February 2017 Year in Review

February began with shouts of resistance to President Donald Trump’s Jan. 27 executive order suspending entry into the United States for refugees from a number of predominantly Muslim countries. More than 500 Middlebury College students, staff and faculty, together with members of the local community joined in a protest on Feb. 2. Congregational Church of Middlebury pastor Andy Nagy-Benson and Havurah member Emily Joselson responded by organizing a forum at which Muslim townspersons could speak about their experiences. Joselson and Nagy-Benson proceeded to hold a series of these community conversations throughout the year. One Weybridge family found themselves among the hundreds of families in the United States and thousands worldwide affected by the ban and were forced to flee Iran before an educational sabbatical was finished in order to avoid being locked out of the United States — where one family member was born.
In early February, Christiane Kokubo and Nathan Shepard, a Mount Abe Spanish teacher, phoned home in the midst of an 11-month odyssey from Vermont to Brazil. While on the road, the Starksboro couple launched a campaign to raise $1 for each kilometer traveled to be donated to Middlebury’s Open Door Clinic.
In early February, Gov. Scott named longtime Shoreham resident and former farmer Terry Norris to replace Alyson Eastman as state rep. for Shoreham, Whiting, Orwell and Benson. Eastman stepped down after Scott appointed her deputy secretary of agriculture.
Local police chiefs challenged a recently released report alleging the presence of racially biased policing in Vermont. The “Driving While Black and Brown in Vermont” report was authored by UVM’s Stephanie Seguino and Nancy Brooks, of Cornell University. According to the report, the black arrest rate statewide is almost double the white arrest rate; black drivers are four times likelier to be searched after a stop; and in all but a few towns the black stop rate exceeds the black share of the driving population. Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley criticized the report for not taking into account variables that influence a stop, such as time of day, third-party complaints, behavior and weather conditions. He criticized the report as “gerrymandering the numbers to fit (a) conclusion.” Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel noted that the vast majority of people who drive through Vergennes do not reside there.
Over 200 individuals braved the cold to join in the Lake Dunmore Ice Fishing Derby on Feb. 4-5. The largest catch of the day? A 13.29-pound catfish caught by Oliver Huntley.
A coyote hunt scheduled for the second week in February in Bristol drew heated criticisms and a day of protest. “It’s not that we object to hunting,” said one coyote hunt opponent. “It’s that we object to this kind of hunting.” Coyotes can be hunted any time of year in Vermont, with no limits for number of animals killed. Some hunters claimed that coyote hunts help limit the local deer herd, but this assertion was disputed by Fish and Wildlife’s top deer expert Nick Fortin. The hunt brought renewed pressure on state officials to regulate the hunting of coyotes. Because such hunts have little impact, statistically, on the coyote population, state officials continued to maintain that there is no scientific basis on which to regulate coyote hunting.
On Feb. 16, the Porter Medical Center and University of Vermont Health Network (UVMHN) boards announced an affiliation agreement. The decision to affiliate came after a stormy few years at Porter, marked by layoffs, accelerated staff turnover, financial challenges and a controversial CEO who resigned abruptly. After long-time emergency-care physician Fred Kniffin took over leadership of the hospital, Porter began investigating possible affiliations with larger institutions as a way to stabilize finances and improve patient services. The boards’ Feb. 16 agreement would be formally finalized at the March 16 Porter annual meeting.
The Addison Northeast School District (later renamed the Mount Abraham Unified School District) held its first official meeting on Feb. 16. The five towns within the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union — Bristol, New Haven, Starksboro, Monkton and Lincoln — agreed to form one school district in a vote the previous November.
Following the state-ordered closure of the Underhill Maple Leaf Treatment Center earlier in the year, Valley Vista announced mid-month it would be opening a residential treatment center in Vergennes on a faster timeline than previously anticipated. Maple Leaf’s closure reduced the state’s in-patient capacity by 30 percent, making the expansion of the Bradford-based Valley Vista to Vergennes more urgent. Valley Vista said the Vergennes facility would hold 19 beds and serve either men or women with drug and alcohol addictions, and estimated the facility would employ around 30.
The state’s struggle to transition from fossil fuels to renewable energy hit the news in various ways throughout February. The Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy heard testimony regarding a renewable energy bill introduced by Sen. Chris Bray, D-New Haven. Bray’s bill would to write into law the state’s goals to have 90 percent of Vermont’s energy from renewables by 2050, first introduced in 2011.
In Panton, a Green Mountain Power partnership to assist the town with energy efficiency upgrades as part of the installation of a 40-acre, 4.99 megawatt solar array hit some bumps. Town officials were unhappy with GMP’s delivery on promised aspects of the upgrades. GMP said the difficulties were part of “growing pains” in implementing a new initiative.
Meanwhile, the state energy regulator imposed a penalty on Vermont Gas for the company’s “imprudence” in its development of the 41-mile Addison Natural Gas Pipeline by capping it to an 8.5 percent return on capital assets through 2019. The pipeline was originally projected to cost $86 million but had risen to $165.6 million. In New Haven, which felt under siege by a large number of solar energy projects, town officials readied for a vote on a new energy plan that if approved could give the town “substantial deference” in the siting of renewable energy projects.
Local farmer/author Eugenie Doyle’s first picture book, “Sleep Tight Farm,” won the American Farm Bureau Foundation’s Agriculture Book of the Year award.
Lacey Greenamyre continued a series of impressive showings in skating races. The MUHS sophomore won four races at the Empire State Games at Lake Placid, N.Y., and placed first in her age group in a 42K marathon, and second amongst women overall. Still to come for Greenamyre were speed skating at the Age Group Nationals and Charles Jewtraw All Around.
Former Middlebury College women’s lacrosse and field hockey coach Missy Foote was inducted in the Vermont Sports Hall of Fame. And Mount Abe junior Aidan May won the Vermont Brain Bee competition
Cellist Dieuwke Davydov and pianist Diana Fanning celebrated 40 years of making music together with a concert in late February at Mead Chapel. The two first performed together in 1976 at Mead Chapel, and went on their first European tour in 1978. February’s Mead Chapel concert kicked off a smaller tour of Vermont and New York, leading up to Davydov and Fanning’s eighth performance tour of Europe.
Vergennes this month marked the 20th anniversary of the re-opened Vergennes Opera House, and in Bristol the selectboard considered three proposals for individuals interested in buying and renovating the town’s historic 1897 firehouse.

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