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Portsmouth Fire Chief Todd Germain says someone set fire to Portsmouth Middle School early Saturday morning.

The call came in around 3:15 a.m.

Sprinklers suppressed the fire until firefighters arrived and extinguished the flames around the main entrance foyer.

Preliminary damage estimates exceed $100,000.

The federal Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco and Firearms is assisting Portsmouth police and fire officials with the investigation.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.

Dan Tuohy/NHPR

Though the building is closed to the public, staff at the Portsmouth Public Library are continuing to collect public documents and newspaper articles to add to their archive – including those on COVID-19.

Now, the library wants to include the personal side of the pandemic in their collection.

They’re asking Seacoast residents to chronicle their pandemic experience through an online community diary.

Weekly N.H. News Roundup: April 10, 2020

Apr 9, 2020

As the federal goverment looks for ways to protect people and businesses from the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, we'll speak with Congressman Chris Pappas about those efforts and what's likely to gain traction in the House. We'll also get an update from state epidimiologist Dr. Ben Chan. And we'll check in with newspaper editors from the Seacoast and the North Country about how the coronavirus is impacting those regions.  

 

 

Air date: 10-11 am, Friday, April 10, 2020

 

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

A new study points to a range of options for easing traffic and improving economic development around the Portsmouth Naval Shipyard.

The land use study was spearheaded by the town of Kittery, Maine. It's designed to help local officials plan improvements and seek federal funding.

Larry Dennis is president of the engineers' union at the shipyard, where nearly 7,000 people work.

Justine Paradis

In fewer than three hundred years, New England moved on from witch trials and executions and became a place where people openly call themselves witches.

But there are many ways to practice modern magic.

This is the second episode of The Real Witches of New Hampshire, a collaboration with New Hampshire Humanities.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Federal researchers are now recruiting for a first-of-its-kind health study on PFAS chemical exposure in drinking water at Pease International Tradeport. 

Officials with the Centers for Disease Control gave an overview of what they're calling "the Pease study" in Portsmouth last night, with at least 150 residents in attendance.

Sara Plourde

Decades before the Salem witch trials, two women were accused of witchcraft in New Hampshire. Jane Walford and Eunice Cole stood trial in the same year, within just a few miles of each other, but their lives ended quite differently. The fates of these women might provide insight into what a historical witch actually was, and why some survived their trials while others did not. 

 

This is first episode of "The Real Witches of New Hampshire," a three-part series and collaboration between New Hampshire Public Radio and New Hampshire Humanities.

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

Portsmouth became the latest U.S. city to ban the use of some disposable plastic containers after the City Council voted Monday night to outlaw Styrofoam city-wide.

Supporters of the new law say they believe it’s the first of its kind in New Hampshire.

The ordinance will take effect at the end of next year. It’ll ban most Portsmouth businesses – except some nonprofits – from distributing single-use Styrofoam.

It’ll also ban the distribution of single-use plastic straws and containers, but only on city property.

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

The New Hampshire Supreme Court has ruled that a short-term rental property owned by a Portsmouth couple cannot operate in a residential zone. 

The couple was renting out the house next door, which they also owned, on platforms like Airbnb, VRBO and Homeaway, and advertising that it could fit up to nine people.

City of Portsmouth

The Seacoast Rail Trail is moving forward with the goal to create a biking and walking trail that would connect eight communities from Portsmouth to Seabrook. The New Hampshire Executive Council approved a proposal for $5 million in federal funds to purchase 9.6 miles of abandoned railroad on Wednesday. 

The Department of Transportation, which is overseeing the plan, already owns the southern section of the corridor. The total trail is expected to be 17 miles.

Jordyn Haime

 The Portsmouth City Council voted Monday night to apply to acquire the downtown McIntyre property, and legally bind the city into a public-private partnership with the developer Redgate/Kane. 

The city is applying to the national parks service to acquire the federal property, through a program called the Historic Property Surplus Program. It would allow the Portsmouth to acquire and redevelop the McIntyre site at no cost to the city.

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

A busy waterfront, the shipyard, Pease, restaurants, those iconic bridges, and a rich-but-fragile environmental landscape are just some of the things that put Portsmouth so boldly on the map.

During live interviews Tuesday, All Things Considered host Peter Biello and guests discussed some of what Portsmouth has going for itself, as well as a few challenges.

The live show was at Portsmouth Book & Bar, with Mayor Jack Blalock the first of five guests. 

Jordyn Haime

Bill Binnie surprised some at a public hearing in Portsmouth Wednesday by proposing a new redevelopment plan for the federal McIntyre building.

Over 100 residents attended the public hearing  discuss the site's future.

Councilors called the hearing in response to a petition from a group called Revisit McIntyre, which is critical of the redevelopment plan. That petition gathered over 600 approved signatures.

Portsmouth McIntyre Project

 

The Portsmouth city council postponed a vote Monday night to propose a plan to the National Parks Service that would hand the federal McIntyre property over to the city. Councilors will take it up at their meeting on Aug. 12.

Sara Ernst / NHPR

Portsmouth held its fourth Pride celebration on Saturday. One goal of this year’s event was to attract and show support for LGBTQ young people. 

