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In Berlin (NH), reasons for optimism on prison  

ATV park, new prison and WIND TURBINES!

BERLIN – Folks here have a few new reasons for optimism these days.

For instance, city officials expect to hear from the federal Bureau of Prisons within the next two weeks about its choice for a location of a new medium security facility, capping a four-year effort to secure the site.

Also, at a packed public hearing last week, more than a dozen people spoke in favor of a $2 million plan for the state to develop an ATV park 7,200 acres around Jericho Lake.

And a Massachusetts developer is continuing with his plans to put up four windmills atop Jericho Mountain.

“I’m very happy with what I am seeing happening,” said Mayor Bob Danderson, who won re-election to his fourth term last week.

“This is another wave of good things going on.”

It’s a much rosier economic picture for the city and the region; four years ago, the pulp mill in the heart of the city and the paper mill in neighboring Gorham were shut down, cutting off the life blood.

Within weeks of the shutdown, city officials threw out a welcome mat to the prisons bureau, inviting it to check out the city for a new prison. Two years earlier, the new state prison opened in the industrial park.

“It’s been four years since the idea came out,” said city planner Pamela LaFlamme. “We’ve gone through a lot to get to this point, preparing packets of information; holding two referendums; having public hearings.

The mill had been closed for more than two months when the first referendum went to voters, asking whether they would support another prison. It was defeated, but a group of residents revived it and in the spring of 2002, the idea got overwhelming support.

The bureau has narrowed the choices for a new 1,250-bed medium security facility, which would be built over the course of about three years at a cost of $187 million.

The city’s preference for the location is an 800-acre parcel in the industrial park, near the state prison. The other site is land east of Head Pond in a more remote section of the city, where there is little infrastructure.

Prisons officials have said they would make their decision sometime in November.

LaFlamme said she doesn’t expect construction to begin until sometime in 2007.

While the city awaits word from Washington, LaFlamme said growing interest in the ATV park and the windmill project has prompted a number of inquiries.

“A lot of people are calling and asking questions,” she said.

“It’s nice to know there is interest in the city from the outside.”

The windmill project, which is being developed by Massachusetts entrepreneur Christian Loranger, has created a lot of interest from around New England, she said. He is in the process of erecting four windmills and has plans to put up a total of 20.

“We are hearing from people all over New England about what he is doing and how it’s going,” she said.


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