Weekly N.H. News Roundup: November 13, 2020 | New Hampshire Public Radio

Weekly N.H. News Roundup: November 13, 2020

Nov 12, 2020

Earlier this month, the mayors of the state’s thirteen cities appealed to the governor for help addressing homelessness. We speak with Mayor Joyce Craig of Manchester about what’s needed. Coos County is now seeing the highest rate of community transmission of COVID-19 in the state, with over 400 new cases per 100,000 residents. We hear from Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier. Plus, who is supposed to pay for PFAS cleanup costs around the former Pease Air Force Base? And we remember the Mount Washington Observatory’s famous cat, Marty.  Air date: Friday, Nov. 13, 2020.  


GUESTS: 

  • Joyce Craig - Mayor of Manchester. 
  • Paul Grenier - Mayor of Berlin.
  • Annie Ropeik - NHPR Reporter on climate, energy, environment and the seacoast.
  • Dan Szczesny - author of “The White Mountain: Rediscovering Mount Washington’s Hidden Culture,” a yearlong study of New England’s highest peak.

Mayors in 13 New Hampshire cities are asking for help with a statewide strategy to assist the homeless this winter. 

Berlin's City Council tabled a mask ordinance this week, with another meeting scheduled for next week.

Missing Marty? Dan Szczesny wrote this photo essay about the long tradition of Mt. Washington Observatory cats for AMC Outdoors. 

Transcript

  This transcript was machine-generated and contains errors.

Peter Biello:
From New Hampshire Public Radio, I'm Peter Biello and this is the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange. Earlier this month, the mayors of the state's 13 cities appealed to the governor for help with homelessness. We'll ask about what's needed. We speak to another mayor about rising COVID cases in the north country. Plus, the state of New Hampshire wants the Air Force to fund drinking water assistance for homes near the former Pease air base. And we'll remember the Mt. Washington Observatory's famous cat, Marty. These stories and more are up for discussion on today's weekly New Hampshire news roundup. Thank you so much for being with us today.

Peter Biello:
And let's start the program with one of those mayors who called on the governor to assist cities with assisting those who find themselves homeless. Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, thank you very much for being on the program today.

Mayor Joyce Craig:
Thanks, Peter. It's a pleasure to be here.

Peter Biello:
Mayor Craig, before we get into what you have requested from the governor and what he's been saying about it, I'd love to hear from you about the extent of the problem in Manchester, which I should note certainly isn't the only city in the state worrying about those who are living in tents or otherwise aren't permanently housed. How many encampments throughout the city does Manchester have?

Mayor Joyce Craig:
So the city of Manchester has done extensive outreach with our nonprofit partners here at New Horizons, Manchester, mental health, health care for the homeless. And they've identified over 300 individuals living unsheltered. And as you know, this is a transient population. So we do lose touch with people. So they've consistently had contact with about 150 people. The number has increased as a result of COVID-19. We know through our conversations with these individuals, some just don't feel comfortable going into the shelter anymore. And so it is a crisis not only in the city of Manchester, but throughout the state, throughout the country. And you mentioned the letter that the mayor sent to the governor. We consistently get together and talk about issues, share information. In our last call, all of us agree that homelessness was the number one issue that we were dealing with and as a result, wrote this letter to the governor because the last statewide plan that was done was in 2006. And and we really need to work closely with the state to develop a comprehensive plan to address this.

Peter Biello:
Ok, definitely going to get into the details of that plan. Recently, the state asked a group of people living in tents on state property near the Hillsborough court to to vacate. Where could they go? Where have they gone or planning to go?

Mayor Joyce Craig:
So it doesn't look like anyone has left, in fact, I think there are more tents on the state owned property than ever, and that's a question that we have for the state as well. As I mentioned, we've been doing extensive outreach to these individuals. We know them by name. We know where they're from. In fact, only one in four have self-reported that they're from Manchester. We know from a factual basis there are no shelter beds available in the city of Manchester. And when you call 211, there are very few throughout the state. And so that's one of the things that the city of Manchester and then the rest of the mayors are advocating for. More shelter beds and more housing opportunities, specifically housing first, but supportive, transitional and affording housing is just not available. So there's no place for these individuals to go.

Peter Biello:
And you're saying part of the problem is COVID-19 in the sense that it's reducing the number of beds that would otherwise be available in Manchester?

Mayor Joyce Craig:
Yes, it's reducing the number of beds throughout the state in our homeless shelters. But in addition to that, individuals who had previously been at the shelter are just not comfortable going, which is why they are living outside right now.

Peter Biello:
In New Hampshire, cities are not allowed to quote [inaudible] I may have lost you for a moment there, Mayor Craig, in New Hampshire, cities are not allowed to to "criminalize" homelessness. What does that mean?

