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Million Air Pushes Back on Critics of Pease Fuel Farm Plan

As Seacoast residents raise the alarm about the proposed 90,000-gallon jet fuel storage being built at Pease International Tradeport by private air company Million Air, the company is pushing back. 

“Million Air is proposing new tanks with state-of-the-art leak detection, prevention, and containment systems designed to meet or exceed current best practices,” said Peter Bragdon, a spokesman for the Houston-based company. “As long as planes are flying in and out of Pease, fuel will be needed for those planes. Doesn’t it make sense to have the most modern, up-to-date systems available?”

Concerned residents and environmental activists held a press conference last week to protest the fuel tanks, which they said will be located too close to wetlands that feed into the local drinking water supply.

“What’s concerning is how all this is being handled. For example, Million Air’s site development plans underestimate the wetlands impact of this project, ignore the previous contamination that still exists, and the plan places fuel storage within feet of these sensitive wetlands,” said Seacoast resident Dania Seiglie.

The fuel tanks that make up Million Air’s proposed fuel farm would be about 100 feet away from the wetlands in question. Million Air COO Chuck Suma said the residents’ concerns about the fuel farm are misplaced.

“We know how to manage a fuel farm and we know how to do this in an environmentally friendly way,” Suma said. “I would never allow or sanction or run my facilities in such a way that would negatively impact the area around it.”

Critics argue that even if the fuel farm isn’t technically in the wetlands area — a claim they dispute — even Million Air admits it wants to build a roadway through it. Worse, the area is still dealing with drinking water contaminated with PFAS chemicals left over from the U.S. Air Force base that used to be located at Pease.

“Much like PFAS and previous water contamination concerns, this is a priority for local residents worried about clean water because it’s all connected,” Seiglie said. “This site mid-Pease connects directly to North Mill Pond by Hodgson’s Brook and from here, contamination can easily reach the Piscataqua.”

PFAS chemicals are linked to certain types of cancer, birth defects, and other serious health issues. The man-made chemicals are found in oils, jet fuels, industrial degreasers, and firefighting foam, among other uses. PFAS contamination has been found in the Seacoast region, as well as in communities like Merrimack, Bedford, and Litchfield stemming from the Saint-Gobain manufacturing plant in Merrimack. There is also a PFAS problem in the communities near the Coakley Landfill in North Hampton.

The chemicals have an unusually long half-life and can stay in the human body for decades after exposure.

Bragdon said the company’s plans are environmentally sound. Plans for the driveway have won the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Safety’s approval.

“The only wetland issue involving the Million Air proposal has to do with a driveway that will be needed so customers can access the site from the public streets – dropping off and picking up clients, for instance,” Bragdon said. “Million Air has worked diligently to minimize wetland issues with the driveway, for instance by moving the driveway as far north as possible to avoid wetland impacts.”

The plans are not safe enough for the concerned residents and activists, however. State Rep. Debra Altschiller (D-Stratham) wants the company to change the plans to move its proposed site farther away from the sensitive area, which she said is doable for the business.

“Everyone here knows there is actually another completely appropriate and equally sized piece of property less than a mile from the proposed project space and that land doesn’t need to have a road built through a wetland to roll trucks over,” Altschiller said. “There is an alternative that doesn’t even need variances to operate next to precious water resources. It is available and ready to be developed.”

Million Air is building a fixed-base operations center at Pease that will include a 12,000-square-foot hangar. Bragdon said the company is working with DES and all the relevant agencies to make sure its project is done correctly and safely.

Suma said the company will employ about 30 people full-time. Million Air’s FBO will attract businesses to the region and bring more money to the Seacoast.

“We’re going to be changing the demographics coming in and out of the airport,” Suma said. “There are opportunities there and we want to be a good partner with the community and the (Pease Development Authority) board.”

Seiglie, however, questioned the company’s push to get the FBO up and running, saying it is moving faster than normal to avoid public scrutiny.

