Lost and found: Stolen, 17-ton excavator turns up in New York

04-21 recovered excavator

 This giant excavator was stolen in broad daylight from a work site in Belmont about a month ago. It has been found in New York, to the relief of owner John DeWare, a Belmont contractor. (Courtesy photo)


BELMONT — The owner of an expensive 17-ton excavator that went missing in late March expressed relief Friday after his big, yellow digging machine was found in New York state.

I've had a lot of help from friends who have been concerned and have been keeping their eyes open and trying to help me find this thing,” said Belmont-based contractor John DeWare. “Now everybody can put it to rest.”

The Volvo excavator is worth $75,000 in its present used condition. It is important to DeWare's building and site work business.

It's been an inconvenience and there has been some work I've not been able to do,” he said.

DeWare said it still may be quite a while before he gets his heavy equipment back. Police have custody of the machine while they investigate the case.

DeWare had offered a $1,000 reward. Once he is allowed to take custody of his excavator, he will have workers load it on a trailer and haul it back to Belmont so he can put it back to its digging duty.

Belmont police Lt. Richard Mann said a property owner in New York notified law enforcement that the machine had appeared on his land. Authorities checked serial numbers on the machine against a national database of stolen property and found it was the one stolen from Belmont.

Nobody has been arrested, but Mann said he is hopeful that one will be made. He declined to provide the exact location where it was found, saying he didn't want to hamper New York authorities in their investigation.

"New York police are actively investigating the matter to determine who had the machine and how it got to the state of New York," he said. "To preserve the integrity of the case, there are a number of details that cannot be provided at this time as to the vehicle's exact location and nature of its discovery."

Mann said he's glad the story of the stolen excavator has a happy ending. 

I like these stories to end like this one,” Mann said. “We get to call the owner and say the equipment has been found in one piece, in good condition. We're more than happy.”

Heavy equipment theft is a widespread problem, Mann said. The valuable machines are often left unattended at work sites, making them a valuable target for thieves who can get them started and loaded on a trailer.

The machine was taken from 151 Gilmanton Road, Route 140 in Belmont. It was reported stolen on March 29.

Police said the culprits apparently loaded the machine onto a trailer and removed it in broad daylight, perhaps thinking passersby would consider it regular commercial activity.

It did not have a key in it when it was stolen. It was parked at a residence where DeWare was preparing to start a job. 

Belknap County commissioners wrangle over money for new jail, sheriff’s office


LACONIA — Belknap County commissioners are planning to ask for a supplemental appropriation from the Belknap County Delegation.

But the amount of money they will be asking for has yet to be decided.

When they met Thursday afternoon, the commissioners were presented with requests from Corrections Superintendent Keith Gray for $147,315 in additional funds and from the Belknap County Sheriff's Department for an additional $92,998.

After the delegation cut funds from Gray's budget for four corrections officers on March 10, Gray said he could not open the corrections center and operate it safely without adequate staffing. He said the supplemental appropriation of $147,315 to his department's $3,814,227 budget would enable him to hire the four corrections officers on July 1.

Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy (R-Sanbornton) suggested waiting until Oct. 1 to hire the new officers as a compromise to gain support from the delegation. He said that would reduce the amount Gray needs to $74,000.

Commissioner Hunter Taylor, (R-Alton) urged sticking with the department's original request, maintaining that the delegation acted without full knowledge of the consequences of its budget cut and it was the delegation's job to fix it. "They own the problem. We don't," said Taylor.

Taylor said he would like to see some commitment from the delegation to fully staffing the 18,000-square-foot corrections center going forward into next year, pointing out that it would be difficult to hire people this year and then lay them off next year.

Commissioner Glen Waring (R-Gilmanton) said he wants to see a timeline for opening the center and hiring and training new personnel before committing to a dollar amount on the supplemental money. His position eventually was adopted and he will work with Gray to develop the timeline which will determine how much in additional funds will be requested for the corrections department.

Waring said it was important that the commissioners have a well-thought-out plan with documentation that will support the supplemental appropriation request.

Taylor said he supports that approach and said there are people on the delegation “who were ambushed by the Abear budget” which cut the four corrections officers and would support a supplemental budget request which restored them.

He was referring to the $27,487,463 Belknap County budget which was proposed by Rep. Marc Abear (R-Meredith), which cut the proposed budget by $545,804, and was approved by a 9-6 vote of the delegation on March 10.

