Gunstock planning to add alpine coaster

GILFORD — Greg Goddard, general manager of Gunstock Mountain Resort said this week that an alpine coaster is slated to become the next attraction at the resort's Adventure Park. In March the Gunstock Area Commission endorsed the project and later this month will ask the Belknap County Convention for authority to borrow $2.6 million to build it.

An alpine coaster is a downhill ride built on mountainous terrain and that carries riders in carts running on rails, relying solely on gravity for speed. Riders can reach speeds of up to 25 miles-per-hour, but unlike on a roller coaster, they control their speed with a braking system fitted to the cart. Built between two feet and thirty feet above the ground, alpine coasters are not affected by rain and snow and can operate throughout the year.

Goddard said that the coaster will be built adjacent to the tubing hill and ski jumps. Looking up the hill, the track taking riders to the starting point will follow to the right of the roadway that serves the jumps, reservoir and cell tower. The downhill track will wind through the wooded area to the right of the uphill track, making two complete circles and several sharp turns along the balance of its length. The downhill track will be 2,660 feet long with a vertical drop of 221 feet and a maximum grade of 18 percent. A round trip will take between four and five minutes, leaving the same amount of time to load and unload passengers. With 40 carts, the coaster can carry 250 riders an hour.

It will take a year to construct the coaster, which Goddard expects to carry its first thrill seekers in July 2016.

Goddard explained that the development of the Adventure Park, with its spring and summer attractions has been the keystone of the resort's strategy to become a four season recreational destination. He pointed out that five million people visit the Lakes Region in the spring, summer and fall.  We have to get them off the lakes and on to the mountains," he said.

In 2010, total sales between May and October were $1 million, but since the opening of the Aerial Treetop Adventure Course, and Segway Off-Road Adventure Tours, they have more than doubled to $2.4 million in 2014. Altogether the Adventure Park has generated more than $5 million in direct sales while increasing collateral sales from retail operations, food and beverages, and chairlift rides.

However, Goddard described the market for warm weather activities like those offered at Gunstock as "crowded", as other ski areas in New Hampshire and New England have pursued a similar strategy. Moreover, he noted about half the summer visitors to Gunstock have been there before, which he said "suggests the need for something new every few years to provide a fresh experience and tempt the visitors to return".

The project is estimated to cost $2.6 million, of which the purchase of the coaster represents $1.5 million. Goddard anticipates that the coaster will operate at 25 percent of capacity in the summer and 30 percent of capacity on only Fridays, Saturdays and Sundays in the winter, when there are more visitors at the resort. Altogether the coaster is expected to carry nearly 85,000 riders a year. At an average ride price of $12, the coaster is projected to return an annual operating profit of $530,000, which is one-and-half times the highest annual debt payment. In other words, the coaster is forecast to more than pay for itself by a significant margin.

Gooddard said that the long-range plan foresees investing $21.5 million in all aspects of the resort's facilities and activities duriing the next decade. He pointed out that in 2000 Belknap County's equity in the resort was a negative $3.7 million while today it is a positive $9.5 million, a turnaround of $13.1 million.

Unsealed minutes show issue with nursing home director's e-mail was at heart of commission's non-public session dispute

