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In Laconia, DOT head makes case for road & bridge needs

LACONIA — If you know you've got a problem." said Chris Clement, New Hampshire Commissioner of Transportation, "you've got to talk about it. This is not whining and complaining, but just facts."

Clement was speaking about the conditions of the state's roads and the Department of Transportation's (DOT) budget. yesterday to a forum hosted by State Senator Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) at Lakes Region Community College attended by some 50 local officials and business people. With a PowerPoint presentation he said he has made to more than 6,000 people around the state he painted a picture of deteriorating roads and bridges with inadequate and dwindling funds to address them.

Of the 4,559 miles of road in the state, Clement said that just 828, or 19 percent, are rated in good condition, while 1,867 miles, or 44 percent are deemed fair and 1,565 miles, or 37 percent poor. He noted that with the current paving budget of $57 million a year the share of mileage in good or fair condition is projected to shrink from 59 percent to 53 percent by 2016. An extra $12 million a year, he said, would halt the decline steady decline in pavement conditions that began in 2000 and was interrupted only in 2010 with the receipt of additional federal funds distributed by the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act. Likewise, Clement said that 2010 was the only year since 1998 that the department met its goal of resurfacing 500 miles of road a year.

The department is also responsible for 2,143 state-owned bridges and 1,685 municipal bridges. Among the state-owned bridges, 145 are on the red list, requiring inspection twice every year, and another 261 are close to it. There are 353 municipal bridges — a fifth of the total —on the red list , which are inspected annually. "That right there keeps me up at night," Clement remarked of the municipal bridges. The state contributes 80 percent of the cost of rehabilitating or rebuilding municipal bridges, but with an annual funding of $6.8 million a year since 1991 the program cannot keep pace with the lengthening of the red list. Laconia City Manager Scott Myers pointed out that the cost of reconstructing the Main Street Bridge, which is scheduled to begin next month, represents a third of the annual funding of the bridge program.

Clement explained that the DOT maintains two funds. The Highway Fund, consisting of proceeds from the gas tax, registration fees and traffic fines, amounts to about $260 million a year, which is supplemented by about $143 million in federal funds and $900,000 from the state general fund. The Highway Fund supports the department's operating budget, including winter maintenance which generally costs between $32 million and $40 million a year, as well as capital projects. Clement projects the operating budget to run a deficit of $48 million in 2016 that will grow to $107 million in 2017. Moreover, $30 million from the Highway Fund is distributed to cities and towns and another $83 million is allocated to the Department of Safety and Judicial Branch to enforce the rules of the road.

The Turnpike Fund, fueled by tolls amounted to $117 million, can only be applied to the maintenance of the 89 miles of roadway, 170 bridges and 10 toll booths in the turnpike system. The current capital program for the turnpike system includes $560 million in unfunded projects with the potential to create 14,000 jobs over a decade.

Clement said that the gas tax was last raised in 1992 and at 18 cents a gallon is easily the lowest among the six New England states. Moreover, increases in fuel efficiency and decreases in miles driven have reduced annual revenues from the tax. Meanwhile, since 1992 the price of asphalt from about $110 a ton to more than $600 a ton, a jump of 460-percent while the price of road salt has risen 120-percent in the last 12 years.

Diminishing revenues, Clement explained, have left the DOT unable to fund either the completion of major priorities, particularly the widening of I-93, or the maintenance of roads and bridges as the costs of these projects escalates. He said that if properly maintained, a well built road should last between 20 and 25 years, adding that while it may cost $50,000 a mile to keep a good road in good condition it costs $1.1-million a mile to reconstruct a road fallen into poor condition. Holding two fingers close together, he said "if you don't invest this much" then, widening his fingers, warned "it will cost this much." Although Clement described himself as a "revenue agnostic," he said that a business than failed to invest in its assets would go broke.

His listeners agreed. "He needs help," said Jerry Gappens, general manager of New Hampshire Motor Speedway. "Everybody is afraid of the word tax. I wish we could change the mentality." Gappens pointed to Virginia, where a reluctant legislature ultimately agreed to a major investment in the state's highways and bridges. "If other states can do it, we're capable of doing it as well," he said.

