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City to move on taking Kingsbury property

The city of Keene will move forward with the tax-deeding process on a vacant industrial property with more than $900,000 owed in back taxes and interest, after a 12-2 vote by councilors Thursday night.

Councilors George S. Hansel and Robert B. Sutherland opposed the measure, while Councilor Stephen L. Hooper was absent.

The issue wasn’t on Thursday’s agenda because it’s been tabled during negotiations with the property owner. But City Manager Elizabeth A. Dragon recapped the issue during her regular comments with the latest updates, and then Mayor Kendall W. Lane brought the motion back on the table for a vote.

Since February, when Councilors Mitchell H. Greenwald, Janis O. Manwaring and David C. Richards proposed starting the process, the question of whether to take the 20-plus acres on Laurel Street by tax deed has been debated several times.

Councilors have weighed the potential financial gain from taking the property against the potential liability, since the city would own the site as is, including the environmental hazards and contaminants that have been discovered through groundwater testing, along with any unknown risks.

Manchester-based property owner Brian J. Thibeault bought the property in 2013 at a foreclosure auction for $50,000, after longtime owner and toy-turned-tool manufacturer Kingsbury Corp. filed for bankruptcy. Thibeault inherited about $670,000 in tax debt, which has continued to accumulate interest.

The city received a check on May 9 for $100,067.70, which covered the 2016 property taxes that were due.

Thibeault now owes a total of $903,775.77, Dragon told the council Thursday.

The tax-deeding proposal was tabled as discussions continued with Thibeault, and then the council authorized Dragon in June to negotiate two land easements with him: One would allow the city to extend Victoria Street, and the other would expand an existing easement along Beaver Brook for work to alleviate flooding.

The value of the easements could be credited against Thibeault’s tax debt.

Thibeault’s lawyer, Margaret H. Nelson, submitted a letter to Dragon June 20 outlining a payment plan that stipulated her client would pay a reduced amount in four installments, essentially asking for the interest and penalties for the inherited 2009 and 2010 taxes to be waived.

Dragon responded a week later with a counter offer. The city would agree if Thibeault would grant the requested easements, proceed with brownfield land assessments on the east side of Beaver Brook, give a timeline for the demolition of the building on the property, and agree to not subdivide the land until the environmental concerns are addressed.

In late August, Dragon was notified that a brownfield grant from the Environmental Protection Agency, through the Southwest Region Planning Commission, was in jeopardy because of the lack of activity at the property. A brownfield is land that may be environmentally contaminated, and grants assist nonprofit organizations and municipalities with cleanup.

After more back and forth, Dragon said, Thibeault called her Thursday afternoon and then sent a new counter offer, which agreed to the easements in exchange for $650,000 credit on the taxes and interest due. He would not agree to the request to restrict subdividing the property, she said, and he would not offer a timeline for building demolition.

Thibeault told a council committee in June that he had plans to redevelop the property with mixed-use retail, housing and eateries. He said then that the taxes would get paid after the land is developed and money is coming in.

Sutherland argued Thursday that Thibeault has paid some money, which is better than none.

“I also think that my concern is opening the taxpayers of Keene to a lot of risk to a property that has a lot of brownfield problems or potential brownfield problems,” he said. “… I don’t think that acting in one direction only, which has little outward benefit, visible outward benefit, is in our best interest or in the best interest of the taxpayers.”

But several councilors said Thibeault hasn’t been negotiating in good faith, noting as they have in the past that this discussion is now on its third city manager.

“I mean, it’s a tough situation, but I think this council has to just come to the understanding that we’re being played,” Councilor Randy L. Filiault said. “You know, we’re like 15 fiddles, and he has the string — he’s been playing us for a while.”


Michael Moore / Sentinel Staff 

Jeannie Eastman, a member of the Harrisville Community Garden, tosses plant material as she starts putting her two plots to bed for the approaching end of the growing season. The community garden has 46 plots. Historic Harrisville owns the land and does not charge for its use.


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Challengers line up as Sununu, Shaheen look to re-election

Nov. 3, 2020, remains a distant destination on the horizon for statewide political campaigns in New Hampshire.

Yet with candidates already emerging to challenge Republican Gov. Chris Sununu and Democratic U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, some dynamics are worth looking out for in their re-election bids, according to two prominent Granite State political scientists.

The challengers

In the governor’s race, N.H. Senate Majority leader Dan Feltes, 40, of Concord became the first Democrat to officially launch a bid to unseat Sununu. He released a four-minute campaign video Tuesday, highlighting his legislative efforts in the new Democratic majorities in the Statehouse that he says have been thwarted by a slew of Sununu vetoes.

Executive Councilor Andru Volinksy, 63, of Concord has launched an exploratory committee to scope out a potential run, and will be among 19 Democratic presidential candidates and New Hampshire leaders speaking at the N.H. Democratic Party Convention in Manchester Saturday.

