State lawmakers in Concord are continuing to look at residency requirements for new Granite State voters. Members of the House Election Law Committee heard testimony on April 12 on SB 4, sponsored by state Sen. Sharon Carson (R-Londonderry), which would require voters to have lived in New Hampshire for at least 30 days before they would be allowed to vote. The Senate approved the bill in January.
Meanwhile, the Senate will vote on April 14 on a similar bill previously passed by the House. HB 1313, sponsored by Rep. William Gannon (R-Sandown), proposes a 10-day residency requirement. Both HB 1313 and SB 4 also allow aggregated, non-identifying voter information to be provided to the legislature for hearings. The bill seems unlikely to pass — in March, a Senate committee recommended the bill as inexpedient to legislate. The bills are the latest effort among Republican lawmakers to adopt residency requirements for voting. Gov. Maggie Hassan vetoed a residency requirement bill in 2015.
Legislators may also soon take a look at short-term rental services like AirBnb. Members of the House Municipal and County Government Committee will hold a hearing on April 19 on SB 482, a bill sponsored by Sen. Martha Fuller-Clark (D-Portsmouth) that would establish a legislative committee to examine how short-term rentals affect municipalities. The bill has already passed in the Senate; if it’s approved by the House, the committee will present its findings sometime this fall.
In other Statehouse news, a legislative committee has scuttled plans to reinstate bobcat hunting and trapping in New Hampshire. On April 1, the Joint Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules voted against the state Fish and Game Commission’s proposal to open a hunting and trapping season for bobcats. Fish and Game commissioners approved the plan earlier this year. The proposal attracted a fierce debate; opponents said the hunt was unnecessary, while supporters said a bobcat hunt would help manage the species, which has experienced a rebound in population numbers in recent years. — Larry Clow
UNH sets application record
The University of New Hampshire is more popular with prospective students than ever before. This year, the university received more than 20,000 applications from prospective first-year students. According to Victoria Dutcher, vice president of enrollment management at UNH, the university received almost 1,000 more applications than it did last year, and the number of this year’s applications set a new record. Only a fraction of those 20,000 applicants will make it in, though. The university plans to accept only approximately 3,000 new freshman students this year. — LC
State of the city breakfast scheduled
City leaders will discuss their vision for the Garrison City and priorities for the year at the annual state of the city breakfast, taking place Wednesday, April 20 at 7:30 a.m. in the café of the McConnell Center, located on Locust Street.
Speakers include city manager J. Michael Joyal, police Chief Anthony Colarusso, assistant city manager Christopher Parker, and superintendent Dr. Elaine Arbour. A question and answer session will follow the presentations. The event is $15 and open to the public. Registration is required. Call the Greater Dover Chamber of Commerce at 603-742-2218 or visit dovernh.org. — LC
When it comes to marketing itself as a destination, Portsmouth is one of the best, according to Scott Ruffner. It’s “up there with any city in the country in terms of being geniuses at leveraging this perceived image of the city as a beacon of culture and arts and artists,” he says.
For Ruffner, a musician, real-estate agent, and founder of the nonprofit Arts Industry Alliance (AIA), that’s where the disconnect comes in. The arts are big business in Portsmouth and the Seacoast — a 2012 survey by Americans for the Arts found that the greater Portsmouth area generated $41.4 million in economic activity in the 2010-2011 fiscal year — but artists are rarely the ones calling the shots or reaping the profits, Ruffner says.
“There’s a lot of support here for the arts from a monetary standpoint, but a huge disconnect between the people in the community producing the art and music … and what is actually being done with all that money,” he says.
As Portsmouth and the Seacoast grow, so does the area’s reputation as an arts destination. That reputation has fueled demand for improvements at some of Portsmouth’s biggest cultural institutions, including a proposed new stage for the Prescott Park Arts Festival and plans for streetscape improvements and a way-finding arch on Chestnut Street in front of The Music Hall.
It’s also fueled plenty of debate. There have been ongoing dialogues — sometimes civil, sometimes heated — about Art-Speak’s “A Tiny Bit Huge” campaign; 3S Artspace founder Chris Greiner’s departure from the organization, and many other topics.
Ten to 20 years ago, these projects, proposals, and changes might have passed by without much comment. But, in a city and region where locals feel like they’re getting priced out and some creative people feel like they have no voice, the debates have grown more contentious and the conversations less constructive.
Who are the arts for?
Mike Teixeira, president of Art-Speak’s board of directors, thinks online debates tend to be more hostile than in-person conversations.
“We’re a little more in our own camps and behind the safety of our keyboards (online), and we say what’s on our minds,” Teixeira says. “Couple that with something that’s near and dear to your heart,” and the results are perfect for angry debates.
Other anxieties are at play, according to Teixeira. Resources are drying up, audiences are getting smaller, there are fewer opportunities for arts funding, and making a go of it in the arts world is more difficult than ever.
“And that anxiety turns quickly into, ‘I’m a real artist, and they’re not a real artist,’” Teixeira says. “Affordable housing on top of all that leads to these blanket assumptions of who should be in the city and who shouldn’t be in the city.”
In some cases, though, it’s a question of who the arts and arts venues are for. Are they catering to locals or tourists? Are they supporting local artists and musicians, or nationally recognized touring acts?
