Top Ten 2010: New bridges take shape, school spending levels, economy shows spark
It’s no surprise that one year can sometimes blend into the next. The Addison Independent staff’s picks for the Top 10 local news stories for 2010 contain four that were also on the list in 2009. Our top story for this past year — the Cross Street Bridge in Middlebury — was No. 4 for 2009.
The slumping economy was also in the top 5 this year, but after being the top story in 2008, and No. 2 in 2009, the economy appeared at No. 3 in 2010 and it’s showing some signs of life.
The other two repeats from last year are the Champlain Bridge (No. 1 story in 2009; look for it on the 2011 list, too) and the continued growth of alternative energy.
But things do change. While the dairy industry in crisis was a Top 10 story for 2009, in 2010 that story transformed into the diversification of local agriculture, our No. 6 story for this past year.
Our No. 2 story for 2010 is the struggle for schools to trim their spending in response to changes in state funding.
Another education story is fifth in the top 10: the continuing effort to unify school governance in the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union.
The No. 10 story of 2009 — Gov. Douglas’s announcement that he wouldn’t seek re-election — was a prelude to the No. 4 story of 2010 — the election. Not only was there a spirited five-way race for the Democratic nomination for governor, and then a lively general election race, but also the GOP resurfaced in Addison County with more competitive local races for the Statehouse than there was in 2008.
The two final top 10 stories of 2010 were also stories that are always hot topics: Middlebury College and how it weathered its financial storm, and development of the Vermont landscape, and in particular in this case, zoning in Bristol.
Things may move slowly in this part of Vermont, but they do change. We have a new bridge, with another one in the works, for better or worse we’ll have a new governor later this week, and come June we’ll certainly have a new crop of local graduates we will be proud of. Why, we may even see 2011’s Top list including a surging economy. Welcome to a new decade, have a great new year!
1: Cross St. Bridge opens to traffic
While an army of young pirates, goblins and princesses lined up for some early Halloween candy on Middlebury’s Main Street on Oct. 30, their parents unwrapped a downtown treat of their own: the new Cross Street Bridge.
Municipal officials, local business leaders, Middlebury College brass and area children paraded over the new span between vintage cars denoting the decades since the nearby Battell Bridge was unveiled in 1893. The parade was led by Hank Prickett playing Henry Sheldon in a horse-drawn carriage — a recreation of the first crossing of the Battell Bridge.
The celebration was the culmination of more than a half-century of debate and planning for a new in-town crossing of the Otter Creek.
Past efforts had been hampered in part by arguments over where the bridge should be sited and by limited state and federal funds for major construction projects.
But the bridge hit a fast track in late 2008 when Middlebury College agreed to donate $9 million toward the overall $16 million in bonded project costs. Middlebury voters agreed to finance the remaining $7 million through a 1 percent local option tax on rooms, meals, sales and alcohol.
With funding in hand, the Middlebury selectboard assembled a design-build team of Kubricky Construction; GeoDesign Inc.; Vanasse, Hangen Brustlin Inc.; and J.P. Carrara & Sons to build the project, which featured a bridge linking Main Street with Court Street over the Otter Creek via Cross Street. The project also included a roundabout intersection serving Park, College, Main and Cross streets, and a new street behind the Middlebury municipal building.
Town officials reported in December that local option tax revenues were keeping pace with debt service requirements for the project. Middlebury police reported the new span was serving almost 5,000 vehicles each day, thereby removing traffic congestion from Main Street and Court Square.
The new year left only one bit of unfinished business for the bridge project — a centerpiece for the new roundabout intersection. A citizens’ committee is studying potential options.
2: School districts tighten budgets
It’s nothing new to see local school boards and administrators struggling to come up with budgets that in their minds are both acceptable to taxpayers and adequate for children’s education.
In recent years as the economy tanked, that task became even more difficult.
Then 2010 presented a new challenge — to be more precise, the new Challenges for Change law that mandated — or recommended, or strongly suggested; no one could say for sure until recently — that boards cut 2 percent from their 2010-2011 budget as they prepared their 2011-2012 spending plans this fall.
Given that many school districts had already level-funded their budgets for the current year and that other costs — energy, health insurance and teachers’ salaries, to name three — were set to rise, many local officials argued that the state’s mandate/recommendation/strong suggestion was neither fair nor realistic.
