Hands free - starting tomorrow, using a phone while driving will cost $100

LACONIA – At midnight, New Hampshire will become the 12th state to pass an outright ban on the use of all hand-held electronic devices by drivers in car on a public way.

The state's Hands Free Law was signed by Gov. Maggie Hassan on July 25, 2014, after passing the Legislature on May 7. The nearly one-year wait before the law taking effect was intended to give the state and local authorities an opportunity to wage a massive campaign to educate the state's drivers.

In signing the bill, Hassan said electronic devices used by drivers in automobiles represented "an increasing danger we must address."

According to the National Conference of State Legislatures, as of May 5, 2015, 11 states, Washington D.C., Guam, Puerto Rico and the Virgin Islands had all passed similar laws. Most other states have addressed a hands-free policy for school bus drivers and for drivers 18 or under. In New England, New Hampshire follows Connecticut and Vermont in passing a total ban on the use of electronic devices while driving.

In New Hampshire, the first violation costs the driver $100 plus a penalty assessment of 17 percent. The penalty for subsequent offenses within two years is $250 for a second offense and $500 for a third. Both include the penalty assessment.

"I am 100-percent supportive of this law," said Gilford Police Chief Anthony Bean Burpee, who said his department, as have the others in Belknap County, has issued several press releases, has posted messages on both Facebook and Twitter and has gotten involved in the N.H. Police Chief's campaign called Driving Toward Zero – One Death Too Many.

Gilford Police photocopied the poster they got from the N.H. Police Chief's campaign on bright orange paper and started distributing copies about six weeks ago. A few of those bright orange posters ended up in the toilets at the Gilford Public Library, including one over the urinal in the men's room.

"We post everything we get," said Katherine Dormody said yesterday. She also noted that she is a big supporter of the law and was glad to help the police any way she could.

In Laconia, Capt. Bill Clary said notices were sent to every department – especially the schools as well as Twitter, Facebook, Laconia Links, and the Police Department's Web Page. He said School Resource Officer Steve Orton has worked with the students at Laconia High School and the schools themselves have worked hard to get out the message.

"This will make for much safer roads," Clary said.

Belmont Police Lt. Richard Mann said his department also piggy-backed on the state campaign. He said it has put a public service bulletin on an electronic sign on Route 3 because the man who owns it allows the town to put up public service announcements when it's not rented.

"I was shocked when I learned that 28 percent of traffic deaths in the state could be attributed to cell phone use," Mann said.

Mann also emphasized that the law states that all electronic devices, including cell phones, Global Positioning Sensors, tablets and iPods are illegal to operate while driving. Calling 9-1-1 in an emergency is the only exception.

"If it's original equipment in a car it's okay," said Mann.

Mann said Belmont will go forward with a no-grace-period approach.

"How can anyone say they didn't know about this?" he asked rhetorically. "Even my boys know about this and they're all too young to drive."

As a comparison, he said if people from Massachusetts get arrested with marijuana, New Hampshire police don't just say, "Okay, never mind."

Mann, Clary, and Bean Burpee all said good portions of their campaign were working with and through their individual school districts to get the word out to high school students, generally using the School Resource Officers. At Shaker Regional High School, Mann said various officers, but usually SRO Joe Marcello, attended driver's education programs to discuss the rules of the road with an recent emphasis on this one.

Smaller community police chiefs, like Stephen Hankard of Sanbornton, said his department posted all the state fliers and personally warned people who were stopped for any reason about the upcoming law changes. Since Sanbornton has an elementary school, he said a campaign in there really wouldn't have made a lot of sense, but that Winnisquam Regional High School had a lengthy campaign using Tilton's School Resource Officer Bill Patten.

All four officers said they work in towns or cities that have banned cell phone use for all municipal vehicles.

Laconia Police created a hands-free policy for all of their police officers that became effective at the beginning of this year. The other three police departments interviewed noted similar internal policies as well as town policies against using electronics while driving.

In Gilford, Bean Burpee said all of their front-line cruisers have either have Blue Tooth capabilities or have built-in hands-free devices. By next year, Bean Burpee said the department cruisers should all have factory-installed hands-free equipment.

Clary said he initially didn't want to get the hands-free option in Laconia's two newest cruisers, but decided at the last minute to get the package that also includes an additional safety device.

