Route 16 reconstruction at critical stage

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — The Route 16 reconstruction enters a critical phase as Sargent Corporation faces a tight schedule to get the section of roadway at Brown Elementary School finished before school starts on Aug. 30.

“A lot has been going on,” Jay Poulin of HEB Engineers told the city council Monday night as he provided an update on the project.

Since he last met with the council in June, Poulin said concrete sidewalks have been installed from St. Anne Church to Maple Street, new drainage has been installed and new gravel put in from Maple Street to Eight Street, and the base paving has been completed and new curbing installed from Eighth Street to Twelfth Street.

By the end of this week, Poulin said all of the drainage work should be complete. He said that will be a big milestone for the project, meaning that all the subsurface work is done. The only exception is the Twelfth Street intersection.

The city had specified that all the work around Brown School (Route 16 from Seventh Street to Eighth Street) had to take place while school was not in session. Poulin said the schedule is tight but Sargent should meet that deadline. He said base paving will take place Aug.14-15, curbing will be installed Aug. 21 and 22, and sidewalks will go in Aug. 24-25.

The Twelfth Street intersection improvements are scheduled to begin Aug. 16 and will take about three weeks to complete. Traffic will remain open but drivers should expect it will be congested. Berlin police will assist with traffic control and truck traffic will be detoured to the East Milan Road.

The final layer of pavement on the entire section from St. Anne Church to Twelfth Street is currently scheduled for the last week of September. Poulin said that is the last item except for the street markings.

So far, Poulin said the project is on budget. He said his firm has been able to modify design details to offset any increases as a result of change orders. Within two weeks, he said he will be able to provide the city with an updated cost estimate that should indicated whether the project will end with a surplus.

In other news:

The council reviewed a list of six potential projects it could undertake with the $203,779 the city received under Senate Bill 38. The state returned $30 million in surplus funds to local municipalities for road improvements. City Manager James Wheeler said his recommendation is to use the money to replace street lights with energy efficient LEDs. The project would cost an estimated $300,000 but is expected to save the city $60,000 annually. Wheeler said use of the SB 38 money would allow the city to pay off the project cost almost four years sooner, generating $228,000 in savings.

Other options include improving the intersection at Bridge and Hutchins Streets with a price tag of $332,000, $171,000 as a match for the river walk funds, improvements to Glen Avenue entrance, purchase of a grinder for Public Works to develop a reconstruction program for residential streets, lighting on Hutchins Street, and paving some miscellaneous streets.

Mayor Paul Grenier said he was under the impression the city could use the $250,000 Northern Border Regional Commission grant as a match for the $668,000 federal Transportation Alternatives Program grant for the river walk project.

Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme said the state Department of Transportation said the match has to be in hard dollars and not in in-kind services. Grenier asked Laflamme to set up a meeting with DOT officials and said he will invite Executive Councilor Joseph Kenney to join city staff in meeting with DOT over the issue.

The council agreed to study the options.

Community Development Director Pamela Laflamme discussed the planning board’s proposal to amend the city’s zoning ordinance to allow large-scale commercial solar farms in industrial business zones as a permitted use and in rural residential and the Jericho Gateway zones as a permitted use by special exception.

Laflamme said there has been interest in the past in such solar farms but the zoning ordinance does not allow them. With no project before the city, she said this is a good time to address the issue and be prepared should a proposal be presented.

The council expressed concern about allowing such solar farms in the Jericho Gateway zone, noting the city has worked hard to promote recreational-based development there.

Grenier said he was worried that unlike solar turbines, which are high and allow for ATV ands snowmobile trails, solar farms are low and could limit recreational trail development. Councilor Mike Rozek said he thinks some of the city’s old landfill sites, like Dummer yard and the bulky waste landfill on Cates Hill, would be ideal sites for such facilities.

Grenier suggested setting up a joint meeting with a small number of representatives of both the council and planning board to discuss the matter further. Councilors Peter Higbee and Lucie Remillard agreed to join Grenier in meeting with some planning board members. Remilllard represents the council on the planning board.

Wheeler announced that Public Works Director Michael Perreault has informed the city he will retire next July. Perreault has served as public works director since 2008. Prior to joining city staff, he worked at Fraser Papers and before that was a mechanical and maintenance project manager with Pizzagalli Construction Company for six years.

