100TH BIRTHDAY CELEBRATION FOR BERNICE
Many family members joined Bernice Schoff Fish of Pittsburg to celebrate her 100th birthday on Sunday, November 22, including her son Jarvis, who is seen here presenting her cake. Bernice received a Citation Award from Governor Maggie Hassan recognizing her milestone birthday and her commitment to the Town of Pittsburg. She also received a very special gift from Bruce Bacon of Rochester, who called Bernice and played “Happy Birthday” to her on his bagpipes. (Courtesy photo)
County Planning Board Holds Extra Session to Prepare for Balsams Vote
By Jake Mardin
After working with Balsams developers for nearly eight hours over the course of two work sessions last week and on Monday, the Coös County planning board is expected to vote on the resort’s Planned Unit Development (PUD) application at its next meeting, on December 2.
The PUD represents the entire concept of the plan and establishes guidelines and regulations to be used in future applications. The developers will submit individual site plan reviews for each phase of the project, which involves the ski area east of Route 26 and the hotel area west of the highway along Lake Gloriette.
A difference of opinion among board members arose during a November 11 public hearing on the PUD application, held at the Tillotson Center, when some wanted to vote that night while others wanted the opportunity to go over the application further. “You want an approval that is bulletproof and cannot be challenged,” board chairman John Scarinza stated that evening, which resulted in a plan for the board and Balsams developers to meet on November 17 for a work session.
According to the unapproved minutes of the November 17 meeting, Mr. Scarinza stated a goal of going through every section of the application and coming to a consensus so that attorney Bernie Waugh could draft a list of conditions. Once those conditions were drafted, the board would review them and vote on the application at the December 2 meeting. Attorney Waugh, along with Tara Bamford of North Country Council, have been working with the planning board during this process.
At the November 17 meeting, the board and developers, along with Ms. Bamford and Attorney Waugh, went over several parts of the PUD application, which includes maps, plans showing the delineation of each land use and development area, traffic impact, water supply, and fire, police and emergency services. After four and a half hours of discussion, the meeting was continued until this past Monday, November 23.
Monday’s session brought some discussion on what constitutes a dwelling or lodging unit. Under the developer’s definition, a single-family home, a four-employee dorm-style room and a four-person hotel room would count as one unit. Each residence within a multi-family unit would also equal one unit, and a duplex would be considered two units. Other topics such as road standards and parking were discussed over the course of the meeting, which lasted a little over three hours.
Looking toward the December 2 meeting, scheduled for 6 p.m. at the Colebrook Elementary School cafeteria, Mr. Scarinza said he anticipates that the board will have a set of conditions ready for proposal to pass the application. Attorney Waugh said in essence he would draft a motion for the board to vote on, which Mr. Scarinza said would cover everything discussed at the two work sessions. The board is also scheduled to meet on December 9, where they plan to work on the detailed language of a development agreement.
Balsams spokesman Scott Tranche-montagne said developers hope to start work as soon as all the permits are in hand. “Although predicting when permits will come in is like shooting a moving target, realistically we might be able to start this winter or early spring,” he said. “This work might not fit the exact definition of ‘construction,’ but it’s critically important work that has to be done, like cutting ski trails, additional demolition, starting the water line, etc. I’m told that we might be able to begin interior renovations on the Dix and Hampshire Houses as well, if we can close up the buildings and get some heat in here.”
(Issue of November 25, 2015)
SONG AND DANCE DUO
Cyndi Gebhard and Bobie Bunnell perform a song-and-dance introduction to one of two performances during their musical puppet show, offered in conjunction with the 14th Annual Ice Cream Social and Book Fair at Colebrook Elementary School on Thursday, November 19.
(Alan Farnsworth photo)
Colebrook Responds Quickly to Fix Problems Identified in DES Inspection
By Rob Maxwell
The Town of Colebrook has taken several steps to correct deficiencies in its wastewater treatment facility and pump stations that the N.H. Department of Environmental Services discovered during a site visit in early October.
Following a November 17 meeting with Wastewater Engineering Bureau administrator Tracy Wood and other DES personnel, town manager Becky Merrow sent a follow-up letter to Ms. Wood on November 20 delineating a lengthy list of actions taken by the town to correct potential violations cited by DES.
The letter states that Ms. Merrow and the selectmen were unaware of the scope of the problems. “The breadth of the deficiencies noted by DES staff were alarming, and appear to be the result of a lack of understanding and/or a lack of commitment by the Town’s former licensed operators to properly maintain the Town’s wastewater infrastructure over an extended period of time,” the letter states. “The Town is committed to taking the steps necessary to replace failed equipment, achieve permit compliance, and improve system maintenance.”
Ms. Merrow’s letter notes that the town has employed the services of Welch’s Water & Wastewater Services on a six-month contract to “oversee equipment repair and replacement, as well as laboratory testing and compliance reporting.”
The DES notified the town on October 16 that its site inspection had found that only two of five aerators at the two wastewater treatment lagoons were operable, and noted that periodic maintenance on the site’s Solar Bee mixers was lagging. These machines agitate and aerate the wastewater so that sludge sinks to the bottom of the primary and secondary lagoons, while cleaner water remains on the top. After mixing and aeration, surface water from the primary lagoon is pumped to the secondary lagoon, where the process is repeated before the water is pumped into the Connecticut River.
