Proponents prepare to file plan for WOW trail extension to The Weirs

 

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Allan Beetle leads the group as they walk the extension portion of the WOW Trail from Lakeport along Paugus Bay on Saturday morning.   (Karen Bobotas/for the Laconia Daily Sun)

04-11 WOW Trail private

Supporters of a proposal to extend the WOW Trail from Lakeport to The Weirs in a railroad right-of-way walk along the most controversial section of the planned path Saturday near South Down Shores, where residents are in opposition. (Rick Green/Laconia Daily Sun)

 

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — A proposal to extend the WOW trail from Lakeport to The Weirs along a railroad right-of-way faces obstacles plainly visible in a hike along the train tracks skirting Paugus Bay, including neighbors who don't much like the idea.

Backers of the 5-mile extension plan to file their proposal with the city Planning Board next month.

Trail proponent Allan Beetle led a group of 20 people on a walk along the railroad tracks Saturday to discuss the creation of what he said would be one of the top trails of its type in New Hampshire.

There are tourist opportunities like dining and shopping on either end of the trail, providing opportunities for residents and visitors who like to have a destination at the end of a hike or bicycle ride.

“I don't think there are many trails that would compare to this,” Beetle said, glancing up at the bay.

Residents who live along the seldom-used tracks also enjoy the view and many are not enthralled by changes.

“Why not have one or the other, a train and no walking trail, or a trail and no train?” asked Bill Ratcliffe, whose home on Paradise Drive has an unobstructed view of the water and a yard that slopes down to the railroad tracks on the bay shore.

He was concerned that the open beauty of the area would be marred by a fence that would be necessary to keep people off the tracks, which are used in the summer by three slow-moving tourist trains a day.

“Would you like to live here and look at a chain link fence with trash glued to it?” he asked. “Also, pavement and a lake don't go together. A paved path would look like there is a runway going through here.”

Beetle said the path's surface in the area could be crushed stone and the fence could be a rustic split rail. The experience along other parts of the trail indicates that there wouldn't be problems with trash or criminal activity. Another potential concern for some residents is a loss of privacy.

Ratcliffe also asked Beetle if anybody had considered building a trail in a more populated area along Weirs Boulevard on the other side of the bay. Beetle said that would be a worthy project, but would have difficulties and extra expense, since it lacks a dedicated railroad right-of-way.

North of Ratcliffe's home along the tracks are 600 homes in the private, gated communities of South Down Shores and Long Bay. A sign warns the public, “PRIVATE BEACH, Beach Club Members Only.”

Bruce Miller, president of the South Down homeowners association, said the group is prepared to fight the proposal in court if a way isn't found to detour the trail around the upscale housing development.

“We are not opposed to the WOW trail,” he said. “But the current plan has it running through what is essentially our back yard.”

This proposed trail extension is known as phase three. Phase one of the WOW trail took it from Elm Street in the Lakeport area of Laconia south to the Laconia Public Library. Phase two took it farther south to Belmont. A potential fourth phase could take it from The Weirs to Meredith. The trail is 10 feet wide and paved.

In a newsletter to Long Bay residents, homeowners association president Dick Bordwell noted that homeowners had previously agreed to support a fund to challenge any extension near their community.

“Phase Three, if completed as planned, will have a dramatic impact on the South Down and Long Bay gated communities, as well as many others along the Paugus Bay and Winnipesaukee waterfront areas,” he said in the newsletter. “It is now time to start organizing our efforts, as the WOW Trail enjoys political support as well as city and state funding.”

In addition to opposition from some of the neighbors, another challenge to be overcome by trail proponents would be finding ways to obtain landowner permission to build trail outside the railroad right-of-way in areas where the track corridor is narrow.

Funding could be another obstacle. Beetle estimates it could cost $4 million to $5 million to build the trail, including the construction of boardwalk in some areas of water.

A majority of those costs could be paid for with grants from the federal government, Beetle said.

A 2012 economic impact analysis by the Belknap County Economic Development Council for a completed WOW Trail estimates net new visitor spending at $1.78 million annually. The analysis also stated that properties close to trails tend to see a positive impact on property values.

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Phases 1 and 2 of the WOW Trail are complete. Phase 3, in orange, is proposed to go from Lakeport to The Weirs. (Courtesy graphic)

More money for roads

Laconia plans to spend on repairs

By RICK GREEN, LACONIA DAILY SUN

LACONIA — The new Laconia city budget proposal for the coming year totals $25.14 million and calls for a 1.3 percent increase in property tax, which would result in a $56 a year hike for a $200,000 home, City Manager Scott Myers said Monday.

The city operates under a tax cap approved by voters in 2005, which allows taxes to go up by factoring in the inflation rate and new assessed construction value. The spending plan also takes advantage of new money not associated with property tax.