Regardless, boards went to work, with varying results. Statewide, the goal was a trim spending by $23 million; about $4 million of savings were realized by the Dec. 15 deadline set by the education department.
Between them, the Otter Valley Union High School and Middlebury’s UD-3 (high and middle schools combined) boards came up with about $750,000 of cuts. If the Mount Abraham board meets its goal, the three boards alone would total about $1 million of reductions.
At press time, the Rutland Northeast, Addison Central and Addison Northeast supervisory union elementary school budgets had not been made final; in some cases, there were indications it would be more difficult to meet the Challenges for Change goals.
In Addison Northwest the Challenge proved difficult. The Vergennes union high and elementary school budgets and the Addison Central School budget had been reduced a year ago, and most of the Ferrisburgh Central School increase was due to a bond to fund energy efficiency improvements.
Given that fiscal landscape, ANwSU Superintendent Tom O’Brien was not recommending to the ANwSU boards that they try to meet the full 2 percent cut in spending Challenge goal.
Finally, on Dec. 22 Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin announced that the 2 percent goal was not mandatory, but highly recommended — he will not require enforcement. Shumlin hopes lawmakers will agree to apply $19 million in federal economic stimulus money to offset a $23.2 million decrease in state aid to education.
But a news release from Shumlin’s office indicated school officials would have their work cut out for them in the future.
“The $19 million is a one-time allocation of funds,” the release stated, “and school districts should continue to develop fiscally sound budgets so as not to result in increased property taxes.”
3: Economy is recovering, but slowly
The phrase “It’s the economy, stupid,” has been in vogue since Bill Clinton was president, and never has the subject been more at the front of the national, state and local scene than the past three years. Since the Great Recession hit in 2007, the national economy tanked because of unsound banking practices on Wall Street, tax cuts and two wars drained the national treasury, and the home mortgage industry came crashing down in the wake of lax regulations and a host of bad loans. It was, in short, a disastrous decade, culminating in a loss of wealth through failing toxic assets forecast at $1 trillion just in the U.S.
Locally, this part of the nation didn’t see the worst of the recession by a long shot, but the recovery has been slow.
The good news is that partly because of the struggling economy, a renewed effort in the Middlebury area to attract jobs has been launched and some area industries are creating new jobs and considering future expansion.
At Middlebury-based Green Mountain Beverage, brewers of Woodchuck Hard Cider, the first phase of a major expansion was completed this fall as three enormous apple juice tanks were lifted into place. It’s part of a planned 7,400-square-foot addition to their Pond Lane building that will allow the plant to expand its dominance as the nation’s largest producer of hard cider. A year ago, the plant had 58 employees, which grew to 70 with another dozen expected in 2011. The expansion will include a larger reception/retail space along with the opportunity to tour the facility and learn the history of apple production in Vermont and the hard cider industry.
Even more recently, a firm offering English instruction to corporate professionals throughout the world announced that Middlebury is where it will expand its operations. e-Corporate English is currently located in the island of Malta with sales offices in France, Switzerland and China. The company hopes to double and triple its current staff of 30 in the coming years.
Another boost to the Middlebury economy will be the construction of the Eastview retirement community, which celebrated its groundbreaking Nov. 5. The 99-unit retirement community will create 45 permanent jobs, as well as up to 100 jobs during construction. It will be completed in 2012, with the first cottages open in the fall of 2011. And in a win-win situation, the community will support adjacent Helen Porter nursing home and Porter Hospital by sub-leasing its land to a tune of $200,000 annually — funds that will be used to defray operating costs at the nursing home.
Middlebury College has been a constant in the area’s economy, and while budgets were tight because of the economic crisis affecting investment income, it’s held steady and is poised for an increase in student population (see story No. 7).
A number of small businesses also have been keeping the economy breathing, including a couple on Middlebury’s Main Street (Clementine’s, owned by Emily Blistein, and the new Morgan horse museum and gift shop, to name two). In Vergennes the Little City Market moved into a bigger space, and just up Main Street the Vergennes Laundry bakery opened for business. Also, a new shop — Better Planet Books, Toys, and Hobbies — opened on Bristol’s Main Street.
