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Smith Orchard named N.H. Farm of Distinction

BELMONT — Smith Orchard was recently named a New Hampshire Farm of Distinction.
The award was presented to owners Rob and Wende Richter by Governor Maggie Hassan and N.H. Commissioner of Agriculture Lorraine Merrill at the N.H. Farm and Forest Expo in Manchester.
The Richters have owned and operated the farm, which offers a variety of apples including McIntosh, Macoun and Cortland, since 1985.
Rob says that he and his wife view themselves as the caretakers of a long tradition of apple growing at the orchard, which still has many of the original McIntosh and Cortland trees planted by Charlie Smith in 1928, when he was entering his senior year at the University of New Hampshire.
He says that the 15-acre field which was planted by Smith, who was a long-time Laconia City Council member, had originally been an open pasture across the road from a large farmhouse on Leavitt Road. The farmhouse burned and was replaced by a smaller home the Smith family built.
Over the years Smith hired crews of workers to pick the apples but by the 1950s, when only the reddest fruit was considered acceptable for sale and there was no wholesale market for the rest, Smith made the novel step of opening his orchard to sell directly to the public, becoming what may have been the very first "pick-your-own'' operation in the entire state.
"He told us he made more selling that way than he did on the wholesale market. And it became very popular with people coming here and picking the orchard clean every year," says Rob.
There's even a story about the tradition of opening the orchard on a Friday. Smith told the Richters that he had so many complaints from local people that out-of-staters were flocking to the orchard and getting the best apples when it opened on a Saturday that he decided to open it a day earlier so that local people would enjoy the first picking.
As the older, full-size trees are lost to old age, (some 200 remain) the Richters are replacing them with dwarf and semi-dwarf trees and now have some 3,000 apple trees.
The smaller trees are easier to take care of and produce larger apples according to Rob, who got his start in the apple business in Madison, Maine, not far from Skowhegan, and was being groomed to take over the management of a large apple orchard there when he tore up his knee two days before the apple harvest started.
He said that he made his living in the corporate world until he moved to Laconia, where one of the first persons he met was Charlie Smith, who once he got to know about his interest in apple growing told him "you should buy this place."
He and Wende eventually did just that and Wende recalls that Smith was very helpful to them, even encouraging them to buy additional nearby land he owned that had a second pond on it so that they would always have a backup water supply for the orchard.
The orchard also sells pumpkins, mums, cider, gourds, cornstalks, and home-grown honey and on busy days provides tractor rides in and out of the orchard.
"We'd like to see this orchard stay like this forever," says Rob, who says that even with "current use" taxation at a lower rate because the land is maintained as open space, the taxes and costs of running the orchard are still so high that he and Wende couldn't continue if it weren't for their Laconia laundry and dry cleaning business.
"A lot of people look at the land and say that it's too valuable to grow apples on. But that's what it's been doing for over 80 years and we'd like to see it stay that way," he says.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 01:40

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Woman charged with making false report that her Rx had been stolen

GILMANTON — A former Gilmanton woman has been charged with one count of filing a false report to police after allegedly reporting a prescription for 150 30-mg killers had been stolen.

Police learned Sara Scovill, 30, formerly of 381 Mountain Road had filled the prescription and the transaction was captured on video.

Sgt. Matt Currier said police obtained a warrant for her arrest on January 17 but she had left Gilmanton. He said she knew about the warrant because he had made several attempts to reach her and had contacted people who know her.

After Gilmanton Police learned she was living in Milton, the N.H. State Police went to her residence but she refused to come out of the house for about an hour.

He said State Police waited and she surrendered about an hour after they got there.

A nearby Milton School was placed on a soft lockdown while police were at Scovill's residence.

Scovill is scheduled to appear in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division this morning.She is being held on $5,000 cash bail.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 01:35

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Local man kicked out of Recovery Court program, returned to jail

LACONIA — After a hearing held in the 4th Circuit Court, Laconia Division during the last week of March, Judge Jim Carroll agreed to terminate one of the Recovery Court participants.

In a ruling issued on April 8, Carroll said Mark Sargent, formerly of Gilmanton, was being terminated and returned to jail for dishonesty to the Recovery Court treatment team and the court.

"At each stage of the program, the defendant has lied about his actions until he is caught..., Carroll wrote.

Recovery Court is a year-old program administered through Horizons Counseling Center that incorporates volunteer efforts from the the Belknap County Attorney, Belknap County Restorative Justice, the Belknap County Department of Corrections as well as the N.H. Office of Probation and Parole, the N.H. Public Defenders Office and local police departments.