The Democrats’ 2016 gubernatorial nominee, former state senator Molly Kelly, 69, of Harrisville told The Sentinel in May that she is considering another run, but has yet to take any further steps. And her primary opponent from that year, former Portsmouth mayor Steve Marchand, likewise said in May that he’s mulling a return bid, and has the blessing to do so from his new boss, Democratic presidential candidate Andrew Yang.

In the Senate race, three Republican candidates have officially declared: retired Brig. Gen. Don Bolduc, 57, of Stratham; former N.H. House speaker Bill O’Brien, 68, of Mont Vernon; and Wolfeboro lawyer Bryant “Corky” Messner, 62.

Corey Lewandowski, 45, of Windham — best known for serving as President Donald Trump’s first campaign manager in 2016 — has been the subject of speculation in the national press as to whether he’ll enter the race, and he earned a shout out from Trump at the president’s mid-August rally in Manchester.

Household names

One of the greatest strengths for Shaheen and Sununu as incumbents is their name recognition across the Granite State, according to University of New Hampshire political scientists Dante Scala and Andrew Smith.

Shaheen, 72, served as New Hampshire’s 78th governor from 1997 to 2003 before her election to the U.S. Senate in 2009.

Sununu, 44, the Granite State’s 82nd governor, carries the mantle of the biggest name brand in New Hampshire politics. His father, John H. Sununu, served as the 75th governor from 1983 to 1989 before serving as then-President George H.W. Bush’s chief of staff from 1989 to 1991.

The patriarch’s tenure in that latter role left a historical legacy examined in Chris Whipple’s 2017 book “The Gatekeepers: How the White House Chiefs of Staff Define Every Presidency,” as well as in a lengthy 2018 New York Times Magazine piece by Nathaniel Rich investigating John H. Sununu’s opposition to global action on climate change when scientists were sounding the alarm bell.

Chris Sununu’s older brother, John E. Sununu, was one of New Hampshire’s two U.S. representatives from 1997 to 2003, and defeated Shaheen in her first U.S. Senate bid in 2002 before losing his seat to her six years later.

For Smith, Shaheen’s durability among New Hampshire voters going back to when she first won Concord’s corner office is her greatest strength.

“Here we are 20-plus years later, 24 years later, and she has only lost one election during that time [to John E. Sununu],” Smith said. “So she, going into this race, has got to be considered the front-runner.”

As for Sununu, Scala described his prospects as “solid” given his name recognition and high favorability ratings amid a strong Granite State economy.

“I think that Governor Sununu, like Shaheen, has the advantage of being a household name in New Hampshire, and therefore, just like we saw in the last midterm [in 2018], he can run his own race independent of the rest of the Republican ticket to a considerable degree,” Scala said.

Political bandwidth

Although Trump has potential primary challengers — such as former Massachusetts governor Bill Weld, who discussed his prospects with The Sentinel while fishing on a Gilsum pond in June — his approval remains well above the 80th percentile among New Hampshire Republicans. Democrats, on the other hand, have a robust primary gearing up to Feb. 11, 2020.

Either way, Smith says the high attention given to the presidential race makes it “much harder” for Sununu and Shaheen’s challengers trying to introduce themselves to voters.

“There’s only a certain amount of political bandwidth that anybody has, and we’re frankly, as a state, not going to really start paying attention to the 2020 general election for those offices until after the New Hampshire [presidential] primary is over,” Smith said.

With Sununu being the third most popular governor in the country — with his job approval rating averaging over 60 percent in polling — Smith notes that Feltes and Volinksy have yet to even be tested in statewide polling, making efforts to build their name recognition all the more important.

Shaheen, meanwhile, could be more tethered to the Democratic nominee who ends up facing Trump, Scala notes.

Likewise, her Republican opponent will be tied to how well Trump is received by New Hampshire voters come November 2020, according to Scala, with the president seeing a net approval rating of negative 11 percent among Granite State voters overall, according to an August UNH poll.

‘It’s the economy, stupid.’

For all of the incumbency and name-ID advantages Sununu may enjoy as governor, Scala pointed out one particularly difficult scenario for him.

“His concern has to be what I would call ‘the double whammy,’ “ Scala said. “One, a recession hits New Hampshire and the country, of course. You’ve got an economic recession, unemployment spikes, and the president becomes increasingly unpopular. You get those two things together — economic recession with real impact on New Hampshire voters, plus an unpopular president that Democrats will tie you to at every moment — that would be concerning.”

Similarly, Smith points to longstanding political science research that shows how executives — mainly governors and presidents — are often given the most credit and blame for the state of the economy.

Senators like Shaheen, Smith says, are harder to pin down to specific accomplishments because of their role in the nation’s bicameral legislature.

