HEARING JIGGER’S STORIES
Seniors Dylan Dagesse and Sedrick McKinnon interviewed Charles “Jigger” Patterson for Colebrook Academy’s annual Veterans Day project, presented to the public last Tuesday evening, November 10 at the Tillotson Center. This year’s focus was on the Vietnam era and Chuck talked about his service on the USS Turner Joy, a destroyer famous for the 1964 Gulf of Tonkin Incident and now a floating museum in Bremerton, Wash. (Karen Ladd photo)
Coös Planning Board Speeds up Its Timeline for Balsams PUD Approval
By Jake Mardin
Following discussion at last Wednesday night’s public hearing on planned unit development at The Balsams Resort, the Coös County planning board decided to gather for a work session this week and vote on the application at a December 2 meeting.
The hearing on the Planned Unit Development application, submitted by Dixville Capital, LLC for the Balsams in Dixville, drew about 50 citizens, business owners, local and state officials to the Tillotson Center in Colebrook on Wednesday evening. Board members went back and forth on how to go about approving it, with some wanting to vote that night and others looking for more information. Following a conference between the developers, some members of the board and attorney Bernie Waugh, a work session involving the board and developers was scheduled for last night, November 17, with a decision to come at the board’s next meeting on December 2.
Planning board chairman John Scarinza opened the hearing with a brief overview of how they’d reached this point, including the recent passage of zoning ordinance amendments to create a new resort district at The Balsams and surrounding recreational areas. David Norden of Dixville Capital presented the PUD overview, and explained that the application represents the concept and establishes guidelines and regulations to be used in future applications. Individual site plan reviews will be required for future steps.
“We’re looking for approval of the grand idea, the big idea for The Balsams,” he said. The four key components of the PUD are approval of the concept, establishing regulations and guidelines, establishing vesting rights, and providing a basis for a development agreement. At their October 21 meeting, the planning board deemed the application complete with the condition that developers provide the board with certain information. The developers submitted additional information on October 29.
Mr. Norden listed the state and federal agencies that are involved in the project, including transportation and environmental services. “We have state and federal requirements that you would rarely see if ever in the Unincorporated Places,” he said. “In Coös County you are in good hands. This is under severe and strict review.”
The district encompasses 8,175 acres of land, of which approximately 3,685 acres are under conservation easements; the ski area and open land consist of 2,235 acres, and 735 acres are set aside for mitigation. There are four primary development areas, and together they equal about 1,700 acres, or around 20 percent of the entire district.
Developers estimate that there could be up to 17,000 guests at the resort at one time, and there are 4,600 allowable development units they are seeking to build.
Development Area A, the area around Lake Gloriette, includes the Dix and Hampshire Houses, which will be saved and restored and are included in Phase I of the project. Area A also includes the new Lake Gloriette House, which features a conference center.
Area B encompasses the Wilderness Ski Area, which Mr. Norden said will have 23 lifts, 1,200 acres of traditional skiing and 800 acres of gladed and side-country terrain, making it four to five times bigger than what exists now. Lifts and trails connect the ski area to the village. Area C covers the basin within the ski area, and D is the south village.
“We would like to get going,” Mr. Norden said when talking about the development schedule. He said if target dates are met and work is done efficiently, they can see an opening date at the end of 2016, with the Lake Gloriette House finished at the end of 2017. When asked about the Panorama Golf Course, he said it will be brought back with minor modifications as part of Phase I. The golf course is located in Colebrook and is not part of the PUD.
When asked where help to build the project will come from, he said developers will retain several general contractors who will source out the work, and said a lot will come from those who have lost jobs in the area.
Colebrook town manager Becky Merrow noted that selectman Greg Placy, the former N.H. DOT District 1 engineer, would be available to offer his assistance with any road questions in Colebrook or Dixville.
Jeff Rose of the N.H. Department of Resources and Economic Development commended the planning board on the work it had done. “This has been one of the most exciting, exhilarating and inspirational projects to be involved in,” he said. “We’re on the cusp of something really big and really important,” stressing the importance of keeping things moving so developers can meet their timeline.
Executive Councilor Joe Kenney echoed Mr. Rose’s sentiments and urged the planning board to move quickly. “We wish for a vote on this tonight or in the next ten days,” he said.
North Country Chamber of Commerce executive director Britni White said the sense she has from businesspeople is that they are ready for the project to happen. “Business decisions are waiting while the Balsams is waiting for its permit,” she said. “It is vital to move forward as quickly as possible.”
Commissioner Thomas Brady, who sits on the planning board, said that it was time to act on the application. “We’ve got to stop delaying this to future meetings,” he said. Planning board member and state representative Leon Rideout said holding a meeting a month from now constituted “total inertia,” and the board was “getting bogged down in minute details.”
