CENTENARIAN MARY KEAZER HONORED

Bobby and Brad Keazer escort their mother, Mary Keazer of Colebrook, to her 100th birthday celebration, held on February 19 at the Coös County Nursing Hospital. Also attending the special gathering were Mrs. Keazer’s daughters-in-law, granddaughters and great-grandchildren. (Courtesy photo)



Woodburn’s Bill Aimed at Pease-Like Development Zone for Balsams Project

By Jake Mardin

With plans for redevelopment of the Balsams property moving forward, Sen. Jeff Woodburn has introduced a “Balsams Revitalization” bill that sets the framework for financing and redevelopment of the property. “My bill creates a local development district modeled after the redevelopment of the former Pease Air Force Base,” Sen. Woodburn said, and “allows the state’s Business Finance Authority, of which I am a member, to guarantee $28 million in bonds, which would be the largest bond guarantee in the BFA’s history.”

Mr. Woodburn and others testified in support of Senate Bill 30 in front of the Public and Municipal Affairs Committee in Concord two weeks ago. Following the hearing, NHBFA executive director Jack Donovan prepared a summary of SB30 at the committee’s request. Mr. Donovan said the legislation’s purpose is to enable redevelopment of the property.

“The bill establishes the Balsams property as a development district, authorizes the issuance of up to $28 million in bonds to provide financing for the development of the district, and authorizes assessments against the Balsams property dedicated to repayment of the bond,” he said. Because of limited accommodations and amenities in the area, he said, improvements at the resort cannot be phased in slowly.

“One needs to create a resort with adequate facilities and housing to draw individuals and fully service them once here,”

Mr. Donovan said. “Phase 1 of the Balsams expansion and redevelopment plan will involve roughly $143 million in investment split roughly in half between construction of infrastructure and ski, golf and other recreational amenities, and the development of hotel beds and for-sale real estate to provide accommodations for visitors to the resort. The proposed developer has secured over $76 million in equity and subordinated debt and an additional $19 million in construction financing for the for-sale housing, but needs an additional $48 million in secured debt to complete the improvements. The developer has secured a private lender for $20 million of this sum but needs another $28 million.”

Mr. Donovan said the district would be like a tax increment financing (TIF) district, with net property tax revenue generated from the development being used to repay the bonds. It would allow all property in the district to be assessed by the county to repay the bonds. “This project will have no tax impact on any other residents of Dixville or the county,” he said.

Mr. Donovan’s summary also cites two major risks associated with the project: if it went over budget and Phase 1 could not be completed, and if the property was built but the developer was unable to sell. “If the redevelopment of the Balsams were to fail, the state would have to work with the bank to protect its financial interest and recover its funds,” he said. “The state and bank would foreclose on the resort and sell it to a third party.”

At the hearing, Sen. Woodburn said the bill will be amended concerning the creation of a water system to bring water from the Androscoggin River in Errol to Dixville via an underground pipeline. The water would be used for snowmaking and the Balsams has submitted a permit to the N.H. Department of Environmental Services for that area of the project.

Department of Resources and Economic Development (DRED) commissioner Jeff Rose testified on behalf of the bill. “The State of New Hampshire is fully committed to the redevelopment and expansion of this historic property,” he said, saying that the state and the developers have been working closely together. “We are well aligned with each other’s goals in creating a world class destination resort at this historic property in New Hampshire’s North Country.”

“The project is contingent upon strong state government participation,” Sen. Woodburn said, including “moving water from a public watershed across public right of ways and the creation of a public water system, $6 million in road improvements, and financing.”

Balsams spokesman Scott Tranche-montagne thanked Sen. Woodburn, N.H. DRED and the BFA for their work. “This is an innovative approach that has created success in other parts of the state, like the redevelopment of the Pease Air Force Base in Portsmouth and Newington,” he said. “Ultimately, with this support, the Balsams’ rebirth would be among the largest economic development projects in the North Country’s history. It has the potential at full build-out to create thousands of jobs and millions in increased tax revenue for the state.”

