State's stormwater, wastewater systems panned by engineers

FRANKLIN — An organization of civil engineers gave thumbs down to the maintenance of the state’s infrastructure, with lowest grades going to the state’s stormwater and wastewater treatment systems.
But the administrator of the Franklin Wastewater Treatment Facility, which handles wastewater from 10 communities, including Laconia, defended the condition of infrastructure at the plant.
In the April 5 report, a 2017 Report Card for New Hampshire’s Infrastructure, the American Society of Civil Engineers found New Hampshire lagging when it comes to maintaining infrastructure such as roads, bridges, airports, dams and other facilities key to everyday life.
Stormwater and wastewater treatment each received a D plus, the lowest grade of any type of infrastructure rated in the report. In the case of stormwater facilities, the organization for the first time gave a ranking to these systems that handle runoff and surface water.
“This is the first time that we’ve ever graded stormwater. It coming out as a D plus is not surprising,” said Logan Johnson, chair of the Report Card for New Hampshire’s Infrastructure.
“There’s more of a recognition that stormwater is an environmental issue,” Johnson said. “Before it was: We need to put the water somewhere. But now we’re looking at it as: This causes water pollution.”
“The demands on municipal stormwater management continue to increase,” the report summarizes, “with aging stormwater infrastructure handling greater flows than they were originally designed for.”
The report also downgraded New Hampshire’s wastewater treatment facilities.
“That actually decreased from C minus in 2011 to D plus this year,” Johnson said. “That’s a big jump. Making that jump was a clear distinction.”
New Hampshire’s wastewater collection systems date back to the 1870s, she said, and noted that only 35 percent of wastewater in the state is served by collection systems.
“Because so many people don’t use it, they’re saying, ‘Why am I paying for this?’ It’s basically been ratepayers paying for the infrastructure and severely underpaying,” Johnson said.
The report concludes, “Wastewater infrastructure assets were not designed to serve today’s population, do not meet new regulatory requirements, and are not replaced at the end of their lifespan, resulting in increased costs and rising probability of failure.”
But Sharon McMillin, administrator of the Winnipesaukee River Basin Program at the Franklin Wastewater Treatment Facility, said the plant has received regular maintenance.
"We have been doing upgrades and we're on board with where we need to be with the regulatory and environmental aspects," she said.
"We're a 35-year-old facility, and we have done upgrades in that period of time," McMillin said.

Under a 10-year improvement plan, the facility is not scheduled for any major, multi-million dollar improvements, McMillin said.

The engineers' report pointed to deficiencies with wastewater systems across the state, but McMillin said, "We're in much better shape. I'd say we're probably in the B to B plus range."

Newly elected Gov. Chris Sununu told legislators that infrastructure spending is a priority. Any surplus beyond increasing the state's rainy day fund to $100 million will be placed in a proposed new Infrastructure Revitalization Fund, Sununu said in February while presenting a $12.1 billion budget for fiscal years 2018 and 2019.
Yet the 2017 Report Card from the American Society of Civil Engineers graded the state’s infrastructure a “C” overall and reported that the state is playing catch-up on funding.
A study in 2011 through the New Hampshire Legislature estimated $1.7 billion in documented needs for wastewater system improvements, Johnson said.
“They have the data that talks about the funding need, and that’s half the battle,” Johnson said.
The report, last compiled in 2011, looked at 12 categories of infrastructure. Besides stormwater and wastewater systems, the areas ranked by engineers included aviation (C plus), bridges (C minus), dams (C minus), drinking water systems (C minus), energy (C plus), hazardous waste (C), ports (D plus), rail (C minus), roads (C-) and solid waste (C plus).
The elephant in the room, Johnson said, was the impact from climate change.
“It’s one of those things we’re looking at. You can’t ignore it,” she said.
More erratic and frequent floods and variations in weather, such as the drought last year, can put pressure on systems, such as drinking water networks, exacerbating a problem already worsened by lagging funding, Johnson said.
“We know the financial needs outstrip state funding,” she said. “The purpose of this report is really to be a tool for residents to open the conversation with their legislators.”
Highlights include:
    •    • New Hampshire passed a 4.2-cent/gallon gas tax increase in 2014, which helps to offset some of the costs from 20 years of deferred investment, however there are still unmet needs. The effectiveness of a gas tax continues to decline as vehicle mileage per gallon and alternative fuel vehicles continue to erode the revenue generated.
    •    Airport capital investment needs for the next 20 years exceed the available funding by $100 million to $200 million.
    •    Nearly 80 percent of all state-owned bridges were built prior to 1980. As of December 2015, 12.8 percent of the bridges in state were considered structurally deficient.
    •    Dams that are not maintained in good operational order can fail and cause loss of life and economic damage. Sixty percent of New Hampshire dams were built before modern dam safety engineering standards were developed.
    •    Much of the current energy infrastructure – including distribution systems, source of supply infrastructure, water treatment facilities, and pumping facilities – is in need of upgrades or replacement, with a 10-year investment need of approximately $857 million.
“The more that we can talk about how to fund these projects, the better off we will be in the future,” Johnson said.
ASCE State and Regional Infrastructure Report Cards are modeled after the national Infrastructure Report Card, which gave America’s infrastructure a grade of D plus last month. To view the full New Hampshire report, visit


