Lawyer: Board could restrict how close skiers get to wind turbines at Balsams

LANCASTER — The Coos Planning Board has the authority to limit how close skiers can get to wind turbines atop the peaks that are key to developer Les Otten’s plan to greatly expand the ski area at the Balsams, board lawyer Bernard Waugh said earlier this week.
But, Waugh said, the board cannot enforce a 2009 safety directive from the state’s Site Evaluation Committee that people be discouraged from coming within 1,300 feet of the machines.
Bernard Waugh said the 1,300-foot safety zone limits the operators of the wind turbines, Brookfield Renewable, but not Dixville Capital LLC, the company trying to reopen the resort.
“It doesn’t apply to parties that were not before the SEC. So, I seriously doubt the authority of the board to enforce it as a condition against these applicants,” he said at a meeting of the board Tuesday evening.

Balsams Site Plan Review Application still not complete

Balsams site plan review application still not complete

By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Daily Sun

LANCASTER — The Coos County Planning Board reached consensus at a nearly four-hour-long meeting on Tuesday night that the site plan review application for the redevelopment and expansion of the ski area at The Balsams, submitted by development team members Burt Mills and Ed Brisson of Dixville Capital LLC still does not have all the needed information.

The board set its next meeting at 6 p.m. on Tuesday, Aug. 23, in Lancaster to review the draft document drawn up to record the conditions of two previously agreed-to subdivisions and two lot-line adjustments.

Since it is unlikely that developer will be able to check off every item and fill every gap on the board’s list of missing items, the board agreed to set a “date certain” in September after it is assured everything is in order.

The developers admitted that they still have not applied for the all-important alteration-of-terrain permits from the state Department of Environmental Services, which often requires a two-to-three-month turnaround period. Gathering the detailed information required for DES review is a costly proposition, they pointed out.

Once the planning board determines that an application is complete, a public hearing must be held. Only then will the board begin the actual review process and set conditions.

Dixville Capital’s attorney is working out an safety plan to address the board’s concern about ice throw and other potential hazards around the Granite Reliable wind towers (owned by Brookfield Power) in the expanded high-elevation ski area, based on an engineer’s report, board attorney Bernie Waugh reported.

Board member Tom McCue noted that ATV riders in Berlin are getting dangerously close to the blades of some operating wind towers in order to take dramatic-looking selfies.

Board member Mike Waddell said that after working on Mount Washington for 20 years he really understands that falling ice kills people. The Tramway Board of the state Department of Safety will have to agree to any plan.

The board also asked for design, but not construction drawings, of the proposed ski-back bridge over Route 26 as well as a letter from the state Department of Transportation that it has approved the plan. Building both a gondola and the ski-back bridge would reduce the number of parking spaces needed at the expanded ski area, since hotel and condo guests would be able to go directly to the village “campus” either on skis or on foot.

The board and the developers noted during the site plan review discussion that a site plan can be amended, if need be.

The application requests approval of the entire ski terrain: lifts, including the gondola; snowmaking and three associated support buildings; trails; ski-back bridge and service roads.

It does not include the existing shuttered Wilderness Base Lodge or a proposed mid-mountain lodge. The developers have agreed that the adequacy of parking would have to be demonstrated before opening new ski terrain.

The meeting was marked early on by a heated interchange between Waddell and the developers due to a misunderstanding over the scope of the application, likely exacerbated by continuing this agenda item at least twice.

At meeting’s end, Dixville Capital spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said that longtime ski area developer Les Otten and other stakeholders have arranged for financing from Northern Bank & Trust Company, a community bank in Woburn, Mass., as well as private equity.

Dixville Capital has not yet applied for the $28 million "credit enhancement" from the Business Finance Authority, but does plan to.

Art Greene of Littleton attended the meeting on behalf of Trout Unlimited that is interested in the developer’s permit to withdraw snowmaking water from the Androscoggin River at Errol.

Development team member Dave Norden has left the Balsams project to be the CEO of Taos Ski Valley, where he started work on July 25. The online announcement points out that he will oversee all resort operations, including the launch of the Blake, a new slopeside hotel. A hedge fund billionaire bought the resort in late 2013.

Citing gross misconduct, the town removes Letarte as town clerk/tax collector

By Barbara Tetreault

DUMMER — Citing gross misconduct, the Dummer select board has removed Mariann Letarte as town clerk/tax collector. She had previously been terminated as the board’s administrative assistant.

The three-member board voted unanimously last week to remove her from the two positions and issued a notice of decision that was publicly released Wednesday.

The notice stated an investigation of the town’s financial records by the certified public account firm Carew & Wells found “compelling evidence of the misappropriation of funds, attempts to conceal these items from the selectmen and treasurer, and intentional misstatement of the town’s financial statements.”

