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Northern Pass opposition gearing up for federal hearing in Plymouth on Tuesday

NEW HAMPTON — With a series of key federal hearings on Northern Pass a week or less away, about 100 people opposed to the major power line project were told Monday evening that opponents need to turn up in large numbers to let federal officials know the extent of the opposition.
The message was delivered during a two-hour forum organized and hosted by state Sen. Jeannie Forrester (R-Meredith), one of a number of state elected officials who are opposed to the proposed 186-mile electric transmission line through New Hampshire carrying hydropower from Quebec to New England.
The first of the hearings being held by the federal Department of Energy is scheduled for Monday at the Grappone Conference Center in Concord from 6 to 9 p.m., with the second taking place on Tuesday at Silver Center for the Arts at Plymouth State University from 5 to 8 p.m. Other hearings will be held Wednesday and Thursday in Whitefield and Colebrook respectively.
"We would not have sustained this for as long as we have if it was not for all your efforts to tell the Northern Pass people that this is not the right thing for New Hampshire," Forrester told the audience of gathered at New Hampton School's McEvoy Theater.
Will Abbott, vice president of the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests, said he hoped that the Department of Energy would take a close look at alternative ways to construct the power line, and in particular to possible ways the line could be placed underground. One of the biggest complaints about the $1.6 billion Northern Pass project is that the installation of more than 1,500 towers — some as tall as 165 feet — would spoil the scenery in much of New Hampshire's mountainous North Country, where the economy is heavily dependent on tourism.
Northern Pass supporters say the 1,200 megawatts of Canadian hydroelectric power would reduce the need for electricity from fossil fuel sources that produce carbon emissions and would provide tax revenue from Northern Pass facilities to the communities the line passes through and would provide jobs to New Hampshire.
But opponents counter the power line's towers along the route would rise above the trees and would damage New Hampshire's environment, lower property values and make the state less attractive to tourists.
"If money is the arbiter, they will win," Abbott said of Northern Pass. "If people (are) the ultimate arbiter, then we will win. We have the power to stop this from happening," he said, adding that the Forest Society was prepared to fight the project in court if necessary.
Other panelists at the forum were Susan Arnold of the Appalachian Mountain Club and real estate broker Andy Smith.
Smith, a partner in the firm of Smith and Peabody, said since the Northern Pass project was unveiled almost three years it has had a "chilling effect" on real estate values in areas that are within sight of where the line would run. He acknowledged that was not possible to say precisely how much values have been hurt, explaining: "It's hard to quantify a non-sale." But he said that people looking to buy immediately lose interest in a particular property when they hear the Northern Pass route is nearby. "People come up here because they love what we have, and they do not want to see it spoiled."
Arnold, who is the AMC's conservation director, said that revisions to the Northern Pass route, including burying eight miles of the line in the far-north Connecticut Lakes Region, do not go far enough to address the concerns being raised by the project's critics.
Arnold faulted Northern Pass for not putting forth more extensive alternative plans for the project, including the burying the power lines altogether. She said the fact similar projects being planned in Maine and New York included buried lines was proof that such an alternative was feasible for Northern Pass. Arnold further noted that Northern Pass requires permission from the U.S. Forest Service to run lines through parts of the White Mountain National Forest, and so it will need to present alternatives, regardless of their cost, for the Forest Service to consider in deciding whether to give the utility permission to cross federal land.
The purpose of the DOE hearings is to analyze the potential environmental impacts associated with the project in light of the proposed changes Northern Pass announced back in June. The environmental impact statement is intended to provide the analysis to support a Forest Service decision on whether to issue a special use permit within the White Mountain National Forest.
Forrester said opposition to Northern Pass has drawn bipartisan support and that lawmakers from the southern part of the state are now beginning to raise concerns about its long-term impact. "We're beginning to see we can't just turn our back on this," she said.
Forrester expressed confidence that critics would prevail, and she said that even if the project clears all the federal hurdles, she intends to use the state's newly created power project site evaluation process to block it from being built.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 September 2013 02:38

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Mother & daughter involved (on opposite sides) of brawl that results in first-degree assault charges against 1 man

LACONIA — A local man is being held on $15,000 cash-only bail for allegedly hitting a man in the head with a beer bottle and an expandable baton during a fight on September 13.