"It's your fault and my fault," said Rusty McLear of Meredith. Referring to legislation sponsored by Senator Jim Rausch (R-Derry) to riase the gas tax, which will soon come to a vote in the Senate, he declared "we should stand up and pay the tax and it should be a lot more than four cents. Four cents is a band-aid."

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 March 2014 02:18

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Kenney & Cryans running last lap to see who replaces Burton on Executive Council

LACONIA — Tuesday's special election for the Executive Council seat in District 1 opened by the passing of Ray Burton, who held it for 35 years, represents a significant test for both parties eight months before the general election in November.

Republican Joe Kenney of Wakefield, whose 34 years of service in the United States Marine Corps included tours in both Afghanistan and Iraq, is about to retire with the rank of lieutenant colonel. Meanwhile, he was chairman of the Board of Selectmen in his hometown and served 14 years in the New Hampshire Legislature — eight in the House and six in the Senate — and was the Republican nominee for governor in 2008.

Born and raised in Littleton, Democrat Michael Cryans was a high school teacher before turning to banking. He was senior vice-president of Dartmouth Bank Company when it was sold in 1991. After moving to Hanover and operating a financial firm, he became executive director of Headrest, Inc., a substance abuse center in Lebanon, serving ten years before recently resigning. He sat alongside Burton on the Grafton County Commission for the past 16 years.

Kenney fell out of the political spotlight before the advent of the Tea Party. However, when he announced his bid for Executive Council last November Tea Partiers and kindred spirits readily adopted him as their champion against the moderate Republican Christopher Boothby of Meredith in the GOP primary. This constituency carried Kenney to victory, when only 6 percent of voters went to the polls, and remains the most vocal and visible contingent among his supporters.

"I build coalitions," Kenney has said, adding that he welcomes the support from all sections of the GOP as well as from undeclared and Democratic voters. He describes himself himself as "a Ronald Reagan conservative" while conceding that he is "more conservative than Ray Burton." The election, he said, "should not be about ideological differences" and, echoing Burton, adding that during his tenure in the Legislature "I never asked are you a Republican or Democrat? I asked what is your problem and how can we solve it together?"

Throughout his campaign Kenney has stressed that his tenure in the Legislature better positioned him to "hit the ground running" in assisting constituents to navigate state government. He also said that he would resist the construction of wind farms against the wishes of local communities and oppose the Northern Pass project unless the transmission lines are buried. Kenney was quick to take up the cause of the hospitals excluded from the network formed by Anthem, the sole carrier in the health insurance exchange established by the Affordable Care Act.

Meanwhile, in mailings in support of Cryans, the New Hampshire Democratic Party have charged that Kenney harbors a "radical agenda" based a "dangerous Tea Party ideology." They highlight his opposition to the plan prepared by the Republican majority in the New Hampshire Senate and to provide health insurance to the needy, which passed by bipartisan vote of 18 to 5 yesterday as well as to contracting with Planned Parenthood for healthcare services for women and to raising the state minimum wage.

Financial reports suggest that Kenney's fundraising efforts have suffered from the rift within the GOP. The most recent report filed this week indicates that with six days left in campaign Kenney has raised $78,831, which includes $43,000 in loans from the candidate and his wife and another $8,200 in in-kind contributions, leaving cash contributions of $27,631 from less than 100 donors. Kenney has spent $38,729 and has $40,102 in hand. In addition, the Republican State Committee has funded three mailings.

Although hardly a who's who of the GOP, those 100 donors include two of the 14 Republican state senators, the lone remaining Republican Executive councilor — Chris Sununu — three Republicans running for the United States Senate — Jim Rubens, Karen Testerman and Bob Smith, the only Republicans to announce for governor — Andrew Hemingway — United States Senator Kelley Ayotte and a number of current and former municipal, county and state officeholders, among them a half-dozen Republican state representatives from Belknap County.

