2019: A year in review
Editor’s note: The slower pace in the last week of the year is a good time to look back over the past 12 months and recall where we’ve been before diving into the 12 months ahead of us.
We present this look back at 2019 to help you bring to mind the big stories of the year and also some of the smaller ones that have touched our lives in Addison County.
Happy New Year!
Sawyer Jensen Porter Downey, a boy.
Sawyer became the first baby born in Addison County in 2019. His measurables were 7 pounds, 4.6 ounces and 22 inches, his mom is Megan Hedley of Benson, and he arrived at Porter Hospital at 2 a.m. on Jan. 1, a day after what the medical professionals had pegged as his due date.
A day later, on Jan. 2, the towns of New Haven and Ferrisburgh, among others, learned that a potential contract with the state of Connecticut to fund the Vermont Green Line utility project had fallen through. The line, which would run under Lake Champlain and then underground through those towns and a small stretch of Waltham, would have carried Quebec hydropower to southern New England — and have meant millions of dollars of direct compensation and tax revenue for its host communities. The Green Line company, National Grid, insisted it would still market the proposal.
A Vergennes Union High School student allegedly threatened a shooting at the school, causing real concern after a late 2018 threat at Middlebury Union Middle School, but Vergennes Police Chief George Merkel said authorities determined “the ability to carry out the threat was not real,” much to the relief of the VUHS community.
An Addison County gun owner whose weapons were seized in the MUMS case sought to have them returned. Authorities confiscated the weapons because a student listed the man’s guns as the weapons he would use to shoot another student; a different student had offered to obtain the guns. The owner regained access to the weapons — which for the time being were being stored at a third person’s home but freely accessible to the owner — but sought to have them back at his home. Police were criticized heavily by gun-rights activists.
Counseling Service of Addison County announced that Rachel Lee Cummings, former CEO at Age Well, will in February begin her role as the new executive director, succeeding longtime administrative leader Robert Thorn, who’s retiring after almost four decades of service. Cummings brings a strong human services and business background to her new position, including founding and running RLC Guardianship Services and Armistead Senior Care, a non-medical home care agency, in addition to running Age Well.
Managers of Vermont’s cable access channels are warning that a new rule being pitched by the Federal Communications Commission could significantly affect their revenues to a point where some stations might have to pare back services significantly, or even close down. If that happens it would certainly restrict the public’s ability to keep tabs on their local government. Officials at Northeast Addison Television (NEAT) in Bristol and Middlebury Community Television (MCTV) in Middlebury are keeping an eye on how this plays out.
For the past 32 years, Middlebury residents have been greeted on Town Meeting Day by Moderator Jim Douglas, known for a number of those years as Gov. Douglas (as well as a number of other state titles). But in January Douglas, now 68, announced he would step down from that local post, saying it was time to give someone else a chance. He endorsed former selectboard member Susan Shashok.
Friends of Middlebury Hockey in January said they had an “agreement in principle” calling for a new, professional arena football team called the “Vermont Brew” to play its home games at Middlebury’s Memorial Sports Center starting in March of 2020. It’s a relationship that could boost the local economy, give the Memorial Sports Center financial security and provide a local showcase for some very talented players looking to take the next step in their professional football careers.
In a three-part series in January, Independent intern Sarah Asch explored the demographic shift that Addison County and Vermont as a whole are facing: a shrinking population of children under the age of 18 and an increase in older residents over the age of 65. This shift puts a strain on the state’s economy. Between 2000 and 2017, Addison County saw a 31 percent drop in school age children, and a 73 percent increase in the number of seniors over 65 years old. Policymakers, business leaders and citizens all have ideas for how to cope, but the hurdles are substantial.
Heavy snowfall and consistently frigid temperatures in January resulted in Addison County shelters working overtime to make sure the local homeless population stays warm, fed and properly attired to face the worst Mother Nature has to offer. Leaders of John Graham Housing & Services in Vergennes and the Charter House Coalition in Middlebury said their shelters were full for quite some time, as folks with no other housing options sought protection from potentially deadly outdoor temperatures. During a five-week period the Middlebury police blotter featured multiple entries of people seeking refuge in area ATM booths and apartment vestibules and hallways. Available slots were being snapped up virtually as soon as they are vacated, according to Peter Kellerman, co-director of John Graham Housing & Services.
In Ferrisburgh 21 months of talk and mediation between Ferrisburgh officials and the owners of the Vorsteveld Farm, spanning Panton and Ferrisburgh, failed to resolve their dispute over the farm clear-cutting trees along three-quarters of a mile of Arnold Bay Road, allegedly in the town right-of-way. A court case loomed, and it still loomed at the end of the year after the Environmental Court judge ruled against a number of Vorsteveld motions to dismiss.
In Brandon, a truck driver metaphorically tried to put a square peg in a round hole. It didn’t work. An 18-wheeler tried to fit through the Sanderson covered bridge on Pearl Street, and it didn’t. The top of the truck smacked the rafters at the entrance to the bridge causing extensive damage. Town officials said the truck company’s insurance would cover the rehab tab. Authorities blamed a GPS for sending the driver down the dirt road.
In the No Hard Feelings Department, Addison County State’s Attorney Dennis Wygmans in January brought Rutland County Deputy State’s Attorney Peter Bevere on board to hold deputy state’s attorney position in Wygmans’ office. Wygmans did so despite having survived a spirited electoral challenge from Bevere just two months earlier: In November Wygmans edged Bevere, 7,816-7,795, for the post of Addison County’s top law enforcement official. Bevere, a Middlebury resident, shortened his commute.
Middlebury College announced at the end of the month an employee buyout program designed to slice $8 million off what college officials said was a $22 million operating deficit. Teaching and non-teaching employees alike were offered the buyouts as uncertainty remained among many employees about the future of their jobs.
On another front, the college’s trustees voted unanimously to divest from fossil-fuel investments — over time. That vote meant reorienting about $55 million of investments in its $1 billion endowment over the next 15 years.
News came out in early February that the Department of Fish and Wildlife could close the Salisbury Fish Culture Station (its fish hatchery, in English) on Lake Dunmore Road, a move officials said would help close a $500,000 budget shortfall. Critics of the idea pointed out the hatchery draws 6,000 visitors a year and helps stocks streams that help draw more visiting anglers to the state. In March lawmakers came up with a plan that will fund the hatchery through 2022.
