It’s Just An Election…

A lot of people looking for a progressive Berlin are upset about the outcome of the election. I have to ask: Why?
Perhaps the candidate you wanted to win didn’t, but does that really matter? The city still has $4.3 million to take down or fix up dilapidated properties. It still has funky new stores opening on Main Street. It still has a brand new ATV trail, which people for years have been fighting for. The roof is still going up on Fagin’s Pub, and Tony’s Pizza is still newly opened. There is more good than bad going on in Berlin, and protesting effective democracy doesn’t seem to behoove people calling themselves “forward thinking.”
People came out to vote on the seventh: 40 percent of registered voters cast ballots. Paul Grenier’s message about jobs connected; many people have struggled in the last two years, more for reasons affecting the nation than what is going on in Berlin. I’ve heard numerous people say Berlin is turning around, and I don’t think changing a few councilors matters.
Honestly, I’m excited to see some of the faces that got elected to council get to work. Both Ryan Landry and Tim Cayer were appointed to their seats, and now they have the people’s support to back up their positions. Mr. Landry has a passion for Berlin, and I agree with Paul Grenier’s comment that he is a “rising star.” It was several months ago Mr. Landry was talking about being proactive with the property BIDPA acquired on Main Street, and here it is November and BIDPA is considering similar steps.
David Poulin is another person who I’m interested to see get to work. His speech at the debate was fiery and sharp, and he may come into city hall looking to push the progressive policies he espoused.
These people will be fighting for a progressive Berlin, and it’s likely it will continue to improve.

The council will be an interesting mix this session. Councilor Tom McCue will join the three councilors listed above to make a pretty united front. Councilors Lucie Remillard and Mark Evans will be swing voters on some issues, but the fact is I don’t know that Councilors-elect Bob Danderson and Mike Rozak are going to create a united front with Mayor-elect Grenier. On Laidlaw they have a consensus, but the fact is the city does not have much to do with that process for the foreseeable future. As everyone says, the ball is in Laidlaw’s court. The big issue before the council is keeping taxes down, which, quite frankly, every councilor seems committed to do. There are differences on how infrastructure spending will proceed, but in some ways the $4.5 million will already be spent by January. Capital improvements are going to move forward. If the $7 million TIGER grant comes through it will be even more sweeping improvements than residents imagine.

The election was a wake up call to progressively minded people. Berlin cannot afford to leave the laid-off mill worker behind. It can’t even afford to give the impression it is leaving the mill worker behind. “Vote Jobs” may be a hard promise to deliver, but over a two week campaign season it’s enticing rhetoric that finds support among people without jobs.
Mr. Grenier is in favor of both biomass projects, though he is more enthusiastic about Laidlaw than CPD. But neither plant will be operational before November 2011, when he will be up for reelection. The federal prison will open next fall and do good things for the economy, but many of the jobs won’t be for Berlin residents.
There is no easy answer. The long range view or the short range view—neither helps an unemployed worker tomorrow. But people and organizations within the city are taking steps to do something about the challenges Berlin faces, and they aren’t affected by council.
The Roger Brooks initiative, the Neighborhood Revitalization Program, the Neighborhood Stabilization Program, the RSA 155-B process, the new role BIDPA is developing for itself, the district heating plans, the 21/21 project—all of these are moving forward regardless of the electorate’s choices. Many of these have been supported by several councils, and they will continue to be supported in the future.
It is important for people who feel under-represented on the council to have a voice. Paul Grenier connected with people who are looking for short term gain. If he is able to deliver a substantial number of jobs by 2011 he will deserve reelection. If he can’t he will leave out-of-work voters feeling alienated, but that’s better than disregarding their votes today. Mr. Grenier clings to the city’s heritage, and he used it to rally support. And no one can deny on some topics he is right: the city can’t afford any more laid-off high school educated 50 year olds. What would they do for work next?
The current council didn’t disregard these voters, but they were unable to make them understand how the council’s long range plans benefited them.
David Bertrand had a hard time connecting with those voters, with his Ivy League education and his good job. I don’t know the demographics of Berlin, but it is likely there are more people who share Mr. Grenier’s background than Mr. Bertrand’s. Mr. Bertrand has great ideas for the city, but he needed to make better connections with the people he is trying to help to win. In the meantime, Mr. Grenier’s experience and rhetoric may have propelled him through this election, but his ability to deliver will likely make it a challenge to replicate his success in 2011.