“We are advancing a common sense program and will see reason prevail over ideology,” said Taylor.

Gray's letter to the commissioners says that a staffing analysis using U.S. Justice Department guidelines shows that a security staff of 34 would be required for maximum coverage for all shifts. The department currently has 23 security staff and Gray said adding four employees and the use of part-time officers would permit safe operation of the center.

Gray said that there would be major repercussions if the supplemental budget request is not approved. Without the new officers, he said parts of the current jail would need to remain in use and that female prisoners would have to be transferred to another county, which would cost $34,500 a month.

DeVoy said his main goal is to see the community corrections center open as planned.

“We need to do the right thing and get this in place,” he said, explaining why he offered a $74,000 compromise to Gray's $147,315 request.

Lt. David Perkins, chief deputy of the Belknap County Sheriff's Department, said the department's budget was cut by $161,381 with the major cut being the loss of a full-time deputy. The department is asking for $92,998  to  supplement its $2,037,092 budget so that it will be able to continue to provide services which it is mandated by state law to perform.

Commissioner Taylor has been holding discussions with local officials in nine Lakes Region communities which utilize the Sheriff's Department dispatch services to see if they will provide additional funds that will enable the department to make up for the shortfall. Delegation members have pointed out that dispatching is not one of the department's mandated services.


Attorney: Gilmanton Winery settlement talks would remain sealed in mediation


GILMANTON — Anyone interested in this town's often personal style of politics would delight in the civil trial pitting Marshall and Carol Bishop, owners of the Gilmanton Winery, against the town Planning Board.
But an attorney with the New Hampshire Municipal Association says a form of mediation ordered by the Belknap County Superior Court could render the deliberations toward a settlement off limits to the public.
"It is not a public process. You don't have a courtroom," said Stephen Buckley, legal services counsel for the New Hampshire Municipal Association.
On April 7, the Belknap County Superior Court ordered alternative dispute resolution, a form of mediation that seeks to save time and money, forge agreements that are more mutually satisfactory and stave off the time and costs of trials.
Judge James O'Neill ordered alternative dispute resolution, as part of a "case structuring" order that set out the potential calendar for the case.
By Aug. 31, the Bishops and a representative of the Gilmanton Planning Board must complete the form of mediation, according to the order.
When nearly all civil cases are settled without a trial, this form of mediation makes sense, said Buckley.
"The civil court system would literally fall apart if we didn't have mediation," he said.
Everything said or done during mediation is confidential, Buckley said. If these proceedings were public, no one would pursue mediation for fear of their words being used against them in an eventual trial.
Alternative dispute resolution started through the Superior Court system in 1996.
"It was designed to lessen the amount of cases that needed to go to trial," Buckley said.
"You can't even get to trial these days without showing you attempted to get to alternative dispute resolution," he said. "It's a very common way in which courts try to get parties to see that a trial is not in their best interest."
A settlement can save on attorney's fees and an outcome that isn't desired by one or both parties, Buckley said.
"There is a concept in our law, the concept is that if a party is going to reach an out-of-court settlement, the fact that someone has made an offer to settle, or settled, is not public," he said.
Alternative dispute resolution provides "a safe space" for people to talk about ways to reach a settlement, Buckley said.
"It is designed to be a space where people can discuss things without the fear of their words being used against them," he said.
The results of the process do become public, however.
"If the case is settled, the agreement has to be public," he said.
Chapter 91-A:4 of state law, "Minutes and Records Available for Public Inspection," reads, "Every agreement to settle a lawsuit against a governmental unit, threatened lawsuit, or other claim, entered into by any political subdivision or its insurer, shall be kept on file at the municipal clerk's office and made available for public inspection for a period of no less than 10 years from the date of settlement."
The Gilmanton Planning Board has asserted that the Gilmanton Winery has been operating "a full service restaurant with onsite food preparation without appropriate approvals from the Planning Board," according to a "respondent's answer and request for declaratory relief" at the Belknap County Superior Court.
The Bishops argued that the Planning Board waged a "public persecution" that damaged their reputations, especially to Marshall Bishop "because it raises the specter of impropriety given that he is an elected town official," a court filing reports.
The case took on political overtones because of Marshall Bishop's role as a town selectman.