OSSIPEE — Area Scout troops are hoping that a laser system can be used to protect Carroll County’s blueberry bushes from birds, bear and deer. But upon hearing their proposal, county commissioners had concerns about safety.
For the past several years, Scouts from Conway, Moultonborough and Tamworth have been maintaining about 2 acres of blueberry bushes on the county field off of County Farm Road, across the street from the Carroll County Jail.
At Wednesday’s commissioners’ meeting, Tim Brown of Troop 151 in Tamworth presented a proposal to commissioners Matthew Plache (R-Wolfeboro) and Kim Tessari (R-Ossipee). Chair Terry McCarthy (R-Conway) was absent.
Brown was there on behalf of Dale Drew of Conway, who is known as the Blueberry Czar after heading a committee examining uses for county lands several years ago that led to the Scouts taking responsibility for the bushes.
Drew, who is more knowledgeable than Brown about the laser unit, had a family issue come up and couldn’t make to the commissioner’s meeting.
“What we want to do is put in this laser unit to keep the birds away from the blueberries,” said Brown, adding that the unit shoots a laser that pans in a programed pattern.
“There’s a (web) site to go to, and some people talk about how well it’s been doing on their cornfield or grapes,” he said. “It’s not 100 percent, but it’s very close.”
The unit would sit on a pole and shine a green dot onto the bushes, like a laser pointer. The dot scares birds and other animals away.
Brown said the unit normally sells for $19,000 but the Scouts are going to get it for $7,000, plus another $1,000 for a solar panel to power it.
The $7,000 has been donated, but the Scouts need to come up with the $1,000 for the solar panel.
“We’re searching out for someone to donate the $1,000,” said Brown.
The laser unit would come from Bird Control System Corp. of Willsonville, Ore.
Tessari confirmed that the laser equipment would be owned by the Scouts and wouldn’t need to go through the county bidding process.
Last year was a bumper crop on the blueberry fields, and there were more berries than the Scouts could pick and sell. Even so, the Scouts made a record $5,000 from their berry business.
This year, Brown said the Scouts hope to have honor system “pick your own blueberries” system and to be allowed to put up an “iron ranger” pay station where visitors could deposit their money, similar to what state and national parks use.
Brown said the Scouts’ blueberry operation now has the brand name of “Carroll County Scouting Blueberry Project.”
Last year, said Brown, picking went from mid-July to Aug. 10. At last count, the county has 864 bushes on just under 2 acres.
Brown said the hope is to have the laser unit going in June. He said the unit would be controlled by iPad or cellphone. He said he needs to find out how the laser could be turned off or made safe while people are picking, but he believes there is a way to have shields that block the laser when people are there to pick.
“I was going to ask you if there was any kind of danger with this laser,” said Plache. “If somebody’s out there, could it cause damage to somebody’s eyesight?” he asked.
Plache said he was a “little concerned” about inviting the public to the county land to pick when the laser is operating, and Brown said the laser company might have a solution.
Plache invited Brown to come to the meeting next week.
Tessari asked about the effect of the laser on birds and other animals.
Brown said he wasn’t sure.
“The birds just stay away,” said Brown. “When you look at the video, they show something that looks like a bunch of gulls in a landfill and they run (the laser) across and the birds take right off.”
Brown said the laser should also work on raccoons, bear and deer.
Tessari suggested blueberry picking could be done during a “prescribed time” when the laser could be shut down.
Asked by Plache about how far the laser light travels, Brown said the light would be aimed down at the bushes. He said the Bird Control Group would install it. Warning signage about the laser could also be erected.
Asked about pick your own, County Department of Public Works Director Will DeWitte said he thought the plan could work so long as visitors park along the road, not the portions of the fields used for hay and that the jail doesn’t object.
DeWitte said the county has had pick your own blueberries on weekends when someone from the county has been there to supervise the visitors. He said they have never done it just based on the honor system.
Rep. Mark McConkey (R-Freedom) appeared at the meeting by Zoom. He was on the county lands committee with Drew. He said the Scouts’ “pick your own” proposal should be supported. McConkey also was confident that the safety issues could be resolved.
“It’s not a laser that would drop satellites from the sky by any means,” said McConkey.
Plache said the current memorandum of understanding with the Scouts doesn’t cover pick-your-own and would need to be adjusted.
Brown said blueberry sales have been a helpful source of revenue for the Scouts during the COVID-19 pandemic when lots of in-person events had been canceled.
Brown was invited to attend the commissioners’ meeting next week to discuss the blueberry proposal further.
“Let’s find away to make this work,” said Plache, and Tessari agreed.