2008: Hope, Dreams, Hardships and Heartaches

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Economic Woes Dominate News

From Staff Reports

Hampton Union, Friday, December 26, 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 2008 as chosen by the Hampton Union's reporters and editors:]

1. Take 2008, please

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

No, it wasn't, it was only the worst of times. By December, the federal government finally made official what most of us already knew: We've been in a recession all year.

People began feeling it at the pumps and in their pre-paid oil and fuel bills this summer as the $4 gallon of gas and $4-plus gallon of home heating fuel crushed consumer savings. Banks failed and retirement funds suddenly vanished. Car dealerships and other businesses soon felt the lack of credit and consumer spending. Businesses passed on the lack of consumer confidence to their employees in the form of pink slips.

By fall, residents of Hampton, North Hampton and Seabrook received the unwelcome news of higher property taxes through new assessments. Despite the downturn in the economy, home values rose for many residents living in Hampton and Seabrook beaches.

North Hampton homeowners also complained of unfair assessments. As the town sent out tax bills, it set aside money in anticipation that some residents might not be able to pay.

Hampton residents grew downright historical, throwing a Revolutionary-style tea party and tossing tea into Hampton Harbor.

2. Tea and taxes

Hampton Beach residents, outraged with a recent revaluation that showed skyrocketing property tax bills, revolted in December by throwing their own "Boston Tea Party."

Residents in a symbolic gesture recreated the infamous tea party over the Hampton Harbor Bridge to put the town on notice they were not happy.

Homeowners were upset by the town revaluation that showed many property values in town went down or stayed the same while beach properties went up; way up in some cases.

"At this rate no one but the very rich will be able to live here, it seems the town has shifted the tax burden onto the beach property owners," said Linda Gebhart, president of the 150-plus member Coalition for a Fair Assessment.

Some residents reported their assessments rose 20 to 40 percent.

"People were not expecting this and were scrambling to come up with the money," Gebhart said. "It's hard when you're on a fixed-income to come up with $4,000 or $10,000."

3. All the president's men

The year 2008, and some of 2007, were the political years of hope and change as a junior U.S. senator from Illinois with less than one term of experience in the Senate shocked the nation and world.

President-elect Barack Obama energized the nation's political base, bringing an excitement to races from the top of the ticket on down, perhaps not seen since John F. Kennedy.

Hampton was a major campaign stop this year, with high-profile candidates stopping by in hopes of picking up an added vote or two during the presidential primary and later for the national election.

Hillary Clinton, John McCain, Mitt Romney, John Edwards and Bill Richardson were just a few of many who made a stop in town leading up to the presidential primary.

The only candidate who didn't come to Hampton was the man who would go on to win the White House in November: Barack Obama. [Editor's note: Obama did come to Hampton, but on July 20, 2007. The only candidate who came to Hampton in calendar year 2008 was Hillary Clinton, on January 6th.] But, it didn't matter, as the nation's hunger for change saw residents of Hampton, Seabrook and North Hampton vote overwhelmingly in favor of Democrats. Hampton Falls was a bit of a political oddity in that its residents kept a pocket of "red" in New Hampshire by largely supporting Republican candidates.

Also, in Hampton, residents sent three Republicans, and two Democrats, to Concord as state representatives.

4. North Hampton politics

It's hard being an elected official. It's often a thankless job and nowhere was it harder this year than in North Hampton.

As Selectman Craig Salomon said the night he was censured by his fellow board members: "As the (Hampton Union) stated, within North Hampton as in any town, there are factions ..."

There was the Boy Scout controversy; the Pledge of Allegiance controversy; Salomon's controversial lawsuit against the Planning Board as he sat on the board; and the quid pro quo of Peter Simmons aiming blame back at Select Board Chairwoman Emily Creighton. And, before all of this, back in March, challenger Michael Coutu unseated incumbent Selectman Don Gould following a heated race about accounting procedures and practices in town.

In all of this, the town's citizens overwhelming voted to change the North Hampton Zoning Board of Adjustment to an elected board from an appointed one following heated debate over the number of variances granted by the ZBA.

5. Target approved

Developers Diversified Realty rode into town proposing to build a Target retail store and a strip mall and had a plan to finance the infrastructure using a Tax Increment Financing plan. The TIF was proposed in March 2007. It took another year for DDR to get its project successfully unstuck. In March, the Seabrook Planning Board granted approval for a Target only to be built at the intersection of Provident Way and Route 1.

