Seacoast news in brief


News from around the Seacoast


Uber debate rolls into December

City councilors have been discussing for nearly a year how to regulate the ride-sharing service Uber, and councilor Jim Splaine wants city officials to reach a decision soon.

“I think we’re facing a Christmas season … and then a spring season, as we have tourism coming back heavy in Portsmouth, without enough transportation services, and that’s not good for the city,” Splaine said at a council meeting on Nov. 16.

Councilors voted 7-2 in favor of Splaine’s proposal to have the council discuss at its Dec. 7 meeting changes Uber has asked the city to make to its transportation services ordinance.

In September, the city’s new transportation services ordinance went into effect. The new ordinance eliminated the city’s medallion system for taxi cabs and allowed drivers for Uber and other ride-sharing services to operate in Portsmouth provided they register with the city, verify a criminal background check with the police department, and offer proof of liability insurance coverage.

Uber has asked the city to change the definition of “transportation services” to specify that the rules only apply when a passenger is inside an Uber vehicle. The company has also asked the city to eliminate a requirement that Uber drivers post a notice of the fare dispute resolution process in their vehicle. Finally, the company wants the city to scale back its background check requirements. Under the ordinance, drivers must submit to a background check going back 15 years, and drivers convicted of a misdemeanor in the last seven years, or of a felony involving controlled substances or violence in the last 15 years, cannot operate in the city.

“I’m not sure how I would vote” on the proposed changes, Splaine said. “But I think it would only be responsible … to consider those changes.”

Mayor Robert Lister and councilor Esther Kennedy voted against Splaine’s proposal.

“We have rules. We’d love to have (Uber) work here, but you have to follow the rules,” Lister said. “It’s up to Uber drivers to follow the rules and to agree to the ordinance.”

Uber supporters held a rally outside city hall before the meeting. During the public comment portion, Portsmouth resident and Uber driver Michael Berman read a letter on behalf of Christopher David, another Uber driver in the city. David asked the council to make the changes Uber has requested. The current ordinance has created  “turf war” between taxi and Uber drivers, David said.

“Uber operated in Portsmouth safely, quietly, and without incident for a full six months before you tried to fix what was not broken,” David said in his letter.

The council will discuss the ordinance changes on Dec. 7 and will hold a public hearing on Dec. 21. — Larry Clow

The Music Hall’s bathrooms take second place

After a long wait and a high-pressure competition, The Music Hall came in second place in a competition to name the country’s best public restroom.

The Cintas Corporation, which designs and manufactures restroom supplies, among other products, announced the results of its annual contest on Nov. 11. Thousands of online voters chose a public restroom in Minturn, Colo., as the nation’s number-one restroom, following a month of voting. The winning restroom is designed to look like a passageway into a mine.

The Music Hall’s “Alice in Wonderland”-style restrooms had an early lead in the competition in October, but had plunged slightly by the end of the month. Executive director Patricia Lynch said the restrooms were designed “for a luxe, bohemian feel … that said you’ve arrived in a place for fun and romance.”

Along with bragging rights, Minturn wins $2,500 toward Cintas’ restroom cleaning services and supplies. The other finalists are flush with prizes, too: The Music Hall will receive a “complimentary deep clean” of its restrooms from Cintas. — LC

Air Force helps city with well treatment efforts

The U.S. Air Force will help the city pay for a water treatment system to remove perfluorochemical compounds (PFCs) from water in the Smith, Harrison, and Haven wells at the Pease International Tradeport.

As part of the agreement, announced on Nov. 17, the Air Force will reimburse the city for up to $60,000 in preliminary design work for a treatment system for the three wells. Deputy director of public works Brian Goetz said the design work “will be in parallel with the work that the Air Force is undertaking to satisfy the EPA’s environmental order.”

Levels of PFCs higher than federal Environmental Protection Agency limits were detected in the Haven well in May 2014, and the well was taken offline. PFCs were also discovered in the other two wells, but because levels were lower than EPA limits, the wells remained online. The PFCs are believed to have come from firefighting foam used when Pease was an Air Force base. The EPA ordered the Air Force to begin cleanup efforts on the three wells earlier this year.

Design work on the treatment system is expected to be finished by the end of February 2016. “The city had been pushing for treatment of all wells since the contamination was first discovered last year. It is great news for us to be able to move forward in that respect,” said city manager John Bohenko. — LC


City receives federal funds for winter storm relief

As Rochester starts preparing for the winter of 2016, it’s received some good news about the winter of 2015. The city will receive $140,666 from the Federal Emergency Management Agency to pay for costs from a snowstorm last January. The city was notified on Nov. 12 that its application to FEMA for reimbursement for costs associated with a Jan. 26-28 snowstorm was approved.

The city maintains 65 miles of road, along with municipal and school parking lots and sidewalks. “As we begin another snow season, we are reminded of the stellar work of city staff during the past winter season,” said city manager Daniel Fitzpatrick. — LC