Rain Forest Animals Visit Camp

by Lynne Ober

A gaggle of animals from deep rain forests made a happy visit to Pelham’s summer camp.

Michelle La Valle, wildlife educator, brought eight rain forest critters to Pelham.  She’s been educating young and old about animals and other critters for eighteen years and obviously loves not only members of her menagerie, but also educating the audiences that she thrills.

Michelle shows the skink to the audience.

For this show, she brought a quail, boa constrictor, tree frog, skink, which is a lizard, a monitor, a millipede, a scorpion and a Peruvian tarantula spider.  She gets each critter out individually and talks about what makes them unique, how they live, and survive.  Woven into her shows are educational information about the environment, the land and the critters.  When she presents her rain forest show, she spends quite a bit of time teaching her audience about how the destruction of the rain forest is affecting the animals. 

Her young audience hung on every word and “oohed” and “ahhed” as each critter was brought out.

Michelle laughs about her career.  “I never in my wildest dreams thought I would be doing this for a living,” said Michelle, who has five children.  She said that when she started taking in teenage foster girls, she used pets as a way to communicate with them.  “You can teach through animals – how to love, nurture and to take responsibility.  The children came and went, but the animals stayed.”

Her own children liked to take the variety of animals to school for show and tell.  Michelle said that she always went along because she didn’t want the animals locked in a carrying case all day.  “Then my kids wouldn’t do the show and tell and I would end up doing it.  Other teachers started calling me and asking me to come in and my career just grew from there.”

Today Michelle offers three separate shows with three separate groups of animals.  In addition to the rain forest animals she has American animals and desert animals.  “I love each show,” Michelle said.  “The kids seem to love each set of critters too.”

The audience was thrilled with the rain forest critters.

Michelle and her boa constructor.

Landscaping Problems

by Lynne Ober

Pelham town and school district jointly developed needs for landscaping, wrote a bid package and solicited bids.  When the dust cleared and bids were evaluated, Santastic Landscaping, LLC in Pelham was the winning bidder and Boyden’s Landscaping was out.

At the time of the bid review, Town Administrator Tom Gaydos told Selectmen that four bids had been received, but two had been deemed unacceptable according to the specifications of the bid packet.

During the first preliminary round of the State Championship Playoffs, Pelham High School was expected to win.  Their star pitcher had completed warm-ups when the sprinkler system erroneously came on.  This was the result of a scheduling snafu with the landscaping company.  After nearly an hour’s wait, the sprinklers were turned off.  Pelham lost this game.

A committee was formed to review the two remaining bids, interview both bidders, check references and made a recommendation to the two boards.  “The committee had to determine if all the performance issues were met by the bidders,” explained Gaydos.  In order to complete their work, the committee met three times and produced a written memo to the boards with their recommendation and the results of their review.

According to Gaydos, both Santastic Landscaping of Pelham and Boyden’s Landscaping, the firm that held the contract for the past three years, made a commitment to the town.  Both had adequate summer staffing to meet the requirements of the contract and both agreed to the requested performance clauses in the contract.

The school district required that no pesticides be applied without giving the school district an opportunity to review the proposed application.  The school district also wanted to have each employee fingerprinted before they worked on school grounds, with the school district picking up the cost of the fingerprinting effort.

Boyden’s overall bid was $502,039 and Santastic’s was $453,702 – making them the low bidder.

Now just a few months into the contract, things are not running as smoothly as everyone would like.  As the school athletic season drew to a close, there was unhappiness among Pelham High School coaching staff about the condition of the fields at Pelham as reported in previous Pelham~Windham News articles.  Although Santastic responded, there were still concerns with the fields at the end of the athletic season and Pelham High School Principal, Dr. Dorothy Mohr continued to work with out-going superintendent Dr. Elaine Cutler as well as with incoming and newly hired superintendent, Dr. Frank Bass.

With the change in superintendents, Bass has continued to work with Santastic.  “We have met and are in regular communication,” said Bass, who noted that communication was a key.

Bass said that there have been significant improvements already and that he’s pleased with the way that communications are being handled.  “We are very pleased at the concerted effort that Mr. Santos and his group have taken.”

