Planning Board continues Balsams ski area site plan review

Planning Board continues Balsams ski area site plan review

 By Edith Tucker
The Berlin Daily Sun

LANCASTER — After meeting without a break for three-plus hours Tuesday night on the application for a site plan review submitted by Dixville Capital LLC for the redevelopment and expansion of the ski area at The Balsams Resort in Dixville, the Coös County Planning Board for the Unincorporated Places voted unanimously to continue the meeting until 6 p.m. Wednesday, May 18, tentatively at Lancaster Town Hall.
Planning Director Tara Bamford of North Country Council distributed her written comments after the meeting began. “As an overall comment, it is unclear which specific elements for which the applicant is requesting site plan approval at this time. The (written) narrative in various places mentions, in addition to the ski terrain and (approximate) lift locations, snowmaking water delivery and distribution systems, utilities, the ski-back bridge, four accesses, a gondola, and use of the Wilderness Base Lodge,” she writes.” However, no site plan-like details are provided for any specific feature.” Bamford suggests at least two options the Board could consider “that would enable the project to move forward while protecting the public interests.”
Burt Mills, who heads up the Dixville Capital development team on behalf of developer Les Otten, kicked off the meeting by presenting maps of the proposed 1,200 acres of open ski terrain on the south side of Route 26 that would incorporate the now-shuttered Wilderness Ski Area, plus Bayroot lands now under option that are managed by Wagner Forest Management of Lyme. An additional 800 acres may be developed as glade skiing, which would bring the ultimate total to 2,000 acres of alpine skiing.
“We hope to break ground in late summer,” Mills said.
He highlighted the first five lifts that Dixville Capital plans to install at approximately designated locations, plus the restoration of an existing triple-chair lift.
The aerial lift — 3A — would carry passengers from the resort hotel complex on the north side of Route 26 to a location where a mid-mountain ski lodge is planned. Its dimensions have not yet been determined, and the developers said they plan to file a separate site plan review application once details are worked out.
Mills asked that the new lifts be approved based on “typical profiles” rather than specific drawings developed by any of the three potential lift vendors, all of which would be subject to the oversight of Tramway and Amusement Ride Safety of the state Department of Safety, from planning, through construction, and once operational. Mills pointed out that both the ski industry itself and commercial insurance carriers also closely monitor ski lift safety. Vendors typically ask for a 10 percent down payment on each lift before beginning their detailed engineering work.
The application also includes a schematic drawing of the much-touted 1,000-foot-long “ski-back” bridge over Lake Gloriette, Route 26 and the Mohawk River. A preliminary cost estimate came in higher than anticipated, however, and Mills said that it could be “nixed” in the short term and left for a later construction phase. If built, the bridge would be 60 feet over the Mohawk River, and clear Route 26 by 24 feet. Plans would have to be approved by the state Department of Transportation (NHDOT).
Water for all the expanded ski area’s snowmaking equipment would come from the Androscoggin River in Errol under a plan already permitted. The existing Wilderness Pond and pump would not be used. Needed easements from landowners abutting Route 26 have recently been acquired to accommodate the water pipe, Mills added. Both an ancillary pump house and an air compressor building would need site plan review.
As Bamford noted, project details that usually would have been included in the application were not available.
“This falls short of what would be considered the norm,” said planning board member Mike Waddell of Gorham. The board had unanimously approved the Development Agreement at its last meeting on Jan. 18, 2015, he said. “That’s what you needed to get financing,” Waddell reminded.
At that time public relations spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne reported that the financing package would be finalized in 90 days or mid-April. No public announcement of securing the needed $143 million has been made, however, other than a promise that at least a $2 million investment by Forward NH that is associated with the controversial proposed Northern Pass Transmission project.
“We’re not trying to escape the rules but rather to find a way, a back door; the process is daunting,” Mill said, adding that without planning board approval the project could be delayed until 2017.
“Are we doing this review too soon?" asked Planning Board Chairman John Scarinza. If the developer had the state Alteration of Terrain permit (AoT) permit were completed and submitted to the state Department of Environmental Services (NHDES), the board would know if many of its own requirements were being met. Completing the NHDES application will cost hundreds of thousands of dollars, the developer said.
Mills pointed out that Dixville Capital would soon seek approval from the state Attorney General’s Office to conduct real estate sales and had hoped having planning board approval of the expanded ski resort in hand would bolster the promises made about planned amenities to prospective buyers.
Two Board members — Waddell and attorney Tom McCue of Berlin — pointed out that the board is bound by its own regulations and must review all the information before giving its approval. Not to follow the legal requirements by cutting corners would put the whole project at risk by opening the way for a challenge to be successful in Superior Court.
“In project with which I’ve been involved, permits were in hand before construction began,” Waddell pointed out.
Nearly all other board members and alternates participated in the lively discussion: Coös 7 Rep. Leon Rideout and Mark Frank, both of Lancaster; Ed Mellett of Northumberland; and vice chairman Fred King, clerk Jennifer Fish and Tom Tillotson, all of Colebrook. Wagner forester Scott Rineer of Errol recused himself.
The board agreed to meet every three weeks. Mills said that getting site plan review approval for the Hampshire and Dix House just-submitted applications is the developer’s top priority.
The planning board must hold a public hearing before approving a site plan review.

Selectmen meet with development commissioner to discuss OHRV use

By Kirstan Knowlton

GORHAM — The Medallion Opera House was standing room only as residents gathered to hear from Jeff Rose, commissioner of the Department of Resources and Economics Development regarding the proposed extension of the OHRV trail near Jimtown Road and the parking lot on Route 2.