Kyle Violette, 27, of 76 Endicott St. North Apt. 4 is charged with two counts of first-degree assault — one for the beer bottle and one for the expandable baton.

Laconia Police said Violette was arrested Monday night by Farmington Police and turned over to Laconia Police, who held an outstanding warrant.

Violette appeared by video in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division yesterday and his public defender made no bail argument but reserved Violette's right to a probable cause and bail hearing at a future time.

According to police affidavits, officers were called to 1184 Weirs Boulevard for a disturbance involving four people, two men and two women. The two women are mother and daughter and are apparently the girlfriends of the two men. The older of the two women is involved with Violette.

When police arrived, they found a male victim with an open head wound and the beginnings of two black eyes. Police said he "had blood all over his body" and there was blood "all over the porch and stairs."

The man's girlfriend had what police said were red marks on her neck and ears. Her right eye was beginning to swell.

The victim told police his girlfriend's mother started punching her daughter in the face when the younger women mentioned a prior burglary allegedly committed by Violette. He said he tried to pull the women apart but Violette jumped in and hit him on the head with "beer bottles and a drinking glass."

The two men began wrestling and when they fell down the porch stairs, the victim's leg got caught in the railing and Violette allegedly began choking him.

The victim's girlfriend told police that at this point the two men separated but started fighting again when Violette ran upstairs to help her (fend off her mother). This time, said the girlfriend, the victim was getting the upper hand on Violette so the mother came running down the stairs and began punching the victim in the face until he and Violette separated again.

After separation, Violette allegedly ran to his car, grabbed an expandable baton and hit the victim over the head, splitting his scalp open.

The victim and his girlfriend both told police that Violette and his girlfriend (the mother) left in the car with their two children and drove away.

At some point, city police caught up with Violette, who is on parole, and charged him with the two first-degree assaults.

Violette, according to affidavits, has a lengthy and violent criminal record including theft, three convictions of resisting arrest, a conviction for possession of drugs, two violation of probation or parole convictions, three convictions for disobeying a police officer, one conviction for reckless conduct, and four convictions for simple assault.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 September 2013 02:33

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Robinson agrees to serve as interim chief at Tilton-Northfield Fire

NORTHFIELD — The Tilton-Northfield Fire Commission last night appointed Deputy Chief Michael Robinson Acting Chief and Captain Tim Joubert Acting Deputy Chief as of October 18, when Chief Brad Ober leaves the department to become deputy chief in Gilford.

The commissioners reached their decision at a special meeting convened to consider how to address the interim between the departure of Ober and the hiring of his successor. Captain Dave Hall told the commission that all members of the department discussed the situation and agreed that "every option in-house should be exhausted in the interim."

"I want Brad (Ober) back, but we can't have that," said Robinson, who added that every member of the department had urged the chief to stay. "Will I do it?" he continued. "Yes, on my terms and with inside help. It's got to be a team effort," he stressed, explaining that his full-time job occupied him from 5:30 a.m. until 5 p.m. on weekdays and he owed time to "the new woman in my life," his granddaughter.
He also expected the commission would "move rapidly with a replacement.

Paul Auger of Northfield, who chairs the commission, said "we have other options," referring specifically to retired chiefs. "I'm not saying we go that way, but it's an option. You've (Robinson) made us an offer and it's a good offer."

The commission held a non-public meeting to discuss personnel issues and emerged after more than half an hour to announce the appointments of Robinson and Joubert. Hall told the commissioners that he appreciated their decision as well as the timeliness in which they made it. "There will be zero ripples in this water," he assured them. "It will be a seamless transition."

Earlier the commission accepted Ober's resignation and thanked him for his eight-and-a-half years of service with the department, after which he left the meeting.

