June 18th, 2008
An unusually heavy rainfall in Ripton on Saturday night washed out major parts of the North Branch Road, the Dugway and many private drives, as well as the a bridge on the North Branch Road, stranding at least four families. Crews from Ripton and Middlebury, as well as numerous residents and volunteers, are working on repairs that likely will total in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, if not more.
Many readers sent photos of the damage they observed in Ripton, more photos than we could include in our print edition. Here is a smattering of some of the photos.
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
NEW HAVEN — After several years of planning, and a few false starts, a new town hall may be in store for New Haven. On July 1, town residents will vote on a proposal to float a $594,000 bond for new town offices and a library. A special town meeting is scheduled for June 30 at 7 p.m. in the town hall to discuss the bond proposal with a vote by Australian ballot on the next day.
If the bond passes, the new community building would be built on the site of the Dana-King House. The historic King House, which now neighbors the town hall on North Street, was sold to New Haven resident Tim Goyette on May 6 for $500 with the condition that the house be moved off the site.
Building a new community center will be less expensive than renovating the King House to make it suitable for a modern office, according to New Haven resident Jerry Smiley, who designed previous plans for the King House and the current plans for the new offices.
“Rehabilitating the King House was a major expenditure, and a lot of people in town didn’t want to do anything with it,” Smiley said.
All told, the proposed new town office would cost about $794,000, but the bond is $200,000 less because of money available in the town’s facilities fund. According to Selectman Keith Hall, the facilities fund at the end of 2006 had $212,939.29 in it, and the town appropriated an additional $65,000 at the 2007 town meeting.
Town officials have long argued that they need to improve the conditions of the town buildings. The current town offices are in a small set of rooms under the town hall, but they have become cramped in recent years, especially as reporting and record-keeping requirements have grown.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ALBANY, N.Y. — The first time he stepped into a cave hit by what scientists have dubbed white nose syndrome (WNS), Peter Youngbaer was startled — and horrified. Almost all of the bats in the hibernation colony had died.
“There were hundreds and hundreds of carcasses littering the floor,” Youngbaer, president of the Vermont Cavers’ Association and an avid caver himself, said. “We didn’t know if it was an isolated incident. You started seeing it in other places — and then the white noses, the fungus, became this evident sign.”
Youngbaer joined between 80 and 90 other scientists, wildlife specialists and conservationists in Albany, N.Y., last week to discuss the mysterious syndrome behind these die-offs, which have escalated from just two incidents in caves in New York a year ago to documented mortalities at caves and mines in New York, Vermont, Massachusetts and Connecticut, with suspected sites in Pennsylvania.
The syndrome is estimated to have killed hundreds of thousands of bats this year. Last week’s conference brought together individuals from two countries and over 25 organizations to identify the most urgent research questions for the scientists and management agencies struggling to unravel the causes fueling the unprecedented bat mortalities.
Scientists at the meeting identified starvation and dehydration, direct mortality from pathogens, the effects of environmental contaminants or multi-factoral causation as the most promising hypotheses driving the mortalities — but the meeting called into sharp perspective the long road that faces specialists investigating the syndrome.
“I think that we now have a focus that we can test,” said Scott Darling, a wildlife biologist for the Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department. “I can only hope that the answer lies somewhere in one of those four hypotheses.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — For the first time in 42 years, Mark Mooney had to do a thorough spring cleaning of his Middlebury Union High School office before heading out on summer vacation.
Among the items he stowed in boxes was his attendance book from 1965, the year in which he joined the school faculty. In it are the names of some the parents — and even grandparents — of the students now featured in the class of 2008, which will be his last at MUHS.
“There comes a point where you say you need to turn it over to the next generation and the next group,” said Mooney, who heads a list of several veteran teachers who are retiring from the Addison Central Supervisory Union’s faculty ranks this year.
In 1965, the district hired Mooney to fill a junior high school teaching vacancy. Mooney had just graduated from Castleton State College, and had been looking for a job in either Vermont or Connecticut, from where his wife Nancy hails.
He decided on Middlebury, mainly because of some acquaintances and family relationships in the area and Mooney’s brother had attended Middlebury College. The MUHS principal at the time, Ken Severson, happened to be the former high school principal at Pittsford, Mooney’s home town.
He began his teaching career in a building that had been built in 1958 for a cost of just over $1 million. The junior high and high school were consolidated in the single structure, the front façade of which was dominated by glass and windows. The ACSU offices at the time featured two employees and were located in what is now the Middlebury municipal building.
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — Vergennes aldermen on Tuesday looked at a first draft of a 2008-2009 municipal budget that could hike city spending by $156,000, or almost 10 percent, to about $1.78 million.
But despite that apparently dramatic increase, City Manager Renny Perry told aldermen that a jump in the municipal portion of the Vergennes tax rate was not a sure thing.
Perry said he was projecting a budget surplus of roughly $40,000 from the current fiscal year, which ends on June 30. And he said an increase in the amount of taxable property in Vergennes — including VELCO’s new substation — could boost revenue to cover the increased costs.
