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October 22nd

County in the market for new courthouse administrator

October 22, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Addison County is in the market for a new chief administrator for its courthouse clerk, though the position must remain unfilled until early January due to a shortfall in the state’s judiciary budget.

County Clerk Kylie Dixon resigned on Oct. 1 after a little more than two years on the job. He declined to discuss the reason for his departure, except to say, “I left on good terms.”

It was during the summer of 2005 that Dixon succeeded Kathy Keeler, who retired after 25 years as an administrator of the Addison County courthouse.

Candidates have until Friday, Oct. 26, to apply for the clerk’s position. A job description on file at the courthouse lists the clerk’s duties as including:

• Working with the Superior Court judges to manage the caseload of the court.

• Ensuring court records are accurate and that court rulings and orders are prepared and distributed in a timely manner.

• Assisting all those who use the court in a “courteous and professional” manner.

• Overseeing the proper use of courthouse technology, including computers and audio/video devices.

• Managing county functions, including preparation of budgets, training and supervision of employees, managing selection of jurors and conducting recounts of county elections.

Whomever is picked to fill the job won’t be able to start until Jan. 2, 2008. The three-month hiring freeze is due to an estimated $800,000 shortfall in the state judiciary budget.

Vermont Supreme Court Clerk Virginia Lazarus said staff members are working hard to ensure court services are delivered in a thorough and timely manner while they shorthanded.

full story

October 19th

Eco-cemetery public presentation

Special for Sunday, Oct. 19 event

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

BRISTOL — For some, concern for the environment is a lifelong passion, but that doesn’t have to be the end of it. A local group is trying to start an eco-cemetery, where the interred are buried in biodegradable caskets without being embalmed, as an alternative to conventional burial methods.

“It’s kind of an ecological alternative to being cremated or having their remains interred in a formal cemetery,” said David Brynn of Bristol. Brynn is chairman of the board of the Watershed Center, which owns the Waterworks Property on Plank Road in Bristol, the possible site of an eco-cemetery. On Sunday, Oct. 21, beginning at 1 p.m. at the law offices of James Dumont, the Watershed Center will host a public presentation on eco-cemeteries and the feasibility of one in Bristol.

The idea began with a class project by University of Vermont graduate Meghan Bannan, a resident of Essex Junction. “It was a good way to stay environmental when you die,” she said.

When Bannan learned about eco-cemeteries during a research project, she became interested in starting one in the area. She discussed it with Brynn, director of Vermont Family Forests and a forester for UVM, and they decided that the former site of the Vergennes waterworks, now owned by the Watershed Center’s board of directors, might be a good site.

The Waterworks Property is a 664-acre plot of land on Plank Road in Bristol under a conservation easement. Bannan and Brynn said using the land as an eco-cemetery is probably acceptable under the terms of the conservation easement, but they aren’t certain yet. “That’s something that has to be looked at in more depth if this goes any further,” Bannan said.

full story

October 18th

Haulin’ out the trash

AMERICORPS AND VERMONT Youth Conservation Corps volunteer Paul D’Agnolo carries an old tire away from the shore of Otter Creek below the falls in Middlebury last Thursday morning. About a dozen volunteers worked last week to clean up the falls basin area and provide better access to Otter Creek from the Marble Works. The two-day cleanup was an outgrowth of the "Creative Economy" workshops in Middlebury last spring. More photos from the clean up are in the Oct. 18 print edition of the Independent.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

full story

MUHS student sues school over religious club

10/18/07

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — A Shoreham teen is asking United States District Court to compel Middlebury Union High School to officially recognize the on-campus religious club of which she and other students are members.

The lawsuit sets the stage for a legal test of the federal doctrines relating to the separation of church and state, a fight that backers of the lawsuit — Arizona-based Alliance Defense Fund (ADF) — vowed to take all the way to the United States Supreme Court.

A girl identified simply as “V.O.” filed the complaint on Oct. 12 in U.S. District Court in Burlington. The court has granted anonymity to the plaintiff because she is a minor. The Addison Independent knows the identity of the girl, but has agreed — at the request of her parents — to not name her unless she decides to come forward voluntarily or until the court lifts her legal veil of secrecy.

The complaint names UD-3; MUHS Principal Bill Lawson and Addison Central Supervisory Union (ACSU) Superintendent Lee Sease as defendants.

V.O. alleges in her lawsuit that UD-3 officials have unjustly denied the Youth Alive Club the same official school recognition as other district-sanctioned clubs, such as the Gay/Straight Organization; the Arabic Club; the Outing Club; and the Student Coalition on Human Rights.

Officially recognized clubs at MUHS, according to the complaint, can be listed in the MUHS yearbook with an accompanying photo; can have their names listed on the MUHS Web site and in the school’s student-parent handbook; can have access to an advisor; and can receive access to district resources, including equipment, supplies and club funding.

full story

Organizers plan for second big climate change protest

10/18/07

By MEGAN JAMES

ADDISON COUNTY — Before moving to East Middlebury last year, Jeff Jones lived in the Caribbean, where he ran a food distribution company for the Turks and Caicos. It was there, a stone’s throw from the main island’s electricity plant, which ran on low-grade diesel fuel, that he first started tracking the peak oil crisis.