Or, if things change fast enough in Berlin, he may be fine. The economy was bad in 2007, when Mr. Bertrand defeated Mr. Danderson resoundingly. It was still bad in 2009 when Mr. Grenier defeated Mr. Bertrand with similar numbers. If the economy rebounds before the next election Mr. Grenier will likely keep the seat. If not, the urge to toss the bastards out will probably sweep him aside, assuming someone decides to run against him. Regardless, however, Berlin’s fortune is changing.
Councilor Ron Goudreau said at Monday’s council meeting he’d like the city to have authority to fine property owners who don’t clean up after a fire. It would give them added incentive to get to work sooner, he said, and stop the problem so clearly illustrated on lower Main Street.
But fines don’t work, City Manager Pat MacQueen and Councilor McCue said, because all to often they are levied upon people who can’t pay. The city, in effect, is powerless in this case.
But at the same time it isn’t. When that $4.3 million makes its way through the city in the next two years it will change the face of Berlin. It will remove many of the buildings that stain city streets. It will push up the property values and make the city more inviting.
All the sudden, when a building burns down, the plot of land it used to sit on will be worth more than the cleanup. Land owners will have incentive to clean the property up, even if just to sell it. It won’t be worth it to walk away anymore, and the cleanups will take weeks or months instead of years.
And all this is because of the city, regardless of the council. Berlin is changing, no matter who wins office. Don’t worry about the direction of city because it’s already moving, and there is nothing that can get in its way.

13 thoughts on “It’s Just An Election…

  1. If nothing else, Erik, the new mix will make for some more interesting council sessions.You know that this post will turn toward Laidlaw soon, however let me take a moment to say that I agree with everything you have to say regarding Berlin and the city council, with the exception of one item; Laidlaw.If you mean the ball is in Laidlaw's court because they need to file an application and haven't done so, I believe your statement is accurate. But to say that the fact is the city does not have much to do with that process for the foreseeable future isn't accurate in my opinion. That process is happening in a big way right before your eyes without you truly seeing it. What's interesting is that it is happening within an investigation of PSNH over the legality of power purchase agreements. It is becoming a referendum between Laidlaw and Clean Power. The entire state of NH is very much involved including the city of Berlin. The city seems to be the only requested intervenor that isn't trying to make it into a referendum between the biomass projects. Everyone in the "know" knows there is not going to be both plants in Berlin, and for those of you who don't know that, the sooner you can learn that the more beneficial your voice will be.

  2. If you go to the NH PUC web site and look at the Clean Power complaint against PSNH, you'll note that most intervenors in the case are talking about Laidlaw without mentioning Laidlaw's name.Requested Intervenor: Carbon Action Alliance"PSNH is creating barriers to “the development of new lowand non-CO2 emitting facilities in the state"Eric, the above statement is pointing fingers at a plant with 80% efficiency vs. one with 25% efficiency.Intervenor: NH Sierra Club"New Hampshire Sierra Club is a non-profit organization whose over 4000volunteer members in New Hampshire are dedicated to a sustainable energyfuture, reducing dependence on non-renewable fuels and maximizing thebenefits of renewable energy."Eric, maximizing the benefits isn't about 25% efficiency. Would the Sierra club be pushing for Clean Power if they knew Laidlaw would be part of the equation?Intervenor: Eastern Construction Management"If the Public Utilities Commission capitulates the PSNH and Laidlaw plan it would result in a substantial increase inwood chip fuel prices. This increase would have a detrimental effect on the regional economy, likely forcing theclosure of existing biomass power facilities in surrounding communities, resulting in substantial job loss for a regionhat is already suffering a borderline depression."Eric, This is a direct link to chip price increase as a result of Laidlaw.Intervenor:NH State Rep. James McClammer"Specifically, I am concerned that PSNH purchases energy at the most competitive prices,and that it encourages the development of alternative and sustainable energy by buyingfrom “green” producers"Eric, Do you think this rep. is referring to the Laidlaw 25% efficiency or Clean Power potential for 80%?Obviously I could go on and on. Numerous citizens, state reps, a town and a city have requested intervenor status in what has turned into a very complicated story about quality of life, economic impact, forest sustainability and on and on. The legality behind the investigation is front stage and center, but all these other aspects have forced the following statement from PSNH:"PSNH feels that the vast majority of issues presented by the petitioners for intervention are notmatters that are jurisdictional to the Commission Instead, those issues such as siting, environmental,economic development, fuel availability, forestry practices, public health and welfare are matterswhich fall under the purview of the state Site Evaluation Committee established by RSA Chapter162-H."…so Eric, can you see where this is headed? You guessed it, if not before the PUC it will be center stage at the EFSEC with numerous state reps, a city, a town, the Sierra Club and many many many others. In the foreseeable future Berlin and NH have a great deal to do with the outcome of Laidlaw energy.Jon Edwards

  3. Nice post Jon. Watch the interveners line up if and when Laidlaw files the permit application. It is so sad that Eric still doesn't get it. Berlin cannot successfully move forward with biomass in downtown. We have two choices and only on can succeed; CPD or LLEG. The best choice is obvious but people like Grenier are too close minded to see it. Grenier may have connected with the voters, but he is already making very questionable decisions, including his claim that Berlin will be firing the lawyer hired to represent Berlin in the EFSEC process. I guess that means he trusts Bartoszek to do the right thing and that the citizens of Berlin don't deserve legal representation to protect their interests. Eric, you may admire Grenier, and I have no idea why, but I call that decision DUMB, plain and simple.