“And certainly Sununu has the ability to campaign on the fact that New Hampshire has got a really good economy right now, and I think that’s likely to be the factor that’s gonna get him over the top,” he said.

But overall, Smith stresses that voters take early prognostications with a grain of salt this prematurely in a campaign cycle.

“It’s really early in the game for us to pay that much attention to what’s going on.”


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Two-alarm fire doused at Keene transfer station today

Keene firefighters extinguished a blaze inside the city’s transfer station early this morning.

Crews responded to an automatic fire alarm at 55 Old Summit Road at about 1:40 a.m., according to a news release from the Keene Fire Department, and they soon upgraded the incident to a second alarm.

The fire was contained to the trash transfer side of the facility, the release says, though smoke did reach the recycling portion and was ventilated. Property damage is estimated around $20,000.

Fire crews were able to remove an excavator near the fire before it suffered any damage, fire officials said.

One firefighter suffered a back injury and was treated at the scene, according to the release.

The cause of the fire is under investigation, but is not considered suspicious at this time, the release says.

Firefighters from Brattleboro, Gilsum, Spofford, Sullivan, Swanzey and Westmoreland, as well as Keene police and Southwestern N.H. District Fire Mutual Aid, assisted at the scene, while the Chesterfield, Peterborough, Troy and Walpole departments covered fire stations.

Anyone with information about the incident can contact Keene fire Lt. John Bates at 757-1863 or jbates@ci.keene.nh.us.


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What's next for rural communities in the spotlight at CONNECT

From testing food quality with a flash to a solar-powered tractor, the possibilities for the future in rural communities will be showcased at this year’s CONNECT event during the Radically Rural summit in Keene this month.

CONNECT 2019 is set for Sept. 19 from 5:30 to 7:30 p.m. at Keene State College with the theme “What’s Next!” Co-hosted by The Sentinel and the Hannah Grimes Center for Entrepreneurship, CONNECT began in 2015 as an annual networking event and project showcase for regional businesses and community developers. The same entities launched Radically Rural last year and folded in CONNECT as one evening of the two-day conference, which is essentially an expanded networking and educational opportunity.

Inside the Mabel Brown Room of the college’s student center will be artistic installations curated by Machina Arts, a Keene-based arts and event planning organization. These installations are intended to be physical and interactive representations of “what’s next” for rural communities, whether in lighting, farming, journalism or local entrepreneurship.

Dan Kittredge, founder and executive director of the Barre, Mass.-based Bionutrient Food Association, said his organization will have a prototype of its bionutrient meter, a handheld device that measures the quality of food.

“If you’ve ever eaten a tomato that’s fresh from a garden and a tomato from a grocery store in January, you’ve probably tasted the difference,” he said, adding that that means there’s a difference in the nutritional value, too.

By eating food that tastes better, people can help the planet by supporting more sustainable farming practices, and their families by consuming healthier products, Kittredge argues.

His nonprofit organization is gathering data to help people make better decisions about the food they buy, he said, and the hope is that the bionutrient meter will become more accessible. The device connects to a smartphone via bluetooth, and a person flashes a light at a food item — vegetable, fruit, meat, dairy — and gets data about the food’s quality.

Once more data is collected, the variation in quality will be better defined, he said, and the device will offer a simple green, yellow or red indicator light. But for now, Kittredge’s organization is offering a look at the future of food testing.

The Sentinel will display a three-panel exhibit showcasing the paper’s history, starting with a physical display of 10 significant stories covered by the publication. The second will feature a projection of a video highlighting how a story goes from idea to printed piece. Last will be a live visualization of an online platform tracking The Sentinel’s website and measuring which stories are read more.

Keene-based LED professionals Lumens for Less will have a lighting network designed to mimic the natural lighting provided by the sun. Chris Dubriske, senior sales engineer at Lumens for Less, has said the installation is designed to educate viewers about the way human eyes naturally adjust to the sun’s movements, and how artificial light sources from common light bulbs and phone screens can disrupt and strain that pattern.

Monadnock Economic Development Corp. will have information about its plans to create an arts corridor in Keene that would stretch down Gilbo Avenue and extend across Main Street to Railroad Square. A performance venue, living spaces for artists, a welcome center, a new skate park and a pedestrian mall are all part of the plans.

That installation will also feature a mirrored photo booth where attendees will be invited to write what the arts corridor’s future impact means to them and take a picture with their words.

Sun Moon Farm in Rindge will also display its solar-powered tractor for energy-efficient farming, among other installations.

Machina Arts will stage and design the CONNECT event, and will also serve a selection of craft cocktails from its restaurant, Machina Kitchen & ArtBar on Court Street.

Food will be served by the catering arm of CC&D’s Kitchen Market in Keene, which has fed CONNECT attendees for years. Along with an array of hors d’oeuvres and spreads, barbecue pitmaster Charles “Charcoal Charlie” Pini will offer smoked meats.