On the down side, RetailVision announced a reduction of 20 of its 70 employees in Middlebury. And the owners of Kennedy Brothers marketplace in Vergennes announced its closing, leaving dozens of small vendors looking for places to sell their wares, though relatively few job losses. And mediocre milk prices were once again a depressingly tough reality for area farmers.
It’s also been a tough couple of years for the real estate and construction industries. But, again, with home prices nationwide devalued nearly 20 percent from the 2006 peak values, Vermont has fared much better. Home prices locally have held their values or seen a slight decline over the past three years, but certainly have avoided dramatic losses as seen in other parts of the nation. In early December we reported the median sale price of a home in Addison County was $205,000, down just 2.4 percent from 2009, and values for homes under the $300,000 price level were holding steady.
But new housing starts are still slow and real estate transactions are far from robust — sales of new homes in the first three-quarters of 2010 were down 6 percent compared to the same period in 2009.
Looking forward, the town of Middlebury is still stoked by the completion of the Cross Street Bridge, visions of a new mixed-use building in that area behind the Ilsley Library and a revitalized downtown center. Plans have also moved forward among members of the business community, Middlebury College officials and the selectboard to consider funding to boost the local economy on a couple fronts, including the hiring of an economic development director to recruit industry and help develop other job opportunities in the greater Middlebury area. That evidence of a can-do spirit locally bodes well for the area’s economic future.
4: Election spurs intrigue, turnover
The 2010 elections proved to be among the most exciting in the state’s recent history, and Addison County candidates took a share of the political limelight.
Indeed, it was Middlebury Republican Jim Douglas’s decision not to run for a fifth consecutive two-year term as governor that unleashed unbridled interest in offices up and down the statewide ballot. Five prominent Democrats and incumbent Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, an Essex Junction Republican, announced bids to succeed Douglas as the state’s top executive.
That, in turn, left a clear shot for lieutenant governor, which attracted two local candidates — Democratic state Rep. Chris Bray of New Haven and Starksboro Republican Marl Snelling, son of the late Gov. Richard Snelling. Bray and Snelling ran unsuccessfully for their party’s nomination on primary day, but figure to remain plugged into the political scene.
Another local boy, Forest Dale native and Otter Valley Union High School grad Jason Gibbs (now a Duxbury resident) won the GOP nomination for secretary of state, but he lost to Democrat Jim Condos in the general election.
Primary day provided some suspense for incumbent state Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, in his re-election efforts for one of the two state Senate seats representing Addison County and Brandon. Giard had missed the filing deadline for petition papers to get on to the Aug. 24 primary ballot, setting the stage for a Democrat write-in contest against East Middlebury’s Amy Sheldon. Giard defeated Sheldon, 845-757.
The two-seat Addison-4 House district featured a GOP primary, won by John “Peeker” Heffernan and Fred Baser, both of Bristol.
Ultimately, Addison County added just one new — but familiar — face to its legislative delegation in the general election. Former Rep. Harvey Smith, R-New Haven, defeated Democrat Spence Putnam of Weybridge in Addison-5 — the seat vacated by Bray.
Giard won re-election in a nail-biter, 7,366 to 6,987, over Orwell Republican Mark Young. Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, finished first in the local state senate race with 9,516 votes. Another Orwell Republican, Andrea Ochs, was fourth.
Incumbents won in contested races in the Vergennes-area, Bristol-area, and Shoreham-area districts. Newcomer Paul Ralston, a Democrat, won one of the two seats representing Middlebury after incumbent Steve Maier pulled out of the race in September when presented with a full-time job in the health care field that would have conflicted with his legislative duties.
Addison County and Brandon voters followed statewide trends in backing Democrat Peter Shumlin for governor; Republican Phil Scott for lieutenant governor; Democrat Jim Condos for secretary of state; and incumbent Republican Tom Salmon for state auditor. They also joined the groundswell of support that swept incumbent U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., to new terms in office.
5: ANwSU unification drama continues
In a story with both statewide implications and soap-operatic twists and turns, the five towns of the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union this year said yes, then no, and then maybe to one-board governance of the union’s four schools.
With state education officials in the background announcing they believe consolidation is one potential tool to control spiraling costs, in March all five towns voted overwhelmingly — by a collective 63-37 percent margin — to unify ANwSU under one-board governance.
