Archive - Aug 2008
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — Despite Mount Abraham Union High School’s decision two years ago to install a wood chip heating system — a move that cut the school’s fuel oil usage by almost 90 percent — the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union (ANeSU) is scrambling to cope with the rising cost of heating oil.
“I’ve got to believe that my schools will be 25 to 40 percent short” in their budgets for fuel oil, said ANeSU Business Manager Greg Burdick said.
“We’ll spend what we need to keep the schools heated,” he said, but the district may have to “rob Peter to pay Paul. The schools will stay warm, but it’s liable to come at the expense of, and I’m oversimplifying here, pens and pencils.”
The district’s executive committee will decide late this week whether or not to accept the single bid they received last week for the fuel oil contract. Jay Jipner, the proprietor of Bristol-based All Star Fuels, put in a bid to sell the district its oil at an eight-cent mark up per gallon over the rack price.
If awarded the bid, Jipner will provide between 60,000 and 67,000 gallons to heat MAUHS and the district’s five elementary schools.
This will be the second year that ANeSU has not locked into a “pre-buy” fixed price — meaning that predicting the total cost for heating the district’s six schools is all but impossible.
“Nobody knows where this is going,” Burdick said — but ANeSU officials and school board members across the district do know that the effects will be widespread.
“It’s a death knell for the schools,” said Burdick. “It doesn’t just impact fuel oil. Anything that comes by truck or rail, we’ve paid shipping fees.”
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — New Vermont Rail Program Manager Robert Ide confirmed on Monday that the state Agency of Transportation (VTRANS) will wait until Middlebury has finished building its new in-town bridge before launching major repairs to two downtown train underpasses.
Ide also emphasized his commitment to track replacement leading in and out of downtown Middlebury to minimize the chances for derailments and to make the line stronger for double-stack cars and passenger service, two upgrades he said he wants to see in place before he leaves his job.
Ide, a former Republican state senator who lives in Peacham, was named the AOT’s rail program manager back in June. He has spent the past few months getting up to speed on train activities while surveying the condition of rail infrastructure in Vermont.
“I have been on what I would describe as the ‘rocket ship learning curve,’” Ide said with a chuckle. “You learn about the people; you learn about what it is that you just signed up for; you learn the questions you should have asked at the interview but didn’t know enough to ask.”
Tuesday saw Ide in Middlebury, where he got an eyeful and an earful from local officials who during the past year have seen a major train derailment while nervously anticipating reconstruction of two major railroad underpasses at Main Street and Merchants Row.
“Walking up the tracks in Middlebury is an eye opening experience looking up at those bridges,” Ide said of downtown Middlebury’s railway underpasses on Main Street and Merchants Row. “I don’t think a person of good conscience could go home and say, ‘Well that’s going to last for another 30 years.’ I’m not an engineer, but they appear to have some spots that need some repair and replacement.”
By JOHN S. McCRIGHT
LEICESTER — Four Connecticut men are in jail, a Leicester man has been shot and a police dog is dead in the wake of a shooting and carjacking incident that began on Lake Dunmore Road in Leicester late Tuesday night and ended after a police chase in Fair Haven.
Vermont State Police responded to a call from a Lake Dunmore Road resident at around 11 p.m. on Aug. 19 where they found Richard Carroll, 45, had been shot once in the leg. Carroll told police that he went to check on arguing he heard on the road in front of his house and that someone in a white Escalade SUV with Connecticut plates had shot him.
Alerted that the car was traveling south on Route 7 in Pittsford, a Rutland police officer attempted to deploy tire deflation spikes. A Rutland police K-9 named King Luther jumped out of the officer’s cruiser and was struck and killed by a state police cruiser that was involved in the pursuit of the Escalade.
Shortly after that, VSP received a report that several black men in a white Escalade had stopped to talk to three people parked on Wheelerville Road in Mendon and one of the men asked them for a ride. After the three people, who were driving a Chevy Cavalier, said no, the Escalade drove off but parked in a pull-off a short way ahead and ambushed the Cavalier, according to an affidavit filed in Rutland District Court by VSP Det. Sgt. Albert E. Abdelnour.
Police said the men in the Escalade blocked the road with their vehicle, brandished a knife, pulled the trio out of the Cavalier, punched and kicked them and stole a cell phone before driving off in the car. The victims walked to Route 4, where they flagged down a passerby, who called the VSP. Later they were treated at Rutland Regional Medical Center for minor injuries.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
RIPTON — Writers traveling the flood-damaged Route 125 to the Middlebury College Bread Loaf campus last week passed a familiar landmark on their way to the annual writers’ conference: the cozy white Homer Noble farmhouse, where poet Robert Frost spent his summers from 1939 until his death in 1963.
The farmhouse was the object of sadness for many Frost fans last winter after a group of local teens vandalized the property, which is a National Historic Landmark and much-loved literary attraction.
But interest in the four-time Pulitzer Prize winner has been rekindled, with two celebrations of his life and work planned for this fall in Middlebury and a move by Middlebury College to strengthen its historic relationship with the poet.
The college last week announced a new Robert Frost Farm and Cabin Preservation Fund aimed at protecting and maintaining the property that should alleviate concerns about the fate of the oft-visited Ripton landmark. Unveiled alongside the fund were plans to employ a writer-in-residence — likely a poet — who will occupy the farmhouse year-round.
“This is going to bring the farm back to life,” said Daniel Breen, director of graduate giving at the college. “We’re very happy that we’re taking something that was negative and turning it into a positive. We’re proud to be stewards of this part of Robert Frost’s legacy and we look forward to continuing that.”