By contrast, Cryans has raised $135,164, including in-kind donations of $3,155 but no loans by the candidate. He has spent $80,949 and has $54,215 in hand. Altogether Cryans counts more than 800 contributors, among them several major unions — the New Hampshire AFL-CIO, State Employees Association, New Hampshire National Education Association, Teamsters and New England Regional Council of Carpenters.The state party has contributed $1,000 to his campaign as well as funded several mailings.

While with an opportunity for a Democrat to capture the seat for the time and for the party to stretch its majority on the Executive Council to four-to-one, not surprisingly Cryans enjoys solid support from his party and its leaders, including Governor Maggie Hassan, who has accompanied him on the campaign trail.

Furthermore, he has been endorsed by a number of Republicans, most recently former United States Congressman Bill Zeliff of Jackson, who said "I have watched Mike and Ray Burton work together as Grafton County Commissioners, and I feel that they are men cut from the same cloth who share many of the same qualities." While Cryans has repeatedly insisted he does not deign "to fill Burton's shoes, with whom he served for 16 years, he said that he especially valued the support of relatives, his sisters Mary Grimes of Columbia and Joan Day of Concord and brother Steve of Hanover.

Among the eleven county commissioners in the district to endorse Cryans, who has served on the Grafton County Commission for the past 16 years, are Republicans David Babson and David Sorenson of Carroll County, where Kenney's wife Asha is the third commissioner.

The GOP has painted Cryans as "a liberal politician" and "serial taxer and spender" with a "record of higher taxes we can't afford." The party claims that during his tenure as Grafton County Commissioner county taxes have almost tripled and charges that his support of the Affordable Care Act will add to tax burdens of those on fixed incomes, putting health insurance beyond their reach. Likewise, the GOP charges that the limited number of hospitals in Anthem's network, will compel residents of the North Country to travel long distances to get health care and by refusing to oppose an increase in the gas tax, Cryans will add to the cost of the trip.

Cryans has insisted throughout his campaign that constituent service would be his highest priority, declining to take positions on issues over which the Executive Council has no authority. Instead he has emphasized that he would keep a watchful eye on state contracts and approach judicial nominations as well as nominations of officials to state departments and agencies and of members of boards and commissions with care and judgement.

Like Kenney, Cryans has repeatedly discounted the role of partisanship and ideology in role of an executive councilor. But, regardless of what the candidates may say the outcome of this election
will serve as a harbinger of what to expect in November.

The special election is on Tuesday, March 11, town meeting day.
District 1 sprawls across more than two-thirds of the land area of the state, reaches into seven of its ten counties — Coos, Carroll, Grafton, Belknap, Strafford, Sullivan and Merrimack — and includes four of its 13 cites — Laconia, Berlin Claremont and Lebanon — 109 of its 221 towns and most of its unincorporated places.

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 March 2014 02:05

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Discarded ashes come to life & Bristol cabin burns

BRISTOL — Fire destroyed a 1,400-square-foot cabin log cabin Thursday night, likely after embers from discarded ashes ignited a rear deck.

Fire Chief Steve Yannuzzi said the cabin was fully involved at 6:10 p.m. when firefighters arrived at 54 Bear Mountain Road. The owners live in another state and were not there.

He said he spoke to the owner who told him that he had been there Wednesday and had cleaned out the wood stove, dumping the ashes in a snow bank behind the home.

"The area where he dumped the ashes is consistent with where the fire started," said Yannuzzi.

He said he learned after the fact that a passerby had noticed some light smoke coming from the rear of the house about two hours earlier but didn't think it was unusual.

Yannuzzi said when discarding ashes, homeowners should either put them in a metal covered container or make sure they are buried in the snow bank and completely extinguished.

He also said that if people see something that is amiss, they should call the fire department. "It's what we do," he said.

He said the fire went to a second alarm but he sent back some of the farthest companies because they weren't needed. Firefighters were hampered by sub-zero temperatures but he reported there were no injuries.

The house is likely a total loss he said.

Yannuzzi also wanted to remind residents to check the batteries in their smoke and carbon monoxide detectors this weekend as daylight savings time begins. He said the fire department has batteries and some smoke detectors obtained from grants for those who don't have them.