Under the plan a 12-member board would run and ANwSU would own all four schools. ANwSU now just owns Vergennes Union High School, home to about half the districts’ roughly 1,100 students. The board would have proportional representation from the five towns.
Proponents generally believe there will be some cost savings, flexibility in transportation and personnel, and easier coordination of curriculum; and that one board to run four schools makes more sense than the current five-board structure.
Opponents worry about possible loss of local control and school closures, although proponents wonder if financial pressures could force smaller schools to shutter anyway. Opponents also point to unequal school debt loads among the ANwSU towns.
That March vote reversed two unfavorable results in 2005. Although in one of those votes five years ago a slim majority of all five ANwSU towns favored unification, only Panton and Waltham backed it as towns. And, critically, all five towns must say yes.
And in 2010 that proved to be the rub for the ANwSU board members who unanimously and residents who mostly backed unification: Petitioners in Vergennes and Addison called for a revote.
A group of Addison residents said they were concerned that their school would be neglected or even closed, and said instead the town should take over the school and turn it into a private town academy. The second vote in Addison went against unification, and the proposal was defeated.
Then lawmakers and state education officials stepped into the foreground. Legislators, at school officials’ urging, passed a law offering consolidated districts five years of tax breaks that start at 8 cents a year for residents, plus other incentives. The law also mandated that all districts at least look at consolidation.
ANwSU then held a series of forums this past fall. As well as being hammered at each by Addison critics — who held their own meeting to promote a town academy — district officials also listened to residents’ concerns about the Articles of Agreement that would govern unification and agreed to make some changes. They also handed out a survey that produced 2-to-1 results favoring unification.
And in late November the full ANwSU board agreed to hold what will be the fifth vote on unification, probably on Town Meeting Day.
Despite the fits and starts in the past five years — and with Addison Central Supervisory Union last spring releasing its own first report on what school consolidation could look like in the Middlebury area — ANwSU remains on the forefront of school consolidation in Vermont, and many eyes around the state will be on its five towns come March.
6: Local farm economy diversifies
The agricultural buzzword of 2010 was diversity. Faced with a commodities market that often disadvantages smaller Vermont farmers, many area farmers looked to other options available to make farming profitable.
In March, Cheryl and J.D. DeVos began the move toward creating the Green Mountain Organic Creamery, which would allow them to bottle and market their own milk and bypass the middlemen on the dairy market. The couple was frustrated with their reliance on the national milk industry, even though their organic milk brings in more stable prices than traditional milk on the conventional market,
As spring approached and county farmer’s markets planned expansions due to high demand, the county also saw a unique new CSA — that is, community supported agriculture, a system that allows subscribers to get weekly shares of food directly from the farm. Though most CSAs draw on resources from one farm, the Neighborly CSA combines produce from Gildrien Farm with meat from Four Families Farm, pooling resources in the hopes of a more efficient delivery system.
Then, in late April, Vermont producers got some good news for marketing: though the Vermont Agency of Agriculture had designated the state’s Seal of Quality program for the chopping block, legislators came through with an appropriation to keep the program alive and to enhance support and policing of the program. Representatives of the VAA said that they hoped the overhaul would add cachet to products the state exports.
Over the course of the summer, ample rain, heat and sunshine kept county crops growing well. Area farmers were relieved to see strong harvests compared to the wet, cold summer of 2009. But a May frost, which the USDA later deemed a natural disaster, took out significant portions of the apple crop in some areas of the county, emphasizing for some farmers the need to diversify.
As schools started up again, it was with an added emphasis on agricultural education. Many programs have begun to incorporate a focus on the area’s agricultural landscape, history and resources into curriculum, and lunch programs like the one formed in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union are attempting not only to include locally grown produce in meals, but also to educate the students about that produce and where it comes from.
Four Hills Farm in Bristol and Monument Farms Dairy in Weybridge announced plans to install methane digesters, which generate electricity from cow manure while providing both sterile bedding material and liquid fertilizer. The digesters, while they carry a high price tag, offer the opportunity for income and savings from an underutilized animal byproduct. Meanwhile, Dubois Farm in Addison went on line with its digester in November.
