Here are The Telegraph’s choices for our top ten local stories in 2008 - the ones that struck us as the most newsworthy. If you think we missed one, or two, leave a comment below.
It was supposed to be a routine December ice storm.
The next morning, as hundreds of thousands of people across New Hampshire awoke to powerless homes, it was painfully clear that this was no routine - making the ice storm of 2008 The Telegraph’s choice for top story of the year.
More than 400,000 customers across the state lost power to their homes and businesses, some for as long as two weeks. Downed lines and trees littered streets and highways around the region and numerous buildings suffered damage. Local shelters filled up with people who tried to wait until power was restored, but couldn’t stand sleeping in the cold any longer.
One death in New Hampshire was attributed to the storm. The death involved carbon monoxide poisoning, a result of using a gas-powered generator to power a home.
It was the biggest power failure the state had ever seen, and the story hasn’t finished. Some are calling for New Hampshire and Massachusetts to investigate why utilities took so long to fix the damage.
In a global economic crisis, New Hampshire fared better than many places had its share of losses.
Some prominent local businesses were forced to make cuts, ranging from giants like Fidelity Investments, which laid off an estimated 150 people at its Merrimack facility as part of a nationwide cut, to cutting-edge firms like solar-panel company GT Solar of Merrimack, which let go 10 percent of its work force. Even The Telegraph was hit, cutting jobs through buyouts, freezing positions and its first widespread layoffs in recent memory.
Retailers also felt the finch, with branches of national chains such as Tweeter and Linens N’ Things folding, and local notables such as Zyla’s in Merrimack and Ya Mamma’s, an Italian eatery that had operated for 20 years.
Many people were forced out of their homes and into foreclosure this year, which saw more properties foreclosed in Hillsborough County than any time on record. A glimmer of hope emerged late this fall with reports of increased housing sales in the county, prodded by a fall in prices.
Nashua teachers contract
After more than two years without a new contract, teachers in Nashua drew a line in the sand. And they very nearly had to cross it.
Just hours away from a threatened strike, the Nashua Teachers Union and the school board finally came to terms on a tentative contract agreement the night of March 30.
They announced their agreement shortly after 11 p.m., with the strike set to start the next morning. The two sides had spent the last 48 hours hammering out a deal at the Crowne Plaza Hotel.
Teachers in Nashua had been working without a new contract or raises since September 2006.
Aldermen had already rejected three different contracts, and the union had set a strike date of March 31, threatening to walk out unless an agreement was reached.
The eleventh-hour negotiations included a closed-door meeting with school board members, aldermen and Mayor Donnalee Lozeau. A Hillsborough County Superior Court judge would later rule that the meeting was illegally closed to the public.
Lozeau and the aldermen would eventually sign off on the deal, giving teachers a contract through 2011.
Matthew Beaudoin, 29, was killed in the early morning hours of May 2, when police allege that he and a friend were run down after a confrontation in the parking lot of Nashua City Hall.
Ivonne Hernandez, 43, is facing a second-degree murder charge for the incident. She is being held without bail as she awaits trial.
Initial reports indicated that the dispute centered on an argument over the Boston Red Sox and the New York Yankees, and the connection to one of the most famous rivalries in all of sports garnered national coverage.
State prosecutors later said that the rivalry played only a small role in the dispute. Beaudoin’s family recalled Beaudoin as someone with a great sense of humor who was also very kind and giving.
Lull Farm marijuana arrest
A small community was stunned this summer, after David Orde, owner of Lull Farm in Hollis, and his 18-year-old son Andrew were arrested in late July and charged with growing marijuana at their Blood Road home.
Police alleged that they seized 16 marijuana plants from the property, after discovering the illegal substance during an unrelated visit to the farm about a dog license.
Both Orde and his son were facing felony drug manufacturing charges. In September, a Nashua District Court judge threw out the charges against Orde.
Orde and his son were later indicted in September on similar felony charges in Hillsborough County Superior Court.
Orde’s arrest spurred debate about the legalization of marijuana. Many in the community stood behind the man who had helped turn the Hollis farm into a regional institution, putting bumper stickers on their car stating “Eat Your View - We Support Farmer Dave.”
Big changes in beer and telephones
America’s “King of Beers” went Belgian this year as one of the world’s largest brewers acquired Anheuseur-Busch and its 12 nationwide breweries, including the one in Merrimack.
