2007 Year in Review

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Politics, Storms, Sex, Fires, Crime...

Hampton Union, Wednesday, January 2, 2008

[The following article is courtesy of the Hampton Union and Seacoast Online.]
[Editor's note: The top 10 stories in the Hampton area for 2007 as chosen by the Hampton Union's reporters and editors:]

1. Politics, as usual, in Hampton

The year in Hampton started out like it has the past three years with town's Budget Committee at odds with the Board of Selectmen.

The Budget Committee again slashed the town's proposed operating budget only to have its work reversed at the town's deliberative session.

Voters responded by rejecting the budget in March for the fourth consecutive year.

Political differences turned personal this year, however, when Budget Committee member Norm Silberdick called Selectmen Bill Lally a "lackey." Silberdick called the former Hampton police officer a lackey, he said, because Lally was the one who made the motion at deliberative session to increase the budget.

Selectmen verbally chastised Silberdick for his remark and voted to only communicate with Budget Committee via written communication. Tension between the two boards eventually died down following an apology by Silberdick.

While the battle between the Budget Committee and selectmen dominated the year, 2007 brought many changes on the political front.

Jane Cypher took over for Arleen Andreozzi as the town clerk and Fred Welch took over for James Barrington as the town's new town manager. The latter moved to Texas and opened a photography studio after saying it was difficult to accomplish much in a town as divided as Hampton.

Selectmen Chairman Ben Moore announced in December he would not run for a second term in 2008. Moore also cited the difficulty of achieving success amid community divisiveness as his reason for running again.

2. Mad Mother Nature

The Patriots Day nor'easter in Aprilpounded the coast causing shoreline erosion and leaving many areas of Hampton Beach under water. Gov. John Lynch declared a state of emergency and deployed members of the National Guard around the Hampton area.

"Hampton, I think, is one of the hardest hit places in the state," Lynch said while touring the damage.

Torrential rains and 30-foot high waves tossed football-sized rocks onto beach streets and damaged properties a year after the 2006 Mother's Day floods. Officials said it was the worst storm to hit the Seacoast since the Blizzard of 1978. Massive waves left some property owners at the mercy of up to five feet of water running through their front doors.

Public works and safety crews worked around the clock for two days to save six oceanfront homes from slipping into the ocean.

There were no serious injuries during the storm but property damage was estimated at more than $20 million.

3. Route 1 development

While the Seabrook Planning Board waited months for Developers Diversified Realty to answer traffic concerns for its planned 15-store strip mall anchored by Target, DDR eventually curbed its plan to a Target only.

Commercial development pressure along Route 1 also shook up North Hampton and Hampton Falls.

In 2006, Hampton Falls officials tried to create a historic district, saying they didn't want their Route 1 downtown to resemble Seabrook or Hampton. Residents voted that down, but in 2007 they did successfully convince a developer to abandon plans for a miniature golf course near the Town Common.

In North Hampton, the Planning Board in December drew fire from commercial property owners following a proposal to limit retail development to not more than 10,000 square feet. The board admitted it would have to further study a size limitation, which came in part from a survey of town residents in which they said they want to slow retail development.

4. Controversy at Winnacunnet High

Last spring, Winnacunnet High School Principal Randy Zito suspended 17 athletes from their teams after a school board member alerted him to pictures posted on the Internet of students drinking alcohol at a house party. The controversial suspensions — which banned some members of the baseball team from playing in the state tournament — raised issues of the school's athletic contract policy, parental and student privacy, the range of a board member's authority, jurisdiction of school officials over off-campus behavior, teenage drinking and the questionable idea of posting illegal actions on the Internet.

Last April, the "sex" edition of the school's Winnachronicle student newspaper raised the ire of some parents. The special edition presented a photo of two women kissing, under the headline, "Why men love women who love women," a true or false quiz featuring a question on anal sex and an interview with an anonymous custodian, who said he found a pink, three-speed vibrator in the girls' shower.

Students involved with the paper defended it as educational while outraged parents called it sensationally superficial and inappropriate for high school. The Winnachronicle is also regularly distributed to the town's middle school.

5. Sick horses sidelined

In May, Hampton police investigated a case of possible animal abuse involving the four horses in the Police Department's Mounted Patrol Unit. The horses, Blaze, Patriot, Buddy and Arrow, were found extremely underweight at their winter quarters at a farm at the Tidewater Campground on Route 1. The mounted patrol unit was sidelined for the summer as an investigation revealed no signs of abuse. All four were nursed back to health. Buddy and Blaze were retired and donated to private owners. Patriot and Arrow were transported to a new farm in North Hampton. The mounted patrol unit is expected to return in 2008 though at less than four horses.

