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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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. 

Trinity Industries

As state highway officials are considering whether as many as 5,000 ET Plus guardrails in the state pose a hazard to errant motorists, a Deerfield woman says she doesn’t have any doubts...

Last July Cheryl Turgeon was driving her sport utility vehicle on Route 9 in Stoddard when the 51-year-old dozed off and struck a guardrail.

“The railing went through the front wheel well and went between my legs and pushed my feet all the way to the back so it was like I was sitting on the railing.”

One leg was badly injured.

flickr by liewcf

For years a major complaint in the North Country has been the lack of cell service and high-speed internet. But plans to get more serious about fixing that were announced Thursday in Whitefield...

Before the end of the summer there will be cell service and high-speed internet available in more parts of the North Country including areas around Pittsburg and Errol.

“I stand before you today, the happiest guy in this room, because with this initiative going forward a lot of great things are going to happen, " said Steve Ellis, a selectman from Pittsburg.

Courtesy of Trinity Industries

Whizzing along New Hampshire’s highways, most drivers probably don’t give much thought to those square black and yellow plates on the end of guardrails – called end plates. But there’s a concern that one of the models used in New Hampshire and many other states could be dangerous.

The worry is that, instead of guiding an errant vehicle away from danger as they are meant to do, the guardrail may pierce the passenger compartment and skewer its occupants.

  A Littleton company is putting up a new, 117,000-square foot building.

Tender Corp. says the facility will be finished in about a year and will allow it to consolidate three facilities.

The company makes a wide range of first-aid products ranging from wilderness first-aid kits to After-Bite which is used to treat insect bites.

The company has about 160 employees and an official said some hiring is expected with the new building. It has been in Littleton since 1973.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

The old Lewis farmhouse on Lewis Hill Road in Bethlehem had been abandoned for decades and was so damaged it was beyond rehabilitation - so, the  new owner of the farmhouse and adjacent property decided the safest thing was to allow volunteer fire departments to burn it as a training exercise.

Click through the slideshow above to see photos by NHPR's Chris Jensen.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

For decades ski racers have gathered on slopes like Gary’s at Cannon Mountain. But some have had their eyes on the nearby, state-owned Mittersill ski area.

“Well, Franconia Ski Club for a long time has wanted to move its training operation,” said John DeVivo, the general manager at Cannon. “They’ve really wanted to be off of the main mountain and really out of everybody’s way and no surprise the general public has wanted that equally.”

And now there’s an effort to make two trails at Mittersill into first-class racing facilities that could host national competitions.

Alarmed that farmland in New Hampshire is being lost to development, an unconventional type of conservation easement that encourages farming is literally gaining ground...

Tuesday Richard Johnson became the latest example.

Six generations of Johnson’s family have farmed 311 acres in Monroe since 1803.

At age 63, he’s the last of his family and it was an emotional moment when the burly, shy farmer signed an agreement that would ensure the acreage would remain farmland forever.

Three North Country legislators were among those who voted to kill a bill that would have recommended - but not required - elective, electric transmission lines on towers over 50 feet high be buried, ideally along state rights-of-way.

The bipartisan bill - H.B. 431 - was sponsored by Larry Rappaport, a Republican from Colebrook and several other North Country representatives. 

Nine of 14 North Country representatives voted Wednesday to kill a bill that would have required criminal background checks on all commercial firearm sales.

All but one were Republicans.

Five Democrats opposed killing the measure.

All but one of the North Country representatives voted Wednesday to decriminalize marijuana.

Voters in Colebrook approved a $6.5 million bond to replace the 1880's water system by a margin of about 15 to one.

The vote was 249 in favor and 17 against, Town Manager Becky Merrow said.

The system was leaking more than 70 percent of the water. That is the worst in the state, according to the state's Department of Environmental Services which has been pressuring the town to fix it.

Grants and other assistance will reduce the cost to about $3 million for the town of 2,300.

Town officials said if the bond had not passed they would have lost the grants.

jddewit4 via Flickr CC

A 34-year-old man from North Conway participating in a charity fundraiser was killed Monday at the Wildcat Mountain ski area, according to a news release from Troop F of the state police.

Samuel Moore lost control in the 5-Corners area “tumbled down the trail and then fell over a 60-foot drop,” Troop F said.

He was pronounced dead at the scene.

He was participating in the 12th annual 100,000 foot vertical challenge for Make-A-Wish New Hampshire.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

Governor Maggie Hassan was in the North Country Saturday and heard from roughly a half dozen local business owners who said they need the Balsams resort to reopen for their businesses to survive.

And, they also wanted the Democratic governor to somehow get the Republican controlled House and Senate to support the redevelopment of the Balsams.

Listen to the broadcast versions of this story:

One of the people she heard from was Mark Decareau, who five years ago bought the Diamond Peaks Motel & Store on Route 26 in Colebrook, where Hassan met the crowd.

UPDATE: The woman killed in the crash was identified as 58-year-old Deirdre Ruth Dunlea. 

A snowmobile crash in Pembroke Saturday took the life of a 58-year-old woman from Londonderry, according to a news release from New Hampshire Fish and Game.

The woman missed a turn and hit an eight-inch tree, said Conservation Officer Lieutenant Jim Juneau.

Despite wearing a full-face helmet she sustained such serious injuries that she died at the scene.

She was riding with her husband and son who were on other snowmobiles.

As voters head to Town Meetings on Tuesday one of the major issues in the North Country will be infrastructure repairs. That’s an issue Kevin McKinnon, who runs Colebrook’s water department, knows all too well...

A few years ago McKinnon was looking at a hydrant that had recently been removed from Main Street.

He was chipping through decades of paint to get to a part when a date began to emerge: 1884.

“I was a little shocked.”

 It was a clear reminder that Colebrook’s system was installed around 1880.

Hitchiner Manufacturing says over the next year it will be shutting down its Littleton manufacturing facility and moving those 135 jobs to an existing facility in Milford.

Employees who wish to move to Milford may do so and will get relocation assistance, the company said in a news release Thursday.

The company said the move was necessary due to “the operating economics of the Littleton facility” and its distance from it Milford operation ,which already has about 470 employees.

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