Weirs may go underground - Panel backs buried utilities


LACONIA — After meeting Wednesday, the Weirs Tax Increment Financing (TIF) Advisory Committee unanimously agreed to recommend to the City Council that the overhead utility lines between Endicott Street and Tower Street at The Weirs be buried underground as part of the project to reconstruct and improve Lakeside Avenue.

The City Council will consider the recommendation when it meets on June 13. City Manager Scott Myers said that a decision to bury the utilities must be made in June to enable Eversource to start work in the fall as the timetable for the project prescribes.

Burying the utility lines would expand the scope of the project at an additional cost of $700,000. Moreover, removing the 14 utility poles would require replacing the 12 street lights hung from them. Since the existing lights are mounted 30 feet high and illuminate the width of Lakeside Avenue, replacing them will require lining both sides of the street with 50 LED lights mounted 16 feet high and spaced 75 feet apart at a projected cost of $250,000. Myers said that adding for design and contingencies would bring the total cost to $1,130,000.

Joe Driscoll questioned why the utilities were not proposed to be buried past the commercial properties along the block beyond Tower Street to Foster Avenue. "It's like burying the wires downtown and stopping at the Colonial Theatre," he remarked.

Myers said since there is less of a view of the lake beyond Tower Street, the wires are less obtrusive. But, above all, extending underground utilities another block would add 25 percent, or between $175,000 and $200,000 to the cost of the project.

The advisory committee agreed that 80 percent of the revenue accruing to the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District would be applied to servicing the debt incurred to bury the utilities and replace the street lighting. Myers anticipates that within five years the Weirs Tax Increment Financing District will be in a financial position to begin serving the debt, which in the meantime will be defrayed by the city with expectation of being reimbursed.

The "base project" consists of replacing the water main and improving the storm drainage and sanitary sewer then reconstructing the roadway with new new curbing and sidewalks between US Route 3 (Endicott Street North) and Tower Street, a distance of 2,200 feet. The cost of this work is estimated at $1 million, which is included in the proposed 2016-2017 municipal budget.

Planning board OKs construction of WOW Trail and dog park


LACONIA — The Planning Board this week approved construction of two amenities this week — the second phase of the Winnipesaukee-Opechee-Winnisquam (WOW) Trail and the Happy Tails Dog Park.

Following the decision of the City Council to eliminate the dedicated right turn lane from New Salem Street to Main Street as well as the 12 parking spaces on New Salem Street below the intersection with Plesant Street, the board approved the amended plan for the second phase of the WOW Trail. The second phase stretches some 5,000 feet from the Laconia Public Library to the Belmont Town Line, following the railroad right-of-way for virtually all of its length.

Only Bill Contardo expressed misgivings.

"It's not what you want to do, but how you want to get it done," he said, voicing concern at the treatment of abutting property owners. Allan Beetle, president of the WOW Trail committee, reminded Contardo that some abutters had treated land within the railroad right-of-way, which is owned by the state, as if it belonged to them and said that many hours were spent with them seeking to mitigate the impact of the trail on their property.

Beetle said that he expects construction to begin next month and be substantially complete by November.

The dog park would be sited on approximately two acres of a 25-acre rectangular tract between the end of Spruce Street and Growtth Road, which is owned by the city. The city acquired the land in 1976 with a grant from the Land and Water Conservation Fund, established by Congress in 1965, which the restricts the property to recreational uses.

Jon Rokeh of Rokeh Consulting of Chichester, who designed the park, said that originally he planned a flat graded rectangle divided into two abutting enclosures, one for large dogs and another for small dogs, and a third separate enclosure, for puppies. Instead, the existing terrain, with some thinning of the trees, will be enclosed by a six-foot fence within an oval, split into two sections, each approximately 250 feet by 100 feet, for small and large dogs, leaving the area for puppies at its original 20 feet by 60 feet unchanged. The dimensions of the park are relatively large compared to other municipal parks.

Rokeh told the board that doggy bags will be available from dispensers outside and inside the enclosures and the rules governing the park will be posted at the entrance. Kevin Dunleavy, director of parks and recreation, assured the Planning Board that city ordinances governing the management of dogs in city parks will apply to the dog park as well.

The park, which is between 200 and 300 feet from the nearest abutter, will be reached from the end of Growtth Road near the southern entrance to the Lakes Business Park, where a 20-foot gravel driveway would lead to a graveled parking lot with spaces for 20 vehicles. The park will not not be served by either water or electricity. The projected annual maintenance costs of between $1,500 and $2,000 will be borne by members of the Happy Trails Dog Park, who will also manage and police the facility.

A generous donation of $100,000 from the Lezama family of Laconia will finance construction of the park, which will bear the Lezama name, as well as endow a fund for its maintenance.

Presentation Plan Happy Tails

The plan for a dog park off Growtth Road in Laconia will have separate areas for small dogs, large dogs and puppies. (Courtesy graphic)

LRPC awarded $400,000 by EPA


MEREDITH — The Lakes Region Planning Commission has been awarded $400,000 by the United States Environmental Protection Agency to perform environmental assessments and prepare remedial plans for so-called "brownfield" properties in the 30 cities and towns in Belknap, Carroll, Grafton and Merrimack counties it serves.

As the Laconia City Council ponders the purchase of the the site of the former Laconia State School on North Main Street, which last housed a correctional facility, funding distributed by the EPA's Targeted Brownfields Program represents a significant factor in its final decision.

Jeff Hayes, executive director of the Lakes Region Planning Commission, said the Laconia State School site is among the high priority properties identified by the commission.

The 2016-2017 state budget directs the Department of Administrative Services to sell the Laconia State School property. The agency will list the property on the open market for approximately six months before granting the city an opportunity to exercise its right of "first refusal" to purchase it, if necessary by matching the highest and best offer submitted.

The EPA defines "brownfields" as abandoned or underutilized commercial or industrial properties, the redevelopment of which is hindered by real or perceived environmental contamination. The Lakes Region Planning Commission has identified some three dozen sites within the region, some that have been cleaned up, but most that are currently in the program, which are ranked in order of priority.

The process of preparing a brownfield property for redevelopment falls into three phases, beginning with a Phase I, or "screening assessment," which profiles the likely contaminants on the site based on the records of its past uses and observation of its current condition. A Phase II assessment, or "full site assessment," includes sampling to identify the extent and measure the level of contamination. Preparing a "remedial action plan," or RAP, to clean up the property is the last step in the process.

In 2010, Credere Associates of Westbrook, Maine, conducted a screening assessment of the Laconia State School property with some $200,000 in funding from the EPA. In 2012, Nobis Engineering Inc. of Concord, with funding from the EPA, assessed the Blood Building, one of some two dozen buildings on the site, and estimated the cost of removing or remediating hazardous materials before razing the structure at between $225,000 and $365,000. A year later, Credere Associates projected the cost of cleaning up the entire property could fall between $2 million and $3 million.

The city need not own the property to apply for funds to assess it, but must own the property to apply for funds to clean it up. The EPA can contribute up to $350,000 for a Phase II environmental assessment of the property, which Credere Associates anticipates will be sufficient to assess the entire site.

The EPA Brownfields Cleanup Program awards grants of up to $200,000 per property parcel for as many as three parcels a year, with a 20 percent local match in cash or kind. By subdividing the contaminated portion of the site into three separate parcels, the city could apply for as much as $1.2 million in a two-year period to fund clean up at the site. In addition, the EPA provides grants of up to $1 million to municipalities and economic development corporations, like the Belknap Economic Development Council, to capitalize revolving loan funds, which provide low or no-interest loans to for-profit and nonprofit entities for cleanup operations.