisdictions.
"We applied for a building permit," he reminded the town fathers.
Later in the meeting, resident Bob Piehler, a strong opponent of wind power, contradicted the attorney, saying they also had applied for a permit from the Federal Aviation Authority, proving there is federal oversight.
"This is Trojan horse," Piehler said. "Once this is in, they will have control of the road, and they're looking to take out local control."
Beliveau's argument centered on the conditional approval the selectmen had given a year ago, subject to five conditions. The company had met four of the conditions prior to Tuesday's meeting and the final condition — the posting of a $34,000 decommissioning bond — was what brought the company to town this week.
"Now that you have the bond, we believe that satisfies all five conditions," Beliveau said.
When Selectman Tuthill said it troubled him to say so but he agreed that the company had met its obligations, Beliveau commented, "I understand the opposition to the wind farm, but this is a small, passive, data collection structure, and I suggest you review it for what it is: a meteorological tower. The decision is really administrative, and personal opinions should not play a part."
Selectman Michael Broome, who came on board this year, said that, in light of the citizens' opposition and the RBO, he would not sign the permit. When Tuthill made a motion calling upon the selectmen to affirm that the five conditions had been met, he did not receive a second, and the hall erupted in applause.
Beliveau responded with a remark indicating that the decision would be challenged on the basis of members' bias.
The meteorological tower had been proposed to determine the viability of a wind project on the private property for which EDP had entered into a seven-year lease agreement last year. Known as the Spruce Ridge Project, the proposal would cover land in Alexandria, Groton, Hebron, and Orange and involve 15 to 25 turbines at a proposed cost of $140 million, producing 60 megawatts of power.
Project Manager Derek Rieman said all talk of a wind farm is premature, as they first need to determine the project's viability; but when challenged on why they would pursue the matter in the face of so much local opposition, Rieman said, "We're pursuing a clean energy project here."
Sue Cheney of Alexandria commented, "You say the met tower is passive, but it's here for one purpose, and that's not passive."
Carl and Paul Spring of Groton, who live on Groton Hollow Road which has become the access road for the Groton Wind Farm, already in place, said before the meeting that wind energy is not clean at all.
"We saw that project from Day 1," Carl Spring said. "Our quiet, country road is now as busy as the Hooksett toll booth, almost. Every day, there are trucks going by, doing everyday business, troubleshooting the problems the wind farm has had, and there are garbage, linen, and FedX trucks going by four to five times a day. It has opened up the mountain to logging. I'm a logger myself, but they're going clear into the wilderness area. There goes our forest canopy. And the water in the streams is black, or like chocolate milk. They say, 'It wasn't us,' but those of us who have lived there for a while never saw that kind of sediment in the streams before."
The Springs also spoke of the noise of the turbines. "They say it's low-decible, and it is, but so is a mosquito, and they can keep you awake. We can't sit in the front yard without hearing the whoosh or the jet engine noise. You hear it continually, and it's never going to go away."
Jim Lawrence, a former representative to the N.H. House from Hudson, who is running for U.S. Congress, took the public comment period as an opportunity to state his continued opposition to wind farms. "If I'm elected," he said, "I will continue to fight this every step of the way."

Last Updated on Thursday, 17 July 2014 12:22

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Laconia schools giving up on growing grass from seed on Bobotas Field

LACONIA — After evaluating the quality of the seeded grass on Bobotas Field at the High School, Business Administrator Ed Emond told the School Board last night the district decided to sod it — splitting the cost with the subcontractor.

Emond said the total cost of the sod was $30,000, with $15,000 coming from the school budget in last fiscal year.

As part of the Huot Regional Technical Education School renovation project of 2013, Bobotas Field, where athletic teams practice and physical education classes are held, was redone.

Within days of the first grass seeding, the entire field washed out in a torrential rain that soaked the area over the July 4th holiday weekend. All of the base washed away forcing the district and the subcontractor to repair the base and reseed the field.

"The seeded grass just didn't take," said Emond.

He said that the decision to sod the upper field this year means that the football teams can practice there this fall. Had the district tried to seed the field a third time, it would not have been ready and there was still no promise that the seed would take.

Emond said the district also identified some areas around the new Jim Fitzgerald Field at Bank of N.H. Stadium that needed some matting to stop runoff. He said one small high-traffic area near the bleachers was sodded because the seed wasn't working well.

Board Chair Chris Guilmet said he thought the front lawn of the high school looked sad and wanted to know why the previously lush grass had been overwhelmed by clover.

Emond said much of the problem is a lack of irrigation and noted a complete overhaul of the front lawn would cost as much as $20,000 that isn't available in this year's budget.

He also said the $1.8 million high school sprinkler, ventilation, and classroom renovation, or Q-ZAB, project is progressing apace.

Emond noted there was some problems with some of the oldest classroom ceilings that were unanticipated because the ceiling were so high. In order to be sprinkled, the contractor had to install drywall before installing the sprinklers and the drop ceilings.

The Joint Build Committee for the high school improvements is meeting Friday at 4 p.m. at the SAU offices.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 12:52

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Negotiations involving Laconia police union still ongoing

LACONIA — The Police Commissioners will not be presented with a new patrolman's union contract in time for their regularly scheduled meeting Thursday afternoon.

According to Capt. Bill Clary, a member of the management negotiating team, the two sides are still talking and have scheduled a negotiation meeting for some time next week.

As of July 1, the members of the Laconia Police Officers' Association are working without benefit of a collective bargaining agreement.

The negotiating teams that consists of union leaders and police management agreed on a tentative contract earlier in the summer. The commissioners then unanimously accepted it, but the rank and file union membership rejected it.

Practically, this means that the membership is forgoing the 2 percent raise that was included in the tentative agreement but still has access to a comprehensive health insurance plan that was eliminated.

Should the negotiating team agree on new terms and the commissioners vote to accept it, the cost provisions would have to be approved by the City Council.

On June 12, the City Council rejected a three-year contract submitted to them by the city manager, in conjunction with the Laconia firefighters union. At the present time, the city has no contract with any of the four unions that represent its employees.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 16 July 2014 12:44

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