Two months after representative quits, towns in no hurry for replacement


BRISTOL — It's been nearly two months since Rep. Jeff Shackett resigned, and town leaders in his district are in no hurry to replace him.

Local Democratic party officials say his absence leaves a significant void and that a special election should be scheduled as soon as possible.

Shackett (R-Bridgewater) quit about a month after being sworn in for his fourth term. He said personal business travel requirements had increased so much that he could no longer serve.

The Plymouth Area Democrats Board of Directors sent a letter to The Laconia Daily Sun urging voters to demand an election.

"Do you live in Ashland, Alexandria, Bristol, Bridgewater, or Grafton? If so, Jeff Shackett's resignation from the New Hampshire Legislature has left you under-represented in Concord," the letter said. "With many important issues coming up in this term — Northern Pass, to name just one — that isn't something you should accept.

"The Plymouth Area Democrats understand that the affected towns may be hesitant to incur the cost associated with a special election, but we believe that the price of having a diminished voice in the Legislature outweighs that cost. No matter the party of the candidate who wins the election, our citizens deserve representation."

In the Nov. 8 general election, Shackett, who was the top vote-getter, and Robert Hull, an incumbent Republican, were selected to represent Grafton District 9. Joshua Adjutant, a Democrat, finished 184 votes behind Hull.

Adjutant said he will run the next time there is an election for the position.

"It's unfair to the community that voted for two state representatives to be shortchanged so early on," he said. "We still have the Northern Pass and the budget to deal with."

Northern Pass is a controversial project to run power lines through a section of New Hampshire that includes Grafton County.

"It's not really fair to the 8,000 people who voted when so many critical issues are revolving around the Newfound Community," Adjutant said.

If a board of selectmen in a town in the district formally supports a special election, the recommendation would advance to the secretary of state's office. The state would provide the ballots and the towns would provide the polling places and the required staffing.

The secretary of state's office and local town officials did not have an estimate on costs.

Adjutant said he has heard estimates of a total cost of $5,000, to be divided among the towns.

Bristol Selectman Paul Manganiello said he favors a special election but his board has yet to vote on the issue. No town has expressed support.

"My personal opinion is, 'Yes, I feel we all need to be represented in Concord,"' he said.

He said he was surprised by Shackett's resignation and wonders why the representative didn't know about any conflicting private job responsibilities before he was elected.

"It seems odd, 30 days into a new representative body and a member resigns," Manganiello said.

For his part, Shackett said he has been traveling to Texas, Louisiana and Mississippi as part of new and increased responsibilities to assist his wife in an environmental services company.

He also runs his family's seasonal grocery store, where he said he often discusses government issues with customers at the meat counter.

He noted that in Concord, he was one of 400 representatives.

"The degree of impact one person can have varies," he said.

He also said he understands that it can be a financial hardship for small communities to hold a special election.

If no special election is scheduled, the position may be filled in the 2018 election cycle, which has a Nov. 6 general election.

The New Hampshire Legislature's yearly session runs from January to the start of July.

Republican state Chairwoman Jeanie Forrester said it's up to the towns to decide if they want to have a special election.

