By PAULA TRACY, InDepthNH.org
CONCORD – Despite concerns from human rights advocates that New Hampshire could be liable for guns getting into the wrong hands around the world, the Executive Council approved a generous package of funding for weapons manufacturer Sig Sauer to expand in Rochester.
It approved, through the Business Finance Authority, $21 million in financing and an unconditional state guarantee of up to $19 million for the weapons manufacturer.https://www.sigsauer.com/.
At its meeting Wednesday, the Executive Council also approved funding for a number of projects to improve water, allow for drought relief grants for the poor and help for low-income housing, and discussed ongoing concerns related to homelessness, Interstate 93 expansion, among other matters on Wednesday.
It also accepted gifts to the state which include a dog, 300 yoga mats for prison inmates, and “beaver deceivers.”
Sig Sauer just announced it received a $77 million Army contract for weapons. The manufacturing firm has properties across southeastern New Hampshire and plans to add about 500 employees within three to five years.
Longtime activist Arnie Alpert was concerned about the deal and the impact of gun violence.
Alpert said the state should not be in the position of subsidizing such an operation whose products take lives across the world.
However, Rochester Mayor Caroline McCarley, said it is “clearly an amazing economic opportunity for us,” particularly for giving youth in the community an opportunity for a career.
The Council voted 4-0 to approve the financing package, with Executive Councilor Debora Pignatelli not present.
About $57.5 million in financing was approved for Pennichuck Water Works Inc., which provides drinking water to Amherst, Bedford, Derry, Epping, Hollis, Merrimack, Milford, Nashua, Newmarket, Pittsfield, Plaistow, and Salem.
The funding, through the Business Finance Authority, does not create any debt to the state.
The Council also approved contracts and funding to retain current full-time workers and recruit more mental health staff at the New Hampshire Hospital.
The Council approved a 20 percent hourly wage enhancements to the base wage of mental health staff at the New Hampshire Hospital, effective Dec. 4 through Dec. 3, 2022.
It also approved a $2.4 million sole-source contract with Maxim Healthcare Staffing Services Inc. of Manchester for temporary health workers for the Philbrook Adult Transitional Housing in Concord and New Hampshire Hospital. About 35 employees will get the rate hike.
The pay rate for the contractor is within line with state hourly pay of $17 to $23 while the state pays in a range of $12 to $29.30, state officials said.
The state anticipates it will be cost-neutral, which Executive Councilor Ted Gatsas, R-Manchester, challenged.
Victoria Sheehan, commissioner for the Department of Transportation, gave an update on the progress on the development of Exit 4A on I-93 in Derry and Londonderry.
Gatsas, who requested the overview, stressed the need for the state to have shovels in the ground next spring and that the state should not miss a whole construction period due to the delay.
On Sept. 18, the department opened price proposals for the design-build project to construct the area and the lowest of the three price proposals exceeded the department’s cost estimate and the project construction budget by more than $30 million.
“As a result, the department will not be moving forward with the award of the Design-Build contract at this time,” the press release read.
“To advance the Design-Build contract at the higher than expected cost would significantly impact other projects in the financially constrained Ten-Year Transportation Improvement Plan. Consequently, the department will pause to reevaluate the project scope of work and method of project delivery.
“The Department will work with Derry and Londonderry, as well as affected property owners, to determine the next steps in the process and how to advance a more cost-effective design that can be re-bid.”
On Wednesday, Sheehan said the state is looking at developing a design in-house.
Sheehan hopes the in-house work will come within budget.
Gatsas said he is concerned about the delay in the project to date.
On Friday, Sheehan said, timelines will be discussed with local input sought. Gov. Chris Sununu said that timeline information is important to give assurances that the project is not going to take decades so officials can make commitments to local development related to the road expansion.
The Council discussed homelessness in Manchester and the need for finding adequate shelter to meet the increase in need, in part due to the pandemic.
Sununu said there are no longer funds available through the current CARES Act for additional housing and that Manchester has not drawn down funds already sent.
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig has said the state has not done enough to help the situation and the governor disagrees. City officials claim only one in four homeless in the city is from Manchester. Shelters are at- or near-capacity, Craig said.
To develop more housing throughout the state for those who need rental assistance, the Council approved through the Community Development Finance Authority grants to the towns of Somersworth and Belmont to support new housing.
Somersworth will get $500,000 to provide rental assistance at multiple locations and Belmont will bet $25,000 to study the development of housing in the historic Gale School.
The Council agreed to enter into contracts with various vendors totaling $22 million to provide case management to keep children safe in the state and to prevent child abuse.
The Council approved a number of contracts for the state Fish and Game Department, including $620,000 in federal funds to develop Downing Landing public boat access on Lake Winnipesaukee in Alton and almost $1 million to restore and repurpose the former Emery Estate at Glenn’s Cove Wildlife Management Area in Great Bay for public access. It also authorized $1.5 million in federal grants to acquire a conservation easement on about 1,324 acres in Gilsum and Surry.
Tabled was a request for $118,500 to be authorized in federal monies to acquire a conservation easement on the Walker Tract in Durham after councilors asked questions about why the state was acquiring it from the Nature Conservancy.
Finally, it accepted a grant of conservation restrictions on about 259 acres along the Ammonoosuc River in Bethlehem in the amount of $130,000, through the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests. The land will allow for public access.
The state received the donation of “beaver deceivers,” to trick the furbearers into not making a dam, accepted 300 yoga mats for prisoners at the state facilities in Concord, Goffstown, and Berlin, and a Dutch Shepard Canine used to detect firearms.
It also accepted more than $11,000 in donations from fundraising drives for the New Hampshire Veterans Home and pavement of trails within the Bureau of Trails from Cross NH Adventure Trail.
Emergency Drought Help
The Council approved $1.5 million from the drinking water and groundwater trust fund to provide low-income residential well owners with drought assistance to help them with dry wells.
Mark Doyle of Merrimack has been re-nominated by the governor to be the state director of the Division of Emergency Services.