“This company has done this elsewhere, getting permissions without public scrutiny or knowledge – including places like New York where there are major environmental concerns and the project was pitched without proper review. So, we are worried,” Seiglie said.

Million Air is currently involved in a federal lawsuit with Westchester County, N.Y. over the company’s project at the Harrisville, N.Y. airport.

Pease already has an FBO operated by Port City Air, and Port City’s company attorney, Dan Hoefle, is joining the chorus of the opposition. He said Port City was never properly informed about Million Air’s proposal, despite Port City being an abutter to the project. Hoefle said the site Million Air is using is not suitable for the project.

“Port City is well aware of this plot of land in question. We would never develop on this particular parcel of land for the very reasons cited,” Hoefle said.

Bragdon and Suma blame Port City for ginning up the opposition to Million Air’s plans and trying to get the competitor’s plans delayed.

“Port City is self-serving and stirring this up,” Suma said.

Suma accused Port City of trying to hold on to its monopoly at the airfield by delaying Million Air’s plans. Suma said he’d not worried about the competition, likening the two companies to Motel 6 versus the Four Seasons. Right now, the Motel 6 FBO, Port City, is scrambling to hold on to the business, Suma said.

“This is all stuff being thrown in the air by Port City Air. They have a monopoly on the airport, and you have a Motel 6 driving what can be done at the airport,” Suma said.

Port City already has fuel storage tanks close to where Million Air plans to put its tanks, Suma said, and those tanks are old and present a danger to the wetlands. The area around Pease is also dotted with gas stations and heating oil companies, which seem to be escaping the ire of the residents concerned about drinking water, Suma said.

“If the community is concerned, they should be looking at Port City fuel farms and the gas stations and heating oil facilities nearby,” Suma said.

Hoefle said Port City’s fuel farm is safe and meets all current standards. He said the company will continue to work with state and federal regulators to make sure the tanks stay in compliance.

“Port City Air’s tanks are regularly maintained, they are in fine shape,” Hoefle said. “They will continually be maintained and regulated.”

Hoefle said Port City has no problem with Million Air bringing an FBO to Pease, just not in the location they have picked.

“We don’t have any problem with competition, but this isn’t the site for it,” Hoefle said.

Full-Day Kindergarten Makes It Out of Conference Committee. Drinking Water Bill Dies.

On the last day of conference committee work in the New Hampshire State House, a deal was reached to fund full-day kindergarten, but a bill aimed to improve water quality standards stalled in committee.

A last-minute deal was reached Thursday between GOP members of the House and Senate on using revenue from the lottery game Keno to fund the legislature’s plan for full-day kindergarten, but Democrats no longer support the bill. They say it doesn’t fully fund the program for all cities and towns and local communities are going to be left to pick up the bill. Exactly how much the state would spend per-pupil will depend on how much revenue is raised from taxing Keno.

The amendment presented by Sen. Jeb Bradley, R-Wolfeboro, guarantees school districts that want full-day kindergarten an extra $1,100 per kindergarten pupil. The state currently offers school districts an “adequacy grant” for half-day kindergarten of $1,800 per student, which is half of the $3,600 for students in grades 1-12. About 75 percent of the school districts in the state have already adopted full-day kindergarten using local property taxes to pay for it.

Democrats wanted the second half day of kindergarten to be fully funded at $1,800 per student in exchange for support on legalizing and regulating Keno. However, Republicans were cautious to do that out of concern that Keno would not generate enough revenue to support the full amount.

The amendment guarantees that at least $1,100 will go to funding full-day kindergarten since they are confident enough Keno revenue will be raised to do that. The state will fully fund the program at $1,800 if Keno revenues are enough. If not, the grants will be pro-rated per community at an amount between $1,100 and $1,800 depending on the exact amount that is raised from Keno.

Gov. Chris Sununu has made full-day kindergarten a priority for his first term in the Corner Office. While funding negotiations have constantly changed over the past few months in the State House, he applauded the deal lawmakers made and said it was a “first step” in getting the program fully funded.