Ms. Merrow noted that all Solar Bee mixers have been serviced and are now fully functional. Her letter states that the three surface aerators in the primary lagoon are now fully operable and that new motors and accompanying pontoon assemblies have been ordered for two surface aerators in the secondary lagoon.
The DES noted that grass, weed and brush growth in and around the grounds and equipment presented a compliance deficiency, as bio-mass material can find its way into the lagoon surface water and cause a lower water quality as the plants bio-degrade. Ms. Merrow said weed growth has been removed from the equipment, grass and weeds have been trimmed on the inside slopes of both lagoons, and public works staff are in the process of removing brush, weeds and tall grass from both sides of the facility’s fenceline.
DES also found that divider baffles (also called divider curtains) separating the lagoons were not being fully supported by flotation devices. These baffles divide the two lagoons and prevent cleaner water from being contaminated by water still in the process of aeration, mixing and settlement. Ms. Merrow says the town has received a quote for replacement of the baffle curtains from the original manufacturer, and new floats will be installed on the secondary lagoon baffle curtains when work on the primary lagoon is complete.
The final major problem the DES inspection revealed at the treatment facility involves the ultraviolet (UV) disinfection system. This consists of a plastic trough where wastewater passes beneath 24 UV bulbs that kill bacteria contained in the water. The DES found several non-functioning bulbs, which Ms. Merrow noted was due to an electrical malfunction. “With the assistance of a local electrician and maintenance performed by Xylem Water Solutions, the UV system is operational with all 24 bulbs functioning,” she reported to Ms. Wood “The system was serviced on October 29, 2015. UV bulbs were replaced, quartz sleeves were cleaned, and all UV bulbs are currently operational. The Town also replaced the air compressor to improve the self-cleaning function of the UV system.”
The DES report also found deficiencies with the system pumping stations, involving emergency generators and Supervis-ory Control and Data Acquisition (SCADA) equipment. SCADA systems use coded signals via communication channels to provide control and monitoring of equipment in remote locations.
“The Town will evaluate options for funding an engineering study of the wastewater facility, the pump stations and the SACADA monitoring system in 2016,” Ms. Merrow’s letter states. “The study would include an evaluation of the six wastewater pumping stations to assess overall condition and immediate needs. Emergency generators will be tested and serviced by the end of December with a standard operating procedure developed that addresses the priorities for using/ moving the two portable generators to keep the pump stations functional during power outages.”
Ms. Merrow advised DES that additional actions will be taken as well, including equipment inventories, maintenance logs and other data-keeping procedures.
When asked yesterday about the cost of all these corrective actions, Ms. Merrow said it was too early in the process to make even a rough estimation of the overall cost to taxpayers. She noted that when expenses have been tabulated for immediate work and expected costs for future work are calculated, that information will be reported to the public.
(Issue of November 25, 2015)
DRIVING MRS. PARISEAU
Coös County Nursing Hospital resident Denise Pariseau had the pleasure of her son Philip’s company at the annual craft fair on Saturday morning. Philip made sure his mom visited all the vendors who were set up on two floors during the hallmark North Country holiday event.
(Rob Maxwell photo)
Forest Society Sues Northern Pass, Questions Application to N.H. SEC
By Jake Mardin
The Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests filed a lawsuit against Northern Pass Transmission LLC in Coös Superior Court on Thursday, arguing that the utility has no right to bury a portion of its line under Route 3 in Clarksville.
Northern Pass is proposing to build a 192-mile transmission line that would enter the U.S. in Pittsburg and end in Deerfield. The route has undergone several changes since the original proposal in 2010, and the most recent iteration includes burial of 60 miles of line, of which 52 miles lie in or around the White Mountain National Forest and Franconia Notch.
At the heart of the lawsuit is a portion of Route 3 in Clarksville, where Northern Pass proposes burial of the line and the Forest Society owns land on both sides of the road as part of the Washburn Family Forest. “The Forest Society owns the fee interest in the land located on both sides of that segment of Route 3, extending south from the thread of the river 443.9 feet on the easterly side of the road and 5,481.45 feet on the westerly side of the road,” the filing states. “Under New Hampshire law, the owner of land on both sides of a road established as a public right of way owns all the land under the road.”
The property consists of 2,100 acres, including six miles of river frontage on the Connecticut River. “The segment of Route 3 that passes through the Washburn property is a four-rod road laid out by the Town of Clarksville in 1931, establishing a public right of way for highway use, rather than a fee interest,” according to the filing. “NPT intends to bury the power line approximately 50 to 70 feet beneath the surface of the road, including underneath the riverbed of the Connecticut River. Absent a deed provision to the contrary, under New Hampshire law the owner of land bounded by a river owns to the thread of the river. The Forest Society has not granted NPT or any of its affiliates permission to install, use or maintain the line through the Washburn property, either above or below ground.”
