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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A new state program is offering financial help to businesses that would like to start using wood pellets rather than heating oil.

The grants are designed to help businesses buy new heating systems that use a homegrown, renewable resource: wood.

The money is available through the Public Utilities Commission’s  Sustainable Energy Division.

Jack Ruderman is its head.

“We’re offering a rebate of up to 30 percent of the cost of the heating system and installation with a cap of $50,000 per system," says Jack Ruderman, the head of the division.

Tuesday night in Plymouth the state’s Office of Energy and Planning held its last public hearing on possible changes to the state’s Site Evaluation Committee - which is responsible for approving utility projects ranging from wind farms to Northern Pass - and the theme was that the SEC needs a significant and wide-ranging overhaul before it can be trusted.

About three dozen people attended and their concerns echoed those voiced at previous meetings around the state.

A central issue was that all fifteen members of the SEC are officials from state agencies.

The season’s first serious snowstorm is almost over, says says Margaret Curtis, a meteorologist with the National Weather Service in Gray, Maine.

“By around 10 am to noon depending on your location you should see significant improvements,” she said.

First reports indicate the worst snow was south of the notches.

“So far we’ve seen some reports of up to ten inches in the Lakes Region and as much as nine to ten inches in southwest New Hampshire,” Curtis said.

New Hampshire State Police

There was a fatal collision Tuesday morning on Route 3 in Columbia, according to a news release from the state police.

The accident was reported about 8:40 and involved a Buick LeSabre going northbound and a Toyota Tundra pickup headed southbound, reported Lt. Todd Landry, the commander of Troop F, which covers the North Country.

Saturday night it was the third annual Christmas in Bethlehem celebration in the North Country.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen sent this postcard:

Morning Edition Host Rick Ganley: This week the public has a chance to weigh in on the future of the state’s Site Evaluation Committee.  The SEC reviews major utility projects, including proposed wind farms and the Northern Pass project. 

The concerns of opponents of those projects prompted Governor Hassan to sign Senate Bill 99.  It calls for a review of how the SEC works with a report due at the end of December. 

This week’s listening sessions and workshops include one tonight in Manchester.

UPDATE: By early Sunday afternoon two members of the Fish and Game rescue party were still working their way through the tangled and challenging, Dry River drainage, trying to reach a road, said Lt. Wayne Saunders.

A solo hiker missing in The Presidentials walked out on his own late Saturday afternoon after teams of rescuers and a helicopter spent a rugged day searching for him.

The search began on Saturday morning for Michael Niles 31 of Bradford Massachusetts.

A Vermont man found responsible for the 2010 explosion in Colebrook that killed two men and injured a third is going to prison for at least ten years.

Late in October a jury found Craig Sanborn guilty of two counts of manslaughter and Wednesday in Coos Superior Court he was sentenced.

“The court sentenced Mr. Sanborn to five to ten years incarceration on each manslaughter charge to be served consecutively for a total of 10 to 20 years,” said Stephen Murray, the assistant Coos County attorney.

A series of public meetings begin the first week in December to determine what changes, if any, should be made to how the state’s Site Evaluation Committee works, including whether the public should have a decision-making role in approving new utility projects.

The SEC reviews major utility projects, which will include Northern Pass.

Currently the SEC has fifteen members, all from state agencies.

Photo courtesy of Grafton County Commission

Michael Cryans, a Grafton County Commissioner, plans to run for the Executive Council seat left empty by the death of Ray Burton.

Cryans is a Democrat and Littleton native who for sixteen years has been a county commissioner, serving alongside  Burton, a Republican.

In 1996 Cryans ran against Burton for executive council and lost.

But last year, in the race for county commissioner, Burton endorsed Cryans over a Republican challenger.

Starting around 2008, as the economy began struggling and banks got skittish about lending, foreign investors began sending hundreds of millions of dollars into Vermont.