“We live in an era that thrives on controversy, and I think there’s just … an amount of hostility in the airways right now in the social-media sphere.” — Music Hall executive director Patricia Lynch
The Music Hall announced its plans for streetscape improvements and an archway on Chestnut Street in late March. The project, a partnership between the venue and the city, would build new sidewalks on Chestnut Street, improve drainage, create new granite seating walls, and bury utility lines. The $800,000 project would be paid for with $400,000 from the venue’s capital campaign and $400,000 from the city’s capital improvement budget and Urban Development Action Grant funds. The Music Hall would also launch a capital campaign to fund construction of the archway. City officials are currently reviewing the proposal.
The venue’s announcement came around the same time as another announcement: After 29 years, The Music Hall would no longer host the Great Bay Academy of Dance’s annual performance of “The Nutcracker.” The two issues became intertwined in online debates, with supporters of GBAD and others criticizing the streetscape project.
Patricia Lynch, executive director of The Music Hall, says that much of the criticism was based on misconceptions about the project.
“We live in an era that thrives on controversy, and I think there’s just … an amount of hostility in the airways right now in the social-media sphere,” she says.
The decision to end hosting GBAD’s production of “The Nutcracker” was an entirely separate business decision from the streetscape plans, according to Lynch. It was a decision “made for multiple reasons … sustainability, good working conditions for our crew,” and so on, she says.
As for criticisms that The Music Hall isn’t doing enough to support local artists, Lynch says that’s not the case.
“In The Music Hall Loft, we just featured a whole panel about ‘The Witch,’ and the filmmaker, who is local, was there this weekend. … We just had the Soggy Po’ Boys open at the big hall, and Juston McKinney does a couple of shows here,” she says. “When you think about what our mission is, it’s to bring world-class arts and culture to the Seacoast. And there are multiple venues that are doing that important work with local artists.”
But Ruffner thinks larger venues like The Music Hall should be doing more to get local acts on stage.
“As the town grows and keeps doubling down on that image of being a cultural beacon of the Seacoast … they’re going to have to come back around and have something that speaks for the community,” he says.
Also driving the debates is the question of who the city and the Seacoast are for. Housing prices in Portsmouth, and median incomes, are rising, and a city once known for being a gritty, working-class port is now better known for high-priced condos. It’s a conflict that’s played out visibly in the South End, where a proposal for a new permanent stage for the Prescott Park Arts Festival has been effectively put on hold, according to PPAF board president Jameson French.
“… a very vocal minority should not be able to control the destiny (of the Prescott Park Arts Festival)” — PPAF board president Jameson French
French says that because South End resident Beth Margeson has filed a complaint with the state attorney general’s office stating that plans for the stage run counter to the wishes laid out in Josie Prescott’s trust, the project is delayed and could need to be redesigned.
Complaints about noise in the park are a recent development, French says. He has lived in the South End since 1978. Before the park was established and the arts festival began producing shows some four decades ago, there were fuel storage areas and trucks traveling through the neighborhood. The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard was noisier, and planes took off from Pease Air Force Base every morning at 4:30 a.m.
The neighborhood, he says, has always been busy. And events at the park now are on par with events held in the 1970s and 1980s.
“People often define things and don’t think of the quiet, normal day at Prescott Park. They think of the extreme, the headliner events in the summer that attract a few thousand people,” he says. “But the bulk of events is a family play, or a couple of folk singers, or a movie on a Monday night. These are things that have been going on 43 years. They haven’t changed at all.”
But the residents in the neighborhood have changed, according to French, and a handful of complaints about noise have set the overall tone for the debate.
“We have to listen and we have to try and understand where they’re coming from,” he says. “At the same time … a very vocal minority should not be able to control the destiny” of the festival.
Talking it out
It’s unlikely that the core questions in the debates will be settled soon. Both Teixeira and Ruffner agree that keeping the conversations going is important. For his part, Teixeira would like to see artists, venues, and others work collaboratively and present a “unified front” to make it easier to gather resources and audiences.
“It’s a tough business. If we don’t figure out how to get productive and work together … we’re always going to stay helpless and not achieve anything,” he says.
Ruffner, meanwhile, wants to keep the emphasis on artists. AIA has already had success convincing the Bank of New Hampshire Pavilion in Gilford to stop asking regional artists to perform for free.
“It’s not so much that anybody has ill intent, it’s just that there’s not much of an acknowledgement that there’s a lot of talent that, if it had the proper backing, could do the same kinds of things the restaurant industry or the craft brew industry has done (in the Seacoast),” Ruffner says. “I don’t see why music can’t be any different.”
In Outlook Springs, a fictional town created by the very real Andrew Mitchell of Dover, the local health department urges its residents to get their trombones vaccinated, the Film-O-Plex is screening the documentary “Sabretooth Nixon: The Untold Story,” and Langston Brumbletooth is busy cranking out pages on his interdimensional printing press.
Some of those pages take the form of Outlook Springs — a new literary magazine edited by Mitchell. Publishing works of fiction, nonfiction, and poetry by writers in this dimension, including a number of Seacoast writers, Outlook Springs makes its debut on Saturday, April 9, with a launch party at Baldface Books in Dover. The party includes readings from writers with pieces in the first issue, cake, and “interdimensional goodies.”
