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Investors rescue Alton spring water bottling company

ALTON — It's been an uphill battle for a small spring water bottling company here which three years ago was named New Hampshire's Best Drink of Water, only to spiral into a near foreclosure in 2012, which was only averted when friends and loyal customers ponied up some $53,000 to keep the business afloat.
''We were so close to closing our doors forever. But people read about our situation in The Daily Sun and rallied around us,'' says Deanna O'Shaughnessy, who along with her husband, Timothy Morgan, and sister, Fae Kontje-Gibbs , founded Chamberlain Springs on the 300-acre Sunny Slope Farm some nine years ago.
She said that the outpouring of support was heartwarming and included a visit from a friend, who brought with her a bottle of wine, a four-leaf clover and a check for $530 and encouragement to continue the effort to keep the company alive.
''I guess everything happens for a reason,'' says O'Shaughnessy, who said that the company, newly renamed as Nh2o, recently received an infusion of a capital from a Boston man who has an interest in seeing small, start-up companies succeed.
''One of the persons who read the story in The Daily Sun was Arthur Casey of Bristol, a retired businessman who told us that he was pretty good with numbers and could help us. He said that he loved old family farms and liked what we were doing to make ours survive,'' she says.
She said that Casey was able to contact the Boston businessman who eventually provided the funding last fall but it wasn't until March of this year that he was able to visit the company and see it's operations.
''He told us 'this is good' and said he would help us. That gave us some breathing space and let us take out another loan on the farm,'' said O'Shaughnessy, who said that she and her partners are now in partnership with Newfound Business Associates, which is run by Casey's wife, Cheryl.
''It's been an interesting spring. We're reaching out to our old customers and have gone back to self-delivery. And we're improving our product with new waterproof labels and have got a new capper. And our new summer labels arrived just the day before we were scheduled to deliver 80 cases of glass bottles to the Heron Pond Farmer's Market in Kingston. So we've got new labels and lots of water and things are really looking up for us,'' she says.
She said that the initial plan for the company, which drilled a 585 foot well in 2004 to tap into its water, was to market the water as a bulk product. That plan was dropped after it became apparent that the construction costs of a new building and necessary infrastructure was just too steep.
''We decided to bottle it ourselves, which was probably not the best decision, but it seemed like the only alternative we had.'' she says.
In 2009, Profile Bank and the Belknap Economic Development Council provided a funding package to create Nh2o, a company that put the water in 750 milliliter bottles and distributes them through restaurants, grocery stores and at outdoor markets. Profile Bank's loans included $177,000 for start-up costs and an additional line of credit. However, O'Shaughnessy said that getting the business off the ground took more than they had estimated. "We were seriously under-capitalized. It cost a lot more to do everything than we anticipated."
She said that she is extremely grateful to Profile Bank for all the help that it extended to the company during it's financial problems and is looking to see the company move ahead on a firm financial footing and build itself into a profitable venture, which will help keep Sunny Slope Farm, which currently rents space to vacationers and for weddings, intact and thriving.

 

Deanna O'Shaughnessy of Nh2o holds two bottles of water which earned accolades as New Hampshire's Best Drink of Water in 2010. The reconstituted and renamed water bottling company has received an infusion of capital and is now recreating its former distribution network. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 August 2013 03:25

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Schlemmer claims baord was playing budget games & refused to pay for time worked

CENTER HARBOR — The rift between former Fire Chief John Schlemmer and the Board of Selectman that led them to part company last month apparently arose from differences between the two over the terms of the chief's employment.

The circumstances surrounding Schlemmer's departure remain obscure. The selectmen maintain that much to their surprise Schlemmer resigned abruptly on the morning of June 27, the day after the board endorsed his proposal to convene an advisory committee to make recommendations about the organization and operation of the department.

"We were flabbergasted, " said Selectman Harry Viens.

At an emergency meeting later the same day the board accepted Schlemmer's resignation and five days later appointed Leon Manville interim chief.

According to a statement released to the press yesterday, Schlemmer claims that after raising questions about his responsibilities and compensation with the selectmen, "I was given an ultimatum which no reasonable fire chief would accept." He said that after voicing his objection and requesting a meeting, the board sent me a letter accepting my 'resignation.'"

Schlemmer proceeds to explain claims that for several years he was paid under "three headings" as fire chief, supervising firefighter on call and fire inspector "in order to avoid calling me a full-time employee when in fact I was." He suggests that the selectmen took this course realizing that a full-time chief was needed, but that taxpayers would be unwilling to fund the position. "I was a full-time employee in reality," he continued, "but on the books I was being treated as a part-time employee without benefits, retirement or overtime."

