Daily Sun partnerning with Meredith committee to mark town's 250th birthday

MEREDITH — The 250th Anniversary Celebration Committee has entered a partnership with The Laconia Daily Sun to finance and promote the activities and festivities that will mark the sestercentennial in 2018 and make it a year to remember in Meredith and throughout the Lakes Region.

Steve Durand, master of the Wicwas Lake Grange and chairman of the committee, said yesterday that the budget for the celebrations is expected to fall between $40,000 and $50,000. The Greater Meredith Program (GMP) has accepted the responsibility for financing and organizing the celebration and convened the committee to lead the planning and fundraising efforts. Durand said nearly 30 residents and town employees have volunteered and at least half that number attend the regular meetings on the fourth Monday of each month.

Durand said that the Wicwas Lake Grange began by pledging to donate $250 in each of the four years leading to 2018 and challenged individuals, businesses and organizations to follow suit. He said that 25 donors have accepted the challenge, representing total pledges of $25,000. The Board of Selectmen appropriated $5,000 for the celebration in the 2016 budget and, Durand said, will likely be asked for another contribution.

Meanwhile, to boost the fundraising campaign and support the celebration itself, The Daily Sun has contributed $25,000 worth of in-kind services, consisting primarily of advertising space, to the committee to solicit donations and advertise events. "We need lots of PR," said Durand, "This is a win-win for us." He said that the publicity provided by the newspaper will help the committee to raise funds as well as promote the celebration. He explained that in 2018 every month will be highlighted by a special event staged by a different sponsor.

At the same time, The Daily Sun will publish a hardbound book recalling the experience of Meredith in photographs and words from the 18th to the 21st century. Modeled after a similar venture undertaken in Concord, the book promises to be among the most popular of the mementos offered for sale in the celebratory year. The newspaper will bear the cost of publishing the book and retain the proceeds from its sale.

Adam Hirshan, publisher of The Daily Sun, said that the partnership offers a unique opportunity for the paper to develop a closer relationship with the town by contributing to its 250th anniversary celebration. "We look forward to working with the committee and others in the community to ensure the success of this venture," he said.

Durand said that arrangement will provide committee with resources it needs when it needs them while the book will add an extra dimension to the celebration while offering the paper an opportunity to share in its success.

Belknap County added to firewood quarantine because of emerald ash borer

LACONIA — Belknap County has recently been added to the fire wood quarantine list for the emerald ash borer after one was found in a trap in Gilmanton in late June and was confirmed as such by the federal government on July 7.

Piera Siegert of the Division of Plant Industry of the N.H. Dept. of Agriculture, Markets and Food said a second ash borer was found in the same trap about a week later.

With the addition of Belknap County, there are now four counties that are included in the firewood quarantine, with Hillsborough, Merrimack and Rockingham Counties already on the list.

"Our goal," said Siegert, "is to facilitate the movement of the ash trade without facilitating the trade of the ash borer."

The emerald ash borer was originally found in Michigan in 2002 and is now in 25 states including Connecticut and Massachusetts said Siegert. Firewood can be moved throughout areas that are in the quarantine but not out of the area.

"(It) is the poster child for insects moving around," she said adding not because the insects themselves move around but because ash trees make good firewood and firewood moves around.

University of New Hampshire Cooperative Extension Forester Andy Fast said ash borers can fly about two miles with the wind but will typically stay in a host tree once they've found it.

He said firewood is likely the way the emerald ash borer got to New Hampshire and restricting the movement of firewood from Belknap and other quarantined counties is one way to contain it. Firewood from non-quarantined counties can come into Belknap County but not the other way around.

Fast said kiln dried firewood from companies with the proper certifications is exempt from the quarantine, but also noted that firewood producers are often owner-operators and small producers.

He also said that relatively speaking, New Hampshire doesn't have a lot of ash because our soil is acidic and dry and ash trees prefer moist and basic soil. Fast said the amount of ash increases nearer the Connecticut River Valley and Vermont because of soil type.
Siegert said many communities have planted ash trees along the sides of the road after Dutch elm disease eradicated all of the elm. She said those communities should routinely monitor their ash trees as should people who have them in their yards.

As to detection, Siegert said it's difficult and one should look at the tree and not for the bright green bug. "There's hundreds of bright green bugs in the world," she said.

She said the first notable sign of emerald ash borer infestation is a thinning of the crown or the leaves at the top of the tree. She added that an ash tree with green sucker shoots standing straight up from the base of the tree are another classic sign.