Interdimensional antics aside, Mitchell, who received his MFA from the University of New Hampshire and is an adjunct writing instructor there, said plans for Outlook Springs have been afoot for a while. “I’d been sort of toying with the idea for a while … for a magazine that experiments with form the same way the writing inside experiments with form.”
Outlook Springs features a lot of what you’d expect to find in a literary magazine: poems, short stories, essays, illustrations, and so on. But there are also ads for fake businesses, emails from Outlook Springs residents, receipts, movie posters, and everything else.
“It’s a parody of the more academic, scholarly literary magazines, which I really love,” Mitchell says.
Mitchell’s collaborator is Nathaniel Parker Raymond, who designs the magazine and creates the otherworldly ephemera that fill the pages. It’s a throwback to Mad Magazine, counter-culture publications of the 1970s, Kurt Vonnegut’s novels, and other media with an “inherent wise-assness” about them, Raymond says.
“Things are very serious, but also weird and hilarious at the same time,” Raymond says.
Mitchell and Raymond began work on the first issue of Outlook Springs last fall. They opened up submissions to writers all over the world and launched a crowdfunding campaign to finance the first issue. The basic idea behind the magazine is that Outlook Springs is a place “where the surreal is commonplace and therefore very banal,” Mitchell says.
While there’s plenty of humor, Mitchell says he and the magazine’s other editors take the writing that’s submitted very seriously. “We think good writing is good writing” regardless of genre or form, Mitchell says. “The hardest part for us was that we wanted to be a place that takes the work very seriously, but doesn’t take the magazine itself seriously.”
Outlook Springs initially appeared in Mitchell’s MFA thesis. Fictional towns, like the ones created by Stephen King, have long been a fascination, he says, and it seemed like a compelling, mysterious hook on which to hang a magazine. Other writers seem to agree. By the time submissions closed in January, Mitchell says the magazine received close to 1,500 pieces of writing for consideration.
“The writing community around UNH and this area has been truly supportive,” he says. “That was pretty incredible — (writers) taking a chance on it was cool.”
Mitchell says the magazine will be published twice a year. It will be on sale at Baldface Books at this weekend’s launch party and online at outlooksprings.com. Mitchell hopes the magazine will soon appear at other local stores.
Though there will be plenty to celebrate at the launch party this weekend, Raymond and Mitchell are looking ahead. He recently opened submissions for the second issue, due out sometime in October, and plans are already in motion for the next journey to Outlook Springs.
“We want to be interactive with our readers and make reading the magazine an interactive experience,” Mitchell says. With so many literary magazines, the fun ends after you read the last story, he says. With Outlook Springs, the goal is to get readers to, say, cast a vote in town elections or send an actual letter to the official Outlook Springs mailbox (located at PO Box 53 in Rollinsford).
“The writing is crucial,” Raymond says. But even more crucial is the element of surprise. “Who knows what’s going to come from Outlook Springs next?”
The Outlook Springs launch party takes place Saturday, April 9 at 6 p.m. at Baldface Books, 505 Central Ave., Dover. Visit outlooksprings.com for information.
When Sara Juli has a problem — one of those big-picture problems, like “How do I navigate an inter-faith relationship while having a traditional family?” or “How can my spouse and I handle shared finances without anxiety?” — she makes a dance about it.
“It helps me move past it,” Juli says. These issues are common, of course, but Juli believes that putting them on stage and working through them with dance, monologues, songs, props, and a healthy dose of audience participation, yields a certain kind of magic.
So, after Juli gave birth to her second child and suddenly lost control of her bladder functionality, she knew she’d have to stage a show about it. The result is “Tense Vagina: An Actual Diagnosis,” a solo show that reveals “all that is awesome and all that sucks” about motherhood. Juli brings the show to 3S Artspace on April 1-2.
Juli is not shy about tackling difficult topics, from sex and relationships to faith and money. But she said motherhood, and the challenges and triumphs that come with it, can be especially hard to talk about, particularly the physical toll giving birth takes on a woman’s body.
“I noticed the cultural behaviors — (mothers) turn all our attention to the child and we neglect our own bodies,” she says. There is no end of articles about losing weight and “getting your pre-baby body back.” But for Juli, as she experienced postpartum depression, loneliness, and urinary incontinence, there was little in the way of support and resources.
“They fail to tell you that your vagina is left completely dead (following birth) … and you’re left going, ‘Oh, look at this baby, it’s wonderful!’” she says.
Juli began working on “Tense Vagina” in earnest two years ago after she and her family moved from New York City to Maine. A doctor referred her to the Pelvic Floor Rehab Center of New England, and her diagnosis formed the basis of the show.
“It’s so awkward, so bizarre, so out there, but so healing and empowering,” she says. “I have monologues where I take the audience through the depths of the treatment, and its coupled with the isolation, the sadness, the humor, the awkwardness, all that’s ridiculous about being a mother.”
Juli has been performing professionally as a solo artist for the last 16 years, and, by day, runs an arts consulting business. But it’s on stage, she says, where she finds some of her greatest rewards.
