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State Senate candidates offer differing views in debate

Oct. 23, 2014

BERLIN – The two candidates for the District 1 state senate seat present very similar biographies. Mark Evans and Jeff Woodburn were both born and grew up the Coos County – Evans in Berlin and Woodburn in Whitefield. They both moved away to pursue careers and then the pull of the North Country brought them back to their hometowns.
But while the two men, both approaching fifty, share a commitment to the North Country, they have very different views of the role of government. Those views were on display at Tuesday's debate at Berlin High School.
Running for a second term, Democrat Jeff Woodburn argues government has an important role to play caring for the most vulnerable, supporting public safety, making education more affordable, and preserving the natural environment.
"Government matters in the North Country," Woodburn said.
A Republican, Evans said he rejects the belief that big government knows best how to educate your children, spend your money, and provide for your safety.
"Less money in government is more money in the economy, and then more jobs," Evans argued.
For about 45 minutes the two answered questions from the small crowd. In a change from other formats, those in attendance met in small groups before the debate to discuss issues of importance to the region and develop questions. Each candidate was given as much time as he wanted to answer the questions.
Evans said New Hampshire has a narrow tax structure and all too often the cost of paying for actions taken by the legislature is passed on to the local communities and ultimately to property taxes. When he served on the Berlin city council, Evans said he was amazed at how little flexibility the local government had.
Woodburn noted the last state budget passed the senate unanimously. He said the budget had a lot of appropriations that benefited the North County such as funding to keep Tri-County Community Action Program operating and Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook open.
On the issue of health care, Woodburn said of the approximately 20,000 people who have signed up coverage under the state's expanded Medicaid program a disproportionate number have been from his district. With four percent of the population, the region has 12 percent of the new enrollees. The program signs people onto private insurance plans, which Woodburn said makes the system more robust. He noted that next year more companies have signed up to offer insurance policies in the state.
But Evans said the program is funded by federal dollars through the Affordable Care Act and predicted when the federal dollars go away, so will the program. He said in the long run the Affordable Care Act is not fiscally sustainable. Evans pointed out that as an acupuncturist, he works in the health field and said there is no easy solution to the problem of health coverage.
Asked about college tuition costs, Woodburn said he has first hand experience with two kids in college. He said one goes to a private college and the other is at an out-of-state public college and both pay less tuition than they would in-state.
He said 50 years ago, a mill worker could send their child to college on three months earnings. Woodburn said that is not true anymore. He said middle class workers have lost ground as Republicans have demonized labor. Woodburn said he believes in a trickle up economy while his opponent is a supporter of the trickle down approach.
Evans said he is not a proponent of trickle down economies or union busting. He said he believes education is a good long-term investment. But, Evans said he feels there are ways to streamline education and reduce costs. He said he is not willing at this time to support increasing funding to education.
Asked about how government can help Coos County grow, Evans said everyone knows the economy is bad right now. He proposed keeping taxes level, removing regulations and red tape that discourage businesses, and reducing the size of government.
Woodburn said the state needs practical solutions not ideology. He noted there are no property taxes in Dixville Notch and the roads there are state owned but still redevelopment of the Balsam Grand Resort has been a struggle.
Woodburn said sometimes there are regulations that don't make sense but said the state is responsive in such situations. He said the region needs a senator who will dig and work through the bureaucracy to help small businesses.
Woodburn said roads are important and said the impact of decision back in the sixties to expand I-93 to Littleton and not to Berlin can be clearly seen. He said that is why he supported the increase in the gas tax.
Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier said the cost of energy in New England is one of the biggest impediments to growth and asked how they would proposed to make energy affordable.
Evans said Berlin is already an exporter of energy with its various hydro facilities and the biomass plant. He said the region could export more renewable energy if the Coos Loop was upgraded to handle additional energy. Evans said he likes some of the green energy initiatives underway. He noted the federal government subsidizes oil and coal and said he does not know how those industries would fare on the free market. Evans said it would be nice if the Burgess BioPower plant were able to sell electricity directly to the community.
Woodburn said the cost of energy is a big local concern, noting Gorham Paper and Tissue last winter curtailed operations because of the price of natural gas. At the same time, he said the environmental and aesthetics of the region have to be considered in looking at siting projects here.
Woodburn said the Seabrook nuclear power plant, which provides almost a third of the state's energy needs, is now close to 30 years old.
Woodburn charged that Evans signed the Americans for Prosperity Pledge attributed to the organization founded by the billionaire Koch brothers. He said the pledge with its opposition to the Medicaid expansion and the Affordable Care Act as well as support for Right to Work legislation is against the interests of the North Country. Woodburn said only 4 of the state's 24 senators signed the pledge. He said Evan's willing to sign the pledge proves he is an ideologue.
Evans responded that there are billionaires funding both political parties and said he signed the pledge because it represents his values. He stressed he has not received any political funding from the group.
"The Koch brothers' money didn't make it down to me," he said.
Evans said he is outspoken opponent of taxes and argued the state legislation is not going to fix the issue of income disparity.
In his closing remarks, Woodburn said he has been labeled the state's most independent senator and has a proven record of working with Republicans and Democrats to get things done.
Evans said he supports sustainable spending, a sustainable economy, and a sustainable government. He said he understands that people need services. But he said if government spending is not checked, it will collapse.
In addition to the debate between Woodburn and Evans, those in attendance read brief introductions from State Representative District 3 candidates Robert Theberge (D), Alethea Froburg (D), Yvonne Thomas (D) and Eric Catman (R), all of Berlin; as well as District 5 candidate Arthur Hammon (D), and District 2 candidate Wayne Moynihan.
The event was sponsored by The Berlin Daily Sun, North Country Listens, Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce, and Berlin High School.