Mayor Joyce Craig:
So we cannot arrest someone for being homeless. And our city solicitor has consistently provided counsel to the city of Manchester that if somebody is homeless and they're living on city property or state property, for that matter, unless we have a bed to move them to, we don't have authority to move them. So, again, that's one of the questions that we've been asking the state is, if you're going in on this Monday, apparently, and moving everyone from that area, where are they going? And there are a few concerns as well. Because of the extensive outreach that the city of Manchester and our nonprofit partners have been doing, again, we know the people. We know the services they've been receiving. And we've had no coordination or communication from the state in terms of where they're moving the people. So all of the work that's been done with these individuals over the last few months could be lost if we don't know where the state is moving them. And then if we go back to sort of the March, April timeframe, the CDC, when COVID hit, had suggested and recommended that encampments not be moved. So to decrease the spread of COVID-19 throughout the community. And now today, as you know, our numbers are higher than ever. And so I'm concerned that if the state doesn't have shelter beds or housing for these individuals, they're just going to move throughout our community, which could in turn really cause a spread of COVID-19, which is the last thing that we want.

Peter Biello:
Listeners we're speaking with Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig about homelessness in the city and what can be [inaudible] And recently, Governor Sununu spoke on the subject. He was speaking yesterday at a press conference in response to questions about whether the state is providing enough resources to New Hampshire cities and towns for support of the homeless populations there. Let's listen to Governor Sununu:

audio clip:
Our teams have been on the ground in Manchester every single day, every single day. For the city of Manchester to say that they're not aware of the state's personal one on one involvement on this issue is absolutely false. Of course, they know that we're there because we're talking to them virtually every single day. So we've provided the funds, we're providing the manpower. We're making sure the resources and all the programs are available. It's important that the cities themselves, whether it be Manchester or Berlin or Colebrook or wherever, whatever it might be, or just local small towns. I live in the town of Newfields. You can have homeless populations anywhere in the state. And it's something that you have to be very aware of, especially as the winter is coming. These cold snaps are coming. So the resources are definitely there. You got to make sure the individuals are connected to the opportunities in their provider communities. And again, I think we've done, the state has gone over and above. I can tell you that our teams have spent more time in the city of Manchester on this issue over the past 18 months than at any other time in the state's history, far and away more time.

Peter Biello:
That's Governor Chris Sununu speaking at a press conference yesterday. Mayor Joyce Craig Sununu says a few things there and I'd like to get your take on those. He said that the state has been in touch with folks living in Manchester. Wasn't entirely clear who he was referring to there. So is he referring to those living on state property in tents or is he speaking with city officials about about the issue of homelessness?

Mayor Joyce Craig:
You know, I can't I don't know what the governor was referring to, but I can tell you factually that our police chief, our fire chief, our director of health, the nonprofits in our community, are doing the outreach on a daily basis and they are not aware of any state teams coming in and outreaching to individuals who are homeless in the city of Manchester. Sure, we have had a handful of meetings with the state. We've had a handful of calls with the state so they can check the box and say, yes, we've communicated with Manchester. But at the end of the day, there's been no action on the state from requests that we've made. In fact, we consistently get nos. So I really don't know what the governor is referring to.

Peter Biello:
Can you tell me a little bit about what the state has said no to specifically, what have you asked of the state and what have they said no to?

Mayor Joyce Craig:
Sure, back in July we could see what was happening. And so we asked the state to utilize the armory for winter months because we had so many individuals living unsheltered and they said no. We went back to them just this week in writing again, they said no. So the city is in a place where we have to come up with emergency shelter plans for extremely cold nights for over 100 people who are not sheltered and and most of who are not from the city of Manchester.

Mayor Joyce Craig:
Ok, so we've asked to utilize the armory a couple of times, both back in July and just this week, and we've received an answer of no. We requested funding for extension of the outreach team and the state said no. We have consistently asked for an update of the statewide homeless plan, and we've received no response. And it was before, we've had conversations with the commissioner of DHHS, before we sent the letter from all of the mayors to the governor. And we've had no action on that.

Mayor Joyce Craig:
We have made the point that we do not have enough shelter beds throughout the state. And then again, from a housing perspective, a supportive housing perspective, and we've seen no action. So, again, we've had conversations. But at the end of the day, we are not seeing the support from the state that you would hope our communities would see.

Peter Biello:
Ok, so it seems like when the governor says the resources are there for solving the problem, that might not necessarily ring true within Manchester, the resources he may be referring to may be scattered throughout the state, but they're not they're not enough in Manchester.

Mayor Joyce Craig:
Well, I don't think there are enough throughout the state. And that's why all of the mayors wrote the letter. So, from a transparency perspective, as a mayor of the city of Manchester, I do not know how much money they are putting into the city to address homelessness because it doesn't come through the local government. It goes straight to the non-profits. And so right now, it's very unclear for the mayors to understand what the metrics of success are, what the metrics for accountability are, and then how are they tracking progress to ensure that we are receiving positive outcomes. Because I can tell you the status quo right now is not acceptable. We have more individuals living unsheltered throughout our state than ever before. So this conversation right now that that's going on, I feel between the state andlocal communities is not productive.We want to work together to address this.