DDR has since come back with plans for Phase II, to build the rest of the strip mall. Those plans are expected to come forward in 2009.

6. Three cheers to Smuttynose

The Smuttynose Brewing Company got final approval from the Planning Board back in August to relocate its brewery to Hampton.

The Portsmouth-based company will begin construction of the brewery on a 14-acre property at 105 Towle Farm Road in 2009. The approval process was long for one of the Port City's most beloved local companies. Smuttynose owner Peter Egelston failed in his bid to attain variances to build in Portsmouth, and then unsuccessfully turned to Newmarket.

Those town's losses are now Hampton's gain.

"This is where we were meant to be all along," Egelston said following his plan's approval by the Hampton Planning Board.

In 2006, the company produced 15,000 barrels — the most in its history, upgrading the company from the "micro brewery" category to "regional independent brewery" status. In June 2007, Smuttynose Brewing ranked No. 48 on Ratebeer.com's World's Top 100 Breweries list.

Egelston said this past August that if everything goes according to plan, construction on the site should start in late spring 2009.

7. This is only a test

There was no nuclear meltdown at the power plant in Seabrook but now you know what it may sound like if there is ever one.

FPL Energy Seabrook Station, in conjunction with the state Division of Homeland Security and the Massachusetts Emergency Management Agency, held the first audible demonstration of all 121 sirens within a 10-mile radius of the nuclear power plant n October.

The main purpose of the demonstration was to alert the public as to what the sirens sound like and what to do in a real emergency.

The proper response is to turn on the radio to the emergency alert station, locally at 97.5 FM.

Seabrook Station officials called the test a success but residents from across the Seacoast complained that the sirens were not loud enough and not alarming enough given the severity of a real-life situation in which they would sound.

8. Billy Flynn tries to get out of prison

The Pamela Smart case was once again back in the news when William Flynn requested and was denied an early release from prison.

Flynn, of Seabrook, was 16 in 1990, when he shot Smart's husband Gregory in the couple's condominium. He said he killed Smart at the behest of Pamela Smart, a media coordinator at Winnacunnet High School, where Flynn was a student. Smart, whose story became one of sad lore, had been carrying on a love affair with the teenager.

Despite Flynn's tearful plea for early release and an apology for his actions 18 years earlier, Rockingham Superior Court Judge Kenneth McHugh ruled in February the inmate's time in prison was not enough and, he added, even Flynn "in the deep recesses of his soul would agree."

9. Hampton Beach Renovation Project

A project with the potential to transform the face of Hampton Beach became closer this year to becoming a reality.

The state Department of Resource and Economic Development in September made the $18 million project to redevelop the facilities at the beach its No. 1 priority. Plans include a new Seashell Stage, two pavilions with bathrooms, new bathhouses at both ends of the beach and a new visitors center.

But by December, DRED officials decided to recommend to Gov. Lynch that the project be scaled back to new bathhouses with recreation of Seashell Stage and complex to be done at a later date.

As a result, the Hampton Area Beach Commission started a grassroots campaign to get the entire project approved by the Legislature. Whether part or all of the project becomes a reality will be decided in the new year.

10. Comings and goings in Hampton

The year kicked off with two new faces added to the Hampton Board of Selectmen: Richard Nichols and Richard Bateman.

Long-term Selectman Ginny Bridle was ousted in the March election while Selectman Ben Moore opted against seeking a second term.

Public Works Director John Hangen retired in July after 21 years of service and was replaced with John Price.

Fire Chief Hank Lipe resigned in August, which led to the appointment of Deputy Chief Chris Silver as the new fire chief.

And in October, Hampton District Court Judge Francis Frasier retired after serving 28 years on the bench.

We remember:

We said goodbye to so many this year, including a Hampton Beach icon and a Winnacunnet High School track standout who was just starting out in life.

Norman Louis Grandmaison, former owner of the Ashworth by the Sea at Hampton Beach, died at age 77 in August.

Lara Bunce, 17, a high-school junior, died unexpectedly on June 11. Her classmates honored her by silently walking around the 400-meter track where Bunce often ran. When her teammates competed at New England Track and Field Championships at Thornton Academy on June 14, they wore pink shirts with the inscription "For Lara." Pink was her favorite color.

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