LACONA — Belknap County Commissioners unsealed the minutes of non-public meetings held while Richard Burchell was serving as chairman in January and February, which they said should have been made public within 72 hours because motions were never passed to seal them.
Commissioner Hunter Taylor (R-Alton) initiated the process of having the unsealed minutes opened at Wednesday morning's meeting of the commissioners by pointing out that there were seven sealed envelopes on file and making a motion to have them opened and made public.
Taylor said that he had no recollection of any vote to seal any of the minutes of the non-public meetings and that keeping them sealed without having taken a vote to do so violated the state's Right-to Know law.
He was supported by Commission Chairman Dave DeVoy, (R-Sanbornton), who replaced Burchell as chairman of the commission at a March 2 meeting during which Burchell attempted to prevent his ouster by continually rapping the gavel and declaring that the other commissioners were out of order.
Two of the released non-pubic meeting minutes dealt with a February 23 meeting of the commissioners in which they heard a grievance filed by Belknap County Nursing Home Administrator Mathew Logue, which was denied by the commission majority of DeVoy and Taylor.
Burchell left that meeting while it was still in progress and, according to DeVoy, went directly to Logue and told him what was happening at the meeting.
At a June 4 meeting commissioners Taylor and DeVoy censured Burchell for leaking information from that non-public meeting to a county employee. DeVoy has said that the incident marked the beginning of the end of Burchell's tenure as chairman.
The minutes of the non-public meeting of Feb. 23 showed that Logue had filed a grievance maintaining that electronic mail communications were illegally taken from his work computer, depriving him of the opportunity to refute charges made against him by Belknap County Administrator Deb Shackett at a hearing of the Belknap County Personnel Committee on October 6, 2014.
Logue had been fired in August of 2014 by the former Belknap County Commissioners and had appealed his firing to the committee, which consisted of former Belknap County Convention Chairman Colette Worsman (R-Meredith), Vice Chairman Bob Greemore (R-Meredith) and Burchell, who at that time was a state representative from Gilmanton and clerk of the county convention.
The committee voted unanimously to reinstate Logue as nursing home administrator and denied a request from the former commissioners to reconsider the issue, which led to them filing a suit with the New Hampshire Supreme Court to overturn the reinstatement. But Burchell and DeVoy, who were the only two commissioners to take office in early January, voted to drop the appeal and reinstated Logue.
Taylor was appointed to the commission shortly thereafter by the Belknap County Convention and was the only candidate for the vacancy, which had been brought about by the resignation of former Commissioner Steve Nedeau (R-Meredith) who said that he was unable to work with the newly-elected commissioners.
Regarding a written statement on Logue's grievance, which he had filed with Burchell on Feb. 16, commissioners Taylor and DeVoy pointed out that Logue had not been denied a request for restoration of his work e-mail and had been directed by the county administrator's office to contact Mainstay Technologies, the county's information vendor, to inquire about the feasibility of restoring his e-mail history.
At the time that he filed his grievance the process of restoring his e-mail was already underway according to the two commissioners, who said that time requirement for filing a grievance is within five working days of an employee knowing that they have a grievance and that Logue, who had returned to work on January 8, had discussed the missing e-mails with Administrative Assistant Angela Bovill in mid-January. They concluded his grievance had not been filed on time and denied it.
The commissioners also said that Logue's conclusion that his e-mails were wrongfully taken had no evidence to support it as there was no hint of any intentional wrongdoing. Logue had been away from his work computer for four months but had received a e-mail file prior to the October 6, 2014 hearing containing all of his e-mail history.
''If anyone were inclined to sabotage Mr. Logue using his e-mails, such a nefarious act would almost certainly have been committed in advance of the Personnel Committee hearing to prevent Mr. Logue from using any e-mails helpful to his position.''
''In all likelihood the deletion of the e-mails after the hearing was a product of fastidiousness, rather than malice. It is hard to see how anyone had anything to gain by deletion of these e-mails after Mr. Logue prevailed at the hearing.''
As for allegations directed against the County Administrator, the commissioners said the lack of supporting evidence ''leaves us nothing to decide concerning this part of Mr. Logue's grievance.''
In what Burchell termed a minority report, he wrote to Logue that ''the board seemed not to want to establish an accurate timeline for your quest for the deleted e-mails'' and said that he had more accurate information then was presented by Commissioner Taylor.
Unsealed minutes for a Jan. 8 meeting show that Burchell and DeVoy discussed allegations of elderly abuse against a registered nurse who was at that time off duty because of an injury sustained at work. Three version of sealed minutes from a January 30 meeting show DeVoy and Taylor opposed to offering the nurse a $20,000 sum of money to end her relationship with the county.
At that same meeting Taylor said that it was in the best interest of the county to retain the county administrator in her current status.

'Drainage garden' planned for 'concerete courtyard'

LACONIA — A proposal to improve the drainage and landscape the space at the so-called "concrete courtyard" near the intersection of Pleasant Street and Main Street drew a warm reception from more than a dozen downtown business and building owners yesterday.

Known as "Water Street Extension", the area includes the paved space beginning at the shops along Vintage Row and extending past the McIntyre Building, which houses New England Porch Rockers, and along the of the vacant commercial space abutting Bootlegger's shoe store and Rent-A-Center.

The plan also includes improvements to the expanse of pavement on Main Street south of its intersection with Pleasant Street.

Michael Redding of Loureiro Engineering Associates, Inc. of Manchester has designed a series of what he called "drainage gardens," or landscaped islands bounded by walkways that will capture storm water to improve drainage. He explained that the design is intended not only to prevent water from pooling and ice forming forming on the pavement but also to create an inviting space for pedestrians and intimate venue for performing artists.

Redding said that the pavement will be pitched to direct the flow of water to drains placed among the plantings, where the water will be filtered before being captured and carried away by an underground pipe. The planted island would include benches as well as a table with seating for four. A second island would feature a pergola that Planning Director Shanna Saunders suggested could frame a juggler or musician.

Around the corner on Main Street the expanse of pavement is already broken by trees. Redding proposes enlarging the areas around the trees to capture more of the storm water falling on the pavement and to accommodate additional plantings and benches.

Robert Sawyer of Sawyers Jewelry suggested addressing the paved area that juts into the intersection opposite the stop sign on Main Street that some call "the thumb." He said that the entire intersection should be "softened" by reducing the unbroken expanse of pavement.

Warren Clement suggested that benches at the site should match those in Rotary Park and Stewart Park and expressed a strong preference for wooden, not metal, benches.

Dean Anson, who chairs the Conservation Commission, suggested extending the landscaping theme along Pleasant Street to Veterans Square.

Saunders doubted there would be sufficient funding to extend the scope of the project, which itself carries an estimated cost of $40,000. As a drainage project, funding will be drawn from the city budget , not the Downtown Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Fund. Saunders expected the project to be completed during the current construction season.

Wolfeboro traffic stop results in arrest for possession of two marijuana cigarettes

WOLFEBORO — Police working on a federally-paid speed enforcement grant arrested a Carroll County man for possession or marijuana after a traffic stop for an inspection issue.

Benjamin Marasco, 21, of Chocorua allegedly had two marijuana cigarettes in his car. Officers said they smelled marijuana and he allowed them to search his vehicle.

Marusco was released on personal recognizance bail and given a court day of August 5 in the 3rd Circuit Court, Ossipee Division.