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Land Trust asks county to sponsor $250k grant application for riverfront project in Laconia

LACONIA — The Laconia Area Community Land Trust Wednesday morning asked the Belknap County Commissioners for their sponsorship of a $250,00 Community Development Block Grant application for a 32-unit workforce housing development which will be built next to the Winnipesaukee River in downtown Laconia.
Linda Harvey, executive director of the trust, said the $7.4 million River's Edge project has a $500,000 gap in its funding and the county's support would help bridge that shortfall. The project is ready to go out to bid and only needs to complete its financing in order to move ahead.
The project would be built on a 1.85 acre site bordered by Union Avenue, Arch Street and the Winnipesaukee River which currently is occupied by two abandoned and blighted warehouse buildings formerly used by F.W. Webb, according to Harvey.
Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) wondered why the LACLT hadn't gone to the city of Laconia for its grant sponsorship and Harvey said that the trust hadn't anticipated the shortfall.
''We didn't think we'd need them,'' she said, adding that the city is participating in other ways, including its Riverwalk project, which will pass through the site, and by waiving 80 percent of the impact fees for the project.
Harvey said and LACLT was approached by Laconia City Planner Shanna Saunders last year about redeveloping the site and that it's plan for a three-story elevator-eqipped building has already been approved by the city's planning board.
Plans call demolition of the structurally unsound warehouse buildings and construction of a three-story building which would have parking next to Arch Street and also on Union Avenue, where only the top floor of the project will be visible to passing motorists.
Harvey said the N.H. Housing Finance Authority has already approved financing for Low Income Housing Tax Credits and capital subsidy funds and there is also a commitment of funds from NeighborWorks America.
LACLT is providing an easement to the city for public river walk, which will be constructed and maintained by the city.
The organization is looking at purchasing electricity produced at the nearby Avery Dam hydro station as well as green innovations such as geothermal energy for heating and air conditioning.
She said that an additional benefit of the project will be the removal of hazardous waste from the site.
County commissioners agreed to hold a public hearing on the request at their next meeting on January 21, which will enable LACLT to apply for the grant before the January 27 deadline.

LACLT manages 252 housing units in five communities in central New Hampshire, including Laconia, Tilton, Belmont, Meredith and Wolfeboro.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 January 2014 02:06

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Laconia Fire Dept. takes delivery on new Engine 1

LACONIA — The Fire Department took delivery of it 2013 Emergency-One Fire truck yesterday and Chief Ken Erickson said it will soon be fitted with all of the equipment removed from an old truck.

He said the new "Engine 1" will be the primary attack truck for Central Station and the 1990 Sutphen that was purchased used a few years ago will be the second attack truck from downtown.

The truck cost $422,222 he said.

Erickson said the 1998 American LaFrance truck, "a problem child since day one" was taken in trade by E-One.

He said the truck command center — or operations panel — is enclosed by a top-sliding door on the side that protects the tools and equipment from the elements — especially road salt.

The E-One also has state-of-the-art safety protections including a anti-lock brakes, a roll cage, an automatic transmission and 45-degree steering capabilities that make it much easier to maneuver in narrow streets and alleyways.

He said the crews have had one week of training with the factory representative and will get an additional week of training once the Department of Public Safety strips the equipment from the old truck and adds it to the new truck.

CUTLINE: Platoon 3 stands next to the 2013 Emergency-One firetruck delivered to Laconia Tuesday. From left to right are Lt. Jeff Desrosiers, and Firefighters Chris Beaudoin, Trey Bushey, Nathan Mills, Kevin Pierce, and David Thompson. (Courtesy photo)

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 January 2014 02:01

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Gilmanton selectmen adopt policy that asks fire chief to work 2 regular firefighter shifts each week

GILMANTON — Selectmen formally adopted a written policy that sets 168 hours a week as the maximum number that can be used by the Fire Department to have two staff members at a time provide station coverage for 12 hours each day. With a full-time staff of one chief and three firefighter/EMTs, the effect of the policy is to make the chief insert himself into the rotation for two, 12 hour shifts per week.