High school sports’ schedules are set by the New Hampshire Interscholastic Athletic Association (NHIAA).  According to Bass, the fields need to be in shape by the second week of August in order to support the coming school year and he is confident that by adhering to the regular maintenance schedule for the fields, they will be ready for the coming year.

“Watering and cutting are critical for the fields,” said Bass.  “There’s been a noticeable improvement in the fields since we met with Mr. Santos to work on schedules and communications.”

Another incident occurred when the landscaping company had set the sprinklers to run during another scheduled competitive game.  Players and coaches consult on the field while the sprinklers run at full throttle.

Committee Forming to Study Fire Department Sub-Station

by Barbara O’Brien

The topic of building a fire department sub-station in Windham has been discussed before, but, to date, those discussions have not brought the facility to fruition.  Fire Chief Tom McPherson hopes the formation of a study committee will change that.

“It is a big jump,” McPherson told selectmen during the board’s Monday, July 9 meeting, “but it’s a commitment that needs to be made.”

The Town of Windham covers approximately 27 square miles.  Currently, the only fire department facility is located on Fellows Road, just off Route 111, near North Lowell Road.  McPherson and other town officials don’t expect the expansion to a sub-station to happen overnight, but, more realistically, would like to see it happen within the next three to five years.

Without additional firefighters, the construction of a sub-station wouldn’t serve an efficient purpose, McPherson said.  “Staffing goes hand-in-hand with a sub-station,” he said.  McPherson said he doesn’t feel it would be financially prudent, though, to plan for additional staff to come on board the same year that a sub-station is built.  “We need to plan ahead, train ahead, and be ready to move when the sub-station is built,” he said.

A new sub-station would need to “be strategically placed,” McPherson said.  Currently, the Route 28/Range Road area is being considered as an option.

In order to ease the tax burden on residents, fire department officials are looking into the federally funded “SAFER” grant, which would help to pay for additional firefighters, including a portion of training, salary, and benefits.

According to Deputy Chief Robert Leuci, the “SAFER” grant could provide $103,500 per new firefighter over a five-year period.  Leuci said Windham is considering adding four more full-time firefighters to the department’s roster, which could mean the “SAFER” grant would provide a total of $414,000 over five years to help offset the expense to the town.

According to McPherson, the cost of adding a new firefighter to the department, including salary and benefits, is about $61,000 per year.  The town would be required to fund the remainder of the amount not provided through the federal grant program.

The next session of “SAFER” grants is scheduled to be awarded this coming January.  “We really need to ramp up full-timers,” McPherson said, explaining that the dependency on adding new part-time call firefighters is not as reliable as in years past.

As for training a firefighter “from scratch,” Leuci said the cost to train someone to the minimum standard is about $2,000 (484 hours of training), plus an additional $2,600 for protective clothing.  Adding in salary costs during the training period, the price tag to achieve the professional level required in Windham totals about $7,600.  “It takes about two to three years to see a return on our investment,” Leuci said.

As for response time to emergencies, the average time it currently takes to respond from the fire department to the scene is seven minutes and ten seconds; far exceeding the nationally recommended response time of four minutes.

“How much time would be gained by building a sub-station?”  Selectman Margaret Crisler asked.  “Fire doubles in size every 60 seconds,” Leuci said, emphasizing the need to save as much time as possible in getting to an emergency.  “Time is definitely of the essence,” Selectman Bruce Breton said.

In regard to forming a committee to look further into building a sub-station in Windham, all five selectmen expressed their desire to proceed. 

“I’m in favor of studying the issue,” Selectman Roger Hohenberger said, adding that he wants to see a cross-section of the community represented on such a committee. 

“I’m definitely in favor of establishing a committee,” Selectman Crisler added, saying she also wants to see the population of Windham “equitably represented” on the committee’s membership. 

“I agree wholeheartedly,” Selectman Breton said.  “It should have been done already.”  Breton said he doesn’t feel the ‘SAFER’ grant should even be taken into consideration in determining whether or not additional firefighters need to be hired. 

Selectman Dennis Senibaldi also said he’s in favor of studying the need for a sub-station in Windham.  “We should get all the facts, then make a decision,” Senibaldi said.

