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December 16. 2012 8:28PM

Gov.-elect Hassan learns, listens to concerns of North Country


Jac Cuddy, executive director of the MWV Economic Council, welcomes Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan to the Tech Village in Conway. (SARA YOUNG-KNOX PHOTO)
CONWAY - Gov.-elect Maggie Hassan remarked on the energy and enthusiasm of North Country residents after touring the northernmost reaches of the state on Friday.

"The North Country welcomed the new governor with open arms," said District 1 Sen. Jeff Woodburn, who organized the tour. "The trip was a great success covering 225 miles from Woodstock, Colebrook, Groveton, Berlin, Littleton and North Conway. Governor-elect Hassan met hundreds of people and listened to their concerns. I know she left with a better understanding of life in the North Country."

Hassan started her day in Colebrook, finishing up the tour with a stop at the Mount Washington Valley Economic Council's Tech Village in Conway.

At the Tech Village, Hassan gave brief remarks before listening to the concerns of the local residents. Sitting around the room were representatives from local government, public safety, social service non-profits, tourism businesses and organizations, and education, among others.

In Conway, the governor-elect said that overall people really want to move forward and solve problems. We need, she said, to continue to partner with the business and education sectors.

To a comment from recently elected Carroll County Commission Dave Babson about the bare-bones staffing at the state's Department of Agriculture, Hassan said she's going to look at public-private partnerships, but that "I don't want to over-promise here."

Rep. Ed Butler of Hart's Location made a pitch for the hospitality industry, noting that the state gets a good return on the money it spends on marketing. Several years ago the tourism industry went along with raising the rooms and meals tax rate, with the understanding that some of that money would go to marketing.

"I'd like to find a way to return to that," she said.

John Colbath, director of the nursing program at White Mountain Community College in WMCC, said that the accreditation assessment of the college said it's "a gem that needs to be polished" and that the funding cut from the system needs to be restored.

"It's a priority of mine," Hassan said. "It's not going to be easy."

Lt. Chris Perley of the Conway Police Department noted that deaths by drug overdoses in New Hampshire in 2011 exceeded the number of deaths by car crash. He said that the diversion of prescription drugs is "becoming a more pervasive problem" which presents challenges different from illegal drugs, since the prescription drugs are legal up until that diversion.

Hassan said she is hearing about that issue a lot, and about the escalation of violent crime that follows it.

Ben Wilcox, general manager of Cranmore Mountain, made a pitch for the southern leg of the Conway bypass, which received the necessary permits nearly two decades ago, but has not been funded. He said the North South Road is working out well, but, "we still have that southern Route 16 bottleneck" where the state road comes in Conway.

George Cleveland, director of the Gibson Center for Senior Services, asked if other regions have outreach teams specifically focused on them.

Hassan replied no, and that she opted for a North Country outreach because she'd heard that some of challenges in the northern part of the state , with its lower population density, are different from those in the state's other regions.

In Conway, Rep. Tom Buco and Mark Hounsell, both members of Hassan's North Country outreach team, were in attendance.

Commenting on the other stops in her tour, Hassan, who toured the Gorham paper mill while running for office, said, "It's great to see the Gorham mill with 210 employees."

She also noted the Groveton mill site, where the buildings are coming down, which could make it ready for redevelopment.

"My goal is to bend state government to meet the needs of rural people and rural communities," Woodburn said.

"This only happens when down-state leaders take the time to come here, listen and learn. I am grateful to Governor-elect Hassan for her time and commitment to our area."

syoungknox@newstote.com

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