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July 14th, 2008
By JOHN FLOWERS
RIPTON — Ripton officials on Thursday were optimistic their community would soon see basic mail service return to their community, while around a half-dozen people have expressed interest in filling the town’s vacant postmaster position.
Ripton Town Clerk Sally Hoyler said plans call for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to provide funding to resurrect delivery and mail handling at the Ripton Country Store, where those services were offered until late last month. However, any financial transactions — like buying stamps — would still have to be handled at the East Middlebury Post Office, which has been handling all mail functions for Ripton since the USPS abruptly closed the tiny community’s post office late last month.
“I think it’s important we get service back as quickly as possible,” Hoyler said. “Getting service back soon works in our favor.”
In an interview on July 9, Hoyler said she hoped service could be restored within days.
Hoyler said plans call for Ripton’s most recent postmaster, Bonnie DeGray, to be re-installed in her position on an interim basis. Other part-timers would be trained to fill in for DeGray during hours she will be unable to cover because of other commitments, according to Hoyler, who is one of the likely fill-ins. DeGray could not be reached for comment.
This interim setup would be in place for roughly 60 days, at which time the USPS hopes to name a new postmaster, according to Hoyler.
Ripton’s post office closed after DeGray’s contract expired and the USPS could not negotiate a new pact satisfactory to both parties. For reasons the USPS has declined to explain, the postal service did not seek another new postmaster before closing the Ripton Post Office.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) next week will draft a final list of requirements the developers of a proposed Staples will have to fulfill if they hope to get the green light to build the 14,600-square-foot office supplies store in The Centre shopping plaza off Route 7 South.
Those requirements, according to DRB Chairman John Barstow, may include a “master plan” depicting The Centre and its relationship with, and impact on, neighboring properties; an agreement between the developer (Middlebury Associates, aka Myron Hunt Inc.) and adjacent property owners on links between their respective parking lots to improve traffic flow in and out of The Centre; and landscaping, traffic island and crosswalk upgrades to improve pedestrian safety in The Centre.
Members of the DRB, during a three-hour hearing on the project on Monday, also asked Chris Hunt of Middlebury Associates to request that Staples slightly alter the location of the proposed store. Instead of having it built directly next to Hannaford Supermarket, some DRB members would prefer to see the store moved slightly south within The Centre, on land that is currently used for parking. DRB officials argued the lost parking spaces could be replaced on the spot currently being eyed for the store. They also argued that modifying the design of the store and bringing it slightly forward would give The Centre buildings a horseshoe-type configuration with a courtyard-style parking area that would be more visually pleasing and potentially safer for pedestrians.
Barstow cited the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, located across the street from The Centre, as an example of a company that ultimately agreed to forego prototype franchise architecture to meet the town regulations on architectural aesthetics.
“Nothing is impossible,” he said.
By JOHN FLOWERS
ADDISON COUNTY — There’s good news and bad news for Addison County farmers.
The good news is that milk prices have continued to remain strong, giving dairies a good return on their products.
The bad news is that skyrocketing production costs — particularly in the areas of fuel and feed — have all but negated the more robust return for milk.
“The price of milk and the price of inputs are not balancing,” said Addison County Farm Bureau President Bill Scott. “The cost of fertilizer has doubled, grain prices are way up and freight hauling is going to be up also because of the cost of diesel fuel.
“It’s the same old story,” he added. “Everyone is caught up in the cost squeeze, even though the price of milk is up.”
Bob Wellington, senior vice president economics, communications, and legislative affairs with Agri-Mark/Cabot, forecast a June blend price of $19.40 per hundredweight for milk, up around $1 compared to the May price. He projects another $1 bump in price for July.
It should be noted that the $19.40 represents the price in Boston; Vermont farmers, when factoring in transportation costs for their project, can expect to receive $18.50 to $19 per hundredweight, according to Wellington. He said the firm June price should be released next week.
The problem for many farmers is that even with milk prices now at around $6 per hundredweight more than three years ago, it’s still not enough to keep some farmers afloat.
“Vermont farmers need prices above $20 (per hundredweight) to cover all of their costs, because feed costs are so outrageous, and energy costs,” Wellington said. “It’s a real problem for farmers.”
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — Four weeks after a catastrophic, 40-foot fall from the roof of a Middlebury Main Street business, Robert Demic — the patient doctors are calling the “miracle man” — is looking forward to dancing his way back onto Addison County stages in a year’s time.
“I’ll be tap dancing in a year,” said 54-year-old Demic. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
Demic tumbled over 40 feet from the roof of Wild Mountain Thyme on June 9 after being knocked from his feet by what he believes was some sort of electrical shock. He was on the roof taking photographs of work he had completed for the business’s owner, Paula Israel. The camera dropped to the roof approximately 15 feet from the roof’s edge — exactly where Demic was standing at the time of what he believes was a massive shock.
“My memory is of being totally surprised, that I got blown backwards,” Demic said.
Israel, who was in her shop at the time, said she felt the building shake and heard “a big thump” — a sound she and Demic believe to have been his body hitting the roof, after which his body continued over the building’s edge.
Demic landed feet-first in a small patch of mud on the bank of Otter Creek behind the building close to the falls. When he came to, he said, he was disoriented but soon noticed his right leg was badly mangled and bleeding. He recalled struggling into the Otter Creek, which runs alongside the building, to wash away the blood from his leg — still dazed and partially incoherent.
By JOHN FLOWERS
RIPTON — Addison County officials are anxiously awaiting word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the White House on whether Ripton, Middlebury and Lincoln will be awarded aid for repairs to roads, culverts and other public infrastructure damaged by a major storm last month.