Previous to the public meeting with selectmen, Rose meet with a room full of residents from surrounding towns to discuss the impact of OHRV expansion on the area. The meeting ended shortly before the selectmen arrived but many stayed on to hear Rose. The crowd included people on both sides of allowing OHRV use of the rail bed.

Selectmen Chair Grace LaPierre started the meeting by questioning Rose’s comments, in his letter addressed to the town, about the economic impact of the trail and providing access for residents of Jimtown Road.

“While promoting economic activity is something we consider, the limited trail-related businesses in this area have existed prior to any proposed trail connectivity,” stated Rose, in his letter to the town.

She cited several trails that were open specifically for businesses including Absolute Power Sports, T&C and, most recently, Mary’s Pizza. LaPierre asked Rose if it was the size of the business that mattered.

“We want to know your reasons for not letting us use that little piece of land,” said LaPierre.

The proposed section of railroad bed is 2,355 feet long and is owned by the state. During the winter months the trail is open to snowmobilers, who can use the trail without restriction to time of day.

Rose explained that he was not there to provide an answer, but to have a conversation.

“We’ve been working closely with different stake holders. We’ve come a long way in a very short amount of time,” said Rose.

During public comment period, Ray Bergeron, owner of White Mountain ATV Rental, agreed with residents that there needs to be more done to address the misuse of trails. Bergeron suggested that additional signage and measures to control dust could alleviate some of the problems.

Bergeron, who recently teamed up with the local OHRV club to promote safe use of the trails admitted that more needed to done to police local and out-of-state riders.

“We need to police ourselves and we have to earn it,” said Bergeron, referring to the proposed trail access.

The town and the state have considered other access points for OHRV use. Last year, the Department of Transportation completed a study on crossing the intersection of Jimtown and Route 2 for OHRV users to access the trail.

DOT determined that the safer alternative would be to use the railroad bed, but because that portion is owned by the state, it still requires approval before it can be opened.

Several suggestions were also made by residents to improve the current trails and parking areas, like a different location for parking that can accommodate the increased use and a fee for all users of the trail system including both motorized and non-motorized use.

Another concern was the lack of coverage to police the trails. N.H. Fish and Game is the lead enforcement agency, but because of limited funding and manpower, many communities turn to local law enforcement for solutions.

“We need to find funding for an officer to enforce the laws,” said Selectmen Pat Lefebvre.

The meeting lasted roughly an hour and half with residents who oppose and support the trail expansion having an opportunity to state concerns. Rose told the selectmen that he would notify the town once he has made a decision.

The next regularly scheduled meeting will be held on Monday, May 2, at 6 p.m. at the town hall in Gorham. Agendas for the meeting can be found online at gorhamnh.org.

Berlin police arrest pair for single burglary but believe involved in spree

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — Berlin police arrested and charged two men with a burglary at the VFW Post 2520 at 1107 Main St. last Saturday but believe the two are connected to a string of burglaries at as many as 11 local businesses dating back almost a year.
Douglas Hudon, 28, and Justin Elsea, 21, both listed as address unknown, were each charged with one count of burglary for the break-in at the VFW.
Elsea was also charged with conspiracy to commit burglary, alleging he was involved in the Jan. 8 burglary at Valley Creek Eatery at 4 Hillside Ave. in Berlin. In addition, Elsea faces a misdemeanor count of contempt of court, noting he was out on conditional bail at the time of the alleged burglary.
At 7 a.m. Saturday, Berlin police responded to a report of a burglary at the VFW Post. Officers determined that the building had been entered by force and specific items of value removed. Hudon and Elsea were identified as suspects and police said interviews with the two revealed specific details that corroborated with evidence discovered at the scene.
Arrest warrants were issued and Elsea was taken into custody Tuesday morning. At a hearing, bail was set at $2,500 cash. Unable to post bail, Elsea is being held at the Coos County Jail in West Stewartstown.
Hudon was arrested Wednesday morning and bail was set at $800 cash. Unable to make bail, he is being held at the Carroll County Jail.
Police believe the pair may be related to an on-going burglary spree that has hit the city. Residents with any information about burglaries at Bisson Sugar House, Hair by Dena, Hair Improvements, Valley Creek Eatery, Mr. Auto, Designers Touch, Glen Ave Auto, Skinplicity, Toni’s Pizza, Louis’ Barber Shop, and Jen’s Hair Salon are asked to call the Berlin police detective division at (603)752-3131.

Volunteers sought for annual downtown Day of Caring

BERLIN – The downtown Day of Caring is set for May 27 and the Berlin Main Street Program is asking for volunteers to help beautify the city’s downtown. A few hours of time and some sweat equity is all it takes to get the downtown looking it's best for the upcoming summer season. Volunteers are needed to help rake, prune, sweep, mulch, weed, and plant multiple sites in the downtown area.
Individuals, groups, or families can spend just an hour, entire morning or afternoon assisting. Community volunteers are the key to the success of the project. Groups or organizations wishing to volunteer can sign up by e-mailing This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. or calling 603-752-6246 or 603-381-1520. Locations will be set up by the Berlin Main Street Program.
Participants should bring gardening supplies including gloves, brooms, rakes, wheelbarrows and other gardening hand tools they may have from home. Other supplies are available on site at Bickford Place Park.
In appreciation for the dedication to the community, a barbecue is planned for lunchtime at Bickford Place for all volunteers.