According to Breen, discussion of ways to better protect the property cropped up immediately following last December’s break-in.
“The college was looking at what we could do to keep the farm safe,” said Breen. “A natural way is to have someone live there.”
By ANDY KIRKALDY
FERRISBURGH — Addison County fire service veterans see the banners outside of the Ferrisburgh Fire Department’s Route 7 station as signs of the times.
Those recruiting banners read: “Volunteers Wanted, It’s easier than you think” and “Seeking Volunteers, You CAN Do It!”
Ferrisburgh Fire Chief Bill Wager said until recent years his volunteer department has had about 30 firefighters. Now, with recruiting failing to keep pace with retirements and resignations, his ranks have dwindled to 19.
It’s getting to the point, Wager said, where Ferrisburgh’s tactics at fires may be changed: Federal safety rules reasonably require, for example, that two firefighters remain outside a burning structure for every two who enter it.
“I think we’re going to be faced with being much more creative with staffing and how we engage the fire, what tactics we’re using ... whether we make an attack on the fire or take a defensive posture to protect other structures,” he said.
His department also calls other volunteer departments for mutual aid for significant fires, and now must cast a wider net asking for help: Many other towns also have fewer volunteers available to respond.
“Usually we called one or two departments to get enough staffing, but now we call four or five departments,” Wager said.
While they have some ideas on how to create incentives for new recruits and many departments’ numbers remain healthy, fire service leaders say the problem is widespread in the county, state and nation.
Addison County Firefighters Association President and Vergennes Fire Department Deputy Chief Jim Breur said numbers are down in many communities, and that many towns are also dealing with aging rosters.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — At the forefront of a public hearing last Tuesday on proposed changes in zoning and subdivision regulations was a hot button topic for Middlebury residents: plans to restrict so-called “big box” development in all of the town’s zoning districts.
The hearing was the latest step in a major update of Middlebury zoning and subdivision regulations, which have been in the works for several years. Selectmen must approve the current draft regulations or send them back to the planning commission with recommended changes.
Many residents at the well-attended selectboard meeting commended the Middlebury Planning Commission, which drafted zoning regulation revisions that make permanent the interim zoning ban on building mega-stores enacted two years ago. The interim ban, which has expired, prohibited any single retail store larger than 50,000 square feet in all Middlebury zoning districts.
Some critics of “formula retail” and big box businesses, fearing the impact those national franchises could have on Middlebury’s character and economy, called for even stronger restrictions to keep such businesses from locating here.
“Now there is a need for, I think, a next step along this same way,” said Bill McKibben, a Ripton resident and environmental writer. “Square footage is always going to be a crude measure.”
Ripton resident Michele Fay agreed.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to do with the size of a … store,” Fay said. “It has more to do with the money staying within the local economy and people in the community benefiting from that.”
McKibben, along with other area residents, suggested the Planning Commission and selectboard turn a critical eye on even small and medium-size franchise store developments — such as Starbucks, which considered building in Middlebury last year.
By JOHN S. McCRIGHT
ADDISON COUNTY — After suffering through an unusually wet summer area farmers have one eye on the skies and one eye on the calendar. If fields don’t dry out soon, many fear they will loose much of the feed they will need to keep their livestock productive this winter.
“This is going to be a critical time in the next three weeks,” said Craig Miner, executive director for USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Addison County. “We could have problems similar to 2006 if we don’t have extensive dry weather.
“The crops have defiantly been hurt by the rain.”
Lousy weather, beyond ruining picnics and vacations, means a lot in a county that is one of the largest dairy producers in Vermont. That is particularly true when wet conditions threaten the economic livelihoods of a large segment of the local businesses.
Farmers say their businesses have already been hurt, and the pain could get even worse.
“The hay we have standing has no feed value,” said Steve Getz, owner of Dancing Cow Farm in Bridport. “We’re crossing our fingers that we’ll get a good second cut (of hay) or we’ll be buying feed this winter.”
Getz believes he can buy forage from Canadian suppliers if it comes to that. “It’s good hay but it’s expensive,” he said.
The fact that diesel fuel prices are much higher this year than last only makes the expense of trucking in extra feed that much more costly.
By ANDY KIRKALDY
ADDISON COUNTY — An uncooperative and mysterious shift in the jet stream, the major west-to-east airflow across North America, lies behind this summer’s steady diet of wet weather, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist in Burlington.
The NWS’s Brooke Taber said that the jet stream, a high-speed upper atmosphere wind that he likened to a river of air flowing toward the East Coast, normally crosses well to the north of Vermont and New England at this time of the year.
But since early June the jet stream has sagged down across the northern U.S., where it soars between humid tropical air to the south and cooler air to the north.
The result, Taber said, is that Vermont and its neighbors are caught in a “battle zone” between the conflicting air masses that usually collide over central Canada.
The result Taber described probably goes without saying.
“This contrast of air masses has produced numerous showers and thundershowers across our area,” Taber said.
What has caused the summer without much sun is hard to say, he said, although experts have been able to rule out a couple of the usual suspects — changes in the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s a long wave pattern that has been very persistent across the U.S.,” Taber said. “It’s not El Niño or La Niña.”
When the pattern occurs, the showers and thundershowers follow; that much is known, Taber said. But why the pattern has persisted as well as why it started both remain unknown.
“That’s the question: Why has it hung in for several months now?” he said.
Although at times it may not seem like it, there was a point this spring it did not rain excessively: May saw just 1.94 inches of rain in Burlington, more than an inch below normal.