After about two years on the job Addison County Home Health & Hospice head Tim Brownell left the agency, although it was not clear it was on his terms or not. His departure came after criticism of the agency’s leadership from current and former employees that became public, but also work to put the agency on sound financial ground and modernization of its operations.
Plumbing-related problems plagued Mount Abraham Union High School in February. First a few square feet of tile fell from a locker room ceiling, the result of leaky pipes, and mold was discovered. Then the pipe that drained the kitchen’s dishwasher and garbage disposal began leaking into a nearby room. Both areas were sealed off to allow the needed fixes.
Washington, D.C., produced some good news. The Natural Resources Management Act, passed by the Senate, will fund completion of a trail across Addison County that eventually will link the North Country Scenic Trail and Appalachian Trail. The lesser-known North Country Scenic Trail, although not complete, runs from Crown Point, N.Y., to North Dakota, where it connects with the Lewis and Clark Trail, which reaches all the way to Seaside, Ore. In other words, this link will mean trails not exactly from sea to shining sea, but pretty close.
As February concluded, so did 51 years of service to Orwell by Walker James. James, then 86, had spent the past 31 years as an Orwell selectman, and also had done time as a moderator, school director, justice of the peace, and even as a sewer plant operations manager.
Another longtime public servant passed away in late February: Former Middlebury Town Clerk Dick Goodro died at the age of 75 in his Florida home. Goodro served 23 years in the post and was remembered for his wit and humor as well as dedication.
The onset of March means only one thing in Addison County — serious cabin fever.
OK, two things: Town Meeting Day also arrives.
School budgets all passed, but degrees of difficulty diverged. The roughly $22 million Addison Northwest School District proposal won by seven votes, and the $31 million Mount Abraham Unified School District plan passed by 13 votes. The ANWSD vote was petitioned for a recount, and the second count trimmed the final margin to six votes.
A roughly $20 million Otter Valley Unified Union budget won approval by a more comfortable 85-vote margin, but voters soundly rejected a $2.93 million bond to make safety improvement to district school entrances and other security and operational improvements.
Meanwhile, Addison Central’s $37.8 million spending plan sailed to a victory by more than 1,100 votes. In an ACSD board race, incumbents James Malcolm and Lorraine Morse and newcomer Betty Kafumbe prevailed in a five-way race for three open Middlebury seats, defeating incumbent Steve Orzech and challenger Ryan Torres.
Middlebury residents also backed a plastic-bag ban and the use of $400,000 from the Cross Street Bridge Reserve Fund to use on capital improvement projects and lower property taxes.
In voting elsewhere, Bristol incumbent Selectman Ted Lylis fended off a tough challenge from Ian Albinson (look for more news on that front come September), while Addison selectboard incumbent Peter Briggs had an easier time defeating challenger Alden Harwood.
There were no contested races in Vergennes, but Mayor Renny Perry had chosen not to run again, and Deputy Mayor Jeff Fritz was chosen to replace him. Former Mayor Bill Benton also returned to the city council.
Tim Guiles won a contested race for the Brandon selectboard over Dennis Reisenweaver, while in Granville Cheryl Sergeant came up short in two races challenging incumbents, losing to Bruce Hyde for a selectboard seat and to Kathy Werner in a challenge for her town clerk post.
In Orwell, incumbent school board member Alyson Eastman edged challenger Dan Redondo by four votes, while in Ripton Timothy Hanson topped Giles Hoyer by 25 votes in a selectboard race.
Doug Tolles sought three jobs in New Haven with little luck, losing lopsided races to incumbents Kathleen Barrett and Steve Dupoise for selectboard and to incumbent Barb Torian for treasurer.
Town Meeting Day was what Lincoln Town Clerk Sally Ober called “a remarkable day for write-ins,” when four residents earned substantive support at the polls as write-in candidates for elected municipal positions. Of the four that ran, two were elected. One write-in candidate, Bay Jackson, earned 90 votes in a race for a one-year term on the selectboard, despite announcing her candidacy after Lincoln’s town meeting on Monday evening. Jackson stood outside of the Town Hall for the better part of polling hours from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Tuesday, greeting voters and informing them of her intent to run. “She didn’t win, but she made an amazing showing,” Ober said. Another write-in candidate, Jim Brown, won enough votes for election to a three-year term as town lister. In a race between write-in candidates, Elizabeth Ratta defeated David D’Alleinne, 44-24, for a one-year term on the Mount Abraham Unified School District board.
Outside of town meeting, Middlebury American Legion Post 27 celebrated its 100th anniversary on March 15.
The Bristol selectboard pulled the plug on the idea of a Vermont Gas Systems natural gas pipeline serving the town, citing the town’s and Vermont Gas’s cost to deal with a lawsuit filed by Bristol residents. The suit challenged the selectboard’s initial agreement with Vermont Gas because it was done without a town-wide vote to allow work in road rights-of-way.
In March UVM Health Network/Porter Medical Center announced Saleem Choudhury, a UVM graduate and St. Johnsbury hospital executive, would be the next Porter president. Optimism abounded as he would be due to start the job later in the spring. Later in the year it proved to be unfounded.
News broke in March that Bristol resident Tyler Westbrook was suing the Bristol Police Department, specifically Officer Randy Crowe and then-chief Kevin Gibbs, for they way he was treated during a 2016 incident outside his home. Westbrook alleged assault and battery, excessive force and emotional distress. Crowe and Vermont State Police troopers responded to an alarm, as did Westbrook, at a business owned by a friend of Westbrook near his home.
As the month closed, the Brandon Leicester Salisbury Goshen (BLSG) Mosquito Control District reached a settlement on a lawsuit filed in Environmental Court by landowners and supported by the Toxic Action Center. Residents were concerned about the effects of pesticides on animal life and water quality, their potential impact on people, and the lack of information from the district. The settlement was signed off on by the Agency of Natural Resources as well as by the litigants after the district supplied more data to the state. District board members said they needed to find better ways of being more transparent and informative.
