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August 28th

New gravel pit proposed for Route 116 in Middlebury


MIDDLEBURY — A New Hampshire family is seeking permission from the town of Middlebury to establish a 16-acre gravel pit on land off Route 116 near its intersection with Quarry Road.

The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) is tentatively scheduled to hold its first hearing on the project on Sept. 22. Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said the DRB will consider, among other things, the proposed gravel pit’s proximity to the nearby Lindale Mobile Home Park; its potential impact on the town’s underground water supply; and the increase in truck traffic, excavation dust and noise the project would generate.

Ronald and Susan Fenn of Danville, N.H., are proposing the project. They own the 70-acre parcel on which the new pit would be located. Ronald Fenn was born and raised in Middlebury.

Susan Fenn said her husband’s family has owned the 70 acres off Route 116 for more than a century. They have now decided to develop a portion of it.

“We know there is gravel in there,” Fenn said of recent engineering studies at the site.

The Fenns have submitted a project narrative indicating the gravel pit site contains approximately 660,000 cubic yards of material. Plans call for an average of 35,000 cubic yards to be removed annually during the next 30 years. The Fenns said there are no plans to do any blasting or crushing at the proposed pit. The couple plans to lease or sell the pit property to an entity that would operate the business.

Excavation of the 16-acre pit would occur in four phases. Topsoil from each new phase would be set aside to reclaim the site of the preceding phase, according to the project narrative.

full story

UD-3 board mulls policy for student newspaper


MIDDLEBURY — The UD-3 school board will spend the next few weeks crafting a policy for the Middlebury Union High School Tigers’ Print newspaper that could range from continuing to allow the administration to pre-screen the content of the publication, to simply ensuring that students’ names are withheld from articles that could get them in trouble.

Board members on Tuesday decided to take that course after two hours of at-times impassioned debate, focusing on the balance of protecting students while allowing them the freedom to produce a newspaper with an unfiltered voice.

School leaders have been considering a policy since last spring, after a Tigers’ Print scribe printed the name of a student who confessed to having attended classes while under the influence of marijuana. That student was retroactively suspended from classes for three days. The UD-3 board’s policy committee met during the summer to gather a series of legal opinions and public testimony on potential ground rules for the student newspaper.

The policy committee on Tuesday unveiled two potential newspaper policies.

The first proposed policy calls for the journalism course teacher to be responsible for reviewing all material prior to publication. The superintendent or his designee, however, would have final approval over the material to be published. The policy also stipulates that the superintendent will not permit censorship “of any article because of administrative disagreement with the article’s viewpoint or opinions of the author, or merely because of any controversial nature of an article or its subject matter.” At the same time, the superintendent won’t allow into print any information that “could violate the rights of students, constitute discrimination of any portion of the student body, or advocate behavior that exposes all or a portion of the student body to harm.”

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Eat Local Challenge to kick off with harvest festival


MIDDLEBURY — Local foods aficionados will kick off this year’s third annual Eat Local Challenge in a manner befitting a movement dedicated to celebrating locally produced food: they’re breaking out their forks and casserole dishes and turning out for a picnic.

But the Addison County Localvores, as the individuals behind the Eat Local Challenge are dubbed, have more up their sleeves than a simple potluck. This year, for the first time, the month-long challenge to eat locally grown and produced foods will include a harvest festival that should prove educational, entertaining and, of course, appetizing.

Slated to take place on the Middlebury town green — or, in the case of rain, in St. Stephen’s on the Green Episcopal Church — the Sept. 6 festival represents what Monkton resident Jonathan Corcoran called the localvores’ efforts to reach beyond their core of dedicated supporters to the “next concentric circles” in the community.

“This year we thought, wouldn’t it be great to try to draw more people in, and wouldn’t it be great to try to educate people about how to actually do more eating locally?” said Cornwall resident Kristin Bolton, one of the localvores organizing the kick-off event.

Definitions for what constitutes locally produced food vary — do foods baked or processed locally from ingredients produced from afar count? — but a general rule of thumb is that anything grown within 100 miles of one’s home is local.

full story

August 25th

Vermonters 'staycation' close to home


STARKSBORO — As the last session of “Camp Common Ground” drew to a close last week, multigenerational campers piled into cars, boarded airplanes and took off for home. With the family camp attracting visitors from 40 states and several different countries, that trips home can, at times, be arduous. 

