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January 24th

Middlebury explores a single bond for new bridge

January 24, 2008


MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen on Friday, Feb. 1, will finalize a Town Meeting Day warning that will have huge implications for the proposed in-town bridge project.

As the Addison Independent went to press on Wednesday, town officials were still working with financial analysts to determine whether to ask voters to endorse the $16 million Cross Street bridge in a single vote this March, or divide it up into two or more referenda spaced over two town meetings.

The decision is likely to come down to which scenario will get the town the best interest rate on 30-year bonds it will have to float to proceed with the plan. Officials are hoping to craft a financing scheme that will depend on little or no property tax revenues. Selectmen want to pay back the principal and interest on bonds through a combination of local option taxes, federal highway funds and a promised college contribution of $600,000 annually for 30 years.

“The appealing aspect is the rather attractive interest rates which would be available to the town should we bond for the entire amount,” said Selectman Dean George, chairman of Middlebury’s bridge committee.

Middlebury Town Manager Bill Finger noted officials originally estimated a 5-percent interest rate on bonding for the bridge project. Those estimates are now at around 4.2 percent, with the potential for even lower rates during some of the earlier years of the bond issue.

“The implications of the lower interest rate are pretty profound, with the potential savings over the life of the bond of $4 million to $5 million in interest,” Finger said. “It makes a big difference.”

George added that the town may be able to reinvest the bond during the early years of bond repayments and apply those proceeds toward interest payments.

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Town makes deal to buy Steele's garage for $820,000

January 24, 2008


MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen on Tuesday endorsed a contract that would allow the town to buy Steele’s Service Center at 83 Main St. for $820,000, with the intent of eventually removing the business to make way for the proposed Cross Street Bridge.

The potential deal — which must be approved by Middlebury voters on Town Meeting Day — would allow Paul and Jane Steele to maintain their operation until the structure needs to be removed as part of the $16 million bridge project. The new span would link Main Street with Court Street across the Otter Creek, via Cross Street.

“It’s a tremendously important piece for us in moving ahead with the bridge project,” Middlebury selectboard Chairman John Tenny said of the Steeles’ property.

The tentative accord with the Steeles leaves three other, less high-profile properties the town must acquire within the right-of-way of the proposed bridge. Selectmen are optimistic they will be able to strike deals with those landowners, too.

The potential sale and destruction of the service center would represent the end of a long, successful era for the Steele family. Paul Steele began working at the business in 1968, before acquiring it in 1982.

“We are pleased to have arrived at a mutually satisfactory agreement with the town,” said Jane Steele, Paul’s wife, who also works at the business.

“We will still be here during all the planning stages,” she stressed, “and we will still operate a towing service no matter where we are located.”

The couple already has the flexibility to relocate the business to the Frog Hollow area. The town several years ago granted the Steeles permission to perform auto repair services on their Mill Street property. The property comprises the garage and two homes at the base of Mill Street.

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Bristol area schools and teachers discussing new contracts

January 24, 2008


BRISTOL — Negotiations over teacher contracts in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union have reached a pivotal moment. A fact-finding report released by a mediator to the parties this month and a Jan. 17 meeting led to agreement on several parts of a proposed new contract, but some major issues like salaries, health insurance and planning time remain unresolved.

The negotiating committees for the six ANeSU school boards and the teachers’ union, the Addison Northeast Education Association, plan to meet again on Feb. 7 with mediator Ira Lobel of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service to continue talks.

Teachers in the ANeSU schools — Beeman Elementary School in New Haven, Bristol Elementary School, Lincoln Community School, Monkton Central School, Robinson Elementary School in Starksboro and Mount Abraham Union High School — have been working without a contract since July 2007 while the union and the school boards of the schools have tried to come to an agreement.

The mediator’s fact-finding report will not be made public until Jan. 28, according to ANeSU Superintendent Evelyn Howard.