As the result of the board’s input, Chief McPherson will be drawing up a charter for the formation of a sub-division study committee and bringing the proposal back to selectmen at a future date.

Conditions at Cobbetts Pond Declining

by Lynette Cornell

The 2007 annual meeting of the Cobbetts Pond Improvement Association (CPIA) revealed some disturbing news about the quality of Cobbetts Pond.  The water condition of the pond is continuing to worsen, according to Jody Connor from the New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services (DES).

In a PowerPoint presentation, Connor demonstrated how a continual increase in phosphorus has caused the pond to become less clear and more clouded with algae.  Aquatics plants like the exotic milfoil have invaded the water.  As the water clarity decreases, the property values of bordering land lots may also decrease.

Connor also said that Cobbetts Pond was not the only body of water affected.  New Hampshire contains about 950 other lakes and ponds, which have also experienced an increase in phosphorus since the DES began testing the water in 1988.  However, Cobbetts Pond still remains higher than the median levels for the state.

Phosphorus and exotic plants are not the only threats facing the pond.  Canada geese have taken over some parts of the shoreline.  When the geese are shooed from one area, they proceed to another one.  With each leaving behind one pound of excrement per day, the geese problem has caused E.coli levels to shoot up.  This meant temporarily closing the beach two weeks ago.  In the past, another pesky fowl had caused problems.  Ducks, encouraged by people feeding them, had crowded the shoreline.

Upon learning of the state of the pond, the CPIA members reacted with determination to find a solution.  Connor said a number of activities contributed to the increased phosphorus levels and water contamination.  Even simple household activities such as washing cars or applying herbicide to a lawn can cause damage.  To avoid exacerbating the problem, shoreline residents must choose their fertilizers carefully.  Section 483-B:9 of the Comprehensive Shoreline Protection Act regulates the types of chemicals allowed near the shore, particularly within 25 feet of the reference line of any property.

Road runoff, construction, and gasoline spills further pollute the area.  Several members mentioned the heavy traffic of nearby highways Route 111, 111A, and 93.  Although some types of pollution are unavoidable, Connor offered many ways in which residents can help reduce their impact on the water.  To reduce soil erosion and runoff, he suggested building water gardens that would send water into the ground instead of allowing it to flow directly into the pond.  Another idea was to collect water from roofs in buckets and later using that water to hydrate plants.

A CPIA member asked if the state was discontinuing the use of holding tanks.  Connor said they were because they had found the people were poking holes in the tanks to avoid paying for them to be pumped empty.  The audience reacted with horror and disgust.  Toxins from septic waste are not the sole threat to water safety.  High levels of cyanobacteria can present a threat to humans and wildlife.  It appears as blue-green algae bloom or scum and can affect the nervous system, liver, or skin.  Contact with the bacteria may result in nausea, vomiting, diarrhea, and skin issues.

Some members wanted to know how the state would help them.  Others replied that it was up to them to do their part and to voice their concerns to the town selectmen.  Connor explained a number of ways residents could control the milfoil overgrowth.  One of the most effective ways was diver-assisted vacuum harvesting.  Anyone with a diver’s license could take a class to become certified to assist in removing the plants.

The primary concern when removing the plants is collecting every piece because fragments cut from the plant can regenerate on their own.  If a hundred pieces from one milfoil plant are allowed to remain in the water, a hundred new plants may grow in place of the one plant, worsening the problem.  Boats can inadvertently provide transportation for the hitchhiking flora, spreading the problem from one body of water to another.  Connor said boaters must pay special attention to removing any kind of plant life from their boats before entering the pond.

In the case of geese invading lawns and beaches, Connor said marking off areas with brightly colored tape is highly effective.  Cheryl Hass, the Recreational Director for Windham, has already taped off the town beach to discourage geese from congregating there.  The final way Connor mentioned to keep the water clear was preventing erosion.  He said that as the lakes age, more sediment is deposited in the water.  Planting shrubberies, trees, and grass near the shoreline helps anchor dirt and keeps it from running into the pond during a rainstorm.  When asked what the most important issue was to fix, Connor said it was not just one issue that could be fixed.  Multiple issues have to be fixed, and the residents are responsible to take action.

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