October 2017 Year in Review

As October began, WomenSafe, a Middlebury-based nonprofit that helps victims of domestic abuse, made public their most ambitious fundraising effort in the 32-year history of the organization. It sought $1.2 million to purchase and renovate its new headquarters, and for a reserve fund to help the nonprofit pay for long-term maintenance of those headquarters. The organization had raised more than half of their goal by quietly collecting targeted donations before making the campaign public.
The Independent spoke with Middlebury dairy farmers Joel Pomainville and Sam Berthiaume about their hemp harvest. The farmers hope that hemp will soon be a widely used supplemental cash crop for Vermont farmers. Interest in hemp is growing: in 2014, nine farmers registered their intent to plant a total of 17 acres of hemp. This year, 91 farmers registered the intent to plant 562 acres; Pomainville and Berthiaume harvested 13 acres.
In light of recent sewer overflows in Vergennes, City Manager Mel Hawley recommended that Vergennes seek an $8,000 planning grant to pay for an engineer to study how the Macdonough Drive pump station could operate more efficiently.
For the second straight year, Vergennes Union High School sophomore Michael Davis, from Addison, earned $1,000 and the title of NRA Junior World Champion at the NRA World Shooting Championships.
A report commissioned by the Addison County Central School District found that the district’s 11 buildings, spread throughout seven Middlebury-area communities, could require a combined total of $31 million in upgrades and repairs over the next five years.
In a community forum on early childcare held at Middlebury College, participants reported that Addison County lacks sufficient childcare that is affordable and available to parents. Child advocacy groups estimate that more than 79 percent of Vermont’s infants and toddlers likely to need childcare don’t have access to programs considered to be high quality.
Middlebury residents Andy and Bronia Van Benthuysen moved to Puerto Rico for their retirement, despite Hurricane Maria’s devastating impact in late September. The couple encouraged friends and family to donate money to the relief effort.
Matt Baldwin and his family officially bought a 218-acre farm in Monkton. The original owners, the Cota brothers, with help from the Vermont Land Trust, conserved much of the land so it would not be developed, before selling it to the Baldwins.
Under the town’s tax stabilization policy, the Middlebury kombucha company Aqua ViTea asked to be excused from paying municipal property taxes during the next five years. With the exemption, the company hoped to attract new tenants to share its workspace in the 63,454-square-foot building in the industrial park. The request came to Middlebury’s selectboard as its members struggled to recruit participants for a new “Economic Health Committee.”
In mid-October, three weeks away from the vote on the Mount Abraham Union High School renovation bond, school officials, board members and community supporters reached out to the community to draw support for the $35 million proposal. Later in the month, Monkton residents at an information session on the bond openly struggled with the increased taxpayer cost caused by the renovation. Independent reporter Gaen Murphree talked to students about the renovation: “It’s pretty bad because there’s not really good ventilation, and it gets really hot in here. It makes it hard to focus,” 8th-grader Elliot Nezin said.
The Middlebury selectboard pledged support for renovations to the Ilsley Public Library, though they did not fully endorse the tentative $9.6 million price tag affixed to the job.
Vergennes Union High School considered security changes, including new locks and improved visitor identification, after two male Northland Job Corps students snuck into the school. The intruders posed as visiting German exchange students and entered a classroom, and they made two female students feel uncomfortable in the hallway.
Middlebury and Ferrisburgh fire departments were awarded $295,985 from FEMA to buy equipment, such as turnout gear, breathing apparatus and radios, to keep their firefighters safe.
The Mountain Health Center in Bristol began offering free vegetables to residents whose income was a barrier to buying healthy food. The program is called the Health Care Share pilot.
Twenty-eight animals were rescued from a Ferrisburgh property where their living conditions were determined to be poor by the Vermont State Police, members of the Burlington Emergency and Veterinary Specialists and the Addison County Humane Society. Later, two Ferrisburgh residents — Katherine Ferguson, 61, and Thomas Ferguson, 51 — and one Bridport resident, Roxanne Clark, 36, were accused of animal cruelty. Each charge included depriving an animal of “adequate food, water, shelter, rest, sanitation or necessary medical attention.” The animals included 11 dogs, nine birds, some cats, ferrets, guinea pigs, a hamster and a bearded dragon.
On Oct. 16, ACSD Board members asked administrators to draft a level-funded fiscal year 2019 budget for the district’s nine public schools. Due to contracted personnel expenses and other fixed costs, the budget would require $2.2 million in cuts. Officials hoped to satisfy Gov. Phil Scott’s recommendation that school districts strive for level spending next year. “I don’t need to tell you $2.2 million is a lot of money,” Steve Orzech, leader of the ACSD board’s finance committee, told his colleagues. “I think it would be devastating to our school. But we at least need to see what it looks like and make a good-faith effort to meet (Scott’s) request.”
On Oct. 23, the Middlebury Development Review Board looked for the first time at local businessman Tony Neri’s proposal to re-establish a community supermarket at the former Greg’s Meat Market property at 3 Elm St. The proposal included relocating the nearby 105-year-old building that houses Pool World, creating a 50-space parking lot on the 1-acre parcel and establishing a new entrance to the market.
A year after the Boy & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes finished its $100,000 renovation of its School Street headquarters, attendance has risen steadily from a 75-person membership last year to 109 members this fall.
In an online survey about this summer’s temporary rail bridge project in downtown Middlebury, an overwhelming majority of respondents said they were satisfied with the results and believe the construction impact was less onerous on their lives than they anticipated.
The Independent profiled Fred Kenney, who would become the executive director of the Addison County Economic Development Corporation in November. Kenney spent 16 years administering Vermont Economic Progress Council programs that funnel millions of dollars each year in tax incentives to qualifying Vermont businesses.
In late October, Middlebury police voiced concerns about three separate reports of “racial epithets directed at non-white pedestrians.” The victims were all members of the Middlebury College community.
A group of more than 50 Middlebury leaders, entrepreneurs and residents mapped out priorities for the town during a gathering of the Greater Middlebury Climate Economy Initiative. Ideas included advancing public transportation, hiring more local staff to coordinate energy-related activities and helping farmers transition to organic and more sustainable agricultural practices.
The Independent spoke with Dale Tucker about Vermont Paws & Boots, a program he created in 2015 that trains service dogs to aid military veterans and first responders. The program has already graduated four service dog teams. 

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