Peter Biello:
Let's hear a little more from the state on this, Governor Sununu wasn't the only person who spoke on homelessness yesterday at that press conference, Department of Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibonette also weighed in.

audio clip:
We have an outreach team that has been working with every individual specifically for those that are on the courthouse lawn and then even for those that are in the other encampments and we've met with the city of Manchester several times since the pandemic started to talk about homelessness and when when they first set up encampments down on Canal Street, we put services in place, including porta potties and cleaning services and things like that. Since that time, we've had outreach teams going into the encampments pretty much every day. And right now we've ramped up those services trying to place the people at the courthouse encampment into housing across the state. Now, there's a couple of very important parts there is that we offer those services and we offer those that housing. It does not mean that every client is going to accept those offers. And I and I think that is that is the difference that we do have teams going in and trying to reach these people, but not all of them are open or receptive to receiving those services right now.

Peter Biello:
Mayor Joyce Craig on Shibonette's claims, is it true, to what extent is it a problem that you're offering assistance to people and they're refusing it?

Mayor Joyce Craig:
Well, that's absolutely a fact. That's why these outreach efforts take an awful long time. Sometimes it takes up to one to two years to work with someone to get them the help that they need. You have to form a relationship.

Mayor Joyce Craig:
There are individuals living unsheltered who have severe mental health issues and substance misuse issues. And we need to continue to work with them and to Commissioner Shibonette's point, you know, I would really love to know, as would the team here in the city of Manchester who their outreach team is, so we can connect with them. So, again, we can make sure that our teams provide each other with the relevant information about the individuals who are living outside. And I think it's important also to note that, you know, the state is coming in here right now and commenting a lot because we have a number of individuals who are living unsheltered on state-owned property. But this issue spans across the entire state and across the city of Manchester. And I really hope that the focus that they have on their state property will expand to those who are living unsheltered throughout the state because, again, this is a statewide issue. And it's a little off-putting to me that that they're just focusing on their state property and moving people off of that property and not addressing the underlying issues of how are people becoming homeless and then how do we help individuals who are homeless to get them into shelter?

Peter Biello:
And let me ask you about the question of models of treating homelessness. I believe you mentioned the Housing First model just a short time ago. Is that the model you would like to see implemented in the state or is there another model? And how might it be implemented? What would you need to make it happen in Manchester?

Mayor Joyce Craig:
So Housing First is a model that we do use in the city of Manchester right now. And that, as mayors, we agreed, would be a fantastic model to move forward with in a very small scale, so we need to expand that. So we have to find a building and renovate the building and then pay for services, because basically what it is, is it's providing a shelter for an individual and then providing them with the wraparound services that they need in order to get back onto their feet and become a contributing member of society. And that's exactly what we want to do.

Peter Biello:
And housing first, to be clear, that's that's not waiting for someone to deal with a substance abuse issue. First, is that the essence of Housing First policy?

Mayor Joyce Craig:
So so what we've done in the past is when there's someone that fit new horizons in our shelter who is at a point where they're able to move out of the shelter, they would go into a housing first. It's an apartment, a very small apartment potentially. They don't have to pay for rent for up to a year and again, get the services they need, whether it's dealing with mental health or substance misuse so that they can get better. But we know factually that one of the biggest barriers here is when someone is in an unsheltered environment, it's just not a healthy situation. So we've got to get them into a place where they're able to to live and be healthy. And as Chief Goonan has consistently said, right now, this is this a humanitarian crisis across the state.

Peter Biello:
I want to switch gears before we let you go, Mayor Craig, and talk about the subject of COVID-19. It's hard not to talk about this because it is getting worse. The number of positive test results in New Hampshire grows higher nearly every day. So. So what are you seeing in Manchester and what steps are you taking to protect residents of the city as the crisis gets worse?

Mayor Joyce Craig:
We are consistently reminding our residents and visitors to wear masks, to social distance, to stay home if they don't feel well, wash their hands and not gather in large groups. We did try to pass mask mandate in the city, but it was not approved by the board of mayor and alderman. So it's that constant communication to our community. And, you know, I have a daughter in Manchester Public Schools who has been learning remotely. Both she and I want her to be back in school, as do many parents here in the city. But the only way we're going to be able to do that is if we really practice these commonsense precautions so that we mitigate the spread of COVID-19 in Manchester.

Peter Biello:
Rural communities used to have the slowest rate of transmission, but that's changing. We hear now that Coos County in northern New Hampshire has a rapid rate of transmission. So let me ask you, what advice would you have for for smaller cities in New Hampshire and rural communities dealing with the virus?

Mayor Joyce Craig:
I mean, I think it's no matter where you are, we all just have to have the common sense of making sure that we are protecting ourselves and protecting others around us. And again, wearing the mask and social distancing. The mask to me is the most important part. Data has shown that that's the best way that we can prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Peter Biello:
Manchester Mayor Joyce Craig, thank you very much for being on the program today. Really appreciate it.

