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City applying for $500,000 transportation grant to improve sidewalks & trails leading to schools

LACONIA — The city has applied to the New Hampshire Department of Transportation for a $500,000 matching grant, which would be applied to developing and improving sidewalks and trails leading to schools.

Altogether seven projects with an aggregate cost of approximately $1-million are proposed. Two of the projects — 2,000 feet of the second phase of the Winnipesaukee-Opechee-Winnisquam (WOW) Trail from Veteran's Square to the Belmont town line and 400 feet of the downtown riverwalk from the Perley Canal to the Church Street Bridge — have already been funded by the Downtown Tax Increment (TIF) fund and represent the 50-percent match for the grant.

About 1,000 feet of sidewalk along Opechee Street would be improved at a cost of $50,000 to provide a safe passage between Messer Street and Laconia Middle School. The sidewalks along 600 feet of Stevens Street and 1,200 feet of Winter Street leading to Woodland Heights School would be improved with curbing and sublawns and a speed table to slow traffic would be installed near the school.

The downtown riverwalk would be extended along River Street, south of the Church Street Bridge, to connect with the stretch to built at River's Edge, the apartment building to be constructed by the Laconia Area Community Land Trust on the property formerly occupied by the F.W. Webb Company.

Planning Director Shanna Saunders told the City Council this week that the grant application represents a joint effort of LRGHealthcare, Laconia School District, Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health and the WOW Trail. She said that the program requires a 20-percent match and indicated that providing a 50-match could work to the city's advantage.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 October 2014 01:20

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Bill Martel celebrates birthday number 90

LACONIA — Bill Martel, the long-time owner of Martel's Bait and Sport Shop on Winnisquam Avenue, marked his 90th birthday yesterday with a quiet lunch with his wife of 64 years, Helen, at T-Bones Restaurant
Over the weekend, he was treated to a very special party which was put together by his daughters Diane Marchek of Meredith, Debbie Messineo of Concord and Donna Somma of Trumbull, Conn., a festive occasion marked by Christmas lights, root beer floats, cakes and balloons and counters filled with every kind of candy imaginable.
"That's my weakness. I love candy and sweets,'' says Martel, who is something of a legend in the world Lakes Region fishermen, having been a long-time fishing guide on Lake Winnisquam and one of those master anglers profiled in Dr. Hal Lyon's 2003 book ''Fishing in the Smile of the Great Spirit.''
Martel said that his father began selling bait as a boy from his mother's grocery store at 88 Winnisquam Avenue in 1917 and later operated a water taxi service and boat rental agency before opening Martel's in the wake of the Great Hurricane of 1938.
Not long afterward, Martel's grandmother, who kept shop while his father caught bait, broke her hip. "I was 13, still in school at St. Joseph's," he recalled. "I left school to work in the shop. It was ice-fishing season and we had to keep the business going."
During World War II Martel joined the service and became a combat engineer, landing on Omaha Beach in Normandy on June 29, 1944, just three weeks after D-Day.
''I was one of only two guys in the unit who spoke French, so that was pretty handy. The beachhead was only a couple of miles deep when I arrived and we saw a lot of shelling and anti-aircraft fire at German planes overhead. It was like the 4th of July every night'' recalls Martel.
He remembers one close call in which a German Messerschmitt made a strafing run right towards him and he saw bullets tearing into the ground on both sides of him as he ran for cover. ''The pilot was so low I could see his face,'' recalls Martel, who found out later that day that the German aircraft had been tailed by an American P-51 fighter and was downed a short distance away.
He recalls working to build many Bailey bridges over rivers and streams to replace those taken by out American aircraft or destroyed by the retreating Germans and his unit went all the way into Germany during the final phases of combat.
Following the war he came home to Laconia in 1946 in resumed working with his father, who in addition to the bait business was also a licensed fishing guide. He also met his wife to be, Helen Blackey, who worked at the Lund Ski factory, just across the river from the bait shop.
He said that he and his wife lived on Court Street after getting married in 1950. But his father-in-law, who was a builder and carpenter, helped build them a house on Ridgewood Avenue where they have lived ever since.
Martel says that fishing was "fabulous" when he returned from the war. "I guided on the lake for 25 years and we caught all the fish," he says with a laugh.
He said that during those years, Lake Winnisquam supported the largest population of smelt in New England, and that the smelt were large and made great bait.
But fishing went south on Winnisquam during the 1960s, due in large part to the untreated sewage which entered the lake, causing algae blooms, which slowly sapped the lake of oxygen and caused large fish kills. Martel said when the the fishing turned sour after copper sulfate was applied to the lake in the mid-1960s to eliminate the algae.
"It ruined the lake and just about killed all the smelt. It almost put us out of business. I had to take people fishing on Lake Winnipesaukee because there wasn't anything to catch in Winnisquam,'' he recalls.
He said that it took Lake Winnisquam a long time to become a good fishing spot again but that it has never come back to what it was like in the 1950s. ''They stocked a lot of fish but the smelt never came back to where they used to be,'' says Martel.
In addition to fishing Martel was also was an avid hunter, having bagged 22 deer over the years
He sold the shop in 1985 but continued to work for a variety of new owners until five years ago when he retired.