“This is not a time for partisan politics, we need to get this done,” he said in a statement. “This is one of the most transformative pieces of legislation, and more progress for kindergarten than this state has ever seen.  As revenues increase, the amount of funding can increase for kids. It is not only a first step, it is a real plan that funds full-day kindergarten across every community in this state.”

But Democrats say this isn’t the deal they agreed on. Senate Democrats called it a “shell game.”

“Senate Democrats have been leading on Kindergarten for years, and we are glad Governor Sununu has at least attempted to follow our example. But, today’s failure to support full-day kindergarten like any other grade while giving even more tax cuts for the wealthy elite is a major disappointment and once again demonstrates Governor Sununu’s failure to lead,” said Senate Minority Leader Jeff Woodburn.

Democratic gubernatorial candidate Steve Marchand called the “kenogarten” policy “disingenuous.”

Former 2016 Democratic gubernatorial nominee Colin Van Ostern was active on Twitter to express his disappointment that the deal reached in the conference committee didn’t guarantee full funding of kindergarten at the $1,800 level.

The full-day kindergarten bill is expected to pass in the House and Senate next week.

A separate bill that would lead to stronger standards for a toxic chemical in more than 200 communities’ drinking water ultimately died in committee.

The bill would have required the Department of Environmental Services to set a standard for a group of chemicals known as perfluorochemicals or PFCs. The state currently uses the federal government recommendation of 70 parts per trillion, but other states have set tougher standards.

The conference committee couldn’t agree on the bill due to concerns that it could require towns to make expensive upgrades to their water systems. The defeat of the bill in the legislative session saw both Republicans and Democrats disappointed that it failed.

“I am very disappointed House Republicans rejected drinking water standards that protect the public health, particularly prenatal and early childhood health,” said Sen. Dan Feltes, D-Concord. “Just like on the budget, Republicans have caved to the know-it-all wealthy elite and big corporations at the expense of everyday Granite Staters – folks who just want clean drinking water for them and their children.”

According to recent research from the Environmental Working Group and Northeastern University, New Hampshire is tied with Alabama as having the second worst PFC contamination of drinking water in the country.

Sen. Dan Innis, R-New Castle — a sponsor of the bill — said it was a “common sense piece of legislation.”

“I am deeply disappointed that the House was unwilling to come to an agreement to better protect the citizens of my district and around the state from the growing concern about the quality of our drinking water,” he said. “This critical legislation will be the first bill that I file in the fall. It is imperative that we quickly come to an agreement to address this pressing issue for the Granite State.”

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New Hampshire’s Infrastructure is in Jeopardy. What is the Legislature Doing About It?

New Hampshire’s infrastructure is crumbling, and it’s not just the state’s roads and bridges. A total of 12 infrastructure categories received a “mediocre” or “poor” rating, according to a Wednesday survey by the American Society of Civil Engineers (ASCE), highlighting the lack of time and investment the state has made into these projects.

Overall, the state’s infrastructure grade was a C-minus, which is a decrease from the last time the engineers conducted a survey of the state. In 2011, the state earned a C.

New Hampshire’s new grade is slightly higher than the United States’ grade, which was a D-plus.

“New Hampshire’s infrastructure is living on borrowed time thanks to past generations’ investments,” said Logan Johnson, chairman of the Report Card for New Hampshire’s Infrastructure. “We’re not investing in the maintenance and modernization our infrastructure needs to support a thriving economy.”

A team of professional engineers from across the state assessed the 12 categories and found these areas need upgrades to stay operational:

infrastructure

Credit: American Society of Civil Engineers Report Card for New Hampshire’s Infrastructure

The state’s energy and airport systems received the best score with a C-plus, but the ports, wastewater, and storm water systems scored the lowest grade with a D-plus.

Much of the focus at the legislative level will be on roads and bridges.