Mayor Joyce Craig:
Thank you. Have a great day.

Peter Biello:
And we also want to update you on some news this morning. Rogers Johnson, president of the Seacoast NAACP, has died. The former state legislator served on the state's Advisory Council on Civil Rights and recently as chair of the Governor's Advisory Council on Diversity and Inclusion. In a tweet, Governor Chris Sununu says of Johnson, he was always laser-focused on making New Hampshire a more diverse and equitable state. And thanks to his tireless leadership and advocacy over these last few years, New Hampshire has made tremendous strides. NHPR will have more about the life of Rogers Johnson on the programs later today. Take a quick break.And when we come back, we'll head north to speak to Berlin Mayor Paul Grenier about his north country city, how it's handling COVID-19. I'm Peter Biello. This is the Roundup and we'll be right back.

Peter Biello:
Monday on The Exchange, an update on the opioid crisis. NHPR, I'm Peter Biello, thank you so much for tuning in. Most of the cases of COVID-19 that have been diagnosed are where most of the people are in New Hampshire's southern tier. But the virus is in New Hampshire's north country and it is spreading rapidly. So for more on this, we turn to Mayor Paul Grenier of Berlin. Mayor Grenier, thank you very much for being on the program with us today.

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Thank you, Peter, for having me. It's always a pleasure to be on NPR.

Peter Biello:
We're very glad to have you. Sorry about the circumstances, though, because this is not great news. Coos County is now seeing the highest rate of community transmission in the state with more than 400 new cases per 100000 residents. You had a city council meeting on Monday to consider a mask mandate. Can you tell us a little bit about what happened?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Well, actually it was a public hearing to take public input on requiring mask, facial coverings, for indoor congregation. And, you know, the folks who supported it and the folks who were opposed to it were equal in their passion on this issue. So I think we're going to tweak it a little bit. We're going to make it not quite as onerous, and we're going to give ourselves a little flexibility on the amount of time necessary on the ordinance so that we can tamp down the outbreak that we have in the community.

Peter Biello:
Can you talk a little bit about how a mask mandate might be tweaked?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Well, I think what we initially proposed was for children ten or over, which excludes a lot of younger kids that are in school, because right now the Berlin school system is in full remote. And as Mayor Craig said, full remote is not ideal. We need to get kids back in schools. And we're giving ourselves a little flexibility. At first the ordinance had a 90 day termination date, because it was a temporary ordinance, and now we're going to propose bringing it to 60 days with a 30 day exit clause in it. So if the community bands together and really works toward snuffing out the outbreak, we could we could theoretically get this mask ordinance off the books by before Christmas.

Peter Biello:
Before Christmas. OK, what are residents saying about the mask mandate? You said they were equally passionate arguments on both sides. Could you tell us a little bit about what people were saying specifically?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Well, I think a lot of the business community in Berlin are afraid to ask folks to mask up when you walk into their businesses. You know, we have some restaurants, we have some stores, grocery stores, and the vast majority of the community is complying with common sense mask wearing. But you have a small element in the community who just will not comply or work with the rest of the community to to mask up to try to control the virus.

Peter Biello:
And what is your message to those people?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Well, you know, a lot of those people have moved to Berlin within the last eight to 10 years, they they were born and raised in Berlin. So we have a little bit of a split and a lot of people. And I'm just asking those types of folks, look, we don't want to be Big Brother. All we want to do is to get this virus in the control so that we can get back to normal a lot quicker. We have a lot of youth activities in the wintertime that are right now are not taking place. I've had one restaurant permanently closed. I have two others that are hanging on by a thread. As you know, hockey in Berlin is a big deal. Youth hockey has not skated since the governor closed ranks for two weeks. And there's some questions as to whether youth hockey will even finish the season. And if that happens, it'll put the rink in dire straits financially. So this is huge financial implications in a community that's already on knife's edge. If this virus stays at the level that it was early part of the week.

Peter Biello:
And Mayor Grenier, are there any COVID-19 related concerns when it comes to the prison in Berlin?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Well, the federal prison is where the initial outbreak came. We had eight inmates from the minimum custody wing of the federal prison test positive, and then a number of employees tested positive. So that's where the initial set of elevated figures came from. But to the credit of of the staff of the Federal Bureau of Prisons, they they were quick in isolating, contact tracing, and doing all the necessary things to to eliminate the problem from the federal prison. But unfortunately, we had some community transmission and it's the community transmission now that we're dealing with. But I'm not going to knock on wood this morning. Our figures have come down significantly. And I'm hoping that all of the work that's been done with contact tracing and doing all the necessary things that we hope to get a handle on it. But this is constant vigilance. And I think that's where the north country was probably a little lapse, you know, because it was a big city problem. It was a southern New Hampshire problem. And, yes, one or two people could get it. But, you know, it wasn't taken as seriously as it probably should have. And I'm just as guilty of it until it got here. And then, you know, it's wreaking havoc on our way of life here.

