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Artist Mary Iselin of Marlborough paints while sitting on a Main Street sidewalk during Art Walk in Keene Saturday. Iselin’s pieces are being displayed at Winchendon Furniture. This year’s Art Walk, minus the usual artists’ receptions and other events due to the coronavirus pandemic, began Friday, June 19, and runs through Sunday, June 28.


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Five-alarm fire under control at former factory in Jaffrey

A large structure fire that burned through a portion of an abandoned Jaffrey factory on Sunday night has been brought under control, according to Jaffrey Fire Chief David Chamberlain.

The blaze was called in shortly before 6 p.m. Sunday and was elevated to a fifth alarm shortly after 7 p.m. Southwestern N.H. Fire Mutual Aid described the scene as a “large industrial fire” with heavy flames visible.

Chamberlain said at least 25 regional fire departments responded to the blaze, which broke out at 39 Webster St., and most were on the scene until around 5 a.m. Monday. He said that, as of 9:30 a.m., there was still one Jaffrey fire vehicle on the scene.

The cause of the fire is still under investigation, and Chamberlain said the N.H. Fire Marshal is expected to visit the property sometime Monday.

The chief also confirmed Monday that no injuries have been reported related to the fire; however, several ambulances were asked to stand by during the early hours of the blaze to ensure the safety of the emergency responders. He said the community was very supportive, bringing lots of water and Gatorade to make sure the firefighters stayed hydrated in Sunday’s severe heat.

The more than 100,000-square-foot building, constructed in 1915, was home to the W.W. Cross factory, which manufactured tacks and fasteners, and was used as an industrial site until the late 1990s, according to an environmental site assessment report prepared by Ransom Consulting.

The building was sold at auction in 2007 and housed businesses there until about 2012, the report said. The building had since fallen into disrepair and Chamberlain confirmed that, in the past, the facility has fallen victim to vandalism.

A community workshop was held in Jaffrey last year on what residents would like to see done with the 11-acre property.

Chamberlain said the fire affected about an eighth of the building, but added that because the facility was abandoned, there was already structural deterioration. He said the fire only further destabilized the building and increased the odds that it would have to be fully torn down.


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Car registrations rev up in NH after pandemic lull

MARLBOROUGH — Things have been busier than ever at Dave’s Automotive, the family-run car repair shop and salvage yard.

“We are so buried with work it’s ridiculous,” Michelle Ferranti said. “Cars still gotta run, they got to get us someplace even if they don’t have to get us to work every day.”

Among the many changes to everyday life brought on by the coronavirus pandemic was the temporary waiver for New Hampshire drivers to register their cars. Paul Raymond of the N.H. Department of Safety said because the state had to close down public access to Department of Motor Vehicles offices, the state did not want to punish drivers.

“We tried to make it as easy as possible to extend registrations, licenses and 20-day plates,” Raymond said.

Drivers of any cars that needed to be registered for renewal or for a new purchase were given until May 31 to have the paperwork done. Temporary plates put on most cars after they are purchased were automatically given an extra 20 days, and drivers who needed renewed licenses were also given extra time, he said.

Though police have been using discretion about registration and licensing issues, safety inspection sticker violations are still being enforced, Raymond said.

The Granite State News Collaborative submitted questions to the N.H. Division of Motor Vehicle seeking detailed information about the number of registrations completed this year compared to last year. DMV officials said they were working on the request.

New Hampshire residents are supposed to get their annual safety inspection at the same time as the registration renewal, but the lack of required inspections has not meant a lack of work at Dave’s Automotive. Ferranti runs the business along with her sister, Kelly Knight, and their father, Dave Knight. Kelly Knight said people have been dropping off their cars to get long-delayed work done.

“Now they have time to get the work done, because they’re all working from home,” Kelly Knight said.

The slowdown in registrations hasn’t turned into a major dip in revenue for the town of Marlborough, said Town Administrator Ellen Smith.