Jeffrey O’Neil as been hired as an operator at the wastewater treatment plant and Heidi Gray is a new account clerk in the finance department.

No End In Sight For Hearings on Northern Pass’ Controversial Plan

By NANCY WEST

InDepthNH.org

CONCORD — Kris Pastoriza of Easton has to hope she can get the days off from her job as a breakfast cook to fight Northern Pass, but it is getting harder to plan as the possibility looms of adding additional dates to the already lengthy hearing process.

“You have to put things on hold and you have to juggle your schedule and hope people give you a day off to show up,” Pastoriza said during a break Wednesday at the Site Evaluation Committee’s scheduling conference. “Sometimes you can’t show up.”

That makes it harder for intervenors to ask the right questions without knowing what the witnesses said during the quasi-judicial proceedings, she said. Many of the intervenors — including individuals, businesses and municipalities — travel long distances to the Concord hearings.

There have already been 27 full days of trial-like hearings before state regulators in Concord on Eversource’s high-voltage transmission line proposal to bring Hydro-Quebec electricity 192 miles from Pittsburg to Deerfield.

Dr. Campbell McLaren, also of Easton, said he can’t schedule work at all as a travelling physician because he needs to make sure he will be available to testify against the project. Otherwise his testimony will be rejected, he said.

“It’s immobilized a lot of people – seriously significantly immobilized people,” McLaren said.

More hearing days?

As Michael Iacopino, counsel for the Site Evaluation Committee, questioned participants Wednesday on how much time they will need to make their case, it became apparent that either more hearing days may be needed or the decision deadline pushed back — or both.

“We definitely need more days,” Iacopino said during a break. But whether they will be added before the deadline or the deadline is extended will be up to the committee, he said.

A committee vote would be needed to push back the deadline, he said, and only if members believe that it was in the public’s interest.

Martin Murray, spokesperson for Northern Pass, has been adamant against pushing back the deadline.

“We understand the difficult nature of coordinating individual schedules and have made a number of attempts to work with officials and intervenors in hopes of adjusting the schedule to ‘avoid undue delay and assure the prompt and orderly conduct of the proceeding,’ including a recent motion to add more hearing days before the Sept. 30 deadline and to extend hearing hours,” Murray said. The motion was denied.

“We remain confident that the SEC will make every effort possible to return a timely decision and we expect to receive all necessary state and federal permits by the end of the year,” Murray said.

Complex process

State Sen. Jeff Woodburn, D-Whitefield, said he believes the SEC process leans toward granting applications. If Northern Pass is approved, Woodburn hopes the SEC will require some benefits for poor communities.

“It’s wishful thinking that the SEC would do a blanket rejection,” Woodburn said during a recent phone interview.

But SEC approval wouldn’t necessarily signal the end of the process, Woodburn said.

“I happen to believe the Massachusetts RFP is critical. That’s the real game going on,” Woodburn said.

There are also several federal permits that Northern Pass must obtain, which Murray says he expects will be in place by the end of the year.

Woodburn was referring to the Massachusetts Clean Energy RFP. A Massachusetts law passed last year required the solicitation of bids for a total of 9.45 million megawatt hours of clean energy to help reduce carbon emissions.

Northern Pass recently submitted two bids to the Massachusetts RFP, but the winner won’t be announced until Jan. 25, 2018.

Woodburn said the “poor” towns along Northern Pass’ proposed route like Whitefield have already lost out to “rich” ones like Sugar Hill and Plymouth where the powerlines would be buried.

There is a great deal of distrust up north for Northern Pass, he said, citing a complaint he looked into recently from a project opponent that an SEC tour of the North Country route was ahead of schedule. As a result protesters showed up in Franconia after the bus had come and gone.

“Things like that don’t help,” Woodburn said.

As one of the lawmakers who advocated for reforming the SEC process, which includes more opportunity for public comment, Woodburn said he is not sure it helped.

“I advocated for reform, but I’m not sure the reforms have made the process better,” he said. “Nobody can say they didn’t have the opportunity to address to committee.”

Woodburn said the wealthy and vocal communities get treated better than the poorer communities. “The plan we have today is those who shout the loudest and have the most resources have burial,” he said.

“New Hampshire is a great place to be rich and a very different one to be poor and middle class” because of the state’s regressive tax structure, Woodburn said.

If it gets approved, the SEC should look carefully at how to mitigate losses to the places most harmed, he said.