Peter Biello:
Can I ask you to dig in on you being somewhat guilty about that as well? I mean, what was your approach initially?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Well, I didn't wear a mask constantly. I would go into a marketplace in town and I wasn't masked up. I really wasn't as diligent as I should have been and, quietly pleading with the community to, you know, let's band together until they got to this point, you know, Berlin's demographics are are such that we have we have a sizable elderly population and an outbreak of a really a big magnitude could really alter the lives of a lot of families here in town. My job as mayor and CEO of the community is to do what's necessary to help protect lives.

Peter Biello:
Do you think a statewide mandate coming from Concord would would help bring not just Berlind but other north country towns in line with with the best practices for safety?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
That is so long overdue. It's shameful that it hasn't happened already, because now what we have is, we have citizens being pitted against citizens and a problem that's not only growing, but it's near the acute. And yet, we've got these feel good news conferences about, you know, doing this and doing that. Really, there should be some, there should be leadership from the state that, you know, right now, every county is a substantial transmission. What does that tell you? It tells you we've got a problem and you deal with the problem the best way you can with the available tools you have.

Peter Biello:
Residents of the north country, we'd love to hear from you, would you support a mask mandate for public places? And if so, where do you think that mask mandate should come? Should it come from the state? [Inaudible] specifically, what message do you think would work well for the north country specifically, give us a call. Paul Grenier, what do you think is the effect of contact tracing in the north country? Is there an effective method for contact tracing going on in Berlin?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
There is, and that is what is making the difference between a wholesale spread and bringing this thing under control. It's been incredible. It's been an incredibly valiant effort here in Berlin. I can't speak to the entire county. I can speak to the efforts here in Berlin. And they have done a superb job.

Peter Biello:
And is it limited to just restaurants or are there other organizations taking part in as well?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Well, mostly it's coming from the restaurants, it's coming from downtown retail establishments. I'm going to say in the last two weeks, the community is somewhat banded together and we're we're doing everything we can to, you know, to control it and I think a temporary ordinance for face coverings required, I think gets us to a place where we need to be so that we can get kids back in school and we can resume our lives to the extent that we can while the virus is active.

Peter Biello:
Oh, pardon me, we've got this email from Amy in Dover who wanted to weigh in on the state's handling of COVID-19. Amy writes, Why now that cases are quadruple what they were when New Hampshire shut down in March, have no emergency measures been taken? She continues, it feels like Governor Sununu is abdicating responsibility now that he's won reelection, canceling contact tracing, etc.. That's the note from Amy in Dover. Mayor Grenier of Berlin, let me ask you about the status of Androscoggin Valley Hospital. Was it a surge facility earlier this year or is it still capable of handling a surge?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Androscoggin Valley Hospital is very capable of handling a surge, we have not to this point, even I think we've gotten maybe one or two hospitalizations from COVID, but they were also prepared. We had contingency plans of expanding beyond the licensed bed capabilities of Androscoggin Valley Hospital. I am thoroughly impressed by the medical professionals that we have here in the Androscoggin Valley. And those people really know how to roll up their sleeves to plan for the worst. And because they plan for the worst, where we're in a situation that with a little bit of work and a little bit of cooperation, we can get through this.

Peter Biello:
And do you have an upcoming city council meeting, and if so, what do you expect the town to discuss and decide on?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Well, we will have a council meeting on Monday night, and the council is a nine member council. And, you know, without speaking for the others, I think that there is enough support for a tailored face coverings temporary ordinance. To give us a little flexibility that, you know, I'm hopeful that it passes so that we can get through this situation that we're dealing with.

Peter Biello:
Let me ask you a little bit about the homelessness problem in Berlin. We were speaking earlier with Mayor Joyce Craig about the extent to which it's a problem in New Hampshire's largest city. But what about in your city? Is that a is that a huge problem there in Berlin?

Mayor Paul Grenier:
It is not a huge problem in Berlin. We've had some folks that that ended up being homeless, but they they've been referred to our area nonprofits, the Catholic Charities, Tri-County Community Action Program. And to this point, those folks have been able to find shelter. So we don't have encampments within the community that Manchester and other locations are dealing with.

Mayor Paul Grenier:
But, you know, it's it's a city problem. It's not a rural problem. It's a city problem. We need to deal with it. And so when I was asked to sign on to this communication, this letter to the governor from the other cities, I did, because that could very well be Berlin.

Peter Biello:
Let's go to the phones. I should note to listeners as well that I sound very different right now because I am on my phone. We had some technical difficulties with the connection between my studio here at home, working from home today and the station in Concord. But I do want to talk to our listeners and we put out a call earlier for listeners from the north country, and we heard from Steve in Berlin. Steve, thank you very much for calling. What's on your mind?