A number of components of the contract have essentially been settled, but all agreements are tentative until a contract is finalized and signed. Casey said the school boards and the union have reached tentative agreements on the sick leave, scheduling rules for extracurricular activities, and several related issues.

Details were not available on all those agreements as the Addison Independent went to press, but Joanne Casey, head negotiator for the teachers’ union, said that most of those aspects of the contracts will probably remain the same as under the last contract.


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January 21st

Police to cite 28 in Frost home vandalism, many with MUHS ties

MIDDLEBURY POLICE OFFICER Scott Fisher, left, listens as Vermont State Police Sgt. Lee Hodsden presents the results of his investigation into the Dec. 28 vandalism at the former Robert Frost summer home in Ripton. More than two dozen youths, most with ties to Middlebury Union High School, have been cited in connection with the case.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

January 21, 2008


RIPTON — Vermont State Police on Friday said they are citing into court 28 youths — the vast majority of them Middlebury Union High School students — in connection with an underage drinking party that caused an estimated $10,600 in damage to the former summer home of Robert Frost in Ripton.

The suspects are scheduled to be arraigned in Addison County District Court on Feb. 11 on various misdemeanor charges, including unlawful trespass; unlawful mischief; furnishing alcohol to minors; enabling the consumption of alcohol by minors; contributing to the delinquency of a minor; and underage drinking.

Police said as many as 50 people attended the party at the Homer Noble Farm on Dec. 28. Some partygoers destroyed antique tables, chairs, pictures, dishes, glasses, windows and lighting fixtures; sprayed the contents of two fire extinguishers around the first floor and vomited and urinated inside the building and on the damaged property.

Authorities, who announced the citations during a Friday morning press conference, singled out two individuals in particular: Andrew Ford, 17, of Ripton, a former seasonal kitchen staffer at Middlebury College’s Bread Loaf campus, whom they allege planned the party, picked the site and put up money for alcohol consumed there; and Patrick Deering, 22, of Middlebury, who allegedly bought a large quantity of beer for the young partiers.

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Fuel dealer helps ease the pinch for needy customers

January 21, 2008


BRISTOL — Fuel prices have risen precipitously in the last year and a half, pinching the budgets of many Vermonters. But a few residents of the Bristol area, if they look very carefully at their bills in the coming months, may find the math a little confusing. They might not see a record of a delivery even though they distinctly remember one in recent days, or a fuel tank might last the usual amount of time even though the bill shows it was only filled halfway.

Customers of Jackman’s Inc., though, needn’t waste too much time trying to figure it out. The Bristol fuel dealer recently began its “Share Care” program to help its customers in need get through the winter. Jackman’s Inc. is quietly paying parts of the bills of its customers who need the help the most.

“We were concerned if people could afford the fuel this year,” said Jackman’s bookkeeper Sharon Bushey.

Share Care began around the end of November when the company started a fund with $800 and solicited contributions from local individuals and businesses. Donations from individuals and businesses in the area have raised that sum to $2,120 so far, according to Bushey, most of which came during the holiday season. Jackman’s Inc., which is unrelated to Jackman Fuels, is still seeking more donations.

“We’re going to continue right through the winter,” said Peter Jackman, co-owner of Jackman’s Inc.

Fuel prices have been rising continually, and are now at $3.79 a gallon for kerosene and $3.37 a gallon for fuel oil, according to Bushey. In November of 2006 a gallon of fuel oil was going for $2.56.

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Carol's Hungry Mind coffee shop teeters near closing

January 21, 2008


MIDDLEBURY — John Melanson thought for sure business was on the upswing at Carol’s Hungry Mind Café on Tuesday. The staff member scheduled to work with him was out sick, and people had been streaming nonstop into the Merchants Row shop all day.

“It was so strange,” said Melanson, who owns the two-year-old coffee shop. “At the end of the day before I looked at the till, I thought, ‘Oh, here’s a great day. I don’t have labor, it’s been busy all day.’ I like to make $800 a day, but (on Tuesday) it came up to $600.”