Around 100 residents of northern Addison County turned out at an early April meeting to support the concept of a Vergennes bypass that would divert truck traffic on a new road and bridge north of the Little City. That concept was also championed by a study authored by the South Burlington engineering firm Stantec. Currently, around 800 trucks daily zip through Vergennes via Route 22A, posing perennial noise and safety concerns.
Addison Central School District officials solicited feedback from Middlebury-area residents on how the ACSD should prioritize investment in its many school buildings. A consulting firm called ReArch estimated the district’s nine buildings — seven elementary schools, Middlebury Union Middle School, and Middlebury Union High School — needed a combined total of $61.5 million in basic repairs and upgrades. The ACSD hosted a series of public forums to explain the capital needs and introduce the concept of closing one or more of the district’s smaller elementary schools as a way of saving money and maximizing resources during this period or declining student enrollment.
New principals were named to take charge at four of the ACSD’s seven elementary schools. They included Nicole Carter, hired to succeed longtime Weybridge Elementary School Principal Christina Johnston; Heather Raabe, to replace Jen Kravitz at the Bingham Memorial School in Cornwall; and Kravitz, who transitioned from the Bingham School to helm Middlebury’s Mary Hogan Elementary. The search remained under way for a new top administrator for Bridport Central School.
Meanwhile, the Addison Northwest School District Board reduced the district’s teaching ranks by two full-time equivalent positions in order to comply with a $22.1 million public education plan that voters had endorsed for the 2019-2020 academic year.
Budget builders in the Vermont House agreed to a funding plan that would grant the Salisbury Fish Culture Station a reprieve until at least 2022. The plan also included money to study and possibly improve the hatchery’s water discharge system, which could further extend the life of a facility that needs to comply with new federal environmental standards in order to continue operations. Gov. Phil Scott’s proposed fiscal year 2020 state spending plan called for closing the hatchery at 646 Lake Dunmore Road as a way of cutting in half an estimated $500,000 shortfall in the Department of Fish and Wildlife operating budget.
A number of Addison County residents participated in a 65-mile walk from Middlebury to the Vermont Statehouse to symbolically and forcefully lobby for more legislation to battle climate change. The Independent’s own Christopher Ross participated in the walk and wrote and blogged about his experiences. Meanwhile, Middlebury College students drafted a joint resolution supporting a “Vermont Green New Deal” aimed at fighting climate change and supporting social justice.
Middlebury College Prof. Molly Costanza-Robinson earned statewide recognition for her contributions to a new bill aimed at ridding school water systems of lead. Costanza-Robinson, a professor of chemistry and biochemistry, provided key testimony at the Statehouse, and her students contributed results on their own testing of water systems in Middlebury-area schools.
The BLSG Mosquito Control District board approved a settlement proposal between it and the Toxic Action Center, a lawsuit that had cost the district $41,668 since it was first filed during the summer of 2018. The suit was originally filed on behalf of a handful of local residents who were concerned about the effects of pesticides on animal life and water quality, as well as its impact on human beings. The Toxic Action Center alleged in the suit that the BLSG did not follow strict state protocols regarding informing the public on pesticides that were to be sprayed when the bug district originally filed its permit application.
Weybridge teen Narges Anzali struck a cord with the Addison County community with her poem titled, “To all the people who hate Muslims.” The poem took on hate — particularly the hate some people profess toward others without even knowing them. Her poem — and a subsequent feature about her in the Independent — drew many positive comments from readers far and wide.
George and Priscilla Gilman, both Salisbury residents in their late 70s, were attacked by a rabid coyote on their property during the morning of April 1. George was able to kill the animal with a shotgun during the harrowing experience. The couple had to submit to a battery of rabies shots. Their toughness carried them through the ordeal.
Pratt’s Store in Bridport celebrated its 50th anniversary of providing just about everything a shopper could need. The popular general store continued to buck the trend of rural stores reducing offerings or closing altogether. Pratt’s found success by offering more products, thus retaining its legion of devoted local consumers.
Faced with increased demand, the Charter House Coalition in Middlebury decided to keep its warming shelter at 27 North Pleasant St. open to the homeless through the summer. Normally it closes in the spring.
Lincoln’s Harriet “Hattie” Brown received many well wishes on April 10 — her 100th birthday. And she received 100 cards to match the number of years she had logged on this earth.
Registered Nurse Julia Doucet had spent many months caring for area migrant workers at Middlebury’s Open Door Clinic. In May, she recounted highlights of her recent trip to Mexico, during which she renewed acquaintances with some of the patients she had served in Middlebury. The trip was eye opening for Doucet, who got to experience the culture and family dynamics of those who travel to the Green Mountain State and spend years working on dairy farms to earn enough money to make their dreams of business ownership and financial security come true.
Porter Hospital officials in May prepared for a possible onslaught of measles cases, in the wake of a major epidemic that had invaded 22 states. Dr. Natasha Withers, serving as medical director of Porter’s affiliated provider practices, coordinated an action plan for the Middlebury hospital to respond to any potential cases.
Speaking of Porter, the medical center welcomed a new president following a nationwide search. Dr. Seleem Choudhury succeeded Dr. Fred Kniffin, who returned to his role as an Emergency Department physician at Porter Hospital. Choudury’s resumé revealed three decades of experience working in health care, much of it spent as a Registered Nurse delivering direct services to patients. He had most recently served as vice president for professional services at St. Johnsbury’s Northeastern Vermont Regional Hospital.
The Addison County Home Health & Hospice Board in May also confirmed a new chief executive, to succeed former leader Tim Brownell: Deborah Wesley, RN, the agency’s former vice president of clinical services. Wesley served around two months as ACHH&H’s interim leader prior to landing the full-time job. Brownell had vacated the job in February, in the wake of criticism of the organization’s leadership by past and present employees. Those complaints largely related to administration-staff relations.
Meanwhile, Christopher Welch took the helm of the Bristol Hub Teen Center. Welch, with training in art and psychology, promised to bring new recreational ideas to the center — including Quidditch.
The Addison Central School District board in May ratified a new, one-year contract calling for all ACSD teachers that reflected a 3-percent increase in new money for educators’ salaries for the 2019-2020 academic year. The pact didn’t provide clarity on health insurance benefits, however, because that issue was still being sorted out by the state Legislature.
