2018: A year in review

Editor’s note: If change is good, we had plenty of it in Addison County over the past 12 months. Faces came and went, news stories flamed up and died out (and some of them will follow us into the new year). 2018 was quite a year on many fronts. Relive some of those memories in this round up of the year that’s ending and then brace yourself… and have a wonderful 2019.
The new year and the county’s first baby of 2018 did not quite arrive simultaneously: Kai Spaulding Lewia was born at Porter Hospital on Jan. 2.
The year also opened with an opening in Middlebury. On Jan. 6 the Middlebury Natural Foods Co-op introduced its newly expanded store on Washington Street. The co-op added 4,000 square feet for a total of 9,000, with space devoted to larger meat and deli sections, new bathrooms, a service desk, and more seating for diners.
The first shots of the election season in Middlebury were fired early on. Incumbent selectboard member Susan Shashok announced she would be stepping down after seven years of service, while another incumbent, appointee Farhad Khan, said he would seek election for the first time. Later in the month former Selectman Gary Baker threw his hat into the ring, as did resident Lindsey Fuentes-George to make it a three-way race for two seats.
In Montpelier Gov. Phil Scott got on his soapbox to warn citizens and lawmakers alike of fiscal hard times statewide. At the same time some in Vermont looked forward to high times: The Vermont House approved a recreational marijuana bill and sent it along to the Senate, which quickly followed suit.
The Mount Abraham Unified School District board decided to put another bond vote on the Town Meeting Day ballot, this one for $29.5 million, about $7 million less than the proposal residents defeated in November. It would become the third attempt in three years to address a number of infrastructure needs at the 50-year-old building. Meanwhile the Addison Northwest School District board voted to ask for $7.6 million to improve security and energy efficiency at all four ANWSD schools.
Porter Medical Center released an ambitious new facilities plan under the auspices of its University of Vermont Health Network affiliation to add a medical office building, a more modern emergency room, expanded laboratory and imaging spaces, and a renovated front entrance to its South Street campus.
Another facility got bad news: Frozen pipes near the Vergennes Union High School gym burst and knocked the gym out of action for the rest of the season, leaving varsity, junior varsity and middle school teams and physical education classes scrambling for space. Fortunately, VUHS has a second gym, but it alone could not easily meet all the demand.
Another ongoing Vergennes infrastructure problem recurred: A combination of heavy rains, warm weather and melting snow caused municipal wastewater systems to overflow around the state, and the city’s overflow into Otter Creek of 743,600 gallons of mostly stormwater, but also some septic waste, was the state’s second largest. City officials have been working for years to correct infiltration problems in the system.
In Middlebury many were saddened by the Jan. 13 death of Suad Teocanin, 45, a homeless man who had worked in several local restaurants and was employed by Two Brothers Tavern at the time of his passing. He was found on the town green that morning 100 yards from the shelter where he was staying. Police said alcohol played a role in his death, as did rainy, snowy weather that hid his plight.
BRISTOL FIREFIGHTER/CHAPLAIN Bill Elwell gives hugs to Kenneth Curler, Robin Curler and Chris Jenkins after presenting them with a plaque in honor of Robin and Chris’ late father, Bob Jenkins, who was a local firefighter for 55 years.
Independent file photo/John S. McCright
On Jan. 22 former Middlebury Regional EMS Co-director Lisa Northup pleaded innocent to charges that she embezzled $7,802 over more than a year from the agency, allegedly to pay for personal items, gifts and her own medical expenses.
The Addison Central School District board adopted a $36.7 million budget proposal for March voter consideration to run schools for its seven member towns, a plan estimated to drive the school-tax rate up by about 4 cents before towns’ Common Levels of Appraisals (CLAs) kick in. The plan called for eliminating the equivalent of 20 full-time jobs in the district.
ANWSD weighed in with a $21.1 million budget plan that lowered spending by $10,000, but was projected to raise tax rates by up to 8 cents in some towns due to decreased enrollment. It cut three teaching positions and the equivalent of four other full-time jobs, and reduced the hours of two principals.
The Mount Abe district board opted to ask for $28.3 million to support its schools, an amount that represented an increase of spending of 1 percent per student. Sixteen jobs were on the line.
Meanwhile three incumbents decided not to seek re-election to the ACSD board: Jason Duquette-Hoffman, Nick Causton and Ruth Hardy.
A race for the Ferrisburgh selectboard was the only contested race among the towns in the county’s northwestern quadrant. Seeking to replace longtime Chairwoman Loretta Lawrence, who decided to step down, were legal office administrative assistant Jessica James and retired U.S. National Guard official Dennis Armell.
In the Bristol area the only race shaped up to be between two Lincoln women, Sarah McClain and Annie Svitavsky, for a seat on the Mount Abe school district board.
The liveliest local race on the March ballot once all petitions were in proved to be for Ilsley Library trustee, where seven candidates sought three seats on the library’s board.
As February opened it became public that Middlebury College was seeking town approval for a new, two-story, 23,000-square-foot building off Shannon Street. Plans called for the structure to provide a home for students displaced during renovations to older nearby buildings, and space to offer some science and compute courses. College officials referred to it as a “swing building.”
Another building application was on the Shoreham zoning board docket in early February: Dollar General was seeking to build a 7,545-square-foot, barn-style store on the east side of Route 22A, on 5.37 acres within the town’s Village Commercial District.
Naturalist Sue Morse was in town this month explaining to people that climate change is affecting northern wildlife — and not for the better. Morse told an audience that while her stories of struggling wildlife were sobering, her goal was to get human beings angry and to get them to take action to halt global warming.
Stacey Rainey and Mary Cullinane started a new business in Middlebury whose goal is to help others start their own businesses. Community Barn Ventures helps develop business plans, create business software applications, and support business pop-ups.
Less than a year after coming out of retirement to win a second stint as Vergennes mayor by three votes, Michael Daniels decided to step down, citing conflict with members of the Vergennes City Council as the main reason. One sentence of his resignation statement about his relationship with council members read, “I will no longer be a puppet.” Senior Alderman Renny Perry took over for the three weeks until Town Meeting Day, and then won election to be mayor without opposition.
Candidates for statewide office in November began to emerge: Lincoln Democrat Paul Forlenza, a former Addison County party chairman, announced he would run for a Vermont House seat representing Bristol, Monkton, Starksboro and his hometown.
Vermont Gas officials shared their plans for expanding their natural gas pipeline into Bristol. Some residents and town officials were warm to the idea, but a substantial number of townspeople oppose the idea, many because of their concern for the environmental impact of the pipeline and the gas it delivers.
Stop us if you’ve heard this before: Ferrisburgh had a deal to sell its 34.91-acre parcel at the junction of Route 7 and 22A, and it fell through. This time Andrew Peterson, owner of Peterson Quality Malts in Monkton, said he could not quite line up financing to make the $337,500 deal work out. For the third time in seven years, town officials saw a buyer walk away from a deal for the land based on contract contingencies that could not be met.
Well-liked Middlebury Parks & Recreation Department Director Terri Arnold stepped down after five years. Arnold headed back to the Pacific Northwest to take a similar position in a larger community. She oversaw the move into a new recreation center and improvement of many town facilities, including the pool.
