Chronology 2011: Too much rain, a new bridge and more
Editor’s note: The change of the year is a good time to look back over the last 12 months and recall where we’ve been before diving into the 12 months ahead of us. We present this look back at 2011 to help you bring to mind the big stories of the year and also some of the smaller ones that have touched our lives in Addison County. Happy New Year!
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2011 marked the 100th birthday of Bristol’s Lawrence Memorial Library and a committee in January was ready to host some special events to mark the anniversary. In 1911, local businessman and Addison County Sheriff William Lawrence gave the building at 40 North St. to the town for just one dollar. Lawrence dedicated the library to his two deceased wives, Minnie Peet Lawrence and Lockie Partch Lawrence.
Don’t miss the 2011 photos that helped tell the stories!
The first month of the year also brought out a celebration of another local icon — Gov. James Douglas, who was turning over the reins of state after four terms as Vermont’s chief executive. The Middlebury Republican made his final address to the Legislature on Jan. 5. Except for two years, Douglas, 59, has served in the Legislature or executive branch for nearly four decades; he was first elected to the Vermont House as a representative for Middlebury in 1972.
Meanwhile, the Mount Abraham Union High School board slashed an additional $174,000 from its 2011-2012 spending plan after receiving word that the school would post a projected $111,000 deficit. With $266,767 already cut from initial drafts of the spending plan, an auditor’s report showing a larger-than-expected drop in projected revenues sent co-principals Andy Kepes and Leon Wheeler back to the drawing board. Kepes told the school board that over the next two years around $500,000 will need to be slashed from the school’s educational expenditures to meet state mandates.
Addison County-based band Chamberlin kicked off a nationwide tour with Grace Potter and the Nocturnals. In less than a year, the band went from an idea passed between two Middlebury natives, Mark Daly and Ethan West, to opening for a Grammy-nominated artist.
On Jan. 6, Putney Democrat Peter Shumlin took the governor’s oath of office, then touted priorities like providing universal health care, expanding high-speed Internet access and cell phone service, rejecting new taxes and spurring a “renaissance in Vermont agriculture.”
Middlebury’s manufacturing stage shook in early January when Green Mountain Beverage, maker of Woodchuck Hard Cider, announced plans to acquire the Connor Homes headquarters on Route 7 South. At the time, the 115,000-square-foot building seemed a perfect fit for the world’s largest producer of hard cider, cramped in a 7,400-square-foot space off Exchange Street in the industrial park.
After months of negotiation, Addison Northeast Supervisory Union (ANeSU) school boards imposed a contract on their teachers for the 2010-2011 year. One of the contract’s major features was an increase in the percentage that teachers had to pay for their health insurance premiums. These terms were slated to last until the end of the 2010-2011 school year.
With help from local experts, the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund (VSJF) released the “Farm to Plate Strategic Plan” aimed at encouraging growth and new infrastructure in Vermont’s food and farm sector, creating new jobs in that sector and improving access to locally produced foods. The plan was the culmination of 18 months of work, said VSJF Executive Director Ellen Kahler.
Middlebury coughed up $25,000 in town money to pay for a portion of the cost of a new local events coordinator, tasked with drawing out-of-towners to spend money at local businesses. The marketing coordinator would work 25 hours a week promoting the four big downtown events organized by the Better Middlebury Partnership — the Spooktacular in October, Very Merry Middlebury in December, Winter Carnival and Chili Festival in February, and the Middlebury Summer Festival in August.
The town of Granville was awarded a $90,7000 grant from the USDA Rural Development program to convert its historic schoolhouse, which last saw students in spring of 2009, into a town office.
Mount Abe wasn’t the only local high school shaving budgets. The Vergennes Union High School board warned for a public vote a 2011-2012 spending plan that was 1.06 percent less than the year before. Their $8.8 million spending proposal, calling for a $94,000 reduction, didn’t cut out any teachers, but it did reduce a guidance office secretary and a library assistant to half-time and eliminated two aides, one through retirement.
In late January, Bristol businessman Kevin Harper rolled out plans for the business campus Bristol Works LLC. The project called for the redevelopment of the former Autumn Harp plant on Pine Street into a mixed-use property that was slated to include a health clinic, school district offices, light manufacturers and a residential area.
Lincoln voters narrowly defeated a $2 million bond to fund repairs and upgrades at Lincoln Community School. While 222 voters were in favor of the bond, 237 were not. Due to poor weather conditions, the Lincoln school board decided to put the bond proposal back on the table for a second vote on March 1, after the Feb. 28 town meeting.
Habitat for Humanity of Addison County proposed building Cornwall’s first-ever-affordable-housing subdivision on a 13-acre parcel off DeLong Road. The four homes were eyed to take up only two acres, while the remaining 11 acres would be left open.
January closed with Addison Northeast Supervisory Union teachers vowing to strike come Feb. 9 if the ANeSU school boards wouldn’t return to the negotiating table to reach a new settlement.
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When it rains, it pours, and early February doused ANeSU with some unsettling news. ANeSU officials discovered a six-figure deficit in the school district’s books six months after the close of the fiscal year. Officials said that Greg Burdick, the business manager who had been out for much of the year on medical leave, made a miscalculation that resulted in an unexpected $241,000 deficit at Mount Abraham Union High School. This miscalculation came a year after a similar error led to a $450,000 deficit across the entire ANeSU.
The supervisory union continued down a rocky road. Following further contract negotiations between ANeSU teachers and school board officials, the two sides parted ways, once again, without a settlement. The teachers then took steps toward striking by opening a strike headquarters on Bristol’s Main Street. Both sides were willing to lower the increase of teacher salaries and raise insurance contribution rates, but they were unable to agree on exact numbers.
After 37 years of service to her community, Carmelita Burritt decided not to run for re-election as town clerk in Monkton. On deck was Sharon Gomez, looking to become the community’s first new town clerk since the Nixon administration.
Meanwhile, Vermont Railway officials confirmed plans to acquire private and public land along a 3.3-mile corridor to link the Omya quarry off Middlebury’s Foote Street with the main rail line west of Otter Creek. Their hope was to begin construction on the $30 million project come spring 2013. The primary beneficiary of the project would be Omya, which wanted a rail alternative to move the calcium carbonate it mines in Middlebury to a processing plant in Florence.
