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Bristol explosives expert returns from Afghanistan


BRISTOL — During his recent six-month tour in Afghanistan, Vermont Air National Guard Technical Sergeant Steve Heffernan, 43, braved blistering heat, guerilla warfare and a bevy of improvised explosive devices.

And as an Explosive Ordinance Disposal (EOD) specialist, Heffernan faced the especially perilous task of uncovering and dismantling the explosive devices littered through the countryside by the Taliban and terrorist cells.

But most harrowing of all, according to Heffernan, were the roads.

“The roads, if you could call them roads, were the worst,” he said. “The best way to describe the roads would be ‘mud season, dried up.’ That was a good road.”

For Heffernan, the long road home — which included a 30-hour trip from the Manas Air Base in Kyrgyzstan to Baltimore — drew to a close just a week and a half ago, when the EOD team leader returned home to Bristol after six months at war.

His service in Afghanistan came after nearly 17 years in the Air National Guard.

“I’d always wanted to join the military,” Heffernan said. But after marrying his wife, Erin, when he was 21, Heffernan put his plans on the backburner.

A few years later, though, jobs dried up — and Heffernan started looking again at the military. He joined the Air National Guard, and given his blasting experience, he was a natural fit for the EOD unit. 

“I joined to serve my country, believe it or not, as corny as that can sound to some people,” Heffernan said. “I joined to serve my country because I enjoy the freedoms that we all have.”

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Coast-to-coast: Brown finds challenges, joy, reflection on his bike


MIDDLEBURY — On July 16, like any number of summer vacationers, Swift House Inn co-owner Dan Brown and his longtime friend Jim Mower dipped their toes into the Atlantic Ocean in Hampton, N.H., not far from Mower’s home.

But Brown and Mower were not typical bathers: Getting their feet wet was the last step of a 3,173-mile, 48-day bicycle trip that began in Everett, Wash., on the shore of the Pacific Ocean.

And the journey truly began 20 years ago, when the idea of a two-wheel cross-country odyssey first struck Brown, a retired U.S. Navy pilot who is now 59. 

Back then, before 13 years of innkeeping began to demand his full attention, Brown was a cycling enthusiast, and trans-continental bike races were making headlines.

“I just thought it was a great thing,” he said. “It was just something so big that when I first started talking about it, it was like talking smack, ‘OK, I’m going to do this.’ And then eventually talking smack it was like, ‘OK, you’re going to have to do this if you’re going to keep talking smack about doing this.’”

The Ithaca, N.Y., native and U.S. Naval Academy graduate kept that dream alive when he retired from the military 10 years ago. At that time he and his wife, Michele, sold their Annapolis, Md., bed and breakfast and bought a small inn in Maine, which they sold in 2004 to buy the Swift House in Middlebury.

But the moves and the rigors of the hospitality business kept postponing the trip, until finally everything lined up for this year — the Browns felt they had done enough at their Stewart Lane inn to allow him the time off.

If anything, Brown’s motivation had grown stronger in the interim.

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Middlebury man is first found guilty of junk law violation


MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s junk ordinance received its first test in Addison County District Court last week, when an Addison County jury found Rogers Road resident Terry Morris guilty on two violations of the two-year-old law.

It was in May of 2006 that Middlebury selectmen approved the municipal junk ordinance, a move triggered by neighborhood complaints about Morris’s property. Morris, during the past several years, has accumulated on his lawn a large collection of items, including skis, bathtubs, toilets, wheelchairs, Jell-O molds, wooden pallets, sleds and bowling balls.

Morris has argued his possessions are not junk, but valued items he collects and enjoys. But neighbors have said Morris’s yard has become an eyesore, to the extent that it is affecting their property values. Town listers have agreed, in some cases lowering the assessments on some neighboring properties. Rogers Road residents Bernard and Ruth Stewart — who testified at the July 23 trial — saw their property valuation reduced by $15,000 as a result of the condition of Morris’s lawn.

Ruth Stewart said she was pleased with the jury’s verdict in the case.

