Gunstock seeking $950,000 to cover costs


LACONIA — The Belkap County Delegation will hold a public hearing Monday, May 9, at 7 p.m., at the Belknap County Complex on a request from the Gunstock Area Commission for a $950,000 revenue anticipation note.
The note requested s $200,000 more than the amount requested in recent years and comes in the wake of a poor ski season for Gunstock, Mountain Resort, which Gregg Goddard, general manager, said experienced its lowest attendance since modern snowmaking began in the 1980s.
The revenue anticipation note provides a short-term cash flow for Gunstock and is to be repaid by April 1 of next year from profits made during the ski season.
Gunstock still receives more than 60 percent of its total revenue from skiing operations in a 100-day period from mid-December to late March, despite the addition of new summer attractions such as its longest-in-North-America zip line and treetop adventure park.
Work is progressing at the resort on its newest attraction, a mountain coaster which will carry riders in carts running on rails up to 30 feet above the ground, relying solely on gravity for speed, traveling 2,660 feet downhill, around two circles and through sharp curves at speeds up to 25 mph.
Originally projected to open in the middle of July, Goddard said that, with the short winter and early spring, he hopes it will be up and running by the Fourth of July.

Rod and reel – fishing continues to gain in popularity

Salmon fisherman troll around Smith Point on Lake Winnipesaukee at sunset. (Daryl Carlson photos for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Salmon fisherman troll around Smith Point on Lake Winnipesaukee at sunset.
(Daryl Carlson photo for the Laconia Daily Sun)

Mike Normandin grew up in Laconia, near the Winnipesaukee River, where he learned to fish a little more than 60 years ago.

"We spent a lot of time out there, fishing for anything that swims. We did a lot of fishing as kids," he said.

Decades later, like countless other grandparents, Normandin taught his grandchildren how to hold a pole, wait for a bite, and reel in their catch. Normandin recently served as president of the Belknap County Sportsmen's Association, which promotes the sport of fishing through events such as its Kids' Spring Fishing Derby, which will be held this year on June 5 at Gunstock Recreation Area.

The collective efforts of parents and grandparents, like Normandin, have resulted in steadily increasing interest in fishing, as measured by fishing license sales.

"Generally, the license sales go up each year," said Susan Perry, licensing supervisor for the state's Fish and Game Department.

Her statistics tell the story. In 2005, there were 92,118 resident and 44,672 non-resident fishing licenses sold. Resident licenses increased to 100,941 in 2010, and 111,871 in 2014. Non-resident licenses followed a similar curve, rising to 45,502 in 2010, and 48,661 in 2014.

There would have been reason to suspect that 2016 would be the year that the trend would break. The fee for fishing licenses increased this year, from $35 to $45 for residents, while non-residents will pay $63 for a year of fishing in New Hampshire's freshwater. That fee increase had the misfortune to debut in the same year that an unseasonably mild winter made for the worst ice fishing season in recent memory.

Through March, Perry said, sales were down this year, compared to the first three months of 2015. But after a few warm and sunny weekends in April, this year is on pace to continue the long-term trend. Through April, there have been 48,266 resident licenses and 10,277 non-resident licenses sold this year, each of those figures are substantially higher than the same period in 2015.

Fish and Game offers three ways to buy a license: purchasing online through, visiting that site to print and mail in a form, or by visiting a local license agent. The Fish and Game website has a list of agents, listed alphabetically by town.

It's no accident that interest in recreational fishing is strong in New Hampshire – the state has been cultivating the sport for more than a century. Scott Decker, the fisheries program manager for Fish and Game, said the state's fish stocking program dates back to 1874, when a hatchery was constructed at Livermore Falls in Holderness to attempt to restore Atlantic salmon to waterways disrupted by dams. The first trout hatchery was built in the late 1880s.

It might come as a surprise to many modern anglers to learn that most of the sport fish found today in New Hampshire's lakes and ponds are not native, and wouldn't exist here if not for stocking program. The largemouth and smallmouth bass were brought in from stock found in the Great Lakes and upper Mississippi River system, said Decker, while the rainbow trout were shipped from the scenic McCloud River in northern California.

Of the fish prized by fishermen, only brook trout and lake trout are native to New Hampshire, said Decker.

"If there was no stocking, the only [fish] you'd have would be pickerel, perch and pouts," said Decker, adding, "Probably some sunfish around, lake trout and brook trout, American eels, lake whitefish and round whitefish."

