Report: Laconia's amenities are difficult for people to use or benefit from

LACONIA — Measured in square miles, Laconia is among the smallest cities in the state, but Plan NH, a volunteer team of architects, engineers and consultants , has highlighted the shortcomings of the transportation network between and within the three major components of the city — downtown, Lakeport and The Weirs — in a report submitted to the Planning Department last week.

Plan NH was engaged to contribute to the project called "Re-Imagine Laconia," undertaken with the support of the Orton Family Foundation and New Hampshire Charitable Foundation in anticipation of updating the city's Master Plan in 2017. In August, the team met with city officials, major stakeholders and community leaders, toured downtown, Lakeport and The Weirs, and held a design charette to sound the public.

The team identified four challenges, of which the dispersion of attractions and amenities among what a similar team from United States Environmental Protection Agency identified in 2007 as "the three villages" applied to the entire city. At The Weirs, the team found that the "economic push-pull of Bike Week creates a complex development environment." Downtown, they said, bears the legacy of urban renewal as well as serving as the regional hub, "absorbing the problems of surrounding towns." And Lakeport, riven by Union Avenue, they said lacks "a strong identity."

"What struck the team on its orientation tour," the report noted, " was how difficult it could be to get from place to place, and thus how unlikely it would be for a resident to go from one place where he or she lived or worked to another. Put another way, it continued, "because of the weak transportation network in and around Laconia, many residents do not benefit directly from the wonderful amenities in their own city." Specifically, the report recommends a transportation strategy that complements reliance on motor vehicles with sidewalks, bicycle lanes and public transportation.

The team recommends not only completing the Winnipesaukee-Opechee-Winnisquam (WOW) Trail, but also incorporating it into a wider system of pathways and lanes. As a tourist destination, The Weirs would be better served by an infrastructure more conducive to foot traffic. Calming and realigning traffic, accompanied by enhanced lighting and landscaping, on Beacon Street West, especially at Veterans Square, and Beacon Street East would provide a more welcoming environment for pedestrians downtown. At Lakeport, the team suggested a "pedestrian centered intersection" at the junction of Union Avenue and Elm Street while encouraging commercial development that would create a focal point for the neighborhood.

"Few communities in our state have an identity so complex," the team remarked, suggesting that each of the three "villages" has a distinct character. While they noted that each offers "extraordinary amenities," they explained their focus on transportation by stressing "these amenities must be accessible to all or they will not serve to attract or retain residents and visitors."

Planning Director Shanna Saunders was pleased with the emphasis on "connectivity" and said "it is always valuable to have a new set of eyes take a look." She said that report will inform the section of the Master Plan addressing land use.

The full report is available online at www.reimaginelaconia.org and will be the subject of forums and meetings to be scheduled at different venues in the city.

Life-saving training - Narcan kits given to the public along with hands-on demonstration

Narcan kit demoLaconia Deputy Fire Chief Sean Riley helps a woman learn how to administer Narcan at an event Monday where the kits were given for free. (Michael Kitch/for The Laconia Daily Sun)LACONIA — "Naloxone or Narcan is not a silver bullet, but it saves lives," said Deputy Fire Chief Sean Reilly, to open an event at the Beane Conference Center yesterday, at which hands-on instruction in administering Narcan was offered, along with Narcan kits, to anyone fearing that they or others may be at risk of a fatal overdose of an opiate.

Reilly explained that the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services purchased 4,500 Narcan kits to be distributed in each of the 13 regional public health networks in the state.

"We decided rather than just hand out the kits that we would offer some training in their use and bring in other resources to provide information on treatment and recovery," he said, adding that 42 kits were distributed and nearly as many people trained in their use.

The Lakes Region Partnership for Public Health hosted the event, which included representatives from Horizons Counseling Center, LRGHealthcare, Genesis Behavioral Health, ServiceLink of Belknap County, Health First Family Care Center and Stand-Up Laconia as well as Eric Adams, the Prevention, Enforcement and Treatment officer of the Laconia Police Department.

An overdose of an opiate, whether from illicit heroin or prescription medication, attacks the part of the brain that regulates respiration, causing breathing to become slow and shallow. As breathing slows, levels of carbon dioxide in the body are elevated, further slowing and ultimately stopping the breathing and heart rates. Reilly said that a person suffering an overdose will be unresponsive and have shallow breath, slow pulse, pinpoint pupils, pale skin, and blue lips or fingernails. Narcan reverses the acute effects of the opiate and restores normal breathing.