The town clerk’s office has been busier than ever, according to Smith, as Town Clerk Ellen Orkin and her assistant have been taking appointments. Marlborough brings in about $400,000 a year in revenue from motor vehicle registrations.

Scott Myers, Laconia’s city manager, said the city clerk’s staff have been busy as well, directing people to online options to get their cars registered, and even going out and offering curbside service for some older residents.

“We’ve never stopped doing registrations,” Myers said.

Myers said the temporary waiver for registrations has had a noticeable impact on his budget. Despite the online options to get cars registers, many people have held off, he said.

“By the end of May, we were down about 200 vehicles based on last year’s pace,” Myers said. “I think we’ll get caught up when people get around to doing it.”

Those delays have totaled about $100,000 in revenue for the city. While people will get their cars registered, mostly this month, Myers suspects not all of the projected revenues for the year will come in. The city is on track for about $2.9 million in registration revenue, which Myers thinks will hold.

“Ultimately, at the end of the day, everybody needs to have a registered vehicle,” Myers said.

Laconia had previously anticipated a slight rise in care registration revenue based on people trading up their cars. Myers suspects many people are holding off on buying new cars with the uncertain economy and record high unemployment.

In Nashua, Mayor Jim Donchess estimated the April car registration losses at $100,000. Nashua typically generates about $12 million to $15 million in vehicle registration revenue.

“The city brings in a considerable amount of money off vehicle registration,” Donchess said. “We expect it to be off from what we had hoped, but we’re not sure how much.”

Like Myers, Donchess wasn’t sure how many people are skipping trading in their car while the economy recovers.

Ferranti doesn’t think people are necessarily holding onto their cars longer, and she is seeing a lot of new purchases.

“A lot of folks are trying to maintain their cars better at the get-go, but folks are tired of trying to fix stuff. Some new cars are awfully cheap,” she said.

This article is being shared by The Granite State News Collaborative. For more information visit collaborativenh.org.


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Local hospitals ready for potential second wave of COVID-19

Though area hospitals have recently started easing back into normal practices and procedures, officials say they are prepared for a second wave of the coronavirus, if and when it comes.

When epidemiologists talk of a second wave, they are referring to a re-emergence of the virus after a quieter period of minimal transmission.

But thoughts on when this would occur differ among scientists and public officials nationwide. Some — including N.H. Gov. Chris Sununu — say it could arrive as soon as the fall. Others argue the first surge is still alive and well, and a second wave will take more time to surface.

“I think September, October, we need to kind of build it into our DNA that we have to be prepared for the fact that numbers could spike,” Sununu said during a June 11 news conference. “And we’re going to be right on top of it. We got to be right on top of testing capability, PPE, all those things on the back end.”

Regardless of the timeline, local hospitals, as well as the state, say they will be able to handle another wave of COVID-19.

As of Sunday, a total of 5,544 New Hampshire residents have tested positive for COVID-19 since March, when tracking began, and 553 have been hospitalized for it, according to statistics from the N.H. Department of Health and Human Services. About 6 percent of those diagnosed with the disease, or 339, have died.

Dr. Aalok Khole, an infectious-disease physician at Cheshire Medical Center in Keene, said the hospital has continued to be sparing in its use of personal protective equipment (PPE). The hospital is also still receiving regular shipments of PPE, he noted, in preparation for a second surge.

And even with more patients arriving for in-person visits now, the Dartmouth-Hitchcock Health affiliate will continue to use new protocols established during the pandemic, Khole said. These include a strict visitation policy and encouraging telehealth visits — rather than in-person — whenever possible.

Additionally, the hospital staff and patients continue to abide by COVID-19 safety protocols, he said.

“What we have definitely learned is, in order to keep staff and patients safe, it is extremely essential to comply with conservative measures,” Khole said in an email, “including universal use of face masks, hand hygiene, social distancing and avoiding interactions if sick.”

At Monadnock Community Hospital in Peterborough, similar practices are in place to prepare for a possible second wave, with levels of PPE and case numbers statewide being closely monitored.

