Berlin City Council discusses 2 big topics: WMCC & Northern Pass


February 19, 2014
BERLIN — Education and energy — White Mountains Community College (WCC) and the proposed Northern Pass Transmission project — were discussed at the Berlin City Council's Feb. 10 work session.

The nursing program at WMCC, designed to graduate candidates ready to pass the Registered Nurse licensure exam, is not taking any new students next fall, because recent graduates' results have been "less than stellar," explained Ned Densmore of Franconia, a member of the board of trustees of the Community College System of New Hampshire (CCSNH).

Both Densmore and WMCC president Kathy Eneguess promised that the program will accept new students in the fall of 2015.

A cohort of R.N. candidates will graduate this May and in May 2015.

The only year that nursing students will not march in the commencement procession will be in 2016.

There are other medical-related certificates and classes that will be able to satisfy student demand in 2015, Eneguess said.

If there are more job openings available, Eneguess pointed out that the size of the class size could return to 32, rather than the 24 that has recently been the norm.

Eneguess said that the state Board of Nursing is increasingly interested in R.N. programs in which students earn Bachelor's degrees, so pathways are now being developed to make it easier for community college students to also earn a B.S.

Grenier asked for a letter of commitment from Paul Holloway, chairman of the CCSNH board of trustees that the program would not be cancelled, and Densmore replied that such a letter would soon be in the mail.

Densmore had already read aloud a joint letter from Holloway and CCSNH Chancellor Ross Gittell that pledged support for WMCC.

"The CCS Board of Trustees is strongly committed to the continued success of this college and optimistic about its future," the letter reads. "We appreciate your concern and interest in the College. We are very committed to addressing the challenges and opportunities before WMCC to ensure a strong future for the college."

Gittell is scheduled to tour the North Country with state Sen. Jeff Woodburn on Tuesday, March 25, which includes an 11 a.m. meeting with WMCC students.

Berlin Industrial Development and Park Authority (BIDPA) chairman Michael Caron and treasurer Gerry Dumoulin were also on hand since BIDPA has the right of first refusal on a building that WMCC had bought to house the mobile technology and other programs.

When it turned out, however, that it would likely cost $3.2 million to renovate it as an educational facility, that plan was dropped.

Meanwhile, members of the state's diesel-powered heavy equipment industry have asked that the mobile equipment program be moved to a more central location, since Berlin's program apparently does not fill all their need for trained employees. Industry also supports the program by providing up-to-date tools and machinery.

If sufficient funds — estimated at $5 million — are in the state's capital budget, the program is slated to move to the community college in Laconia. This decision distresses area business owners who see these skills as very important to the North Country where logging, excavating, and hauling are vital parts of the local economy.

The BIDPA board must now decide whether to exercise its right of first refusal to buy the building from WMCC. Caron said that the board would likely schedule another session with the City Council before making any decision.

Representatives, including former Burgess and Cascades mill manager Jim Wagner and engineer Jim Johnson, from the proposed Northern Pass Transmission project to bring 1,200 megawatts of hydropower from Quebec to the New England Grid made a detailed presentation about the project. In his State of the City address, Grenier had said: "I will ask the Berlin City Council to take an active role in supporting the Northern Pass (NP) project. Yes, there is stiff opposition to the project, not unlike what Berlin witnessed with Burgess BioPower and the Federal Bureau of Prisons. The developers of Northern Pass, in my view, got miserably failing grades for how they introduced the project to the affected communities and their continued resistance to engaging the public for solutions.

"Make no mistake, however, the power is needed to wean ourselves off power produced by natural gas.

"The tax benefits and the hundreds of jobs that the construction will create will be a huge boon to all of Cos County.

"Our support of NP, however, should be conditional to the developer taking real measurable steps to help mitigate sensitive viewshed issues.

"An honest dialogue among all stakeholders is what is needed if this project has a chance of surviving an ugly, lengthy and expensive court challenge.

The stakes are very high, both immediate and long term."

At the work session, Grenier said that he fears that Berlin-Gorham could put its future as a robust manufacturing city at risk and have to "suffer with decisions made by others." The mayor pointed out, "The paper mill is struggling to survive."

At the end of the detailed presentation, Grenier suggested that the Council vote to support the NPT project subject to the developer engaging in dialog with landowners and communities along the proposed route and work to mitigate aesthetic concerns.

In the end, however, Council members decided to delay making any decision until they could hear from their constituents.

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