The drawback for Laconia is that the factory package only allows four cell phones to be programmed into it and more than four officers drive the front-line vehicles. For police purposes, "front-line" means the newest cruisers that are on the road virtually 24-hours a day. He said one cruiser is typically used by a minimum of three officers in three shifts during one 24-hour period and it's harder to schedule cruiser assignments when only four officers can use the hands-free system.

"I want to test it," he said, noting that if it makes sense, he'll begin ordering it for all of the newest cruisers to come. Clary also noted that many of his officers were already Blue Tooth-enabled on their own because of the internal policy change. He noted that except for certain outlying sectors of the city, if any information needs to be exchanged that can't be broadcast over the police radio, then it's just as efficient for the officer to come to the police station.

Hankard and Mann said all of Belmont's cruisers are equipped with devices that have been purchased from private companies and installed in the cruisers. As they go forward with new cruisers, both expect to take advantage of the hands-free package offered by Ford Motor Company.

Laconia Chief Chris Adams said yesterday that his department is not going to become "a ticket factory" on the first day of the new law. He added that because of the sheer amount of upfront public announcements, the nice guy approach wasn't going to last very long, though.

"There has been a massive amount of publicity about this and I can't imagine most people don't know about it," he said.

"I can well imagine we're going to be very busy Wednesday morning," he said.


NASWA Marks 80th anniversary as family-owned resort

LACONIA — The NASWA Resort celebrated is 80th anniversary over the weekend with a giant fireworks display, and on Monday was honored by Gov. Maggie Hassan for its four generations as a New Hampshire tourist destination.

Hassan presented the Makris family with a proclamation for the sixth annual NASWA Day and praised the Makris and Salta families for having built their business as an attraction which featured the best of the state's natural resources and built close connections with their guests over several generations.

She praised the NASWA for its commitment to the Lakes Region community and the state and its role in hosting events which benefit local and state charities, including the annual Peter Makris Memorial Run which kicks off Laconia Motorcycle Week and the annual HK Powersports Poker Run which benefits New Hampshire Easter Seals.

This year also marks the 90th birthday of NASWA matriarch Hope Makris, who began working with her sisters in the family business when she was only 10 years old and started selling brownies to Motorcycle Week visitors.

Hailed as a ''rock star'' by Sarah Lindquist of Clearly Creative, the master of ceremonies for the event which was held at the NASWA's beach on the Weirs Channel, Mrs. Makris was the focus of attention for the many guests who attended the event from all over New Hampshire.

Her daughters, Karen, who manages the Blue Bistro at the NASWA, and Cynthia, who is president and general manger of the NASWA, said they were grateful for the large turnout of friends and family for the anniversary, which also marked the 40th wedding anniversary for Karen and her husband Jim Lowell.

Stella Scamman of Stratham, who attended the event along with her husband, Doug, a former Speaker of the New Hampshire House, grew up in Laconia as Stella Emmanuel.

''My great aunt and uncle started this place and I remember growing up how hard-working the family was and all they did to grow the business,'' said Scamman.

The NASWA was founded in 1935 by Jim and Fannie Salta, immigrants from Lesbos, Greece, who were exploring a rocky hillside near the popular tourist destination of Weirs Beach when they found a natural spring of refreshing, clear water. The spring water tested as 100 percent pure so the Saltas purchased the property and founded the Natural Spring Water Company. The following year, the Saltas added five one-room cabins and christened them the NASWA Spring Water Cabins.

Decades later, when Laconia's tourist volume and traffic increased and the NASWA's visible roadside location attracted many visitors, the name changed to the NASWA Motor Inn. As the resort added more food, entertainment and features, it again outgrew its name and became the NASWA Resort – now often shortened to "The Naz."

Hope Makris, Jim and Fannie's daughter, is the current NASWA owner. She and her husband, Peter (the well-known and loved "Big Kahuna," who passed away in February 2007), also raised their three daughters, Karen, Victoria, and Cynthia, at the NASWA.

And as their family grew, so did the resort facilities. Docks, kayaks, paddle boats, The Naz Boat, fine dining in the Blue Bistro and casual dining at the NazBar & Grill were all introduced under Hope and Peter's reign. Over the years, the waterfront building and lakeside cottages were also added to grow the resort and its appeal.