“New Hampshire has a way of supporting those with the most over those with the least,” Woodburn said.

Applicant resources

In June, Northern Pass filed a motion seeking extra hearing dates and longer hearing days that was turned down.

Several municipal groups argued at the time that with 1,000 properties affected by the project, there were many intervenors.

A motion filed by Steven Whitely argued that intervening parties do not have the same “unlimited resources” as Northern Pass.

“In this proceeding alone, the applicants have filed appearances for a total of 10 attorneys, including Barry Needleman, Jeremy T. Walker, Adam Dumville, Rebecca S. Walkley, Thomas B. Getz, George Dana Bisbee, Christopher J. Allwarden, Marvin Paul Bellis, Elizabeth Maldonado and Viggo Fish,” Whitely wrote.

He said other attorneys working for the applicant occasionally attend the hearings and assist in the proceedings at the Site Evaluation Committee, including Mark Hodgdon and Benjamin Hanna, “as well as other unknown associates and numerous support staff.”

Many intervenors in this case are pro se and/or are represented by one attorney who is responsible for handling all aspects of the case, he said.

Hearing dates

The scheduled hearings at this point will be held at 49 Donovan St. in Concord on Aug. 29, 30, 31 and Sept. 11, 12, 13, 15, 18, 19, 21, 22, 25, 26, 28, 29. They are all open to the public.

The Aug. 30 hearing will end at 3:30. From 5 to 8 p.m. that day, the committee will take written and oral statements from the public.

To make an oral statement, people must send an email by Aug. 21 to This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. include name, address, position on the project, and whether special accommodations are needed.

If there is extra time, people who haven’t signed up will be able to speak.

There are still two more witnesses for Northern Pass to finish making its case, and 146 intervenors as individuals or serving on panels to make their case after that.

SEC Attorney Iacopino said he will first have to find out the availability of SEC members to add hearing dates. Any change in the Sept. 30 decision deadline could only happen by a vote of the committee, he said.

 

City gets second grant for snowmelt project, will seek bids for skate park

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — The city has been awarded a second grant to pay for a feasibility study on a downtown snowmelt system. City Manager James Wheeler said he expects the city will issue a request for qualifications next month to start the process of hiring an engineering firm to do the study.

The city council also authorized Wheeler to move ahead with designing the city’s new skate park. The city recently received a $75,000 Tillotson grant to fund half the cost of the skate park.

Wheeler informed the city council Monday night that Berlin’s application for a $30,000 federal Rural Business Development Grant for the downtown snow melt study has been approved. Last fall, the city applied for and received a $12,500 Community Development Block Grant Feasibility Study grant through the N.H. Community Development Finance Authority.

The two grants will provide the city with sufficient money to hire the technical assistance needed to design a system to heat streets and sidewalks in downtown Berlin during winter months.

The city hopes to have the feasibility study completed by the end of the year. Based on the study’s finding, the city will consider applying for a federal Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery (TIGER) grant to fund the project. The TIGER program focuses on projects that are innovative, improve safety and generate economic development.

The city believes a snowmelt system would make the downtown more attractive to shoppers and customers. It cites the example of Holland, Mich., which has seen its downtown thrive after putting in a hydronic snow and ice melting system back in 1988.

The Berlin study will look at two options for heating the water that would flow through tubing laid underneath the pavement. One would use the waste stream generated by Burgess BioPower’s 75-watt municipal plant. The other option would be to construct a municipal biomass plant.

With $150,000 identified in funding for the skate park, Wheeler asked the council for permission to forego the usual bid process and issue a request for design/build services. He explained that it would still be a competitive bid process but the city would be seeking a firm that would both design and construct the skate park. Wheeler noted there are firms that specialize in developing skate parks.

Councilor Mike Rozek asked if the city has an expert to evaluate the designs. Wheeler said staff will review the qualifications of the various bidders and check references.

Public Works Director Michael Perreault said the city has already community input in the design of the skate park. A volunteer group working with the city has conducted a survey asking stakeholders what they wanted to see in a skate park. Eight specific features were identified: rails, a half pipe, bowl, bank, quarter pipe, pyramid, stairs and ledge. There was also agreement that the park will be located at Community Field.

In addition to the $75,000, the city has set aside $50,000 in capital improvement funds, and will provide $25,000 in site work.