In the stocking program's early decades, Decker said enthusiasm for sport fishing greatly exceeded the scientific foresight for how the activity might affect the ecosystem. Competition from introduced species resulted in the extinction of the Sunapee trout, a species found in the lake by the same name, and the native whitefish population, while still existent, would likely be more robust.

"People just didn't have the knowledge that that was a bad thing," Decker said. "People didn't know about preserving genetics, they just wanted more fish to fish."

While there were once 11 fish hatcheries around the state, Fish and Game now operates six. The hatcheries raise about 400,000 pounds of fish each year, which are distributed to waterbodies throughout the state. Even remote ponds are stocked using aircraft. Decker said the brook trout is by far the most prevalently stocked fish.

"They're the most easily raised and easily caught, and they're the state fish," he said.

For 25 year-old Ethan Cote, one of Normandin's grandsons, fishing has turned into a favorite pastime.

"I grew up doing it, I enjoy being outside and on the water, I find it a more relaxing way to spend my time than inside watching TV," he said. Cote said the growing popularity of fishing is likely due to its ease of entry – a person can buy a cheap fishing rod, a few worms and license in the morning and have a good chance of catching a fish by the end of the day. Cote turned many of his college friends into fishermen, too, who liked the idea of going out for a boat ride. Along the way, they experience the calm of floating on a natural pond, underlaid by the constant possibility of a big fish striking the bait.

"It's a pretty enjoyable way to spend an afternoon, on a boat with a couple of buddies, casting a couple of lines," said Cote.

Rehab center plan draws opposition

State school property aerial

With over 200 acres of land, two dozen buildings, water frontage and mountain views, the Lakes Region Facility is a prime piece of Laconia real estate. Legislation was introduced last week which would turn the property into a rehab center. (Photo courtesy William Hemmel/


Laconia City Council to discuss proposal to sell State School land to private interests



LACONIA — With the New Hampshire Senate preparing to vote next week on legislation that would foreclose efforts by the city to purchase the former Laconia State School property on North Main Street and instead authorize leasing it for a substance abuse and recovery center, the mayor and City Council, surprised by the proposal, are scrambling to frame an appropriate response.
Earlier this week, the Senate Finance Committee endorsed the proposal introduced by state Sen. Jeanie Forrester (R-Meredith), who chairs the panel, as an an amendment to House Bill 1695 by a vote of four-to-two, with senators Andrew Hosmer (D-Laconia) and John Reagan (R-Deerfield) dissenting. The Senate is expected to vote on the amended bill when it meets next week.
Mayor Ed Engler said the City Council will discuss the issue when it meets on Monday, May 9. He said he will prepare a resolution expressing the council's opposition to the legislation for the councilors to consider. At the same time, he said that he is encouraging Hosmer in his opposition to the proposal as well as contacting members of the House of Representatives who represent the city.
The property consists of about 200 acres bounded by North Main Street to the east, Meredith Center Road and Eastman Road to the north and Ahern State Park to the west and south and divided roughly in half by Right Way Path. Among the 26 buildings on the site, an appraisal commissioned by the state found less than a handful salvageable.

Rehab center proposed
Forrester's proposal would direct Commissioners of the Department of Health and Human Services and Department Administrative Services "to develop and solicit a request for proposals for the private use of the Lakes Region Facility property in Laconia property to provide comprehensive substance abuse treatment and recovery programs." The amendment provides that the request for proposals could include but not be limited to "long term lease purchase agreements, ground lease arrangements, or any other arrangements" considered viable
At the same time, her legislation would deny the city the opportunity to acquire the property, which it has pursued since 2011. Her legislation would repeal the authorization to sell the property included in the 2016-2017 state budget budget. The companion bill to the budget, directed the Department of Administrative Services to sell the property and the budget booked $2 million in revenue from the proceeds of the transaction.
City officials only learned of Forrester's initiative on Friday, April 29, when by chance City Councilor Henry Lipman (Ward 3) was told of her amendment. Forrester herself informed City Manager Scot Myers on Monday, May 2, the day before the Senate Finance Committee held a hearing on the proposal.