In its lawsuit, the Forest Society argues that the Northern Pass transmission line is not a public utilities development, but instead an elective merchant transmission project. “Unlike the road itself, and unlike traditional electric transmission and distribution lines, the Northern pass project is not designed to serve the needs of local residents or even the needs of New Hampshire residents generally,” the filing states. It goes on to say that “the state’s authority to license the installation of a utility facility within the highway right of way does not entitle NPT to install whatever facilities it wishes. The public easement for Route 3, as established in 1931, was never contemplated to allow excavation 50 to 70 feet beneath the surface of the ground for the sole benefit of a private business, regardless of whether the purpose of the excavation is to mine minerals or to lay an enormous extension cord across the state.”
The Forest Society is asking the court to rule that Northern Pass’ proposed use of Route 3 through the Washburn property exceeds the scope of the public right of way and can’t be undertaken without Forest Society permission. The suit also seeks a permanent injunction preventing Northern Pass from conducting any activities on the property without obtaining permission.
Also on Thursday, the Forest Society filed a motion with the N.H. Site Evaluation Committee, the agency responsible for siting energy projects in the state, to determine that Northern Pass’ application to the SEC is incomplete. “Northern Pass has not, and cannot, satisfy its burden of proving adequate site control for those portions of the route where the Forest Society owns,” the Forest Society states, citing the Washburn property.
The Forest Society also states that the SEC application is incomplete for other reasons, including the lack of a special use permit for the White Mountain National Forest, a failure to consider alternatives adequately, and that the N.H. Department of Transportation cannot authorize the use of private property.
The Forest Society is working with two different lawfirms: Ransmeier & Spellman of Concord on the Superior Court petition, and BCM Environmental & Land Law on the SEC filing. The Forest Society held a press conference on Thursday to announce the filing, and on the same day Northern Pass responded with an entry on the project journal section of its Web site.
“We are confident that our SEC application meets the standards outlined in New Hampshire statutes and SEC rules, and that the Forest Society’s claims to the contrary have no basis in fact or law,” the statement reads. “We will vigorously defend our right to seek state approval for the use of public roads in a manner that is and has been expressly authorized by state law for more than a century.”
Northern Pass argues that the purpose of a public right of way is for the conveyance of people, goods and services, including power lines. “The Northern Pass route is secure, and that fact will be demonstrated through the SEC’s review process,” the statement reads. “The Forest Society’s lawsuit is irresponsible. It is an attempt to delay an open and transparent review, which has been consistently called for by elected officials from across New Hampshire.”
The N.H. Department of Environmental Services also deemed that the SEC application did not contain all the required information. According to the DES, applications for the alteration of terrain, wetland and shoreland permits are incomplete, and signatures of property owners are required. An applicant who is not the property owner is also required to submit proof that the applicant will have a legal right to undertake the project on the property if a permit is issued.
“The state permitting process is lengthy and thorough, and it is not uncommon for agencies to raise questions about the application, and for applicants to provide clarification or follow up with the necessary information,” Northern Pass spokesman Lauren Collins said last week. “We are confident that any potential issues will be resolved in a timely manner and our application will be deemed complete by the SEC.” She said that Northern Pass has already received a letter from the SEC requesting the information.
The N.H. Department of Transportation has also reviewed the SEC application and determined it is sufficient to begin the permitting process. “Given the complex nature of this project, the department anticipates executing a Use and Occupancy Agreement for the entire project within state-maintained rights of way,” DOT Commissioner Victoria Sheehan wrote. “This agreement will govern the general conditions by which the utility will occupy the ROW. As the final design progresses, there will be several opportunities for the department to review and approve the excavation permits, driveway permits, aerial crossing agreements and licenses.”
Forest Society lawyers notified the DOT prior to the DOT’s letter to the SEC, noting that it has property interests in land that NPT is proposing to use for its line. In addition to Route 3 along the Washburn property, they also have interests on North Hill Road and Bear Rock Road in Stewartstown, and on roads in Bethlehem, Sugar Hill, Easton and Woodstock.
The U.S. Department of Energy will hold two public hearings on the Northern Pass’ draft Environmental Impact Statement and its supplement, both on Tuesday, December 15 at the Mountain View Grand Resort in Whitefield at 1 and 6 p.m.
New Hampshire governor Maggie Hassan has written to the DOE, asking for the proposed public hearings to be rescheduled and to schedule an additional hearing in northern Coös County. “The siting of large-scale energy transmission can have implications for decades to come, and we must ensure a thorough and transparent review of proposed projects so that the most impacted communities have the opportunity to be heard,” she wrote. “Rescheduling the December public hearings and including an additional public hearing in the northern part of the state will help ensure that all Granite Staters have an opportunity to attend and have their voices heard.”
(Issue of November 18, 2015)
Office Open Friday, Usual Deadlines Apply
Despite some offices being closed for Thanksgiving weekend, our noon advertising deadline remains firm. If it’s possible to submit next week’s ads before the holiday, we would appreciate the extra time. Friday’s news release deadline likewise must remain firm, so press releases must be in on time as well. Thank you for your help alleviating the post-holiday crunch, and have a happy Thanksgiving.
(Issue of November 25, 2015)