In late October, the Addison County Relocalization Network released its 10-year plan for county food resources. The plan hinged, in large part, on developing local and regional infrastructures for processing and storage, which would allow farmers a greater range of opportunities for their products and the opportunity to up their income.
While the plan was being developed, Vermont Refrigerated Storage in Shoreham, which currently stores mostly apples, landed two grants for research and facility improvement. VRS owner Barney Hodges said that the research would include ways to store a variety of crops besides apples and possible opportunities for food processing
And on a statewide level, the Vermont Council on Rural Development held a summit in December on the future of Vermont’s working landscape. The event, which hinged largely on Addison County and other rural areas of the state, discussed support for diversified and value-added production as a way to funnel more money directly to farmers. Bill Suhr of Champlain Orchards was a panelist at the summit, speaking of his orchard’s expansion into value-added production in the form of pies and ice cider.
7: College student numbers surge
In February of 2010, Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz announced that the school’s student body would increase from 2,400 to 2,450 as a part of the college’s new financial plan.
This was just one of the cost saving measures taken by college officials to increase revenue and reduce spending campus wide in 2010. Other efforts included the elimination of close to 100 different faculty and staff positions through early retirement packages and voluntary separation packages, along with a hiring freeze. Some on campus said that cutting the faculty and staff by 100 without any forced layoffs was perhaps the biggest story at the college in 2010.
The college also placed a freeze on salaries of employees making $50,000 or more per year.
In a September “State of the College” address, President Liebowitz projected a balanced budget for the next five years thanks to increased fund-raising campaigns, unchanged performance in all departments despite reduced resources and higher enrollment numbers.
The extra 50 students, Liebowitz said, would not disrupt the 9:1 faculty to student ratio that the college prides itself on, but the larger student body would help keep costs down for all Middlebury students. In his February address, he recommended that the tuition increases be leveled off within 1 percent of the Consumer Price Index, a common measure of inflation. This increase will be notably lower than last year’s 3.2 percent tuition hike, which landed at 3 percent higher than the inflation index and brought the comprehensive fee charge up to $50,400.
This year, though, the comprehensive fee will not be the victim of college finances — instead, the college said it would base its spending for the year on the fees collected.
“The cost structure will be predicated on our comprehensive fee increase,” College Treasurer Patrick Norton said following the February address. “If it’s higher, we’ll have some flexibility in the budget.”
Liebowitz stressed the importance of keeping the fee increases to a minimum.
“There will be a price point at which even the most affluent of families will question their investment; the sooner we are able to reduce our fee increases the better,” he said.
But so far, it looks as though the hefty price tag hasn’t managed to discourage prospective Middlebury students — the admissions office saw a record 7,978 first-year applications, a 16 percent increase over last year.
In the spring, as the acceptance list became finalized, it looked as though the 2014 class size would reflect the 50-student increase that Liebowitz had in mind.
But the increase in enrollment would not come without consequences.
With the new, larger incoming class and the unusually large 2011 class returning to campus after studying abroad, officials said the college was facing a slight housing crunch. Over the summer, they worked on plans to increase the campus’s housing capacity by between 30 and 40 beds, which led to the transformation of several former office buildings on campus into dorms.
And housing is not the only thing that looked different to students returning to campus after the summer. The incoming class of students is of a different breed from those previously accepted.
This year, the admissions process was even more selective as 2,700 applicants were in the top 10 percent at their high schools — 700 more “top” students than applied to Middlebury four years ago. Officials also noted that the applicant pool was far more geographically and racially diverse than in past years.
8: New Champlain Bridge rises up
Plans for a new Champlain Bridge moved from lines on a paper to actual construction in 2010 — an encouraging advance following the implosion of the former span on Dec. 28, 2009.
At the same time crews were clearing away exploded debris from the old bridge, New York and Vermont transportation authorities installed two ferries to get commuters back and forth across Lake Champlain from Crown Point, N.Y., to Addison, Vt.
Transportation officials picked the same new bridge design that had been endorsed in a public survey: A modified network tied arch span, endowed with a basket-handle arch with a network cable arrangement and internally redundant box-tie girders supporting a composite pre-cast deck system. Architects said the new bridge should last for 75 years.