(Issue of February 25, 2015)




LET IT BURN

The Colebrook and Beecher Falls fire departments conducted a live burn exercise on Sunday morning, practicing their skills on Ray Hinds’ old house on Fish Hatchery Road, which he rented to Pauline Grader for some years. The Pittsburg Fire Department provided station coverage during the exercise. (Karen Ladd photo)




Jury Clears David Grey of Charges in 2014 Ransacking of Nash Grave

By Jake Mardin

Following a four-day trial, a Coös Superior Court jury deliberated for just under three hours before acquitting David Grey on charges relating to the May, 2014 disturbance at Colebrook equipment dealer Eddie Nash’s grave.

Mr. Grey, 53, of Colebrook, was charged with abuse of a corpse, criminal mischief, interference with a cemetery or burial ground and conspiracy to commit the crime of interference with a cemetery or corpse at the Colebrook Village Cemetery on May 11, 2014. The complaints alleged that Mr. Grey, aided or in concert with Melanie Nash, Michael Day and Ginette Dowse, destroyed a concrete vault that housed Mr. Nash’s casket, disinterred the casket and broke it open and searched through its contents. Mr. Nash died in 2004.

In his opening statement, defense attorney Simon Mayo said that there were indeed four people involved in the incident, but referred to a “mystery man” as the fourth person. “David Grey is not one of those people,” he said, referring to evidence found at the scene. “All of that physical evidence was found and none of it placed him at the scene of the crime.”

Coös County attorney John McCormick called Colebrook patrolman Brendon McKeage as his first witness, as he was on duty the morning of May 12 when he was called to the cemetery. Upon arrival he discovered that the vault had been destroyed and the casket had been removed from the vault. “It was banged up, dented,” he said. “There was a hole in the lower portion of the cover. It was beat up.”

He called his supervisor, Sgt. Joe Caron, and funeral director Mike Pearson, securing the scene and taking photos until Sgt. Caron arrived. He said a five- to six-foot steel pipe was found behind Mr. Nash’s headstone, and during cross-examination he said he wasn’t sure if it was sent to the state lab for testing. Also during cross-examination, he said he’d related the news to Mr. Nash’s widow, Shirley, and daughter Susie. He said both were “shocked,” and that Susie told him who she believed it was, and it was not Mr. Grey or any of the others who had been charged. Officer McKeage said Mr. Grey turned himself in at the police station and seemed surprised when he learned that there was a warrant out for his arrest.

Sgt. Caron testified that he arrived at the scene at around 8:30 a.m. “It was something I never would have dreamed of encountering,” he said, relating that he was there for about 30 minutes before he had Officer McKeage notify the family and bring back the fingerprint dusting equipment from the station.

He said there was a glove print in a mound of dirt that he was not able to lift. He said the warm and windy weather made it hard to draw prints, and he knew that some of the prints on the monument would be deteriorated because the sun had made it hot. He said there were boot prints at the scene, but they did not make impressions of any prints. He attempted to get prints from the steel bar but there was nothing on it.

Chief Steve Cass testified that he was on vacation when the incident occurred and began working on the case when he returned later in the week. He said he was more involved in viewing surveillance footage from various sources, while Lt. Paul Rella did most of the interviewing.

Chief Cass said he got footage from a nearby daycare that showed headlights going in and out of the cemetery, but the vehicle could not be identified. He said he reviewed the dispatch log and learned that officers had checked on a vehicle that was stopped on Hughes Road and shown on video going through town, and that led to more interviews.

Mr. McCormick asked Chief Cass if there was a way for someone to go from the cemetery to Colby Street, where Mr. Grey was living at the time, without being seen by cameras on Main Street. Chief Cass said there were multiple ways to avoid cameras. During cross, he said that cameras did not catch Mr. Grey walking downtown or on Route 3.