Bristol town activist John Moyers announced his run for a two-year seat on the selectboard, challenging incumbent John “Peeker” Heffernan. Moyers, who had long sought a spot on Bristol’s zoning board and planning commission, said that even if he didn’t win his first term in an elective office, his running would be good for town discourse.
State Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, filed legislation that laid the groundwork for a single-payer health system for Vermont. Among other initiatives, the bill called for the creation of a board to contain health care costs; a public-private, single-payer health-care system to provide coverage for all Vermonters after receipt of federal waivers; and a consumer and health-care professional advisory board.
ANeSU teachers called off their strike two days before their planned Feb. 9 work stoppage. They agreed to finish up the school year under contract conditions previously imposed by the ANeSU school boards and began negotiating a new contract.
Five Middlebury college students, and 17 from other colleges, studying abroad in Alexandria, Egypt, at the Middlebury College C.V. Starr School in the Middle East were evacuated from the country when anti-government protests began to heat up. A massive outpour of citizens filled Cairo’s streets to protest against Egyptian President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
In an unexpected twist, the Addison Central Supervisory Union board voted 22-2 against renewing or extending the contract of Superintendent Lee Sease, a move that would end his seven-year tenure with the district on June 30. Board members would not discuss the details of what led to the vote because they said it was a personnel matter.
The Addison Independent won 10 awards — including the top award for publications its size — at the New England Newspaper and Press Association’s annual competition. The Independent won first place in General Excellence for weekly papers of 6,000-10,000 circulation — the first time the paper has won this coveted award.
The Ferrisburgh Zoning Board of Adjustment conditionally approved a plan for a 10,650-square-foot Dollar General store at the intersection of Monkton Road and Route 7. The conditions on the permit for the franchise store included adding design elements to the metal building, moving its driveway, building a pedestrian path across its 9.9-acre lot from Route 7 to the store, and making landscape and lighting changes.
As state legislators looked to mitigate a $176 million revenue shortfall in the state budget, Porter Hospital braced for a potential 0.5-percent increase in provider tax rates, possibly jumping from 5.5 percent to 6 percent of net revenues.
The release of the 2010 New England Common Assessment Practice test scores brought varied news to Addison Northwest Supervisory Union, ranging from high marks at Addison Central School, which earned statewide notice, to stagnant math scores at Vergennes Union High School, which disappointed local administrators. Vergennes Union Elementary, Ferrisburgh and Addison central schools scored above average, and their students showed improved math and English scores.
The Mary Hogan Elementary School board OK’d a proposed $5,899,867 spending plan, representing a 2.22-percent increase from the year before. It would go to the voters in April.
Middlebury College announced the sale of the former Addison County Courthouse at 5 Court St. to the Vermont Center for Emerging Technologies. The organization, known as VCET, will use a portion of the building as a local headquarters to further its mission of helping entrepreneurs establish new high-tech businesses in the state.
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Civic involvement took center stage in March, with citizens dealing with many important local issues at annual town meetings and then many also worked on statewide concerns.
After voting on plans to unify school governance across the five Addison Northwest Supervisory Union at least five times in the six years, residents in all five town on Town Meeting Day backed a plan for one 12-member board to own and operate Addison Central, Ferrisburgh Central, Vergennes Union Elementary and Vergennes Union High schools. It was a first-of-its kind arrangement in the state. Not every resident was happy with the arrangement.
Also at the March town meeting Middlebury residents backed a $3 million bond to repair the town’s many battered roads that have been backlogged because of tight budgets. A 2011-2012 fiscal year general fund budget of $8,265,365 was passed by voice vote among the approximate 150 Middlebury residents attending town meeting with only one or two opposed. That approximately 2 percent increase in spending was the first increase in a couple years. It included a 17 percent in town employee health care premiums.
Conservative town and school budgets passed throughout Addison County, though some with tighter margins than others. Lincoln passed a $1.7 million school spending plan that represented a 7.7 percent increase from the current year. The paper ballot vote on the lion’s share of the school budget was 156 in favor and 38 opposed. The next day Lincoln voters passed a $2 million school repair bond with 359 in favor and 274 against.
On the statewide scene, some rallied to support or decry bills in the state legislature. First, a controversial Death with Dignity bill was proposed in the House Health and Welfare Committee. The bill proposed that terminally ill patients over the age of 18 have the option to end their own lives with a prescribed drug. It followed 1998 legislation in Oregon that allows adult residents to self-administer a lethal dose of medication if they have been diagnosed with a terminal illness likely to result in death within six months or less. Onetime Addison County resident Nancy Valko in 2009 was living in Oregon, when she legally ended her own life.
At the same time, as legislators tried to hammer out a new health care system, many locals offered their support to a single-payer model at a live video conference. Twenty area residents showed up to testify at the interactive television site in Middlebury, linked to legislators in Montpelier. Though some voiced concerns that the system would offer untimely and inadequate health care, the support for single payer was overwhelming. By the end of the month, the House passed the bill, sending it on to approval by the Senate.
While health care legislation held the spotlight, the state’s 2012 budget suffered a debilitating hit. Lawmakers learned that the $158 million federal stimulus spending was wrapping up and, as a result, the state was looking at a deficit in the coming fiscal year. State representatives said that the loss of the stimulus money contributed to a $176 million shortfall for fiscal year 2012, compared to 2011. The budget being worked on in Montpelier compensated with broad spending cuts, a tax on health care providers, and increase in the tobacco tax, a reduction in education spending, and other smaller changes.
As the state rearranged its budget priorities, school districts throughout the county took organization steps of their own. Granville and Hancock discussed leaving the Windsor Northwest Supervisory Union because financial and management issues in the central office drove two other towns, Bethel and Rochester, out of the supervisory union — Bethel and Rochester had the only two high schools in the district. The fate of the entire supervisory union, which also includes Stockbridge and Pittsfield, was thrown into question.