ACSD directors continued to hear from area residents concerned about closure of some of the district’s small elementary schools. The ACSD, like most other Vermont school districts, is dealing with declining student enrollment and surging education expenses. The ACSD board — which serves children in Bridport, Cornwall, Middlebury, Ripton, Salisbury, Shoreham and Weybridge — is preparing a facilities master plan that will prioritize investments in buildings critical to the district’s education mission.
We gave our readers an update in May on longtime Independent photographer Trent Campbell, who continued to recover from the second of two strokes that had affected his balance and ability to return to the job he had performed so admirably for the past two decades. Physicians traced his health woes to a condition called “atrial fibrillation,” characterized by an irregular heartbeat. Campbell continues to persevere in his rehab and aspires to once again take photos for the county’s hometown newspaper.
After a year of evaluating its workforce in preparation for possible job cuts, Middlebury College announced in May that it had balanced its ledger without having to issue pink slips. Twenty-four faculty members elected to participate in a retirement incentive plan, thus saving an estimated $4.6 million in the short term. Thirty-five college staff opted for an incentive separation plan that saved another $3.6 million. The institution achieved still more economies through attrition.
The Addison County Community Trust secured final funding for a 24-unit affordable housing project on Armory Lane, and constructed was scheduled to begin in August.
Ilsley Library officials said they plan to keep Narcan (also known as Naloxone) on hand. It’s a substance used to treat respiratory depression caused by opioids, such as heroin, morphine, oxycodone, methadone, hydrocodone, codeine and other prescription pain medications. Narcan — in this case administered as a nasal spray — quickly and temporarily reverses the effects of opioids in overdose patients. Library officials said it made sense to carry Narcan, given that some Ilsley visitors are battling addiction.
Middlebury College officials in June announced a partnership with Encore Renewable Energy LLC that they hoped would culminate in a 5-megawatt solar farm off South Street Extension. The plan started to draw opposition from area neighbors when Encore elected to move the project site further east of the original spot, in a location closer to the Eddy Farm for Horse & Rider. Neighbors claimed the solar farm would mar what is a beautiful view for walkers and cyclists. They urged the developers to find a more remote site.
Construction began anew on the $72 million plan to replace downtown Middlebury’s two rail bridges with a 360-foot-long concrete tunnel, and a local citizens’ group called “Neighbors Together” clinched a two-year, $228,750 state grant to help promote the village and its businesses during the project, which will last into 2021.
June brought some tense times for the Vergennes Police Department, eyed for cuts in the wake of a 2019-2020 municipal budget draft that reflected a 13-cent bump in the city tax rate. City officials took a look at a menu of possible reductions that included eliminating two officers from the city police force, which would save around $147,000. Nothing was decided by month’s end.
After a two-year hiatus, the Vergennes Farmers Market officially returned to the City Green on June 13. The market, featuring around 20 vendors, set up shop every Thursday from 3-6:30 p.m., through Oct. 10. Efforts would get under way later in the summer to resurrect the Bristol farmers market.
Middlebury property owners in June each received a booklet listing new valuations stemming from a recently concluded reappraisal of townwide properties. Any property owners who felt the newly assigned valuations were excessive were invited to plead their case through a grievance hearing.
Several veteran teachers from schools throughout the county took a final bow as the academic year drew to a close in June. Among them was Vergennes Union Elementary School art teacher Laura Pettibon, who stepped down after 32 years of service to multiple generations of local families. Also calling it a career was Lee Shorey, who worked 40 years as a special educator at Vergennes Union High School.
Mount Abraham Union High School Principal Jessica Barewicz delivered a stunning message to the class of 2019 on graduation day: That she, too, would be leaving Mount Abe, effective June 30. Barewicz had served as the school’s top administrator since July 1, 2016. She explained she was leaving to become director of curriculum, instruction and assessment for the Barre Unified Union School District.
Middlebury Union High School junior Nico Brayton got some good news in June. He was named one of only four national recipients of a 2019 Coolidge Scholarship that will give him a full ride to the college or university of his choice, once he graduates from MUHS in 2020. It will also allow him to occasionally travel to network with other young scholars and academicians during his four undergraduate years.
County lawmakers met with constituents to list what they believed were the highlights of the 2019 legislative session. Successes, they said, included tapping funding sources to clean the state’s waterways, agreeing on a $6.1 billion budget, banning single-use plastic bags, and passing a measure to ensure lead-free drinking water at public schools.
The destructive emerald ash borer made its inevitable incursion into Addison County, first discovered in Bristol village. Towns throughout the county held meetings and prepared action plans to deal with the voracious beetle, which can destroy trees at an alarming pace.
The Mary Johnson Children’s Center announced plans to build a 7,500-square-foot childcare facility on land off Armory Lane in Vergennes. The new, $3.2 million center was designed to offer much needed childcare slots in northern Addison County.
Preparations for the fifth annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival intensified in June. Producer Lloyd Komesar and Artistic Director Jay Craven reported receiving 340 film submissions, the best of which would be shown at five screens during the four-day extravaganza in late August.
Former Middlebury College football Coach Mickey Heinecken received the Middlebury Rotary Club’s highest honor — the Stephen A. Freeman award — for his years of tireless work on behalf of Habitat for Humanity of Addison County.
New Haven hired its first-ever town administrator, Aaron Brown. His varied duties would include serving as the town’s zoning administrator.
The Mount Abraham Unified School District began its fiscal year with a pair of interim principals. Tom Buzzell, a former co-principal at Mary Hogan Elementary School in Middlebury, took the reigns at Bristol Elementary School, while Shannon Warden, a graduate of Vergennes Union High School, took over at Mount Abraham Union High School.
In the Addison Central School District (ACSD), meanwhile, a group of Ripton residents concerned about the future of their elementary school drafted a letter urging district officials to consider options beyond school closure to solve the problem of declining enrollment and rising costs. Three months earlier the ACSD board had unveiled four facilities options — all of which included closing at least one of the district’s elementary schools.
Dozens of people organized under the banner of Showing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) marched in the Bristol Fourth of July Parade to protest both U.S.-run concentration camps on the southern border, and the increasing presence of Immigration and Customs Enforcement — ICE — agents in Vermont.