Mr. Pearson testified about what he had seen as well as his knowledge in the field, and said when Officer McKeage called him, “His exact words were, ‘You better get up here, we’ve got quite a mess,’” Mr. Pearson said. He arrived on scene and saw several chunks of broken concrete and a severely damaged casket pulled up onto the ground. “It looked like it had been in a car wreck,” he said.

Mr. Pearson said that the vault was made out of concrete with a high-impact plastic lining, and called it “very durable.” He said the casket was 18- to 20-gauge steel and its cover was locked down with a crank, and that the ground surface was about 18 inches above the top of the vault. He said a metal casket typically weighs 150 pounds, and said that it would be difficult for one person to be able to remove it. He said that the top of the casket’s cover was punctured and smashed, the lining was ripped out, and there was evidence of a disturbance inside.

Mr. Day testified that he was working on May 11 when Melanie Nash asked him if he would do the job. “I was asked if I would help dig up her father’s grave and I agreed in doing it,” he said. He said there were some tools in Ms. Dowse’s vehicle and he grabbed two shovels and blocks of wood, and after stopping at Rite-Aid they drove to the cemetery.

When asked why he agreed to commit the crime, he said he didn’t know why he did it. “I didn’t get anything out of it,” he said. “Stupid move, I guess.” He said after they were dropped off, there wasn’t a lot of talking at the scene. He said he and Mr. Grey reached the vault after about 15 to 20 minutes of digging.

“We dug out the top of it and I took a pry bar and broke a hole in it,” Mr. Day said. “We removed pieces of the vault out of the way in order to lift the casket out.” He said he and Mr. Grey each grabbed a side of the casket and got it to the surface, and they broke into it with a pry bar.

Ms. Nash had garbage bags that she was filling with items, Mr. Day said, noting that he stepped away while she was looking through the casket. He estimated that they arrived on scene at around 7:30 p.m. and left at around 3:30 a.m. He said he did not know who Mr. Grey was but had seen him at the Big Apple about a week after the incident. When questioned by the police he told them he’d seen Mr. Grey at the store, and pointed him out on surveillance footage that he was shown.

During cross-examination, Mr. Mayo asked Mr. Day if he remembered stopping in the trailer park and speaking to someone before going to the cemetery. He said he didn’t remember that happening.

Susie Nash testified that when she learned of the news, she believed it was two other people who did it. She said that her father did estate planning with a firm in Concord in 1995. She also said she gave police a list of people who might have been involved, and Mr. Day, Ms. Dowse and Mr. Grey were not on the list.

Lt. Paul Rella said during the course of the investigation, he got a printout of the last known residences of one of the suspects, and after looking at events from the night in question it led to the first suspect, Ms. Dowse. Her interview led to additional suspects. He said that he showed the Big Apple footage to both Ms. Nash and Mr. Day, and both identified Mr. Grey.

Lt. Rella said during cross-examination that there was no physical evidence tying Mr. Grey to the scene. He said no search warrants were executed for any tools or boot prints at the scene. He said the glove prints were sent to the state lab, but comparison prints were not sent. When asked about the time differences given by Mr. Day and Ms. Dowse, he said that Ms. Dowse’s clock in her car was broken, and she gave the 9 or 11 p.m. time frame when she was pressed for a time.

On Thursday, after Mr. Grey appeared around five hours late, Judge Peter Bornstein set bail at $10,000. Judge Bornstein noted that it was the third day in a row Mr. Grey had shown up late for his trial, and ordered him held overnight at the county jail.

In his closing argument on Friday morning, Mr. Mayo said the case was disturbing not only because of the nature of the crime, but because it “harkens back to a more primitive era where finger-pointing, and finger-pointing alone, was enough.” He said the state’s case rested on the word of Michael Day, who identified Mr. Grey’s alleged involvement in the case when talking to police and testified to that during the trial. Mr. Mayo argued that there was no physical evidence that pointed to Mr. Grey’s presence at the crime scene.

