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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  An attempt to boost the economy of the North Country by drawing tourists to a 1,000-mile network of ATV trails is getting a boost itself as the federal government is providing about $152,000.

 “This is a tremendous shot in the arm for the 'Ride the Wilds' marketing program,” said Harry Brown, the president of New Hampshire Off Highway Vehicle Association.

Tourism is a huge part of the economy in the North Country and many of those tourists head to the upper reaches of the Connecticut near Pittsburg.

But those going up to fish for trout have noticed the river is lower than usual, Cindy Howe, one of the owners of the Tall Timber Lodge in Pittsburg said earlier this week.

“Well, right now the water coming out of the three dams which affect the fishing in the area is quite low. TransCanada has reduced the flows substantially and it is making it a little bit tougher on the fishing,” she said.

A family from Michigan is behind a newly opened brewery in the North Country.  Schilling Beer Company is located in an old grist mill next to the Ammonoosuc River in Littleton.

That fulfills the Cozzens' family dream of one day having such a business, said CEO Jeff Cozzens.  He and brothers Matt and Stuart, parents, Bruce and Kathy and a best friend, John Lenzini, opened The Schilling Beer Company last September.

It’s named for a grandfather, Richard Schilling.

 

 

The key to the new “Ride The Wilds” ATV trails network in the North Country is allowing riders to use some roads to get into towns and reach food, fuel and lodging, thus boosting the region’s economy.  But that’s part of a nationwide trend that has some safety researchers worried.

 

“At this point in the United States more ATV deaths are happening on roads than are happening off-road,” says Rachel Weintraub, a researcher with the Consumer Federation of America. 

Bike road racing is an expensive sport typically associated with prep schools. But, on a May afternoon, a North Country school is challenging that tradition as bike racers from around the state wheel away from Profile School in Bethlehem.

Soon they are huffing and puffing with youthful grit up Route 117 into Sugar Hill.

It is a long climb.

And it is only going to get worse.

At Blake Road they take a sharp right. Then, as the corner unfolds they see another hill so steep it looks like somebody painted a road on a wall.

About 51 percent of the wood purchased for the new Burgess BioPower biomass plant in Berlin during its first two months of operation came from New Hampshire, according to a new “sustainability” report filed with the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.

Thirty-five percent came from Maine.

Five percent from Vermont.

Eight percent from Massachusetts.

And "one truck load" came from Canada.

It would be easy to miss Millsfield. The unincorporated place in the North Country is home to 10 households, many of which are tucked away in the woods, and just two businesses, a bed and breakfast called A Peace of Heaven and the Log Haven restaurant.

“Electricity didn’t show up until the 60s,” said Luc Cote, who’s lived in Millsfield for roughly forty years. “Phone line didn’t come up until mid-60s as well.”

If Maine entrepreneur Les Otten can expand the ski area of the closed Balsams resort he says it would create about 1,000 full or part-time jobs.

That’s something the region desperately needs. But it isn’t clear whether Otten has the money or can work through a regulatory tangle including safety issues.

The issue is being raised after Otten said he would like to work with Dan Hebert and Dan Dagesse, the owners of the closed resort.

One issue is a safety concern. Can the huge blades on the 410-foot tall turbines throw chunks of ice far enough to endanger skiers?

Following the rescue of a 75-year-old man from Bond Cliff in The White Mountains safety officials are warning that while it is beginning to look like spring around the state it can still be winter in the mountains.

The man, David Humphrey of Falmouth, had had planned to cover 21 miles from the Crawford Notch to the Lincoln Woods trail on Sunday.

That would require following the Bondcliff Trail which crosses several 4,000 footers but he was only equipped for a day hike.

North Country representatives were almost evenly split along party lines on whether to increase the gas tax for the first time in more than two decades.

As NHPR’s Josh Rogers reports on Wednesday Senate Bill 367 passed on a vote of 193-141. That means the state’s tax on gas and diesel will increase 4.2 cents, the first increase to the current 18-cents per gallon since 1991.

The New Hampshire Community Development Finance Authority has awarded grants to three North Country towns – Stewartstown, Errol and Pittsburg – as well as Coos County and the city of Berlin.

And, the total of $2 and one-quarter million dollars is the most the North Country has received since the program began roughly thirty years ago, says Kevin Flynn, an official with the agency.

The money will go for work including repairs to water systems and low-income housing.

The grant money comes from the US Department of Housing and Urban Development.

Codet Incorporated, a Canadian firm, is expanding its Colebrook plant including hiring 25 new employees.

“They plan to almost double the size of their operation,” said Michael Bergeron, an official with the state’s Department of Resources and Economic Development.

Currently the firm has 28 employees.

Codet also plans to roughly double the size of its building, which is almost 12,000 square feet.

The amount of the investment wasn’t available.

The expansion is expected to be complete by the end of the year.

Later this year North Country veterans will no longer have to travel to White River Junction for V.A. medical care: Clinics are now planned for Berlin and Colebrook.

The decision comes after several years of lobbying by the state’s Congressional delegation.

“Our North Country veterans are frequently confronted with travel of more than 130 miles and trips of two to three hours in duration,” Sen. Kelly Ayotte, Jeanne Shaheen and Representatives Carol Shea-Porter and Ann McLane Kuster wrote the department last year.

Hearings before the state’s Site Evaluation Committee to decide whether to widen portions of a road leading to wind turbines in the North Country should be held in Coos County and not Concord, says Peter Roth, a senior assistant attorney general who represents the public interest before the S.E.C.

It is unfair to require interested citizens to travel to Concord, Roth wrote in a motion filed Monday. The trip can take three hours in good weather and it is expensive if an overnight stay is needed.