On the other side of the mountains, residents in two towns that had backed unified school governance for ANwSU decided to vote on the plan again. Citizens in Addison and Vergennes filed petitions for revotes that would be held later in the spring.
A Middlebury College student from Ripton was held in custody by Syrian authorities when they found him filming at an anti-government protest. Tik Root, 21, had been evacuated from an Egyptian academic program in January when anti-government protests were heating up there. Root was sharing media of Egyptian protests, and hoped to return to the Middle East to continue his study of Arabic, which he did when he went to Syria in early March. After federal officials made pleas to Syrian officials, Root was ultimately released, and he returned to Middlebury College.
Winter didn’t seem to want to end, as Addison County continued to face massive snowfall in the month of March. An early storm made the record books as the third largest ever to hit the Champlain Valley. Local road crews found creative solutions to the nearly 10 feet of snow that fell over the winter, using farm vehicles and feed trucks to move snow. In Vergennes, the town ran out of room at its usual snow storage location.
Mounting winter heating costs made a new energy proposal attractive to some. Vermont Gas proposed a $60 million-$70 million project to extend in the next five years a natural gas pipeline to Vergennes and Middlebury from its current terminus in Chittenden County. The project would transport natural gas from Canada to Addison County, offering residents an option to fuel oil, propane and electric heat. Proponents said natural gas provides between 30 and 55 percent savings over those heating methods. The gas would come from the Canadian province of Alberta, through the TransCanada pipeline and into the Vermont distribution network.
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April began with some welcome news for a Ripton family. Authorities in Syria announced their release of Tik Root, a Middlebury College student who had been arrested in the Middle Eastern nation while documenting some government protests. Vermont’s Congressional delegation had argued that Root was in the wrong place at the wrong time, and prevailed upon the Syrian government to release the student, who was reunited with his family in Ripton.
While Root returned to the fold, Middlebury police officer Gary Barclay announced he would be retiring from the force after a 40-year career. Barclay served hundreds of assignments during his tenure, espousing the motto, “On my watch, no officer will get hurt; we will all come home.”
Spring weather created some more favorable conditions for crews working on the new Champlain Bridge. Cold weather, winds and flooding had hampered work on the $70 million project linking West Addison to Crown Point, N.Y., to the extent that Empire State transportation officials agreed to grant Flatiron Construction a 65-day extension to complete the job. Still, contractors were optimistic about being able to finish the bridge on schedule by October.
Meanwhile, Lincoln prepared for replacement of the Truchon Bridge on East River Road and discussed the possibility of creating a more pedestrian-friendly route from the village center to the elementary school.
Middlebury voters approved, by voice vote, a 2011-2012 Mary Hogan Elementary School spending plan of $5.9 million, representing a 2.22-percent increase. Middlebury residents also learned they would be asked for input as part of an Addison Central Supervisory Union-wide study on how governance and resources could be shared among the district’s seven elementary schools, middle school and high school. An ACSU committee formed to study this issue and get feedback from the towns of Middlebury, Shoreham, Cornwall, Salisbury, Weybridge, Bridport and Ripton.
Signs of a struggling economy were apparent as the United Way of Addison County announced in April that it had reached 92 percent of its 2010 fund drive goal of $775,000 — the second consecutive year that it had fallen slightly short of its mark. To make matters worse, demand for UWAC funds and services was increasing, meaning fewer dollars for a surging client base.
An ad hoc committee studying Middlebury’s fire station needs determined that it would make most sense for the town to improve its facilities off Seymour Street and in East Middlebury rather than erecting a new, consolidated building off Route 7 South. The committee came to this conclusion based on response times to fires and the potential impact on insurance rates for people located furthest away from a consolidated station.
In Bristol, the planning commission continued to work on language for a revised town plan, with gravel extraction again emerging as a sticking point. And in Middlebury, a proposed 3.3-mile rail spur that would link the Omya quarry off Foote Street with the Vermont Railway line near the Otter Creek drew criticism from neighbors, including those in the Halladay Road neighborhood, who worried about the proximity of trains to their homes.
In Vergennes, the city council discussed the prospect of building a new police station on city-owned land off Green Street, and noted a potential revenue source for such a project: Lease revenues charged to cell phone providers that have antennae affixed to the municipal water tower.
Also causing some worry in Middlebury was a case involving a group of men purchasing large quantities of cold medications at pharmacies in Middlebury. The cold medicine, police noted, contains ephedrine, a key substance used in the making of methamphetamine. Police have yet to find a meth lab in town, but are concerned the drug will make some local inroads.
The Vermont Senate in April approved a sweeping health care reform initiative, laying the groundwork for a single-payer system. State Sens. Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, and Harold Giard, D-Bridport, both voted in favor of the bill.
Dozens of sugarmakers throughout the county took to the spring ritual of boiling sap for maple syrup in April. And farmers got a financial boost with some improving milk prices. The average price surged to around $20 per hundredweight, almost double what it was fetching two years earlier.
After 16 years of lighting up local stages, the After Dark Music Series went dark in Middlebury. Organizers Harvey and Carol Green explained that they no longer had the energy to line up and coordinate the concert series, but they did not rule out organizing sporadic entertainment events during the coming years.
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May brought some bad news on the business front. Vermont Hard Cider Co. scuttled a deal to acquire the Connor Homes headquarters off Route 7 South in Middlebury when some environmental contamination was discovered within the structure. The cider company, having outgrown its Pond Lane facility, had planned to expand within the 115,000-square-foot Connor Homes building. That same plan would have called for Connor Homes to move into the former home of Vermont Tubbs in Brandon.
There was also some discouraging news for organizers of a Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Bristol. Organizers had hoped to land a $650,000 federal grant to establish an FQHC in Bristol Village. The center would help deliver health care services to low-income residents. But U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., announced that the federal deficit would likely preclude a grant for the Bristol project for the foreseeable future.
Officials had high hopes the FQHC could be located within Bristol Works, the former Autumn Harp manufacturing facility that is site of the community’s refurbished industrial park. Kevin Harper, founder and former owner of Autumn Harp, was a driving force behind Bristol Works, which is keen on attracting new tenants.