Idea dismissed months ago
Although introduced suddenly, the proposal originated months ago when Alex Ray, the owner and founder of the Common Man Family of Restaurants, who developed the Webster Place Recovery Center in Franklin, began eying the Laconia State School property as the site of a similar facility. Ray said he visited the site with Michael Connor, deputy commissioner of the Department of Administrative Services. Connor said that after touring the property, Ray seemed particularly interested in the Peterson and Speare buildings, which, among the 26 on the site, are in relatively good condition. Connor advised Myers of Ray's interest in the property and Engler arranged to meet with him.
On Dec. 14, Ray, accompanied by so-called drug czar Jack Wozmak, who resigned in January, outlined his vision of developing a treatment center on the property. Engler recalled that Ray appeared to assume that the city would own the property.
"Scott and I were politely discouraging," Engler said. He added that they explained a substance abuse treatment center would not be the highest and best use of the property and would encounter stiff opposition from the community, particularly from residents of nearby neighborhoods on Old North Main Street and Shore Drive.
Three days later, Engler and Myers met with Connor, who explained that the department would hire a broker and put the property on the open market for six months beginning in April. The highest and best offer for the property would be taken as its market value and it would be offered to the city at that price. The city would have at least 30 days to match the offer.
"We have been waiting patiently for the process to play itself out," Engler said.
Connor said yesterday, "We're not actively listing the property."
The next day, Dec. 18, Engler emailed Ray to suggest he consider the Dube Building, last occupied by Lakes Region Community Services, which together with the Laconia 911 Center and Lakes Region Mutual Fire Aid Communications Center sits on 17 acres owned by the state tract adjacent to the Laconia State School property. Engler said that Ray replied the same day to say that, after their meeting, he had no further interest in developing a substance abuse treatment and recovery center on the property.

Facing opposition
Ray said yesterday that after meeting with Engler and Myers, "My interest was diminished. I don't want to go to a town and fight for something it doesn't want." Nevertheless, nearly five months later the project was revived by Forrester's proposal, which took city officials by surprise. Ray said that "the powers that be in the Senate said 'Let's get this thing off the table.'" He attended the hearing and spoke in support of Forrester's amendment.
Ray said "I'm open minded." Acknowledging the importance of the property to Laconia, he said that its development should only be undertaken with the cooperation and support of the city.
"I would sit with your powers that be — the mayor, City Council, Planning Board and so on — at a charette." Likewise, he said that the property is suitable for multiple uses and a treatment and recovery center need not require the entire property.
At the same time, Ray stressed the urgency of addressing substance abuse and making use of a dormant property. "Nobody has a solution," he said. "This may be one."
He noted that a treatment and recovery center on the site would neither affect any residential neighborhoods nor generate excessive traffic.
"It's what's best for everybody, including the city," he said. "I want to continue the conversation with the city of Laconia."

Status of sale
Forrester, who followed the city's interest in the property for some time, said that she was not aware that it was still contemplating acquiring the tract until Engler spoke to the Senate Finance Committee this week.
"From our perspective," she said, "nothing was happening with the property."
Engler, referring to the failure of the state to proceed with the sale of the property, said "We're not the ones slowing the process down. We're not driving the bus. They are." Dismissing suggestions that the property has lain fallow for the failure of the city to take the initiative, he said "It has been premature because the opportunity to acquire it has not been offered to us. No price has been set."
Meanwhile, Charles Bradley, a former city councilor, will present a draft resolution to the City Council alleging that Ray and Forrester "conspired to draft a midnight amendment ... to allow a drug and rehabilitation center at the Laconia State School" and directing the city manager to inform of the governor, president of the Senate and Speaker of the House of the circumstances and the city's opposition to to a substance abuse treatment center on the Laconia State School property.
Furthermore, referring to the investment of Forrester's husband, Keith, in the Hooksett Welcome Center, developed by Ray and Rusty McLear, Bradley charges that because of "her husband's business relationship with Mr. Ray," Forrester has a "definite conflict of interest." The resolution would direct the city manager to file a complaint with the Legislative Ethics Commitee.
Finally, Bradley would have the mayor, city manager and Belknap Economic Development Council propose a marketing plan for the Laconia State School property to state officials, which would offer the site as a tourist resort to all four- and five-star hotels in the country.
The state first sought to sell the property in 2011, offering it to the city for $10 million. However, soon afterward, two appraisals, one by the state and another by the city, found it was worth about a fifth that much. In April 2012, the Laconia City Council offered to purchase the property, together with the Robbie Mills Sports Complex and an abutting 10.2-acre parcel for $2.16 million. The state did not respond to the offer, which was withdrawn following an environmental assessment of the property.The property has been on the open market ever since without fetching a single offer.