THE MIDDLEBURY UNION High School dance team competes in hip hop at Saturday’s state championships in Vergennes.
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell
Many around the county joined protests in Montpelier and elsewhere seeking what they called “common-sense gun violence prevention legislation” following the devastating school shooting in Parkland, Fla., and a serious threat at Fair Haven Union High School.
The Heroin Epidemic Learning Program, or HELP, is a 10-week program started by Jeremy Holm and Jesse Brooks in Addison County to educated children about dangerous drugs. In February it was announced that the program would be picked up in other parts of Vermont.
March is synonymous with town meeting, where area residents made a lot of news passing budgets and considering major initiatives, including building projects.
Residents in the 5-Town area rejected a $29.5 million bond to pay for a major overhaul of Mount Abraham Union High School. It was the third time voters rejected a multi-million-dollar referendum to repair the deteriorating, 50-year-old high school building off Airport Road in Bristol. The latest defeat, by a 1,785-1,196 margin, would become a major agenda item for the new Mount Abraham Unified School District board.
Still, the Mount Abe bond was the only major casualty at the ballot box on Town Meeting Day. Area residents passed all of their respective 2018-2019 school spending plans. Local town budgets also earned thumbs-ups from voters.
Longtime Rep. Dave Sharpe, D-Bristol, picked March to announce he wouldn’t seek re-election to the Addison-4 House seat he had held since 2002. He cited a desire to spend more time with family and travel as among the main reasons for his imminent retirement from the Legislature. Sharpe was one of the most influential members of the Vermont House, having served many years on the Ways & Means Committee. He would depart as chairman of the House Education Committee, which had developed and championed Act 46, the state’s so-called “school governance consolidation law.”
Candidates — particularly Democrats — quickly lined up to run for Sharpe’s spot. Among the first to declare were Mari Cordes of Lincoln and Caleb Elder of Starksboro. It would be the first House run for Elder, a worker in the renewable energy industry, and the second attempt for Cordes, a longtime Registered Nurse and union organizer.
A mass shooting in Parkland, Fla., and the arrest of a Poultney teen whom authorities claimed was considering a similar action at Fair Haven Union High School prompted lawmakers to draft gun control legislation. Local legislators in March reviewed three separate bills that would, among other things, require background checks and allow confiscation of weapons from people whom the courts considers dangerous to themselves and others.
At the same time, area teachers blasted a suggestion from the National Rifle Association and President Donald Trump that teachers become armed defenders of their respective schools.
Hundreds of Middlebury College and Middlebury Union High School students, along with scores of adults, turned out at several protests in downtown Middlebury in March demanding an end to gun violence. And Mount Abe students also braved the elements to register their concerns.
Addison Northwest School Superintendent JoAn Canning confirmed she’d be moving on to a new educational challenge in a much warmer climate. Canning announced plans to become top administrator of the Universal American School of Kuwait, in the Middle East.
The non-profit Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects, known simply as HOPE, was closing in on its goal to raise $600,000 to repair and improve its Community Services building at 282 Boardman St. in Middlebury. The campaign benefited mightily from a $250,000 challenge grant offered by the Hoehl Family Foundation.
MORE THAN 300 Middlebury Union High School students, Middlebury College students and community members lined both sides of the Cross Street Bridge in Middlebury Wednesday morning to show support for gun legislation and to remember the 17 people killed at a Florida high school last month. Similar marches took place throughout the state and the country.
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell
The town of Middlebury in March announced it had received a $75,000 state grant to help promote its downtown businesses and amenities in anticipation of a looming, $72 million project to replace its Main Street and Merchants Row rail bridges. The state grant, and similar ones to follow, would pay for marketing, promotional activities and other efforts aimed at mitigating the impacts that heavy construction will have on the downtown during the next three to four years.
Vermont Agency of Transportation officials explained the preliminary work on the rail bridges project that would unfold during the spring. Much of it would involve installation of a large drainage system in four downtown locations, designed to funnel water away from the railroad tracks that border the Otter Creek. Also part of the preliminary work: Construction of a temporary access road extending from the south end of Water Street to the parking lot behind the Battell Block.
In Vergennes, former Alderman David Austin rejoined the city council. He was picked to fill a vacancy created when Alderman Renny Perry replaced Mayor Michael Daniels, who had resigned.
Addison Central Teens in March officially welcomed a new director: Zoe Kaslow, a Middlebury College graduate. Kaslow immediately began brainstorming ideas for new programming at the local teen center at 77 Mary Hogan Drive, and planned to make good use of her ties to the college.
DAVID PIDGEON, STANDING in Pidgeon’s Gun Shop in New Haven, does not like Vermont’s new gun laws, but he expects they will spur more sales at his store, which he has run since 1959.
Independent file photo/John S. McCright
Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater made some big news in April, though it wasn’t for a specific performance on its stage. Theater officials closed on a deal to buy the adjacent diner at 66 Merchants Row, thereby giving the popular THT enough space for a future addition. Owners of “The Diner” — which for many years had been known as Steve’s Park Diner — said they were pleased to sell the property and move on to other food-related endeavors. THT leaders said the diner building would, in the short-term, be used for storage and perhaps host an interim business or pop-up venture.
Local dairy farmers in April continued to lament yet another year of depressed milk prices. During a series of legislative breakfasts, farmers pointed to a worldwide milk glut and over-production as chief reasons for low prices that were driving more and more dairies out of business.
Those protesting for more gun safety laws got some satisfaction in April. The Legislature passed a package of reforms that featured, among other things, a ban on bump stocks and high-capacity ammunition magazines, as well as mandatory background checks for private sales of guns. Gov. Phil Scott signed the legislation in a ceremony in Montpelier that drew jeers from gun-rights advocates who promised they’d remember in November.
Residents of the 5-Town area gathered in Bristol for the second in a handful of forums at which participants offered ideas for improving Mount Abraham Union High School. Not surprisingly, many of the comments keyed on the deteriorating Mount Abe building, with some residents arguing basic improvements should be made independent of a major bond proposal that had thus far failed to pass muster with 5-Town voters.
THE WIND SNUCK up under a metal overhang on this Lake Dunmore home during Monday’s storm and ripped the whole thing off.
Independent file photo/Angelo Lynn
A long-running dispute raged on between the town of Ferrisburgh and the owner of a local dog rescue operation. At issue were complaints filed against Shelia McGregor, owner of Heidi’s Haven at 2512 Sand Road. Neighbors complained of foul odors and rats that they claimed were generated by conditions on McGregor’s property. Complainants asked the Ferrisburgh selectboard to intervene. At one meeting a neighbor held up a plastic bag with a rat in it to prove his point.
It was an emotional day at the Frank Mahady Courthouse in Middlebury on April 16, when friends and relatives of the late Brian Kerr gave their parting messages to the man sentenced that day for causing the car crash that killed the father of three. Addison County Superior Court Judge Helen Toor sentenced Shawn Newell, 34, of Ferrisburgh to six to 15 years in prison for the felony charge of gross negligent driving with death resulting, in connection with the car crash on Route 7 in Salisbury on April 20, 2017.
