Chris Jensen

North Country Reporter

Christopher Jensen worked as a reporter for The (Cleveland) Plain Dealer for 25 years, covering topics including desegregation, the 1st Gulf War, international charities’ fraud and the auto industry. He also wrote stories about competing in off-road races including the 1988 TransAmazon, the Baja 1000, the Paris-Moscow-Beijing Raid and Paris-Dakar.

Since 2007 he has lived in Bethlehem, covering the North Country for NHPR in addition to freelancing on automotive topics for The New York Times. He enlisted in the Army in 1968 and spent 15 months as a combat photographer in Vietnam. He graduated from George Washington University with a degree in journalism.

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The organization behind the “Ride the Wilds” ATV network in the North Country is in talks with Northern Pass about getting a multimillion-dollar donation. But the founder of the group says accepting such a donation would not indicate Ride the Wilds endorses the controversial project.

Under the terms being discussed Northern Pass would give the North Country Off Highway Recreational Vehicle Coalition as much as $500,000 immediately, along with about 1,100 acres of land in the Diamond Pond area in Stewartstown and Colebrook. That land is valued at about $1.5 million.

Flickr Creative Commons/Mike Bitzenhofer

All four North Country hospitals said Tuesday that they have finally come to a long sought after agreement to work together to reduce costs and provide better service.

It may be possible, they said, to save money in areas ranging from purchasing to not duplicating services.

The hospitals are the Androscoggin Valley Hospital in Berlin, Littleton Regional Healthcare, the Upper Connecticut Valley Hospital in Colebrook and the Weeks Medical Center in Lancaster.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

New Hampshire officials are not happy with the quality of a federal report that is supposed to gauge the Northern Pass’ impact on historic places and landscapes.

The critics are from the state’s Division of Historical Resources and the subject is what’s called a Section 106 review.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Starting Monday veterans in the North Country will have access to a new VA clinic in Littleton.

It’s in a remodeled section of the old Littleton Hospital and with 10,000 square feet it is almost twice as large as the clinic vets have been visiting.

“The big differences are the new services we are offering which would be audiology, PT and home-based primary care. Those are services that we previously did not have available in the Littleton area,” says Dr. Hugh Huizenga, the chief of primary care for the White River Junction VA Hospital, which is the parent facility.

 A Maryland man leading a Boy Scout troop in the North Country died yesterday, apparently due to a heart attack, says New Hampshire Fish and Game.

Vernon R. Rippeon of Westminster collapsed about one and one-half miles up the Crawford Path in Bean’s Purchase.

CPR was started immediately but Rippeon, 51, died on the trail. 

Rippeon and three other adults were leading a Boy Scout troop that included his two sons. The group planned on a five-day hike staying at several Appalachian Mountain Club huts.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

A radical event took place Saturday in a most traditional setting: a tiny, white, classic New England church in Shelburne. Mary Catherine White was ordained and now considers herself a Roman Catholic priest.

With about three dozen - sometimes tearful and proudly independent friends and relatives watching - White became one of just over 200 ordained women worldwide who say they are Roman Catholic priests. The Vatican says they are not priests because  priests have always been - and must always be - men.

CREDIT EDGARS STRODS / FLICKR CREATIVE COMMONS

An important part of evaluating the impact of the Northern Pass project is a federal requirement for a historical review.

It’s called a Section 106 and it is supposed to determine whether the construction of Northern Pass – including the visual impact - will adversely affect any of the state’s historical sites.

It calls for public involvement – and the state’s congressional delegation - has said the Northern Pass review overall should be transparent. 

Courtesy of New Hampshire Fish and Game

 A 59-year-old man was seriously injured Friday in an ATV crash in the North Country, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game.The crash occurred about 1 p.m. on the Blueberry Hill Trail near Stratford when Timothy Flanders of Hill, New Hampshire, swerved to avoid a water hole and rolled his ATV several times, said Conservation Officer Glen Lucas. He suffered injuries to his right leg, chest and head and was taken by helicopter to the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

For a little over two decades the Women’s Rural Entrepreneurial Network – based in Bethlehem - has helped artists and business people in the North Country. Thursday night – in Berlin - it opened its second center.