Out in the fields, hoping that the cold and damp spring weather was finally behind them, a certain group of farmers eyed their industrial hemp crops. Local growers hoping to cash in on an emerging market had planted hundreds of acres of the recently legalized agricultural crop, and market analysts were offering a bullish outlook: The going price for one pound of dried Vermont flower buds was $100.
News of a much darker nature emerged on July 12, as Vermont State Police announced that longtime Monkton resident David Auclair had been shot to death in a Hinesburg trailhead parking lot near his Monkton property the previous night. Police soon concluded that the shooting was an act of homicide.
In Middlebury, as work on the $72 million railroad bridges replacement project continued to come into focus, the Vermont Agency of Transportation agreed to pay a combined total of $5 million for easements on 27 separate downtown Middlebury properties within the footprint of the project; construction was expected to run into 2021. Owners of the Battell Block, which will be among the properties most affected by construction, received $532,000.
Across town, Greg’s Meat Market — the once-popular independently owned grocery store at 3 Elm St., which had been closed for four years — reopened under new ownership. Proprietor Tony Neri planned to run the store the way original owner Greg Wry had run it, though at first with slightly slimmed down stock and hours of operation.
Hundreds of miles south, in the nation’s capital, Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt., announced that he was in favor of impeaching President Donald Trump, citing Trump’s obstruction of congressional attempts at oversight and his public attacks on American citizens based on their ethnic origin, religion and race.
Vermont State Herpetologist Jim Andrews’ inbox in July was flooded with emails, phone calls and reports of what some Addison County residents are calling “Frog-ageddon.” According to Andrews, thousands of frogs had appeared along the Otter Creek floodplains of Cornwall, Leicester and Salisbury. Landowners reported not wanting to mow their lawns, pool owners had hundreds of small frogs in their pools and drivers report the tremendous carnage on roads. Andrews blamed the wet spring for the surfeit of frogs.
Meanwhile, former Middlebury masseuse Roger Schmidt was sentenced to two to six years in jail, with a mandatory six months to serve, for 37 counts of voyeurism, stemming from his use of hidden equipment to make 70–100 video recordings of 30 women customers. Schmidt’s punishment also called for probation, restitution and mandatory sex offender counseling.
Elsewhere in law enforcement, Vergennes police officers sought to unionize by affiliating with the New England Police Benevolent Association. The proposed union would include only non-supervisory personnel and would exclude the police chief, George Merkel.
As August dawned in the shire town so did the sounds of construction, as work resumed on the $72 million downtown Middlebury rail bridges project. Over the following five months, Kubricky Construction was expected to deepen and fortify a 1,700-foot stretch of rail bed in preparation for a 360-foot-long concrete tunnel, which would be installed in 2020.
Sounds of a different kind emanated from Middlebury’s Stone Mill building, down past Frog Hollow, where the announcement that the state’s fourth Mad Taco restaurant would soon open there caused quite a buzz. The well-beloved purveyor of southwestern cuisine would be joining a lineup of local and regional retail and service establishments once renovations on the historical building were complete.
Big plans were also afoot in the Addison Central School District, where the board set the stage for moving the district’s sixth-grade elementary school students to Middlebury Union Middle School, starting in the 2021–2022 school year. The move, which would further reduce enrollment in the district’s seven elementary schools, also appeared to increase the likelihood that one or more of those schools would eventually close.
As the public-comment deadline loomed for proposed rule changes that would affect the Green Mountain National Forest — including the elimination of public comment — natural resource watchdogs ramped up their criticism of the U.S. Forest Service, which they accused of attempting to skirt environmental regulation.
More than 100 feature-length and short films were screened at the fifth annual Middlebury New Filmmakers Festival in late August. Highlights included a Vermont Film Showcase, a special late-night screening and the announcement of the “MNFF Franklin Film Development Fund,” which would award two $10,000 filmmaking grants to eligible MNFF alumni.
In Bristol, a conversation about expanding the town’s police district was resurrected, with the formation of the Police Townwide Study Committee. A previous discussion had occurred in 2012, when the Police Advisory Board had asked residents whether or not the Bristol Police Department should serve the entire town — and residents were divided.
In Salisbury, Vermont Agriculture Secretary Anson Tebbetts joined leaders of Middlebury College, Vermont Gas Systems and Massachusetts-based Vanguard Renewables to break ground for a future anaerobic digester, which would convert manure and food scraps into renewable natural gas for Middlebury College and other clients.
The county’s largest high school prepared to say good-bye to its long-serving principal, as William Lawson announced he would be retiring from Middlebury Union High School at the end of the school year. Lawson, 71, had taken the helm at MUHS in 1995.
School news of a different sort emerged in the Addison Northwest School District, where the board of directors, anticipating the need for nearly $1 million in cost-cutting for the coming year, announced a proposal to close two of the district’s three elementary schools — Addison Central School and Ferrisburgh Central School.
As the month ended, it was announced that the town of Middlebury’s tax rates had dropped substantially. Tax bills were not likely to see a major drop, however, since the value of most of the properties on the town grand list had been revised upward during a recently completed reassessment.
After a more than 30-year run the Salisbury landfill, which was the state’s last operating unlined landfill, in September stopped accepting trash, though it would continue to act as a drop-off site for scrap metal, electronics and yard waste.
As the new school year got under way the Mount Abraham Unified School District unveiled with deserved pride a number of significant facilities improvements at Mount Abraham Union High School, including upgrades to the library, cafeteria, gym, restrooms, wrestling room and playing fields.
A trio of Bridport men were arrested and cited for third-degree arson, aggravated stalking and other crimes in connection with a series of offenses stemming from an alleged farm family “feud.” Because some of the offenses were targeted at migrant workers, state police contacted the Vermont Attorney General’s Office under the Bias Incident Reporting System.
Farther east, law enforcement authorities arrested Monkton resident Kory Lee George on federal firearms charges, including possession of the gun police said was used to kill David Auclair in Hinesburg on July 11. A five-time felon, George was held without bail until trial.
In the Addison Northwest School District discussions got under way regarding a proposal to close Addison Central School and Ferrisburgh Central School next year. Many residents in those two towns charged the school board with moving too fast and providing inadequate information to district stakeholders. Some middle school teachers at Vergennes Union High School publicly expressed similar concerns.