One of Ripton’s most high-profile citizens assisted Dick and Sue Collitt’s efforts to sell the Ripton General Store. Nationally renowned environmentalist and author Bill McKibben penned an editorial for The New York Times urging someone to buy the store, which for around two centuries had served as the community’s longtime commercial and social hub. The Collitts had spent months searching in vain for the right buyer — someone who would lovingly manage the store and keep it untouched. The Collitts acquired the store in 1976.
Former Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs declared plans to run for Addison County sheriff, hoping to succeed retiring incumbent Don Keeler. Gibbs said he’d run as an independent. The field at that point also included Middlebury Democrat Peter Newton, a lieutenant under Keeler.
Longtime Counseling Service of Addison County Executive Director Robert Thorn announced his plans to retire within a year. Thorn, who had worked for CSAC for around four decades, is credited with having brought the county’s top mental health agency into the 21st century.
It was also a month of transitions in Vergennes and Bristol. Vergennes Congregational Church Pastor the Rev. Gary Lewis said he would retire after almost 29 years shepherding the South Water Street flock. Meanwhile, Bristol welcomed a new recreation director to succeed Darla Senecal: Meridith McFarland, who previously worked 17 years for Sugarbush Resort. Also in Bristol, Martha Chesley, Anne Gleason and Andi Gordon took a final bow after having directed their last Mount Abraham Union High School musical after a 25-year run.
Mount Abe French teacher Jori Jacobeit won a major accolade — the 2018 Vermont Foreign Language Association’s Distinguished Teacher Award.
May began with some stunning political news that would reverberate from the town of Addison to Montpelier. Longtime state Sen. Claire Ayer, D-Addison, during an exclusive interview with the Independent, confirmed her plans to retire. Ayer, a 16-year veteran of the state’s highest chamber, said she wanted to spend more time with family and make way for others to serve in the Legislature. She departs as chairwoman of the Senate Health & Welfare Committee and served several years as the Senate majority whip. Her decision served as a catalyst for a crowded field of candidates who hoped to replace her.
One of those candidates made her announcement only days after Ayer’s retirement disclosure. East Middlebury Democrat Ruth Hardy, a former ID-4 and Addison Central School District board member and the executive director of Emerge Vermont, launched an organized and well-funded campaign for one of the two state Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore.
Meanwhile, former State Rep. Paul Ralston, who represented Middlebury as a Democrat for several years, revealed he was considering plans to run for the state Senate as an independent. Ralston is founder and CEO of Vermont Coffee Company. And speaking of Vermont Coffee, Ralston announced in May a significant capital investment that would make his enterprise the first U.S. coffee roaster to use 100-percent renewable biogas in the manufacturing process.
MIDDLEBURY UNION MIDDLE School social studies teacher George Kulhowvick is retiring next month after 47 years at the school.
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell
In other election news, Middlebury Democrat Peter Newton announced his effort to succeed Addison County Sheriff Don Keeler. And he got a big boost when Keeler endorsed Newton, his longtime lieutenant with the department.
Joining Ayer in making an “I won’t run” disclosure in May was Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh. Van Wyck had been appointed to his Addison-3 seat in early 2013, following the tragic death of Rep. Greg Clark, R-Ferrisburgh, in late 2012. Van Wyck won the job in his own right in 2014 and 2016. He said his decision not to seek re-election was based on a desire to spend more time with family and to return to full-time status as a computer analyst programmer with the University of Vermont. However, Van Wyck had some second thoughts later in the summer and …
Porter Medical Center officials in May were praising the early performance of the new “ExpressCare” clinic on the hospital campus in Middlebury. Created as a more affordable alternative to emergency department visits, ExpressCare gained quick popularity among patients seeking quick, effective care for non-life-threatening maladies including coughs, tick bites, minor fractures and cuts. Officials said business was so brisk that they were considering expanding ExpressCare hours.
An effort to create an Addison County “makery” made new progress in May. The makery — a collaboration of the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center and local entrepreneurs — successfully appealed for contributions and grant money to ensure its eventual start-up in the Career Center’s Middlebury building. The makery, equipped with an assortment of tools and fabrication equipment, will become a spot where aspiring inventors can bring their concepts from the drawing board to prototype.
It was a sad month for customers of two Middlebury-area retail stores. Owners of the Ben Franklin Store on Main Street and the Middlebury Antique Center on Route 7 South confirmed plans to close during the summer. The proprietors cited a combination of factors, including a sluggish retail market and a desire to move on to other pursuits.
It was also the end of an era at the home-style eatery at 66 Merchants Row in Middlebury. Known by generations as “Steve’s Park Diner” and most recently as “The Diner,” the latest owners — Carl Roesch and Caetlin Harwood — closed the business permanently on May 27. They cited lagging sales, in large part associated with a downtown bridges project, as the primary reason for their decision. The move prompted many old-time customers to reflect on the good times and good meals they had at the folksy establishment. Town Hall Theater in April had announced that they would buy The Diner property in June for an undetermined purpose.
Members of the Congregational Church of Cornwall continued a frank discussion amongst themselves about what could be done with their historic place of worship off Route 30 if their numbers continued to dwindle. Church leaders surveyed Cornwall residents on whether the building should be sold or repurposed if the number of parishioners reached a point where services were no longer sustainable. It’s a conversation other small church congregations in the area are likely to have, given demographics and the declining popularity of organized religion in certain parts of the country, most notably the Northeast.
The future of the Vergennes recycling and trash drop-off center was placed in doubt in May by an announcement that Casella Inc. would increase by 47 percent the cost of processing materials brought to the facility. Officials noted that increase would raise the annual cost of operating the center by $34,600, to roughly $107,600. This prompted the center’s users — Vergennes, Ferrisburgh, Panton, Waltham and Addison — to weigh their options.
A VERGENNES UNION High School senior applauds as she waits to receive her diploma during the school’s graduation ceremony last Friday night.
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell
With the deadline passed to file for the August primary election for county and statewide election posts, only two Aug. 14 contests loomed: Democrats Peter Newton and Ron Holmes were set to square off for that party’s nomination for Addison County Sheriff, while four Democrats were seeking two slots on the ballot to represent Bristol, Monkton, Starksboro and Lincoln in the Vermont House — Lincoln’s Mari Cordes and Paul Forlenza, Bristol’s Robert Demic, and Starksboro’s Caleb Elder.
A Ripton teen won a nomination in June: To the U.S. Ski Team. Abi Jewett, 18, earned the honor, joining Starksboro’s Ryan Cochran-Siegle as native Vermonters on the squad.
The Boys & Girls Club of Greater Vergennes made public in June that it had finally found a home of its own after 18 years. The club struck a deal to buy a former medical office on Armory Lane, a short walk from VUHS, and by September had moved into its new digs.
WEYBRIDGE ELEMENTARY SCHOOL kindergartner Tata Mia Harper helps drive some of the final screws into the school’s new playground castle structure last week. The castle was completed and officially opened with a ribbon cutting ceremony this past Thursday, the last day of school.