  4. Every discussion on Berlin's future does not have to end in a discussion about Laidlaw. There is more than just that project going on in the city, and the mayoral election doesn't change that.Mr. Grenier won the election, and forward thinking people looking to improve Berlin would do well to study what he did right and learn from it.Mr. Grenier's election does not represent the end of Berlin's rise. It may change in position on some issues, but too much of Berlin's future has already been set in motion. No municipal official can derail it, particularly not when surrounded by others looking forward.

  5. You're right, Erik. Every discussion doesn't need to end in Laidlaw. It often does, though. And it should be as central to Berlin's concern as its very location simply due to the negatives it brings to the center of the city, the region and New Hampshire.Jon Edwards

  6. You know Eric, if you lived in Berlin you'd probably feel a lot differently about a proposed biomass plant in the middle of the City. What if somebody was planning to build one a stone's throw from your house? How would you feel then? Before you dismiss the serious ramifications of this plant upon the residents of Berlin & upon the Northern forest you really should think about that for a while. Furthermore, the way PSNH is acting is criminal in my opinion. Despite their advertisements to the contrary, they really don't give a crap about the environment or about the quality of life of their ratepayers. Their support of an oversize plant in the middle of my City is proof positive of that. Sorry we cannot let it go, but this issue is central to the quality of life for my family and I for the remainder of our time here in Berlin and in Northern NH. It may not matter much to you, but it means a whole hell of a lot to the rest of us.

  7. The plant was there when you bought your house, this is what confuses me so much…Why does it seem such a stretch that a plant will be operating, at the site of…wait for it…a MASSIVE PLANT!The logic that we live next to a plant and we don't want a plant there just doesn't cut it, kids.You bought a house next to a plant that was running when you bought the house and will be running again soon. You will see smoke and many others will see dollar signs. Why not see both? Buy some Ladlaw shares now while they are still cheap and make money to move out of your house next to the plant.

  8. Look, 1.40 jobs isn't the same as 2000.2. Air toxin release in the past doesn't justify toxin release in the future. (The McNeil biomass plant being the largest polluter in Vermont at only 75% the size of the Laidlaw proposal.)3. Overzealous industrial use has gotten us to our current concerns pertinent to quality of life.4. Liquidation forestry nearby Berlin has replaced Responsible forestry.5.Biomass is not the same industrial use as a pulp mill, exposing it under the knife of detail.6. Two biomass plants will not open in Berlin. One might.7. The state, the region, the city should make a decision based on the most efficient, most economically viable proposal that has the least negative impact on the area and its people. Period.Jon Edwards

  9. The address of a new blog I've started needed to be changed as follows: plan to dedicate most of this blog to obtain regional ideas for Berlin's Burgess mill site. Please notice I've stated "Berlin's Burgess Mill Site" as I believe Berlin does indeed have a great deal of control over the future of this site as a result of a great deal of hard work throughout NH in evaluating the impact this site actually has on the entire state's natural resource: wood. Biomass is not at all inevitable on the Burgess mill site any more than it ever was. NH has a keen eye on the development of this site and there is promise that this site will eventually hold a much more valuable use than that of biomass.Posted by: Jon Edwards | November 15, 2009 at 07:19 AM

