Archive - Sep 2008
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury leaders are pitching some modest changes they hope will have a big impact on the look of Main Street in front of the post office and on the safety of an increasingly used Merchants Row.
Middlebury officials originally drew up the Post Office plaza makeover last year, in concert with the repaving of Main Street and installation of some new downtown light fixtures.
Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said the makeover is designed to address some of the current deficiencies within post office plaza.
“One of the trees (in the plaza) has died entirely; the other was in terrible shape,” Dunnington said. “The pattern of the pavement in front is flawed, and there is grass growing through portions of it and there are puddles in it. We thought we could improve it with a new surface, of the type that was done at the Town Hall Theater plaza and Middlebury Natural Food Co-op.”
The plan calls for, among other things:
• Installation of new surfacing for the area fronting the post office building. That surface will include a small amount of granite leading up to the post office steps. Those steps are currently also made of granite. Dark-gray tinted concrete paving, with saw-cut score joints, will provide a pedestrian-friendly surface leading from the Main Street curb to the granite walkway/steps. An exposed aggregate concrete paving will round out the balance of the plaza.
• Placement of three, six-foot-long benches along two separate strips of perennial plantings in front of the post office building. Along with those perennial patches, the plaza will feature three trees — two honey locusts and a Japanese lilac.
• Relocation, to the border of the new perennial garden strips, of the outdoor mailboxes.
• Reservation of a spot, within the plaza, for the display of public art.
By JOHN FLOWERS
SHOREHAM — This summer’s wet weather may have been tough on corn and hay fields, but it has helped produce a bumper crop of apples at local orchards.
“Most people are looking at a good crop,” said Steve Justis, marketing specialist for the Vermont Agency of Agriculture. “If we can get through the next few days of wind, I think we’ll be looking at a good year.”
Vermont orchards yielded approximately 800,000 bushels of apples last year, according to Justis. This year could be substantially better.
“I think the numbers could be up 10 percent for this season, if we can avoid complications from hurricane winds,” Justis said on Monday, alluding to the remnants of Hurricane Ike that had battered portions of Texas over the weekend. Thankfully, the forecast for Vermont for the balance of this week was for sun and mild temperatures. And another big plus: Most Vermont orchards averted hailstorms this past spring that did significant damage to fruit crops in New York state.
Addison County continues to be the largest apple producing region in the state, according to Justis. Economic pressure, brought on primarily by competition from abroad, has whittled down the state’s major commercial apple producers to a solid core of around 25, according to Vermont agriculture officials.
Bill Suhr of Shoreham-based Champlain Orchards anticipates his operation will exceed the 27,000 bushels of apples it produced last year. Not only is there a greater abundance of fruit, but the individual apples are larger and more colorful than last year.
Suhr explained that a dry May helped create good pollination conditions for the crop. The rain nourished the apples, with key periods of recent sunshine helping to give the fruit a particularly vibrant rosy hue.
“We had an ideal growing season,” Suhr said.
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Addison Northwest Supervisory Union this summer won a U.S. Department of Education grant that could total more than $900,000 in the next three years, an award that officials believe will help transform physical education in ANwSU schools and boost students’ academic performance while putting them on the path toward lifetime fitness.
The grant, one of 96 the DOE awarded in 2008, will pay for fitness equipment that will include high-tech heart-rate monitors, low-rope climbing courses at the three ANwSU elementary schools and a high-ropes course at Vergennes Union High School, in-line and ice skates, cross-country skis, snowshoes and dance video games.
It will also fund healthy after-school activities to be offered jointly with community groups that include the Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes and the Willowell Foundation.
But ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien said more importantly that the Carol M. White Physical Education Program grant would help create a “culture change” at the four schools.
“Assuming that over the three years of the grant we are able to establish the goals ... it is a culture change,” O’Brien said. “It’s much more of a focus on personal fitness, and personal responsibility for fitness ... that will last (students) for their lifetime ... And the increased physical activity, at least according to the research, will have some benefit in the classroom. I’d say this is pretty significant.”
The grant was fleshed out by ANwSU curriculum coordinator Carol Spencer, VUHS PE teacher Ed Cook and Vergennes Union Elementary School PE teacher Robyn Newton, and then polished by a professional grant-writer, for whose services Newton won a grant.
For Cook and Newton, the DOE grant can help change the focus of PE away from competitive ball sports and to personal fitness activities.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Officials in more than a half-dozen Addison County towns breathed a collective sigh of relief this week after learning that extensive road and bridge damage caused by a powerful storm on Aug. 6 will qualify for federal disaster aid.
Federal authorities confirmed the presidential declaration of disaster on Sept. 12. That means that repairs to flood-ravaged bridges and roads will qualify for up to 75 percent federal reimbursement — great news to the locally affected towns of Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Bridport, Leicester, Goshen, Hancock and Brandon.
The federal declaration will also give the Mary Hogan Elementary School board the option of seeking reimbursement for an additional school bus that could be put on the road to serve students on Lower Plains Road in East Middlebury. Families on that road must currently provide their own school transportation because the flood damage closed the Lower Plains Road bridge — the only direct route into the rest of Middlebury. Serena Eddy-Moulton, chairwoman of the ID-4 board, said on Tuesday that she and her colleagues will convene late this week to discuss the federal disaster declaration and the role it can play in restoring bus service to students who must currently be detoured to school via Salisbury and Route 7.
“We will send a letter to parents on Friday (Sept. 19) letting them know the progress,” Eddy-Moulton said.