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell
After seven years Jane Spencer stepped down as Bixby Library executive director/librarian. Her tenure didn’t last quite as long as the last head librarian’s, but Spencer oversaw many improvements to the building and the introduction of technology to modernize the Bixby’s offerings.
Most everybody liked the latest visitors to Middlebury’s Buttolph Acres neighborhood, but thought maybe it was not the best place for them to settle down — after all, bears are better off living in the woods. But lured by bird food, compost and tasty barrels of trash, a mother bear and three cubs hung out in suburbia for a couple weeks. Finally, enough residents apparently stopped putting out bear buffets, and the family wandered off in search of more reliable food sources.
Vergennes officials proposed to surrounding towns that they all agree with the city to apply the funding they had budgeted for a full year just to keep the city recycling center open through December. Eventually they all said yes, and residents retained a local drop-off option for their trash and recycling without higher costs despite a spike in what Casella was charging to handle recycling. The Addison County Solid Waste Management District helped by subsidizing some of that price hike.
Better Vergennes news came from Shacksbury Cider, which said it would expand the company’s operations on North Main Street. Shacksbury’s Kennedy Brothers landlord entered into a lease-purchase deal on the former Denecker Chevrolet property across the street, and planned to rent part of that building to Shacksbury.
LOCAL ARTIST KATE Gridley works on her Piet Mondrian-inspired contribution to the chain link fence art installation on part of the fence surrounding the rail bridges replacement project in downtown Middlebury. Gridley and local students and teachers worked on the project earlier this month.
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell
On the other hand, the Vergennes City Council’s search for a city manager to replace the retiring Mel Hawley fizzled in June, and the city had to restart the process by hiring the Vermont League of Cities and Towns to coordinate a new search with Hawley’s July 24 retirement deadline looming.
Ferrisburgh’s legal battles with Sand Road dog rescuer Sheila McGregor continued. After two town boards ruled against her, McGregor appealed both the conditions imposed on her by the town board of health to the Vermont Board of Health, and a town zoning board ruling that her rescue operation needed a permit to Environmental Court.
In Lincoln work began on a $260,000 playground for the Lincoln Community School. A $100,000 Vermont Land and Water Commission Fund helped fund what folks hope will serve as a town park as well as a playground. Plans called for “Potato Hill Park” to be ready for the new school year.
Where was the “Best Baker in America” born? In Leicester, Vt., according to the Food Network, which aired the TV show of that name on June 18. Leicester native Adam Young won that competition for that title. In the finale the Connecticut resident’s glazed Austrian chocolate cake, known as a sachertorte, reigned supreme.
July began as it often does with a bumper crop of new laws going into effect. Noteworthy this year were laws that would reimburse moving and business-related expenses (up to $10,000) for remote workers willing to relocate to Vermont; guarantee some limited funding toward federally mandated cleanup of the state’s waterways; expand opportunities for medication-assisted addiction treatment; and require all single-user restrooms in public facilities to be designated gender-neutral.
On the same day, the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union, whose multiple boards had governed the schools in Bristol, Lincoln, Monkton, New Haven and Starksboro, officially became the Mount Abraham Unified School District, with a single school board.
Along with ambient temperatures, local political races began to heat up in July. It became a five-way race for state senate in July when Democrats Chris Bray (New Haven) and Ruth Hardy (Middlebury), who had already announced, were joined by Addison Republican Peter Briggs (he announced his second run for state senate) and by former state Rep. Paul Ralston of New Haven and Bridport dairy farmer Marie Audet, who entered the race as an Independent “ticket.” Monkton Republican Valerie Mullin threw her third hat and Bristol Democrat Rob Demic threw his first into the race for the 5-Town-area Addison-4 House seat. Middlebury Democrat Ron Holmes announced he would make a second run for County Sheriff.
Weather wasn’t the only source of heat this month. The biggest blaze Cornwall Fire Chief Denny Rheume had ever seen — which Vermont State Police was calling “suspicious” — engulfed a house and four other structures at 339 Parkhill Rd., prompting firefighting responses from Middlebury, Shoreham, Bridport, Weybridge, Whiting and Cornwall. No was injured in the fire, but property damage was estimated between $100,000 and $200,000 to the house alone.
Former Middlebury massage therapist Roger A. Schmidt pled innocent to 30 additional charges of misdemeanor voyeurism and one count of possessing child pornography in connection with an investigation, begun in April, into his alleged use of video equipment to record women clients in various states of undress at Rogers Relaxing Massage Therapy LLC, formerly located at 31 Court St. Middlebury police confirmed they had in evidence another 25 video files of clients whose identities they were seeking to establish.
Administrators at Middlebury College began implementing a program to reevaluate faculty and staff positions across the institution — a process that, once completed at the end of June 2019, could result in significant cuts to its workforce. Administrators did not specify how many of the college’s 1,100 staff positions would be affected but insisted that involuntary layoffs would remain a last resort under the plan.
Stymied by the new federal tax code the Vermont Department of Taxes missed its own deadline this year, failing to process 14,000 of 175,000 Vermont Homestead Declarations by July 1, which produced some tax bills that lacked information about education property tax breaks for eligible homeowners. State tax officials hoped by Aug. 1 to send revised information to local clerks and treasurers, who in the meantime were advising their constituents to carefully review their bills.
A rapidly changing retail climate, along with Middlebury’s forthcoming downtown rail bridge replacement projects claimed three more victims in the local retail community. Carol’s Hungry Mind Cafe on Merchant’s Row in Middlebury closed its New Haven diner at 7407 Route 7. Clay’s Clothing Store at 60 Main St. in Middlebury closed its doors after more than 25 years in business. And after shutting down its Bristol store earlier in the year, Green Mountain Shoe & Apparel announced the imminent closure of its Middlebury location in the Centre Shopping Plaza.
Another Middlebury business girding for rail bridge disruptions, Town Hall Theater, took a moment to throw itself a party, this month, celebrating 10 years and more than 1,500 events. The next chapter in the theater’s history would begin with THT founder Doug Anderson assuming the mantle of artistic director and bidding farewell to his administrative duties, which would be taken over by incoming Executive Director Mark Bradley.
Addison County’s first-ever medical marijuana dispensary opened on 1641 Route 7 South in Middlebury, offering approximately 35 different strains of marijuana to area residents who have state permission to use the tightly regulated substance to help them deal with a variety of serious illnesses. Inside the 1,600-square-foot dispensary a small Ceres Natural Remedies store also offered over-the-counter sales of Cannibidol-based products designed to relieve pain.
And during the final weekend of the month, Bristol’s Three Day Stampede Toward a Cure for Cystic Fibrosis, in its 28th year, achieved an extraordinary milestone: $2 million raised for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation.
CO-OWNER BARNEY HODGES, left, and manager Michael Brinkman stand among a vast collection of apple crates that fill a portion of Vermont Refrigerated Storage, a huge warehouse off Route 22A in Shoreham. The facility stores fruit and other perishables in climate-controlled rooms for long-term storage.