Board member Fred King noted that they have already been involved in a lawsuit regarding the project that made it to the state Supreme Court, and it is important to make sure to “cross the T’s and dot the I’s.” Mr. Scarinza agreed, saying, “You want an approval that is bulletproof and cannot be challenged.”
Burt Mills of Dixville Capital said the developers have tried to be very thorough in the application, but the time the process was taking is “a little disconcerting.” He said that time is important because markets come and go. “I don’t believe we’re asking for anything that is going to cause this county to feel embarrassed or cheated or is a risk to human safety.”
He noted the different agencies that would be involved in the project, including the state fire marshal. “Please give us an opportunity to get this done,” he said. “We’ve got to get out of here with something we can take to the marketplace.”
Board member Mike Waddell said if it were purely a concept he would have no problem voting for it, but there is other language in the document that concerns him. Mr. Scarinza noted he had flagged some items as well, including one passage that stated, “If regional traffic improvements are required for a proposed development within the district, the applicant may satisfy any requirement by paying its fair share of improvement costs to the county. The county shall be responsible for installing the required improvements.” “There are things in here that need review and due diligence,” Mr. Scarinza said. “I appreciate the need for speed, but there are some hazards in hitting those bumps too hard.” Mr. Mills said the intent of the paragraph was to telegraph the fact that the developers “can’t fix Coös County,” but would pay for their impact.
After further discussion among the board members, Mr. Norden asked for a recess. After about 15 minutes, Mr. Scarinza said that he, Mr. Brady, Mr. Waugh and the applicants got together to see if they could come up with a process that would meet everyone’s needs.
They decided on a work session Tuesday, November 17 in Lancaster, where the board, Mr. Waugh, Ms. Bamford and the applicants would get together to discuss the application, which would be taken up at the board’s December 2 meeting. Rick Tillotson and Leon Rideout, who had moved for a vote at Wednesday’s meeting, withdrew their motion and second, respectively, on the basis of the next two meetings being scheduled.
“We appreciate that some board members would like a little more time to review our application,” Balsams spokesman Scott Tranchemontagne said later in the week. “We will be fully prepared to answer any final questions at the November 17 workshop. More important, we appreciate knowing the board will vote on December 2. If we were to receive approval at that time, it would be another major step towards beginning construction, putting people back to work and jumpstarting the North Country’s economy. It is very exciting to be on the precipice of restoring and expanding the Balsams Resort into a world-class, four-season destination that will draw visitors from across the region, the nation and the world.”
(Issue of November 18, 2015)
SIGN OF SUPPORT
The Pittsburg Fire Department is experiencing some unanticipated misfortune with the retirement of Chief Kevin Lassonde and longtime assistant chief Arnold Gray, but townspeople have made their feelings of loyalty and appreciation to the department very clear, including this roadside sign at Hicks Lumber on Route 3. (Rob Maxwell photo)
Pittsburg Fire Department Still at Full Strength Despite Losing Top Leaders
By Rob Maxwell
Amid speculation about what internal issues led the top two leaders of the Pittsburg Fire Department to resign recently, about half the membership, the three fire wardens and 25 members of the public gathered at the fire station for a meeting last Wednesday evening, November 11.
“Chief Kevin Lassonde and Assistant Chief Arnold Gray have retired from their positions and have left the department,” acting chief Steve Kiley told the gathering, and assured the attending townspeople that 33 volunteers remain in active membership. “Regardless of what you may have heard, if you dial 911, you’re going to get a full and adequate response from this department and mutual aid from other departments when required.”
Although no one will comment for the record, an internal disagreement arose over the summer, and Chief Lassonde had been on a three-month leave of absence prior to his resignation two weeks ago. Mr. Kiley refused to offer reasons for either Mr. Lassonde’s or Mr. Gray’s departure. “You’ll have to ask them, because my understanding of the circumstances may greatly differ from what they might have to say,” he said.
The Pittsburg Fire Department is tied directly to the town government with a chain of command that flows from the department officers to the three wardens to the board of selectmen. None of the wardens attending Wednesday’s meeting made direct comment on the current situation, although David Parker announced, “We have talked with the selectmen and they are behind us (the department).”
Acting Chief Kiley asked for a volunteer to fill the seat on the 45th Parallel EMS board of directors, as Mr. Gray had been filling that post. Former chief and longtime department member Sandy Young stepped up to take on this responsibility, “on an interim basis,” he said, “and I’ll help with anything else that needs doing. You will not be facing all this by yourself,” he said to the acting chief.