According to the state Department of Transportation (DOT), there are about 17,000 miles of roads in the state. The ASCE says there are 3,848 bridges, including 2,160 state bridges, and 1,688 municipal bridges in New Hampshire.

The state also has about 150 red-listed bridges, meaning they are in poor condition, must be inspected every two years, and be at the top of the state’s priority list of funds for repair or replacement. The ASCE found that 492 of New Hampshire’s 3,848 bridges — approximately 13 percent – were structurally deficient.

Gov. Chris Sununu has been a big proponent of improving the state’s infrastructure. In his budget, he proposed creating a $84 million Infrastructure Revitalization Fund to address some of the problems identified in the ASCE’s report, like with bridges and roads.

“This is one of the highest numbers in the country of red listed bridges,” he said during his gubernatorial campaign. “These are where our priorities need to go. Infrastructure is absolutely critical in a small state like New Hampshire, a state that’s centralized to the entire New England region. We have to get our priorities straight and we have to make tough decisions to get those projects done.”

The problem is that the estimated cost to repair or replace some of the red-list bridges is more than six times the amount Sununu proposed. That’s something Victoria Sheehan, commissioner of the N.H. DOT, said would happen if infrastructure funding is constantly kicked down the road in the legislature.

“When we defer investment, it can cost three or four times as much to get back to the same level condition,” she recently told New Hampshire Public Radio. “So, for example, if we can keep up with pavement conditioning, doing pavement preservation treatments, that’s a much lower cost in maintaining the infrastructure. Once [roads have] deteriorated, to do a full reconstruction or rehabilitation can cost a lot more money to the taxpayer. We are so underfunded at times, we make those per investment choices that end up costing more in the long run.”

U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen, (D-N.H.), reintroduced legislation in the Senate that would begin to address the more than 56,000 structurally deficient bridges across the country. The Strengthen and Fortify Existing Bridges (SAFE Bridges) Act, which was also cosponsored by New Hampshire’s other Democratic senator, Maggie Hassan, would establish a program to provide funding specifically for repairing and replacing structurally deficient bridges. It would authorize an additional $2.75 billion annually through 2020 to enable state’s to fix their bridges and funding would be allocated through a needs-based formula according to their share of the nation’s deficient bridges.

“The condition of New Hampshire’s bridges is unacceptable,” Shaheen said in a statement. “Their disrepair hurts our economy, increases traffic, adds wear and tear to vehicles, and puts public safety at risk. The consequences of bridge failures are catastrophic and it is critical that Congress prioritize this infrastructure. My legislation provides a long overdue initial investment to help repair and replace New Hampshire’s structurally deficient bridges while putting Granite Staters to work.”

The ASCE survey also found that the state’s dams were increasingly at risk of being structurally deficient. About 60 percent of New Hampshire dams were built before modern dam safety engineering standards were developed.

The “years of inattention” resulted in shoddy conditions at many of the state’s ports and extensive flooding could happen unless the state makes some adjustments in how it manages storm water.

The Legislature recently made drinking water and storm water a priority during this legislative session. Both areas need improvement, according to the ASCE survey, which gave New Hampshire’s drinking water a C-minus and storm water a D-plus. The Senate is working on legislation that would give more funds to cities and towns to improve their drinking water, after recent developments which found high traces of harmful chemicals in several seacoast towns’ water supply. Sununu also is hoping the Environmental Protection Agency rolls back some storm water regulations poised to go into effect that could cost municipalities millions of dollars to comply.

The ASCE report notes that in order for the state to meet its infrastructure needs, “lawmakers need to pursue consistent policies and funding sources to ensure sustained support for infrastructure and enable long-term planning. The state needs to pursue more locally sourced funding for infrastructure, rather than relying so heavily on federal funding and financing to supplement the state’s budget for infrastructure investment.”

The report also called for consistent policy and funding sources and for the state to to pursue “more locally sourced funding,” like fully funding the Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act, identifying “dependable, long-term sources of funding” for the cleanup of contaminated sites, and considering a toll increase to finance major turnpike projects.

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