The council authorized Wheeler to proceed.

The city had an old skate park at Community Field that was part of the property sold to Eversource for a new substation. The city received $400,000 for the property, which also contained two building the city used for storage.

The city of Nashua is just completing a new skate park there that is expected to cost around $500,000. According to a story in the Nashua Telegraph, the park occupies a space about 175 feet long and 130 feet wide. The park is being built by Artisan Skateparks of Kitty Hawk, N.C.

 

Record crowd enjoys 8th annual Jericho ATV Festival

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — The Jericho ATV Festival drew a record crowd and organizers said even rain could not dampen the spirit of ATV enthusiasts who flocked to the region.

“It went amazing well,” said Paula Kinney, executive director of the Androscoggin Valley Chamber of Commerce.

“It was awesome,” said Mark Belanger, a chamber director and member of the ATV Festival Committee that oversees the event.

The committee said 7,000 people attended the two-day festival, an increase of 1,000 from last year. Chris Gamache, head of the N.H. Trails Bureau, said there was a great crowd of both riders and spectators at Jericho Mountain State Park throughout the two-day event. He said there were a lot of out-of-state riders and noted the local hotels were full with some ATVers traveling to Jackson, Lancaster and Bethel, Maine to find accommodations.

The festival kicked off Friday with the busiest day in its eight-year history. People flocked to watch the grudge runs in the mud pit and take advantage of the free demo rides. New this year was the kids’ mud pit and the East Coast Hoppers doing trials demonstrations. Riders checked out the hundreds of miles of trails in the county and relished the ability to drive to restaurants and lodging establishments on local streets.

Main Street in Berlin was jammed Friday night for the Downtown Block Party with Belanger reporting an excited but well-behaved crowd taking advantage of the music, beer tent and food concessions as well as local restaurants to enjoy the evening. Rain pushed up the start of the torchlight parade, but no one seemed to mind. Many local residents said it was nice to see so many people in the downtown.

A full slate of activities greeted enthusiasts Saturday starting with a blessing of the ATVs at 8:30 a.m. With rain threatening, the Rave X Freestyle stunt show was moved up to 9:30 a.m. Kinney said the show concluded just before the first of several showers and downpours throughout the day.

Chris Gamache, head of the N.H. Bureau of Trails, said the rain had some impact in keeping attendance down Saturday afternoon but said the rain was actually needed to keep the dust down. Even during heavy periods of rain, Kinney said people still continued to pour into the park.

One of the highlights of the festival is always the mud pit and Kinney said this year it was in prime shape. She said Mike Couch of Romik Developers is the creator of the mud pit and manages to outdo himself every year. Kinney said the mud pit now attracts riders with modified ATVs designed just for racing in such muddy conditions. The festival awards $2,000 in cash, and vendors donate expensive prizes to winners in the various categories.

“We had the best races ever on Saturday,” she said.

One new event this year was a kids mud pit designed for the younger riders. Kinney said it was a big success with at least 200 kids trying out the pit using Power Wheels provided by MOMS of Lancaster and Bolt Depot.

The venue shifted Saturday night to the Service Credit Union Heritage Park in Berlin for a “Concert in the Park.” Rain, complete with thunder and lighting, delayed the start of the musical performance by the group “Last Kid Picked” but Belanger said once the rain stopped, the band put on a full show. He said the crowd started off slow but the pace picked up as the rain stopped.

“The park was full by the end of the night,” he said, adding that people were dancing and enjoying the music. The food vendors hung in and the beer tent remained open.

“We work so hard to do these events and to see people respond couldn’t be more rewarding,” said Belanger.
There were no major incidents or accidents during the festival, which Gamache attributed to the planning and preparation work done by the partners. He noted there was a good law enforcement presence throughout the festival, which he said riders like to see.

There were also lots of events for people to do and enjoy including a poker run, obstacle course, helicopter rides, hot air balloon rides, demo rides, food and parts vendors, and trials demonstrations.

“The event gets better organized and implemented every year. It is really great to see so many different organizations and individuals working hard to make a quality event in New Hampshire,” Gamache said.

The chamber now turns its attention to getting ready for Wingzilla, scheduled for Sept. 9 at the Service Credit Union Heritage Park. Then it’s back to Jericho Mountain State Park for Polaris’s Camp RZR on Sept. 22-23.