The most pointed statement of the session came from fireman Lindsey Gray, who said, “It’s time to put the past behind us and move forward. If we’ve learned anything from this it is that if you have an axe to grind, you shouldn’t do that in the dark, because you may get cut and there won’t be anyone around to help you.”
Speaking as member of the public, Lindsey’s wife Ann made it known that citizens were not there to obtain information about internal department squabbles, but rather, “to let you know that we support our firemen and are grateful and appreciative for everything you do for us.”
Mr. Kiley observed that an election among the department will be held in January, and the two vacated officer positions will be filled at that point. “We have some issues,” said Mr. Kiley, “and they’re big ones, but we will work through them.”
Mr. Gray was away over the weekend and had not responded as of press time to a phone message left at his home. Mr. Lassonde declined to say anything other than that he will still remain an active member of the state association and the support team serving at funerals, “which is very important to me.”
(Issue of November 18, 2015)
THE FACES BEHIND THE MEAL
Bonnie (Jackson) Crawford and her daughters Tammy Crawford, Fran (Jackson) Bigney and Connie Jackson survey the buffet line at the Feast of Thanks, a dinner featuring many of their family Thanksgiving recipes that was served Saturday evening November 14 at Grace Community Church in Canaan. (Alan Farnsworth photo)
Residents Question Plan to Replace Bishop Brook Bridge on Route 145
By Jake Mardin
N.H. Department of Transportation officials visited Stewartstown on Monday evening to discuss replacement of the bridge over Bishop Brook on Route 145 in Stewartstown. The bridge is situated in the area between Ladd Pond Road and Creampoke Road, and just south of the Poore Family Homestead Historic Farm Museum.
Mike Licciardi of the Bridge Design Bureau said the date of construction for the existing bridge is unknown, but the superstructure was built in 1940 and the deck was replaced in 1960. The current span of the bridge is 38 feet. He said that the deck and substructure are both in poor condition, and rated 4/9 and 3/9, respectively. The bridge has been on the state’s red list since 2006 and is currently number six on the priority list.
The proposal for the new bridge is an 80-foot span that would reach 27 feet from curb to curb, with steel beams and an 8.5-inch reinforced concrete deck. The proposed roadway will maintain a similar alignment to what is there now, and will be slightly raised near the abutments. On the south end of the bridge will be two catch basins, and a storm water treatment ditch to the south will be stone-lined. Another ditch on the northern side will carry water down hill to the river. Construction and drainage and slope easements will be required for the project.
Mr. Licciardi said that the project will be advertised in August of 2016, with clearing and utility work to be done in the fall and winter, and construction beginning no earlier than April 1, 2017. The bridge will be closed for six months during construction, necessitating the use of detours. The estimated cost of the replacement is $1.8 million.
David Scott of the Bridge Design Bureau said that they originally looked at replacing the bridge with a 50-foot span, but by doing that, the abutment would have been closer to the stream and taller. A taller abutment also would have required more material to excavate due to the slope on the eastern side of the bridge.
Mr. Scott said because of the poor condition of the substructure, there was no way to replace it one half at a time to keep a lane of traffic going. He said the only other alternative would have been a temporary bridge, which is not feasible due to the slope.
For residents on the northern side of the bridge, the most feasible detour would be to travel via West Road in Clarksville over to Route 3, while those on the south side traveling north would have to take Bishop Brook Road over to Route 3. North Hill Road connects to Creampoke Road to the north of Bishop Brook and Bear Rock Road to the south, but many at Monday night’s meeting pointed out that the road can be rough.
Rick Johnsen, executive director of the Poore Farm museum, said closing the bridge for six months would have a negative impact because people are used to coming up Route 145. Mr. Scott said that the choice to close the bridge was not something that they rushed into, but it presents the most viable option.
Prior to the meeting on the Bishop Brook Bridge, DOT held a brief meeting on the Stewartstown-Beecher Falls bridge rehabilitation project. The bridge will be closed from Spring of 2016 until the end of the 2017 construction season between the Route 253 intersection on the Vermont side and River and Church streets on the New Hampshire side.
Mr. Scott said the purpose of the meeting was to discuss pedestrian needs. The current bridge has a sidewalk, and the law states that if pedestrian access is altered or eliminated, accommodations must be provided. During construction, pedestrians will not be able to cross the bridge. Mr. Scott wanted to see if the lack of connectivity would cause a problem, and had sent out letters to everyone within walking distance of the bridge.
Jean Lawton said the bridge used to see a lot of foot traffic, but that was back when the factory was in full force and St. Albert School was open. She said she could only think of one person she sees using the bridge regularly, and Mr. Scott said town officials had advised him of that.
(Issue of November 18, 2015)