Myers said the city's revenue picture allows for the funding of basics, but not for increases in staffing to police, which is tasked with fighting the community's drug crisis, or to the Fire Department, which is responding to an increasing number of calls for emergency services.

Myers' proposed budget for the new fiscal year calls for city, or non-school, spending to increase by $1.29 million, or 5.4 percent over the current year. A good deal of this increase is the result of one-time revenue from the sale of property.

Meanwhile, school spending, excluding federal and food service funds, is to increase by $604,984 or 1.9 percent, while the estimated Belknap County tax assessment remains level at $2.48 million.

A miscellaneous category of revenue showed an $840,118 increase, resulting largely from a return of an overpayment into the Concord Regional Solid Waste Cooperative and a sale of property in the amount of $508,000.

The budget calls for $1.55 million in street repairs.

“The roads are a big problem throughout New England,” Myers said. “They take a beating. Look at what we've seen over the last two months with freeze and thaw cycles.

“You go to other parts of the country where they don't have the freezing weather and it's a lot less of an issue.”

It also calls for $125,000 in citywide drainage improvements and $100,000 in radio tower upgrades for police and fire departments.

Myers' budget amounts to the start of a process that won't conclude until council approval of a spending plan over the summer.

The budget governs spending in the fiscal year that begins July 1.

 

  • Written by Michael Kitch
  • Category: Local News
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Biomass plant to close

Alexandria closure is hoped to be temporary

By DAVID CARKHUFF, LACONIA DAILY SUN

CONCORD — Indeck Energy's biomass plant in Alexandria will close April 30, affecting 16 employers and dozens of vendors and wood suppliers. But legislators hope to reverse one trend in energy markets in a bid to end the temporary closure.
Alexandria, a Lakes Region community of about 1,500 residents, is home to the 15-megawatt power plant fueled by biomass, the wood and organic material counted as a source of renewable energy.
"The decision to temporarily close was driven by revenue shortfalls created by the twin drivers of a really poor wholesale energy market and by low renewable energy credit market prices that really made operation of the plant economically unsustainable," said Richard J. Killion, managing partner with Elevare Communications of Concord, a marketing firm representing Indeck Energy.
Based in Buffalo Grove, Illinois, Indeck Energy reopened the plant at the end of 2008, Killion said. "It had been mothballed by a different company prior to that when its power contract was bought out," he said. News of the imminent closure of the Alexandria plant fueled concern, although Killion said Indeck "views it as a temporary closure."
"They see the tremendous value and the possibilities of that plant. The only thing that is really hamstringing Indeck from having sustainable operations is just the depth of the poor wholesale energy market and the low nature of the RECs (renewable energy certificates) right now," Killion said.
A hearing at 1:30 p.m. today, Tuesday, April 11, in Room 204 of the Legislative Office Building will focus on a possible remedy to the struggling biomass market. The state House Science, Technology, and Energy Committee will deliberate on Senate Bill 129, which would raise the reimbursement to biomass power producers.
The state's Renewable Portfolio Standard law requires New Hampshire electricity suppliers to purchase renewable energy certificates, or RECs, from eligible renewable power plants for a certain percentage of the power they supply to New Hampshire customers. "It also requires N.H. electricity suppliers to make a payment to the state, called the Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP), for each REC the utility fails to purchase," according to the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association.
The bill, the New Hampshire Clean Energy Jobs and Opportunity Act of 2017, would increase the Class III Alternative Compliance Payment from $45/REC to $55/REC. "This will make New Hampshire's ACP values consistent with Connecticut and at a level that should produce REC values needed for biomass power plant continued operations," the association reported.
Killion said Indeck Energy supports the legislation.
"Unfortunately, It does not do anything about the low wholesale energy prices, the other driver impacting the decision to temporarily close the plant," he reported.
The New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association cited a study that found the direct economic effect of the state's six independent biomass electric power plants, as well as indirect effects on supply industries and "induced effect" in the service sector, accounted for 932 jobs and $50.9 million in payroll. The total economic output to the state's economy totaled $254.5 million each year, the association reported. The six biomass plants "contribute $7.3 million in tax revenues to state and local governments from all sources," the association reported.
In Belknap County, biomass production totaled 148,046 tons, and in Grafton County, where Alexandria is located, biomass production reached 199,985 tons, the association reported.
New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services also "supports the revision of the Class III Alternative Compliance Payment (ACP) to return the ACP to near its original value (reversing revisions made in 2011)," according to a Feb. 14 letter from DES to legislators.
Class III revenues decreased from $1,703,816 in 2014 to $174,240 in 2015 due to the reduction in the 2015 Class III REC requirement and the fact that the
New Hampshire Class III ACP rate in 2015 was closer to that of other New England states, according to the 2016 New Hampshire Renewable Energy Fund Annual Report.

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