In Bristol, Selectman Ted Lylis resigned without explanation. The town selectboard announced it would appoint someone to fill the seat the following month.
Commercial and residential break-ins, burglaries and thefts seemed to plague the region in the middle of the month, with incidents reported in Ferrisburgh, Lincoln, Bristol, Middlebury and Brandon. Many of these incidents occurred at gas station convenience stores.
In Middlebury an enterprising couple purchased the Blue Spruce Motel — whose charred remains had sat untouched since the building burned down more than two years before — with the intention of cleaning it up and using the property as the headquarters of an excavating business.
Roughly 500 people, including hundreds of students from Middlebury College and Middlebury Union High School, gathered in College Park in Middlebury as part of the Global Climate Strike on Sept. 20. Around the world millions of people gathered at more than 2,500 events in more than 160 countries to protest their leaders’ inaction in addressing climate change.
The New Haven barracks of the Vermont State Police experienced a changing of the guard this month. Lt. Matthew Daley became the barracks’ new commander, replacing Lt. Jeff Danoski, who was retiring after a 28-year-career with the VSP. Danoski had commanded the New Haven barracks since 2014.
Two Middlebury artists earned high honors from the Vermont Arts Council. Actor, singer, playwright and author François Clemmons, known by many for his role as Officer Clemmons on the television series “Mr. Rogers’ Neighborhood,” received the 2019 Governor’s Award for Excellence in the Arts. Theater wizard Douglas Anderson, founder, artistic director and former executive director of Town Hall Theater, was named the 2019 winner of the Arthur Williams Award for Meritorious Service to the Arts.
Residents of the town of Addison at the end of the month backed by a 61-46 vote a bond of up to $780,000 to build an in-ground septic system on land west of the current town clerk’s office. The system would serve the town’s Route 17 fire station, current office building and potential future town offices, and the Addison Community Baptist Church.
Opposition to the Addison Northwest School District board’s proposal to close Addison Central School and Ferrisburgh Central School became more glaring in the first week of October when selectboards in Addison and Ferrisburgh both declined the board’s requests to warn votes on the closures in their respective towns. The ANWSD board said it had legal advice that the selectboards were obligated to warn the votes, while the Ferrisburgh selectboard said it received legal counsel it was not required to do so. By the middle of the month, though, townwide votes in both Ferrisburgh and Addison were set for Nov. 5.
Mount Abraham Union Middle/High School Interim Principal Shannon Warden was getting to know her students and her community. She said that as she walked through the crowd after the Bristol school’s homecoming football game, she encountered a young Eagle football player who earlier in the evening had competed in the middle school exhibition scrimmage. After a pleasant conversation, the youngster gave Warden a fist bump. “Oh my gosh, this is why I do what I do,” she said.
The Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) celebrated its Trail Around Middlebury, or TAM, which this year is marking its 30th birthday. A 30th birthday bash for the TAM took place Oct. 10.
Recently hired Porter Medical Center President and COO Seleem Choudhury resigned from his post Oct. 8 after the Porter board investigated allegations he plagiarized material for a series of weekly messages to the hospital community. Choudhury acknowledged copying some words from an internet blog site for one such message, but observers said this wasn’t the only incident and wondered why he didn’t own up to the other lapses. In light of the abrupt departure, Dr. Fred Kniffin agreed to serve as Porter’s interim leader for the next three months as the organization prepares to again recruit a new chief executive. Kniffin is no stranger to the role, having first accepted it back in 2016 following the resignation of then-Porter CEO Lynn Boggs after only nine months on the job.
Also looking to fill a vacant leadership role was the Bristol selectboard, which was filling a spot to replace Selectman Ted Lylis, who resigned without explanation in September. After eight citizens asked to be appointed to the post, the selectboard in October scheduled a special election for Tuesday, Dec. 3, so voters could decide who was their next selectboard member.
In a sign of the changes in agriculture in the county, observers noted in October that the industrial hemp harvest had begun. More than 800 operations had registered to grow hemp on nearly 8,000 acres around the state — many of them were in Addison County. Most of them were growing hemp for CBD oil. One thing that makes the story at Bristol’s Leaning Barn hemp farm different is its funding. It raised $450,000 through social media and other channels in about 30 days, according to owner Randy Russell.
Despite unfavorable weather, the 42nd annual CROP Hunger Walk in Middlebury drew 150 walkers. CROP, which stands for Communities Responding to Overcome Poverty, raises money to fight hunger and poverty.
State officials confirmed the presence of adult zebra mussels (Dreissena polymorpha), an aquatic invasive species, in Lake Dunmore. A member of the Lake Dunmore Public Access Greeter Program submitted an inquiry, and, in quick response, Lake Dunmore Fern Lake Association contracted divers to remove the estimated 100-200 adult specimens. Zebra mussels are a small freshwater mollusk that can reproduce rapidly and cause serious harm to the ecological systems. They also cause an economic burden, requiring long-term maintenance to pre- vent clogging of pipes and damage to underwater infrastructure.
Middlebury police said that increasing numbers of homeless folks seeking services in Middlebury were putting a strain on local services. Chief Tom Hanley said police officers are spending many hours responding to trespassing, assaults, disturbances and a variety of behavioral problems associated with some of those availing themselves of shelter and food in Addison County’s shire town. Time spent sorting out complaints with transients — many of whom are dealing with mental health and substance addiction problems — is precluding police from devoting adequate time to regular patrol activities, Hanley said. Some homeless shelter officials said this was a statewide issue, not one unique to Middlebury.
Meanwhile, a growing number of people are seeking aid from the organization Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects (HOPE) to get food, clothing and assistance in paying utility bills, despite the fact that the economy is good and the county’s unemployment rate is hovering at around 2.3 percent. Jeanne Montross, executive director of HOPE, said the organization saw 997 new, unduplicated clients between Jan. 1 and Sept. 30 of this year. The largest number of these clients came from Middlebury (278), Bristol (111), Vergennes (85) and Leicester (69).