“After performances, I get people coming up to me and say, ‘Either you read my diary, you read my mind, or you and I are the same person,’” she says. “I make art for myself because I’m an artist and I need to, but I also make art to connect with others. … It’s one of the reasons I believe in the power of live performances.”
“Tense Vagina: An Actual Diagnosis” is on stage April 1-2 at 7 p.m. at 3S Artspace, 319 Vaughan St., Portsmouth, 603-766-3330. $18, visit 3sarts.org.
New Hampshire lawmakers could be close to finalizing a plan to reauthorize the state’s Health Protection Plan — commonly known as Medicaid expansion — for two years. Members of the Senate Finance Committee voted on March 28 to send HB 1696, the bill that reauthorizes the program, to the full Senate. State senators will vote on the bill on Thursday, March 31.
The program expands Medicaid and private health insurance coverage for low-income Granite Staters through the federal Affordable Care Act. About 484,000 people in the state have insurance through the program, which, so far, has been fully funded by federal money. That funding is set to decrease in 2017; that, combined with a two-year time limit legislators included in the plan when it passed in 2014, has prompted negotiations for how the plan might continue.
HB 1696 requires adults using the program to volunteer or work at least 30 hours a week to receive benefits. The House approved the bill earlier this month. — Larry Clow
Climate risk project kicks off
A project that aims to help communities around Great Bay deal with the impacts of climate change will hold its first meeting in conjunction with the Strafford Regional Planning Commission on Wednesday, April 6 at 3 p.m. at Durham Town Hall.
Climate Risk in the Seacoast (C-RiSe) is a joint project from the state’s Department of Environmental Services, the Rockingham and Strafford Regional Planning Commissions, and the University of New Hampshire. Formed in the fall of 2015, the project will provide maps and assessments of flood impacts on natural resources and municipal assets to Durham, Dover, Madbury, Exeter, Greenland, Rollinsford, Newmarket, Newfields, and Newington. The project will also look at projected increases in storm surges, sea level rise, and precipitation, as well as hazard mitigation efforts.
Meetings are open to the public. A meeting for Rockingham County will take place on April 12 at 3 p.m. at the Stratham Municipal Offices. For more information, contact Steve Couture of NHDES at 603-271-8801 or firstname.lastname@example.org. — LC
Police investigate pair of robberies
Kittery police are investigating a pair of robberies that targeted elderly residents on March 28.
According to a release from the Kittery Police Department, an attempted robbery was reported at approximately 7:15 p.m. near Bridge Street. The victim was an elderly male who was walking his dog near his house. According to police, someone approached the man from behind, claimed that he had a knife, and told the man to give him his wallet. The victim shouted to his wife to call the police and the suspect fled. No one was injured and no money was taken.
The second robbery was reported at 8:10 p.m. at Village Green Drive. An elderly woman reported that a man entered her home, telling her to give him all her money and she would not be hurt. No weapon was shown and no one was injured, although police said the woman was pushed and a small amount of cash was taken.
The suspect is described as a white male, approximately six feet tall, thin, and between 20 and 30 years old. He has a small amount of facial hair on his chin and was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and jeans. He is believed to have been driving an older black sedan, possibly a Mercury.
Police believe the two incidents are related and are investigating. They have also increased patrols in residential areas but do not believe there is an immediate threat to residents. Anyone with information is asked to contact police at 207-439-1638. — LC
Police in Kittery, Maine, are investigating a robbery and an attempted robbery, both of which targeted elderly residents on March 28.
According to a release from the Kittery Police Department, the first attempted robbery was reported at approximately 7:15 p.m. near Bridge Street. The victim was an elderly male who was walking his dog near his house. According to police, someone approached the man from behind, claimed that he had a knife, and told the man to give him his wallet. The victim shouted to his wife to call the police and the suspect fled. No one was injured and no money was taken.
The second robbery was reported at 8:10 p.m. at Village Green Drive. An elderly woman reported that a man entered her home and told her to give him all her money and she would not be hurt. No weapon was shown and no one was injured, although police said the woman was pushed and a small amount of cash was taken.
The suspect is described as a white male, approximately six feet tall, thin, and between 20 and 30 years old. He has a small amount of facial hair on his chin and was wearing a dark hooded sweatshirt and jeans. He is believed to have been driving an older black sedan, possibly a Mercury.
Kittery police believe the two incidents are related and are investigating. Police have also increased patrols in residential areas but do not believe there is an immediate threat to residents. Police are urging residents to report suspicious activity and ask residents with information about the incidents to contact the department at 207-439-1638.
Each month, the Seacoast Family Food Pantry (SFFP) provides food to 300 families in the greater Portsmouth area. Shelly (who asked that her last name not be used), her husband, and their three kids are one of those families. They became clients at the pantry in the summer of 2014 when the family signed up for SFFP’s Summer Meals 4 Kids program.
“My husband had suffered some layoffs. He was working, but was working at a reduced income. During the school year, we qualified for free school lunches. Then in the summer, well, these kids like to eat,” Shelly says, laughing. “But I never realized until we were in this financial situation how helpful it was they were getting free school lunch.”
The SFFP made a difficult situation a little easier. Shelly didn’t find out about the program until the beginning of July, and even a few weeks of paying for extra meals for the kids had already strained the family’s tight budget.