  10. A lot of interesting things in this thread that I think merit some discussion.First of all, Erik, let me just say how much credit you deserve for remaining calm in the face of some of the less thoughtful posts on this site. Your job is to be impartial and report on what you see. I may not agree with everything you’ve written, but I certainly appreciate your sincere attempts to cover stories that interest you in an even-handed and transparent manner. The ad hominem attacks on this site are more reflective of the limitations of the posters than anything you’ve written.Regarding Anonymous’ claim that the PUC complaint is “becoming a referendum between Laidlaw and Clean Power”, what exactly is the remedy here? Does anyone really think that the PUC has the power to force a contract on PSNH, or that it would be a good idea if it did? Short of that, what does CPD gain if PUC merely forces PSNH to “sit down at the table”? A couple rounds of “Kumbaya” and a polite escort to the door? And how does anything that a nonelected body does constitute a “referendum” anyhow? The closest thing to a referendum on Laidlaw versus CPD has to be the recent ouster of Berlin’s current Mayor, who made opposing Laidlaw and uncritically accepting CPD’s plans and promises the centerpiece of his administration.Congratulations to Jon Edwards for setting up his own blog. Surely if there ever was a man whose passion needed a constructive outlet, Mr. Edwards is that man. Perhaps he can use his platform to elaborate on his claim of “Laidlaw 25% efficiency” and “Clean Power potential for 80%”. I think he’s basing this on assuming that Laidlaw will be using technology from the age of James Watt, will not recover any of the economic value of its heat, and that Clean Power can, among other things, double-count unpermitted and unproven algae cultivation and burning (algae, incidentally, is a heavy metal bioconcentrator). Mr. Edwards apparently thinks something becomes true through repetition, so I look forward to reading about his 25/80 theories ad nauseum.Eastern Construction Management claims, in essence, that increased demand for a local product is detrimental to the local economy. I’m no economist, but common sense tells me the opposite is true. Don’t believe me? Try imagining what the economy would be like if demand for a local product decreased or, better yet, fell to zero. The basic misunderstanding of the laws of economics (supply, demand, price elasticity, production variation, that sort of thing) revealed in ECM’s intervenor comments should cause the PUC to wonder whether they’d stay in business long enough to construct whatever it is they’re going to construct on behalf of CPD.- Cliff Myers

  11. “This is a direct link to chip price increase as a result of Laidlaw”. Citizens of the North Country, rejoice! The price you can get for your wood is going up before Laidlaw has even stuck a shovel in the ground! Guess what, Mr. Edwards, that’s a feature, not a bug. Increased demand, even anticipated demand, tends to increase prices. Increased prices tend to encourage investment in production (not to mention put more money in the pocket of producers, aka North Country citizens). Increased production tends to put downward pressure on prices, until the countervailing factors of supply and demand settle on a newly discovered price that captures a balance between the competing needs of a consumer to buy and a producer to sell. This isn’t some crazy theory I just made up; it is the foundation of our capitalist economy. Does your ignorance (or perhaps fear?) of the basic laws of economics betray a darker truth about CPD, which is that it is only viable if the PUC makes PSNH sign an uneconomic deal that ultimately shafts the ratepayers? Is that why CPD is staking so much on this investigation? Because Bill knows perfectly well that nobody will build a biomass plant from scratch at $2,500 an installed kilowatt?I’ll set this statement off because it deserves its very own paragraph: in bemoaning the increase in chip prices, Jon Edwards betrays a belief that North Country wood producers should be paid LESS for their product…he wants FEWER dollars circulating in the North Country economy. Is it any wonder why the voters of Berlin rejected Mr. Edwards and his dangerous plans to depress the North Country economy further?Laidlaw’s fate will be determined by EFSEC, not this PUC investigation. At that point, we’ll know if they’re real or not, because they will have to demonstrate to EFSEC that they have an economically viable plan for constructing and operating a biomass plant within permitted tolerances. All of Jon’s anti-Laidlaw arguments are kind of pointless, because Laidlaw has a significant threshold, which encompasses all sorts of sub-thresholds, to meet before they can begin construction. And unlike Mr. Edwards, who evidently resents it when his neighbors can get more money for their wood chips, EFSEC is likely to have North Country residents’ economic interests in mind during their review.Which brings me to my final point. Am I the only one who thinks that CPD’s decision to “right-size” their project to squeeze out from under EFSEC jurisdiction by a lone megawatt is too clever by half? Their project (if it could ever get built) would be as large as it could possibly be while escaping EFSEC review, and indeed would be larger than any existing biomass plant in the state. Why are they afraid of EFSEC scrutiny? Is it because they know that they can’t clear the EFSEC threshold for an economically viable plant? Is it because nobody, according to PSNH attorney Bob Bersak, would buy their power because it would be too expensive? There are a lot of arrows pointing in the direction of CPD’s algae-fed biomass farmhouse tucked away on a mere 11 acres of land being a great concept that can’t be translated into an economically-viable project. Which would explain to a great extent CPD’s habit of rushing off to government bodies to intervene on their behalf when the markets don’t work for them. Gotta admire them, though…getting their ever-compliant Mayor to hire their lawyer to fight Laidlaw was a pretty neat trick. Probably helped cost the Mayor his job when it turned out he had failed to disclose the CPD connection to voters, but hey, CPD hopes to get a new sponsor at the PUC anyhow, so I guess the Mayor was disposable.Exit question: if CPD has such a great project, why won’t anyone agree to buy their power? Answer: probably because it’s too expensive because CPD can’t make it work cheaply enough, CPD knows it, and that’s why they’ve sized it a mere 3% less than what would subject them to EFSEC scrutiny.- Cliff Myers

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