The termination took effect July 20 and her health insurance benefits from the town will terminate at the end of the month. The town is currently advertising the part-time position. The board had suspended Letarte as town clerk/tax collector on May 25 but because the position was elected, the board had to follow a formal removal procedure.

Letarte has not been charged with any crimes in connection with her handling of Dummer town finances but Coos County Attorney John McCormick has confirmed there is an investigation underway.

In the notice to Letarte, the board said a report prepared by Carew & Wells identified $103,623 in town funds Letarte had spent since 2011 on items that appear to have been for her personal benefit.

The board noted that in her response to the report, Letarte had disputed some of the charges identified by Carew & Wells and argued they were for town business. But the notice pointed out that she did not challenge thousands of dollars in expenditures, such as checks to Direct TV and Toyota and credit card charges to Disney Resorts, Expedia and Jetblue, that were unrelated to the town. The select board said the Carew & Wells report found instances where the town’s bank statements had been modified and what appeared to be forged invoices.

The notice said Letarte did not dispute those assertions in her response and she wrote that she had confessed what she was doing at the Dummer town office to Berlin police on March 30.

The board said it could not find Letarte locally to notify her that she could request a hearing before the board voted to terminate her. Instead the town ended up serving her at the Wagon Wheel RV Resort in Old Orchard Beach, Maine, on July 1 by tracking a check to the resort written on the town’s bank account.

“We are saddened, and very disappointed, by what we have learned over the past several months. You were an official entrusted with a great deal of responsibility for the town for many years. People relied on you and elected you to do the right thing for the town,” the board wrote.

In an earlier statement, the board said it is now looking at the town’s revenues and whether they were properly deposited into the town’s account.

Letarte declined to comment on the notice of termination. She can appeal the board’s decision to Coos County Superior Court.

Steve Marchand seeks Democratic gubernatorial nomination

Steve Marchand seeks Democratic gubernatorial nomination

By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Daily Sun

BERLIN — Steve Marchand, who served a term as mayor of Portsmouth a decade ago (2006 to 2008) when he was in his early 30s, campaigned for the Democratic gubernatorial nomination on Tuesday, July 26, at the 151 Main Street Grill.
The high-energy candidate, who was accompanied by his wife Sandi Hennequin, a vice president of Emera Energy, and his two tween-age daughters, who enjoyed lunch.
Marchand, who is now 42, describes the Granite State as now being at a crossroads in which it can continue to lag in attracting and keeping younger workers or it can position itself to attract and keep younger talent by making the kind of public investments that draws entrepreneurs and both start-up and growing businesses. The kind of public investment that serves to pull in greater private investment includes excellent pre-K-to-grade-12 public education and restores state building aid; modern local and regional infrastructure, including roads, bridges, water and wastewater, broadband and cell phone; and bipartisan initiatives to combat the heroin and opioid crisis.
He discussed his data-driven and outcomes-oriented approach to decision-making that is designed to “re-earn” voters’ trust in government through greater transparency and efficiency.
He compared himself to the two other Democratic candidates running in Sept. 13 primary: Colin van Ostern of Concord and Mark Connolly of New Castle. “I’m the only one who wants to legalize marijuana, who is 100 percent against the death penalty, and who supports paid family leave for those having a child or has a dying parent,” Marchand said, adding that he is both progressive and inclusive. Twenty-three percent of mothers return to work within 14 days of giving birth, he said. The cost of family leave would be spread across the workforce by a modest payroll deduction. Legalizing marijuana for adults, age 21 and over, will reduce opiate abuse, reduce judicial, law enforcement, and prison costs, improve health care outcomes, and generate significant revenue, he said.
Marchand favors paying for what he believes are needed public investments by increasing the gas tax to pay for infrastructure needs and restoring the Business Profits Tax to 8.5 percent rather than letting it fall to 7.9 percent. He said his opponents, on the other hand, only favor raising more revenue by increasing the tobacco tax by 10 cents even though they, too, want to increase spending. Marchand is opposed to both an income and sales tax.
The candidate said the state should not be trying to build a costly passenger railroad to transport workers south to Massachusetts, but instead making “the generational investments” that will galvanize young people seeking a good quality of life to rent a U-Haul and move to the North Country to start businesses and raise families.
Coös County has the kind of downtowns, such as those in Berlin, Lancaster and Colebrook, with features that many downstate communities would love to have.
Marchand is the principal of SRM Consulting, a public affairs and strategic communications firm.
In 2012, he became director of corporate relations for the University of New Hampshire, primarily establishing relationships with N.H. businesses. Marchand returned to private consulting a year-and-a-half ago.