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County-commissioner-sponsored economic study underway

County treasurer Fred King, left, of Colebrook and HDR, Inc. economic analyst Jonathan Lee of Boston, Mass., discussed the five-month study now going forward in Coös County to look at the impact of federal land acquisition in a rapidly changing economic climate. Photo by Edith Tucker. (click for larger version)
October 16, 2013
BERLIN — County treasurer Fred King of Colebrook, who has served as the county commissioners' point person in shaping a county wide economic study sparked by concerns surrounding the expansion of the USFSW Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge in and around Errol, explained at Wednesday's county commissioners' meeting that the five-month-long is now underway.

King introduced Jonathan Lee of Boston, an economic analyst who works for the selected contractor, HDR, Inc. The county treasurer said that he anticipates that there will be at least one public hearing, likely held in Berlin, to get public input on a draft report.

King also informed the commissioners that he now expects that no local taxpayers' dollars will be spent on the project with federal tax dollars plus those of nonprofit organizations to likely cover all costs.

The North Country Council (NCC) served as a facilitator in the process of developing the scope of services and in recommending the contractor to be selected to do the work, he explained.

Lee interviewed NCC's executive director Jeff Hayes earlier that morning and also interviewed Tom Colgan of Wagner Forest Management, which manages extensive timber tracts in Coös County.

Lee explained that the study has five key tasks.

As listed in the scope of services document, task 1 is to "develop an existing conditions chapter focusing on short- and long-term trends in Coӧs County including: economic, demographic, fiscal, and conservation policy.

"This will include a discussion of the history of Federal lands acquisition in the County and the current arrangement with the Federal government. Additionally, the team will describe the recent trends impacting the Unincorporated Places in Coӧs County, which differ from other communities.

"The existing conditions assessment will also evaluate key industries within Coӧs County, including but not limited to: forestry, biomass, and tourism."

The second task, already underway, is to "conduct a literature review of other conservation efforts in the U. S. and Federal land conservation programs. Lessons learned will be identified. A technical memorandum will be developed and include discussion of easements, land use policy, resource management, the economy, fiscal impacts, and outcomes experienced by other communities and relevant to this study.

The third task, also already underway is to conduct a public outreach with "stakeholder interviews and one public meeting. Public outreach allows the project team to discuss and receive feedback on the local economy, industry, and conservation efforts with members of the public. Three days of in-person stakeholder interviews will be scheduled, including a meeting with the County Commissioners.

"Fifteen stakeholder interviews will be performed; any additional interviews will be conducted over the phone. The public meeting will be a presentation of the study findings, and coordinated with Coӧs County and North County Council staff to identify locations and key participants."

Task four is to "develop a qualitative discussion of issues and opportunities related to several conservation alternatives that have typically been used in the county. The "team will also identify and summarize Federal lands issues (including Refuge Revenue Sharing Act) of relevance to the study. Comparisons will be made between the alternatives being considered by Coös County and lessons learned from the literature review," the contract reads.

The fifth task is to estimate fiscal and economic impacts of different conservation alternatives, including job trends. "Comparisons between industries likely to be impacted (that is, tourism vs. timber industry) will also be discussed. The team will measure current and future economic impacts on the forestry, energy, and tourist industries due to the different expansion options for the County, the Umbagog National Wildlife Refuge, and other public lands," the contract reads. "This evaluation will include a comparison of property tax revenues and RRS payments for property in Coös County."

The scope of services description concludes with a single mission statement: "The goal of this effort will be to determine what the economic and employment opportunities are likely to be, given the future of Federal ownership in the County."

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