City applies for second grant for snowmelt study

By Barbara Tetreault

BERLIN — The city is seeking a second grant to finance a feasibility study on installing a snowmelt system in the downtown.

The city this fall applied and received a $12,500 Community Development Block Grant Feasibility Study grant through the N.H. Community Development Finance Authority. At Monday’s city council work session, Development Director Pamela Laflamme said she found a second grant opportunity to apply for a $30,000 USDA Rural Business Development Grant.

Subtracting administrative costs, Laflamme said the two grants would provide the city with a total of $38,000 to hire the technical assistance needed to design a system to heat streets and sidewalks in downtown Berlin during winter months.

She requested the council hold the required public hearing on a resolution authorizing the application at its Feb. 20 meeting and waiver the rules to allow the resolution to be passed that evening. She said the application is actually due this week, but Rural Development has agreed to allow the resolution to be submitted late.

Laflamme said the city will hear in June whether the grant is approved. If it is approved, she said the city would issue a request for qualifications for engineering firms to determine the scope and feasibility of installing a snowmelt system in the downtown. The request for quotation would likely go out by August. Laflamme said Dammon Frecker of Burgess BioPower has been helping City Manager James Wheeler work out the specifications for a RFQ. Laflamme said Northern Community Investment Corporation has also helped with some of the technical aspects of the proposal.

The goal is to have the feasibility study completed by the end of the year. Based on the study’s finding, the city will consider applying for a federal TIGER (Transportation Investment Generating Economic Recovery) grant to fund the project.

The TIGER program focuses on projects that are innovative, improve safety and generate economic development.

The city believes its downtown snowmelt concept meets those criteria. It cites the example of Holland, Michigan, where a hydronic snow and ice melting system has been in place in its downtown since 1988. Holland’s downtown has flourished since the system has been in place, as customers like the clear and dry sidewalks and streets.

Laflamme said the city is looking at two possible options for heating the water that would flow through tubing laid underneath the pavement. One option is to use the waste steam generated by Burgess BioPower’s 75-watt biomass plant. The other option would be to construct a municipal biomass plant.

Councilor Mike Rozek said he supports the grant application but added he would prefer to see the waste heat from Burgess BioPower used for a manufacturing facility rather than to melt snow.

Mayor Paul Grenier said the snowmelt project is a long-range proposal and it is likely to be five years at a minimum before the city would be ready to actually do it. He said that allows Burgess BioPower time to entertain other options.