Also in Bristol, residents packed a series of planning commission meetings to comment on an ongoing update of the town plan. Many of the residents took particular interest in how the commission would define allowable uses in the town’s conservation zone, and whether gravel and sand extraction could be allowed there.
Bristol voters in May approved, by a slim margin, a 2011-2012 spending plan for police services in the village of $377,322, down 7 percent from the prior year.
Middlebury firefighters announced plans to pitch a $5.2-million makeover of the fire stations on Seymour Street and in East Middlebury, which the department had outgrown. The proposal was later pared back to $4.8 million and will be fielded by local voters on Town Meeting Day in March 2012.
Residents along waterways in Addison County were on edge, as wet weather and melting snow forced streams higher and resulted in the level of Lake Champlain hitting an all-time high of 102.64 feet above sea level. The previous record high for the lake was 102.1 feet, registered in 1869. Further data would reveal the 2010-2011 winter to have been the third-snowiest on record. All of that moisture created a three-week delay for some farmers in beginning their spring plantings.
County farmers and consumers got a well-deserved pat on the back when Vermont’s Farm to Plate Strategic Plan revealed that Addison County, with its 773 farms, leads the state in the percentage of agricultural land and per-capita spending on locally produced foods.
The Holm family’s multi-year effort to re-establish a small-scale hydroelectric operation at the Otter Creek Falls in Middlebury gained some momentum in May. The selectboard issued a conditional letter of support for the water turbine project, which the Holms officially submitted for review by federal regulators.
The Town Hall Theater in May introduced its new director of youth programs (Lindsey Pontius), while Camp Common Ground in Starksboro unveiled its new “Eco-Lodge,” functioning on green energy.
Meanwhile, at Salisbury’s storied Camp Keewaydin, it was the end of an era. Alfred “Waboos” Hare, one of the patriarchs of the camp, died in May at the age of 96. Hare had been involved with the camp continuously — as either a camper, counselor, co-owner or administrator — since 1923.
Lake Champlain Maritime Museum officials learned they would be turning their pilot wheel over to new leadership. Museum co-founder and Executive Director Arthur Cohn announced he would leave as executive director (but stay on in a reduced capacity) after the 2011 season. He said he was ready to pass the torch to new Co-executive Directors Erick Tichonuk and Adam Kane.
In Montpelier, local lawmakers saluted what they said was a very productive 2011 legislative session. They cited health care reform and a balanced budget as the top accomplishments during a very busy session.
Voters in Vergennes reversed their Town Meeting Day decision to endorse the creation of a unified board to govern the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union Schools. The reversal was the latest twist in a multi-year saga to consolidate governance in the ANwSU.
Vergennes Union High School Co-Principal Ed Webbley received some nice recognition in May, when he was named the “Robert F. Pierce Vermont Secondary Principal of the Year” by the Vermont Principals’ Association.
Addison Central Supervisory Union teachers in May negotiated a new four-year pact that granted teachers small pay raises; they also had to pay a larger proportion of their health insurance deductibles. The new contract for the first time placed teachers at all schools in the district under a single contract.
The UD-3 school board discussed the possibility of installing a turf field at Middlebury Union High School.
In Monkton, first- and second-grade students worked feverishly to beat the world record for team finger knitting. The record in their sights: 3.85 miles of chain-like, yarn rope created by some Austrian students.
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State officials in June confirmed that they were considering Middlebury as the potential location for a new methadone clinic to help patients trying to wean themselves off heroin and other narcotic drugs. That revelation drew some concerns from local officials wondering if such a clinic could become a magnet for drug-related crime in town.
State, federal and local officials proudly broke ground on a new $5.8 million, 25,000-square-foot senior housing project and meeting center next to American Legion Post 14 in Vergennes.
Helen Porter Healthcare and Rehabilitation teamed up with a local nonprofit to provide a suite within the nursing home for terminally ill patients. Addison Respite Care Home Ltd. officials announced plans to eventually create a total of four such suites throughout the county.
It was a little easier being green for Middlebury-based Good Point Recycling during the month of June. Good Point won electronic waste handling contracts for New York, Rhode Island and Vermont.
Continued bad wet weather in June conspired to create some of the toughest planting conditions on record for Addison County farmers dealing with clay soils. Some farmers reported being more than three weeks behind in getting their corn crops in. The wet weather also provided prime breeding ground for mosquitoes.
While farmers were not pleased with the weather, local sugarmakers celebrated one of their best seasons ever for producing maple syrup.
On the national agricultural front, U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., announced he would support legislation to end subsidies for the ethanol industry.
In Bristol, spring brought a half-dozen vacant storefronts on Main Street. Several of those would be spoken for in relatively short order with such businesses as Recycled Reading, Great Scentsations and ND’s Tavern. More would be filled by fall.
June also saw some comings and goings to area schools. In Bristol, Mount Abraham Union High School history teacher Jim Ross announced his retirement. Ross had been with Mount Abe for 31 years, and at Enosburg Falls for eight years before that.
Addison Central Supervisory Union officials announced the hiring of Gail Conley as interim superintendent. Conley, former Chittenden East superintendent, was picked to serve the 2011-2012 academic year while a search is conducted for a permanent replacement for outgoing Superintendent Lee Sease.
After more than two and a half decades of military service, Middlebury resident Brian Carpenter was promoted to the rank of brigadier general by the U.S. Army. The U.S. Senate confirmed his nomination on May 26, making it 27 years to the day since he was first commissioned for service.
Residents of Lake Dunmore were regaled by the dulcet tones of new chamber music emanating from Camp Point CounterPoint. A new camp, called “New Music on the Point,” opened to aspiring composers and musicians.
Seniors at high schools throughout the county graduated with hopes of an improving economy and/or generous scholarship aid for continuing education.
Rutland Northeast teachers celebrated June with a new three-year contract, one that assured them small, annual base salary increases but required them to pick up a greater proportion of their health care premiums.