Adult emerald ash borers drill a microscopic hole in the tree and lay their eggs. As the eggs hatch and the larve emerges in the late spring, the larve eat the cambium layer or the layer just under the bark and Siegert said that's what kills the tree. As the larve grow into adults, they bore their way out of the tree leaving a "D" shaped pattern in the bark.

She said infested trees attract woodpeckers who peck the bark off the tree to get to the larve. As the woodpeckers strip the bark, there is "blonding" or parts of the tree that are lighter than the rest of it.

"This is a really good sign there are ash borers," she said, noting it takes three to five years to kill a tree but as its strength becomes more and more compromised, the tree gradually gets more unstable and can fall in a storm.

For people who have ash trees, she said they should determine if the tree adds to their property value. If it adds value, use insecticide on the infected portion and the chemical should be based on the size of the tree.

For those with ash in wooded areas, she suggests a thinning, meaning a selective harvest that takes the biggest trees in defined areas.

"If you chose to do nothing (the tree) will come down on the beetle's schedule not yours," she said.

There is a public information meeting on the emerald ash borer at the Belknap County Complex conference room on July 21 from 4 to 6 p.m.

Staffing new jail will add $454k to county budget

LACONIA — Staffing a proposed 64-bed community corrections facility is estimated to add $454,193 in first year costs to the current Belknap County Corrections Department budget according to a consulting firm hired by the county to develop programs for the facility.
Kevin Warwick and Ross Cunningham of Alternative Solutions Associates Inc. told members of the Beknap County Jail Planning Committee when it met Wednesday morning that staffing the new facility will requre six new members of the corrections staff, one of whom would be a supervisor, with the other new workers splitting the 168-hours per week work schedule which envisions one staffer at a time working in the new facility.
Also required for the proper functioning of the new facility would be a part-time clerk.
Cunningham, who is currently the assistant superintendent of the Merrimack County House of Corrections and the former superintendent of the Sullivan County Corrections Department, whose facility serves as a model for the programs being developed by Belknap County, said that the county should retain all of its current staffing positions in the older part of the current jail.
''You need to operate it (current jail) at current staffing levels until you see how things work out. Give it a year before you make any changes,'' he urged the committee.
He and Warwick also discussed program staff needs which were estimated to be four people, one case manager and three clinicians, who would provide programs designed to help inmates transition back into the community.
Warwick said that the county should contract with community providers for those positions, rather than hie additional staff, and that many those positions might qualify for federal grants through the Second Start program at least in their initial phase.
He said that not only would the county save money by not taking on health insurance costs for those providers, but it would also benefit by having them provide services on-site.
County Commissioner Dave DeVoy, who is chairman of the jail planning committee, said that he is hopeful that grant funding would be available for the program provider positions, which are estimated at $60,000 a year per per provider, which would add $240,000 a year to staffing costs, pushing the total increase in staffing costs to around $700,000.
Both Warwick and Cunningham said that of the provider positions are not filled it could mean that as many as 10 additional full-time jail staffing positions would be needed in order to adequately supervise the community corrections facility. They also said that over time there would be a 35 to 40 percent reduction in recidivsim, which will help the county lower its overall incarceration costs.
They urged the county to begin looking for grants for those provider positions while the new building is being constructed.
Plans call for 35 to 40 inmates to be housed in the old jail section, parts of which would rehabbed — with a 1954 wing being abandoned.
Project Manager Anthony Mento of SMP Architecture of Concord, the architectural firm which is designing the facility, and SMP President Eric Palson presented updated plans for the new facility, which will be a single-story wood-frame structure with gabled roofs for the entryways and clerestory windows allowing natural light to enter the hallways.
Public access to the corrections facility would be through a south-facing, covered entry which would be reached from a parking lot located off from the current driveway to the Belknap County complex. The proposed site plan also contains a separate entry road into the county complex for service vehicles only, near Lexington Drive, which would separate public traffic from service vehicles for a better traffic flow.
The new entryway will require approval from the city of Laconia before it can be built.
A sallyport (secure drive-through) will be connect the proposed new facility with the current jail, which would see parts of a 1987 addition repurposed and would keep alive an option for future expansion off from the 1987 addition.
Mento said that re-purposing some of the old jail will allow the incorporation of elements originally planned for the community corrections facility, such as training and exercise rooms, into the old jail and reduce the cost of the new facility in order to meet the $7 million limit set by County Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy for the project.
Yesterday's presentation was originally designed for all three members of the county commission but only DeVoy showed up for the meeting. Commissioner Richard Burchell (R-Gilmanton) said that he was aware of the meeting because it was on the county web site but missed it due to a car problem. Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) said that he was either not aware of the meeting or had forgotten abut it. Neither of the commissioners were contacted directly by any member of the jail planning group about the meeting.