Acknowledging that 28 hours per week were formally assigned to the position of chief, Schlemmer said that because his responsibilities required "additional duty" he regularly worked more than "the 40 plus hours for which I was paid under the three separate categories." Knowing this, he said that the town asked him to document the extra time, but considered it "volunteered," not subject to pay.

Schlemmer said that he discussed several options for resolving the issue "fairly and honestly," including paying him a salary equivalent to his combined hourly wages, which would eliminate the cost of overtime. Instead, he recalled that the board instructed him to limit his hours for "all services" — administration, on call, inspection and training — to 28 per week, a suggestion he said "presented an potential and immediate safety concern" and called "preposterous."

On receiving these instructions, Schlemmer said that he went to the secretary to the board, advised her that he could not work under those conditions and requested to meet with the selectmen "right away." In response, he received the letter accepting what he refers to in quotation marks as "my resignation." He said "at present I have no other recourse but to bring this to the people and if necessary to the courts.," stressing that it is a matter of public safety, not merely personal employment.

The selectmen, after accepting what they took to be Schlemmer's resignation, met that same evening with a dozen firefighters, who urged them to meet with Schlemmer to resolve their differences. Dave Hughes, who chairs the board and serves in the Fire Department, recused himself, but Viens and Richard Drenkhahn agreed to approach Schlemmer.

Last night the board met again with members of the Fire Department. Viens informed them he spoke with Schlemmer, offering to meet, but Schlemmer replied that he had retained an attorney and declined the offer.

Viens told the firefighters that the board could not discuss a personnel issue in a public setting. Moreover, he said that with the prospect of litigation there was nothing the board could say. "I don't mean to be evasive," he said. "I'm just following instructions."

Lieutenant Chris Conway asked if the attorneys representing Schlemmer and the board could meet to seek a reconciliation. "Our attorney advised against it," Viens replied.

Luke Dupuis, a local business owner, said that "the last thing you need is two lawyers in the room." He said that "it sounds like an olive branch was extended," but Schlemmer chose to hire an attorney.

"The threat of a lawsuit has thrown a blanket on the whole thing," said Viens.

Viens explained that the board intended to appoint a search committee to select a new "permanant part-time" chief. The committee would review the job description and develop a profile of the ideal candidate. then post the position and screen and interview the candidates. When Conway asked if members of the department could participate in the hiring process as members of the search committee, Viens said "that's a reasonable idea, as long as they're taxpayers. I think it would be important to get your feedback frankly."

Nevertheless, firefighters remain openly distraught over the affair. "We're hanging by a thread," said Diane Smith, a veteran firefighter/ EMT.

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 August 2013 03:08

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Muskrats fall 6-1 to Keene & remain in tight race for final Eastern playoff spots

LACONIA — Losers of 7 of 10, the Muskrats are now holding on to the fourth and final playoff spot in the Eastern Division by one game in the loss column with just two games left in the NECBL regular season.

Laconia (21-21) lost 6-1 to Keene at Robbie Mills Field on Wednesday night while Mystic (also 21-21 and slumping) lost 6-4 at Vermont. Fifth place Sanford (19-22), meanwhile gained ground on both by beating second place Ocean State 6-5. The Mainers have won 6 of their last 10.

Thursday night, Laconia travels to Ocean State and Sanford plays a crucial game at Mystic. Then, on Friday, the Muskrats return home to host, conveniently, Sanford and Mystic entertains Plymouth (Mass.).

The Muskrats managed just 6 hits against Keene lastnight and did not score their lone run until the bottom of the ninth. Nick Freeberger (Hartford CC) had two of the hits, including a double.

Eddie Macaluso (Iona) started for Laconia and pitched 6-2/3 innings, giving up 2 homers and all 6 runs. Ryan Agnitsch (Jefferson) pitched an inning and one-third of hitless relief.

Keene (26-16) holds down first place in the Western Division.

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 August 2013 02:58

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Boat & pickup stolen in Gilford found on North Shore

GILFORD — Police recovered the truck, boat and trailer reported stolen on July 15 from a Gilford boat detailer in two separate communities on the Boston area's North Shore.

Det. Sgt. Christopher Jacques said the truck was recovered in Lynn, Mass., while the boat — a 1994 26-foot Powerquest that had been stripped — and the trailer were found in Salem, Mass.

Jacques said this is the second time the white Ford F-350 has been stolen. In May the truck along with a trailer containing a 1987 22-foot black Donzi was taken.

The truck was recovered a short time later in Seabrook, N.H. The boat and trailer have not been recovered from that theft.

Jacques said he is working with police in some North Shore communities.

If anyone has any information they are asked to call the Gilford Police at 527-4737 or contact This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

 

Last Updated on Thursday, 01 August 2013 01:59

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