CONWAY — In a 45-minute meeting that followed a tour last Friday by U.S. Rep. Chris Pappas (D-Manchester) of the new Conway Town Hall in Conway Village, selectmen and town staff were eager to find out how federal help can assist local programs, particularly the construction of building public restrooms.
That demand was experienced last summer after the COVID-19 pandemic brought increased visitation to the Mount Washington Valley, putting a strain on town resources.
“Our focus with tourist season coming quickly is how to deal with it this time without having the GOFERR (Governor’s Office for Emergency Relief and Recovery) funds from the state that we had available last year,” Conway Town Manager Tom Holmes told Pappas at the outset of the meeting.
Also meeting with Pappas and his local liaison Victoria Laracy were selectmen's chair David Weathers and selectmen John Colbath and Mary Carey Seavey, along with Town Engineer Paul DegliAngeli and Recreation Director John Eastman. Absent were selectmen Carl Thibodeau and Steve Porter.
Holmes and Eastman informed Pappas of the town’s efforts to set up parking meters at recreation sites to raise revenue to pay for services and raise revenue. The town last summer had 15 porta-potties in North Conway’s Schouler Park, but the board has voted not to allow port-potties in the park this summer except for special event support and has looked at temporary porta-potty sites as it explores building permanent facilities.
“It almost seems like (the demand for Conway’s outdoor amenities) is a good problem to hav,e but there’s been a huge influx of tourists, and we’re overrun,” Holmes told Pappas.
Holmes told Pappas the estimated cost of public restrooms would be $350,000, with the town applying for a Northern Borders grant that would require the town to raise 50 percent.
Pappas said his office would send a letter of support for that grant.
He said the recent signing of the American Rescue Plan by President Joe Biden is expected to bring $1.53 billion to New Hampshire.
Pappas’ office said that the American Rescue Plan includes $194 million to cities and towns in New Hampshire and $264 million to counties in the state.
He also touched on Biden’s proposed $2 trillion infrastructure plan which Pappas said he expects would be passed this summer and which would put more money into roads and bridges, water and sewer, the electric grid and broadband internet access.
Commenting on the proposed infrastructure bill, Pappas said: “The big question we have to answer over the next few months is how we are going to pay for that and not just put it on the nation’s credit card — again, we’ve got to create some predictability for states and communities around what amount of funding is available over a number of years.
"If we can come up with the revenue to finance it it creates some predictability in the funding streams moving forward for places like New Hampshire," he added.
Pappas agreed with Holmes’ assessment that states should not to expect any American Rescue Plan funds until June, 60 days after the legislation was signed with the state, with the states getting 50 percent this year and 50 percent next year.
In response to a question from Holmes about whether the money goes to communities or precincts/districts, Pappas said his office and others are still trying to “understand that and figure out how overlapping entities will work — so it ultimately will come down to what Treasury and the states decide.”
New Hampshire, Pappas said, is expected to get $120 million for broadband and other capital projects specifically associated with the pandemic in the rescue plan legislation that has already passed. “That will go directly to the communities but it will be distributed at the state level and we will figure out how to allocate those dollars,” he said.
He said he expects to see probably a 30-40 percent increase in highway allocations to states “so New Hampshire will see a bigger pool of resources that it can determine what to do with — hopefully advance projects in the state’s Ten-Year Highway Plan and frankly help deal with increased construction costs.”
Colbath noted that he and Seavey sit on the Carroll County broadband committee and asked about broadband relief.
“I think we need to get accurate maps of speeds available to communities across the state and then do the infrastructure push. ,” said Pappas, noting he has spoken with Gov. Chris Sununu’s office, state Sen. Jeb Bradley and other state officials as well as residents of Sandwich, which is lacking in broadband service.
Weathers informed Pappas of recent discussions with the state Department of Transportation about whether to signalize or put in a roundabout at the dangerous 113-East Conway intersection. When asked whether the state or town had any preference, Weathers said the board is seeking residents’ input for what they prefer.
Colbath said he would like to see the abutting junkyard cleaned up in the setback area from the intersection.
Seavey — who is the executive director of Retired Senior Volunteer Program — expressed concerns about the lack of rural transportation in rural communities. Holmes said there is a need for federal subsidies.
Pappas said he would like to meet further with Seavey.
Touching on the lack of employees and affordable housing, Pappas was asked by about any hopes for restoration of the J-1 visa work program for foreign workers that was suspended by the Trump administration.
Employers say that has had a big impact on their ability to find workers in tourism-dependent Mount Washington Valley.
“We’re frustrated that we haven't seen progress on this yet," said Pappas, "but we’re hopeful that the administration will heed the calls of the business community and fully utilize the number of visas that are available to get workers over here that are really a lifeline for our local seasonal economy"
He said he was impressed with the newly transformed town hall, the former Bank of New Hampshire building.
"It looks great," he said. "The lobby was very busy there at the town clerk's."