October 6th, 2008
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Construction crews last week were replacing ties and unloading new rail along sections of the railroad tracks stretching from Middlebury to Salisbury and from Proctor to Florence.
Meanwhile, rail officials last week also confirmed a “minor” derailment of a fuel car on tracks near the Woodbridge Condominiums on Sept. 5. David Wulfson, president of Vermont Rail, said the incident involved one car.
One set of wheels jumped the tracks, according to Richard Hosking, rail project manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans).
“It was put back on (the tracks), and that was it,” Wulfson said. “Those things happen all the time.”
Fortunately, the incident did not nearly rise to the level of the multi-car derailment that occurred almost exactly a year ago on tracks near Merchants Row in downtown Middlebury. Fourteen fuel-laden cars and three carrying rock salt tipped over during that Oct. 22, 2007, incident.
Hosking said the Sept. 5 incident was small enough that it did not warrant notification of local emergency response teams.
“It wasn’t due to track conditions,” Hosking added. “It was like blowing a tire on a car.”
Still, some Middlebury residents living in homes near the tracks said they get little comfort from the term “minor” being used in the same sentence with “derailment.”
Fred Barnes, a resident of the Woodbridge Condominiums, said he went to the scene of the Sept. 5 derailment when workers were jacking the car back onto the tracks at 3 a.m.
“We are told this is not dangerous,” Barnes said. “But whenever we go a step closer to the tanker falling over and spilling gasoline, we are increasing the probability of disaster.
ADDISON COUNTY — FairPoint Communications plans to bring full broadband Internet coverage to Middlebury, Salisbury and Vergennes by the end of 2010, marking the complete coverage of high-speed Internet access for all of Addison County.
The other two telephone and Internet service providers in the county — Waitsfield Champlain Valley Telecom, which serves towns in the northern and eastern part of Addison County, and Shoreham Telephone, which serves towns in the southwest quadrant of the county — have already established full broadband access for their service areas.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Developers of a proposed small-scale hydro operation at the Otter Creek Falls in Middlebury recently filed the requisite state and federal permit applications for their project, and have shifted their focus back to becoming a wholesale producer of electricity rather than an exclusive provider of power to portion of the town and Middlebury College.
Anders Holm, whose family is spearheading the project, said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is reviewing a preliminary application for the project, while the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) is determining whether the plan can receive a water quality permit.
“Our preliminary FERC application has been accepted. That’s in, and we’re getting as much information as we can about the specifics of the site at this time, still looking at how much power it’s going to make,” Holm said on Thursday. “The preliminary application is just letting FERC know that there is ongoing interest in the site and we are doing some of the preliminary steps and they can expect more information from us in the future.”
The plan includes a water turbine that would harness electricity from the creek as it flows through a flume under a building (owned by the Holms) that borders the south side of the Otter Creek Falls. The project also includes a powerhouse, a penstock of approximately 120 feet long by 7.5-feet in circumference, and a transmission line of around 500 feet.
In an effort to expedite the ANR’s review of the project, Holm has asked the agency to review a previous, more ambitious hydropower project application that had been submitted by central Vermont Public Service Corp. (CVPS) for the same site around 20 years ago. The project was never implemented.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — Local dairy farmers could soon be producing milk at a loss, with high production costs — driven by expensive fuel, feed and fertilizer — and falling milk prices pushing many farmers toward tighter, and in some cases negative, profit margins.
With milk prices hovering around $16 or $17 per hundredweight for most farmers, according to President of the Addison County Farm Bureau Bill Scott, even the best managers are going to have trouble making ends meet.
“Farmers tend to be an optimistic group,” Scott said. “I think they love what they’re doing, and they’ll keep sharpening their pencil to find ways to save money.”
That said, Scott predicted that falling revenues and skyrocketing expenses — he pointed to fuel and fertilizer prices that have doubled in the last year — will mean that the county could see the “marginal” farms go under.
The latest drop in milk prices comes after a spike that occurred a little over a year ago, explained Glenn Rogers, a farm business management specialist with the University of Vermont Extension in St. Albans. Prices stayed high through the spring and early summer — with a July blend price of $20.61 per hundredweight for milk, according to figures from the AgriMark dairy cooperative — but are tapering off now.
Rogers said he anticipates that milk prices will continue to “drift downward” and stay low over the next six months, and AgriMark projections for this winter show blend prices around $17.50 per hundredweight. Individual farmers could receive anywhere between roughly $14 and $20 per hundredweight of their milk, depending on the quality of their product.
AgriMark’s prices reflect the price paid for milk in Boston. Vermont farmers can expect to see slightly lower rates than AgriMark’s figures because of additional transportation costs.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Police Department will assign one of its officers to East Middlebury in the wake of a recent convenience store robbery that has sparked concerns about public safety in that neighborhood.
Middlebury police Chief Tom Hanley stressed that the officer will not be solely dedicated to East Middlebury, but would rather act as a liaison, or familiar face, to work with the community in addressing public safety concerns.
Those concerns are particularly high right now, in the aftermath of the Sept. 16 armed robbery of Mac’s Convenience Store. The masked culprit made off with a few hundred dollars and has yet to be caught.