The chief of Vermont’s rail and aviation division said passenger train service to Burlington — with stops in Vergennes and Middlebury — is likely to commence in 2021, barring any unforeseen delays in construction of the downtown Middlebury rail tunnel. Vergennes and Middlebury are proceeding with rail platform projects to accommodate future passengers of the expanded Amtrak service. Construction is currently under way on the Vergennes-area passenger rail platform located near the Ferrisburgh park-and-ride on Route 22A near Route 7. In Middlebury, a 300-foot-by-12-foot passenger rail platform will be sited between Middle Seymour and Maple Streets north of downtown opposite the former Middlebury train station.
An Oct. 16-17 Nor’easter pummeled Addison County with driving rain and wind gusts in excess of 40 miles per hour, causing particular damage in Lincoln and New Haven, each of which reported road washouts.
In October, Vergennes city officials found themselves faced with the task of filling two key municipal positions. City Manager Matt Chabot announced his resignation, effective no later than Jan. 15. Longtime City Clerk Joan Devine said she will retire on Feb. 28, 2020. Chabot is leaving to return to work for his previous employer, Burchfield Management Co. LLC. Devine, who has been clerk since 1981, is retiring.
After years of development by successive student teams at the Patricia A. Hannaford Career Center in Middlebury, an invention called the “maple meter” has won some major recognition. The Career Center received a $10,000 InvenTeam grant from the Lemelson-MIT Program at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, beating out hundreds of student teams around the country.
Cornwall resident Rebecca Kinkead had imagined a solitary artistic career, but after living that life she said she figured out, “I need people.” So she came up with what she called “A Neighbor Project,” through which she invited friends, neighbors and strangers to sit on her front porch in Cornwall and have their portraits painted. On Oct. 19 she hosted a viewing of the completed project: 250 7-inch-by-5-inch portraits of people that she painted over six weeks.
A group of parishioners at St. Genevieve Catholic Church, which sits prominently on Route 22A in Shoreham, are infusing new energy and offerings at their place of worship — including food and clothing charities for those in need — in an effort to convince the Burlington Diocese to keep it open. Bishop Christopher Coyne will recommend whether the 142-year-old St. Genevieve church should remain open or be closed, and potentially be razed.
In October a pack of bear hunting dogs attacked two hikers and their puppy on the Catamount Trail in the Green Mountain National Forest near the Ripton-Goshen border. The dogs were being tracked using GPS-enable collars from a distance by their owner, who could not immediately respond to the hikers’ calls for help. The unprovoked attack led to a debate about why state wildlife officials allowed hunting with a weapon — dogs — that were beyond the vision of their handlers — in some cases miles away.
A Weybridge resident ceded her ownership of a 55-acre parcel of grassland off Sheep Farm Road so that it will remain forever open to wildlife and humans alike. On Nov. 1, Gale Hurd deeded the property to the Otter Creek Audubon Society, while the Middlebury Area Land Trust (MALT) received a related conservation easement — all for $10 each. The land would have easily fetched six figures had it been sold on the open market, but now instead of homes, the property — part of the Middlebury/ Weybridge gateway — will continue to host grassland, brushland and wooded hedgerows, as well as the many birds and people who have enjoyed the land for years.
At the beginning of November the Independent reported that Vermont State Police were getting some new eyes in the sky when they chronicle an accident scene or look for a missing person in a remote location. Those eyes belong to a group of 11 unmanned aircraft systems — think “drones” — that are being deployed as needed throughout the state under the guidance of specially trained VSP teams. The units, which are battery powered and controlled through a console much like what one uses with a video gaming system, have the ability to hover for extended periods of time over targets, all the while taking photos that are then electronically stitched together to give authorities a panoramic depiction of a scene.
Local apple growers reported that they survived a rainy growing season, although some saw lower production.
On the first Tuesday in November voters in Addison and Ferrisburgh, by large margins, rejected the Addison Northwest School District’s proposal to close Addison Central School (ACS) and Ferrisburgh Central School (FCS) at the end of the school year. As one Ferrisburgh resident said, “Ferrisburgh and Addison residents sent a resounding message … Residents value their local schools and mandate that they remain open.” ANWSD board members will now have to figure out how to keep the schools open while creating a budget that taxpayers will support.
Both pedestrian and vehicular traffic in downtown Middlebury was slower than usual at the beginning of the month, as work on the $72-million rail bridges replacement project jumped from the train corridor up to Main Street. Work will soon wrap up for the winter, but next summer will see a 10-week period when construction will cause bigger headaches.
State lawmakers have promised to scrutinize the laws that regulate hunting bear with dogs. This comes after a pack of bear-hounds attacked a couple and their leashed puppy on the Catamount Trail in Ripton in October; the puppy and the hiker trying to protect it required emergency medical care. “Any time something happens that’s as dramatic and problematic as this, we need to take a pause and look at our current system of oversight,” Sen. Ruth Hardy said. “I don’t want to suggest that bear-hound hunters aren’t following the rules, but I think it’s reasonable to look at our regulations.”
This year’s archery season for deer, which concluded on Nov. 1, proved to be the second most successful in the past decade in Addison County, as measured by deer weighed at the county’s official reporting stations. During the season, archers brought 224 deer to the county’s seven stations.
That was followed by a bountiful Youth Hunting Weekend on Nov. 9 and 10, with many young hunters and their families with smiles on their faces. In all, hunters age 15 and younger brought 142 deer to Addison County’s reporting stations after bringing them down that weekend. That total topped the best Youth Hunting Weekend total the county has seen in at least 17 years.
Then the opening weekend of rifle deer season continued a trend in recent years: It set a new record for deer weighed at one of Addison County’s wildlife reporting stations during the first two days of the season. In all, county weigh stations handled 276 deer that weekend. Look for more deer hunting news in December.
The Vergennes City Council raised the city’s base per-unit sewer rate by $19 per quarter, or $76 per year, effective in 2020.
The Middlebury selectboard wants the local planning commission to review a 5-Megawatt solar array that’s being planned for Middlebury College-owned land off South Street Extension. It would be as large as any array that has been permitted in Vermont. The plan has generated widespread criticism from neighbors and more than a dozen people who said they regularly walk, jog and bike near the proposed site. A project planner with Encore Renewable Energy said other sites had been considered, but they opted against sites on the college campus because they couldn’t reach the desired scale, and against the town industrial park because they didn’t want to wait to iron out “subdivision issues” and thought that land would be better reserved for some future economic development. Opponents of the South Street Extension site pointed out that it is a “breathtaking” piece of Vermont land that is emblematic of the state’s agricultural heritage, and once it becomes the site of a large solar array it will never go back to its original state.
