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Jeb Bradley, Republican state senator for District 3, has been in politics long enough to know that campaigning, whether for an office or an issue, always involves a bit of show business. Standing in the bright sun in front of the State House in early September last year, Bradley looked out at the assembled crowd of hundreds of loggers, foresters, sawmill operations, biomass energy plant employees, renewable energy advocates, and other supporters of Senate Bill 365 and then strode up to the microphone at the podium as if Judgement was at hand. “Are you fired up?” he bellowed. “I said, ARE YOU FIRED UP??” The crowd shouted in response. “That’s good,” he said. “BECAUSE I SURE AM!”
The Sept. 6, 2018, rally was the culmination of a summer-long campaign to override Governor Chris Sununu’s veto of SB 365, which earlier had easily passed both the N.H. Senate and House with overwhelming bipartisan majorities. The bill requires Eversource, the state’s largest utility, to establish power contracts with the state’s six independent biomass energy plants, and was considered crucial legislation to support New Hampshire’s woodchip and low-grade wood markets. Without those markets, which in turn are supported by the biomass plants, the long-term viability of the state’s forest-products industry, which is the third-largest manufacturing industry in New Hampshire, was open to question.
Sen. Bradley’s unflagging support for SB 365, and his leadership of a coalition that included Sen. Bob Guida, Sen. Ruth Ward, and political leaders of both parties, was crucial not just to the bill’s success in the legislature but also to the override campaign, which ultimately proved successful when the Governor’s veto of SB 365 was overridden on Sept. 13, 2018, by a two-thirds majority by the margin of a single vote.
For his tireless efforts on behalf of SB 365 and for his longtime support of New Hampshire’s forest-products industry, Sen. Bradley is honored this year with the NHTOA President’s Award.
“I think it’s safe to say that without Jeb’s support and hard work, our industry would not be in the viable position it is in today,” said Jasen Stock, NHTOA’s executive director. “He has been a true friend — always reliable, always generous with valuable advice, and never burdened by partisanship. He truly has the best interests of the industry and of the state at heart. It is a pleasure for the NHTOA to work with leaders like Jeb.”
Sen Bradley was born in Rumford, Me., and is a graduate of Tufts University. He lived in Switzerland as a young man and worked as a street magician. In 1981 he opened an organic grocery called Evergrain Natural Foods. He is reluctant to say if there are any existing photos of him in tie-dye. He has lived in Wolfeboro, N.H., for decades.
Bradley was first elected to the State Senate in a special election in 2009 after serving in the N.H. House from 1991-2002. He was U.S. Representative for New Hampshire’s congressional District 1 from 2002 through 2006. Earlier in his career he served on Wolfeboro’s planning and budgeting boards. In the State Senate, he presently serves on the Capital Budget, Energy and Natural Resources, Health and Human Services, and Rules and Enrolled Bills committees.
Besides his work on behalf of the forest-products industry, Sen. Bradley has had a special interest in healthcare and was presented with the 2016 Founders Award by the New Hampshire Hospital Association. He has also been honored by the Business and Industry Association, the New Hampshire Veterans of Foreign Wars, the New Hampshire Association of Counties, and the New Hampshire Council on Developmental Disabilities.
He also is among the most well-known hikers in a state full of them. In January 2015 he became one of only a couple dozen hikers to have completed what’s called “The Grid,” which is hiking all 48 4,000-foot-and-higher mountain peaks in New Hampshire in every month of the year — a total 576 ascents. Twice he has hiked all 48 4,000-footers in a single winter.
Michael O’Leary’s place of employment doesn’t, at first, look like part of the forest-products industry. The facility is dominated by a huge, Titanic-size smokestack, and seriously thick electrical wires and cables line their way into the property like cabling for a monster stage set. There’s nary a log to be seen — but there is an impressively large pile of woodchips at Bridgewater Power.
“These biomass energy plants, like Bridgewater Power, are very much an extension of the forest products industry,” he says. “I don’t think they were always seen that way, but in my career here I hope I have helped the industry make that connection, because it’s a great connection. What happens at the biomass plants has a real impact on the industry.”
That’s no exaggeration. Without the market for woodchips supported by New Hampshire’s biomass energy plants, the market for low-grade wood, which comprises three-quarters of all the wood harvested in the state, would seriously decline, perhaps even collapse. That’s why O’Leary was at the forefront of last year’s effort, supported by the New Hampshire Timberland Owners Association, to pass Senate Bill 365, which requires Eversource, the state’s largest utility, to establish power contracts with the state’s six independent biomass energy plants, including Bridgewater. The bill passed with overwhelming bipartisan support but was vetoed by Governor Sununu (who during his first campaign for governor, in 2016, met with O’Leary and other forest industry leaders at the Bridgewater plant to extoll the virtues of homegrown biomass energy). A summer-long campaign, also spearheaded in part by O’Leary, successfully overturned the veto in September.
For his commitment to biomass and the woodchip market biomass energy plants support, Michael O’Leary is this year’s honoree with the Kendall Norcott Award. “The Kendall Norcott Award honors exceptional service to our organization and our members,” says Jasen Stock, NHTOA’s executive director, “and Michael’s tireless work on behalf of biomass and legislation supporting biomass makes him an ideal Kendall Norcott recipient. His help and support have never been less than totally consistent and invaluable.”