The vote, which was taken in a public session Monday night, was unanimous.

Selectmen allowed for exceptions of the policy to provide for coverage for sick days, vacations days, staff vacancies, or personnel days. All staffing will be provided by full-time Gilmanton Firefighter/EMTs.

Appraised ahead of time about the impending written policy, Fire Chief Joe Hempel III — who, along with most members of the Gilmanton Fire Association had objected — sent a letter to the board expressing his "displeasure and disagreement" with it.

"Board members have stated that three employees working shifts during the week is 'overstaffing,'" he wrote. "I respectfully disagree and feel that our current staffing pattern addresses the safety needs of our community."

Selectman Don Guarino said Monday that during its annual budget preparation process, the board looked at Sunday staffing at the department and realized that Sunday's were being staffed by part-time employees and that both of them were not always certified Firefighter/EMTs.

All three said their interpretation of a warrant article passed at the 2004 Town Meeting was that the town would be covered by full-time employees. Guarino said he noticed that weekday shifts included three full-time employees, including the chief.

"We weren't digging for it but now we know that this is what the voters wanted in 2004," Guarino said.

The new policy is projected to reduce the Fire Department budget by $20,000.

In essence, selectmen determined that Hempel should be filling the role as the second firefighter/EMT for the 40 hours a week that he works and he should readjust his employee's schedules to have the Sunday shift covered by two of his four full-time employees.

Hempel, who did not appear at Monday's meeting despite being listed on the agenda, asked that selectmen reconsider the policy and allow him to reschedule his personnel as he sees necessary.

In a e-mail sent to The Daily Sun yesterday, he said the logic behind the selectman's assumption that he should be a "first responder" is flawed.

He pointed out that the fire chief serves as a command officer and if he is actively fighting a fire or transporting a patient, he is unable to command the scene.

In addition, he says the role of chief is one of oversight and education and his job is to ensure his employees and the public remains safe.

Hempel also said there a very few call firefighters available during the day and his presence as a "third" person allows for an additional "set of hands" in the event of an emergency and gives him the leeway to return to the station in the event of a transport, which can take two people up to three hours.

With two people only in the station during the day, he said it will increase Gilmanton's dependence on mutual aid while decreasing overall performance in his department.

Hempel said OSHA also requires responding firefighters to go "two-in and two-out" to structure fires, leaving no one to do the initial job of hooking up fire lines and  coordinating communications with other responders.

As to the specifics in Gilmanton's Fire Department, he said the selectman's actions have been demoralizing to the members of his department and hiring, training and equipping new firefighters is expensive.

As to the projected $20,000 savings, Hempel, who is also a Gilmanton resident and taxpayer, said that the $20,000 amounts to about 4 cents per $1,000 of evaluation or about $8 for the $200,000 home owner.

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 January 2014 01:42

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Pressedto take a position, Alexandria selectmen reject wind farm tax agreement