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell
After months of suffering the garbage-plundering, claw-marking, traffic-blocking, tree-climbing, scat-piling antics of local black bears, 70 people crammed into the Middlebury Town Offices in early August for a presentation by Forrest Hammond, a bear biologist for Vermont Fish & Wildlife, who told them, essentially, that this was all their own fault. Homeowners would do well to feed their pets indoors, compost correctly, better manage their garbage, clean their grills and install electric fencing to protect chickens, beehives and corn, he said.
Just weeks after closing its New Haven diner, Carol’s Hungry Mind Cafe served its last cup of coffee on Merchant’s Row in Middlebury, ending a 13-year run. Owner John Melanson said the beginning of the end began when construction on the downtown Middlebury rail bridges project wiped out some of the block’s parking spaces. Adam Shafer, co-owner of Shafer’s Market & Deli on College Street, planned to open a coffee shop, called The Daily Grind, in the Carol’s venue.
Addison County Fair and Field Days honored the president of its board of directors who was killed in a farm accident the previous fall with a big new building on the New Haven fairgrounds. The 36-foot-by-60-foot James H. Foster Jr. Welcome Center, with beautiful wood finish and a stunning red roof, provided a space for fairgoers to buy tickets and get out of the sun or rain.
GRIFFIN SHELDRICK, RIGHT, takes down Carter Buzzell on his way to winning the five-and-under tournament during Friday’s armwrestling competition at Field Days. Buzzell took second place.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
The march toward November proceeded apace in August as three Democratic primaries produced a trio of local candidates for office. Mari Cordes (Lincoln) and Caleb Elder (Starksboro) defeated Paul Forlenza (Lincoln) and Rob Demic (Bristol) and prepared to vie against incumbent State Rep. Fred Baser (Bristol) and fellow Republican Valerie Mullin (Monkton) for the Addison-4 district’s two seats in the Vermont House. In the county sheriff’s race, Peter Newton defeated Ron Holmes, setting up a challenge with former Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs, an Independent. And in the race for governor, 14-year-old Mount Abraham Union Middle School student Ethan Sonneborne won more than 4,000 votes statewide in his bid to represent his party in November, but failed to capture the nomination.
On the other side of the aisle, three-term incumbent Rep. Warren Van Wyck, R-Ferrisburgh, postponed his retirement, waging a successful, eleventh-hour write-in campaign to capture a spot on the ballot in the race for one of the Addison-3 district’s two House seats.
Peter Bevere, an Independent serving as Rutland County’s chief deputy prosecutor, announced his bid to defeat incumbent Addison County State’s Attorney Dennis Wygmans, a Democrat, in November.
And a Libertarian, New Haven resident Archie Flower, entered the State Senate race, competing against incumbent Sen. Chris Bray (New Haven) and fellow Democrat Ruth Hardy (Middlebury), Republican Peter Briggs (Addison) and Independents Marie Audet (Bridport) and Paul Ralston (New Haven).
During the dog days of August, Middlebury’s homeless shelter, the Charter House, prepared for colder seasons. Amid increasing visibility of homelessness downtown, which sparked public concern, the shelter announced it would open its doors on Sept. 1, six weeks earlier than usual. Charter House estimated it would cost roughly $12,000 to fund the additional services.
After unsuccessful attempts to gain satisfaction from their selectboard, 37 Bristol residents sued the town and Vermont Gas Systems, alleging that a recent agreement allowing the company to install a natural gas pipeline in Bristol violated a Vermont statute. The suit accused the Bristol selectboard of signing an agreement with Vermont Gas without issuing a formal notice informing the public of their right to petition for a binding vote.
UVM Health Network Porter Medical Center announced it would soon begin searching for a replacement for its president, Dr. Fred Kniffin, who resigned effective spring 2019. Kniffin had been appointed interim president in 2016, following a period of turmoil within the organization, and was credited with efforts to improve internal and external communication and engagement.
Goshen resident Jeffrey Young, who allegedly shot his son in the back with a handgun, was arraigned in Addison County Superior Court on five separate charges, including a felony count of second-degree attempted murder. If convicted on that charge alone, he faced a prison sentence of 20 years to life. His son, Nicholas Young of Plymouth, was treated for a gunshot wound and released from Rutland Regional Medical Center.
After a six-month search marked by the withdrawal of three candidates, the Vergennes City Council picked one of its own, Alderman Matt Chabot, to replace retiring City Manager Mel Hawley. Chabot, who for the previous three years had managed operations for Burchfield Management Company LLC in Vergennes, had just been re-elected in March to a second term on the council.
An unexpected downpour in Vergennes dumped two inches of rain at the worse possible time for the Addison Northwest School District. Workers had been re-roofing the VUHS middle school gym, whose interior was unprotected when the rain hit. Damage to the gym’s floor was expected to put the facility out of commission for the next several months.
In September the Vergennes Police Department had to postpone a $5,000 body-camera purchase, a rare new budget item, when the cost of getting a new SUV exceeded expectations. What the city had hoped would be a $40,000 vehicle turned out to cost more than $50,000, and though grants and state support helped make up the difference, the body cameras had to be put on hold to prevent the department from going over budget.
After 10 months of giving riders a chance to publicly test their balance, while giving spectators a compelling side show, “Ferdinand” the mechanical bull at Rough Cut in Middlebury, was put out to pasture. Chronic technical and mechanical difficulties were to blame.
Another Middlebury eatery, The Lobby, changed ownership in September and got a new name: The Arcadian Restaurant. The new business, operated by Caroline and Matt Corrente, would not only specialize in Italian cuisine but also serve as the production center for Haymaker-brand buns. Opening was slated for November.
Tragedy struck near a curvy incline on Route 125 in Cornwall when a pickup truck collided with a Cornwall Fire Department utility vehicle, which was responding to a mutual aid request from neighboring Middlebury. The driver of the pickup, 44-year-old Deane Rubright of Shoreham, was killed in the crash. More than 1,000 people attended his funeral.
A year after the retirement of Kevin Gibbs, the Bristol Police Department finally got a new chief: Bruce Nason. With more than 20 years of law-enforcement experience already under his belt, Nason had joined the Bristol Police Department part-time in 2016, then served as Officer in Charge upon Gibbs’s retirement.
Dr. Natasha Withers of Bristol Family Practice became the first family practice physician within the entire University of Vermont Health Network to pilot a new technology called “telemedicine,” which allows doctors to see and converse with patients through a video feed, saving them the time and trouble of coming into the office. The health network’s director of telemedicine services, Todd Young, predicted that this way of doing medicine was the “wave of the future.”
HELEN PORTER REHABILITATION and Nursing Administrator Mary Jane Nottonson stands in a recently completed rehab room in the Middlebury facility. The room is part of a $900,000 project that resulted in major renovations to Helen Porter’s rehab wing and two new end-of-life suites.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell
Representatives of British energy firm National Grid, a major player in the New England electricity market, contacted officials in New Haven and Ferrisburgh to say the company would revive the Vermont Green Line, the ill-fated high-voltage power line that sponsors had pulled the plug on in late 2017. The project, which would run a renewable energy electric cable under Lake Champlain and on to a substation in New Haven, promised millions of dollars in payments to the two towns but was dependent on contract awards that would not be announced until December.