“It looks like a lot of money. It is a lot of money. But … it’s too early to predict what our revenue situation is going to be,” said Perry, adding, “There’s a whole bunch of factors that will determine what effect this will have on the tax rate, if any.”
Perry is concerned about how soon the substation will get on the tax rolls, however: He said VELCO missed an April deadline for providing an estimate of its taxable value to the Vermont Public Service Board, and he hopes that there isn’t a “loophole” that will allow the power transmission firm to escape taxation for an unfinished project.
If Perry’s guess on the surplus is accurate and the city’s grand list grows enough, the city’s tax rate could even remain level this year. According to late-winter Addison Northwest Supervisory Union estimates, the school tax portion of the city tax rate could drop by almost a penny. ANwSU business manager Donna Corcoran said on Wednesday that nothing had changed since then to move that estimate.
Increases in the draft city budget were across the board, and were concentrated in unsurprising areas, notably fuel and insurance costs.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury selectmen are considering raising municipal water rates for the first time since 2001, in an effort to meet rising operating costs and debt service on water system upgrades.
But some of the community’s largest water users are seeking to turn the tide on talk of a proposed rate hike — which could represent about a 12 percent increase — that they said would only add to the already high costs of doing business in Middlebury.
“Manufacturing is getting harder to harder to do in Middlebury,” Otter Creek Brewing General Manager Gail Daha said at a selectboard meeting on Tuesday of rising expenses in Middlebury. “We’ve seen increases across the board, and there is a tipping point.”
Otter Creek Brewing and Agri-Mark/Cabot are two of the largest consumers of Middlebury municipal water and would be among the hardest hit in the event of a rate increase. But town officials said they must consider a rate hike in light of projections that Middlebury’s water fund will end this fiscal year in the red. Assistant Town Manager Joseph Colangelo is recommending that $40,000 be applied from the water department’s fund balance to wipe away this year’s deficit.
But future deficits appear unavoidable unless selectmen raise current water rates and/or continue to patch annual shortfalls using money from the water department’s fund balance, which now stands at around $400,000. Town officials are advising that selectmen not regularly tap the fund balance, seen as a valuable reserve for emergencies.
Middlebury’s current water rate stands at $2.60 per 1,000 gallons. That rate will need to be bumped to $2.92 per 1,000 gallons — a 12.3 percent hike — in order to avoid water fund deficits in future years, according to Colangelo.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Sixteen months after buying the former Specialty Filaments plant out of U.S. Bankruptcy Court, the Thomas Monahan Co. has resurrected the once-mighty bristle manufacturer and turned it into a productive business that continues to look for workers.
Now operating as “Monahan Filaments,” the company has a workforce of more than 140 workers, a more diverse product line and a new business plan that calls for exporting its wares to the same foreign markets that had undercut Specialty Filaments only a few years ago.
“The ground is always shifting, unfortunately,” said Jon Monahan, president of Monahan Filaments. “But we feel we understand the market well enough after a year that we are much more confident about where we need to take the company.”
It was in January of 2007 that Specialty Filaments filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy, following a steady decline in business brought on, in large part, by aggressive competition from overseas manufacturers. The sudden closure left 175 employees — most of them Addison County residents — out of work.
Thankfully, the plant’s shutdown proved to be only temporary.
The Thomas Monahan Co. (TMC) of Arcola, Ill., submitted to the bankruptcy court the lone, successful bid of $3.125 million for the Specialty Filaments business and property at 3046 Case St. in Middlebury.
Monahan officials have spent the past year sizing up their new acquisition, which now manufactures around 25 percent of Thomas Monahan Co.’s products: bristles for household, janitorial and industrial brushes.
While Monahan doesn’t foresee the Middlebury plant getting back to 175 workers, he does believe the business is on a path to stability.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY —State and local nonprofit groups are working on a deal to buy the development rights to the 99-acre Bingham Farm off Creek Road, property that would fortify a large block of land that has already been conserved at Middlebury’s southern gateway.
“The boys have enjoyed growing up here and I didn’t want to see it developed,” said Marilyn Bingham, whose family has owned the farm since 1959. “I enjoy living here. I like the view, and the quiet.”
While nursing has been her main occupation, Bingham raised five sons on the farm and the oldest, Alpine, lives on the farm and runs a small, diversified vegetable business. Alpine Bingham had previously managed several farm businesses on the spread, including a milking herd of 50-55 Holsteins. He sold the cows several years ago, and has focused on growing vegetables on around three acres while renting the balance of the cropland to a nearby dairy farmer.
The Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) and Vermont Land Trust (VLT) are now working on a conservation deal with the Binghams that would allow the family to invest in their farm while keeping it open, in agricultural production and available for possible inclusion in a larger “Trail Around Middlebury.”
Officials at MALT and the VLT are now working to raise around $200,000 for the Bingham Farm deal. Middlebury selectmen have agreed to tap the town’s conservation fund for $10,000 to go toward the transaction. That $10,000, according to VLT Champlain Valley Co-Director Alan Karnatz, will be used to leverage approximately $190,000 in grant money through the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board (VHCB). Karnatz said he is very optimistic the VHCB will approve the grant this month.