March 27th, 2008
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The organizer of a Dec. 28 underage drinking party that caused $10,600 in damage to the former summer home of Robert Frost in Ripton will not serve any jail time, but will pay $3,500 in restitution, perform 100 hours of community service and be on probation for two years.
Those were the main components of a plea agreement negotiated between Addison County State’s Attorney John Quinn and 18-year-old Ripton resident Andrew Ford, who fainted during a courtroom discussion with Addison County District Court Judge Helen Toor as she accepted the plea deal on Tuesday.
Ford suddenly collapsed and appeared to lose consciousness as judge Toor queried him on his reasons for organizing the party at the Homer Noble House that drew more than two dozen people, many of them Middlebury Union High School students. Most of those students have already accepted court diversion as punishment for their roles in the destructive party, which has garnered national publicity.
Court officials quickly cleared the courtroom after Ford’s collapse, but called off an ambulance after he quickly regained composure and completed the sentencing hearing, with his parents at his side.
“I have never scared someone so much that someone fainted in my courtroom,” Toor told Ford in a brief light moment after order had been restored. “I was trying to scare you a little bit, but not that much.”
Ford’s punishment includes a suspended jail term of six- to 12 months and an educational course that he and the other culprits will have to attend. Quinn confirmed on Tuesday that he is speaking with Jay Parini, author and D. E. Axinn Professor of English and Creative Writing at Middlebury College, about leading the course to enlighten the youths about Frost’s iconic status as an American poet.
By JOHN FLOWERS
SALISBURY — Don Ballou concedes that his body and mind are showing some signs of wear and tear.
He’s more than entitled.
Ballou, a resident of the Shard Villa senior care home in Salisbury, will be celebrating his 100th birthday on Friday, March 28.
“I’ve been very fortunate in a lot of ways, and I’ve had a lot of help,” Ballou said on Monday, in reflecting upon a very rich life that has included some 31 years as a mathematics professor at Middlebury College and a fulfilling retirement during which he has traveled to all corners of the globe.
“I’m quite indebted to all the folks who have helped me along the way, such as here (at Shard Villa) and at Elderly Services (in Middlebury),” he said.
Don Ballou was born on March 28, 1908, in Chester, Vt. Theodore Roosevelt was in the White House. Frenchman Henri Farman had just piloted the first passenger flight, and Robert Baden-Powell had just established the Boy Scout movement.
Chester was a wonderful place in which to grow up, Ballou recalled. He enjoyed going to school, where he developed a particular fondness for English and math.
He completed his undergraduate studies in English at Yale University, but decided to switch his focus to math after deciding that his mind “worked better” solving equations rather than “talking around a subject” in English.
So, Ballou went on to Harvard University for his graduate studies in math then took his first teaching job, as a mathematics professor at Georgia Tech in 1934.
He considered himself fortunate to land the job.
“It was toward the end of the (Great) Depression,” Ballou said. “There weren’t many positions available.”
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Local planners and developers joined the Douglas administration last week in panning a House-passed affordable housing bill they said was more of an anti-sprawl measure that would not substantially boost the state’s stock of low-cost homes.
The bill, which received final approval in the House on Wednesday by a 79-61 tally, proposes to create economic incentives and streamline the Act 250 permitting process for developers proposing projects containing at least 20-percent affordable housing in and around designated downtowns and villages.
The bill also amends criterion 9L of Act 250 in a manner that opponents believe will make it harder to develop housing in rural areas and communities that don’t yet have designated downtowns and villages.
“I don’t doubt that the intentions of the bill are worthy, but the unintended consequences will be just the opposite of what it’s hoping to accomplish,” said Bill Sayre, a Bristol resident and leader of Associated Industries of Vermont, an organization that advocates for public policy that protects the “private enterprise economy” in the state.
Sayre and other opponents of the bill argue that it may actually make it harder for developers to build affordable housing — even at the monetary threshold prescribed by the legislation. That threshold is 80 percent of Vermont Housing Finance Agency’s limit for new homes, which translates to $219,200 in Addison County — an amount that many argue is too high to be considered affordable. The legislation calls for the units to remain ‘affordable’ for at least 15 years.
Officials in communities that have designated downtowns or villages note there is little room left in, or around, those areas in which to create new housing, let alone at an affordable price.
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
BRISTOL — While some towns have struggled to find people to serve on various boards and elected offices, 11 Bristol residents have expressed interest in seats on the planning commission, with only two incumbents leaving. In fact, a total of 39 town residents have indicated interest in positions on eight town boards and committees.
Selectmen will interview the candidates at a special meeting on Monday at 7 p.m. in Holley Hall. They may make decisions regarding the candidates then, but Selectwoman Sharon Compagna said appointments, an annual activity after March town meeting, will probably not be made until the regular selectboard meeting on March 31.
Compagna attributed the increased interest to the fact that an application form for volunteer positions was included in the town report.
Others say the ongoing controversy over plans for a gravel pit on land south of downtown Bristol has apparently spurred greater civic involvement, particularly on the planning commission.
Town administrator Bill Bryant said other municipal groups attracted “not that level of interest,” getting far fewer applicants per seat than the planning commission. The Revolving Loan Fund board, for example, only received four new applicants in addition to the seven members up for reappointment to one-year terms.
There are nine seats on the Bristol Planning Commission, each with a three-year term. Two of the members whose terms are up have expressed an interest in continuing, according to Bryant: Stan Livingston and Jim Peabody. Diane Heffernan, the third member whose term is up, isn’t interested in serving again, and Bunny Daubner is stepping down even though her term isn’t up until 2010, citing family health issues, Bryant said.
