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Officials get inside look at Senate District 1, NH's largest

Special to the Union Leader

December 02. 2012 7:42PM
District 1 Sen.-elect Jeff Woodburn, left, and fellow elected officials get an update on the Burgess BioPower project in Berlin. (SARA YOUNG-KNOX PHOTO)

BERLIN - State District 1 Sen.-elect Jeff Woodburn of Dalton took fellow officeholders on a tour of the northern reaches of his district on Saturday, starting at Franconia Notch State Park and ending at the Bretton Arms Inn in Bretton Woods.

His large district - all of Coos County and towns in Grafton County - is surpassed in geographic size only by the statewide offices and by Executive Councilor Ray Burton's District 1.

By noon Woodburn and his visitors were in Berlin, the only city in his district, with a population that barely touches the 10,000 urban threshold.

Traveling with Woodburn were District 18 Sen.-elect Donna Soucy of Manchester, Rep. Laurie Sanborn of Bedford, District 9 Sen. Andy Sanborn of Bedford, Rep.-elect Rebecca Brown of Sugar Hill, District 17 Sen.-elect John Reagan of Deerfield, District 7 Sen.-elect Andrew Hosmer of Laconia and District 4 Executive Councilor-elect Chris Pappas of Manchester.

At the Burgess BioPower site, workers were busy. The Cate Street project is halfway through its 25-month construction, with the generator and turbine expected to arrive this week.

"What we thought the project would bring to the area has happened," Cate Street resident Alexandra Ritchie told them.

Despite the onset of winter weather, work at the site should continue at the same pace, with up to 400 employed. In recent weeks, the number of workers on site has reached 370. With the buildings erected, the inside work is beginning, and wiring and plumbing to be done on the facility, which will produce enough electricity to supply 70,000 households.

Stopping for lunch at Berlin's Northland Restaurant & Dairy Bar, Woodburn hoped to give the elected officials a better feel for the district's landscape and scope, stories and personalities. He wanted, he said, for them to "understand the struggle" of the region that has 17 people per square mile, a sparse population base, bringing challenges that are different from those in the more populated regions to the south.

Gorham selectman Paul Robitaille told them the downshifting in state support "really hurt our budgets," and that the aging Coos County population, as older people stay put and younger ones move on, presents challenges.

Robitaille, who works for Tri-County CAP as the region's ServiceLink staffer, stressed the resilience of the elderly population, many of whom are still living on their own.

Robitaille also said Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier could not be at the lunch, since he was working, but repeated the message that Grenier often stresses, that the Androscoggin Valley is open for business.

"The tour was a great success," Woodburn said Sunday. "We traveled nearly 200 miles, including stops in Franconia, Berlin, Colebrook, Groveton and Bretton Woods. I think the delegation got a glimpse of what life is like in the North Country. We met many people, and were introduced to specific projects that need to be supported and problems that need to be fixed - or at least understood. They saw the real North Country - the beautiful and beleaguered. The most important focus of the trip was the opportunity to build relationships across the political spectrum. That is the only way our thinly populated region can get things done in Concord."

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