"We have faith in local leaders to determine what is in their best interest," she said. "Some good Republicans have expressed interest in running and we will be prepared to keep the seat Republican if the towns decide to incur the expense."


Fire chief: Overtime costs could be cut by hiring firefighters


LACONIA — The fire department could potentially shave about $100,000 off its yearly overtime expense if it could hire four new firefighters to supplement its current staff, Fire Chief Ken Erickson said Wednesday.

But the savings on overtime wouldn't be nearly enough to pay salary and benefit packages for four new people, the chief said.

Still, he is asking for the additional firefighters in his budget request, saying he feels it is the right thing to do from a public safety perspective.

I'm always looking at increasing the level of service we provide,” he said. “The City Council wants to save money. I'm looking at this saying, 'We need to increase the level of service and we need to increase the umbrella of safety.”'

Budget requests from all departments will be considered by the City Council as it goes through its yearly budget process this spring and summer. A proposed budget prepared by City Manager Scott Myers does not call for additional staffing. The city is operating under a tax cap that this year allows for only a minimal increase in spending.

Overtime is a perennial issue in budget discussions.

A city report on wages showed the 40-person fire department had about $600,000 in overtime last year, but Erickson said this statistic is deceptive and that a news report on it in Saturday's Laconia Daily Sun has been demoralizing for a busy, efficient and fast-responding department with a low rate of absenteeism.

The city is only responsible for about half that amount, since Lakes Region General Hospital picks up much of the rest of the expense through an ambulance contract. Other groups also pay overtime for special events. Holiday pay, which is necessary in all full-time fire services, is also included in the overtime category.

Most places of employment close for the holiday and give you the day off with pay,” Erickson said. “Firefighters can't close, so what they do is they get an extra day's pay. There's 11 holidays a year, so basically they get 11 extra days of pay.

It's not extra money. They had to work Christmas, or they had to work Thanksgiving, or they had to work the Fourth  of July.”

The department has just enough personnel to provide around-the-clock coverage at the central station and the firehouse at The Weirs. That means that when someone is on vacation, injured, at a class, or sick, a replacement is typically called in on overtime.

But it's not like anyone is conspiring to game the system with fake illness, Erickson said.

Last year, the average firefighter used eight vacation days, three sick days, 0.3 line-of-duty injury days and five personal days for an average of 16 days per firefighter,” he said.

Erickson averaged fire statistics from Portsmouth, Dover, Salem and Derry and compared those averages to what the Laconia Fire Department has experienced.

Those cities have an average of 66 firefighters with 15 on duty, 14 emergencies per day, 176 calls per 1,000 population, 1.36 building fires per 1,000 population and a fire department cost per home of $580.

Laconia has 40 firefighters with nine on duty, 13 emergencies per day, 288 calls per 1,000 population, 3.9 building fires per 1,000 population and a cost per home of $343.

Laconia Fire Department Capt. Christopher Shipp, who is also the president of the firefighters union local, said in a letter to the newspaper that the department's current duty staffing of nine firefighters spread between two stations is lower than national recommendations, particularly given the growing number of emergency calls in the city.

In 2016, we responded to over 4,600 emergencies, which makes us one of the busiest fire departments in the state,” he said. “We do what we can with the staffing level we have and quite frankly we do a phenomenal job at it.”

He also said overtime is mandatory.

When a vacancy occurs, the person who is next on the overtime list cannot refuse the overtime,” Shipp said. “That person has two choices, work it, or give it away."

Higher-than-average potential for fires has always been present in Laconia, the chief said. He keeps a chart of all significant fires that have occurred in the city during his tenure.

Most are located in areas that firefighters can reach within about four minutes of getting an emergency call.

That's important because much of the city's housing stock is older and more prone to fire, Erickson said. Also, an aging population is leading to an increased number of medical and service calls. The seasonal use of some residences means population figures may be underreported.

Erickson said fires have long been a problem in the Laconia area, owing in part to the natural topography and prevailing winds.

When you look at the city, because it's in a valley, you have homes that are stacked above each other,” he said. “That's just conducive to the rapid spread of fires.

One of the worst fires in the state of New Hampshire burned Lakeport to the ground in 1904. Over a hundred homes and buildings were destroyed.”