Reilly emphasized that a person faced with an apparent overdose before doing anything the very first thing a person faced with an apparent overdose should do is call 911 seeking emergency medical assistance. He explained that since Narcan is only effective for a matter of minutes, an overdose may recur after its restorative effect is exhausted.

Then, ensuring the airway is clear and pinching the victim's nose, breathe twice into their mouth before administering half a dose of Narcan into each nostril. Once Narcan has been administered, the rescue breathing should be continued every five or six seconds until the victim awakens or medical assistance arrives. If the victim fails to respond in three to five minutes, the second dose of Narcan should be administered.

The kits contain two doses of Narcan and a nasal atomizer, together with illustrated directions for preparing the Narcan. 

"The steps are quite simple," Reilly said, "but they're not intuitive. That's why we want people to have hands-on training"

Reilly said that 42 people attended the event and more than half the 100 Narcan kits were distributed. He noted that Narcan is available over the counter without a prescription at Rite Aid pharmacies.

"I'm glad to have it at hand," one woman said. "But, I hope I never have to use it."

A second event will be held in Franklin at the Besse Rowell Community Center on Thursday, Feb. 11, from 5 to 6:30 p.m.

Mind the ice, stay upright and dry

ice drill in LaconiaPlatoon 3 of the Laconia Fire Department conducts an ice drill on Lake Opechee on Monday. LFD responded to seven calls last year for people that fell through the ice. (Photo courtesy of Laconia Fire Department)

LACONIA — Along with the cold and seasonal illnesses, winter has another health hazard to unleash: ice. Laconia Fire Chief Ken Erickson said his department will respond to many calls for people who get hurt just trying to cross their driveway. He's even more concerned about calls that require his firefighters to rescue people who test the frozen surfaces of lakes a little too early.

"We respond to slips and falls a lot," Erickson said.

A slip on the ice is something many older people fear each winter, and with good reason. A hard fall could lead to a lasting injury, one which could result in lessened mobility for the rest of the season. Erickson also worries about his firefighters falling on ice, especially because they might be working at a house fire or car accident, where walking on the ice is a part of the job.

"One of the simplest solutions is sand, one of the easiest solutions is learning how to walk on the ice." Erickson said firefighters are trained to plant their feet flat on the walking surface, and to shorten their gait, steps that will maximize traction and minimize the chance that a foot will slip out from underneath. He also suggested using ice cleats, available at most local hardware stores, which can easily be fitted over a shoe or boot, and provide great traction on slippery surfaces.

While others might be worried about ice on walkways, it's the ice on lakes that causes Erickson greater concern. Especially now that it's seasonably cold and windy, and ice is beginning to form on lakes. It might feel like it's safe to be on the lakes, but Erickson said it will be at least a couple of weeks until the ice is thick enough to support people.

In 2015, the Laconia Fire Department responded to seven calls for rescues of people that fell through the ice.

"There is ice out there, but it is not safe. It is going to take a lot of cold weather for these big lakes to freeze."

The rain that fell on Sunday would have added a lot of warm water to the lakes, Erickson noted, and the wind prevents ice sheets from covering open water. His water rescue team was recently training on Lake Opechee, which he said had about two inches of ice near the shores and shallower areas. The ice is thinner where the water gets deeper, so someone could step on the ice near the shore, think they'll be safe, then walk out to where the ice is thin. Lake Opechee is of particular worry because of its proximity to Laconia Middle School.

"One of the concerns we have at this time of year is kids seeing the ice forming," he said. "It is definitely a dangerous time of year to be out there... Parents need to reinforce that with their children."

If you should fall through the ice, Erickson said the best strategy is to try and get back on the ice you were on immediately before falling in. Crawl out of the water if possible, but don't struggle for several minutes if it's too difficult to get back onto the ice, because using up all your energy will lead to a quicker onset of hypothermia. Get at least your torso out onto the ice and wait for help. Erickson added, chances of survival will be helped if you aren't alone.

"Hopefully, someone saw you and called 9-1-1 and we can come get you and pull you out."