April 2016 chronology
April started with a smile for employees of the town of Middlebury, who began working in their new digs the first Monday in April.
The national Month of the Young Child was celebrated countywide with colorful displays of art created by local preschoolers. While the displays certainly brought a smile to the face of passersby, local early childhood educators also intended them as a way to inform the larger public about the importance of the early years in a child’s development.
Critters continued to be on the move with the spring thaws. April saw continued, successful use of the new amphibian tunnels in Monkton. Concerned residents worked together for a decade to raise $346,957 to build two tunnels under Monkton Road linking wintering spots on Hogback Mountain with spring breeding grounds in Huizenga Swamp, considered one of the most important amphibian habitats in the state. Organizers hope the tunnels inspire similar projects to reconnect habitat statewide.
Road foremen across Addison County were pleased to report that the almost snow-free winter of 2015-2016 had been a boon for town budgets. Area communities saved tens of thousands of dollars in winter maintenance costs this past year.
The Salisbury selectboard began making plans to close the state’s last unfilled landfill by year’s end, following a Town Meeting Day vote of 229 to 48 to shut down the facility.
New Haven and representatives of the Vermont Green Line electric power line project agreed on terms for siting the proposed converter station in New Haven. The estimated $650 million project would bring renewable wind and hydro power from upstate New York under Lake Champlain, and onto the New England power grid in New Haven. The agreement includes payments to the town of $1.4 million a year for 40 years with adjustments for inflation and $4 million to build a new fire station and a new town garage. Despite the deal, Middlebury continued to pursue VGL to be the site of the estimated $100 million to $150 million converter station. New Haven residents had made clear at numerous public meetings that they wanted to vote on the project, and VGL representatives pledged to wait for and honor the results of that vote.
Orwell voted down the proposed Slate Valley Unified Union School District on April 12. Orwell was the lone “No” vote among the six Addison Rutland Supervisory Union towns that voted on unification. Because of the proposed district’s unification structure, Orwell’s dissenting vote sent the entire project back to the drawing board.
Teachers and school board negotiators in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union finally reached accord more than a year after negotiations began on teacher contracts. The parties had negotiated for seven months, starting in February 2015, before mutually agreeing to declare an impasse. After a five-hour professionally mediated session in December 2015, both sides called for fact finding. As Interim Superintendent Armando Vilaseca brought both parties to the table in preparation for the May fact finding hearings, teachers and board negotiators began to find common ground and reached an agreement. Vilaseca had begun his tenure in November 2015 following the tumultuous departure of former Superintendent David Adams.
In mid-April, Monkton Republican Valerie Mullin and Lincoln Progressive/Democrat Mari Cordes entered the race for the two House seats representing Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton and Starksboro.
Local ingenuity was rewarded when Aurora School fifth- and sixth-graders Henry Swan, Ronen Silberman, Tobe Wells-Spackman and Noah Woodruff Berg won the $1,0000 Infymaker prize and a $10,000 grant to create a “makerspace” in Middlebury. Wells-Spackman and Swan were then honored by being invited to the first-ever White House Science Fair.
The Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department announced plans to open its first visitor center in the state at the 2,858-acre Dead Creek Wildlife Area in Addison.
Vermont Gas Systems began laying pipe in Middlebury and elsewhere in the county, as part of its Addison Natural Gas pipeline project. Earlier in the month, the Public Service Board had debated whether to bar the public from attending eminent domain hearings over the controversial gas pipeline. Month to month, protests continued against the pipeline, as construction proceeded dead ahead.
Area farmers continued to find that the federal Margin Protection Program, part of the 2014 Farm Bill, has not proven an effective insurance against dramatic swings in milk prices. Part of the problem is that the federal program is geared to Midwest feed prices and does not adequately factor in costs for New England dairy farmers.
The easing of Cuban-American relations under President Obama affected local residents in a variety of ways. Twelve-year-old Carter Monks of Bristol traveled to Cuba as part of a Little League baseball program and youth played ball against his Cuban peers, toured Cuba and learned about Cuban culture. Earlier in the year, Bristol resident Rick Ceballos traveled to Cuba, a place he had not been since childhood, to see the country and reconnect with his heritage. And a small group of Middlebury College Surf Club led a surf service trip to Cuba.