While the 2011 Legislature had recessed for the year, there was plenty of news to keep lawmakers providing sound bites. The ad hoc Vermont Apportionment Board proposed a new map (based on the 2010 census numbers) that redraws several House districts and cuts the town of Monkton in half. Local lawmakers pledged not to support the plan.
In Vergennes, the city council approved a 2011-2012 budget that would maintain a level municipal tax rate for the fourth year in a row.
The Henry Sheldon Museum of Vermont History joined those marking the 150th anniversary of the start of the Civil War. Museum Director Jan Albers organized a play with a script culled from the letters of Addison County residents who lived through the ordeal. The play, titled “Remember Me to All Good Folks,” was staged at Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater and at the Flynn in Burlington.
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Knee high by the Fourth of July did not hold true for corn crops in Addison County this year — in fact, some farmers found their fields too wet to plant until early July. The month came in dry and sunny, though, and Lake Champlain levels were finally low enough for the Fort Ticonderoga Ferry to resume service, having missed the first seven weeks of its season due to flooding at its docks in Shoreham, Vt., and Ticonderoga, N.Y.
As towns around the county celebrated the Fourth of July with festivities and fireworks, the team representing Snap’s Restaurant crossed the finish line first to claim their third championship in Bristol’s 33rd annual Great Outhouse Race.
Meanwhile, the Middlebury selectboard unanimously endorsed a plan to install a solar array on municipal land behind the police headquarters. The project is expected to generate enough energy to power 30 average homes, and the Acorn Energy Co-op, which spearheaded the project, will share part of the generated power with the town of Middlebury.
Early in the month, the Vermont Apportionment Board — which was recommending where Vermont legislative boundaries would be redrawn —endorsed a senatorial district that would remove Brandon from the two-seat Addison County district, to be replaced by Charlotte. Under the new plan, Brandon would be included in Rutland County. Senate and House reapportionment happens once every 10 years, and the Legislature is due to vote on the reapportionment plan in early 2012. The new districts need to be in place for November elections.
Porter Medical Center submitted to state regulators a fiscal year 2012 spending plan of $65.9 million, which includes a 10.3 percent rise in the rates charged for patient procedures (the budget was approved in October). Days later, regulator Stephen Kimbell, commissioner of the Vermont Department of Banking, Insurance, Securities and Health Care Administration, swung through Addison County to say that none of the 14 regional hospitals in the state are likely to be shuttered or consolidated in the wake of Vermont’s health care reforms. He said that all of the hospitals in the state are already making headway on managing and reducing costs.
And despite consistently high milk prices going into the year, the number of farms milking cows in the state continued its downward trend. In July, Vermont Agency of Agriculture officials reported that eight dairy farms shuttered their milking parlors in May, dropping the total number of farms milking cows below 1,000 for the first time in probably a century. Vermont had more than 10,000 farms in the 1940s.
Still, Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross said there are more than 1,000 dairy farms if you count sheep and goat operations as well. He said the loss of cow dairy farms is a sign that the agriculture industry is changing, but he said agriculture in the state is still strong, with a growing number of beef, vegetable and grain farms.
Meanwhile, Executive Director Josh Phillips resigned from his position at the Middlebury Area Land Trust, and the board of the 24-year-old conservation organization stepped back to evaluate the sustainability of its ongoing conservation projects.
Middlebury’s Festival on-the-Green marked its 33rd year with a full program of entertainment, including a headline performance by the up-and-coming band Chamberlin, which lists several local musicians among its ranks.
Bristol resident Brian Simmons prepared for the National Horseshoe Pitchers Association World Championships in Louisiana at the end of the month. He landed the national title for the third time, while other members of the Sodbusters Horseshoe Pitching Club also made strong showings at the event.
Ten Addison County towns were marking an auspicious birthday in 2011 — the 250th anniversary of receiving charters from Benning Wentworth, the royal governor of New Hampshire, in 1761. After Bridport held its big birthday bash in June, and Brandon hosted the first of its anniversary celebrations also in June, several Addison County towns held big birthday parties in July. Weybridge, Leicester and New Haven all gathered townspeople together for special weekend activities during the month of July. Other towns celebrating their 250th this year would be Shoreham, Addison, Middlebury, Cornwall, Panton and Salisbury.
Towns in northern Addison County received the welcome news that their property taxes would decrease this year following the release of school tax rates in June. Administrators attributed the decrease to lower per-pupil spending in area schools.
Ferrisburgh residents had more than taxes to celebrate: The town celebrated its second annual Ferrisburgh Day on July 30.
Late in the month, a heat wave wilted New England, with three days in Vermont of temperatures well above 90 degrees and high humidity. It wasn’t just area residents who were stressed by the heat — electric power grids were also pushed to their limits by the heavy use of air conditioners.
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August started out in a typical midsummer lull, with many families out of town and others still sluggish from the excessive heat of late July.
On campus, Middlebury College continued its work installing new artificial turf on its field hockey and lacrosse field. The old turf didn’t go to waste. The covering, still usable but tired from 10 years of heavy play, found a new home as an off-season covering for Middlebury’s Memorial Sports Center rink, where it will go in after the ice melts next spring to provide indoor practice space — and extra rent — for the center.
The quiet in town was soon dispelled by the Addison County Fair and Field Days, which this year featured new events, including a Morgan Horse extravaganza. Then there were all the old standbys — the Taste of Vermont dinner drew hundreds, the demo derby delighted huge crowds with collisions, and the armwrestling tournament once again highlighted the more muscular county residents.
Vermont Secretary of Agriculture Chuck Ross was among the dignitaries showing up at the fair, visiting the 4-H barns and sheep-shearing demonstration and touting it and others like it as a crucial medium for telling the story of agriculture in the state.
Field Days wasn’t the only place to find food and entertainment in the county in early August: The inaugural Midd Summer Festival, put on by the Better Middlebury Partnership, drew 1,700 to downtown Middlebury to enjoy Vermont cheese, beer and wine, plus musical entertainment, at the Marble Works next to the Otter Creek falls. Event organizers declared the celebration a smashing success.
Despite August’s celebratory nature, the nation was preparing to mark a milestone of another type: the 10th anniversary of the deadly events of Sept. 11, 2001. When the National 9/11 Flag arrived in Middlebury on its trip across the nation, many turned out to see it and contribute to its stitch-by-stitch reconstruction.