“It’s stressful to have that extra expense. You cut costs here and there, but once we started going (to SFFP), that was such a relief,” she says.
It’s a situation that has become common for many families in the Seacoast. Margie Parker, the pantry’s operations manager, says that when she began working there nine years ago, the pantry had about 40 families as clients. Now, 300 clients — from single-person households to families with four or more children — arrive each month and receive about a week’s worth of food. It’s not much, according to Parker, but every bit helps.
“We’re only supplemental,” she says.
This is what the pantry has done since 1816 — provide food for local families who are experiencing hard times. As the Seacoast Family Food Pantry marks its 200th anniversary this year, the nonprofit is looking ahead to its future. As its client base continues to grow, the pantry is searching for a new home and new ways to maintain a safety net that’s stretched increasingly thin each year.
“It’s an inspiring idea, that this community was looking out for its neighbors back in its infancy,” says Elisa Bolton, president of the pantry’s board of directors. “And that it still has the passion to continue to do that.”
The pantry is located at 7 Junkins Ave. in Portsmouth, next to city hall and in the same building as a number of other social-service agencies. On a given day, between 25 and 30 families come in for a 15-minute “shopping” appointment. Someone working for the pantry guides the clients through its rooms, refrigerators, and storage closets and helps them pick out a set amount of food. There are the usual nonperishable food pantry staples on the shelves — canned soups and beans and so on — but there are also fresh vegetables, eggs, milk, and meat from grocery stores like Hannaford and Trader Joe’s.
“We shop with them and we get to know them,” Parker says. “When they first come in, it’s always hard.”
It’s not easy for families to ask for help, according to Deb Anthony, the pantry’s executive director. Beyond providing food, much of the day-to-day work at the pantry involves building relationships with clients and earning their trust.
“I think it is the stigma that’s attached to coming for services,” Anthony says. “When you receive social services, there are generally many rules and regulations attached. People learn to be guarded.”
The clients run the gamut from working-class families with parents working two or three jobs to make ends meet to seniors who live on their own. Each family gets a monthly allotment of about 35 pounds of food per person. It sounds like a lot, but according to Parker, it comes out to about a week’s worth of food.
“That’s the nature of living on the edge — it’s really hard,” Anthony says. “(Our community) hides it well, but it’s out there.”
Room to grow
The pantry serves families from the greater Portsmouth area, including Newington, Greenland, Stratham, Hampton, Seabrook, and Kittery, Maine. Like most food pantries, SFFP does a lot with what it has. But what it has right now, Anthony says, is a limited amount of space. Last year, the Portsmouth Sign Company donated a 2,000-square-foot space for the pantry to use to supplement its 1,500-square-foot main location. The pantry used the off-site space to store and sort food for its holiday food drive.
“It truly gave us the realization that we needed a warehouse,” Anthony says.
The pantry got its start a few blocks away in Strawbery Banke in 1816. Then known as the Ladies Humane Society, its primary mission was providing assistance to the families of local fishermen. At its core, the mission is still the same, but the ways to address it have grown more complex.
“That’s the nature of living on the edge — it’s really hard. … (Our community) hides it well, but it’s out there.” — Seacoast Family Food Pantry executive director Deb Anthony
Take the Summer Meals 4 Kids program. Anthony says that, once the school year ends, the program brings food to about 200 children per week. Many of those families live in communities outside of Portsmouth, such as Seabrook, where 276 of the district’s 598 students (about 46 percent) qualify for free or reduced school lunch — which means they can participate in Summer Meals 4 Kids. The program emphasizes healthy eating habits. Each summer, participants receive a kid-friendly cookbook. The packages of food delivered each week contain fresh fruits and vegetables, along with the ingredients for a featured meal that kids can make at home.
“The more you can engage with the children … the more likely they’ll eat the food they’re getting,” Anthony says.
Last summer, SFFP partnered with Wake Robin Farm in Stratham to offer CSA shares to 20 families. Shelly’s family was one of the participants, and having farm-fresh produce each week was “unbelievable,” she says.
“These were foods that I’d never even tried before, so to be able to introduce these things to my kids, it was amazing,” she says. “The kids would be very excited when I came home to see what we had.”
All these programs mean the pantry needs more room to grow. The satellite space is working for now, but the pantry’s lease is up in 2018. Anthony says a larger space, ideally between 4,000 and 6,000 square feet, would be enough to store food and set up a licensed kitchen for re-purposing food.
The pantry’s 200th anniversary has given the organization an opportunity to look ahead, according to Anthony. Giving hungry people food sounds simple, but to do so successfully requires a web of community partnerships and constant innovation. Fundraisers help — like the annual Taste of the Nation event, or last summer’s “Fill The Hall” food drive at The Music Hall — as do collaborations with other organizations, like the Portsmouth Housing Authority. Anthony worked with the housing authority to bring a van full of residents to the Portsmouth farmers market last year, an activity she says was a success.
“What pushes us to innovate is that we’ve been giving people food for 200 years, and we still have hungry people,” Anthony says. “We want to do food and do it really well. The root causes (of hunger) start in poverty, and that’s a multi-pronged, multi-faceted issue.”
