Shaheen touts tourism and new VA bill in Cranmore visit

By Tom Eastman
CONWAY — Up for re-election in November, and running unopposed in her September's Democratic primary, first-term U.S. Sen. Jeanne Shaheen (D-N.H.) paid a visit to Cranmore Mountain Resort Wednesday morning to speak about the importance of tourism to the state's economy.
In remarks following a tour of Cranmore's Adventure Park, she noted that the tourism industry is the state’s second largest and direct spending by New Hampshire visitors was $4.48 billion in 2012, producing more than $151 million in revenue for the state through meals and rooms taxes.
She was given a tour of parts of Cranmore's Mountain Adventure Park, and was also given an overview of Cranmore's planned Kearsarge Brook Condominiums project that is expected to break ground in fall, pending final condominium registration approval from the state attorney general's office.
Leading the tour was Cranmore and Jiminy Peak owner Brian Fairbank, who purchased the venerable resort with partners in June 2010 and immediately launched the summer amenities that now comprise the Mountain Adventure Park. Also leading the tour was Cranmore general manager and president Ben Wilcox.
In a short post-tour interview, Shaheen answered a question about the upcoming primary election among the Republican field of opponents who hope to unseat her come November. That field consists of former Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Scott Brown, now of Rye; former U.S. Sen. Bob Smith of Tuftonboro; and former state Sen. Jim Rubens of Hanover.
The Sept. 9 Republican primary is seen as a race of whom can be the most conservative, but the winner will then have to face Shaheen in the general election Nov. 4 — pundits say Shaheen may be vulnerable in her support of Obamacare, but that she is strong in her appeal to Democrats and independent voters in the Granite State on other mainstream issues.
Asked about the Republican field, Shaheen opted to keep her remarks brief.
“Listen,” said Shaheen at Cranmore's Eating House/Zip's Pub and Grill, “the Republicans are going to decide who they want to nominate, and I'm continuing to do my job as senator as long as I can and that's what I'm focused on. That's why I'm here today: to talk about tourism and the importance of tourism to our economy, and Cranmore.”
She said Cranmore's proposed six- to-nine-year, six-building, 106-unit condominium and skier services build-out will be a bonus to the valley and state.
“As we heard,” said Shaheen, “it will be a great boon not just to Cranmore but to the entire Mount Washington Valley. This is a great project, and I am glad to be here to recognize it, and to point out just what we need to do to continue to promote tourism in New Hampshire and this country.”
She told listeners that Congress in 2010 passed the Travel Promotion Act which crated a nonprofit corporation called Brand U.S.A. to promote travel in America around the world. She said overseas visitors especially tend to stay longer in areas they visit, which is good for tourism business.
“We're seeing some significant benefits, but there's lots more we can do,” said Shaheen, a former two-term state senator and three-term governor.
On hand were representatives of Badger Realty, the listing agent for the condominium project, including Badger senior partner Dick Badger and acting manager Brenda Leavitt.
Badger and Leavitt said the project will enhance the region by drawing more families to the area. Badger said when the units are not occupied by owners, many may be rented out.
Wilcox explained that the project is following a model used by Fairbank and partners at Jiminy Peak by using condominium sales to fund ski resort improvements. That model, Wilcox explained, enables Cranmore to maintain ticket prices that are more affordable to families, the resort's primary market.
He said when people ask him how the project will enhance day skiers' visits to Cranmore, he said that skier base lodge and skier service amenities will be located in the lower parts of four of the buildings, thus improving the overall skier experience.
He said the 1800s barn timbers used in the Eating House will be preserved and incorporated into the design of a new restaurant facility at Cranmore.
He also thanked Shaheen for an earlier visit, when she was given a biodiesel-powered snow groomer ride by late Cranmore mountain operations manager Jimmy Mersereau, who was a pioneer in biodiesel green energy efforts. Mersereau died in 2009 at age 66.
Fairbank said the base-of-ski mountain complex when finished will be unique among resorts in New Hampshire.
In response to a question from Shaheen, Fairbank — who owns the resort with son Tyler and partner Joe O'Donnell — said it is expected that the full build-out will increase Cranmore's skier visits by 20 percent.
Fairbank and representatives of HEB Bergeron Engineers and Glen Builders noted that the project will add to construction jobs.
Asked how many of the first 18 units are under agreement, a spokesperson for Badger later said that as of Wednesday, nine non-binding sales agreements have been signed but that Cranmore was still awaiting the AG's final documents before actual sales can proceed.
Wilcox said that Cranmore's Mountain Adventure Park has enabled the resort to add more year-round jobs and to hire seasonal help as well. He added that Arts Jubilee, a series of five concerts held Thursdays through Aug. 14 at the base of Cranmore, also benefits the region's tourism.
Shaheen later met in Gorham at 1:30 p.m. Wednesday to discuss the recently passed bipartisan legislation reforming the Department of Veterans Affairs and expanding access to health care for New Hampshire veterans. The bipartisan legislation which was passed last week will allow New Hampshire veterans to seek care closer to their homes if they live more than 20 miles away from a full service VA hospital.  
Shaheen toured the Littleton Community Based Outreach Clinic at 3:45 p.m. where she further discussed the VA reform legislation and learned about the services the clinic offers New Hampshire veterans.
Asked by the press at Cranmore Wednesday morning about that legislation on behalf of veterans, Shaheen said, “The Sanders-McCain Veterans Bill that just passed Congress will address some of the challenges and real problems at the VA system. It provides additional funding to hire more doctors and more health professionals. It also changes the way the administration in charge can hire and fire people who aren't doing their jobs, which is a very important part of the legislation.
“It also ensures that veterans in New Hampshire who live more than 20 miles away from a full-service hospital if they want to can get their care through a private provider,” said Shaheen, “and that's the huge benefit for us in New Hampshire.”
She said she and U.S. Sen. Kelly Ayotte (R-N.H.) worked on an amendment to the bill that allowed for the 20-mile distance for New Hampshire, versus the bill's mark of 40 miles nationwide.
“We're the only state in the Lower 48 that doesn't have a full-service veterans' hospital,” said Shaheen. “For too long, as the veterans in this area know, they've had to travel long distances to get health care when they've needed it, and if the services aren't offered in Manchester, they have to go to White River Junction and to Massachusetts and it creates a real hardship for too many of our veterans. So this is a provision that will allow them to get health care in their own communities and hopefully avoid those long wait times and the hardship that too many people experienced.
“For those people who have served this country and sacrificed and put their lives on the line,” said Shaheen, “I think this is important, and that it is the least we can do.”
Lauren Zelt, a spokesperson for the New Hampshire Republican Party, issued the following response to Shaheen's visit with a prepared statement.
Wrote Zelt: "Obamacare is leading to shorter ski seasons in the Granite State because employers cannot afford the burdensome regulations and taxes included in this terrible law. Instead of apologizing to Mount Washington Valley businesses for her deciding vote for Obamacare, Jeanne Shaheen is ignoring the problems that she has caused. Senator Shaheen needs to listen to her constituents and immediately convene a roundtable on the issue of Obamacare so she can hear first-hand the devastating impact the law is having on New Hampshire."