Top stories of 2014 — honorable mentions

Picking only 10 top stories in 2014 proved to be a challenge. Addison County saw many important, interesting, touching and fun stories last year that the Independent staff kept going after compiling the first 10. Here are some of the other stories of 2014 that caught our eyes.
•  After hearing emotional testimony from several victims, Addison Superior Court Judge Robert Mello approved a plea agreement that sentenced 38-year-old Raymond Ritchie of Addison to 13 years to life in prison on each of a long list of counts stemming from a 2012 and 2013 crime spree. He got such a strict sentence because he was a habitual offender, having been convicted of 10 felonies in the past. Most of the charges stemmed from a series of break-ins in Addison County, many in his home town and others in neighboring communities. Those who spoke in support of the lengthy jail term emphasized the psychological impact of the break-ins in their communities and of the loss of many irreplaceable keepsakes, which included the ashes of a stillborn baby and a gift from an autistic child to a mother.
•  Vermont Hard Cider company opened a beautiful new, 100,000-square-foot cidery and bottling facility in Middlebury. The $34 million facility on Exchange Street was built over the past 15 months with more than 45 Vermont companies involved. Within that facility is a stunning and expansive tasting room built with Vermont lumber in post-and-beam style, complete with a bar with a 20-tap draft system featuring core Woodchuck ciders as well as experimental ciders only available at the cidery. It also features 23 cider tanks that can ferment up to 24,000 gallons of juice each and more than a mile of stainless steel piping. A few weeks later an estimate 7,500 to 8,000 people turned out for the company’s “Ciderbration” event to celebrate the new facility.
•  Hundreds of Vermonters in September joined an estimated 350,000 people on the streets of Manhattan for the People’s Climate March, the largest climate demonstration in U.S. history. The event, organized by several environmental groups including 350.org, which traces its roots to Addison County, was aimed at drawing attention to very real and ongoing effects of climate change. A prime force behind the event was Bill McKibben, the journalist and Middlebury College scholar in residence. That same week McKibben won the Right Livelihood Award, an international honor that is sometimes called the Alternative Nobel Prize. At year’s end, McKibben said he was stepping down from his position as chair of the 350.org board.
•  After being rejected by voters four times, Brandon residents in late August finally approved a municipal budget on the fifth vote. Considering the austerity needed for voter approval, no one felt it was a cause for celebration. Voters and officials alike felt bruised and beaten after five months of financial wrangling, finger pointing and frustration. What they had to show for it was a budget that was lower than the one that finally passed a year earlier in July 2013 after four re-votes.
•  Also in Brandon, board members hired a replacement for popular Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union Superintendent John Castle, who was leaving for another job. The candidate they hired, Jeanne Collins, the embattled superintendent of the Burlington School District, was not a popular choice for many. She had resigned her Burlington job because of budget deficits and a difference in philosophy over the direction of the Burlington School District. In the separation, the Burlington board agreed to give a severance package to Collins, who had two more years on her contract, totaling roughly $230,000.
•  As the year drew to a close, so did Rick Cole’s tenure as chief of the Middlebury Fire Department. Aside from leading the department in putting out many fires, Cole led the 2012 effort to win a $4.6 million bond that paid for substantial expansion of the Seymour Street firehouse and an entirely new fire station in East Middlebury. On Jan. 1 he was succeeded by long-time Assistant Chief David Shaw, himself a 35-year veteran of the department.
•  Another noteworthy retirement was announced in 2014. James Daily, who had been CEI and president of Porter Medical Center for three decades, gave notice that he was stepping down. To smooth the transition he put his exit date as early 2016.

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