MEREDITH — As Kimon Koulet retires from the post of executive director of the Lakes Region Planning Commission, he leaves state planners and legislators a message: Invest in infrastructure needs.
“We must continue to focus on transportation planning, including multi-modal options, and other infrastructure needs,” said Koulet, who leaves after 30 years at the commission.
“The state needs to reconcile the difference between transportation needs and adequate funding for projects. The (state Department of Transportation) commissioner has been sounding the alarm about the need for more funding to avoid major impacts to the DOT in less than two years.”
New Hampshire, he said, is falling behind its neighbors.
“The states around us have already raised their gas tax to help ensure their transportation systems are maintained. New Hampshire has not adjusted it in 23 years,” he said. “Infrastructure is essential to sustain our economy and to attract economic growth.”
And regionally, there are road and building projects that need the state’s attention.
“The Lakes Region has millions of dollars of documented needs for at least the next 20 years,” he said.
Koulet came to the LRPC after working as planning director of the Northwest Colorado Council of Governments, program manager in the executive director’s office of the Colorado Department of Natural Resources and as a planning consultant in Colorado Springs, Colo.
The commission was formed in 1968 in response to community concerns about increased signs of water pollution on the lakes due to development pressures. The commission operated without an office or staff until 1971, when 12 communities appropriated funds to hire staff and implement a planning program.
Like other regional planning commissions, the group has helped — in an advisory role — towns and regions plan and prepare for the future. A voluntary association of local municipalities, it offers low-cost, quality professional planning services, providing expertise in a variety of areas such as land use, transportation and environmental planning.
During Koulet’s time at the commission, “there have been many satisfying accomplishments, both small and large,” he said.
The commission played an important role in helping the region’s communities to develop master plans. It also helped establish multiple regional household hazardous waste collections that have removed hundreds of thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals from the environment.
In the 1990s, transportation planning grew in importance, Koulet said. One of the landmark commission studies was the preparation of the Route 3-Route 11 Corridor Study between Franklin and Laconia.
“There were 28 public meetings and workshops in 12 months leading to several priority recommendations that resulted in millions of dollars of roadway improvements,” he said.
Koulet will be replaced by Jeff Hayes, who is expected to start work this month. A New Hampshire native, Hayes comes from the North Country Council, where he worked for many years, Koulet said.
Hayes has a lot on his plate in his new role. The LRPC is preparing the Lakes Region Plan, a comprehensive plan that will reflect the vision and priorities of the region’s communities. A draft will be completed by summer, and a final version will be voted on by the commission by the end of 2014.
The Lakes Region Plan “will be a tremendous resource for local planning boards to use when updating their local master plans. It will identify regional challenges, offer policy recommendations and provide an array of information and references on everything from housing and transportation to hazard mitigation and a sustainable economy; in short, a road map for the future,” Koulet said.