As a gesture of good will after the town of Ferrisburgh supported a Public Utilities Commission application for a Certificate of Public Good for a 4.49-megawatt array planned for the intersection of Greenbush Road and Route 7, White River Junction firm groSolar announced it would donate a 15-kilowatt solar array to the town. Three sites under consideration for the new array were the Ferrisburgh fire station, town-owned land next to town offices, and the parcel at the junction of Routes 7 and 22A.
The Middlebury Sweets Motel continued upgrading after opening this year on Route 7 South in Middlebury, with Vermont’s largest candy store in the lobby. The former establishment, the Greystone Motel, got a major facelift (including candy-themed rooms) from its new owners, Blanca and Brad Jenne, who also moved their East Middlebury sweets joint into the motel and expanded it from 1,300 to 1,500 confectionary offerings.
A little ways south on the highway, the burned remnants of another motel, the Blue Spruce, at 2428 Route 7 South, prompted a formal complaint from the town of Middlebury relating to what it said had been a lack of cleanup effort, following the July 2017 electrical fire that destroyed the building (without injuries, thankfully). Principal owner Sam Sharma said his plans to clear the site and build a new motel had suffered a number of setbacks, leaving him with insufficient funds to clear the site.
After a journey of 30 days and some 140 feet, the large tunnel boring machine at work in the downtown Middlebury rail bridges project emerged into daylight in Riverfront Park on Sept. 20. The machine bore a 5-foot-diameter hole from the 40-foot-deep pit alongside Printer’s Alley near the railroad tracks to edge of the Otter Creek just bellow the falls. The tunnel was the first of three that will provide drainage for the $72 million project, which will create a tunnel over the railroad tracks as they go through downtown Middlebury.
WEYBRIDGE RESIDENT AND pastor of the Congregational Church of Middlebury Andy Nagy-Benson celebrates during Sunday’s CROP Hunger Walk. Organizers expect when all pledges come in the event will have raised close to $28,000.
Courtesy photo
A prolonged summer/fall drought forced some area residents to dig deeper wells or supplement their supplies with bottled water. Hit particularly hard by the lack of rainfall were residents in Ferrisburgh, Starksboro and Monkton. A few longtime residents quoted in the Independent said it had been the driest conditions they had seen in four decades.
Local lawyers and members of the Addison County State’s Attorney’s Office convened two “expungement” sessions in October during which they helped dozens of area residents fill out the necessary paperwork to clear their respective records of past misdemeanor convictions. The sessions in part recognized the state’s recent legalization of marijuana, the possession of which in the past had been a criminal offense.
More than 200 local residents took part in an annual CROP Walk in Middlebury that raised almost $28,000 to fight food insecurity in the county and beyond.
Vergennes residents at a public gathering clamored for a reduction of the more than 700 trucks that rumble through the Little City each day. A task force that included Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) officials listened intently to the concerns and vowed to study potential solutions — including a bypass that would divert truck traffic around the city.
Meanwhile, folks in Middlebury, Cornwall and Bridport asked VTrans to deal with a notorious stretch of Route 125 (near Cider Mill Road) where 44-year-old Deane Rubright of Shoreham had died in a collision with a fire truck on Sept. 13. Town officials and representatives of the Addison County Regional Planning Commission urged VTrans to remove — or at least lower — a small ledge outcropping that has impeded visibility and led to several traffic fatalities through the years.
ADDISON COUNTY SHERIFF Don Keeler will soon retire after a 46-year run with the department.
Independent file photo/Trent Campbell
Speaking of transportation issues, Middlebury and VTrans officials selected the preferred location for a passenger rail platform in Addison County’s shire town: A spot in between Middle Seymour and Maple Streets, near the Marble Works business complex. The platform will serve passengers of an expanded Ethan Allen Express route that Amtrak is slated to run along the state’s western rail corridor beginning in 2021 or 2022; it would connect Middlebury with Burlington and New York City by rail.
In Ferrisburgh, the selectboard and owners of the Vorsteveld Farm continued to spar in what had been a 17-month dispute over the farmers’ 2017 decision to remove without permission almost 2,000 trees and a hedgerow in the town right-of-way along Arnold Bay Road.
Sheriff Don Keeler, who was not seeking election to another four years in the job, in October reflected on his decades in law enforcement. He endorsed his lieutenant, Peter Newton, to take over the job. Keeler’s announcement prompted others to enter the race.
Addison County Solid Waste Management officials in October decided to negotiate for a 35-acre parcel outside of Vergennes for a regional recycling and trash collection site. The search was in part necessitated by the scheduled closing on Dec. 31 of the current Vergennes recycling center.
Also in Vergennes, wastewater treatment center officials asked for proposal for the design of one or more sewage storage tanks to help prevent occasional system overflows into the Otter Creek.
Addison County dairy farmers met with representatives of U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., to comment on the state of their industry and what could be done in Congress to improve the situation. Farmers noted milk prices — which had hovered around $20 per hundredweight during the past three years — had declined to $16.70. That’s well below the break-even point, they said. On Oct. 11, Sanders introduce a bill that would provide emergency payments and give priority to farmers who live in states where the cost of milk production is higher than the national average, and to farmers with smaller operations.
Porter Medical Center officials launched a search for a new CEO to replace Dr. Fred Kniffin. Kniffin — who had guided Porter through a budget crisis and an affiliation with the University of Vermont Health Network — said he wanted to step down to return to patient care. The search committee’s goal is to have a new CEO on board by June 1, 2019.
Salisbury residents said goodbye to longtime civic volunteer Martha Sullivan in October. Sullivan had served her community in many different capacities, including as auditor, E-911 coordinator, and on the historical society, planning commission and selectboard. Sullivan, who was 79 at the time of her death, died just hours before a selectboard meeting she was slated to chair.
And it was a bittersweet Halloween season in the 5-Town area. South Lincoln resident Jim Apgar announced this would be his last year of placing a mega-sized, carved pumpkin atop his truck for jaunts that have regaled area residents for many years. Poor health was the reason for the end of the tradition, Apgar said. Apgar received major thanks for his long history of heartwarming Halloween hijinks. He passed away only a few weeks later.
Country Home Products, which manufactures property maintenance equipment like lawn mowers and log splitters, in early November acknowledged that it will leave its Vergennes headquarters in 2019. It was not clear what would happen to the approximately 120 employees who worked at the Meigs Road plant, but it was hoped that many if not most of them could follow CHP to other plants in Chittenden County or, perhaps, Wisconsin. The DR store on North Main Street, which provides maintenance to CHP products, has no plans to leave the Little City.
Habitat for Humanity talked about big plans for the Little City. The nonprofit bought four building lots in Booth Woods at a price that officials said will make it easier for them to sell volunteer-built homes to Vergennes-area working families at affordable prices.
The op-ed pages of the Addison Independent continued to bulge with letters endorsing candidates for the Nov. 6 General Election. The local newspaper of record  published well over 150 letters to the editor in the two months preceding the election — the vast majority of which were residents weighing in on their preferred candidates.