For East Middlebury residents Bryan Carson, Holly Stark and their seven-year-old son Max, the end-of-vacation trek was, instead, a scant 21-mile jaunt down Route 116.

The family’s decision to vacation close to home — to “staycation,” as Carson quipped — is a trend many Vermonters have embraced to reduce vacation stress, take advantage of their own backyards and, in many cases, save time, resources and money. 

Though the “staycation” is by no means a new phenomenon, according to Steve Cook, Vermont’s deputy commissioner of tourism and marketing, it has, he said, “been the word of the summer.” The Department of Tourism and Marketing has promoted in-state vacations to Vermonters for the last four years, and now, Cook said, other states are launching similar campaigns. Both New York and Connecticut kicked off their first-ever marketing campaigns for in-state tourism this year.

It’s a trend that seems to be catching on. At Kampersville in Salisbury, owner Jean Wisnowski said she’s never seen so many Vermonters flock to the Lake Dunmore campground.

“It’s unbelievable,” Wisnowski said. “I’ve never in my life seen a summer like it.”

When she asks new campers about where they’re from, she said, she’s increasingly hearing from residents of Burlington, Winooski, and White Hall, N.Y. It’s a notable change of pace for a business that usually attracts visitors from New Jersey, Massachusetts, Maine and New Hampshire.

full story

Route 125 fix proceeds; bridge work will take longer


ADDISON COUNTY — State officials on Thursday restored two-way traffic on Route 125 from East Middlebury to Hancock, which had been reduced to one lane in spots for more than two weeks, and plan to repave damaged portions of the flood-ravaged road before the end of September.

While work is proceeding smoothly on that stretch of state highway, repairs to other Addison County roads and bridges damaged during the Aug. 6 storm and flooding — notably the Lower Plains Road Bridge in East Middlebury and portions of Route 53 near Lake Dunmore in Salisbury — are in somewhat of a holding pattern. Officials are waiting for word of whether federal disaster repair funds will be available and say time is needed to marshal other resources for these major projects.

Middlebury Director of Operations Dan Werner said it will likely be next summer before workers are able to replace the Lower Plains Road Bridge, a small span that was shifted by the swollen waters of the Middlebury River.

“Both (bridge) abutments were damaged,” Werner said. “That bridge will have to be replaced.”

Residents dependant on that bridge will therefore have to continue to make detours for the better part of a year. As the Addison Independent went to press, federal authorities had still not decided on whether to make an emergency declaration that would provide up to 75 percent of the money needed for flood-related damage repairs in portions of East Middlebury, Hancock, Ripton, Goshen, Salisbury, Leicester, Bridport and Forestdale.

full story

College garners top honors in 'Sierra' green rankings


MIDDLEBURY — When it comes to being green, Middlebury College takes the eco-cake, according to “Sierra,” the magazine of the Sierra Club.

The September/October issue of the magazine, which ships out to 1.2 million readers, recognized the college as the number one school on a list of 10 “schools that get it,” applauding the institution for its continued work as an environmental leader in higher education.

“Sierra” singled out a partnership that makes it easy for Middlebury students to offset carbon dioxide emissions associated with travel, and gave a nod of appreciation to grants for students to investigate environmental solutions like geothermal power while studying abroad. The feature also highlighted the college’s waste management facilities, which recycle 60 percent of campus waste, and the new biomass generator, slated to kick into gear this winter.

The news proved exciting for the staff at the college, though the college’s high standing among eco-friendly universities has often been pointed out by other rankings. Middlebury was one of six schools nationwide recognized this year by the Sustainable Endowments Institute as a sustainability leader, earning the institute’s highest recognition.

But the high-profile “Sierra” feature is nonetheless a welcome pat on the back for the college. 

“It’s a nice acknowledgement of all the great things that we’ve been doing here,” said Director of Sustainability Integration Jack Byrne.

“I’m so proud of what Middlebury’s doing,” said Dean of Environmental Affairs Nan Jenks-Jay. “It’s about champions all throughout the system,” she said, pointing to the staff members, faculty and administrators across the college spectrum who have worked to make the school more green.

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August 21st

Bristol-area schools grapple with rising heating costs


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.”

full story

Vt. rail chief trains sights on downtown Middlebury projects


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.”

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