“We’re glad that something is being done,” she said. “I hope (authorities) will follow through until there is a cleanup.”

Morris, reached on Wednesday, declined to comment pending his sentencing hearing, tentatively scheduled for Aug. 11.

Morris acted as his own attorney during the trial.

It was a trial that saw the Stewarts testify that they had erected a fence along the property line when Morris’s yard became a problem.

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July 28th

Middlebury gives conditions to Staples store developers


MIDDLEBURY — Developers will be able to build a proposed Staples store in The Centre shopping plaza in Middlebury if they adhere to a series of town-mandated conditions, including that they provide access between The Centre parking lot and two adjoining properties, and finance a re-timing of traffic signals to minimize additional gridlock on Route 7.

Those were some of the conditions included in a 24-page “notice of decision” sent to developers Middlebury Associates LLC last week by the Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB). It was the second such conditional decision sent to the developers, who are seeking to build a 14,737-square-foot Staples next to the Hannaford Supermarket.

The proposal has come under fire from various residents and citizens’ groups who believe Staples would hurt some smaller, locally owned stores that also sell office supplies. Opponents have also voiced concerns that Staples would add more traffic to Route 7 and to a Centre parking lot that is already dangerous to negotiate, according to some shoppers who have testified at DRB hearings.

Key elements of the DRB decision call for Middlebury Associates LLC to meet the following conditions:

• Negotiate access connections between The Centre parking lot and the adjoining Middlebury Short Stop and former bowling alley properties.

• Pay for an adjustment to The Centre/Route 7 intersection traffic signal that would lengthen the light from the current 60 seconds to an 80-second cycle.

• Complete, with input from the Middlebury Design Advisory Committee, a series of pedestrian safety, traffic circulation and aesthetic improvements to The Centre property.

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Raw milk picks up advocates


ADDISON — Unsurprisingly, dairy farmer Mike Eastman is a big milk drinker.

“I drink three quarts, three and a half quarts a day,” he said, grinning. “I drink a lot.”

But Eastman’s smile — and that telltale milk moustache — aren’t splashed across the iconic “Got Milk?” posters made famous over the last 15 years by a national advertising campaign. Instead, he’s at the forefront of a fight closer to home.

From his Addison farm — and from his seat as co-chairman of the board of directors for Rural Vermont, a nonprofit farm advocacy group — Eastman is at work putting “raw” milk — milk that has not been pasteurized or processed to kill potential bacteria — into the hands of Vermonters.

Legislation passed last winter doubled the amount of unpasteurized milk that farmers can sell from their farms — but raw milk sales remain a contentious issue among consumers, farmers and health officials.

“I think that a lot of people really feel, including myself, that drinking fresh, raw milk is healthier,” said Eastman.

But with the Vermont Department of Health strongly warning of potential perils, consumers are left to negotiate the murky territory between the opposing camp, choosing between gallons of pasteurized milk in grocery stores and the increasingly popular farm-fresh milk peddled by farmers like Eastman.


Eastman’s farm is small by Addison County standards — he has 40 Holsteins under his careful watch. But his organic certification — and the unusual fact that his cows are purely grass-fed — attracts milk enthusiasts from Middlebury, Vergennes and as far away as near Burlington.

When a customer arrives at the 300-acre farm, Eastman directs them to a small, dark, cool room off the main barn. A large silver bulk tank takes up the majority of the small space.

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Hughes launches bid for Southeast Addison County House seat


LEICESTER — Leicester Republican John “Ike” Hughes believes the state Legislature has strayed off course.

That said, Hughes said he is running for the Addison-2 House seat to help bring lawmakers’ focus back home and away from issues over which Hughes believes the state has little or no control: The War in Iraq, global warming and impeachment of President George W. Bush.

“I just don’t think the state is spending proper time on state issues,” Hughes said, citing energy policy, school spending and smaller government as among priority topics.