Last Updated on Friday, 24 October 2014 22:08

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Council set to approve management plan for Mount Jasper

BERLIN – Just days after a ribbon cutting celebrating the new trail network and interpretive signs at Mount Jasper, the city council Monday night began the process of approving a management plan for the 203-acre property.
AMC's Backcountry Resource Conservation Manager Sally Manikian, who chaired the Mount Jasper planning board subcommittee, reviewed the management plan with the council.
The plan calls for promoting and managing the property as a quiet place and for protecting the archaeological and geological features that exist there. Manikian said the plan prohibits ATV use on the parcel because of the sensitive wetlands and the steepness of the terrain. She said it is primarily used by the community as a walking trail and is an idea location for a quiet recreational experience.
Mount Jasper is nationally known for the rhyolite used approximately 9,000 years ago by the Abenaki to make tools. Part of the property is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. At the request of the state historic preservation office, collecting artifacts and mining is not allowed on the site.
Councilor Mike Rozek asked about snowmobile use. Manikian said there is a designated snowmobile trail on the property. With the help of students, the White Mountain Ridge Runners Snowmobile Club built a new parking lot near the old Cates Hill landfill that serves both hikers and snowmobilers.
Mayor Paul Grenier said his only concern was the fact that the Mount Jasper Committee, which will monitor the management plan and submit an annual report, does not specific a representative from the city council. Manikian said currently City Councilor Lucie Remillard serves on the committee as a planning board representative. But she agreed that the council should have a designated position on the committee and the change will be made.
The council held a first reading on an ordinance adopting the management plan and it will come up for a final vote in two weeks.
Last Thursday, members of the committee gathered for a ribbon cutting. On hand were the students who did the trail work as well as the two artists who created the four new interpretive signs. Under the direction of Manikian in her position at the AMC, Berlin High students in the Jobs For American Graduates built the new trail leading up Mount Jasper from the parking lot near the Berlin High running track.
Students from the Enriched Learning Center worked on a high elevation trail from Cates Hill and also on the parking lot and trailhead kiosk.
The final piece were the four interpretative signs researched and drawn by Michael Eastman, who said his ancestry includes American Indian. Andre Belanger of StudioWorks made the signs.
Manikian noted the project had taken about four years but residents and visitors can now enjoy a quiet hike with some spectacular views and natural features in the heart of the city. She also promised the committee will remain active.
"The trail will still be worked on - by no means are we done," Manikian said.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 October 2014 21:22

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WMCC hosts open house for students

BERLIN—The White Mountains Community College in Berlin hosted an open house earlier this month for perspective students and their families. The tour highlighted programs that the college offers, and was accompanied by a meal prepared by the culinary students.

During the tour participants were shown classrooms, and got to meet some of the teachers. Students also toured the library, academic support center and the student wellness center.

The student wellness center is run by the students and is geared towards the student's interests and needs. In the past the students have funded breakfasts, personalized sweatshirts and outings. The center includes a lounge, and workout facility. The goal of the wellness center is to give students a place to relax and socialize in between classes.

"We really want to show the students that we do offer the college experience that many of them are looking for," said Kristen Miller, admissions counselor at WMCC.

Miller also pointed to the low tuition rates at WMCC and noted that many of their two-year programs are transferable to four-year programs offered by other schools. The school also offers financial aid assistance to students who qualify.

"For forty years WMCC curriculum has been driven by the industry, and we strive to serve the community at a lower cost. I cannot stress enough that you will gain valuable skills that will make you competitive in the workforce, " said Miller.

Starting Oct. 27 the college will be offering 8-week on-line courses in Business Administration, Criminal Justice and Liberal Arts. On-line classes offer students the flexibility to work from anywhere.