They were attracted by a federal EB-5 visa program administered by the state of Vermont.

It allows foreigners willing to invest at least $500,000 to get green cards and live in the United States.

New Hampshire didn’t have anything like it, but the state is warming to the idea.

NHPR’s Chris Jensen reports.

Sound  of construction……

Heavy machinery at work.

Traffic deaths increased in 2012 in New Hampshire with alcohol and failing to wear seat belts or helmets again being major factors, according to a new report from the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration.

In the study federal officials estimated Americans drove roughly the same number of miles in 2012 as in 2011.

Overall there were 108 traffic fatalities in the state in 2012, an increase of 20 percent over the previous year.

Ray Burton’s burial will be private, says BJ Perry, his administrative assistant. But there will be a public memorial service on December 14th.

It will start at 1 p.m. at Plymouth State University in the student union, Perry said.

Burton died less than three weeks after he announced his kidney cancer, said to be in remission, had returned and he would not seek re-election next year.

Chris Jensen, NHPR

Less than three weeks after Executive Councilor Ray Burton announced his kidney cancer was no longer in remission he died.

Around the state more institutions, towns and businesses are turning away from oil in favor of heating with wood, viewing it as a renewable resource that helps the region’s economy, lowers the carbon footprint and apparently saves money.

There’s a good example in the basement of the main building at The White Mountain School in Bethlehem.

The old is a huge, black, gray and rust-fringed H.B. Smith boiler that once feasted on heating oil.

A few feet away are three modern-looking, green and white pellet boilers.

A new fire training facility in the North Country will be named after Executive Councilor Ray Burton, said Deborah A. Pendergast, the director of the state’s division of Fire Standards & Training and Emergency Medical Services.

The center, located in Bethlehem, will allow fire fighters from the North Country to learn fire fighting techniques without the cost and time involved in traveling to Concord.

“It gives the folks up in that area a facility that meets their needs,” she said in a telephone interview.

Travis Giles, the culinary instructor at The White Mountains Community College in Berlin, is the winner of the North Country Chef’s Challenge, an effort to see who can best match culinary skills with local ingredients.

Giles was competing against seven other chefs.

The judges were from the White Mountain chapter of the American Culinary Federation.

The event is the idea of the North Country Farmer’s Co-op.

For his entrée Giles began with “a whole red deer” from a farm Milan. 

While the North Country is routinely working on economic development some people are also looking at human resources, in particular the source of the next generations of community leaders and volunteers.

Their concern:  Talented young adults being one of the North Country’s rarer creatures.

And, some research into that issue got underway recently at the North Country Resource Center in Lancaster, where fourteen young adults – in their 20’s and 30’s – volunteered to answer questions about what brought them or keeps them in the North Country.

Executive Councilor Ray Burton has received Plymouth State University’s highest award for public service, only the third time the honor has been given in almost a decade.

The Henry W. Blair Award for Distinguished Public Service was created in 2004.

“It is for distinguished public service, it recognizes someone who has devoted – as Henry Blair did – a life to making the world better through strong public service,”  PSU president Sara Jayne Steen said in an interview. “And, in that sense of course, Ray is the perfect candidate.”

Courtesy CDFA

Unofficial results show Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier was re-elected on Tuesday, beating challenger Mark Evans 971 to 272.

Evans is a member of the city’s Planning Board and former member of the city council.

This will be Grenier’s third term. He is also one of three Coos County Commissioners and is unusual in the North Country as an elected official who favors the Northern Pass project, which does not pass through his city.

It is hard to imagine there have been many openings of roadside scenic areas that attracted three former governors, a sitting governor and two US Senators as well as dozens of state office holders.

But that happened Friday afternoon in the North Country during a ceremony to honor longtime Executive Councilor Ray Burton.

In theory the ceremony was for the opening of the scenic area on US 302 across from the Mount Washington Hotel.

But it was really about North Country Executive Councilor Ray Burton, who arrived in the back seat of a yellow convertible.