And a two-year saga neared its end when the central arch of the new Champlain Bridge made a grand journey as it floated from its staging spot in Port Henry, N.Y., to the site of the new bridge one Friday morning in late August. Crowds turned out to watch the 1.8 million-ton arch lifted into place, once again connecting Addison, Vt., and Crown Point, N.Y. Though completion of the project would still be more than two months off, the day was a tangible indication that the end was in sight for those who relied on the old bridge to speed their daily commute and connect two communities.
As the month drew to a close, the storm that would leave its historic imprint on Vermont crept closer and closer, raising alarm bells up the Atlantic coast from Washington, D.C., to New York City and Boston.
But few in Vermont were prepared for the torrential rains and flooding that Tropical Storm Irene brought to the Green Mountain State on Aug. 28. Over the course of one day, rushing waters destroyed roads and bridges throughout the state, claiming four lives, causing hundreds of millions of dollars in damage, and leaving many people homeless. Locally it washed a building onto Route 7 into downtown Brandon and closed a key Route 7 bridge there.
The heart of Brandon was devastated by a disastrous flood as the Neshobe River overflowed and raged through the downtown. A heavy, steady rain had been falling since before dawn on Sunday, Aug. 28, when, at roughly 3:30 p.m., the swollen river started to overflow at Kennedy Park next to the Watershed Tavern and run down Center Street, which is also Route 7. Within a half hour the road was the river. At about 5 p.m., the river started to separate the Brandon House of Pizza from its foundation, and moved it about 20 feet and into Route 7.
Tropical Storm Irene also left Granville, Hancock and Rochester inaccessible by road for several days. Raging rivers closed at least part of every state highway in Addison County at some point during the storm, and Lincoln, Bristol, Ripton and Middlebury were among the towns that had to take immediate steps to rebuild or secure local roads.
Brandon-area schools got three extra days of summer vacation, and locals started to coordinate volunteer efforts, helping those who lost property and possessions in the storm to begin the long road to recovery.
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With early September came the usual routines of a new school year: students back in school, fall sports practices and games under way.
But for many across the state, routines would not be back to normal for months following the devastating floods caused by Tropical Storm Irene on the last weekend of August. As September kicked off Hancock, Granville and Rochester remained isolated, with all roads over the mountain impassable and no phone service or electricity.
The Route 7 bridge over the Neshobe River in downtown Brandon was closed after water coursed over it during the height of the flood. Route 7, which also had a portion of the Brandon House of Pizza sitting in it, was closed. State transportation officials hurried to check the integrity of the bridge and move the building so they could reopen the main north-south highway along the western side of Vermont.
Town officials in Ripton, Lincoln, Bristol and Goshen began to address fixing badly damaged roads. The Otter Creek ran high for days following Irene, submerging roads in Leicester and threatening some downtown Middlebury businesses. The Middlebury College football team arrived en masse to sandbag part of Bakery Lane near the Otter Creek falls in Middlebury.
Town and state road crews worked around the clock to fix impassable roads, and citizens turned to the Internet and to town government to find out how they could help. Teams from the Federal Emergency Management Agency became a fixture in town offices, spreading information about how those affected by the flood could apply for relief.
Rochester, Granville and Hancock all received food donations helicoptered in by the National Guard, and coordinated town meals and food donation centers. Hancock instituted a town-wide potluck at the new firehouse each night for as long as town residents were in need of food. Each of the White River Valley towns held regular town meetings to distribute information.
It was during one of those meetings in Hancock that Central Vermont Public Service managed to bring a temporary electric substation over the mountain to replace the irreparably damaged Rochester substation. As the bright orange truck drove past the Hancock Town Hall, meeting attendees erupted into cheers: The town was on the road to recovery.
As soon as roads were passable, volunteers from around Addison County and many Middlebury College athletes who had returned to campus early traveled to badly damaged towns to pitch in.
But for some, the storm wrought damage that could not be helped by volunteers. Some of those whose homes had collapsed found friends or family to stay with. For the second time of the season, farmers found their fields drenched and under water. The Vermont Agency of Agriculture ruled that, due to possible contamination, any produce that had been submerged in floodwater was unsellable and would have to be destroyed. That meant some crops in New Haven and other Addison County towns went to waste.
Hospitality businesses also soon realized the effects of the storm. With Vermont storm damage making headlines across the country, hotels, restaurants and recreation spots worried that leaf-peeping tourists would not come to the Green Mountain State this fall.
So as some towns embarked on a slow recovery, state departments and areas less hard-hit by the storm took up the mantra “Vermont: open for business.”
Though Irene dominated the September headlines, life was still on the move in other areas of Addison County.
Julia Alvarez, a Weybridge writer whose books have garnered national and international praise, received the Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts, Vermont’s highest arts award.
Rep. Mike Fisher of Lincoln was named as chair of the House Committee on Health Care, which will play a lead role in advancing the state’s health care reform efforts.
Panton joined the cluster of Addison County towns commemorating their 250th birthday this calendar year, when on Sept. 10 townspeople held a daylong celebration with myriad activities and attractions for all ages to mark the occasion. Cornwall celebrated its 250th on Sept. 24 with, among other things, a new town song.
And as apple season began, not all county producers were optimistic about the crop outlook this year. Some orchards suffered from hailstorms earlier in the year, while others had trees knocked over by flooding and erratic weather.
Still, as October rolled in, the apple harvest was picking up, and the smell of cider donuts lingered on the air (or was that just our imagination?).
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As the first line of recovery work from Tropical Storm Irene finished, Addison County began to come to terms with the costs of damages and the hazard mitigation efforts. Early in October, modification in both the Middlebury and New Haven rivers came under scrutiny by state and federal authorities. Dredging and filling the streams was a controversial topic among those who lived along the rivers and those who worried about the habitat and environmental impacts of the recovery work.