After succeeding Steve Carrier in 2010, Ober became the second chief to leave the Titlon-Northfield Fire Department to become deputy chief in Gilford in the past three years. Both Carrier and Ober had trying relationships with the commission. Carrier found himself in the midst of a dispute between the two towns over the prospect of constructing a life-safety building to house the Tilton Police Department and elements of the Fire Department, which led the Northfield selectmen to force a vote to dissolve the fire district that was soundly rejected in 2010.
Ober's tenure was dogged by his difficulties in complying with the commission's requirement that he establish residency within the district. Unable to sell his home in New Hampton, he rented an apartment in Tilton on the eve of the deadline on January 2 to avoid the risk of dismissal. But, the issue lingered, emerging again in June when, according to minutes of a commissioner's meeting, Clark said that "people have complained the chief is coming in to work from up north on a regular basis" and he "invited them to come into talk about it." Clark said that without a formal complaint it would remain a "non-issue," but, echoed by Commissioner Les Dolecal, recommended monitoring the mileage on the chief's car.
Yesterday Pat Consentino, chair of the Tilton Board of Selectmen, reminded the commission that "under the regime of Pat Clark" the department had lost two chiefs and three firefighters as well as a commissioner, Tom Gallant, who resigned abruptly citing his differences with Clark.

"How much money, taxpayer money, are we going to spend before we realize this is a personal agenda?" Consentino asked. Again referring to the resignations, she said that "the common denominator is obvious." Hiring chiefs and firefighters, she noted, "costs a lot of money" and legal expenses in the Fire District budget, she noted, have more than tripled, from $5,000 to $16,000 since Clark joined the commission. "I'm just looking at the money," she remarked.

When Auger asked Judy Tilton, whose apartment Ober rented to establish residency in the district, she replied "you don't wanrt to hear what I have to say." Encouraged to speak, she said "you've systematically harassed Brad (Ober) to this point", then cut herself short.

"It happens all the time," Auger said of Ober's resignation, "whether it's here or there."

Clark said that the decision of the state to cease funding its share of pensions for firefighters severely strained the district's budget and conceded that the residency requirement was "a source of controversy, a big issue." Carrier's departure, he said "had nothing to do with me" while adding "is it fun to go through? No. It's lots of work."

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 September 2013 02:28

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Laconia schools eyeing additional $1.8M interest-free loan

LACONIA — The Laconia School District is eying an additional interest-free federal loan for $1.8-million dollars that could be used for more renovations within the district's buildings.

The QZAB or Qualified Zone Academy Bond was the federal program that made $6.5 million available to the district for the Huot Regiona Technical Education Center expansion/renovation.

Business Administrator Ed Emond told the School Board's Budget and Personnel Committee last night that he was approached by the N.H. Department of Education about a month ago and told that no school districts had come forward to apply for the balance of the federal loan fund. The loan program is limited to inside upgrades and doesn't allow for new construction.

In order to qualify for QZAB, Emond said a school district needs three things — an "academy", a 10 percent local match, and a viable working collaborative with community partners. In Laconia's case, the district has already started a Wellness Academy and it has raised $1,050,000 in either money or in-kind donations from its community partners.

Emond said the 10 percent match for the first QZAB will take $650,000 of the million already raised, leaving $355,000 — $180,000 of which can be used for the 10 percent match for a new zero-interest loan.

The drawbacks, said Emond, are the payments on a new bond will add $78,260 per year in additional expenditures to the school district's bottom line for 23 years, which may or may not be viable under the city's property tax cap and self-imposed debt service restrictions.

The next step, said Emond, is to have the School Board Facilities Committee meet and set the priorities for any additional renovations.

Meanwhile, Superintendent Terri Forsten said she would be meeting with City Manager Scott Myers to assess what is possible and practical as far as the city and its other departments are concerned.

Like the QZAB grant that partially funded the Huot Center project, a new application for long-term debt, including QZAB, must be approved by the City Council — which may have other priorities for capital improvements and/or debt service in other city departments.

The other option is for the School District to stay within its existing budget by saving $78,000 annually from its operating budget.

Some of the ideas for renovations and upgrades floated at last night's Budget and Personnel meeting include ventilation and heat distribution at the high school, air conditioning in the high school library and auditorium and fire protection and a sprinkler system at the high school.

Emond said the Facilities Committee will be scheduling a meeting within the next two weeks so it can prioritize any suggested renovations and return to the next School Board meeting with a solid list for its consideration.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 18 September 2013 02:22

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