This was bad news for Melanson, who after cutting back on staff and hours, is struggling to keep the coffee shop afloat. Unless he can find someone, or some way, to support Carol’s by the end of February, he will likely have to sell it, he said.

“Right now, I would need $70,000 more than I make per year (to keep the operation running),” he said. “That would include how much I put into it each year and a bit of a salary, and I would like that to be a little more than minimum wage.”

Over the last few months, Carol’s fans have come out of the woodwork to offer support and suggestions, but none yet have found a solution.

One woman offered Melanson a $5,000 loan, interest free, for a year. But that would only keep the coffee shop going for a month, and it would add $5,000 to his debt, Melanson said. So he declined.

Other community members have suggested operating the coffee house as a co-op, using membership fees to cover some of the costs. Melanson has even talked to the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op about becoming an annex to that operation, but the Co-op already has its hands full, he said.

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January 17th

Chemistry explosion

CHILDREN WATCH WITH amazement as Middlebury College students make ice cream using liquid nitrogen during the Mr. Wizard Chemistry Show in Bicentennial Hall last Friday night. The college will host an encore performance of the popular event on Feb. 29.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

January 18, 2008


MIDDLEBURY — At Middlebury College’s Mr. Wizard Chemistry Show last Friday, the children in the room, scattered throughout the overflowing audience at first, gradually got out of their seats and drew closer to the front of the room where five chemistry majors were concocting a magical treat. Dressed in lab coats and safety goggles, the students had filled two bowls with heavy cream, sugar and chocolate sauce and were topping off the mixture with a constant stream of liquid nitrogen.

“The kids were just like molecules extracted from the audience,” noticed retired chemist and Vergennes resident Margaret Lowe, who had come to the show with her husband, Steve, also a retired chemist.

In a night of chemistry magic featuring color-changing liquids, eruptions of “elephant toothpaste” and no shortage of explosions, the liquid nitrogen ice cream was the biggest hit.

Like all of the experiments that night, the ice cream served to teach the kids about chemistry in a fun way they would remember. The college’s Mr. Wizard shows in the past have been a little wilder — with a few more unpredictable flames — but this year, chemistry professor Roger Sandwick geared the event, which was held in the college’s Bicentennial Hall, toward younger children.

“We’re pitching this at a third-grade level, so probably it will be at the appropriate level for some of the adults as well,” he said.

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Milk commission a mixed bag

January 17, 2008


MONTPELIER — The Vermont Milk Commission issued a report this week that may come as a mixed bag to the state’s dairy industry. The commission supported a minimum producer price on all milk sold in Vermont and a stronger safety net for dairy farmers, but it also advised the Legislature to repeal the part of a 2007 law that shifted the cost of hauling milk from farmers to purchasers.

It remains to be seen how many of the recommendations will become reality. Some of the conclusions in the commission’s report, released Tuesday, were contingent on nearby states adopting similar plans, and Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, said the Senate Committee on Agriculture would not support going back on the hauling charges legislation.

“How they can claim that that is in the best interest of the dairy farmer is beyond me,” he said.

Giard is a member of that committee and was a sponsor of Act 50, one part of which required milk cooperatives, handlers and processors to assume the cost of hauling milk from the farm. Giard said that there is no good reason for farmers who are already struggling to pay the hauling charges.

“This is just one more (expense) we were pushing off the backs of the farmers,” said Giard, a retired dairy farmer.

Stop and hauling charges, which are the fees dairy farmers pay to processors for trucking milk from farm to the processing plant, decrease the amount of money that reaches the farm by an estimated 60 cents per hundredweight (cwt). Typically farmers have been paid as little as $12 cwt  or as much as $20 cwt.

 If the Senate does ignore the Milk Commission’s recommendation, the Act 50 requirement for purchasers to take on the hauling charges would take effect in January 2009, or when two other Northeast states implement similar regulations, whichever comes first.

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