In 2010, then Gov. John Lynch named June 29 "NASWA Day" in New Hampshire for the resort's 75th anniversary.


Council hears outpouring of support for Colonial project

LACONIA – In a moment of community unity, the City Council voted unanimously to support the financial package backed by the city for the purchase and renovation of the Colonial Theater.

Room 200A at City Hall was packed with supporters – some who chose to speak and others who just wanted to listen to others and witness local history being made.

"Savor tonight," said former Mayor Paul Fitzgerald, who along with former Mayors Rod Dyer, Matt Lahey and Mike Seymour, was on hand to lend support and witness the vote. "Never again will citizens come in and thank you."

Speaking on behalf of himself, Dyer said he thought the attempt by the city made in 2010 to purchase The Colonial was the last best hope.

"I'll take that back," he said, saying the theater had been an anchor to the city and for the past 20 years has been a "black hole" in the center of downtown.

Reading into the record a statement from Bank of New Hampshire President Mark Primeau, Dyer read a statement from him saying that the bank was one of the oldest businesses in the city and would do everything possible to make the renovation a reality.

"This is definitely the last opportunity to save the Colonial and restore its place as the heart of downtown," said Primeau.

According to the resolution passed by the City County, the city has agreed to use its fund balance to lend $1.4-million dollars to the Belknap Economic Development Council that created its own 504(c)(6) entity to purchase the building. The closing must occur before July 27.

The real estate secures the loan and the BECD LLC will pay interest only for 12 to 18 months and after which the note will be repaid in full to the city.

After the note is repaid, the city will lend $2 to $3 million to the same entity – again interest-only and secured by the real estate to renovate the building and the auditorium. The theater will be operated as a city auditorium for an additional seven years and will determine who uses it and at what cost.

There is an option for the city to purchase the theater from the BECD at the end of that time. If the city refuses the option, the loan will be repayable at that time.

A number of other members of civic organizations and public bodies stood in support of the project. They included School Board Chair Joe Cormier, Zoning Board Chair Steve Bogert, and Pam Clark of the Laconia Historical and Museum Society and of the Laconia Heritage Commission.

Also speaking in favor were representatives from various theater groups including the Laconia Streetcar Company, David Stamps – the founder of Laconia Main Street, and Kate Bishop Hamel of the N.H. Business Alliance.

Members of the community at large also spoke in favor of the project. Matt Sousa said he's lived here since the 1980s and called the project "inspiring news."

"The Colonial is a way to show of our community and the best of it," he said.

Pastor Mark Warren of the Grace Capital Church said that in the face of hopelessness, this represents a change of heart.

"It's not only the economics but it's from the heart," he said generating applause from the 75-strong audience.

Karen Barker said she supports the renovation and its financing package but worries about its long-term viability. She encouraged the whole community to be creative and said she would like to see as much business as possible awarded for local "folk" - meaning local contractors and their employees.

Even a man from Tilton whose wife is a Laconia native came to the meeting to say how his wife was so pleased to hear the news. He said he saw "Mission Impossible" with her at the Colonial and told the Council they made a "Mission Possible."

Each Council member spoke in favor of the project.

Ava Doyle of Ward 1 said she had friends in Indiana who are from Laconia who heralded the news. Ward 2 councilor David Bownes quoted his children and said "Laconia Rocks."

Henry Lipman of Ward 3 explained the financing and explained how state law allows this kind of public participation when the public good outweighs the private good.

Ward 4 Councilor Brenda Baer said she ran for City Council 10 years ago on a platform of revitalizing Laconia while Ward 5 Councilor Bob Hamel said he and his wife are long time supporters of the theater and performing arts and he is proud to be on the City Council that brings them back to the city center.

Ward 6 Councilor Armand Bolduc, who also served as mayor, said he's been on the council for 32 years.

"This is the fourth time and it's finally going to happen," he said. "I can't wait to see it completed."

While there are some detractors who generally support the renovation but don't support using public money to finance it, none of them were at last night's special meeting.

In the beginning of the meeting, Mayor Edward Engler explained that the city used a non-public session to hammer out the details on May 26, the results of which weren't revealed until June 15.

Engler said the purchase and sales of real estate by the city is a legitimate use of the Right To Know Law's non-public session clause.