With a design in place and temporary ferry service up and running, the New York State Department of Transportation — lead agency in the bridge project — solicited bids for the massive undertaking. Colorado-based Flatiron Construction won the job with a bid of just under $70 million and was given 500 days in which to complete the project. That timeframe calls for a finished product by Oct. 9, 2011.
Flatiron quickly arrived on site and ultimately negotiated a project labor agreement with five trade unions based in New York and Vermont. The company began work on the replacement bridge in June, focusing first on deep foundation work on the span’s substructure. That work included drilling 32, six-foot-diameter shafts for the six massive piers that will support the massive bridge in the water. A seventh pier is to be located on the Vermont shore, on rock. There is currently a combined total of 100 to 120 workers laboring in two 10-hour shifts to get the job done.
December saw roughly 25 percent of the bridge completed.
The most exciting part of that above-water work is scheduled to occur next summer, when the main arch — which is being pre-fabricated off-site — will be floated down the lake on a barge and lifted into place.
In the meantime, businesses in Addison, Bridport and Crown Point continue to closely monitor the construction progress. While the ferries have restored pass-by traffic, many shops and restaurants along the route have yet to see sales return to normal.
9: Alternative energy plans take root
With an eye to our energy future, the county ended 2010 on a high note for renewable energy. Among the ongoing and finished additions to renewable energy developments are three new solar projects, two new cow power projects and at least one eco-friendly house design.
Many of the renewable energy projects were spurred by federal and state funding and tax breaks designed to encourage alternative energy, as well as the Legislature’s 2009 creation of a Vermont Sustainably Priced Energy Development program. That program encourages the growth of renewables by locking in high wholesale rates for a certain quantity of new solar, wind and methane digester projects. The highest rates were set for solar producers, at 30 cents per kilowatt-hour — more than twice the rate that conventional producers receive.
In February, Burlington developer Ernie Pomerleau announced plans for a solar farm on Route 7 in Ferrisburgh, and in August he received the go-ahead to build near Vergennes Union High School. Once the approval arrived the work went quickly. In a Dec. 15 ceremony, the 186 solar panels along Route 7 were formally switched on, ready to begin producing power for a projected 170 homes each year.
Starksboro also celebrated the unveiling of 25 solar arrays behind Robinson Elementary School in early October. Following a hurried decision-making process that began in April, the town and school were able to take advantage of tax credits toward buying and installing the panels. The panels will power the town offices and substantially cut the school’s power bill as well.
Both solar projects are already playing a secondary role in their respective communities: Their proximity to schools allows them to be used as tools for science and other classes. Also in the teaching business is Ferrisburgh Central School’s new wind generator, which was unveiled this fall.
And the permitting process for a New Haven solar farm is under way, this one also just off of Route 7. The proposed project would be one of the largest in the state, with 178 solar trackers that would power 500 homes annually. The plot of land features a unique dual-use proposal — it would host an organic farm, where goats and sheep would share the plot with the solar trackers.
County cows stepped up their energy production in 2010 as well. In mid-November, the new methane digester at Dubois Farm in Addison went online, taking its place as the 10th digester in the state. The family hopes the waste from its 1,200 dairy cows will power 400 homes, and the sterile, solid matter resulting from the methane extraction process will take the place of sawdust as bedding for the family’s cows.
Meanwhile, in Weybridge, Monument Farms began work on its own digester, which it hopes to bring online in April. The relatively small digester will create energy from the 500 cows of Hagar Farm.
Following the building of its biomass plant, Middlebury College in May turned its sights to bio-methane, the byproduct of the manure-to-fuel process. The college in May entered into a preliminary agreement with Montpelier-based Integrated Energy Solutions to create an infrastructure designed to harvest and collect the fuel, then burn the bio-methane in lieu of No. 6 fuel oil. The college hopes to harvest the waste from small dairies that do not have on-farm methane digesters and funnel more money into the local dairy economy.
But the large-scale energy projects weren’t the only ones that made waves this year. Erik Andrus led a charge for carbon neutrality at Boundbrook Farm and Good Companion Bakery in Ferrisburgh, designing a small wind turbine that would be cheap to build and, he hoped, would supplement the power to his farm. The baker said that although it was not the sort of thing that would work on an industrial scale, it could serve as an individual solution to his own farm’s carbon dependence.