by Thomas P. Caldwel

ALEXANDRIA — With a majority of the residents opposing the development of a wind farm here, the Board of Selectmen concluded Tuesday night's meeting by agreeing to send a letter to Iberdrola Renewables, Inc., and to the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee (SEC) stating their rejection of a proposed contract with the developer.
The selectmen had withheld their own opinions of Iberdrola's proposal for 23 wind towers in Alexandria and Danbury — eight of them within Alexandria — in order to hear first from their constituents and to give fair consideration to the company's proposal. Their reluctance to openly take a position, however, was disturbing to the emotionally charged crowd that filled the Town Hall.
When pressed to say what they were hearing from the people, the selectmen agreed that most people were opposed to the plan. Asked about their own positions, Donald Sharp said, "I've always been against it. But if this crowd said the opposite, and were in favor of it, I'd change my position because I serve you."
George Tuthill had a more measured response, focusing only on the company's proposal for payments in lieu of taxes (PILOT). Iberdrola offered to make even payments of $11,000 per megawatt of installed capacity the first year, with 2.5 percent increases in the ensuing years, rather than making regular tax payments based on assessed value. "We would give away millions with this agreement," Tuthill said.
Chair Kenneth Hall said he was still trying to keep an open mind and he was therefore "on the fence".
"I don't think you're on the fence any more," one person in the audience called out. "I think you got pushed off."
When State Representative Paul Simard of Bristol asked, "Would you be willing to refuse that offer and send a letter saying so to Iberdrola and the SEC?" all three selectmen said they would.
Much of the meeting focused on the power of the SEC, which many felt would approve the wind farm even over the objections of the towns affected. Fear of the loss of home rule has prompted some residents to seek help from outside experts to help them create a "rights-based ordinance" or "RBO" to provide a legal basis for the people to have the final say.
Roland Richards, who has spent a considerable amount of time touring wind farms and believes they provide a viable solution to New Hampshire's energy needs as aging electric plants retire, complained about having outsiders dictate how the town addresses its issues. Choosing an RBO to counter the SEC is not promoting home rule, he maintained.
Richards said much of the information circulating about wind farms is incorrect and he said the town should consider the PILOT agreement as a good place to start, but that it could look to do better.
Others said the proposal wasn't worth considering, as it favored the utility. While the company set a fee at $11,000 per megawatt of installed power, it also put in provisions for reducing that payment in the event of "force majeure" — typically acts of God such as earthquakes, hurricanes, and floods. In the proposed agreement, Iberdrola included such things as strikes, lockouts, fires, breakage or accidents to machinery, and even "orders of any kind of any governmental authority or any civil or military authority". That language would absolve the company of payments if the State Fire Marshal imposed a cease-and-desist order, as it did with the company's Groton facility, for failing to file the proper documentation and provide required safety features.
The agreement did offer an additional $35,000 for the project substation and $60,000 in payments prior to commercial operation, and noted that other fees, such as land use change taxes and timber taxes, would be paid in addition to the PILOT funds. In all, the company estimated it would pay the town $5.9 million over 15 years.
In addition to the PILOT agreement, the company had two other proposals for the town to consider. One would pay up to $10,000 in legal and consulting expenses the town would incur while assessing local impacts and benefits. The other addressed issues ranging from emergency response to damage to town roads during the construction phase.
Speakers said both of those agreements fell short of covering the real expenses involved.
Jim White noted that Iberdrola is being sued "all over the world" and he asked why the town would even consider negotiating with the company.
Carol Jewell said that, instead of talking about money, the town should be talking about the quality of life that would be lost if wind turbines were placed on all the ridges.
Tom Fisher of the Appalachian Mountain Club's Cardigan Lodge said the AMC is filing as an intervenor to oppose the project. "The construction of an industrial-scale wind farm in such close proximity to a premier outdoor recreational destination would significantly degrade the quality of the visitor experience," the AMC said in a position paper. "At their closest, the 492-foot-tall turbines will be less than four miles from the summit of Cardigan Mountain, AMC's Cardigan Lodge, and Newfound Lake — a distance at which they will be an overwhelmingly dominant and incongruous feature in this relatively natural landscape."
Bridgewater Selectman Terry Murphy said his board has voted to intervene, as well, and is willing to contribute to the cost of studies.
"Typically, a PILOT agreement is short-term, in order to encourage a business to locate in a town; not something to go out 20 years," Murphy said.
Janet Cote of Bristol said that town's selectmen will likely take up the matter of joining as intervenors, as they see this as a regional issue, not something limited to limited to Alexandria and Danbury.
Gene Banks of Bridgewater said he was always interested in wind power and he supported the Groton project, but he learned a lot after that project was built. "Many things they predict don't happen," he said. "The decommissioning costs are huge, and it dwarfs the small amount of money you'll get."
When it was clear that the selectmen would not approve the PILOT agreement as presented, Murphy urged them to have a fallback position in case the project does win SEC approval. "The SEC can't force to you to agree to this PILOT agreement," he said. "You can set the terms. You should do the research to be prepared in case they do get it through."

Last Updated on Thursday, 09 January 2014 01:24

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