Throughout the trial, the defense also made reference to a “mystery man” who was the actual fourth party in the case. In his closing remarks, Mr. Mayo was also critical of the police work in the case and asked the jury to consider why some items recovered at the scene weren’t sent to the state lab. He also said there were contradictions in what Dowse and Day told police about where the tools used in the crime came from, and whether Day had spoken to someone in the trailer park the day of the crime.

In his closing remarks, Mr. McCormick said the defense was presenting the jury with three sets of “distractions” aimed at taking them away from direct state evidence. “There is no mystery man unless you want to consider the defendant the mystery man,” he said, pointing out that two co-conspirators had identified Mr. Grey as the fourth party. “The whole idea that the fourth person is someone other than the defendant is a red herring,” he said.

He said the second distraction was the criticism of Colebrook Police Depart-ment’s handling of the case. He said they heard testimony from a lab analyst that there were no identifiable fingerprints. Regarding a purported instrument used in the incident not being sent to the lab, he said police found nothing on it, and there was no reason to send it.

The third was that Mr. Grey was not seen on any footage of downtown Colebrook the night of the incident. Throughout the trial, the defense argued that if Mr. Grey was traveling from the cemetery to his home on Colby Street, he would have appeared on video. Mr. McCormick alluded to testimony from Lt. Paul Rella that there is a blind spot across from the First Colebrook Bank, and if he went from there to Monadnock Street and onto Colby Street, he would not have been seen.

Mr. McCormick played security footage from the Big Apple taken a week after the incident. He said the footage showed Mr. Grey making a wave-like gesture in acknowledgement of Mr. Day, who was seated in the dining area.

The jury was given the case at 10:40 a.m. and returned the “not guilty” verdicts at 1:35 p.m., and Judge Bornstein discharged the bail orders against Mr. Grey. Outside the courtroom, Mr. Mayo thanked the jury for their time in the case, and said he felt that they reached the appropriate verdict.

Ms. Dowse, 72, of Clarksville, pled guilty as an accomplice to criminal mischief and abuse of corpse in January, and will serve 120 days in jail beginning on April 1. Mr. Day has pled guilty to the same four charges as Mr. Grey, and will be sentenced on March 3.

Ms. Nash, 52, of Beecher Falls, has pled innocent to the same four charges, and is scheduled for a final pretrial hearing on March 2.

(Issue of February 25, 2015)




LEANING INTO THE TURN

Colebrook’s own veteran racer David MacLean navigates a bumpy turn in the pure stock division of the Great North Woods Vintage Snowmobile Series race, hosted Saturday in Errol by the Umbagog Snowmobile Association. Event results had not been received as of press time yesterday, but can be found on-line at www.thegreatnorthwoodssnowmobilerace.com. The fourth and final race in the series takes place on Saturday, March 14 in Pittsburg, with the action starting at 10 a.m. and series trophy presentations to follow. (Karen Ladd photo)



First Colebrook Seeks Wider Appeal with Name Change to Granite Bank

By Karen Ladd

Citing the need to reflect its statewide presence, the First Colebrook Bank began notifying clients and stockholders last week that as of March 16, it will be known as Granite Bank.

“In order to remain an independent, community bank, we absolutely have to continue to grow, and the bank has to continue to be profitable,” said president and CEO Loyd Dollins. “The name ‘Granite’ doesn’t have a particular regional connotation--it’s statewide, and New England-wide. Our goal is to become the preeminent stockholder-owned bank in New Hampshire.”

First Colebrook Bank traces its roots to the Colebrook National Bank and the Colebrook Guaranty Savings Bank, both founded in 1889 at the corner of Bridge and Main streets. The banks moved to the present location on Main Street in 1966, and merged nine years later to become First Colebrook Bank under president Earl Wadsworth.

“In 1997 when Bill Bromage was president, he and the board decided to go 120 miles away and open a branch in Concord,” Mr. Dollins said. “They wanted to keep the bank viable, and to do that, they had to grow.”