For fans of big ideas and community conversations, the good news is that TEDxPiscataquaRiver is set to come back to Portsmouth for its fourth annual event on May 6 at 3S Artspace. The bad news, though, is that tickets for the day-long event, which features 11 regional and national speakers, a selection of local performers, and curated TED Talk videos, sold out within a day.
“We are excited to see that interest … remains so high, due in no small part to our phenomenal speaker line-up,” says Crystal Paradis, the event’s organizer. For those who didn’t score tickets, Paradis says the event will be streamed live online, and the Portsmouth Public Library will host a live watch party that same day.
This year’s theme is “On the Edge,” and speakers include writers Jeff Sharlet, Steve Almond, and Ethan Gilsdorf; Muskan Kumari, an exchange student from Pakistan currently living in New Hampshire as part of the Youth Exchange and Study Abroad program; Jennifer Dunn of Measured Progress, an educational assessment company based in Dover; and New Hampshire Superior Court chief justice Tina Nadeau, among others.
“We’re working on some exciting new community partnerships and will be telling the stories of people ‘on the edge’ of our community in various ways,” Paradis says. “We hope attendees will leave inspired, motivated, and ready to take action in their lives and community.”
— Larry Clow
Testing for Pease launches website
It’s been a little more than a year since city resident Andrea Amico began what has since become something of a second full-time job: advocating for awareness about water contamination issues in the three wells at the Pease International Tradeport. Amico, along with Alayna Davis and Michelle Dalton, began their efforts with a Facebook page called “Testing for Pease.” On March 22, the three launched a new website, testingforpease.com, which Amico says will act as a one-stop source for information about water contamination at the former Air Force base.
Levels of perfluorochemical compounds (PFCs) higher than federal Environmental Protection Agency limits were detected in one of the tradeport’s three wells in May 2014. That well was taken offline; since then, PFCs were discovered in the tradeport’s other two wells at levels lower than federal limits. The PFCs, identified by the EPA as an “emerging contaminant,” are believed to have come from firefighting foam used when Pease was an Air Force base.
Since then, city, state, and federal agencies have responded to the problem. Amico, her two children, and her husband, were all exposed to the contaminated water. In the last year, Amico has served on the city’s community advisory board charged with coordinating with the state Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). The Facebook page, which she started in January 2015, was vital in raising awareness, Amico says, but “didn’t … bring people up to speed on what’s transpired.”
“It’s a very complex issue. There’s the Air Force, the cleanup of the wells … the blood testing (done by DHHS) … so when people would email me, or call me and ask me what was going on, I’d have to say, ‘Check the Air Force website, check the state website.’ It’s a lot for people to take on. We needed one place with all of the information relevant to the community,” Amico says.
The site includes details about PFCs and how firefighting foam was used at Pease, a timeline of events, a list of resources, and a calendar of upcoming meetings.
“Something I’ve learned in my experience with this process is … parts of our government are broken. … Everyone just works in their own department and no one looks at the whole picture,” she says.
DHHS has conducted two rounds of blood tests for people who have been exposed to the contaminated water. According to Amico, community members are still receiving results, and once all results have been returned, the state plans to host a community meeting, possibly some time this spring.
Meanwhile, the Air Force is currently working on remediation efforts for the wells. A public meeting on cleanup and water treatment efforts will be held on April 19.
Amico was recently named a member of a community assistance panel organized by the federal Agency for Toxic Substances & Disease Registry, a subgroup of the Center for Disease Control. The panel is set to hold a public meeting sometime in April, according to Amico.
“The focus … will be to address the health concerns and health effects” of the contamination, Amico says.
Police chief suspended for deer baiting
Police chief Dana Lajoie was suspended for seven days without pay beginning on March 18 after he was found guilty of illegally baiting deer.
According to a Portland Press Herald report, a jury in Penobscot County found Lajoie guilty of baiting deer and hunting using a stand that overlooked the bait. Lajoie was fined $900.
Lajoie has been the town’s police chief for 30 years and has worked in the town for more than 36 years. In a statement, town manager Perry Ellsworth said, “It is unfortunate when there is a breach of trust with a police chief. Dana acknowledges the need to rebuild that trust within the municipal offices, with his associates, and within the community, and will work with the town manager to accomplish this.”
A proposal to bring bobcat hunting back to NH triggers debate
Even for dedicated outdoors enthusiasts, bobcats are a rare sight. A person could spend their whole lives in the woods and still not see one. John Litvaitis, a University of New Hampshire professor and lead researcher on a four-year project studying bobcats in the state, likened seeing the wild cat to “receiving an extra Christmas present.”
“For people who like the outdoors, there’s a few animals that register on the ‘wow’ list, and bobcats are always going to be on that list,” he says. “We’re all pleased to see wild turkeys or deer, but to see a bobcat, that’s just extra special.”
Litvaitis’ study wrapped up last year. The results were surprising — New Hampshire’s bobcat population was growing again after some tough years in the 1970s and 1980s. The state banned bobcat hunting in 1989; that, combined with reintroduction to and proliferation of wild turkeys in the state in the last four decades, gave the bobcat the time and resources it needed to make a comeback.
