February 2016 chronology
February would be the first of several rough months for Porter Medical Center, which announced a series of cost-cutting measures — including layoffs — in an effort to stabilize its swooning budget. Hospital officials initially announced nine jobs cuts, primarily affecting nursing staff within Porter’s 12 physician practices. Later that month, embattled Porter CEO Lynn Boggs, who had joined the organization the previous summer, placed the total number of layoffs at 17.5 positions. Internal strife caused by the layoffs prompted a growing number of physicians and nurses to look elsewhere for work.
Officials with the Addison Central and Addison Northwest supervisory unions spent much of February advocating for school governance mergers within their respective school districts. Both supervisory unions had announced plans to put the proposed governance mergers before their respective constituencies on Town Meeting Day in March. If approved, the ACSU and ANwSU would each be led by a single board presiding over a single budget for all of their respective schools. The move — which had already been adopted in Rutland Northeast — was being driven by Vermont’s Act 46, a law encouraging SUs to consolidate in order to become more efficient and cost-effective.
Middlebury town officials learned in February that the Vermont Agency of Transportation would not support the town’s quest to rebuild the Merchants Row and Main Street rail bridges at the current height of 18 feet, 8 inches. Officials at VTrans said they would endorse 21 feet of vertical clearance for the two spans, citing a national effort to maintain adequate clearance for double-stack freight cars. Opponents argued that it was unlikely that these larger freight cars would ever travel to Middlebury, and that the larger clearance standards would add more time and expense to the project.
Most Addison County lawmakers announced they would not support a bill in Montpelier aimed at legalizing possession of small amounts of recreational marijuana. The bill proposed to make it legal for adults 21 years and older to possess up to an ounce of pot. The bill, would have also established a system of controlled, licensed marijuana cultivation sites, testing facilities and retail stores for the sale of the product.
Rep. Fred Baser, R-Bristol, won considerable support for his “workforce housing” bill, designed to increase affordable lodging options for young Vermonters who might otherwise leave for other states. The bill, among other things, called for creation in Vermont of two workforce housing projects of at least 12 units.
Orwell in February welcomed a new town clerk for the first time in two decades. Longtime Clerk Susan Arnebold decided to step down and pass the mantel to Betty Walker, who had been her assistant.
In Shoreham, some residents asked their local selectboard to regulate coyote hunting in town following an alleged confrontation between hunters and neighbors in the Lapham Bay Road area during the weekend of Feb. 20-21. The neighbors alleged that a group of men had engaged in a coordinated coyote hunt, and that they had allegedly trespassed, harassed landowners and their personal pets. The hunters argued they had in fact conducted themselves politely, within legal limits and had not trespassed. Since coyote hunting is regulated by the Vermont Department of Fish & Wildlife — which imposes virtually no limits on the activity — neighbors asked if the local selectboard could take some action. Town officials noted state law would supersede any local ordinance, but they promised to consider some “creative approaches” in an effort to defuse the situation.
A pair of Weybridge friends demonstrated their love for hiking and the outdoors by joining the “Northeast 115,” a very exclusive club of hiking enthusiasts who have successfully scaled the 115 peaks of 4,000 or more feet in New England (67), the Adirondacks (46) and the Catskills (2) — during the winter. Dean Ouellette and Michele Bayliss accomplished the feat in spite of sometimes frigid temperatures and some monstrous snow drifts.
An Addison County builder was showcased on the national Public Broadcasting System’s national TV show “This Old House.” Middlebury’s Connor Homes agreed to assemble one of its pre-engineered, 3,000-square-foot homes in Essex during a series of 10 episodes of “This Old House.”