Caller:
Thank you. First, I'd like to thank Mayor Grenier for his efforts to curb this problem. Secondly, I would like to say that I do believe a state mandate on mask wearing would be helpful. However, I think the bottom line is it really boils down to the individual person as to whether or not he cares about others and also cares about himself because it's been proven that mask wearing now also may help prevent you from getting the virus. A lot of elderly people in Berlin, my mom is one of them. She's 94. I just ordered a mask, actually, with a lanyard attached to it, because I know that I will be carrying one with me more often and wearing it, especially in front of her. But I do wear a mask whenever I'm out in public. I wore one in North Conway. yesterday walking along the sidewalk. And I did have an interesting thing happen, I went to one business, I won't name it, but they had a sign outside that said. Please wait here for entry, so the owner of the business, it was very small business, came to the door and she was able to see whether or not I had a mask on and was able to either keep the door locked or let me in. And when I went in a sprayed my hands with hand sanitizer, I thought that was an effective way of doing things, though it's not possible for all business.

Peter Biello:
Well, Steve, thank you very much for the comment, and we got this note by email from Bruce in Webster who says, I am totally with the Berlin mayor. A statewide mask mandate is way, way overdue. We need to do whatever we can to protect all of the people in the state. And I am very disappointed that the governor is not mandating masks. He says we can have 1000 cases a day within a month. Then what is he waiting for? Is he waiting for New Hampshire to turn into Wisconsin before taking action? The time is now. Let's protect our people and let's protect our first responders and all of our hospital workers. We need to do what we can to make it safe, make it to safe vaccines in the spring. Thank you very much. Well, thank you, Bruce. Really appreciate it. And [crosstalk] gentleman in Berlin calling and saying he's concerned about the elderly folks in Berlin, as Mr. Mayor, you said that you were.

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Yes, I'd like to add in a little bit. Let's not be too, too hard on the governor because, you know, he's he's facing the competing voices on this issue that myself and the rest of the city council has faced last Monday night in a public hearing. We had 24 people speak in favor of it, 19 spoke in opposition to it, so there's not broad support within the state to have it. So when when you institute something like that for the purposes of protecting broad swathes of the public, you're going to have folks that are opposed to it. And you have to be careful. You know, we're not looking at punishing anybody, we want to put enough teeth in it so that people will open their eyes and comply. We're just begging people to comply so that we can get to the other side of it. I hate wearing a mask. I'm an avid motorcyclist. I was always opposed to mandatory helmet laws. So I have that libertarian streak in me as well. But this is different because motorcycle helmets are designed only protect the person who's underneath it. But masks protect people all around you. And this is a pandemic and this isn't going to go away. This vaccine is not going to be a magic bullet. We're going to be dealing with this well into the third quarter of 2021. And I'm asking the community, come on, folks, let's get with it. Let's get it done. Let's help each other so that we can go back to being who we are as a community.

Peter Biello:
Paul Grenier, mayor of Berlin, thank you very much for speaking with me. Really appreciate your time.

Mayor Paul Grenier:
Thank you very much.

Peter Biello:
We're going to take a quick break, but when we come back, have you been to the Mt. Washington Observatory and if so, did you meet Marty the cat? Tell us about it. We're going to reminisce about Marty the cat in just a few minutes. This is the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange on NPR. I'm Peter Biello and we will be right back.

Peter Biello:
This is the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange on NHPR, I'm Peter Biello. The state of New Hampshire wants the Air Force to fund drinking water systems for homes near the former Pease Air Base. NHPR's Annie Ropeik is with us. Annie, thank you very much for being on the program today. So, Annie, can you give us the background on this cleanup, what's it from.

Annie Ropeik:
Yeah, so Pease, the Pease International Trade Port used to be an Air Force base, it still houses the New Hampshire Air National Guard and people may not realize it's actually a Superfund site as well, a federal toxic waste cleanup site. So the Air Force has been, as the sort of responsible party for the contamination there, has been working on cleaning up all kinds of chemical contaminants from decades of military activity. That includes things like jet fuel that seeped into the ground, but also, we're increasingly learning, about the presence of PFAS chemicals there. So these are these industrial chemicals that were used in things like Teflon for a long time, also in firefighting foam, which makes them common at hundreds of military sites all around the country. And this is the source of the drinking water issue that happened around Pease back in 2014. The state found high levels of PFAS in Portsmouth's drinking water because of contamination at Pease, which listeners may remember, led to a great deal of contamination, including the day care, some offices at Pease. And so we're still kind of in the fallout from that. The Air Force has been working on adding PFAS to its cleanup activities there, but PFAS are not federally regulated, and so that leads to some complications in kind of how the cleanup plays out.

Peter Biello:
Yeah. OK, so what is the ongoing dispute right now?