The eye for design and innovation was alive and well at Middlebury College, as well. This spring, a team of Middlebury College students was one of 20 college and university teams selected to compete in the biennial Solar Decathlon competition. Each team receives $100,000 from the Department of Energy to fund travel, labor and consultants — which attempts to place the competition’s young participants on the cutting edge of eco-friendly development. The students have until September of 2011 to design, engineer and build a solar-powered house, the design of which they’ve titled the “New Vermont Farmhouse.”
To keep us all informed, excited and involved in creating our energy future, the Addison County-based global warming group 350.org hosted the “10/10/10 Global Work Party,” a symbolic work day on Oct. 10 to demonstrate practical ways to reduce the collective carbon footprint within each person’s community.
10: Bristol stalemate on town plan, pit
The future of downtown Bristol continues to be in the works as members of the planning commission move forward in drawing up new zoning regulations to tie into the town plan that will be voted on in 2011.
Redrawing the zoning lines will play a big role in determining the future of gravel pit projects in the town, a contentious issue that came to a head in July when the National Resources Board’s District 9 Environmental Commission denied the Lathrop Limited Partnership an Act 250 permit for its proposed gravel pit off Rounds Road. Lathrop appealed to Environmental Court the following month.
Lathrop, whose original 2003 permit was appealed by the state Environmental Court, filed a modified application in 2007, then rejected by the town’s Zoning Board of Adjustment. Lathrop appealed that decision but Environmental Court decisions were put on hold until the District Commission had made a decision regarding the Act 250 permit.
On July 27, the project was denied an Act 250 permit on the grounds that it “would cause and result in a detriment to public health, safety or general welfare.”
And Bristol residents were already divided on the issue of the pit proposal and treatment of sand and gravel operations in town.
In March, Bristol residents voted down the town plan and gravel-extraction zoning ordinance proposed by the planning commission by an almost two-to-one margin.
Opponents of the rejected plan worried that zoning in the village, as proposed, would pave the way for approval of the Lathrop gravel pit project. Others opposed to the plan argued that town-wide communications issued by the commission had been biased.
In the months following the vote, the planning commission held four open forums in the spring to hear from residents about their concerns.
In October, the planning commission began a series of meetings focused solely on the revisions to the town’s zoning regulations. Members of the planning commission have been working with Noelle Mackay of Smart Growth Vermont to redefine Bristol’s zones in a way that will shape future growth within the community for decades to come.
The meetings will continue into 2011, and draft forms of the revisions will be presented to voters sometime in the coming year.
“We’ll plow through as much as we can with Noelle’s guidance,” Planning Commission member Sue Kavanagh said. “Then we’ll open it up for some input and feedback while we’re doing this work for each of these meetings.”
And a few more…
There was so much going on in Addison County that it would be near impossible to limit ourselves to only 10 big stories for 2010. Here are a couple others — in no particular order — that also caught our attention.
• At the beginning of 2010 the fact that hundreds of Vermont National Guard troops had gone or were in the process of going to Afghanistan for a nearly year-log deployment was sinking in. For family and friends here in Addison County who had to cope with the absence of their loved ones, this surely was their personal top story of 2010. Around 40 Guard personnel from the Vergennes armory arrived home just before Christmas.
• The Challenges for Change legislation that bedeviled school boards was emblematic of the struggle in Montpelier to balance the state budget. Over the course of the winter and spring state workers and those who use state services felt an impact in Addison County. For instance, the county courthouse was open fewer days than it was just a few years ago.
• A controversial proposal to build a gas station/convenience store/fast food restaurant at the site of the former Burdick’s restaurant off Route 7 in Ferrisburgh ended up in Environmental Court. A controversial gravel pit proposal off Route 116 in Middlebury likely will end up there after the Middlebury Development Review Board rejected it. But a proposed three-building shopping center at the intersection of Route 7 and Monkton Road outside Vergennes looks to be finding traction.
• Various historic preservation efforts in the county came to different ends last year. In Shoreham a years-long effort to restore the 200-year-old Newton Academy came to a sad end when the structure burned to the ground after a late-night lightning strike. And in Cornwall, a plan to restore the Lavalley Store went nowhere; preservationists blamed to slow economy. But in Bristol a year-long upgrade to Holley Hall culminated in its reopening in time for the end-of-year Best Night festival on New Year’s Eve.