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School Board examines the use of schools as polling locations

 BERLIN— The danger posed to students by using city schools as polling places for elections was discussed at Thursday's school board meeting
Residents and several city councilors joined in the discussion spurred by an incident that took place at Brown School recently.
The issue is on the city council agenda for this Monday night at 6:30 p.m. at city hall.
The city currently uses the Junior High School gym and Brown School as two of the city's four polling places for national, state, and local elections.
This year, a few days after the November elections, Brown School had someone try to enter the building to vote. When the staff was unable to get them to leave they called the police. The man was found to be mentally ill and was removed from the property.
The discussion to eliminate schools as voting locations had already come up prior to the incident. However, after the incident the conversation became a priority.
Councilor Russell Otis addressed the board, and explained why he was not in favor of continuing to hold elections at schools.
"Our children's security is the utmost importance. I will not support holding elections in the school, and it is unacceptable when we have other facilities available," said Otis.
School Board Chair Nicole Plourde agreed that schools are no longer a safe place to hold elections and cited growing concerns across the country. Plourde shared her experience visiting one of the polling locations during the recent election.
"I took the opportunity to walk around the school on Election Day, and I was surprised how accessible common student areas were. Our primary responsibility is to educate and keep those children safe. By holding polls there we are not doing that," explained Plourde.
At Berlin Junior High School, the gymnasium is used for voting. Physical education students are given an alternative activity, usually outside, but students still use the dressing/shower rooms off the gymnasium to prepare for class. The general public that enters that area to vote also has access to the student's dressing room.
At Brown School the cafeteria where voting is held, is used as a multi-purpose space. Students utilize that space to eat meals, participate in P.E. and even art class.
School officials said voting does not just disrupt the single day that it happens, but the day leading up to and after voting. Student's normal school routine, safety and learning are compromised.
Councilor Paula Benski also expressed her concern for allowing schools to be used as polling places. Benski said she has never been in favor of four election sites. She decided to see what election day looked like first hand and worked at one of the locations.
"I was appalled at how that whole day went. Children and the public were crisscrossing each other, and there was no one there policing who goes in and out. In addition to safety concerns, elections are serious. It was hard to focus with so many children and people walking around," explained Benski.
Benski reminded those who were at the meeting that at the end of the year she would no longer be serving on council, where she was able to advocate for concerns like this one. She stressed the need for people to get out and speak their voice.
Superintendent Corinne Cascadden closed the discussion by reiterating the need for the community to speak up about their concerns.
"We will carry forward any thoughts that were shared here tonight, and we encourage the public to express their concern to the council," said Cascadden.
The school board is meeting with the city council to discuss the topic directly on Monday. In the meantime, school officials will research charters and city laws on the legalities of schools being used as polling locations.

Last Updated on Saturday, 20 December 2014 01:00

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Balsams request for water withdrawal permit sign the project is moviing forward

DIXVILLE NOTCH – The developer of the Balsams Grand Resort spread some holiday cheer through the North Country this week with news that the company has filed with the state for a permit to pull water out of the Androscoggin River for expanded snowmaking.
The water application is the first major permit sought by Dixville Capital LLC and a sign that the redevelopment of the closed resort is going forward.
"This is a significant step forward," said company spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne.
The application to the N.H. Department of Environmental Services seeks permission to withdraw up to 2.9 million cubic feet of water daily from the river on an intermittent basis between Nov. 1 and March 15. An intake structure would be located about 1,700 feet downstream of the Errol dam in Errol. A pump station would be constructed on the west bank of the river – final designs for the intake and pump station will be submitted to DES when completed.
The application prepared by Horizons Engineering of Littleton states the withdrawal would have minimal if any impact on water levels and wildlife. Tranchemontagne said Horizons had 100 years of data to look at for that section of the river in calculating the impact of the water withdrawal.
The water will travel a distance of about ten miles to the Wilderness Ski area. Tranchemontagne said that will require a permit from N.H Department of Transportation to construct a water line in the right-of-way along Route 26. That application will come later. He said the developer will apply soon for a wetlands permit.
Tranchemontagne said Dixville Capital feels it needs to start construction in late April or early May 2015 on Phase I of the redevelopment to achieve its goal of reopening the hotel in 2016. He said the construction season is limited in northern New Hampshire as is the window to entice former guests back to a hotel that has been closed since 2011.
Phase I, at an estimated cost of over $100 million, calls for preserving part of the historic Dix House and building a 400-room hotel, a conference center, a spa and yoga retreat. The ski area would be re-opened and expanded. Tranchemontagne said snowmaking is a critical component of expanding the ski area and that will require water from the Androscoggin River.
Ski resort developer Les Otten signed an agreement earlier this year help owners Dan Hebert and Dan Dagesse redevelop the Balsams. At a presentation before the North Country Chamber in May, Otten outlined plans to make the Balsams into an international resort that would eventually have 1,000 hotel rooms.
Tranchemontagne said there has been "robust interest" in the project from investors but declined to provide details, noting Dixville Capital is a private developer.
He said Otten has a proven track record as a ski area developer and is committed to the Balsams project. Tranchemontagne said Phase I would create 1,500 new jobs as well another 1,000 indirect jobs.

