Chronology 2014: December
Following the decision by a grand jury not to indict Ferguson, Mo., police officer Darren Wilson in the shooting death of 18-year-old Michael Brown, 100 Middlebury College students and staff demonstrated in front of Mead Chapel. The shooting and the decision not to indict ignited nationwide discussions around police brutality and racism. Later this month several dozen Middlebury students held a “die-in” to draw more attention to unequal treatment by police.
The Boys and Girls Club of Greater Vergennes had a $100,000 pledge in hand to buy a Main Street home in Vergennes and convert it into the organization’s first permanent clubhouse, but the city Development Review Board denied a permit. Club leaders said they’ll go back to the drawing board.
Middlebury town officials put the brakes on planning for a new skate park in the wake of the loss of $30,000 in seed money and a lack of interest by prospective users. Middlebury recreation officials held two community meetings earlier this fall on preliminary plans to build a skate park on a space off Mary Hogan Drive, but few skateboarders showed up.
Vermont Gas Systems said it would hold off on beginning eminent domain proceedings against landowners along its Phase I pipeline, known as the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Pipeline. The announcement came at the request of Gov. Peter Shumlin and was made in the form of a letter from his chief of staff, Liz Miller, to a Vermont Gas vice president. The governor’s request stemmed from a Nov. 13 meeting he held with a group of landowners from Chittenden and Addison counties.
As of Dec. 1, the Public Service Board has issued Certificates of Public Good (CPGs) to 138 solar projects across the state, ranging from small rooftop units to multi-acre solar arrays. Twenty-six projects are located in Addison County. New Haven saw the most projects given CPGs with six, followed by three each in Middlebury, Monkton and Orwell. Two projects got the green light in Waltham and one each was approved in Addison, Vergennes, Bristol, Bridport, Ferrisburgh, Whiting, Ripton, Salisbury and Shoreham. The figures don’t include residential-size projects of less than 15 kilowatts, which do not need a CPG. The state received 917 applications for net metering projects through October, on pace to break last year’s total of 1,027 applications.
State aviation officials are seeking federal funding to lengthen the Middlebury State Airport runway by 700 feet and widen it by 10 feet. The expansion, targeted for construction in 2017, would bring the length to a total of 3,200 feet with a width of 60 feet. The current runway and apron paving has been rated as 21 out of a maximum rating of 100. The Middlebury Airport has the shortest and narrowest runway in the 10 airports under the state’s purview. Some neighbors are wary of the improvements because of increased air traffic and the need to trim some trees that screen the airport.
This winter, the USDA Forest Service is considering a proposal to develop four backcountry skiing glades totaling approximately 210 acres on land in the Green Mountain National Forest in the towns of Goshen, Rochester and Chittenden. The initiative is being spearheaded by the Rochester Sport Trails Alliance, a group of mountain bikers and backcountry skiers that has been exploring developing multi-use trails in central Vermont and the Mad River Valley for the past two years. A decision is expected in the spring. If approved, the development could be the first sanctioned backcountry skiing development on national forest land.
Bristol’s selectboard struggled to find a solution for problems at its aging firehouse. The structure’s wooden frame dates back to 1897 and cannot support the weight of the 21st-century firetrucks. In November, an engineer determined that the sagging second floor of the building could not safely support more than a few people. Also at issue is a severely aged septic system, which is at or near failure; and no one knows where the sewage is winding up. The selectboard approved $10,000 for short-term repairs and the town awaits a response from the Bristol Recreation Club to its offer to buy the land off West Street on which to build a new structure. Voters would need to approve the purchase of land on which a new firehouse would sit. In a separate vote later, residents would need to approve a bond to fund the construction of the structure.
The Middlebury selectboard gave its legislative delegation a wish list for the 2015 session: a rotary for the intersection of Route 7, Happy Valley Road and Exchange Street, and education finance reform. More activity in Middlebury’s industrial park has led to increased traffic on Exchange Street seeking to exit onto Route 7. The intersection has no traffic signal and cars and trucks must contend with fast-moving vehicles. Selectboard members also urged lawmakers to enact some kind of education finance reform, citing the financial stress felt by many area residents. The board has not chosen to sign onto a letter offered by the South Burlington City Council calling for a two-year freeze on the statewide education property tax.
A strong snowstorm during the week of Dec. 8 brought snow depths of nearly 20 inches in some towns in Addison County, prompting school cancelations and impeding travel only a few weeks after a heavy snowstorm struck at Thanksgiving. This storm, which brought a mixture of snow, freezing rain and sleet, also caused widespread power outages — more statewide than from Tropical Storm Irene or the big ice storm of 1998 — that lasted into the weekend. Green Mountain Power sent 300 crews to fix downed power lines in Addison County, which was the hardest hit area in the state.
Tom Denecker’s search to find a better home for his Chevrolet car dealership ended this month when he and business partner Mike Capra purchased Middlebury’s Shea Motors, which had been run by Jerry Shea for 36 years. Denecker Chevrolet will continue to run its service center and used car sales in Vergennes, but it will attempt to lease or sell its new car showroom on Route 7 at Monkton Road in Ferrisburgh.
Big statewide news when Gov. Peter Shumlin pulled the plug on single-payer health care — for now. The governor said he had run the numbers and determined that the cost of implementing a single-payer system would be so high that it could hurt businesses and individuals who were at a sensitive point in their recovery from the Great Recession.
Cornwall officials were considering an offer from Vermont Gas to make some substantial financial concessions to the town that would collectively reduce local residents’ property taxes by an estimated 4 percent in exchange for the town dropping its opposition to the Phase II natural gas pipeline. If Cornwall OKs the agreement Vermont Gas would likely sweeten a separate compensation deal with Shoreham. But more than two dozen people came to the Cornwall selectboard to express their disapproval of the pipeline. At year’s end the issue was still up in the air.
Vermont Gas, under new leadership, dropped a minor bombshell late this month when it announced that the cost estimate for building Phase I of the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project pipeline would jump again, this time by $33 million for a total cost of $154 million. That is 78 percent higher than the $86.6 million price tag that Vermont regulators approved exactly 12 months earlier. The company also said Phase I would be completed later than projected and it asked the Public Service Board to delay its consideration of Phase II, which the board has been reviewing for more than a year. Incoming President and CEO Don Rendall said Vermont Gas was “hitting the reset.”
The pipeline wasn’t the only infrastructure coming under scrutiny. After more than a year of study and public input, a divided Vergennes City Council this month rejected the original proposal for a toddler park near the elementary school and city pool because of objections from neighbors and others, but it approved a scaled-down preschool playground on East Street. Aldermen were facing a deadline after which a $21,000 grant would expire. A petition will force the city to put the question of whether to build the larger park before voters on Town Meeting Day.