Some members of East Middlebury’s Neighborhood Watch group attended Tuesday’s Middlebury selectboard meeting to voice their concerns. Those concerns were somewhat defused by the announcement that new Middlebury police officer Russell O’Dell would be assigned as the liaison to East Middlebury. He is expected to be on the job, full time, by early November.
“The reason I came here, before I talked to Chief Hanley, was to plead and beg for an officer,” East Middlebury Neighborhood Watch member Katherine Windham told selectmen. “But now we have one. We are so pleased with that, and we will go forward with the crime watch.”
Windham said the group will soon send out a letter to fellow residents informing them “we are stepping up the program.” Moreover, the group will host a community meeting on Monday, Oct. 20, at 7 p.m. at the Methodist Church in East Middlebury, to learn more from police on how the neighborhood can better protect itself.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
NEW HAVEN — For a few days this fall, at least, the Beeman Elementary School gymnasium is home not to bouncing basketballs and flying jump ropes but instead the smells of sizzling onions and the happy chatter of young gourmets-in-training.
In a project headed up by Beeman health and physical education teacher Patty Whittemore, all of the New Haven elementary school’s 162 students have taken to the kitchen, spending a few hours every week whipping up chowders and zucchini pizzas and fresh pesto.
The cooking project, which will culminate in a harvest dinner for families at Beeman’s open house on next Wednesday, is part of a “place-based” learning approach that the school is integrating into its classrooms. The place-based philosophy promotes integrating communities into the classroom — which, in Beeman’s case, means putting down roots in its own backyard garden and reaching out to neighbors to celebrate New Haven’s local produce.
“It’s kind of a cool, community thing,” said Whittemore, The project emphasizes cooperative learning, service to the community and the basics of good nutrition —
Last week, students were hard at work on a bright, crisp Tuesday, readying ingredients for the open house meal. Earlier in the morning, younger students had made the base for a zucchini pizza — they identified zucchinis on a table heaped with produce provided by local families, cleaned the vegetables and set to work on the preparation.
Fifth- and sixth-grade students clattered into the gymnasium, where Whittemore told them that they’d be making corn chowder for the open house.
The meal is being made over the course of several weeks and frozen, and Whittemore hopes that student volunteers will be on hand for a few hours on the night of the open house to put finishing touches on the meal.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — State officials approved the budgets for Vermont’s 14 hospitals earlier this month, green-lighting a statewide average 9.5 percent increase in hospital rates, which tops last year’s increase by three percentage points.
Middlebury’s Porter Medical Center topped the list for approved percent rate increases with an 11 percent hike. But Porter officials explained that only a portion of its patients will actually feel the full brunt of this double-digit increase in fees.
“There aren’t that many patients that actually pay full rates,” explained Porter Vice President for Finance Duncan Brines, noting that many insurance companies, and certainly Medicaid and Medicare, have negotiated lower rates.
The increase in hospital’s approved spending plan for the 2009 fiscal year represents an 11.5 percent increase. It comes in at just over $57 million, up from a nearly $51 million expense budget for the previous year.
Two other Vermont hospitals had requested bigger rate increases than Porter — Northwestern Vermont Medical Center in St. Albans and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington had requested 11.4 and 11.8 percent increases, respectively. Porter itself sought an 11.2 percent rate increase.
But state officials at the Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration (BISHCA), the agency that regulates Vermont hospitals, determined the Middlebury health center would need to cut its rate increase by 0.2 percent, and the other hospitals by more.
Fletcher Allen Health Care, the state’s largest hospital, asked for and received a 10 percent rate increase. BISHCA gave its largest cut in a proposed rate increase to Rutland Regional Medical Center, which saw its requested 10.9 percent rate increased dropped to 9.6 percent.
CRUNCHING THE NUMBERS
By ANDY KIRKALDY
FERRISBURGH — Ferrisburgh planning and zoning officials heard on Sept. 24 a preliminary proposal to build a McDonald’s Restaurant, Jiffy Mart convenience store and gas station on the 2.5-acre Route 7 parcel that was most recently occupied by the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse and before then by Burdick’s Country Kitchen.
Champlain Oil Co. (COCO) has a deal to buy the parcel contingent on getting permits for its proposal, according to landowner Marcos Llona, who operated the Ferrisburgh Roadhouse until it was destroyed by fire in June 2007. COCO had no further meetings with Ferrisburgh zoning officials scheduled as of Friday morning.
Llona and his wife, Claudia, Shelburne residents, bought Burdick’s Country Kitchen, the 2.5 acres and a home on the property from Vergennes residents Sue and Greg Burdick for $450,000 in July 2006.
Llona said he and his wife decided it was too risky to rebuild the restaurant given the current economic climate, and added their window for rebuilding without a completely new and more costly septic system is also coming to a close.
“I would love to rebuild the restaurant, I really would. It’s a good site. It is needed ... But I don’t have the resources,” Llona said, adding, “I can’t do a second mortgage on my home and take that risk.”
COCO, which had been interested in the property before the Llonas, approached them this summer, he said.
Ferrisburgh officials said Wednesday’s meeting was not a public hearing because no formal application has been filed. It was described in the warning as a “special meeting” for “sketch plan review.” Such meetings often serve to give applicants feedback on possible issues with their plans.