Annie Ropeik:
Right. So the state of New Hampshire has recently finally put into effect its new standards for PFAS in drinking water, groundwater. And these are limits on how much of these chemicals can be present in various water sources. And if they're higher than those levels, which are pretty strict relative to the other few states that have these and certainly to the federal guidelines, then either they need to be cleaned up or the public water system needs to remediate them, that kind of thing. So in this case, there's PFAS in the groundwater that's subject to the state's groundwater standards. But the Air Force says it doesn't have to follow those standards. The Air Force is following the federal guideline for PFAS, which is much more lenient than New Hampshire's standards. This is sort of a common issue with military clean-up sites. They often get these carve-outs from which kind of laws they have to follow. They're treated a little bit differently than a private company might be, for example. And so the state and the Air Force have been going back and forth on whether the Air Force is going to have to remediate the Pease area to the state standards. And this has now led to a dispute over PFAS in just a few private wells in Newington that are affected by the contamination at Pease where the PFAS in those wells is higher than the state standard, but lower than the federal guideline and so the state and the Air Force are fighting about whether the Air Force needs to do anything extra about that. And then also, the sort of new development here, is who should pay for any help that goes to those households?

Peter Biello:
The argument is that the state wants the Air Force to pay and that there is some resistance, right?

Annie Ropeik:
Yes, that's right. So the state just this fall started supplying bottled drinking water to these three houses and using a state contractor to figure out if we could get these families under public water or install, you know, pretty pricey filters in their houses to prevent more PFAS from getting into their water. And we should say that PFAS has been linked to all kinds of health problems, including liver and kidney disease, high cholesterol, kinds of immune reproductive developmental suppression and potentially some cancers. So it's just three houses that actually have the excessive levels of PFAS. But this is a serious toxin and the state has started doing this using its hazardous waste funds. But they put the Air Force on notice this month that they expect them to pay the state back for that work. And I reached out to the Air Force for comment on this, did not hear back. I think the sort of legal footing here is a little bit questionable, like the Air Force doesn't probably want to take any real action here because that could set a precedent for the same kinds of situations that they're in all over the country. But since PFAS isn't subject to federal regulation, these are also private wells which are unregulated. And the only reason the state is worried about them is because the state standards apply to groundwater, which is what feeds these wells. But there's all kinds of sort of legal challenges here that could make it hard for the state to actually file a lawsuit. That being said, that's always an option. And any sort of next step that's taken in this dispute could certainly set a precedent for these kind of similar situations all over the country,

Peter Biello:
A precedent, so a precedent, if it's actually created here, would be the essence of broader implications of what's happening right now?

Annie Ropeik:
Yes, that would be one thing. One broader implication is that this is just one example of where the military is held to a different standard in hazardous waste cleanups, and when it comes to these so-called emerging contaminants like PFAS, these new unregulated or patchily regulated chemicals, anything that ever happens with them sets a precedent because they're so sort of new to the legal space. And the other thing is that this is a first example of the state enforcing its new PFAS standards, which we're also seeing them do at the Saint Gobain clean up site in Merrimack. You know, listeners may know that's been ongoing for a number of years, but these new standards allow the state to sort of take a higher level of action there because, you know, they now have sort of stricter laws in place for how much contamination is allowed to stay in the environment. And we could see more of these emerge around other PFAS contamination sites and certainly for public water systems in the coming months as they begin to have to test and treat for this stuff. So this is sort of the beginning of a new era of PFAS enforcement in the state. And it'll be interesting to see other places where this pops up, you know, going forward.

Peter Biello:
This is the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup on The Exchange on NHPR. I'm Peter Biello. Annie, stay with us. We do want to chat with you about one more thing. I want to just bring listeners up to speed while I have a moment on one of the stories that an NHPR is following that might be of interest to many Granite Staters, and that's that state officials say anyone who waited in line at a polling place on Election Day last week should monitor for symptoms of COVID-19. At a press conference yesterday, Health and Human Services Commissioner Lori Shibonette said the state learned in the last several days of potential exposures involving four different polling places in Amherst, Belmont, Pembroke and Newfields. So listeners please be advised, if you were waiting in a polling line, you may have been exposed, especially in those places. So stay tuned to how you feel and monitor for COVID-19 symptoms. Let's switch gears to another story that NHPR has been following this week and speak with Dan Szczesny. He's with us now. He's the author of The White Mountain: Rediscovering Mount Washington's Hidden Culture, A Year Long Study of New England's Highest Peak." And it's a sad reason we're here to talk about the life of Marty, the Mt. Washington Observatory mascot cat, who passed away. Dan, thank you very much for joining us. And sorry about the sad occasion.

Dan Szczesny:
Oh, thanks for having me, Peter. But, you know, it's a celebration of a life well lived.

Peter Biello:
Well, let's talk about that life. First of all, let's start with you and in what context you knew this beloved cat and your fondest memory of Marty?