The WREN Works Maker Studio is focused on artists and people who would like to be artists, says Marilinne Cooper, WREN’s executive director. And, its 4,000 square feet is filled with equipment to please them.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Gov. Hassan was in the North Country Tuesday to praise students at Profile School in Bethlehem who gave up their senior trip to help a beloved principal recently diagnosed with cancer.

 “You are wonderful examples of character not only for everybody in New Hampshire but throughout the country.”

Last month the students learned that Courtney Vashaw, their principal, was being treated for cancer.

Almost immediately the 42 seniors got together. The question was whether to give Vashaw about $8,000 saved for a class trip to a resort in upstate New York.

Flickr Creative Commons/Yoann Jezequel

Rescuers in the North Country had to carry a Massachusetts man for seven hours on Sunday after he injured his leg hiking in a remote area.

The 40-year-old Massachusetts man was hiking with his wife near the junction of the Six Husbands and Great Gulf trails when – about noon – he hurt his leg crossing a river.

There was no cell coverage and another hiker – an employee of the Appalachian Mountain Club - had to walk four and one-half miles to call for help.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Organizers of the opposition to Northern Pass – along with a state senator - on Sunday said it is time to prepare to persuade state regulators that - in its current form - the project is a mistake.

About 120 people filled the Easton Town Hall.

The gathering was called because Northern Pass will soon be asking the state’s Site Evaluation Committee to approve the controversial project.

Without that approval, the project can’t move ahead.

Anyone can provide comments to the SEC.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

    

A federal grant is allowing small companies in the North Country to get some financial help to develop their businesses, says Karl Stone, the spokesman for the Northern Community Investment Corporation

Stone said a total of $30,000 is available for projects including education, training, marketing, sales, finance, accounting and website development.

Under the program the federal funds will cover 70 percent of a project and the business owner must contribute 30 percent.

    

A North Country grant is helping an organization that works with abused and neglected children to get more volunteers.

The group is Court Appointed Special Advocates, more commonly known as CASA.

It trains volunteers to represent abused children in court as guardians ad litem.

CASA has offices statewide, including Coos County.  And right now the organization has about 14 volunteers in Coos, but it’s simply not enough, says CASA official Jen Buteau.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Summer has made its unofficial debut and for many that means time on the water. And, on a recent Sunday, that included more than 100 canoes and kayaks slipping down the Connecticut River.

It called “Paddle the Border” and it started 12 years ago.

“This was started as a way for community groups from either side of the river to work together to show our shared asset: the Connecticut River,” says Mike Thomas, of the Newbury Conservation Commission.  

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Balsams resort developer Les Otten said Wednesday night that he is more confident that the ambitious project portrayed as providing a huge economic boost to the North Country will move forward...

And, he said he hopes construction will begin before the end of the year.

Otten appeared in Colebrook to update the Coos County Planning Board on the project and answer questions from about five dozen people in the audience.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

  Grants totaling about $750,000 to help small businesses in most of the state have been approved by the New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority.

The money will go to seven economic development organizations.

It will be used to help micro-businesses get the technical assistance they need to either start or grow.

Typically a micro business has no more than five employees.

The businesses must have low or moderate-income owners.

MICHAEL KAPPEL/FLICKR CC

    

Within the next two months the U.S. Department of Energy is expected to release its draft report on the environmental impact of the controversial Northern Pass project.

That federal report could propose some changes in the route and a top Northern Pass official says the company has been looking at options should modifications be needed...

The issue came up during a recent conference call with analysts.

One of them asked about a 1,090 megawatt project recently listed with ISO New England.