O’Leary has been at Bridgewater Power for 30 years, and is now the operation’s general manager. A native of Winchester, Mass., he attended the Massachusetts Maritime Academy following high school, and then spent eight years as an engineer in the merchant marine. “Actually, there are a lot of ex-merchant marines in the energy industry,” he says, noting that Robert Lussier, general manager of Pine Tree Power-Tamworth, is another. “That’s because being an engineer on a merchant ship means that you’re basically an engineer for a power plant that happens to be on the water.”
These days, Michael lives on Squam Lake in Holderness, N.H., with his wife Cindy. Michael enjoys fishing (freshwater and saltwater), golf, and boating in his spare time.
Despite the political battles and market forces that sometimes cause political and business leaders to question the viability of biomass energy, O’Leary remains optimistic about biomass’s future in New Hampshire. For one thing, the state has more trees now than it ever has; low-grade/woodchip use in biomass plants actually helps forests become healthier, as low-grade wood is removed to promote more vibrant, higher-grade growth. For another, Michael says, “Biomass is a base-loaded renewable resource. Unlike solar or wind or hydro power, the wood resource is available 24-7. It’s always there, and it is abundant. Not only that, but it helps diversify our energy market, and history has shown us that a diversified energy grid is much better than one that’s reliant on a resource like natural gas that may be cheap and available today but isn’t renewable and won’t be cheap and available forever.”
Success rarely seems swift to those who toil and struggle to follow through on a vision and a dream to make it a reality. For Steve and Renee Patten, owning and operating Pine Tree Lumber in Lempster, N.H., has been a labor of love.
The first sawmill was installed on the property by owner Ernie Johnson in the 1950s. Ernie operated the mill mainly as a hobby, sawing wood for his own use and for friends and neighbors in the area. In 1978, Doug Fournier purchased the mill and operated it for 19 years before closing and selling off all of the equipment. But less than two years later he regretted that decision and bought all “new” equipment from all over New England to rebuild the mill, which is the structure that still stands today. Steve likes to call it a “state of the art 1979 sawmill. It’s not very efficient, but it works.”
Steve Patten worked for more than 23 years as a logger before he found himself working part time for NHTOA during a difficult time for former program director Eric Johnson. Steve also worked at the sawmill for Doug Fournier during this time. When Doug passed away unexpectedly on May 16, 2016, Steve went to the mill the next morning to see what he could do to help. He advised Doug’s wife not to sell the mill immediately as Doug had indicated she should do. Steve then spent the next 18 months operating the mill, paying down the debt, and seeking a buyer. He developed a strong attachment to the mill and to the outstanding crew who stood by him and the operation during this time.
One day, during a casual conversation about the mill, a longtime friend of Steve’s from high school asked, “Why don’t you buy it?” Steve and Renee just looked at each other. After tossing the idea around, they “couldn’t come up with a reason not to try it.” Renee says that Steve knows the ins and outs of the forest industry, from logging to NHTOA. “He knows a lot of people, understands everything, and is good at it. It’d be a shame for this mill to disappear from Lempster, Sullivan County, and the forest products industry, as so many other local sawmills have and not to have these guys working.”
In the 1970s and early 1980s, the 26 miles between Newport and Keene used to be known as “sawmill alley,” with 10 mills in operation along the way. Pine Tree Lumber is the only one left.
Steve and Renee closed on the mill in June 2018. They have 50-60 suppliers, each delivering one to two loads per week from smaller, generally non-mechanized operations within a 15-mile radius of the mill. Steve says, “They seem to like what we’re doing. They can bring mixed loads, and we have a use for all of it.” Those uses include grade hardwood lumber, pallet grade, crane mats, railroad ties, custom work, and “other special projects as they come along.” There are also many niche products such as mixed, dense hardwood like beech and birch for repairing and constructing 8x8x4 cranberry baskets for Ocean Spray, and hemlock “mushroom boards” which utilize low-quality hemlock. The hemlock boards may have defects and cracks, but they provide a good medium for cultivating mushrooms on elevated floors covered in compost. The boards are replaced with each crop rotation. As Renee says, “We try to find a use for every part of the tree.” Steve and Renee enjoy this diversity in the market and feel it strongly contributes to the success of the mill. “We sell products around the world and around town,” Steve says with a smile. “We try to keep everybody happy.”
With their daughter Morgan living and attending college in Cape Cod, Mass., Renee has the time and desire to be involved as much as possible. She enjoys getting to know suppliers and customers, keeping things organized, monitoring finances, and recording the numbers when Steve is scaling wood.
Steve is proud to point out that Pine Tree Lumber is the largest year-round employer in Lempster, with a total nine employees. While the sawmill has been in operation on and off for more than 60 years, it has seen its greatest and swiftest success under the guidance of this year’s Outstanding Forest Industry Award winners, Steve and Renee Patten. Pine Tree Lumber lives up to their slogan, “The little sawmill that can.”