Caught between federal permitting regulations and the need to protect the town and clean up damage, crews in East Middlebury were bound to catch flak. By the end of the month, town officials called a special meeting in East Middlebury to gather local opinions. Though many town residents were thankful for the quick response, others remained opposed to the dredging. Town officials drafted a tentative plan for future river work.
Across the state, recovery efforts came up against hard economics. A meeting of Senate and House Transportation committees started to tally some of the costs of Irene, estimating damage to state roads alone would total over $500 million.
As state officials tallied up recovery costs, federal officials were making 2010 census data available. The data showed changes in population and demographics in Addison County, where 15 towns gained population, while the other eight lost residents. Addison County’s population grew by just 2.3 percent in the past decade, from 35,974 to 36,821.
Some individual figures baffled town officials. Starksboro selectmen do not believe their town’s population dropped from 1,898 to 1,777 from 2000 to 2010 — in the same 10-year period its checklist increased by 257 and neighboring towns’ populations rose. The board will contact the Census Bureau to question the counting process. And Whiting’s 10-percent increase to 419 — the county’s third largest in percentage terms between April 2000 and April 2010 — also proved a bit of a puzzler.
Leicester saw a 12.9-percent increase to 1,100, and Middlebury’s population (which includes Middlebury College, which increased enrollment over the decade) rose 313 to 8,496. On the other end of the spectrum, Hancock saw a 15.4 percent decrease to 323, and Vergennes’ population fell 153 to 2,588.
The county’s population was also aging, though not out of step with the general trends in the state. In 2000, Addison County’s median age — the age where half the residents are older and half are younger — stood at 36.1 years. By 2010 it was 41.3, meaning Addison County’s median age rose 5.2 years during the decade.
The county’s oldest towns are Goshen, 50.7 median age; Waltham, 48.6 median age; and Hancock, 48.3 median age. The county’s youngest towns by median age are Middlebury, 28.2; Vergennes, 36.9; and Starksboro, 40.2.
Coincidentally, Addison County hosted a visit by the Vermont Supreme Court on the same day that local attorney Beth Robinson was selected to fill a vacancy as a justice on the same court. Robinson served as co-counsel in the 2000 case Baker v. Vermont, which led to the state becoming the first in the nation to allow same-sex civil unions, and was a leader in the movement that led to the law enacting same-sex marriages. At the time of her appointment, Robinson was serving as general counsel to Gov. Peter Shumlin.
The Vermont Supreme Court routinely meets in Montpelier, but occasionally presides in other venues like the Vermont Law School and county courthouses. The visit to Middlebury, during which the court heard five cases, allowed Addison County residents to see the workings of the court without a trip to the capital.
The town of Addison on Oct. 15 and 16 celebrated the 250th anniversary of the town’s founding, joining 10 other county communities throwing 250th birthday parties.
Also in October, the Acorn Energy Co-op broke ground on a 650-panel solar array behind the Middlebury police station, which will provide enough power to supply 30 homes.
In Brandon, a couple announced plans to use a derelict building in the former Brandon Training School for an arts center. Stephen and Edna Sutton bought the building with visions of creating recording studios, rehearsal space, artist studios, exhibition space and even a phonograph museum. The Suttons, who already own Brandon Music, said their project will progress in stages, and they estimate that the center will require $4.25 million to build.
Goodrich Corp., which employs 850 at its plant in Vergennes, announced its sale to United Technologies of Hartford, Conn. Goodrich spokesman Andrew Martin said that “everything is business as usual,” but the specific impact of $16 billion deal won’t be public until mid-2012. The plant makes and repairs components for the aeronautics industry (military helicopters in particular), and will continue to work in the same fields following the sale.
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The big celebration of Middlebury’s 250th anniversary started in late October and continued for a week into Nov. 4. The party got off to a start on Saturday, Oct. 29, with a Middlebury charter theme at the annual “Spooktacular” Halloween celebration. The anniversary week wrapped up on Friday, Nov. 4, when Town Hall Theater hosted a short skit commemorating the signing of Middlebury’s town charter; the presentation of a Middlebury Community Television short film in which interviewees were asked, “What does Middlebury mean to you?”; a talk by former Sheldon Museum Executive Director Jan Albers; and the sharing of a birthday cake (provided by the Waybury Inn). Then townspeople, led by the Mount Independence Fife and Drum Corps, strolled down to the Cross Street Bridge to view a fireworks display.
The first week of November also saw the completion of the long-awaited Champlain Bridge, linking Addison, Vt., back to Crown Point, N.Y. The $76 million bridge was completed with a ribbon cutting ceremony at the beginning of the month. Builders, working on an accelerated design and construction schedule, struggled through record-high lake waters and near record winter snows to complete the bridge just more than two years after the old bridge was closed because of safety concerns. The Nov. 7 opening ceremony included speeches from the governor and state representatives to a large crowd including a few residents who’d seen the old bridge go up in 1929.
As the bridge returned to its former glory, most of the county finally got a handle on their Irene recovery. November marked the deadline for FEMA aid applications. Though the storm was long-passed, county residents scrambled to finalize their requests. At the deadline, FEMA had accepted 181 applications and approved $361,000 in disaster aid to individuals and families. Major repairs are still far from complete, and FEMA continued to review these applications as they arrived.
Following up on the filling and dredging controversies of the previous months, some East Middlebury residents proposed a river study to inform a plan for future flood events. According to Middlebury town planner Fred Dunnington, if a damaged house lies in a floodplain, “it’s not a question of if your home will be damaged, it’s a question of when.” Town officials hoped to close in on a hazard mitigation plan following more research.
Local educators, parents and students developed hazard mitigation plans of their own, responding to a statewide survey of risky teenage behavior. A survey of Vermont teens found that substance abuse is down, but that drinking remains a problem among local high school students. Teen sex was reported up, and condom use down. These reports spurred workshops in Addison County, addressing risky behavior in high school students.
Educators were also concerned about their contracts. Teachers in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union, who had threatened to strike last February, called for a mediator for their contract talks. The teachers had been working without a negotiated contract since June 30, 2010 — disagreeing over points like pay raises and health insurance contributions — and asked for a third-party negotiator in early November. Later in the month, school officials and residents of ANeSU towns of Bristol, Lincoln, Starksboro, Monkton and New Haven explored whether consolidating school districts would make sense.