Federal, state and local emergency management officials were scheduled to meet at Middlebury’s Ilsley Library on Thursday morning to hold a briefing “designed to help local officials understand federal disaster eligibility requirements and the reimbursement process for debris removal, emergency protective measures, and the repair, restoration and replacement of public facilities,” according to a memo issued by Vermont Emergency Management.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz said turnout at last Tuesday’s primary election was among the lowest ever, though she expects as much as 70 percent of the state’s 440,000 registered voters to cast ballots during the general election on Nov. 4.
Markowitz, who herself faces re-election this fall, touched upon balloting, voter education and a variety of other topics during an interview at the Addison Independent on Thursday. Markowitz also acknowledged that after 10 years in office, this may be her final bid for secretary of state.
While the results were not yet official as of late last week, Markowitz believes the final returns will show the primary election of 2008 could reveal a historical low in terms of turnout. She cited weather and a lack of compelling races as reasons why most people chose not to vote.
Indeed only the Democrats’ ballot featured statewide primary races — for congressional representative and lieutenant governor. There were no races on the Republican, Progressive and Liberty Union ballots.
“Generally speaking, turnout gets driven by the top of the ticket, and there just wasn’t anything there,” Markowitz said. “It’s not surprising that people stayed home. On top of it, we had thunderstorms during the prime voting times before work, and so people said, ‘Do I want to brave the lightning for a ballot where there is no contested races?’”
But Markowitz stressed she believes democracy is alive and well in Vermont, in spite of the low primary turnout.
“We still believe that November is going to be a very busy election,” Markowitz said. “There is unprecedented interest in the presidential race. We’re getting more new voter registration requests than we have in the past years.”
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — One hundred and fifty-four residents of Vergennes filled out the city planning commission’s municipal plan survey this summer, and they offered some results that were both useful and surprising, said planning commission chairman Neil Curtis.
Among the surprising results were the strong feelings survey respondents expressed about the “look, feel and scale” of downtown Vergennes, according to a survey summary prepared for the commission by LandWorks, the Middlebury planning firm that is helping the city with its ongoing city plan rewrite.
LandWorks concluded that the current feel of downtown was “resoundingly important” to city residents, a conclusion based on the 92.2 percent of respondents who rated preserving the downtown as either an important or a most important concern for Vergennes in the future.
Curtis noted that 77.9 percent of respondents also supported creating “design guidelines” that would help maintain the character of the city’s downtown, adding that guidelines would not include such items as types of windows or paint colors.
Curtis said the response to the downtown questions are a prime example on how the survey will help guide the members of the planning commission and LandWorks in writing the plan, a process that carries a November 2009 deadline and is roughly on schedule.
“I think it’s enormously helpful in terms of being able to help us prioritize different issues and action items the city ought to be working on,” Curtis said. “People are so attached to the look and feel of those downtown buildings ... When you get 90 percent of the survey respondents saying the downtown is important, it really crystallizes the way you look at the plan. It really is a priority.”
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — Seven-year-old Sierra Barnicle ran ahead of her father, Scott, to reach the last placard in Bristol’s first StoryWalk last week, eager to reach the end of the story that marches its way, page by page, down Mountain and Spring streets between the Bristol Elementary School and the Lawrence Memorial Library.
The Weybridge residents happened upon the exhibit, on loan from the Kellogg-Hubbard Library in Montpelier until Sept. 19, in a stroke of good luck. In a series of small, unassuming signposts, the “StoryWalk” depicts the children’s story “Leaves,” by David Ezra Stein.
While the family dog wagged his tail amiably, Sierra explained that she, for one, thought the StoryWalk was a great idea — and appreciated the seasonal choice of “Leaves.” Warm, pen-and-ink drawings and spare text tell the story of a very young bear’s confusion when leaves start to fall during his first autumn, and his delight when new leaves welcome him after winter’s hibernation.
It’s a charming story, beautifully executed — each page is adorned with a lovely pen-and-ink drawing and spare, quiet prose.
“I like it,” Sierra said, “because it’s welcoming fall.”
Once the after-school flurry of activity between the elementary school and the library had died down, Eva Ginalski, a third-grader at Bristol Elementary, chimed in with her own praise for the StoryWalk. Like Sierra Barnicle, Ginalski appreciated the tie to the seasons.
“It’s a good time to do it because the leaves are just starting to fall,” she said. She said she’d love to see more StoryWalks in the future — and hoped that future stories would also correspond to the seasons.
Welcome to the Brave New World where author Aldous Huxley imagined in his 1932 satire that society would prefer to be kept uninformed and live lock-step in a soma-induced blissful oblivion. Well, close enough. The world is the political orbit of the Republican Party in which no one is allowed to speak critically of vice-presidential candidate Sarah Palin and the media, in particular, is not to pursue questions that seek to flesh out her positions or leadership style were she to be catapulted into the nation’s highest office.
Facts in this Republican dystopia (a negative utopia) don’t matter; what matters is that supporters swallow the party script. So, if Gov. Palin wants to keep repeating the lie that she opposed the Bridge to Nowhere and rejects federal earmarks to states, then the party faithful should excuse the falsehood and just drink the soma-laced Kool-Aid.
John Feehery, a Republican strategist, captured the mood perfectly in a Washington Post story on Tuesday when he told a Post reporter that the campaign was entering a period in which the dominant themes established in the campaign were more important than skirmishes over the facts.
“The more The New York Times and The Washington Post go after Sarah Palin, the better off she is, because there’s a bigger truth out there and the bigger truths are she’s new, she’s popular in Alaska and she is an insurgent,” Feehery said. “As long as those are out there, these little facts don’t really matter.”
Wow. Let’s think about that.