Illustrated Bites of Island News

Reporting and photos by Jim Cerny

Sewage rates Meet the harbor master Polar Bear Swim Journalism Jam at Supper Club Piscataqua ship spotting The Wentworth Hotel in the Smith era Heard on the street Birds of a feather Baby it's cold outside Web page redux Quick index to back issues

Sewage rates

The Town of New Castle's 30-year agreement with Portsmouth for sewer rates expired in 2008 and a new agreement is in negotiation. While details are not complete, it is likely that a typical resident bill will double for sewage costs. Billing is in terms of units, where one unit is 100 cubic feet or 748 gallons. Sewage is assumed to be the same as water consumption as measured on your water meter, though it is possible to have a second meter installed if you have a special water use that does not result in sewage. Not all households would be affected, as not all houses are on municipal sewage, some served by septic systems or holding tanks. A minimum sewage bill is for 20 units, which is $68.84 at current rates.

Generator atop the sewage pumping station on River Road in New Castle.

Beyond the present rate structure, water and sewer rates are projected to increase in Portsmouth, as outlined in a rate study completed in April 2006. All New Castle sewage is pumped to Portsmouth for treatment at the Peirce Island plant, which is scheduled to undergo major upgrading of treatment, as described in a master plan.

Where the sewage goes the Peirce Island treatment plant in Portsmouth as seen from Goat Island in New Castle.

In the winter season of the year the Fire Department is happy to have you adopt any hydrant near your home to help keep it clear of snow and ice. As an interesting factoid, have you noticed that some hydrants in town are painted predominantly yellow (serviced by Portsmouth) and some are painted predominantly red (serviced by New Castle)? There are over two dozen storm drains in town along route 1B, maintained by the State, that are not connected to the sewage system, but just provide localized drainage from the road. Plus there some New Castle maintained storm drains on side streets.

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Meet the harbor master

We had a chance to talk with Dick Gordon, the harbor master for Portsmouth and New Castle, who covers the Piscataqua waters from the high-rise Interstate 95 bridge to the ocean, including Little Harbor.

Dick Gordon.
Gordon is one of a group of harbor masters for New Hampshire waters, under the direction of Geno Marconi at the Port of New Hampshire, which is in turn part of the Pease Development Authority, as set out in NH RSA 12-G: 50.

When we think of a harbor master, we likely think of moorings, and that is indeed the main focus of the job. This is the season when mooring renewals are processed and if any vacancies occur, Gordon, as harbor master, matches up those at the top of the waiting list with what is available, taking into account size and type of boat and depth of water. Gordon issues GPS coordinates for the mooring, but the mooring fittings, whether new or transferred from a previous owner, are the responsibility of the mooring holder. Lists of current mooring holders and those on the waiting list are online on the Port of Portsmouth Web site.

The harbor masters work part time and Gordon started in 2008, noting that "so far it's a very interesting job." Gordon's background includes owning a charter boat used for diving, fishing, and whale watching, plus running a boat for an insurance company that at times went tuna fishing!

The smaller of the Port of New Hampshire boats

There is a confusing mix of official boats on the Piscataqua River. The Port of New Hampshire has two boats for use by the harbor master, a smaller all-purpose open aluminum boat and a larger 30-foot boat like a small landing craft that can be used to pick up buoys. Other boats seen on the Piscataqua may belong to the Coast Guard, the Marine Patrol, the Navy Yard, New Hampshire Fish and Game, or the Portsmouth Police or Fire Departments!

Having seen Coast Guard vessels armed with .50 caliber machine guns, we had to ask what armament the harbor master has. Gordon jokingly replied his only armament is a bit brace and 3/4-inch auger bit!

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Polar Bear Swim  

Woman exiting the water almost looks like a commercial for Hawaii!
On January 10 the Portsmouth Rotary Club held their sixth annual Polar Bear Swim at the New Castle Common. Under sunny, cold (25F) skies, thirteen participants plunged into the warmer water (41F). Safety services were provided by almost that many members of the New Castle Police and Fire Departments, with a crowd of perhaps two dozen supporters to watch. The theme was "Pirates of the Caribbean" and many dressed for the role.

Swim supporter with pirate bling!

Six of the thirteen participants racing into the water.

Captain Teddy Golter, NCFD.

Firefighter Brad Meade, NCFD.

Deputy Chief Mark Wooley, NCFD.

Lieutenant Steve Blanding, NCFD.

Lieutenant Dennis Dinsmore, NCFD.

Firefighter Justin Frechette, NCFD.

Angus MacDonald with necklace, participating as a pirate.

Eric Levenson with parrot, participating as a pirate.

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Journalism Jam at Supper Club  

Jack Driscoll was the featured speaker at the monthly meeting of the Supper Club on January 14 (PDF file), at the Parish Hall of the New Castle Congregational Church. Bill Drew acted as host and organizer, introducing Driscoll's "Journalism Jam" to an audience of at least 30, noting that among Driscoll's many accomplishments is the founding of this Rye Reflections magazine itself in 2005. Driscoll recently published a book on his experience with citizen journalism, titled Couch Potatoes Sprout: The Rise of Online Community Journalism.

Jack Driscoll reading from his book.
Driscoll spoke to some of the issues impacting journalism as we've known it, particularly the erosion of traditional print newspapers and the growth in online media. The key point Driscoll made is that new technologies have changed the underlying economics, endangering traditional news-gathering and print publications. As he put it, "from ink to bits in the blink of an eye." With staff cut-backs there is already a loss in coverage ranging from international news to more local legislatures and courts. These are areas where blogs and other local journalism efforts are likely to be weakest.