That’s why Litvaitis was surprised last fall when the state’s Fish and Game Commission began discussing a proposal to once again establish a bobcat hunting and trapping season.
“I was kind of disappointed in the process, in the context of the fact that we had pretty much just finished … with the study and, rather than spending just a little time introducing to the public the restoration of the population and letting everyone get comfortable with the concept, we went immediately to returning to the harvest,” Litvaitis says. “I thought it was unfortunate in the context of not opening it up to a discussion.”
Fish and Game commissioners voted 5-4 in February to approve the proposal. On April 1 at 9 a.m., a legislative committee will hold a public hearing on the plan at the State House in Concord. Meanwhile, the proposal has sparked a debate between outdoors enthusiasts; some want to see bobcats left alone, while others believe a hunting and trapping season will yield more data on the species and ultimately help manage the population.
Bobcat numbers declined in New Hampshire in the 1980s, according to Litvaitis. Their primary prey, New England cottontail rabbits and snowshoe hare, experienced their own population decline. Coyote numbers increased, creating more competition for food. Bobcat pelts also became valuable, leading to an increase in hunting. It was a “triple whammy,” Litvaitis says.
Bobcats were listed as a protected species in 1989, and since then, the bobcat population has increased. The proliferation of wild turkeys has helped, according to Litvaitis. Bobcats have also learned some new tricks — namely, that squirrels and other animals like to hang out under backyard bird feeders, which has opened up another food source.
“We’ve got a number of photos of bobcats spending time underneath bird feeders, which is obviously a learned behavior, but it’s a pretty remarkable one,” he says. “Most of us who work with bobcats think of them as being reticent and shy of humans.”
Litvaitis’ study estimates there are about 1,400 adult bobcats in the state in the springtime. The weather affects the species greatly. Bobcats don’t do well in deep snow, according to Litvaitis, and while they’re found throughout the state, their numbers thin out the farther north you go. Carnivores like bobcats “tell you a lot about what’s going on” in the environment, Litvaitis says.
“At low densities, they’re fairly sensitive to changes in environment, whether it’s prey or other attributes. So they’re a good animal to reveal how healthy our natural world is,” he says.
A question of management
If public opinion is any indication, bobcats are a beloved species among Granite Staters. Fred Clews Jr. is a Fish and Game commissioner representing the Seacoast. Fish and Game rule changes don’t typically draw big crowds, but when the commission began holding public hearings on the bobcat hunting proposal, “it was just unbelievable, the outpouring of people who were against it,” Clews says.
The proposal would open up a bobcat hunting season in December and a trapping season in January. Fish and Game would award 50 hunting permits through a lottery; the permits would cost $100 each.
Clews voted against the proposal. “If you’ve got 1,400 bobcats, why don’t we just let it slide for a couple years, two or three or five years, and see how many we have then and make sure they’re coming back,” he says. “(We’re) jumping the gun … let’s wait until we get 2,000 bobcats until we start doing something.”
Since the commission voted in February, the debate has only grown more heated. John Harrigan, a journalist and long-time outdoors columnist who lives in Colebrook, says that hearings on most Fish and Game proposals could be held “in a shoebox.” That the commission’s February vote took place in Representative’s Hall in the State House was an illustration of how many people oppose the hunt, Harrigan says.
He includes himself among the opposition, and says the debate isn’t a “hunting versus anti-hunting issue.” A large portion of those opposed are hunters, he says. Instead, it’s a question of management — those opposed believe the best way to manage the bobcat population is to leave it alone, while those in favor say a bobcat hunt will ultimately help conserve the species.
“The bobcat does not need the hand of man to manage it, because it manages itself quite nicely. It tailors its own population directly to the abundance or scarcity of prey species,” Harrigan says. “The notion we have this moral obligation to wrap ourselves in the righteous flag of management … that’s totally bankrupt.”
The New Hampshire Trappers Association has come out in support of the hunt. Richard Lafluer, the association’s education director, says that hunters and trappers in the state helped press for closing bobcat season in the 1980s. Now that the animal’s population is growing again, he says, it’s time to open the season once more. Trappers must file fur reports with the state and let officials know what they’ve caught; that data can help with conservation, LaFluer says. So can harvesting excess animals just before the winter.
“The animals left out there in the winter are actually better off (due to hunting) — there’s more food available and they’re able to sustain themselves better … during the mating season,” he says.
Opposition to the hunt is understandable, Lafluer says. “I know it’s an emotional issue … and I certainly respect anybody else’s ideology. It’s not a matter of heart; it’s a matter of knowledge. That’s where we stand very firmly,” he says.
If the proposal is approved, it’s unlikely the bobcat population would be drastically affected, according to Litvaitis. Fish and Game biologists estimate that, in an average year, bobcats in the state will have about 150 kittens — harvesting 50 of those animals wouldn’t have a major impact.
Except that bobcats don’t have “average” years, Litvaitis adds.
“It’s either a great year or a horrible year,” he says. A snowy, cold winter translates into a bad year for bobcats, which can drive population numbers down, while a warm winter might bring numbers up. Last winter was bad for bobcats; this winter was good, Livaitis says, and that means there could be marked differences in bobcat numbers in the future.