By JOHN FLOWERS
BRIDPORT — The Bridport Grange Hall will receive a $15,680 cut of $196,000 in federal money recently secured by Sen. Bernard Sanders, I-Vt., for senior centers in four counties.
Bridport Grange Hall became eligible for the money as host of the Bridport Seniors Group. The hall also serves as a distribution point for the local Meals on Wheels program (see related story this page).
The Champlain Valley Agency on Aging will receive the grant money. Leaders of the Bridport Grange and Bridport Seniors Group will together discuss how the money will be spent on improvements to the building.
Jim Morse, an officer with the Bridport Grange, said the building could use work on its dining room floor and its parking amenities. Visitors currently must park alongside the road or off-site.
“It sounds really good,” Morse said of the grant award.
Debbie Plouffe, another officer of the Grange, said the organization has been able to make other important repairs to the building thanks to special fund-raising events and fees garnered by the facility. Those repairs have included new windows, a new furnace, painting and insulation for the walls.
Seniors use the Grange Hall at least twice a week, primarily for meals and socializing, Plouffe said.
When announcing the grant last week, Sanders said the importance of senior centers, like Bridport’s, should not be underestimated.
“Senior centers in Vermont play a great role in making sure that older Vermonters receive the nutrition, socialization and health care they need,” said Sanders. “Unfortunately, many of these senior centers are located in older buildings that need infrastructure improvements.”
By JOHN FLOWERS
NEW HAVEN — Almost three years ago Jeffrey New sustained a back injury that put him on long-term disability. Faced with the prospect of long, lonely days at home, he thought he’d get a cat to keep him company.
Let’s just say he now has more feline friendship than he and his wife, Alice, can handle.
The one animal has mushroomed into a veritable cat commune of 43 felines of various ages and sizes, all ensconced in the News’ home, ironically located on Dog Team Road.
“We haven’t had the heart to get rid of them,” Jeffrey New said on Monday as the cats played, lazed, sunned and perched themselves on any surface they could find in the couple’s home. “But we’re at a point now where we have to let some of them go.”
It all started off with one solitary cat, named Maggie, who they adopted from an acquaintance. The home’s pet population doubled a short time later, however, when the News agreed to look after Maggie’s sister, Misty. But Misty’s stay would become permanent.
“We talked (Misty’s owner) into letting us adopt her, too,” New recalled.
Little did they know, those original two were just a kitty starter kit.
News of the News’ love for cats spread throughout the area, to the point they would become a repository for unwanted and stray felines. People would drop off pregnant cats — kittens and adults — some with disabilities.
They just couldn’t say “no.”
And they have taken in the cats at great personal expense.
New estimates the couple spends upwards of $300 monthly for food, vet bills and kitty litter to regularly replenish the seven boxes maintained in the home.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Local lawmakers on Monday served notice that they continue to try and reconcile their own fiscal year 2009 spending priorities with those prescribed by Gov. James Douglas.
Douglas in January unveiled his proposed fiscal year 2009 budget calling for spending and raising $4.3 billion in state and federal funds. Lawmakers, during a legislative breakfast at the Bristol American Legion Hall, voiced concerns that the governor’s budget includes some significant financial shortfalls in some areas.
“I think we know the budget we received is sort of a ‘credit card budget,’” Rep. David Sharpe, D-Bristol, said of the Douglas’s spending plan. “It shorts (state employee) retirement funds by $8 million; it shorts the hospitals by $8 million; it shorts the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board fund by $5 million.”
Sharpe, a member of the House Ways and Means Committee, said his panel has been struggling to find ways to shore up the programs he said have been shorted.
“How much of that can we restore? I don’t know. But our committee has been asked to come up with $5 million, and even coming up with that is going to be extraordinarily difficult,” Sharpe said.
It will be difficult because lawmakers concede they aren’t keen on raising taxes. Coincidentally, Vermont House Speaker Gaye Symington, D-Jericho, made a “no-new-taxes” pledge on Tuesday.
Lawmakers have, however, supported some proposed fee increases. Sen. Harold Giard, D-Addison County and Brandon, said he and other lawmakers endorsed a measure to increase revenues for the state’s court system.
By CYRUS LEVESQUE
ADDISON COUNTY — Sugaring season has begun, and while it’s never easy to predict how the season will go, some Addison County sugarmakers say they expect a good season.
“We’re off to a good start,” said Maurice Rheaume of his own sugarmaking operation. “Most everybody’s pretty optimistic.”
The Middlebury resident is president of the Addison County Sugarmakers Association. He said that he began boiling sap on March 8, five days earlier than last year. Temperatures this spring have been relatively cold, which Rheaume said is ideal for sugaring.
“Cold is always better than warm. The weather is favorable,” he said. On Tuesday, Rheaume was looking forward to the ice and freezing rain forecasted for that night, and he probably wasn’t disappointed.
Don Dolliver of Starksboro agreed. “I think it’s a favorable sign that we keep getting these storms,” he said. He first boiled sap on March 8, but declined to predict how long the season would last. “It takes a few 70-degree days in a row, and that’s it.”
Modern sugarmaking operations usually use pipes running from tree to tree to collect sap. That’s easier than the traditional method of hanging buckets on each tree in some ways, but it requires maintenance when a pipe gets weighted down by ice or pulled down under a fallen branch or tree.
But according to Bill Scott of Vergennes, the former forestry teacher at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center and a sugarmaker himself, that hasn’t been much of a problem, despite the frequent icy weather this year.