At noon, participants gathered in Portsmouth’s Market Square, in rainbow order, for a march. They were led by the Leftist Marching Band and members of Seacoast Outright, a support and advocacy group for LGBTQ+ youth. 

 

15-year-old Gale Paguet stood at the head of the crowd, wrapped in a rainbow flag and holding a banner for Seacoast Outright -- said being bold isn’t always easy. 

Screenshot via City of Portsmouth

Portsmouth's city council voted Monday night to begin considering a local ban on some single-use plastic products. It targets Styrofoam and it also affects city-sponsored events in terms of restricting single-use plastics like straws and plastic bags.

Dan Tuohy / NHPR

Portsmouth will debate the future of a historic waterfront cottage at a meeting Thursday night.

Preservationists want to stop the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests from tearing the building down.

Todd Bookman/NHPR

During her latest swing through the Granite State this weekend, Democratic presidential candidate Elizabeth Warren stumped in Rochester, Bedford and Nashua, and spoke to guests at the Rockingham County Democrats summer clambake.

The senator from Massachusetts also sat down for a brief interview with NHPR inside the Portsmouth Book & Bar, where she touched on topics ranging from student debt to international trade.

(This transcript has been lightly edited for clarity.)

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

The Black Heritage Trail of New Hampshire has a new home in Portsmouth, and plans to expand statewide.

Dozens of people packed into the two-year-old nonprofit's new offices, in a historic downtown house near Strawbery Banke, for a blessing ceremony Wednesday.

Inside, retired Rev. Robert Thompson and other clergy led songs and dedications in front of shelves of books and cultural artifacts about African-American history. 

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Businesses in Portsmouth have mixed reviews for a proposed ban on single-use plastics in the city.

It's the fourth year Portsmouth has been considering introducing such a policy, aimed at reducing plastic pollution and litter. A handful of communities are considering similar bans.

Portsmouth will take public input this summer on a new city-wide land preservation plan, announced Monday.

Portsmouth's master plan for 2025 says the Seacoast city should work to expand public access to open space, and conserve new public lands.

Todd Bookman/NHPR

Democratic presidential candidate Kirsten Gillibrand was in Portsmouth Friday for a roundtable discussion on safe drinking water.

New Hampshire’s Seacoast region recently has been at the forefront of issues surrounding contaminated drinking water, a result of a class of chemicals known as PFAS that were widely used in firefighting foams, as well as other consumer products.

Inside the Portsmouth Library, Gillibrand told the audience that communities in her home state of New York are also dealing with the fallout of PFAS contamination.

Todd Bookman/NHPR

Students from the Seacoast area participated in Friday’s worldwide Youth Climate Strike, a coordinated event demanding immediate action on climate change.

In Portsmouth’s Market Square, a thick crowd of students from local high schools held up signs, passed around a bullhorn, and called for the end of fossil fuels.

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

Last weekend's winter storm caused only moderate flooding on New Hampshire's Seacoast. But it provided a window into how rising seas will make flooding more frequent, bringing challenges to the state's coastal communities.

Courtesy

One of the state’s leading civil rights voices died over the weekend, just days before the holiday he helped enshrine.

Reverend Arthur Hilson, a retired Navy veteran, served as the longtime pastor at New Hope Baptist Church in Portsmouth. 

Courtesy of Naval Sea Systems Command (NAVSEA)

The Portsmouth Naval Shipyard is getting a new commander this year.

Captain Daniel Ettlich is taking over from Captain David Hunt, who has been there since 2016.

Captain Ettlich will oversee more than 6,000 employees at the shipyard, which repairs and maintains navy submarines.

Ettlich is currently serving as the Military Deputy for Shipyard Operations, NAVSEA, in Washington, D.C.

He's also served in Oregon, California, and Iraq.

https://www.facebook.com/BreakingNewGrounds/photos/rpp.155145914550349/1946230498775206/?type=3&theater

The Portsmouth coffeehouse Breaking New Grounds is closing its doors after January 3.

On Friday, owner Matt Govoni announced on Facebook that he and his wife were selling the coffeehouse 25 years after they moved to Portsmouth to start it.

The prime Market Square spot will soon be under the ownership of Salem-based Tuscan Brands, which plans to turn it into an Italian cafe and market.

More than 600 customers - and counting - have responded to Govoni's post, remembering everything from the German Butter Cake to falling in love over coffee.

City of Portsmouth

A former Portsmouth police commissioner is facing felony charges for her role in an August shooting.

Brenna Cavanaugh, who spent four years on the commission before stepping down last year, was indicted by a grand jury for attempted first degree assault and criminal mischief.  

Annie Ropeik / NHPR

A controversial conference in Portsmouth Friday focused on economic solutions to climate change – while questioning some mainstream scientific views. 

The Portsmouth Conference was the first put on by Citizens Count, a nonpartisan voter education nonprofit.

Its founder is prominent New Hampshire businessman Paul Montrone, who sat in on the conference at a hotel in Portsmouth.

Photo: West Midlands Police/cc/flickr

The Portsmouth Police Commission is putting together a group to study whether the city police department should start using body cameras or patrol car cameras.

The group will look at the cameras' costs and how other New England communities use them, either for trainings or in court.

Jim Splaine is a Portsmouth police commissioner, and he proposed this review group last month.  He says, getting body cameras might just be a matter of time.

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