LITTLE AUDREY LAUX of Middlebury proudly shows off her “I Voted” sticker (and her doughnut) that she got Tuesday while going to the polls with her parents, Ashley and Matt. Photo by Steve James
When Election Day rolled around, voters came out in large numbers and leaned heavily toward Democratic candidates. Democratic newcomers ousted Republican incumbents in two Vermont House races in Addison County. Caleb Elder of Starksboro and Mari Cordes of Lincoln claimed the two seats representing Bristol-area residents (Addison-4) and defeating Bristol Republican Fred Baser, who was the top vote getter in the district just two years earlier. A few miles to the west, Democrats Matt Birong and Rep. Diane Lanpher, both of Vergennes, won the two seats representing the Addison-3 district; freezing out incumbent Rep. Warren Van Wyck, a Republican. The top vote getters in both Addison-3 and -4 were first-time candidates.
Another first-time candidate for the statehouse also won a hotly contested seat. Ruth Hardy, an East Middlebury Democrat, will join fellow Dem Sen. Chris Bray in the Vermont Senate after they won a six-way race for the two Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore.
Yet another high-profile race featured not one but two first-time candidates; and it went right down to the wire. The race for Addison County State’s Attorney pitted newcomer Peter Bevere vs. incumbent Dennis Wygmans, the incumbent who was appointed to the job by Gov. Shumlin almost two years ago and hadn’t faced the voters yet. Wygmans won the vote count by a razor-thin 10-ballot margin out of more than 15,000 votes cast; unsurprisingly, Bevere asked for a recount. Whoever ultimately wins will head up an office that will be losing three of its key staffers as two deputy prosecutors and the victims’ advocate said they would be leaving the state’s attorney’s office for various reasons.
Also of note, Peter Newton won the election to become the county’s next sheriff. Rep. Terry Norris, I-Shoreham, held off Democratic challenger Barbara Wilson in the Addison-Rutland-1 House race.
And voters in the Fair Haven area voted to force Orwell to join the Slate Valley school district, which ends the town’s efforts to keep its K-8 grade school independent.
In other school/election news, residents of the Otter Valley school district defeated a $5.5 million bond that would have paid for new infrastructure (including security upgrades) in three of its buildings.
The day after voters came out in unusually heavy numbers, civil rights activist DeRay McKesson spoke at Middlebury College and rallied people to get involved and take action to change their lives and the life of America.
Staff and community members gathered for a farewell event at The Rough Cut restaurant on Nov. 9 as the owners of the Middlebury restaurant closed saying it just wasn’t bringing in enough revenue. It was the second downtown Middlebury restaurant to close this month, after John and Beth Hughes closed the Storm Cafe? in Frog Hollow after 13 years at the helm. The college has owned the Stone Mill Building that housed Storm Café for years and made overtures to sell it to Community Barn Ventures. The future owners of the building said they had hired a team to renovate the historic structure for uses that will include dining, office, lodging and retail. Business partners Stacey Rainey and Mary Cullinane said the Stone Mill should be undergoing interior repairs in January and open for business by next summer.
A dozen Vergennes Union High School students enrolled in a pilot class called Project Workshop this month were heading out into the community — rather than the classroom — to embark on undertakings that were key to a project-based learning class that that allows students to study topics that interest them. They say it is unlike any other classroom experience.
The Middlebury Police Department got a new officer — Goshen native Nick Stewart, who said he just loves working with people.
County residents found out this month that they are likely to see higher costs for handling their trash and recycling next year, as the cratered market for recycled materials has triggered price increases for some services in the 2019 Addison County Solid Waste Management District budget. The biggest change in the $3.22 million budget, adopted by the district board on Nov. 15, is the higher per-ton rate the district’s Middlebury transfer station will charge haulers to drop off most recycling: $92, up from $50. A big reason behind it was the move by China to stop accepting a lot of U.S. recycling material.
Babcock Solar Farm LLC pulled the plug on the big 2.2MW solar project it planned for Brandon. Several residents had been outspoken in their opposition with the chief concerns focused on building on top of a century-old water main that runs under the proposed site, as well as the negative aesthetics of the project.
Ripton 18-year-old Abi Jewett got a chance to ski with the best in the world when she was selected by the U.S. Ski Team to race in the World Cup giant slalom at Killington in November. She was perhaps the first native Vermont woman to compete in a World Cup race in the Green Mountain State.
VERMONT REFRIGERATED STORAGE General Manager Mike Brinkman stands amidst towering crates of apples that the Shoreham cold storage facility can keep fresh until summer thanks to controlling the atmosphere of designated rooms.
Independent photo/John S. McCright
It was not the only thing new in Ripton this month. Folks making their daily visit to the Ripton Country Store saw the business’s first new owners in 42 years. Dick and Sue Collitt on Nov. 19 officially handed over the keys to Ripton’s beloved store to another husband-and-wife team — Eva Hoffman and Gary Wisell.
The Bristol selectboard approved a permit allowing Rabbi Binyamin Murray, co-director of Chabad Middlebury, to install on the town green a nine-foot-tall menorah to celebrate Chanukah, the Jewish “Festival of Lights,” which takes place this year on Dec. 2–10. Park rules prohibit open flames, so the nine-branch candelabra featured light bulbs and plugged into the park’s power source. Chabad had erected a similar menorah in Middlebury last year, and would do so again this year.
A contentious, long-running dispute in Ferrisburgh finally came to an end. The town and Sheila McGregor, who formerly operated a dog rescue out of her Sand Road home, resolved their final legal issues, dropped appeals of earlier rulings, thus finally concluding a dispute with the town that lasted most of 2018, and with her neighbors for more than a decade.
The Middlebury Development Review Board in November ordered the owners of the Blue Spruce Motel property to clean up the burnt building remnants from the site at 2428 Route 7 South, which burned on July 12, 2017. The DRB issued its order and an opinion that the motel had been “abandoned.” Town Manager Kathleen Ramsay said the town has received many complaints that the charred remains of the motel remain on-site more than a year after the blaze. The principal owner, Sam Sharma, said the cleanup hadn’t happened yet because of, among other things, unproductive negotiations with insurance companies.
Meanwhile, the Middlebury selectboard agreed to name a soon-to-be created downtown park in honor of the late Stan Lazarus, who served Middlebury in the Legislature and became known for his many charitable acts as owner of the former Lazarus Department Store. The park will be located off Printer’s Alley, on a site that once hosted Lazarus’ store. A group of Middlebury residents circulated a petition and lobbied the selectboard to name the park in honor of the Lazarus patriarch.
Deer hunters in November were generally successful. Despite a fairly slow opening weekend, a strong finish made Addison County’s rifle deer season the second best in the past decade with 571 bucks taken. That total also put the county’s overall numbers ahead of the record pace set in 2017.
The latest campaign finance records on file with the Vermont Secretary of State’s office showed that Addison County candidates running in contested races on Nov. 6 raised a combined total of $225,404 in their respective campaigns. It’s by far the most ever raised during a general election cycle here in Addison County. And the majority of the total — $118,352 — was associated with a six-person race for the two state Senate seats representing Addison County, Huntington and Buel’s Gore.
At the end of November Addison County State’s Attorney Dennis Wygmans could finally exhale after three weeks of not knowing whether he’d be able to keep his job. That’s when a recount of ballots cast in the Nov. 6 election expanded his victory over independent challenger Peter Bevere from 10 to 21 votes.