In keeping with the “what’s next” theme, co-owner Denise Meadows said they’re venturing into new local and global culinary trends this year, including a 16-foot charcuterie and cheese display as a centerpiece and some more adventurous snacks.

“There’s been a lot of conversation lately, more and more, about insects as protein: Is it the future? And not only for human consumption but also exploring it for animal consumption, for animal feed,” Meadows said.

CC&D’s Kitchen is partnering with Jack’s Crackers to make cricket crackers, she said, and with Eat More Cake for an insect-themed dessert. The most adventurous attendees can try the cricket cheddar biscuit with cricket sausage or the dry roasted and seasoned whole crickets.

“That’s one of the cool things that I love about the CONNECT event,” Meadows said. “I’ve been doing this for many years and (Hannah Grimes executive director) Mary Ann Kristiansen has always let me run with it.”

Also at CONNECT, Hannah Grimes will announce the winners of the PitchFork Challenge, a competition in which the winning startup takes home $10,000, and $1,000 is awarded for the best business idea.

The challenge involves a series of pitches between July and September to narrow the field of applicants to the finalists, who will present live at the Radically Rural summit earlier that day. It’s an extension of Hannah Grimes’ PitchFork program, which coaches entrepreneurs on a quarterly basis on how to pitch to investors.

The finalists for the business track ($10,000 award) are:

Keith McDonald, NH Tap

Albert Diemand, Elm City Compost Initiative

Suzanna Kamphuis, TotumVos

Andrew Osterman, Patient Precise

David Tanos, TANOSTEEL

Georgia Cassimatis, 17ROX

And the finalists for the idea track ($1,000 award) are:

Virginia Jordan, herbal horse and dog nutritional supplement

Glenn Letourneau, artisanal hard cider

Sarah Harpster, community kitchen and event space

Rebecca Dixon, a “superfood” and coffee alternative

Oscar Heller, food ordering and delivery app

Radically Rural will be held Sept. 19 and 20. Tickets for CONNECT can be purchased separately starting at $45, but they are also included with a two-day ticket for Radically Rural starting at $149. To register or to find more information about CONNECT and Radically Rural, go to www.radicallyrural.org.


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NH to receive additional money to combat opioid crisis

Amid ongoing efforts to fight the opioid epidemic, New Hampshire is poised to soon receive more than $26 million in federal dollars, geared toward helping bring down overdose deaths and addiction rates.

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services announced the funding Wednesday, with more than $1.8 billion delegated nationwide.

“What we are trying to do today is make people aware of the crisis and the solutions,” Kellyanne Conway, counselor to the president, told reporters during a conference call. “Under the leadership of the president and others, we are taking unprecedented action at local levels to combat the crisis.”

The money, secured by Congress last year, will be given out through a pair of programs. Among them is a new three-year disbursement of more than $900 million from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention spread among 47 states; Washington, D.C.; two U.S. territories; and 16 localities. New Hampshire is set to receive more than $11 million — $3.7 million each year.

The funding is intended to help state and local governments track overdose data as closely to real-time as possible.

“I applaud the Trump administration for working to make this new funding available, providing states with the resources needed to better understand the opioid crisis at hand and how we can work to best combat it,” Gov. Chris Sununu said in a news release Wednesday.

Jake Leon, spokesman for the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services, which will administer the funds, said the money will help the department better understand how to improve care.

“The Department will work with data from resources such as the Office of the Chief Medical Examiner, hospital emergency departments and the Prescription Drug Monitoring Program, to understand what is happening at the local level and how community based services can be improved throughout the continuum of care,” Leon said.

The money will also fund new programs, Leon said, such as training and resources for grandparents or other relatives caring for children whose parents have a substance use disorder.

In 2018, New Hampshire saw 471 drug overdose deaths, the vast majority from opioids, according to data from the state’s Office of the Chief Medical Examiner.

New Hampshire will also receive nearly $23 million for its second installment of the State Opioid Response grant from the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, which gives “flexible funding” to state governments for prevention, treatment and recovery programs, the release from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services states.

New Hampshire already received the first allotment of the grant and supplemental funding, totaling more than $34 million, in September 2018 and May, respectively.

The first round of money went toward establishing The Doorway programs, a statewide effort to create a “hub and spoke” system for referrals and recovery services. Funding also was used to further relationships with local providers and increase medication-assisted treatment, Leon said.

He said Thursday that the department doesn’t yet know when it will receive the new round of State Opioid Response funding.

Those seeking recovery resources in Cheshire County can visit the The Doorway at 640 Marlboro Road in Keene (the Curran Building on Route 101) Monday through Friday, from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m., or seek support through the state’s 24/7 hotline at 211.