6. Fires rage throughout region

Fires, in the dead of winter, are not unusual. The Hampton Beach Valentine's Day fire in blizzard conditions went above and beyond the unusual. Gusting winds quickly spread flames from one cottage to other unoccupied homes near the Hampton Beach State Park, as fast-falling and drifting snow hampered efforts to walk or drive. Two people were evacuated, but no one was injured, and while at least three homes were lost in the blaze, firefighters managed to keep the flames from destroying the entire block.

Another fire struck Hampton the night of Fourth of July, as thousands of people descended on the beach for fireworks that ended up being cancelled due to rain. The two-alarm blaze damaged the Funarama Arcade. The attached Hampton Beach Casino Ballroom sustained only smoke damage.

In May, a fire destroyed the consignment clothing shop, the Walk-In Closet on Route 1. In September, firefighters were back across the street at Foss Manufacturing extinguishing a blaze that started in an industrial oven and spread to the duct work.

A three-alarm fire in October ravaged the Hampton Falls Common strip mall on Route 1. The fire was caused by mechanical equipment failure in one of the shops. No one was injured, but many of the businesses remained boarded up by the end of the year.

The loss was particularly felt in the words of Tuscan Table owner Tony Ortu, who had opened his new restaurant shortly before the fire. "It's gone. We're gone," he said. "I can't even think straight right now."

7. Crime hits home

Hampton Falls Officer Jeremy Tetreault was justified in using deadly force when he shot at van driver, Derek Soucie, 24, of Massachusetts as he ran a police barricade at a Route 1 parking lot, according to the state Attorney General's office. Soucie has yet to be indicted on charges related to the September pursuit.

Seabrook School employee Holly Spreen, 34, pleaded guilty to charges of reckless conduct and simple assault while having six times the legal alcohol limit when she dragged her toddler aboard a Portsmouth cruise ship in July. Spreen was sentenced to two years in jail, with all but 30 days suspended. She was prohibited from seeing her child, but said in court she expected to return to her teaching job in November. School Superintendent James Gaylord said he could not comment on the matter.

Citizens Bank in Hampton Falls was robbed twice in 2007, in July by a lone male in a yellow slicker and in October, when two men robbed the bank. All fled on foot through nearby woods. The Route 1 bank has been targeted in previous years as well. Bank officials had a fence installed at the rear and sides of the bank to eliminate access to the woods.

High profile prosecutions came to a close this year for Helen Garland and the principles of the Bayview Crematory scandal. Garland, who was accused of beating her 85-year-old sister to death in their Hampton home, was committed to the state psychiatric hospital after a judge deemed her a danger to herself and others.

Derek Wallace, his mother Linda Stokes and his step-father Larry Stokes, all pleaded guilty to tax fraud in connection to the Bayview Crematory in Seabrook. A class action suit against the crematory alleging fraudulent, illegal and improper handling of the deceased entrusted with the business is proceeding.

8. Small change adds up at tolls

Motorists pay more at the Interstate 95 tolls as of October, but it could have been worse.

Executive Councilor Beverly Hollingworth, D-Hampton, effectively stopped a proposed increase from 50 cents to $1 at the Route 101 tolls off I-95, saying it would hit local commuters disproportionately. Instead, the Executive Council approved her amendment for a hike at the ramp from 50 to 75 cents and at the main I-95 tolls from $1 to $1.50. State highway officials initially hoped to leave the main tolls on I-95 at $1. Elected and state officials said the increases would better fund road infrastructure repairs and other projects.

9. Six names added to war memorial

While none were local to the Seacoast, six New Hampshire soldiers who died in 2007 brought the war home as their names were added to the Global War on Terrorism Monument in Hampton. They were Cpl. Nicholas A. Arvantis of Salem; Lance Cpl. Ryan T. McCaughn of Manchester; Cpl. Matthew J. Stanley of Wolfeboro; Spc. Toby R. Olsen of Manchester; Spc. Justin A. Rollins of Newport; and Capt. Jonathan D. Grassbaugh of East Hampstead, who graduated from Phillips Exeter Academy.

"We knew the global War on Terrorism was going to be a long war," Post 35 Cmdr. Ralph Fatello said at the September ceremony.

10. We remember......

We said goodbye to so many this year, including a man who served the town of Hampton for much of his adult life and a 7-year-old boy who was just starting out in life. Former Hampton selectman, acting town manager, Planning Board member, state representative and mentor to many, Tom Gillick, died at age 85 in August.

Jonathan Higgins, 7, who would have entered the second-grade at Seabrook Elementary School this past fall, was killed in car accident in Newington in July. His classmates memorialized him with a quilt they helped make that included his favorite T-shirt. They gave it to Higgins' parents. His classmates also planted a tree in his honor on the school grounds.

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