BERLIN — Transit X officials met with the city council Monday night as the company seeks the city’s support for its plans to build two solar-powered public transit podways in Berlin.
The Massachusetts-based company is promoting its plan for a privately financed system that would transport people using small automated 4-person “pods” suspended on a raised rail about 14 feet above street level.
In Berlin, the company is proposing to install a four pod, one mile rail line up Jericho Mountain and a 7.2 mile system within the city that would have 90 pods and 24 stops. Also being discussed is a factory in Berlin to manufacture the pods.
Jericho Mountain Podway Company President Mike Davies said the Jericho project would allow tourists to cheaply get up to the top of Jericho Mountain and enjoy the tremendous views. He said the area is already popular with ATVs and the project would help the city’s efforts to promote tourism in that area by drawing thousands of tourists.
The other Berlin project would run along Route 110 and 16 and include stops in the downtown, White Mountains Community College, and Walmart. Davies explained that the system would run continuously and people would call on their cell phone or on a kiosk at the stop. The pod would arrive within two minutes and drop down to the sidewalk to pick up passengers and deliver them to their destination. He said the system is very ecological friendly because it runs on solar power. The rails are supported by steel poles located approximately 75 feet apart.
Davies said there are two issues the company needs the city’s help resolving.
He said the Jericho project has run into a legal snag. Landowner and partner David Brooks has a lease with Jericho Power LLC, which operates three wind turbines on the land. Jericho Power opposes the podway and argues its lease with Brooks gives it exclusive development rights. Brooks maintains he retained the right to develop further on his property. The city attorney has advised the zoning board that the parties must resolve the issue before the board can accept an application for a special exception.
Brooks asked the council to allow the project to go before the zoning and planning boards while the lease issue is worked out. But Mayor Paul Grenier said the city council cannot interfere in the permitting process. He said both boards are quasi-judicial which means that they cannot be overruled by the legislative body. Grenier said it would be inappropriate for the mayor and council to attempt to interfere with zoning board.
Turning to the other request, Davies asked if the city would provide a letter of intent stating it is interested to enter into long-term agreement for rights-of-way easements. He said the letter would allow them to move ahead with a feasibility study.
Brooks said he believes Transit X has the ability to make the city home to an entirely new industry that can generate substantial business for the area. Transit X has pledged to get the host community five percent of gross revenues which he said could mean millions of dollars for Berlin.
Robert Fernstorm, the CEO of Emerging Asia Capital Partners, said he got involved with Transit X two years ago because he was fascinated by the technology. He said mass transit around the world is extremely expensive and he was impressed that the Transit X is projecting it can build its podway system for $8 million a mile. Fernstorm said he is a banker but his company has done substantial due diligence on the proposal. While he said the systems are clearly financeable in an urban environment, he said they also work in a rural region. He said in addition to the two Berlin projects, they are also working on a system in Northumberland and eventually the entire state and ultimately between Boston and Montreal.
Grenier said he was not prepared to sign a letter of intent Monday night. He said the council will have to discuss the issue and have the city attorney look the legal ramifications. Councilor Peter Higbee said he reviewed all the material and said some of the figures just did not make sense to him. He said the projections were 20,880 riders a day which he said did not seem possible.
The meeting adjourned after about an hour and the council moved into a non-public session with City Attorney Chris Boldt.