For more information about WMCC, the programs that they offer or to speak to an admissions counselor call 752-1113 or

WMCCopenhouseKristen Miller, admissions counselor for White Mountain Community College gives a tour of the Berlin campus to Gorham junior, Devyn Peters and her mother Andrea. (KIRSTAN LUKASAK PHOTO)


Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 October 2014 21:21

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McDevitt Trucks purchases former Currier property

GORHAM – The former Currier Trucking Company building and an adjacent lot on Route 16 were sold at auction Wednesday afternoon to the McDevitt family, which owns and operates McDevitt Trucks Inc. The high bid was $275,000 plus a ten percent buyer's premium, bringing the total purchase price to $302,500.
Based in Manchester, McDevitt currently has three locations in New Hampshire and Massachusetts including one in Lancaster.
The company's webpage describes it as the largest heavy-duty truck dealer in New England, representing Mack, Volvo, Peterbilt, Western Star, and Isuzu trucks.
Kevin McDevitt, who attended the auction, said the company is keeping its options open for the property.
"It just seemed like a good location for a truck store," he said.
The two properties were part of four properties sold at absolute auction Wednesday by the town, which acquired them at tax deed.
Also sold were a 3-bedroom house at 15 Main Street and a lot at 26 Spruce Street.
Marlene and Arthur Marchand of Shelburne purchased the 15 Main Street property with a high bid of $21,000 plus buyer's premium. Marlene Marchand said the couple wanted to move back to town and planned to extensively renovate the house. She noted they had lived next door to the property before moving to Shelburne.
The Spruce Street lot was sold to abutters Dennis and Deb Therrien for a bid of $4,500 plus buyer's premium.
The North Hampton firm of Paul McInnis, Inc., conducted the auction, which attracted about 30 people.
Bidders were allowed to bid on the four properties individually and also to bid jointly on the former Currier building at 459 Main Street and the adjourning lot at 1 Tees Road. But there was no interest in the 1 Tees Road lot individually and the two properties ended being sold as a unit.
The 459 Main Street property included a 20,000 square foot building on a 4.39-acre lot with an assessed value of $1.09 million. The vacant two-acre lot at 1 Tees Road was assessed at $227,900.
Town Manager Robin Frost, who watched the bidding, said she thought the auction had been successful.
"I think we did as well as expected," she said.
She acknowledged that the town will not recoup all the back taxes and interest it is owed. The Currier properties combined owned over $600,000 in back taxes, interest, and fees.
But Frost noted the properties, which have not generated tax revenues since 2006, will now go back on the tax rolls. Frost said it appears the former Currier property will become a business again and create jobs.
She said she thought McInnis had done a great job in publicizing the auction and attracting bidders.
Earlier this year the Car Freshner building and property on Route 110 in Berlin went at auction for a total of $357,550. That property included a 41,000 square foot building on 5.6 acres. Frost noted the Car Freshner building was in very good condition.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 October 2014 21:21

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City recognizes groups and individuals for going the "Extra Mile"

BERLIN – The city honored six organizations and individuals that have gone the "extra mile" to make Berlin a better place in a ceremony at Monday's city council meeting.
Recognized were the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce, White Mountain Beagle Club and Paul Partenope, Sylvia Poulin, Diane Davy, the late Robert Platt, and Will O'Brien and his beautification team at Northern Human Services.
The Extra Mile America Foundation works to inspire citizens to maximize contributions to their communities in volunteerism, service, and personal effort. November 1 has been declared 'Extra Mile Day' and Mayor Paul Grenier issued a proclamation celebrating the day in Berlin.
The mayor offered tributes to the recipients.
He said Will O'Brien and his team do an amazing job planning, planting, weeding, and watering the gardens throughout the city. Working under O'Brien's direction are Scott Hachez, Patrick Chaloux, Cory Paradis, Craig Eichler, Lori Duclos, Alyssa Warner, Bill Gagne, Ben Gagnon, David Manikian, and Caroline Manikian.
"Each one takes great pride and care in helping to make the city a beautiful and clean place to live," Grenier said.
The mayor called Sylvia Poulin "an on-going driving force in the downtown initiative". He noted she gives hours of her time and energy to spearhead the Downtown Day of Caring to beautify the downtown and also is very active in chamber events.
"It's a thrill to work with her," Grenier said. "She is tireless."
Diane Davy was recognized for demolishing a dilapidated house on High Street and replacing it with a beautiful flower garden. Grenier said her efforts made a big improvement in the neighborhood.
For over 25 years, White Mountain Beagle Club and Paul Partenope in conjunction with the Lancaster Veterinary have helped provide access to affordable pet care to area citizens. Grenier said the organization has hosted rabies clinics at reduced prices allowing people of all income levels to properly care for their pets.
The Jericho ATV Festival, Lumberjack Festival, Wingzilla, and RiverFire and Horrorfest are just some of the events organized and sponsored by the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce. The chamber, Grenier said, "is at the heart of several significant events that are designed to bring pride and economic development to the Androscoggin Valley it serves". He said there is a core group of directors and volunteers that pour their hearts and souls into countless hours of preparation and events.
The city also posthumously recognized the lengthy public service career of Robert Platt. Platt served two terms as city councilor, was a long time police commissioner, and also filled in as interim mayor and interim city manager. But Grenier said Platt's greatest gift to the city was his work creating the Androscoggin Valley Regional Refuse Disposal District, which is now a $33 million operation.

Last Updated on Wednesday, 22 October 2014 20:52

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