Gov. James Douglas, a Middlebury Republican, formally requested the federal disaster declaration from the FEMA on July 1. The request is for declarations in Addison and Franklin Counties.
Tim Bouton, a senior emergency planner with the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, was one of several state and local officials who gathered in Middlebury on July 2 to go over a final tally of storm-related damage. Bouton said Vermont’s total estimated damage from the June 14-16 storm is $960,000.
That $960,000 means that Vermont falls $40,000 short of the $1 million threshold required to qualify for a “federal disaster declaration” from FEMA, a declaration that would funnel in grant money from the nation’s capital to cover up to 75 percent of the storm-related damage.
Still, Bouton and other officials said Vermont could qualify for aid based on a per-capita calculation of the damage. On that score, Vermont would qualify, with a per capita damage assessment of $1.24.
In essence, the declaration hangs in the balance at a time when dollars are tight and the feds are processing massive aid requests from the Midwest (major flooding) and California (fires).
“It’s unknown what the response will be from Washington,” said Bouton, who added the all-important verdict is likely to be handed down within the next two or three weeks. “We are hoping that with help from our congressional delegation, we will be successful.”
By KATHRYN FLAGG
SALISBURY — On a sunny Tuesday morning, Karen Rockow and her cousin John Marlin sat on the porch of the North Cove Cottage’s front office — a red house hunkered down beside Lake Dunmore Road among a smattering of cozy white cottages.
“It’s just a fantastic place,” said Rockow, a 59-year-old Brooklyn native who has been vacationing at the lake since she was four years old.
She sat facing the water, looking out at a lone paddleboat on the cove and two small girls swimming at the water’s edge — imagining, perhaps, the north cove of Lake Dunmore as it was 50 years ago. Rockow, whose family bought these cottages in 1958, is celebrating the business’s 50th anniversary this year — an especially notable occasion for a business Rockow believes is the oldest group of cottages under continuous ownership on the lake.
“We’re really a relic,” she said. “These are retro vacations.”
Rockow made her first trip to the lake in 1954 in the two-tone, green-and-white Buick that her parents bought that year. The car — a lemon, Rockow said, that knew the inside of every Buick repair shop from Atlantic City north — ferried the family to Vermont for that first summer vacation. The weather was gorgeous and the accommodations filthy — and her family, Rockow said, was hooked.
They spent the next several summers returning to the lake, pleading with the owners of the cottage that now serves as the business’s front office to sell them the house.
They succeeded at long last, and soon also owned the half-dozen cottages south of the main office. Rockow’s parents set to fixing up their little resort, painting the cottages and hauling furnishings from New York. Motels were still a novelty in those days, Rockow said, and her parents caught the bug early, throwing themselves into the work of upkeep and hospitality.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Josh Phillips had been looking for an opportunity to return to his home state of Vermont and continue his work in the field of land conservation.
He got his wish on both counts last month when he began his job as the new executive director of the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT).
Phillips, 31, takes over for former MALT leader Gioia Kuss, who stepped down last year, and Robin Scheu, who had been heading the organization on an interim basis.
Until recently, Phillips worked as director of preservation services at Preservation Maryland, a nonprofit conservation organization in Baltimore. While there, Phillips administered grants, created a preservation easement program and did most of the organization’s local advocacy outside of the city of Baltimore — namely, 23 counties.
After four years with Preservation Maryland, Phillips and his wife, Julie, found themselves on the move this spring. Julie Phillips, a physician, had been offered a fellowship at Fletcher Allen Health Care in Burlington. The couple decided it would be a good move, so Josh Phillips began to look for employment opportunities in the Green Mountain State, where he had grown up and gone to school. Phillips is a graduate of the University of Vermont’s historic preservation master’s program.
He was ecstatic to land the top job at MALT.
“I grew up in Milton, and my family is in Benson, so I was very familiar with Addison County,” Phillips said. “This job really represents an opportunity for me to combine my interests in environmental conservation, open space preservation, sustainable agriculture and cultural/historic preservation. All those things come together in a community land trust, so I was excited that this opportunity was available.”
By JOHN FLOWERS
RIPTON — Ripton residents, still struggling to secure federal aid to repair local roads, culverts and bridges hammered by last month’s flood, are now finding themselves taking on Washington, D.C., over the loss of yet another public asset: Their local post office.
Like the June 14 storm that swept away portions of North Branch Road and several of its connectors, last week’s post office closing came suddenly, stunning the more than 200 residents and businesses leasing mail boxes in the Ripton Country Store.
“A lot of people in the community are very upset,” said resident Paul Bortz.
So upset, that more than 170 people have signed a petition titled “Save the Ripton Post Office,” and more than 100 people rallied at a meeting on Tuesday evening to see what could be done to save their post office.
First came a sign in the store on Wednesday, June 25, stating closure of the small office was imminent. The next day, each box holder received a letter signed by East Middlebury Postmaster Sean T. Donahue confirming the Ripton Post Office would end what locals believe has been a more than 150-year run on Friday, June 27. The letter indicated that service was being transferred to the East Middlebury Post Office.
Adding to the shock for residents was the fact that the letter gave no explanation for the switch, other than “the Ripton Contract Post Office has provided the USPS with their termination notice effective Friday, June 27, 2008, at 5:30 p.m. As of June 28, 2008, we will no longer be delivering mail to the Ripton Contract Post Office.”
Donahue declined to comment and referred all questions to U.S. Post Service public relations office in New Hampshire.