Spokeswoman Laura Gingras added in an email that the hospital has “maintained readiness,” with systems in place to segregate COVID-19 patients from other patients if needed.

Like Cheshire Medical, Gingras said, Monadnock Community Hospital’s visitor policy continues to allow only one healthy visitor to accompany inpatients and labor-and-delivery patients.

For children receiving outpatient care, or those who need assistance, one visitor is also allowed.

Cyndee McGuire, president and CEO of the Peterborough hospital, added the hospital’s preparation for another COVID-19 wave has been made possible by the staff’s hard work thus far.

“The past 4 months have been some of the most challenging in our 100-year history,” she said in an email. “Our medical team and staff have shown us how creative they can be in changing processes and preparing our hospital to care for our community during this pandemic.”

Khole said, in addition to what Cheshire Medical has learned from months of limited procedures and heftier safety protocols, the key to tackling another wave is to continue with conservative measures.

“We knew all this works from past experience, and it only became clearer as we have walked through this pandemic,” he said. “Now is the time to reinforce this behavior rather than becoming lax — both within the hospital and in the community at large.”


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City Council gives helicopter school green light

The Keene City Council has voted to authorize City Manger Elizabeth Dragon to draft and execute an operating agreement with Monadnock Choppers, a helicopter flight school that will be located at the Dillant-Hopkins Airport.

During its Thursday meeting, held via the video-conferencing application Zoom, the council voted unanimously in favor of the agreement. The resolution was amended to include language stipulating that the city would continue the process of working with the Federal Aviation Administration to document noise-sensitive areas near the airport, after concerns were raised that the sound of the school’s operations may adversely impact the airport’s neighbors.

“[The amendment is] just meant to kick off a long process and make sure it’s tracked by the council,” said Councilor Michael Remy, who moved to amend the agreement.

The resolution was recommended 4-1 by the council’s finance, organization and personnel committee. Councilors Thomas Powers, committee chair, Remy, Stephen Hooper and Raleigh Ormerod voted in favor of the recommendation, while Councilor Terry Clark voted against it.

During the committee’s meeting on June 11, also held via video conference, many residents of Keene and Swanzey, where the airport is located, tuned in to voice their opinions on the business. Powers said Thursday the meeting had more than 60 participants at its peak.

Most of the speakers voiced support for the business, with some vouching for the owner of the flight school, Kevin Provost, and others lauding the economic benefit the flight school would bring. Those opposed to the school feared the added noise from helicopters taking off and landing throughout the day would disrupt their quality of life.

“We’re residents, we have investments in this community, we love this neighborhood, and we’re good neighbors, and we’re good citizens,” said Swanzey resident Ann Heffernon. “And I think that you need to listen to us because we do have to live there, and it does affect the value of our properties.”

Heffernon said she had lived in the area long enough to remember the last helicopter school which operated out of the airport in the 1990s. She said the noise from that flight school was extremely disruptive, and several other speakers during the committee meeting confirmed similar recollections about the former flight school.

However, others said that those who chose to live near an airport should expect to live with some level of noise from the airport’s operations.

{div class=”subscriber-only”}“Everybody who bought property next to the airport should not have the right to say what that airport can and cannot do,” said Jess Allen of Keene. “You wouldn’t buy property on a lake and then decide that you don’t like the sound of jet skis and tell everybody that they can’t jet ski there anymore.”

Airport director David Hickling noted during the June 11 committee meeting that Provost’s helicopters would be smaller and less noisy than what people in the area are used to when it comes to the military, media, police and other helicopters that are already using the airport.

During the June 11 meeting, Provost noted that there are certain standards the airport must comply with due to having accepted federal grant dollars, including one stipulation that bars discriminating among certain types of aircraft operations. He said he didn’t want to start a legal battle, but noted he would seek damages if his request were continued to be delayed.

However, Provost also vowed to do whatever he could to help ensure that communities near the airport are not disturbed by the operations of his flight school.

“We’ll continue to work with each other to abate the noise,” he said during the committee meeting.