In late November some financial projections changed in the Addison Northwest School District recently — in the district’s favor. For months, the ANWSD board and administrators anticipated that the district would need to cut $955,000 from next year’s budget in order to avoid incurring a tax penalty for exceeding the state-mandated per-pupil-spending threshold. Voters rejected a plan to close two schools. Now, owing to a number of factors, the ANWSD finds that it will not need to cut $955,000 after all — only $470,000.
At about the same time, Gov. Phil Scott came to the county and urged school officials to think more creatively about sharing resources — including school consolidations — amid declining student numbers and rising public education expenses. Scott acknowledged the difficult choices that Vermonters will need to make about the future of their schools. But he believes the status quo is no longer an option, given demographic and financial realities in the Green Mountain State. “Closing their own school is a very difficult decision for any community to make; nobody wants to do it,” Scott said. “But the reality is, we have 30,000 (more than 20 percent) fewer kids than we did 20 years ago, so it just comes down to math.”
Turns out Vergennes wasn’t the only municipality that was going to loose a clerk. Ferrisburgh Town Clerk and Treasurer Gloria Warden said she would step down after almost six years on the job, but the town selectboard did not have to look far or wait long to find a replacement: Assistant Town Clerk/Treasurer Pam Cousino agreed to remove the word assistant from her title.
In New Haven, the Development Review Board concluded that a pavilion built by Porky’s Backyard BBQ and Smokehouse, at 7404 Route 7, was in violation of its business permit. Neighbors had been complaining for months about the noise.
Less than a month after voters in Addison and Ferrisburgh defeated a proposal by the Addison Northwest School District to close Addison Central School and Ferrisburgh Central School, a citizens group has launched a campaign to amend the ANWSD articles of agreement in a manner that would give district residents more power in deciding the fate of their local schools.
When the 2019 deer rifle season finished Dec. 1, officials saw that Addison County hunters had had the most successful season since 2005, when Vermont wildlife officials banned shooting spikehorn bucks. Hunters during this rifle season brought 594 bucks to be weighed at county wildlife reporting stations, breaking the record of 571 set just a year ago. Plentiful feed contributed to a large and healthy deer herd, which gave hunters more targets, experts said. Also, weather conditions generally helped hunters — a few inches of snow meant good tracking.
In a Dec. 3 election to fill an open seat on the Bristol selectboard, Ian Albinson defeated Eric Carter, 332–320. This was Albinson’s second selectboard race of the year. He ran against then-incumbent Ted Lylis for the same seat on Town Meeting Day in March, but lost by 11 votes, or 1.3%. This time he won by 12 votes, or 1.8%.
Residents of the six towns in the Slate Valley Unified Union School District (SVUUSD) will vote as soon as this coming spring on a massive $60 million capital improvements bond issue that would, among other things, pay for a new 8,200-square-foot addition for the Orwell Village School. Orwell school directors had been contemplating an elementary school addition months before the town’s entry into the SVUUSD last sprint. The addition would accommodate a cafeteria and gym, amenities currently provided at the adjacent, 179-year-old Orwell Town Hall building, which is in rough shape. Some townspeople want to keep the Town Hall, where Orwell holds its annual meeting, as well as other gatherings.
Bristol was rocked by two days of gun violence in unrelated incidents. First, on Dec. 2 Vermont State Police were called to a home on Upper Notch Road where a neighbor found an elderly couple shot to death in their home. After investigating, police suspected that the husband had shot his wife before turning the gun on himself. Authorities didn’t assign a motive and ruled out financial or marital troubles; but they did say that the husband had suffered a medical even early in the year that “may have altered his mental status.” The next day, at a domestic disturbance at a Lower Notch Road home, troopers shot a resident who police say was armed. The 28-year-old man, who was reported to be intoxicated and making threats, was airlifted to UVM Medical Center for treatment of critical wounds.
Investigation to the July shooting death of a former longtime Monkton resident took a turn when officials charged Kory Lee George with murdering his step-father, David Auclair, and charged Angela Auclair (Kory George’s mother and David Auclair’s wife) with aiding in the commission of a felony and obstruction of justice in the killing of her husband. Both George and Angela Auclair pleaded not guilty.
Workers this month put the finishing touches on the Middlebury Memorial Sports Center’s new second floor space, made possible through the generosity of local businesses, civic groups and individual donors. The new space will allow fans to view the hockey action from a warm space some 20 feet above the ice rink. It also adds new restrooms.
Word arrived at about the same time that professional arena football had moved a step closer to coming to Memorial Sports Center with confirmation that its home team — the “Vermont Brew” — has been admitted to the Elite Indoor Football League. Organizers hope to start playing games there next spring.
Vergennes wrapped up its search for a new city manager pretty quickly. Officials said they hired a native of the Albany, N.Y., area — a candidate with experience as a city manager in Georgia and prior experience as an interim manager, finance director, budget consultant and code enforcement officer in towns in Georgia, South Carolina and New York. Daniel Hofman, a 2012 graduate of the University of Albany, is expected to begin working in his new post on Jan. 1.
John Graham Housing & Services’ 6th annual vigil and sleep out at the Otter Creek Falls in Middlebury on Dec. 7 was the largest and most successful version of the event in the organization’s history, with participants raising a combined total of more than $53,000 in pledges to help the homeless. The event saw around 100 people attend a candlelit vigil, around 80 attended a related community supper, and sleep out participants braved frigid temperatures sharing around 30 tents and makeshift shelters — such as cardboard boxes — in the picnic area above the Middlebury Falls.
Bristol Selectman Peter Coffey announced this month that he will not seek re-election to the board when his term expires in March.
Homeward Bound, Addison County’s Humane Society, has a new program called Paws on the Job, which aims to match some of the shelter’s less adoptable cats with local businesses looking for rodent control — and a morale boost. They’re calling these kitties “Working Cats.”
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