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Sen. Gallus shows colleagues his city

August 24, 2011
BERLIN — Sen. John Gallus asked his colleagues in the 24-member sate Senate to visit his home city on Monday, and a number took him up on the offer.

After meeting at his office in downtown Berlin, Gallus led a tour to introduce his fellow legislators to areas with which they would likely be dealing — the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility and Jericho State Park, under development for ATVs and other OHRVs — or to learn about a hot-button national issue — the new federal prison that has no inmates because no operating funds were appropriated.

Sen. Peter Bragdon, a Republican of Milford who is Senate President, explained at a BBQ lunch at Jericho — cooked by former Rep. Paul Ingersoll and his wife, Beverly, — that actually seeing the gym — still set up with bunks to house more inmates than the prison was built for — made him understand that situation.

"I could see what it would have been like," Bragdon said. "It was not a good situation. I had heard about it; I had read about it, but that's not the same as actually seeing it." He said he was impressed with the facility's organization and Acting Warden Chris Kench's presentation.

Bragdon said he had also learned that overcrowding plagues the federal prison system and he'd like to see the Berlin facility open up as soon as possible. He was impressed with its technology and cutting-edge control room. "It's a big new prison with a high level of efficiency," he said.

Berlin's state prison is also far more efficient than the Concord prison, Bragdon pointed out, likely meaning that doubling the Berlin facility would be less expensive than retrofitting the one in Concord.

Sen. Amanda Merrill, a Democrat of Durham, said this is the first time she had visited Berlin. She was impressed with the vocational training available at the Northern New Hampshire Correctional Facility, as well as the chance for inmates to develop good work habits, but she was dismayed that there is only one educational staff member. "We need to prepare inmates for their re-entry into society," she said.

Sen. Lou D'Allesandro, a Democrat of Manchester, said that when the federal prison opens it would be almost like a city within a city. With a $29 million operating budget, the facility will bring some $50 million into the area, providing a big economic boost.

Sen. Nancy Stiles, a Republican of Hampton, said that she had been stunned by the beautiful view from the enormous federal prison, but that she had noticed how relatively empty the city appeared to be.

D'Allesandro said that the city presented quite a different picture than many years ago when the mills that operated 24/7 dominated the scene. "It's depopulated," he said.

District I Executive Councilor Ray Burton, a Republican of Bath, thanked Sen. Gallus for organizing an eye-opening day, a sentiment enthusiastically echoed by all elected officials on hand, including Rep. Marc Tremblay of Berlin.

Mayor Paul Grenier welcomed everyone.

Bureau of Trails Director Chris Gamache said that Jericho and other ATV trail systems are well maintained because of dedicated club volunteers. Only 13 on-the-ground staffers serve in the Trails Bureau. Developing connectivity between Berlin, Errol, Groveton and Colebrook is on the docket, but, he said, it not clear whether ATVs would be allowed on gravel roads on the Connecticut Lakes Headwaters tract.

Martin Lord Osman
Salmon Press
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