CAPTION:
Bill Martel, long-time owner of Martel's Bait Shop, marked his 90th birthday yesterday. Not only has he been honored as a master angler but was also an avid deer hunter. He displays the antlers from one of the 22 deer he bagged while hunting in New Hampshire. (Roger Amsden/for The Laconia Daily Sun)

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 October 2014 01:11

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Gilford board to hold hearing on what to do with $67k health insurance refund

GILFORD — Town Administrator Scott Dunn said yesterday that town is receiving $66,659 in premium refunds for their health and dental insurance from HeathTrust, formerly known as the Local Government Center.

The selectmen are holding a public hearing October 8 and have expressed a desire to take $12,543 of the money and reimburse the insured employees and retirees for their fair share of the premiums they have paid for their insurance and deposit the balance of $54,166 in the general fun.

The refunds stemmed from excess premiums paid by New Hampshire communities from 2009 to 2011.

Dunn said yesterday that the town now uses Health Trust for its property and casualty insurance but gets it's health insurance from a different underwriter.

He said when the payouts were ordered by state regulators, the town opted to "take the cash" instead of using is as a credit against future insurance premiums

The Bureau of Securities Regulation found HealthTrust violated state law by collecting too much money from communities and improperly transferring assets from the health and dental insurance pool to subsidize other risk pools such as workers compensation and property and casualty insurance.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 01 October 2014 01:00

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Belknap County lawmakers agree to transfer funds

LACONIA — At a meeting that stretched for two-and-a-half hours last night, the executive committee of the Belknap County Convention last night approved requests of the Belknap County Commission to transfer more than $600,000 within the budget to maintain operations of the nursing home, county jail and sheriff's department. Only a request to transfer $2,000 to fund the salary , benefits and associated cost of the county administrator was denied.

"This was a circus," exclaimed Paula Child of Gilford, who said her husband is a resident of the nursing home. She rose to speak after the committee voted to adjourn the meeting, surprised that Representative Frank Tilton (R-Laconia) failed to offer members of the public an opportunity to speak. "I'm appalled at what I've seen here," she continued. "Appalled. You gave them a budget. Let them use it." Child was especially troubled by the committee's discussion of funding the wages of nurses at the nursing home. "Do any of you," she asked the committee, "have a license to run the nursing home?"

The meeting was convened to consider the requests for transfers prompted by the preliminary injunction issued by Justice James D. O'Neill, III of Belknap County Superior Court last month, which prohibits the Belknap County Commission from either spending in excess of any line-item appropriation of the budget adopted by the convention or transferring more than $300 from one line item to another without the approval of the Executive Committee.

While county officials anticipate more requests for transfers during the balance of the fiscal years, which ends on December 31, the most controversial issue promises to arise over health insurance for county employees. In adopting its budget, the convention declined to fund the annual increase in the employer's contribution to health insurance premiums. The commission held that it was bound by the its collective bargaining agreements with the State Employees Association (SEA) , which represents county employees, to fund the increase. Consequently, the commissioners transferred $237,654 from more than 100 lines in the budget to do so.

The commission's action prompted the litigation leading to the court order. As it happens, the Local Government Center, in the course of its settlement with political subdivisions, has granted the county a credit against its health insurance premium in 2014. Consequently, the commission is confident that applying the credit will enable the county to fully fund its share of health insurance without exceeding the amount appropriated by the convention.

However, Representative Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), who chairs the convention, served notice that what she called a "rebate" should be treated as an unanticipated revenue and not applied to offset expenses for health insurance.

Worsman was echoed by Representative Herb Vadney (R-Meredith) who insisted that any one-time money should be treated as a windfall and placed in a holding account, which could only be spent with the approval of the convention. Anything else, he suggested, "is not a proper use of money." Vadney called the discussion over transfers "playing in the weeds," stressing that health insurance is the paramount issue. "We want to know what's happening," he said.

Last Updated on Tuesday, 30 September 2014 01:29

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