A new scenic overlook will be opened Friday in the North Country and the plans include honoring Executive Councilor Ray Burton.

The new overlook and rest area is on Route 302 just across from the Mount Washington Hotel.

It cost about $1.4 million and replaces a much smaller pull-off on the other side of the road.

The old area had room for five cars or two buses which state highway officials say caused traffic problems and raised safety concerns. The new area has room for 22 cars and six buses.

State of New Hampshire

Ray Burton, a Republican who has represented the North Country for four decades, says his kidney cancer has returned and he won’t be seeking re-election.

Burton has served as both Executive Councilor and a Grafton County Commissioner.

Earlier this year Burton, who lives in Bath, said he had cancer but it was curable.

For much of the year he has been attending functions throughout the North Country, his cancer said to be in remission.

A 64-year-old Vermont man has been found responsible for the 2010 explosion in Colebrook that killed two men and injured a third.

Craig Sanborn’s trial in Coos County Superior Court in Lancaster took about four weeks and the jury made up its mind in about three hours on Wednesday, says Coos County Attorney John McCormick.

The jury returned verdicts of guilty on all counts, two negligent homicide charges and two manslaughter charges,” he said.

Despite a modified route for the Northern Pass Project Sen. Kelly Ayotte says she still has “serious reservations” about the plan and the lines along the entire route should be buried.

“I am still very concerned about the impact on the beauty on the North Country and many other areas of the state,” she told NHPR following a Town Hall meeting Wednesday in Whitefield.

Ayotte says it would be best to bury all the transmission lines, not just an eight-mile section in Northern Coos County.

At Senator Kelly Ayotte’s town hall meeting in Whitefield Wednesday Berlin resident Joe Vigue sat quietly through her description of the nation’s growing deficit and struggle to adopt a budget.

His arms were folded across his chest – and a sweatshirt reading: “I’m like an owl. I don’t give a hoot.”

When Ayotte opened the floor to questions, Vigue wanted to know about a dysfunctional Senate.

“What is it like to deal with almost all of that 100 people that are worse than my eight and nine-year-old grandchildren,” he asked.

Federal officials say six companies building a biomass plant in Berlin have put workers at risk by not following safety regulations.

The Occupational Health and Safety Administration proposes fining the companies about $280,000 for thirty-one “willful, serious and repeat violations of workplace safety standards.”

“These hazards included potential cave-ins, falls, scaffold collapse, crushing, exposure to lead and electrocution hazards,” said OSHA spokesman Ted Fitzgerald.

Fitzgerald said there were no serious injuries or deaths.

A Campton resort is suing the Northern Pass, claiming it has no right to use an existing Public Service of New Hampshire right-of-way for larger transmission towers.

The suit was filed in Grafton County Superior Court by the owners of The Owl’s Nest Resort & Golf Club.

The resort already has a PSNH right-of-way and the suit claims Northern Pass’ plan to add substantially taller towers is unreasonable and “wrongfully exceeds” the original right-of-way agreement.

Chris Jensen for NHPR

The operator of twenty-two campgrounds in The White Mountain National Forest has been told to close them.

“We are directed now to close the gates as of Thursday the 10th unless something happens in Congress,” said Kent Tower, the owner of Pro Sports of Campton.

Last week federal officials in Washington began notifying private businesses that operate campgrounds in national forests that they would have to close even though they provide water, sanitation and other services without help from federal employees.

The shutdown of the federal government is expanding to include privately run campgrounds in national forests across the country, a spokesman for the U.S. Forest Service said late Thursday.

“We are in the process of shutting these operations down at facilities across the country due to the lapse in funding,” wrote spokesman Leo Kay in an e-mail. “Some closures have already taken place while others are still in progress.”

That is expected to include twenty-two campgrounds in The White Mountain National Forest operated by Pro Sports Inc. of Campton.

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