Hughes, 63, is a retired United States Navy master chief petty officer who most recently ran his own instrumentation business. A Pittsford native who has lived in Leicester for the past 25 years, Hughes is challenging incumbent Rep. Willem Jewett, D-Ripton, in the district that includes Salisbury, Cornwall, Ripton, Leicester, Hancock and Goshen.

Hughes has been an active volunteer in statewide GOP politics since 1983. He became involved in Addison County Republican causes around 10 years ago. When the July 21 candidates’ filing deadline was fast approaching and no Republicans had declared an interest in Addison-2, Hughes stepped forward.

“I think the voters should have a choice,” Hughes said. “I think if you feel strongly about the issues, you should get out there.”

Hughes has developed strong opinions about health care, government spending and energy during a life that has included a 21-year stint in the United States Navy. He served three tours in Vietnam and visited more than 100 countries during a military career that saw him in charge of repairs to 26 nuclear submarines. That experience has given him a respect and appreciation for nuclear power at a time when the state is approaching a crossroads in determining whether to re-license Vermont Yankee.

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July 22nd

Shard Villa to close


SALISBURY — Faced with mounting expenses, soaring fuel bills, lower client rolls and the prospect of major new competition, Shard Villa — one of the oldest and most historically significant senior care facilities in Vermont — will likely close its doors this November.

While the Shard Villa board of directors plans to keep the ornate, 130-year-old mansion and its spectacular Italian wall murals open to the public, the senior care component of the estate — barring a quick, major infusion of cash — will cease operation this fall after an almost 90-year run. That portends a potentially traumatic uprooting for more than a dozen current Shard Villa residents (most of whom are in their 90s) and layoffs for the 14 full- and part-time workers at the facility.

“It is a decision that has been a long-time coming, and not an easy one to make,” said Shard Villa board President Diane Benware. “But it does not seem economically feasible to continue.”

While the board has not yet formally voted to close Shard Villa’s elder care operation, it is taking steps that would lead toward ending that service on Nov. 1. Those steps include notifying the state of Vermont and securing permission through Addison County Probate Court, which is responsible for enforcing the execution of wills.

Columbus Smith built Shard Villa in 1872-74. He and his wife Harriett began taking in elders in 1919, then the family formally launched the senior care facility in an L-shaped addition built in 1922 — a service they sought to perpetuate through their respective wills. Shard Villa leaders will have to convince a probate court judge that financial hardship now makes the senior care operation untenable.

Officials vowed to work with families to find new accommodations for current Shard Villa residents. They also promised to work with staff to line up new jobs.

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Keeping milfoil at bay


SALISBURY — Collin Tompkins was one of the first out of the old Lund boat, springing onto the narrow dock while the 16-foot craft shimmied up alongside its moorings.

He, like the other three young men in the boat, was damp and smiling. It was a game of back and forth for a little while, and the four men, their wetsuits slung down to mid-waist, looked like they’ve done this a hundred times. Someone secured the boat. Another hoisted their dripping scuba equipment into a deep wheelbarrow.

And among the last items unloaded onto the dock, and then piled into the wheelbarrow, were several mesh bags filled with heavy, wet weeds — Eurasian watermilfoil, the invasive species this team of young divers is at work carefully plucking from Lake Dunmore’s lakebed.

Tompkins, 22, Nate Bierschenk, 19, Derek LaRosee, 19, and Will Pitkin, 17, are the specially trained corps of divers that make up the Lake Dunmore/Fern Lake Association (LDFLA) Milfoil Project. They’re charged with keeping the milfoil problem in Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake — Dunmore’s little sister — in check.

But in addition to serving as lake watch guards, these divers also happen to be a friendly gaggle of students — boys happy with a summer job that puts them on the lake, in the water and among good company.

“It’s a nice way to be on the lake all summer and help out,” said Bierschenk, whose family owns a house on Dunmore.

It’s a remarkable team, in large part because Tompkins, Bierschenk, Pitkin and LaRosee — and the “Lake System Monitors” who have staffed the project in previous summers — demonstrate that it is possible to control milfoil in an environmentally friendly way, without chemicals, herbicides or lumbering, expensive mechanical harvesters.

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