Concerns about job losses and brewery closure swirled locally when in June, InBev announced it was courting Anheuser-Busch shareholders - who owned a majority of the company - with offers of $65 a share.
All the while, InBev promised to keep all 12 breweries open if it took over the American company, preserving an estimated 500 jobs in Merrimack and one of the town’s biggest taxpayers.
Anheuser-Busch leaders rejected InBev’s initial offer, but in July, accepted a sweetened deal of $52 billion.
In November, straggling rumors of a brewery closure were squashed when Anheuser-Busch signed a union contract agreement that will keep all 12 breweries open until at least 2014.
Also this year, the last remnant of the old Ma Bell telephone system ended, as North Carolina-based FairPoint bought all of Verizon’s land lines in New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine. (Verizon Wireless still operates here.)
The $2.4 billion purchase, the biggest change in our telecommunications since the breakup of AT&T a quarter-century ago, will reach a climax this month, when FairPoint completes the takeover of Verizon’s system after almost a year.
Chelsea Property Group
In its quest to develop an outlet mall, Chelsea Property Group set a few records in Merrimack: it got approval to build the biggest retail complex to date in Merrimack, and it is likely the most scrutinized project in town history.
In September, the planning board approved the New Jersey-based developer’s plan to build 135 shops west of Exit 10 on the F.E. Everett Turnpike, putting an end to a four-year battle among board members, company leaders and some residents.
After a controversial zoning-change vote in 2005, a months-long court battle and lengthy permitting process, the planning board took on Chelsea this summer in the final phase of approval.
It plumbed the details of rock blasting, construction, noise, traffic, environmental and financial issues and impact on town services. Some residents - mainly neighbors - remained vigorous in their protests against traffic, noise pollution and crime, while others supported the project for its property taxes, jobs and shopping options.
The planning board’s approval included 19 conditions that Chelsea must meet. Its groundbreaking date has not been scheduled.
Rental property investigation
During a months-long, exhaustive investigation into hundreds of rental property files and interviews with city officials, local landlords and tenants, Telegraph reporter Stephanie Hooper discovered a host of serious problems in the city’s 13,500-unit rental industry.
As a result, The Telegraph published a 10-day series that outlined the biggest issues.
They included: illegal apartments with unchecked construction and wiring; long-term staff shortages at the city code department, which resulted in limited enforcement and record keeping of enforcement actions; bedbugs - a health threat for tenants and an expensive problem for property owners; and landlords, many of whom are struggling to maintain properties with rising evictions and vacancies.
Hooper’s work earned several investigative reporting awards.
Convicted child killer Raymond Guay met a firestorm of resistance when, after serving a full prison sentence, he returned to New Hampshire this fall.
Guay, who was born and raised in Nashua and Merrimack, was convicted of murdering 12-year-old John Lindovski in Hollis in 1973. In 1982, he escaped from state prison and robbed and kidnapped an elderly Concord couple. Later, in a California prison, he assaulted a fellow inmate.
After finishing his time, Guay wound up back in New Hampshire after California officials decided he did not have enough connections there to live at a halfway house.
Guay planned to move in with his brother in the small town of Washington, but then a Manchester church group found a landlord willing to take Guay as a tenant. When reporters from various news organizations eventually tracked him down and requested interviews, his presence was made public.
In the meantime, the family of the slain boy and a slew of public officials - including Gov. John Lynch, Attorney General Kelly Ayotte and Manchester Mayor Frank Guinta - called for his removal from New Hampshire.
In September, probation officers moved Guay to an undisclosed location out of state, where he will remain under federal supervision for three years.
Pennichuck Water Works
State regulators ruled in July that the city of Nashua could take over Pennichuck Water Works by eminent domain for $203 million.
The Public Utilities Commission’s decision came after officials from Pennichuck argued that a takeover would not be in the best interest of the public. A series of hearings were held before the PUC in 2007.
The decision marked the culmination of six years of battling between the city and the private, for-profit water company. Pennichuck had questioned the city’s ability to operate the water utility smoothly.
As the year ends, the city continues to discuss the possible acquisition of the water works. In addition to the $203 million for Pennichuck, the city would have to pay another $40 million for two smaller utilities.
Pennichuck has appealed the ruling.
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This article appears in the December 19 2008 issue of New Hampshire Business Review