The bank followed up the success of the Concord branch with a loan office in Amherst, which became a full-service branch in 2004. Three years later First Colebrook took that same path into the Seacoast area, with a loan production office in Portsmouth that was relocated to become a branch office on Lafayette Road in 2009.

A loan office involves “a lot less cost, and requires less space, from which you can develop a customer base” before establishing a branch, Mr. Dollins explained. “In 1999 the bank owned just under $100 million in assets, and now has just under $270 million in assets. Much of that is a result of the branches to the south.”

Mr. Dollins noted, however, that the Colebrook office “remains the largest branch by a fairly sizeable margin, and the most profitable. That is certainly important to us, in addition to its serving as our headquarters, which will continue.”

Growth is vital to the bank’s abilitiy to remain independent, Mr. Dollins said, and to retain its base of operations in Colebrook, where 37 people are employed (65 bank-wide). These are “good-paying jobs with good benefits,” he said, including profit-sharing and insurance that would not be avaialble to low-level employees at larger banks.

“Our IT and credit administration are all here,” he said. “If we were to be acquired, that would all be gone. We do not want to become a branch of somebody else’s bank.”

Colebrook attorney Jonathan Frizzell has served as a director of the bank since 2007, and said the entire board is behind the name change. “We want to make sure we’ve got a good identity going forward, and this is the best thing for our stockholders,” he said.

Board president Judy Dalton of Pittsburg concurred. “First Colebrook Bank is such a fixture, and for me this was a hard choice to make,” she said. “After a lot of discussion, it was clear it was the only choice to make. I really believe the name Granite Bank will help us. Our marketing in the south is ‘Moose Bank,’ and I keep hearing that it’s getting kind of old.”

In any marketing endeavor, a brand has to evolve, Mr. Dollins observed. “Change is difficult, but it’s necessary. And absolutely nothing is changing except for the name.” Mrs. Dalton agreed it’s “a bold move,” but pointed out that “weeks and months of discussing the pros and cons have gone into this.”

Mr. Frizzell said a lot of North Country people work at the southern branches and have weighed in positively about the name change. “These are people who are valued employees, and they’re smart,” he said. “When they tell me it’s the right thing to do, I believe them. That’s what makes it feel right to me.”

(Issue of February 25, 2015)



C.A. Girls Seeded #2, Groveton Girls #3 in NHIAA Division 4 Basketball Playoffs

The NHIAA Girls’ Division IV Basketball Tournament got underway last night. Sunapee earned the #1 seed with a record of 18-0 and hosted #16 Gorham.

Colebrook, with a record of 16-2, earned the #2 seed and played host to #15 Epping, who finished with a record of 7-11. These two teams were going in opposite directions at the end of the regular season--Colebrook ended with 11 wins in a row, while the Blue Devils lost their last three games. The winner of last night’s game will play the winner of #10 Hinsdale v. #7 Woodsville at 7 p.m. Friday night, February 27 at the home of the higher seed.

The Groveton girls earned the #3 seed by virtue of their last regular-season game, a win over Littleton at home. The Eagles hosted #14 Wilton-Lyndeborough. Groveton finished the regular season with a record of 15-3 and won five of their last six. The Warriors finished the regular season with a record of 7-11 and lost the tiebreaker with Epping--they also lost three out of four to end the regular season. The winner of last night’s prelim moves on to the quarterfinal round to face the winner of #6 Pittsfield v. #11 Concord Christian at the home of the higher seed, also at 7 p.m. Friday. The other local girls’ team, Canaan-Pittsburg finished their season at 1-17 and did not qualify for tournament play.

The semifinal round games will be played at Plymouth State University on Monday, March 2 at 5:30 and 7 p.m. The Division IV state championship game will be played at noon on Saturday, March 7, also at PSU. Results can be found on-line at www.nhiaa.org.

(Issue of February 25, 2015)



 

 

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