Driscoll outlined the economic reality: traditional newspapers got 80% of their revenue from advertising and 20% from subscriptions. Of that 80%, half came from classified advertising and half from display ads. Newspapers find that they can generate about 20% as much revenue from the Web-based editions of their newspapers, as classified advertising has completely collapsed, moving to places like eBay and Craig's List. In addition, most newspapers are now owned by large conglomerates instead of the community-oriented family ownership that was once common. And with such conglomerate ownership there is often heavily leveraged debt.

Driscoll mentioned several ambitious efforts on the Web: Pro Publica, for investigative journalism; Global Post, for a network of foreign correspondents; Politico, to concentrate on news in Washington, DC; Global Voices, pooling stories from around the world.

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Piscataqua ship spotting

In mid-January the salt ship "Opal Naree" delivered a load of salt.

Anyone who is near the Piscataqua River can hardly avoid occasional ship spotting of the commercial river traffic. With the Internet it is possible to use Google to find out many details about these vessels that come and go with salt, oil, coal, cement, liquified petroleum gas (LPG), scrap metal, and occasionally other cargoes.

The Opal Naree (IMO 8210338) is owned by Precious Opals Ltd. and operated by Great Circle Shipping Agency, both wholly owned subsidiaries of Precious Shipping Public Company of Bangkok, Thailand. It is one of 43 vessels in the company's fleet with "Naree" ("Lady" in Thai) as part of the name. The Opal Naree was built in 1982 by Kurushima Dockyard Co., Onishi, Japan, and is listed as 28,780 tons, 575 feet long, with a service speed of 12.5 knots what is often called a "handysize bulker" of intermediate size and designed to carry a variety of bulk cargoes.

Under previous owners the ship has been named Handy Lily, May Lily, and Blue Taurus. And on close inspection the name Blue Taurus is still visible on the stern, though painted out! At the time of an accident investigation in Australia in 2005, the Opal Naree's crew consisted of 15 Thai, 13 Indian, and 2 Bangladeshi nationals. The vessel has an insured value of $22 million.

The Opal Naree was immediately followed by its sister ship, the Waralee Naree, IMO 8202056, built in 1982 by Ibari Shipbuilding in Japan, and once named the Grace Island.

In late January the salt ship "Waralee Naree" delivered a load of salt.

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The Wentworth Hotel in the Smith era

Local historian Dennis Robinson, who has written the definitive history of the Wentworth Hotel, recently wrote an essay, on the occasion of Martin Luther King Day, about the racial and ethnic exclusion that James and Margaret Smith practiced when they ran the Wentworth Hotel in the 1950s and 1960s. This prompted long responses, one by James Sweeney questioning (PDF) the racial exclusion and one by Sandy Domina confirming (PDF) it.

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Heard on the street

On a sunny but bitter cold and windy January morning, while picking up my mail at the Post Office, I saw and heard one of the carpenters working on Henrys' Market strolling along the street smiling and singing "It's a beautiful day in the neigh-bor-hood "

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Birds of a feather

This is the season when we see ducks and swans gathering in sheltered coves, in particular in the Portsmouth South End.

Swans and ducks at the junction of Marcy Street and Newcastle Avenue in the Portsmouth South End.

Swan and ducks at the junction of Marcy Street and Newcastle Avenue in the Portsmouth South End.

Winter robins are much in evidence this year, feeding on fruits and berries. And they gather in flocks, unlike the warm season when competition for nesting territory separates them. A flock of 50-60 robins, with a few starlings mixed in was sighted several times at an old crab apple tree, these pictures taken just before the last big storm of January. We can only hope that their food supplies will last two months more of this relentless winter weather.

Part of a feeding flock of winter robins.

Two individual robins feeding, showing how they are puffed up to keep warmer.

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Baby it's cold outside

At sunrise on January 16 the air temperature was +1F and the water temperature about +41F, with great clouds of Arctic sea smoke, a type of fog, adding to the frozen landscape.  

Portsmouth Harbor Lighthouse, looking from New Castle Beach, with sea smoke rising.

Arctic sea smoke rising at the entrance to the Piscataqua River, looking across to Gerrish Island (dark strip), with gray clouds behind that.

We've had many chances to see winter up close in all its moods. What looks picturesque, even sparkling, in a photograph, becomes hard to endure when winter grinds on for 3 to 4 months. See also some icicle photographs in a separate essay.

Steel woman holding lilacs, waiting for warm weather to return.

Decorative wagon at the Wentworth Hotel on a sunny but cold day.

What looks colder than a winter shadow on snow?

Boats at their winter "moorings" at the New Castle Common

A New Castle resident in winter action, perhaps thinking, "Why would anyone want to be on Sanibel Island, picking up seashells, when they could be here doing this?"

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Town Web page redux

The Town of New Castle's official Web page is now redesigned and revitalized, to be the primary means for town communication.

Banner on New Castle town Web page.

The link is:

The town Web page is the place to go for contact information, schedules, minutes, and the previously printed "Island Items" newsletter. We will also provide a copy of the current "Island Items" here in Saltines see the November 2008 issue, in PDF format, which is 14 pages when printed.

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Quick index to back issues of Saltines

February, 2009