Podcast: Regional Planning Commission Brings Communities Together for Common Good

Planning offices for the cities of Haverhill and Methuen and other communities throughout the Merrimack Valley are called upon to look into the future, and work out visions for growth, the environment and transportation. Communities receive support from the Merrimack Valley Planning Commission, led by Executive Director Theresa Park. She was formally appointed in January, but had served on the Commission as Lawrence’s representative. Park said the Commission offers needed help for each of the 15 communities it serves, and the result is greater than if each were alone. “For example, what we have the ability to do is to gather together these groups of municipalities so they can share lessons learned, best practices, so they, one, don’t feel like they are on their own dealing with these challenges and, two, there are times when the sum of the parts is greater than the whole , so we’re able to almost like to facilitate, or streamline, the search for, and answers to, possible solutions to the problems that they’re having,” she explains.

Man Who Followed Groveland Woman Faces Disorderly Conduct, Disturbing the Peace Charges

The 65-year-old Groveland man who followed a fellow resident Monday will be summonsed into Haverhill District Court to face charges of disorderly conduct and disturbing the peace. Groveland Police Chief Jeffrey T. Gillen, who did not identify the man by name, revealed the course of action Thursday after police interviewed the man. The chief said an investigation led by Detective Steven Petrone “determined that the man had disturbed neighbors during the incident, and another motorist reported having to drive off the roadway to avoid him while he was allegedly engaged in a verbal altercation with the woman he followed.”

Julia Santos, the woman who says she was harassed, confronted the man and took video. The recording captures the man saying, “I don’t feel safe with you driving around my neighborhood.” Santos responded, “I’m Black. Is that why you’re following me?” She said the man followed her while she was out picking up a bag of dog food offered by another neighbor.

Columbia Gas to Pay $56 Mil State Penalty; Eversource to Take Over By Winter

Columbia Gas, the company that pleaded guilty in connection with the 2018 natural gas disaster in the Merrimack Valley, has agreed to pay $56 million and transfer its business in Massachusetts to Eversource by the time the cold weather returns. Attorney General Maura Healey announced the agreement yesterday and said that it will resolve her office’s investigation into Columbia Gas for violating the state’s consumer protection laws and the Department of Public Utilities’ inquiries into the company’s pipeline safety compliance and emergency response related to the September 2018 explosions. The $56 million payment from parent company NiSource—a larger sum than the $53 million criminal fine imposed by a federal judge—will form the basis of a new “Energy Relief Fund” that will help about 26,000 low-income Columbia Gas customers by wiping away nearly $15 million in gas bill debts, Healey said. “The Merrimack Valley gas explosions were heartbreaking and disruptive for the lives of thousands of families and businesses—many of whom are still recovering,” Healey said. “Today’s first-of-its-kind agreement ensures that Columbia Gas never does business in Massachusetts again, invests millions of dollars in the Merrimack Valley, and helps low-income customers pay their gas bills.

Groveland Officials Back Black Neighbor Who Was Accused of Being Out of Place in Town

Groveland officials are backing their neighbor after the Black woman was followed and accused of being out of place in her own neighborhood. Town Finance Director Denise Dembkoski, on behalf of the town of Groveland, and Selectmen Chair Michael Wood were among those offering support for Julia Santos. Coming at a time of critical national attention on racial stereotypes, Santos spoke out after being followed home Monday by another resident. She confronted the man and took video. The recording captures the man saying, “I don’t feel safe with you driving around my neighborhood.”

Santos responded, “I’m Black.

Whittier Tech’s Lynch Says Student Video ‘Offensive and Hurtful;’ Calls for Talks on Racism, Diversity

The superintendent of Whittier Regional Vocational Technical High School is calling for more discussion about racism, diversity and tolerance after learning of an “offensive and hurtful” video created and shared by students. Superintendent Maureen A. Lynch said she became aware of the video on the Tik Tok platform Monday morning and that it “trivializes instances of racism and discrimination people of color face every day.” She said she hopes “this moment can act as a learning opportunity from which we can grow.”

“We are disappointed that students felt such a video was appropriate, particularly at this time in our nation’s history, when so many people are working tirelessly to examine and address the historic racism and injustice in our shared past,” Lynch said. She said the school reached out to the parents and guardians of the students. Lynch said the school is “even more saddened by the deep hurt this video has caused by isolating members of our community and attempting to minimize the discrimination and racism that is unfortunately alive and well today.” She added Whittier Tech “denounces all forms of racism, discrimination and hate” and values diversity. The superintendent said Whittier had a professional development program on diversity and inclusion two weeks ago with more than 65 staff members.

Podcast: Rep. Campbell Says COVID-19 Fears Driving Mail-In Voting Legislation

A deal was reached yesterday between leaders in the House and Senate on early voting and vote-by-mail legislation that should pave the way for a major expansion of voting options ahead of the 2020 election. State Rep. Linda Dean Campbell, who appeared recently on WHAV’s morning program, says one of the driving forces behind the bill is “safety concerns” due to the coronavirus. “We do know that there are a number of our elders that have said that they wanted to vote, but this time they’re not going to go because they’ve seen what’s happened in other countries with people standing in line for hours. They’ve just said, ‘you have to come up with a mechanism to allow us to vote.’ We believe that a tremendous amount of work was done on this, very early on when COVID broke because we knew this was going to come and it takes a lot to get this right, and to make sure it’s a very secure way of voting,” she says. Campbell says the measure also expands the early voting time frame if people want to physically cast ballots.

N.H. Reports ‘Moderate Drought;’ Water Systems in Plaistow, Atkinson Face Restrictions

Ninety-five New Hampshire community water systems have restrictions in place, including mandatory and voluntary limits in Plaistow and Atkinson, N.H.

The New Hampshire Department of Environmental Services last week advised public water systems to carefully track water supplies and implement outdoor water use restrictions as needed. The state put its drought management plan in effect last week after reporting the southern half of the state has been elevated from “Abnormally Dry” to “Moderate Drought,” while the remainder of the state continues to experience “Abnormally Dry” conditions. Officials said the cause is “an exceptionally low snowpack this winter and lack of precipitation.”

Pennichuck East Utility Company has a mandatory restriction in place in Atkinson as well as Rolling Hills, Sweet Hill, Twin Ridge and Valleyfield in Plaistow. Additional voluntary guidelines are in place by Hampstead Area Water Company for Rainbow Ridge, Little River Village and the Reserve at Snow’s Brook.

Methuen Police Seek Public’s Help Identifying Man Who Stole Cash at Store

Methuen Police are seeking the public’s help in identifying a man who stole cash from a store Friday afternoon. Police say the man entered Rusty Lantern Market, 5 Ayers Village Road, at 4:18 p.m., and approached the cashier to make a purchase at the counter. When the store clerk was distracted, the man reached over the counter, grabbed cash and fled. Surveillance video shows he drove toward Haverhill in a dark colored Honda Civic Coupe. He is described as light to medium skinned, approximately five-feet, eight inches tall and weighing about and 160 pounds.