Last Updated on Saturday, 20 December 2014 00:59

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Police call for a ban on sale and possession of synthetic pot

BERLIN – Berlin Police Chief Peter Morency is asking the city council to ban the sale and or possession of synthetic marijuana in the city. The request appeared to have the strong support of the council at Monday's meeting.
Morency explained that the use of synthetic marijuana, also known as spice or synthetic cannabinoids, is increasingly a problem in the state and city. This summer, Gov. Maggie Hassan declared a state of emergency after a string of overdoses attributed to synthetic pot.
Morency explained that synthetic pot is usually made up of some form of herbs sprayed with a chemical designed to mimic marijuana. Many of the substances are not categorized as illegal controlled substances and are sold legally as incense or potpourri. The incense or potpourri is usually smoked but the effect is much stronger than marijuana – some doctors compare it to amphetamines.
Morency said as a particular substance is banned, chemists make a slight change in the composition to keep the product legal. His proposed resolution states the long-term effect of such so-called designer drugs is unknown.
Rather than go after the users, Morency said the police department is proposing the city shut down the sellers by banning the sale of synthetic marijuana.
He said the proposed ban has been approved in Manchester and Laconia. It requires authorities to prove the seller was acting knowingly and purposely.
If approved the ordinance would set a $500 fine for violations and each day a violation occurs would constitute a separate offense.
Mayor Paul Grenier said he strongly supports the proposed ban. He called it is a problem and said synthetic marijuana is being retailed in Berlin. He said the council owed it to its citizens and kids to support the measure.
The council held a first reading of the proposed ordinance and scheduled a public hearing on the ordinance for its Jan. 5 meeting.
Morency also requested the council's support for an application for a $5,000 Project Safe Neighborhood Grant. The grant, funded by the state Department of Justice, is targeted to reduce gun, gangs, and firearm-related offenses. The department has seen an increase in such crimes, with burglaries increasing from 44 in 2013 to 88 the first ten months of this year. During that same period, aggravated assaults increased from 8 to 16, and drug/narcotic violations from 91 to 107.
That proposal will also come up for a public hearing on Jan. 5.
Grenier asked Morency his view of medical marijuana dispensaries. The state legalized medical marijuana last year with the law allowing for four non-profit dispensary centers spread geographically across the state.
Morency noted he spent ten years as part of the state drug task force. He said he supports use of medical marijuana if the drug is administered in medical facilities. But he said he does not want to see it sold on Main Street or in store fronts allowed anywhere in the city. Grenier said he shares the chief's opinion on the issue.

Last Updated on Saturday, 20 December 2014 00:58

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Concerns over proposed ordinance changes raised at public hearing

GORHAM—After a public hearing, selectmen agreed that the wording of a proposed bed bug ordinance be strengthened before it goes into effect.

On Monday, Dec. 15, the town held two public hearings regarding an ordinance that addresses the spread of bedbugs from trash pickers, as well as reviewed the street light survey. The selectmen received feedback from several residents about both issues.

Selectmen Jeff Schall reviewed the proposed bedbug ordinance with residents, and opened up the meeting for public discussion.

Apartment owner Tom Cote, questioned who would be liable if the tenants did not report the infestation to the landlord for proper removal.

"I believe that the landlord should have some level of responsibility, but in many cases tenants do not report problems and try to resolve the issue on their own," explained Cote.

Currently the ordinance reads, "Any person willfully violating such regulations shall be guilty of a violation, which could carry a fine of up to $500 per violation," Chapter 40 Public Health Section V.

Town Manager Robin Frost suggested that the wording of "willfully violating," would cover the landlord in cases like this, but understands the need for stronger wording.

"I can see your concern. The whole intent behind this policy is to raise awareness of the issue and minimize the risk of spreading bedbugs," said Schall.

The selectmen decided that further discussion was needed to strengthen the wording of the ordinance. Frost will be contacting Mike Guay of Presidential Pest Control for additional input.Guy had noted at a previous meeting that  75 percent of all infestations happen when furniture passes hands from one place to another.

If the policy is changed substantially, the town will hold another public hearing outlining that changes. More information should be available at the next town meeting.

Also on the agenda that evening was a public hearing to discuss the possibility of up to 135 streetlights being turned off across town as a cost savings measure.

A list of lights that are being considered is available on the town's website. The list was last updated on Nov. 3 and poles were marked with orange ribbon.

Multiple residents expressed concerns about not having adequate lighting at night. The lights being considered are not part of the midnight program and would be permanently shut off.

"I like to walk at night, and I am concerned about how this would impact my quality of life," said Janet Nadeau.

In addition to walking at night, residents were concerned that police officers patrolling the area would not be able to see clearly without proper lighting.

Residence requested an estimate of the overall tax benefit that they would see if lights were shut off.

"At the end of the day what is the tax impact," questioned Elaine Riendeau.

Initially it would take one and half years to off set the cost of turning off the lights, but residents could expect to see a 7.5-cent decrease in taxes.

Although residents were notified about the public hearing through the newspaper and the town's website, Budget Committee Chair Mike Waddell feels that not enough expose has been given to the proposal.

"If would not be comfortable if I were in your shoes. You make the decision to shut the lights off, and I think you'll see that more people are going to come forward," stated Waddell.

The selectmen heard suggestions for alternatives to shutting of streetlights, including LED and solar lighting.

The Board of Selectmen will hold their next meeting on Dec. 22 starting at 5 p.m. at the Gorham Town Hall.

 

Last Updated on Saturday, 20 December 2014 00:57

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