Dan Szczesny:
Yeah, well, I'd seen him, you know, off and on over the years like anybody else, you know, whenever I hiked up or rode up the mountain. But I knew him best a couple of years ago when I was writing the book The White Mountain. I spent a week up at the observatory in the winter and I was actually able to finally hang out with him. And, you know, his charm, the charm of Marty was sort of that he was a pretty mysterious creature. You know, he kind of wandered in and out of life up there, unlike his predecessor, Nin, Marty could be, you know, sort of standoffish in one moment and then cuddly and sit on your lap and other times. And sometimes he'd just disappear and you wouldn't see him for days and he kind of lived up there on his terms, which sort of was what made him interesting, you know, and I mean, my fondest memory when I was I was up there for a week. Right. And my fondest memory was that was maybe three days. I've been up there before I even saw him, you know, and he'd just sort of wandered into the living quarters and suddenly, like, he was just there, you know, like the king had arrived, you know, I felt priviledged that he finally decided to come and say hi to me. So he was a real character.

Peter Biello:
Well, we do want to take listener comments, if we can, on Marty. And let's talk to Dave in Concord. Dave, thank you very much for calling. Do you have a specific memory of Marty?

Caller:
Well, I have a memory of Marty, the weatherman, and I was wondering, is the cat named after Marty, the weatherman from Channel eight? Do you know?

Peter Biello:
I don't know, let's put it to Dan Szczesny, do you know of Marty, the weatherman?

Dan Szczesny:
Yeah, he's talking Dave's talking about Marty Engstrom, the famous the famous Maine weatherman who did his broadcasts up there for maybe, I don't know, 40 years or so. And not a an event of mine goes by where I'm asked whether or not Marty was actually named after Marty Engstrom. And, you know, for for the sake of remembering Marty today, I'm going to say yes. Yes, he was named after Marty Engstrom.

Peter Biello:
What age was Marty the cat?

Dan Szczesny:
He was 13 or 14. They're not sure he was either one or two years old when he first got the job up there in 2008. So he lived up there for about 12 years. But he came to the observatory when he was one one and a half. So he wss probably 13 or 14 when he when he passed away.

Peter Biello:
And Marty, the cat was a Maine Coon cat, correct?

Dan Szczesny:
Yes, he was a Maine coon cat. He came from the Conway Area Humane Society. I think that's the name of the place.And the history of his getting the job is interesting and funny. He won it in an election, that position. The observatory held an election between Marty and two other cats and Wilson and Sarah. And in typical New Hampshire fashion, the election was held on the same day as the 2008 New Hampshire presidential primary. And folks from all over the state got to vote those videos. And they all had, you know, mouse killing platforms and all sorts of things like that. And they got to vote. 8000 votes were cast. 8000 residents.

Peter Biello:
8000 people voted for a cat?

Dan Szczesny:
8000 thousand people voted. And for the book. For the book. What I did was which I thought would be funny, is I wanted to see, Marty got so many votes, he won it pretty handily that, as it turns out, he actually got more votes than several of the human presidential candidates in that election. So Marty was a popular cat right from right from the very start. He was a popular cat.

Peter Biello:
So here's a question for you, if you are allergic to cats, like, how do you manage working at the observatory? I don't know if that was a problem you personally faced when you were up there for your week, but what happens to people up there who have really bad cat allergies?

Dan Szczesny:
It's a good question. I think what I'm a little allergic myself to cats with Marty. It really wasn't a problem because Marty wasn't Marty, he wasn't the type of cat to come in and sleep on your face in the middle of the night. He was he just wasn't that kind of creature. So I didn't have any issues with him because, you know, sometimes he cuddled, sometimes he didn't. And, you know, there's a lot of space up there. Now, somebody before him, like Nin before him, was a real cuddler. So I don't I don't know how people with with allergies dealt with that, but I didn't have any issue with them. But I mean, you know, back in the day, in the 30s, in the 40s, there was six, eight, 10 cats living up there. There wasn't just one. So I would imagine back then it would have been a little bit harder.

Annie Ropeik:
May I ask a question about Marty? This is my favorite story that I did this week with. Just quickly, what was it like to see him walking around on the summit? I hear he used to like to walk around on the summit cone, and there's all these great pictures of him staring at it, you know, into the Great Gulf Wilderness and all of that. What was he like as an outdoor cat, as you remember?

Dan Szczesny:
Yeah, he well, the interesting thing about the way that basically, you know, the observatory treats mascots, has traditionally treated mascots just as part of the crew, you know, not as a pet. They're part of the crew. And they let them come and go. They've let the come and the mascots come and go as they please. And as you as you might expect over the years, this has has led to the, how would I delicately put this, untimely demise of some of those mascots, but not Marty. Marty was pretty smart about the cold and the ice. He didn't venture out in the cold very much, but he did love posing for pictures, you know, like on the Mt. Washington summit sign or, you know, the wind blowing through his hair, looking over the Great Gulf. You're right. He kind of was a ham in front of the camera when it came to that.

Peter Biello:
Well, Dan Szczesny, thank you very much for sharing your memories of Marty the cat. We really appreciate it. And thanks Annie for hanging on to share your memory of Marty the cat as well. Really appreciate it, NHPR's Annie Ropeik. This has been the Weekly New Hampshire News Roundup an exchange on NHP. Today's show is produced by Jessica Hunt, I'm Peter Biello. Thank you very much for listening and have a great weekend.