Parents, police and educators already have their hands full steering youths from using opioids, marijuana, tobacco and other potentially harmful substances on school grounds, but as December opened many realized that another health threat was rearing its ugly head. E-cigarettes are gaining alarming traction with children throughout the country, including here in Addison County. E-smokers inhale an aerosol vapor — containing nicotine and other chemicals — infused with exotic flavors ranging from mango to crème brule?e. While e-cigarettes give young users the false impression they are engaging in a harmless alternative to conventional tobacco smoking, in reality, they’re plying their bodies with large doses of super-addictive nicotine known to be particularly detrimental to the developing brain, and can lead to lifelong addiction. Surveys show that “vaping” is on the rise — particularly among teenagers.
The newly formed Vergennes recreation committee shared with the city council the list of priorities its members created, and at the top of the list was up to $147,000 of work to the city pool.
LINCOLN RESIDENTS MARIA Teixeira, left, and her partner, Travis Herben, gathered a few toys no longer used by their children, 9-year-old Ezaias, right, Micaiah, 7, and Simeon, 1, to exchange at the upcoming Toy Swap at the Lincoln Library. Teixeira and other volunteers organized the swap to bring new life to old toys.
Independent file photo/John S. McCright
Vermont is known for a variety of agricultural staples — milk, apples, honey, kale — some people are seeing if the Green Mountain State could also become a big supplier of saffron, the most expensive spice in the world. Researchers were tallying up the numbers from this past fall’s crop, which included test plots blooming in the shade of a few New Haven solar panels. It’s too soon to tell whether saffron, which retails for between $3,000 and $9,000 a pound, will become a viable crop in Vermont, but three years of testing by UVM have produced promising results.
The new director of the Addison Repertory Theater, based in the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center, staged his first show in December. Eric Reid-St. John, who succeeds ART co-founder Steve Small, brings a long resume in theater and education.
A new piece of public art went up at the Addison County Parent-Child Center that was also a piece of play equipment. Some young adult artists, under the direction of Panton artist Eben Markowski, welded a huge metal structure that is both enchanting and sturdy.
Adaptive trikes — large, recumbent three-wheelers with fat tires — help people with physical limitations get out in the woods during the winter. New Haven resident Larry Buck was so turned on by them that the set out to raise money to make adaptive trikes — which can cost upwards of $10,000 — available at the Rikert Nordic Center in Ripton. Six years later, the first Adaptive Trike Rikert, or ATR, recumbent tricycle is up and pedaling and will be making tracks on the freshly groomed trails at Rikert this winter.
A new sign went up in the center of Cornwall village commemorating a local son who had a big impact. The sign posted near the town hall celebrates William Slade (1786-1859), a Middlebury College graduate and ardent abolitionist who served his state as governor, congressman, and as a passionate advocate for public education.
After months of discussion, the Bristol Recreation Community Steering Committee voted down a plan to develop a new recreation center on the property at 76 West St., in spite of its desirable location and gateway visibility. Committee members felt that the parcel’s small size (a little more than half an acre) would limit the growth of the physical space of Rec. Department programs; zoning will not accommodate parking, utilities and some uses of outdoor space; it would reduce the property tax rolls; and two other larger town-owned parcels may work better.
Local residents who have experienced a heart attack, heart failure or heart surgery soon won’t have to travel outside Addison County for medical rehabilitation appointments soon. That’s because Porter Medical Center next spring will begin offering cardiac rehabilitation services at its Middlebury campus, a new service that’s expected to extend lives and offer greater convenience to local patients who must currently drive to Burlington or Rutland to participate in such programming. Cardiac rehab is currently unavailable in Addison County, and only 35.5 percent of eligible patients avail themselves of rehab following a heart attack, according to Porter officials.
Joel FitzGerald, the new facilities director of the Mount Abraham Unified School District, has shown some accomplishments in managing a rapidly deteriorating high school in a district where voters have three times rejected bonds to renovate it. He is excited in his role of making sure students are safe, warm and undistracted by their environment every day.
Many in the county mourned the sudden death of Peter Quinn, a highly respected Vergennes Union High School clinician and high school basketball coach. He was remembered not so much for wins and losses on the court as for how he helped student-athletes, students and others in the community as a mentor, guide and caring social worker.
Ten area fire departments responded to an early-morning blaze that could be seen for miles around but they couldn’t save the Vergennes Feed Commodities International Inc. plant on Meigs Road from burning to a pile of smoldering ruins. The building, essentially a metal shell that covered almost an acre with a small office area on one end, went up quickly. Vergennes Fire Chief Jim Breur said there were combustible materials inside a wide-open space filled with grain bins, conveyor belts, processors, mixers and other equipment.
The Middlebury Fire Department honored two of its own members for climbing into a burning home to try and save its occupant. Almost exactly two years ago veteran firefighters Paul Garrow and Pat Shaw responded to a structure fire at 7 Murdock Court, where 95-year-old Robert Kellogg was trapped inside. The two men crawled on their hands and knees through a dark, smoky oven. They were disappointed that they didn’t save Mr. Kellogg, but their selflessness proved worthy of recognition.
EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR CINDY Jones, left, Program Director Laurie Borden and Administrative Director Shirley Ryan, along with Bereavement Care Provider Margaret Olson (not pictured), are overseeing the new End of Life Services Inc., which combined two existing hospice agencies.
Independent file photo/John Flowers
Two of Addison County’s providers of hospice-related programs, Hospice Services (HVS) and Addison Respite Care Home Ltd. (ARCH), are joining forces under a single banner: “End of Life Services Inc.” It is expected to result in better coordination of services to area residents in the final stages of their lives and their families.
The 2018 deer hunting season set a record. By the time the last few animals tipped the scales at the county’s seven wildlife reporting stations this December, those stations had handled 1,345 deer — 156 more than the 2017 record. Some said the warming climate and a warmer winter last year meant more deer were available to hunters. Plus the closure of two Chittenden County weigh stations probably pushed some hunters to bring their prizes to Addison County stations.
School officials and police jumped on a report by a teen that two fellow Middlebury Union Middle School students were planning a shooting at school. With the help of a new state law, authorities indefinitely pulled two 14-year-old MUMS students from classes and said they may face juvenile court action. Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said the investigation kicked into high gear after police learned that the threat was specific, included specific targets, and was to be executed at a specific time and date. The youth who allegedly wanted to do the shooting was put in the custody of the Vermont Department for Children & Families and receiving mental health counseling, while the other juvenile, who allegedly offered to supply the firearms, was out of school and awaiting possible punishment.
It’s a case that for the first time brings an Addison County school into the agonizing conversation of school shootings, and it put into practice one of the key provisions of a much-debated gun safety law signed his past spring. Middlebury police successfully applied to a court official for an “extreme risk protection order” that allowed them to temporarily remove firearms from the home from which one of the youths was going to access guns to use in the planned shooting.
After the Middlebury Development Review Board in December approved Tony Neri’s plan to reopen the former Greg’s supermarket at 3 Elm St., the local businessman said the grocery store could be open in February.

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