Former-church-property developer insists he is solid citizen, takes aim at Planning Board chairman

LACONIA — Peter Morrissette of PEM Real Estate, LLC, the owner of what was St, Helena Mission Church at The Weirs, Church, has taken strong exception to remarks made by residents of the neighborhood before the Zoning Board of Adjustment earlier this week, which he charged misrepresented his intentions and impugned his character.

Morrissette asked the ZBA to grant a variance entitling him to use the former church as an indoor storage facility, a use that is prohibited in the Shorefront Residential Zone. The board deferred its decision at least until August pending the advice of legal counsel.

Meanwhile, Morrissette said yesterday that members of the Pendleton Recreation Group and Pendleton Beach Association, particularly Warren Hutchins, "made me out to be some sort of criminal."

"I'm a good citizen," Morrissette insisted. "I do what I'm supposed to do."

Speaking against the requested variance, Hutchins said that a recreational vehicle and Jeep, both bearing 'for sale" signs, were recently displayed on the former church property, contrary to the code. The grass, he said, had been mowed only once this summer.

Hutchins wife, Mary, claimed that Morrissette has "never shown goodwill toward what the area is zoned for or for the people within it.

Likewise, Harvey Moses, president of the Pendleton Beach Assocation said his members are "very, very concerned that the applicant may overstep."

"You couldn't get a worse person to represent the city of Laconia than Warren Hutchins," Morrissette bridled, referring to the fact Hutchins chairs the city's Planning Board. "He's arrogant, everything you don't want as an image of Laconia."

Morrissette was especially troubled that although Hutchins claimed to be speaking only for himself and his neighbors, he reminded the ZBA that he is the chairman of both the PLanning Board and the Lakes Region Planning Commission. "He can't have it both ways," Morrissette said.

In his defense, Hutchins said that at numerous workshops sponsored by the New Hampshire Municipal Association and other professional organizations, he has been told that whenever he addresses a public agency, board or commission in a personal capacity he must disclose his official positions as well as disclaim that he is speaking in his official capacity. "As chairman of the Planning Board, I don't surrender my rights as a property owner," he explained.

Morrissette said that the vehicles Hutchins mentioned appeared on the property without his permission or knowledge and have been removed. At the same time, he claimed that the grass on all his properties in the city, including the grass at St. Helena Mission Church, is routinely mowed every two weeks.

Morrissette lives in Gilford and said that he and wife have planted and maintained the traffic island at the entrance to Glendale for the past six years. In addition, he noted that he has invested nearly $3,000 in collecting litter along the Laconia Bypass, including the off and on ramps, from Belmont to Gilford for the past three years. And, Morrissette said, that he has raised more than $210,000 to control milfoil at Smith Cove on Lake Winnipesaukee over the past seven years. "And they're ripping me in the newspaper about not mowing the grass!" he exclaimed.

In addition to being a significant Laconia property owner — he said he pays about $60,000 in property taxes to the city each year, Morrissette owns to local businesses, Joyce Janitorial Service and Lakes Region Party and Gift.

Morrissette explained that when he purchased the church property for $185,000 in December 2014, the city set its assessed value at $905,000. Since then the assessment has been reduced to only $702,000, leaving Morrissette with a tax bill for more than $15,000. He said he will seek an abatement while also pursuing the variance.

"The building is just a box," he said, adding that using it as a storage facility would have no impact on the neighborhood while enabling him to pay the property taxes until he could plan to develop the property.

"They're bugging me everywhere," Morrissette said of the residents opposition his requested variance.

This is not Morrissette's first confrontation with the planning process. In 2013, when he demolished a house that had stood empty for more three years on Washington Street to build three duplex units, the Planning Board insisted that three large oak trees, including one overhanging an eventual home stay in place. Acorns falling from the tree caused $1,700 worth of damage to a resident's car and Morrissette then spent another $600 trimming the tree. He has filed suit against the city to recover his expenses.

"I'm drawing a line in the sand," Morrissette said flatly. He vowed that if the ZBA denies the requested variance, he will appeal the decision to the Belknap County Superior Court. In the meantime, he said that he would fence the property with "the ugliest bright orange snow fence I can find and hang big 'No Trespassing' signs on it."

He pointed out that for years parents in the neighborhood have used the church's front porch as a school bus stop shelter and he has allowed the practice to continue, to this point.

Hutchins said that he is "not bothered" by Morrissette's remarks. However, he added that if Morrissette choose to construct homes on the former church property, where six single-family or 20 condominium units would be permitted, he doubted there would be any resistance from the neighbors. "This is a residential area," he said. "If he follows the normal approval process, I don't think there would be any opposition."