A bobcat hunt would have a financial impact, though, at least on Fish and Game, which has been struggling financially in recent years. Fish and Game commissioner Fred Clews says it will ultimately cost the department between $15,000 and $17,000 to implement the program.
“It’s a losing proposition, money-wise, for us. But, on the other hand, (a lot of the commissioners felt) we’ve got to try and take care of the hunters and trappers that have supported us over the years,” he says.
Trappers aren’t necessarily benefiting financially, either, according to Lafluer. Eastern bobcat pelts don’t fetch high prices, and “nobody is out here to make money. There’s no way in the world they could,” he says. It’s more about heritage and conservation, according to Lafluer.
“Conservation is wise use; preservation is no use,” he says.
Harrigan isn’t convinced. He’ll be at the meeting in Concord on April 1 with other opponents of the plan.
“I have a lot of adjectives I use to describe bobcats that I’d also apply to New Hampshire,” he says. “Reclusive, stubborn, territorial, fiercely independent, hardworking. And these last two I love especially — wild and free.”
The Intelligent Theatre Festival returns to Portsmouth
When Clare Boothe Luce’s play, “The Women,” made its debut on Broadway in 1936, the press wasn’t kind. The comedy featured an all-female cast, a rarity at the time, and portrayed its characters as innocent, ambitious, deceitful, selfish, flirtatious, wise, foolish, and so on. In other words, the women in “The Women” were human, not just a group of idealized wives and mothers and innocent waifs.
According to the initial reviews, though, Luce’s characters were “parasites,” “sluts,” “wretched souls,” and “odious harpies,” says Genevieve Aichele, artistic director of the New Hampshire Theatre Project (NHTP).
“The Women” is one of four plays NHTP will present as part of its annual Intelligent Theatre Festival, taking place March 18-20 at the West End Studio Theatre in Portsmouth. A fourth play will be presented at the University of New Hampshire in Durham on March 23.
The festival blends live readings of well-known — and not-so-well-known — plays with community discussions.
It’s a chance, Aichele says, to “engage in a collaborative conversation about playwriting and theater.”
“A play reading is an opportunity to hear a play in its purest form. There’s nothing between the audience and the playwright’s intentions. When you go see a finished production, it’s been interpreted by directors, by actors, by lighting and set designers,” she says.
For its 2015-2016 season, NHTP has focused its attention on producing and presenting plays by and about women, and Aichele says the festival carries on that theme. Along with “The Women,” the festival also includes a reading of “Charm” by Kathleen Cahill and “The (Female) Odd Couple,” Neil Simon’s gender-swapped version of his own play. The festival also includes an off-site collaborative production of “Body & Sold,” Deborah Fortson’s play about human trafficking, with the UNH Social Work department.
One of Aichele’s goals for the festival, and for NHTP’s current season in particular, is to shine a light on women-centered plays, particularly plays about real or fictional women who’ve been edged out of history’s spotlight. Take “Charm,” a magical realist play about Margaret Fuller, a member of the Transcendentalist movement. She was a contemporary of Emerson, Thoreau, and the other New England Transcendentalists. But an ill-fated romance with Nathaniel Hawthorne pushed Fuller into obscurity.
“It put in a stark light for me how history is controlled by those who write it,” Aichele says. “I was shocked. I first started studying the Transcendentalists in high school. We read Thoreau, Emerson, and Hawthorne, and there was Louisa May Alcott … but we never even thought about whether there were other women writers involved in that movement.”
Why an annual play reading festival? There’s an abundance of reasons, Aichele says. Along with spotlighting lesser-known plays, it’s a chance to present works that NHTP might not otherwise be able to produce. In “Charm,” one of the central motifs is a dress that keeps growing, a special effect that wouldn’t work well in a small theater, Aichele says.
The festival also brings new actors in to NHTP. Each reading features a cast made of professional and amateur actors. There’s only one rehearsal for each play, which makes the time commitment for first-time actors manageable.
“It’s a really great way for people to come together at whatever level they’re at and really experience the work. We’ve had a number of people who’ve done the readings and then decided to take acting classes or improv classes,” Aichele says.
Most of all, the festival gives the cast, audience, and sometimes, the playwright, a chance to discuss the plays and any issues they tackle. During last year’s festival, Aichele says, a discussion of one play prompted the playwright to rewrite part of the play.
Aichele’s particularly curious how audiences will respond to “The Women.” Even now, when attitudes about gender are at least a little better than they were in 1936, audiences are often divided about the characters, according to Aichele.
“I find it fascinating … some people say, “These women are so bitchy!” and others say, ‘I love these characters, they’re fascinating,” Aichele says.
The discussion after “Body & Sold” on March 23 will include a panel of experts on human trafficking. The play is based on real stories of men and women who’ve been trafficked, and Aichele says that reading and learning about the play has opened her eyes to how big the problem is.
“It’s a huge issue in New Hampshire,” she says. “When you start exploring a play, you find out all these other things connected to it that you had no knowledge of.”
The Intelligent Theatre Festival is on stage at the New Hampshire Theatre Project, 959 Islington St., Portsmouth, March 18-20, with shows on Friday and Saturday at 7 p.m. and Sunday at 2 p.m. Tickets are $10, available at nhtheatreproject.org or 603-431-6644 x5.