Those who are allowed to participate must be facing criminal charges where a guilty plea could result in incarceration. Participants must also admit to having a substance abuse problem, agree to intense alcohol and drug therapy, and perform 200 hours of community service.

Testimony for Sargent's termination came primary from Horizons Director Jacqui Abikoff and Belknap County Attorney Melissa Guldbrandsen.

Specifically, the court noted that Sargent falsified documents regarding his attending sobriety meetings. He was dishonest with the court and was sanctioned on January 14.

On January 21, the day he was committed to serve 30 days, the court learned he had used drugs.

Abikoff said he misrepresented his address to his probation officer and said he was living in Gilmanton when he was actually living in Franklin. One component of participating in Recovery Court is residence in Belknap County.
In addition, the Court found Sargent had made little to no effort to perform any of his community service.

Public Defender Eric Wolpin represented Sargent at the hearing and noted that he client has had issues with depression but was not being treated.

He also said that the family member who had housed him in Gilmanton was no longer willing to do so and so Sargent had moved in with his mother in Franklin.

Guldbrandsen also favored Sargent's termination. She said his lack of effort into his own rehabilitation coupled with the limited resources of the program meant not only was he unwilling to help himself, he was potentially stopping someone else from entering the program.

As to the overall program, Guldbrandsen said that while it was "too bad" that Sargent had to be terminated and returned to jail, she said there has to be accountability for Recovery Court to work.

Sargent had pleaded guilty to contempt of court of October 8, 2013 and was sentenced to serve six months in the House of Corrections. He will now serve his entire sentence but is credited with 60 days of pretrial confinement.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 01:32

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N.H. Fire Marshall reaches agreement with Groton Wind farm

CONCORD — The Office of the Fire Marshall has resolved its dispute with Groton Wind, LLC and Iberdrola Renewables, LLC, the owner of a 24-turbine, 48 megawatt wind farm in Groton, over its failure to comply with fire and building codes.

The settlement came just weeks after Senator Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith) joined a chorus of officials and residents calling for the state to order the facility to cease operations.

The agreement stipulates that except for the installation of fire suppression at the turbines, Groton Wind will bring the facility into compliance with the fire and building codes by May 1 or "immediately and without any demand from the state, shut down any building or structure not in compliance." At the same time, Groton Wind agreed to install fire suppression in "each and every turbine" before the start of fire season, defined as the first day Class 3 Fire Danger Day in Groton and its environs. Alternatively, if fire suppression is not installed, inspected and approved, Groton Wind agreed to shut down those turbines without it and mount a fire watch 24 hours a day, 7 days a week at its own expense. If fire suppression is not inl place by June 23, an injunction prohibiting the operation of turbines without it would be filed in superior court.

The agreement was reached amid a series of hearings scheduled by the Site Evaluation Committee (SEC), which in November issued a Procedural Order and Notice of Possible Suspension of Certificate of Site and Facility in response to allegations that Groton Wind was operating in violation of the terms and conditions of its original approval in May, 2011.

Earlier, in August, Inspector Ron Antsey of the State Fire Marshal Office informed the SEC that Groton Wind has relocated the operations and maintenance building and two of the 24 turbines without authorization. The building was not inspected and fails to comply with a number of requirements. In addition, the firm failed to install fire suppression in the turbines as required or to ensure that the width and grades of roads leading to the turbines complied with the fire code. Nor were the roads properly maintained. Antsey told the SEC that Groton had failed to provide a complete set of plans for the review and approval of the Fire Marshal Office yet proceeded to occupy the site and operate the facility without the requisite permits.

Groton Wind Antsey testified last month, "refused to comply with the lawful requests of the Fire Marshal and employed an apparent strategy of delay and ignorance to avoid compliance with the law." As of March 21, he said "most of the violations remain outstanding."

Throughout Groton Wind claimed that the changes to its original plan were approved by the N.H. Department of Environmental Services and questioned the authority of the Fire Marshal Office to oversee the project or to enforce the terms and conditions of its approval.

Writing to Tom Burack, commissioner of DES, Forrester noted that "the majority of the violations remain outstanding and there is little indication that any efforts are underway to change course," adding "as a matter of public safety, this is of great concern to me and the communities I represent."

Late last month Iberdrola announced that it has placed the planning for its controversial 23-turbine Wild Meadows wind power project in Alexandria and Danbury on hold pending a resolution of issues in Groton.

Groton Wind went online in December 2012.

Last Updated on Friday, 18 April 2014 01:17

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