North Country Events

May 6, 2015

CALENDAR OF EVENTS
The newsletter typically announces events in the next week. The calendar shows you events in the coming months.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

The N.H. House has approved a bill that would allow a state-backed $28 million loan to the developer of the now-closed Balsams resort.

North Country legislators including Bill Hatch, a Democrat from Gorham, urged its passage.

“Please know that we are in dire need of any kind of economic development.”

Senate Bill 30 allows an unincorporated area – such as that around the Balsams - to become a tax district.

That alone doesn’t provide any money to the Balsams.

MICHAEL KAPPEL/FLICKR CC

    

Assuming the Northern Pass project is approved, it will not be fully operational until the first half of 2019, Eversource Energy official Lee Olivier said during a conference call with analysts.

That’s a delay of about six months, which Olivier said was due in part to an extended regulatory process.

When the project was announced late in 2010 officials said it should be operating by 2015. But that was before it became a highly controversial project opposed - in its current form - by politicians including Gov. Hassan.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

A bill that opens the door to a state-backed loan to the developer of the Balsams Resort got a big boost Thursday when the House of Representatives Finance Committee unanimously voted it ought to pass. That allows it to go before the full House.

“I hope the House will see it as the great economic development tool that the Finance Committee did,” said Rep. Cindy Rosenwald, a Democrat from Nashua, who is on the committee.

The bill allows the formation of a tax district in the unincorporated area around the closed Balsams Resort.

Sal Falko via Flickr cc

North Country reps were about evenly divided on whether to allow casino gambling, but the division wasn’t along party lines.

As NHPR reported  on Wednesday the House again rejected casino gambling, killing SB 113 by a vote of 208 to 156.

North Country reps were almost evenly split on whether to allow concealed weapons to be carried without a permit.

As NHPR reported Senate Bill 116 would repeal the law requiring a permit for concealed carry – “unless such person is otherwise prohibited.”

Chris Jensen for NHPR

The approval process for Northern Pass is ramping up and so is the battle for public support.

Last month Northern Pass and its parent company Eversource Energy donated $3 million to the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation to be used on conservation projects in New Hampshire.

But there’s some controversy over it now and NHPR’s Chris Jensen has been looking into the donation and why some conservation groups are reluctant to accept the money.  He joins us now.

Officials from Northern Pass are complaining that opponents have used misleading elements in a new YouTube video about its plan to run power lines through Concord if the controversial project is approved.

The video argues unless the power lines are buried there will be an adverse visual impact on Concord.

But Northern Pass says the video exaggerates the impact and has misleading material.

A major complaint is a scene showing a playground at Alton Woods without any electric towers.

  

A North Country group says $200,000 provided by the Northern Pass is now available to businesses in Coos County hoping to maintain or increase employment.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Those who want to revive the Balsams resort went before the House Finance Committee Tuesday arguing in favor of a $28 million state-backed loan for developer Les Otten. And to nobody’s surprise the hearing was packed with supporters...

Many came down from the North Country, thrilled with the possibility of a huge economic boost and supporters included Executive Councilor Joe Kenney, who represents the North Country.

“This project is so important to the North Country you couldn’t believe it.”

Withdrawing water from the Androscoggin River to provide snowmaking for the Balsams resort would adversely affect 15 hydro-electric facilities downstream, the Brookfield Renewable Energy Group says in a filing with the state’s Department of Environmental Services.

And, Brookfield can’t support the project unless there is a guarantee that the developers of the Balsams will compensate it for any lost revenues, according to a letter sent to the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Two environmental groups say they support the redevelopment of the Balsams resort, but more information is needed before the state gives its approval to water being taken from the Androscoggin River for snowmaking.

A key part of developer Les Otten’s redevelopment plan is greatly expanding the ski slopes but the extra snowmaking will require pumping water from the river about 10 miles to Dixville.

Taking that water requires the approval of the state’s Department of Environmental Services. The deadline for filing public comments on that request was last week. 

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