“The plant was a mile and a half away and it was just belching diesel fumes to provide energy,” Jones said. Without a dryer in the house, he would try to gauge which way the wind was blowing before hanging his clothes out to dry.

“My clothes would smell like I just got out of the garage after an eight-hour shift working on diesel engines,” he said. “This can’t be sustainable, I thought.”

Since then, Jones has been “ringing the alarm bell” about the rapidly-approaching expiration date of cheap oil, and that’s what drew him to Step It Up 2, the sequel to last April’s nationwide day of climate change demonstrations led by Ripton author Bill McKibben and a group of Middlebury College graduates.

“What we have to do for one, if we do it right, will help the other,” Jones said of global warming and peak oil, the time when half the world’s total oil reserves has been pumped out of the ground and people begin to face a scarcity of petroleum. 

On Nov. 3, Jones will join area residents in making a second call to the U.S. government to “Step it up: cut carbon emissions 80 percent by 2050.” But this time, the campaign doesn’t just offer a goal, but an outline of changes the country needs to make to get there.

full story

VUHS teens help their towns

By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — Last week dozens of gangs of teenagers, more than 300 boys and girls in all, roamed throughout Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Addison, Panton and Waltham.

They were armed — with mops, rakes, paint brushes and sponges — and left in their wake a trail of gleaming windows, pruned bushes, fresh paint and neat lawns.

All were seniors, sophomores and freshmen at Vergennes Union High School. On the mornings of Oct. 9, 10 and 11, while their peers in the junior class took federally mandated tests that disrupted regular classes, they fanned out to their home towns for community service projects organized and supervised by VUHS teachers.

Despite some initial skepticism, the first-year experiment went well, according to both the beneficiaries of the work — town officials, church committee members and librarians — and VUHS administrators.

One skeptic was Ferrisburgh road foreman John Bull, whose employees oversaw VUHS students as they cleaned up the side of Sand Road and a town beach and rebuilt a fire pit at the beach.

Bull admitted he expected his workers “were going to waste three days” with the students, and was happy to say he was wrong after watching students do what he called “downright dirty manual labor,” like raking seaweed, dragging brush and picking up stones and trash.

“They’ve pitched right in,” Bull said. “It’s been superb, above and beyond what we expected. It’s been a bright spot to see young people in our community like this.”

Bull gave students top marks for the way they conducted themselves, and said he hoped VUHS would hold more community service days in the future. 

“Their attitude has just been A-plus,” Bull said. “It’s been a really positive experience.”

full story

October 15th

All hands back on board

EARL BESSETT OF Addison stands on the deck of the historic Ticonderoga passenger steamship on the grounds of the Shelburne Museum. Bessett, 83, served as first mate on the ship, which cruised Lake Champlain for almost 50 years, in the early 1940s.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell



October 15, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

SHELBURNE — Earl Bessett one day last week joined the dozens of people who eagerly scoped out the legendary steamboat Ticonderoga, which sits on the lawn at the Shelburne Museum.

But while most of the visitors marveled at the architectural splendor of the vessel and could only imagine what it must have been like to take her on a cruise in Lake Champlain, the Ticonderoga held no mysteries for Bessett.

That’s because the Addison resident, now 83, became intimately familiar with the boat as its first mate during two eventful summers back in the early 1940s. On Thursday, Bessett returned to the vessel to renew acquaintances and share some of his memories as a crew member in 1941 and 1942.

The Ticonderoga is the world’s only preserved side-paddlewheel passenger steamboat endowed with a walking beam engine. She was built in Shelburne in 1906 and operated as a day boat on Lake Champlain, serving ports along the New York and Vermont shores until 1953. She was the last commercially operating steamer on the lake.

In a what was a truly remarkable feat of engineering, the Ticonderoga in 1955 was moved two miles overland to the Shelburne Museum grounds, where it was painstakingly restored at its unlikely dry dock.

Bessett, who moved to Addison 12 years ago, still remembers the big move via specially-laid railroad tracks from Shelburne Bay to the museum grounds.

“I never thought they could do it,” he said. “I though it would tip over. It’s nice to see it preserved.”

full story

VUHS seniors and juniors spared new grading scale

October 15, 2007

By ANDY KIRKALDY

VERGENNES — Vergennes Union High School administrators decided last week to base the class rank and grade-point averages (GPAs) of their junior and senior classes on the school’s previous grading system, not the new grading system VUHS adopted for the current school year.

Grades for freshman and juniors will still be reported under the new system.

VUHS Co-Principal Edwin Webbley said last Wednesday that decision was made after “further conversations with board members, parents and the guidance department.” Those conversations included an Oct. 3 meeting with four dozen parents.

“We’re exactly and absolutely going to keep what we have as far as their GPA and class rank for this year and next year,” Webbley said.

Administrators also reversed course on VUHS honor roll standards, which now will be based on underlying numerical grades, not on letter grades. On Oct. 4 they had decided to retain the existing letter-grade based system, but now Webbley said the honor roll will be based strictly on the numbers.

To earn high honors, students will need to maintain an average of at least 90 in all their courses, and to earn a spot on the honor roll a student must achieve at least an 80 on all his or her courses and a 90 in a least one course.

full story

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