He also said if anyone has any questions or concerns about fire and smoke detectors they should call the Fire Department's non-emergency line at 744-2632.

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 March 2014 01:59

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Laconia planners see merit in Veterans Square reconfiguration plan

LACONIA — A proposal to reconfigure the west end of Veteran's Square by converting the intersection of Pleasant Street with Veteran's Square and Beacon Street West into a four-way junction created some interesting discussion at Tuesday night's Planing Board meeting.
The conceptual plan calls for eliminating the flagpole circle that enables west bound traffic through Veteran's Square to reverse direction before reaching Pleasant Street and relocating the curb in front of the Congregational Church between 60 feet and 40 feet forward into Veteran's Square. There would still be three traffic lanes, two west bound and one east bound, but they would be more tightly configured with an eye to slowing traffic down.
The plan was recently presented to the City Council, which rated it a low priority, which irked Planning Board member Charlie Smith, who said that he was disappointed that it was being put on the back burner.
''There's no way for a pedestrian to cross there. It's amazing how the cars don't stop. It's dangerous. I've almost been taken out a couple of times. I run when I have to cross there,'' said Smith, who says that he uses that crosswalk every day.
He also said that one of the factors in making the crossing so dangerous in the winter is that the line of sight for pedestrians is blocked by a snowbank at the end of private parking spaces in front of the railroad station which he thinks should be removed.
Planning Director Shanna Saunders said that a consultant had recommended removal of those parking spaces but the owner had no interest in giving them up.
Board member Jerry Mailloux said he often walks his dog in that area said that making the change is ''a no-brainer'' as it would make the crossing safer for pedestrians by shortening the distance the many elderly and handicapped who live in the downtown area will need to cross and slowing down vehicular traffic.
Saunders said the plan evolved from a plan to open Beacon Street East and Beacon Street West to two-way traffic and improve the intersections around the loop prepared by TEC, Inc. of Lawrence, Massachusetts, which the council soundly rejected. She said that when the Congregational Church embarked on a capital improvement project the opportunity arose to revisit the reconfiguration of the intersection.
The proposal calls for the five angled parking spaces in front of the church to relocated at the new curb. The driveway between the Congregational Church and its adjacent Parish Hall would be expanded to a handicap-access turnaround and four angled parking spaces in front of the Evangelical Baptist Church, which is being converted into a restaurant, would be retained. Likewise, the six parking spaces on the north side of Veteran's Square, alongside the railroad station, would remain.
The pavement and sidewalk would be removed from the area between the new and existing curb and sidewalk, which would become a landscaped sublawn, bordered by the relocated curb on Veteran's Square and an extended curb on Pleasant Street. The memorial and flagpole would be relocated from the circle to the sublawn, to which benches would be added.
Other than the change to the flow of traffic through Veteran's Square, the traffic pattern would remain the same. Traffic entering Veteran's Square from Pleasant Street could turn right on to Beacon Street West, which would remain one-way, left into Veteran's Square or proceed down Pleasant Street, which would also remain one-way. The plan does not include traffic signals at the reconfigured intersection.

Planning Board Chairman Warren Hutchins said ''the city of Laconia is the most inconvenient place to get around for people who work here'' and questioned whether some of the proposed changes would make it more difficult to at some time in the future implement a plan for two-way traffic in downtown.
Hutchins, mindful of the council's rejection of the two-way traffic plan and its directive that no further study of that option take place, stepped down from his chairman's role and spoke as a citizen about his belief that the only way to restore prosperity to the downtown area is to bring back two-way traffic.
The board also took note of a suggestion by former Laconia Public Works Director Frank Tilton that the intersection is a natural roundabout and that a roundabout could be installed there. Saunders said that she will have the consulting firm which designed the plan now under consideration come up with a roundabout concept which will be presented to the board at its April meeting.
Saunders said that even if the work isn't done until 2018 it is still worth more study and should remain on the city's radar screen.

Last Updated on Saturday, 08 March 2014 01:46

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