While teachers tried to negotiate their contracts, the Bristol Planning Commission saw an incident in which public discussion of a touchy topic — gravel extraction — was cut off. At a planning commission meeting, Vice-Chair Chico Martin refused to hear a question by citizen John “Slim” Pickens regarding a revised map of where extraction would be prohibited. When asked about it, Secretary of State Jim Condos said muzzling a member of the public at a public meeting like this may have been illegal. In December, Martin kicked off a planning commission meeting by issuing a formal apology, then took steps to ensure greater transparency, initiated the creation of guidelines to govern the commission and started exploring ways to better facilitate discourse between planners and with the public.
In Middlebury, Vermont Hard Cider Co. filed plans to build a new 87,000-square-foot bottling plant off Exchange Street. The company, the largest manufacturer of hard cider in the country, maintains 68 employees, and hopes to add 20 more with the expansion. The Woodchuck brand celebrated its 20th anniversary this year.
While Vermont Hard Cider is expanding, the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center board is looking at a 2012-2013 budget that would result in cutting two popular courses — landscaping and video editing — and a slightly increasing tuition. Under a proposal put forth by administrators, the career center would increase spending by almost $81,000, a 2.4 percent hike. The decision was controversial, and was to be discussed later in the year at a PHCC board meeting.
Continuing with the abnormal weather trends seen in the snowy winter, record high waters in Lake Champlain and devastating flooding caused by Irene, this November proved to be one of the warmest on record. Though temperatures were up across the county, average precipitation was substantially lower than expected.
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December marks the end of deer hunting season in Vermont, and this year’s final tally was disappointing for many hunters. In Addison County, hunters in the November rifle season saw a 33 percent drop in deer taken since last year — 329 bucks this year compared with 428 in 2010. While the overall count plummeted, more of the larger deer (greater than 200 pounds) were taken during rifle season. Vermont Fish and Wildlife estimated that the state’s deer herd had dropped 10 percent since last year, but local weigh stations guessed that the count was lower.
The deer harvest wasn’t any better once the numbers from the December muzzleloader and bow seasons were added in. The combined bow/muzzleloader kills this year was 232, far short of the comparative combined bow/muzzleloader totals of 498 in 2010 and 448 in 2009. The bow/muzzleloader results, when added to the 329 deer weighed locally during November’s rifle season and 110 during November’s Youth Hunting Weekend, bring the 2011 county total for all the deer seasons to 671. In 2010, 1,021 deer were weighed locally during the four seasons; in 2009 the number stood at 840. A number of theories were floated to explain the drop, including the rough winter in the beginning of the year and possibly fewer hunters in the woods.
December also marked the beginning of the holiday season and holiday festivities, particularly at Addison County’s three population centers. The Vergennes Holiday Stroll and Bristol’s Cool Yule brought many people to the downtowns in those two municipalities. In Middlebury, on the same day Santa came down Main Street on top of a firetruck, the Town Hall Theater revived the “Festival of Wreaths” tradition, displaying wreaths decorated by local businesses and individuals. The widely beloved Lessons and Carols service, held every year at Middlebury College’s Mead Chapel, celebrated its 40th anniversary.
All of the holiday cheer translated to an uptick in local business. After a few difficult recession years, Addison County business saw promising increases following the Thanksgiving holiday. Establishments like the Middlebury Mountaineer and Vermont Honey Lights in Bristol reported an increase in sales of between 15 and 40 percent. Cautious optimism was the feeling on Main Street.
While local purchasing was a gift to many local businesses, others worked to establish an online presence, conducting their commerce in the ether. For businesses like Dakin Farms, the Swift House Inn, and others, a substantial portion of their sales and reservations occur online.
The United Way of Addison County reported slower-than-usual giving in their annual fundraiser. Officials speculated that giving related to Tropical Storm Irene relief efforts displaced some donations. Though the United Ways of Vermont have collected $1.89 million for Irene recovery, local United Way officials worried about the lag in their annual holiday fund drives.
Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel called a town meeting to discuss drug abuse problems — more than 250 people showed up. The city has experienced what Merkel described as a rash of drug related crime and tragedy, and this was the first in a series of meetings where residents will explore how to mentor children to stay off drugs, offer treatment and rehabilitation, and send a message that “all narcotics and those that sell them are not welcome here.”
Monkton, one of Addison County’s fastest growing towns, proposed a new building to house its town offices plus space for the town library. Officials said that the town has exceeded the capacity of its 1,200-square-foot building, and hope to move from the historic hall to a new structure down the road.
The Middlebury College Environmental Studies program offered their year-end presentations, drawing an audience from both college and community. One section of the senior seminar researched stormwater runoff and its effects on Lake Champlain — an especially appropriate topic in the wake of Irene. The other section developed an assessment rubric for restoring the states’ 1,100 defunct dams, hoping to capitalize on a potential local and renewable energy resource.
Bristol planners had thought they were done with a multi-year effort to update the town plan after having held public meetings on their proposal earlier in the fall. But when controversy arose about a proposed zone that prohibits resource extraction, the planning commission decided to revisit this section of the town plan at a Jan. 3 special meeting.
The Middlebury Fire Department returned to the selectboard with a slightly altered plan for an expanded fires station on Seymour Street and a new building in East Middlebury to accommodate newer, larger firetrucks. Voters will consider a $4.8 million bond to pay for the structures on Town Meeting Day.
Middlebury selectboard members also got another bit of Town Meeting Day news in December when board chair John Tenny, a Middlebury selectman for more than 16 years said he would not run for re-election and would step down when his term runs out next March.
Another local official also announced she would be leaving the spotlight. Addison Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent Evelyn Howard said she will retire when her contract is up at the end of the school year. She’s headed the Bristol-area school district since 2000.
As the end of 2011 approached local school boards worked on budget proposals for the 2012-2013 fiscal year. Administrators were hoping for a little room to increase spending, but many boards were talking zero-percent increases. Budgets were expected to be wrapped up early in the new year.
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