The White Mountain School

 

 

  The Vermont man accused of killing a California woman during a chance encounter in Littleton is pleading not guilty by reason of insanity. And, he has agreed to be placed in the psychiatric ward of the state prison.

Rodney Hill was charged with second degree murder in the death of 70-year-old Catherine Houghton, a trustee of the White Mountain School, who was visiting for a board meeting in January 2013.

Houghton and Hill had a chance encounter in the lobby of The Hampton Inn and Hill fatally stabbed Houghton.

 

The company that owns the wind farm near the Balsams is open to reducing the buffer zone between its wind turbines and the slopes, a key to a developer’s plan to  greatly expand  the size of the ski resort.

"As long as it is safe, we have no problems," Brookfield Renewable Power lawyer Harold Pachios said late Monday.

Maine entrepreneur Les Otten would like to quadruple the size of the Balsams ski area and reopen the hotel.

But Otten’s plan to make the ski runs longer requires skiers to get closer to the tops of mountains where the wind farm has turbines.

Two snowmobilers were rescued early Sunday morning in the North Country after their machines bogged down in deep snow, leaving them stranded, according to a news release from New Hampshire Fish and Game.

A 911 cellular call asking for help came about 10:30 Saturday night, said Conservation Office Chris Egan.

The callers couldn’t be reached in a return call, but it appeared the call came from an area near Pittsburg. Groomers from local clubs were notified and Egan headed to the area on his snowmobile.

Among the bills considered earlier this week by the legislature were proposals dealing with licensing outpatient abortion facilities; preventing communities from purchasing military-style vehicles and allowing more serious charges if a fetus dies as the result of a homicide.

Here is how North Country representatives voted:

LICENSING OUTPATIENT ABORTION FACILITIES

Only three of the eleven North Country reps voted against killing a bill that would have required licensing outpatient abortion facilities.

Northern Pass opponents are hoping a 7-year-old boy on YouTube will prompt people to sign a petition asking Gov. Hassan to fight harder against the project.

The YouTube video starts with the child, identified only as “Tucker,” listing his favorite trees.

It shows lovely scenery and then electric transmission towers appear.

About 6,400 people, businesses or organizations, with about 68 percent from New Hampshire, filed comments with the US Department of Energy about the controversial Northern Pass project and now the federal agency has issued a summary of the concerns.

The Department of Energy sought the comments as it considers whether to allow Northeast Utilities, the parent of Northern Pass, to bring electric power from Canada.

In the North Country Millsfield wants to regain a spot it held six decades ago: Being the first place to vote in the presidential election.

That goes back to just after midnight in November 1952 when the seven voters of Millsfield, which straddles Route 26 between Errol and the Dixville, cast the first votes in the presidential election, according to Time magazine article.

The Storm: Ho Hum

Mar 13, 2014

All in all it was a normal March snow storm, says Michael Ekster of the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.

“The amounts varied greatly. Northern New Hampshire got anywhere from six to twelve inches of snow. Parts of Southern New Hampshire got a lot of rain and sleet.”

"It was pretty average. There weren't any ridiculously high totals."

Ekster said this morning should bring another one to three inches of snow with locally higher amounts in the mountains.

It was about two weeks ago that Stephen Dignazio, the executive director of the non-profit Colonial Theatre in Bethlehem, put the message on the marquee.

It said “Spring Is On The Way.”

It was a warm, fuzzy thought, but premature.

“I guess we made a misstep there,” said Dignazio.

With the snow getting heavier throughout the day Wednesday, cars churned up and down Main Street past the theater and that overly optimistic marquee

And Dignazio was not trying to escape the blame for the wintry assault.

Coos County commissioner Paul Grenier says there are plans to convert the Balsams into a huge ski resort.

D-Kuru/Wikimedia Commons

Those big stacks of wood pellets typically seen each fall in the parking lots of big box stores aren’t so easy to find right now. And, that’s posing a challenge for people like Andy Langlois of Berlin.

He heats with pellets and has become a hunter-gatherer.

“I had to start calling around as well as just stopping by places just to see if anybody has them and then how many they have,” he said.

Around the state stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot are often coming up short, spokeswomen for the companies acknowledged.

North Country Events

Feb 21, 2014

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

Nine of the 14 North Country representatives voting favored a bill under which New Hampshire employers could not prohibit their workers from discussing how much they are paid.

The bill, H.B. 1188, passed 183 – 125 on Wednesday and now goes to the Senate.

Supporters argued the bill is a step toward ensuring men and women are paid equally for comparable work.

Seven years ago 300 jobs were lost when the Wausau paper plant in Groveton closed. But now a Marlborough, Mass. company says it plans to open a new liquified natural gas plant at the site.

The new plant will cost about $100 million, says Evan Coleman, an official with Clear Energy, the developer.

“We take natural gas out of a pipeline, we cool it down to about negative 260 degrees which transforms the gas into a liquid and then we truck that product out to utility, industrial and transportation users within New England.”

More than two years ago the Balsams closed, putting about 300 full and part-time employees out of work.

But now Les Otten, a Maine businessman and former owner of the American Skiing Company, is working on reopening the Balsams.  He says he has an agreement with the resort’s two owners, Dan Hebert and Dan Dagesse.

There were five snowmobile crashes in the North Country Saturday, including two on rental machines, according to New Hampshire Fish and Game.

Three of the five accidents resulted in injuries and in two cases they were described as serious, according to Sergeant Mark Ober.

One happened about 11 a.m. near Whitefield. It involved Cydney Johnson, 42, of Alton who was on a guided tour. It is thought she accelerated by mistake, causing her snowmobile to hit a tree. She was taken by helicopter to Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center.

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