In Superior Court: Attempted murder charge against North Troy stabber dropped

Jennifer Ahlquist, right, sits with her lawyer, Jill Jourdan, at her arraignment in March.  Ms. Ahlquist admitted stabbing her husband and on Thursday, December 5, received a sentence that did not include jail time.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Jennifer Ahlquist, right, sits with her lawyer, Jill Jourdan, at her arraignment in March. Ms. Ahlquist admitted stabbing her husband and on Thursday, December 5, received a sentence that did not include jail time. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle December 11, 2013

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — Jennifer Ahlquist, who stabbed her husband after finding him at a 19-year-old’s house, will not do jail time.  Under the terms of a plea agreement, Ms. Ahlquist, 41, of North Troy, saw the most serious charge against her — attempted second degree murder — dismissed by the state.

She pled guilty to felony charges of first degree aggravated domestic assault with a weapon and unlawful trespass in an occupied residence, as well as to simple assault.

Sentencing for the aggravated assault charge was deferred for seven years and six months, said Judge Gregory Rainville, who presided Thursday, December 5, in the Orleans Criminal Division of Superior Court.  That means the charge will be expunged from Ms. Ahlquist’s record if she does not get into further legal trouble in that period.

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In Newport: Merchants get creative to compete with Internet

At All About Home in Derby, Cindy Moylan stocks high-end merchandise and matches online prices.  The strategy brings in business, but leaves her with a limited profit margin and makes it hard to add staff for the store, she said.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

At All About Home in Derby, Cindy Moylan stocks high-end merchandise and matches online prices. The strategy brings in business, but leaves her with a limited profit margin and makes it hard to add staff for the store, she said. Photos by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle December 4, 2013

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A random sampling of local merchants suggests they are experimenting with new ways to compete in what has become a global marketplace.
The beginning of the 2013 Christmas shopping season looked pretty good, they said, but they are all looking over their shoulders at their real competition — the Internet.

Like most of the other storeowners, Cindy Moylan of All About Home in Derby, said she faces stiff competition from online retailers such as Amazon.  Her solution is to match their discounted prices on an everyday basis.

“People are conscious about how they spend their money,” she said.

Ms. Moylan said her customers often come into the store looking for the kitchenware and appliances she stocks, and they’re armed with lists of the lowest prices available on the Internet.  Because she bases her prices on the lowest allowed by manufacturers, those informed shoppers know they’ve found a good deal, she said.

Although one might like to think people will be willing to part with a little extra money in order to support a local business, Ms. Moylan said most people just go with the lowest price.

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Researchers extract sap from maple saplings

Smaller maple trees could be used to produce syrup with a new system being researched in Vermont. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

Smaller maple trees could be used to produce syrup with a new system being researched in Vermont. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Tena Starr

copyright the Chronicle 11-27-2013

Researchers at the Proctor Maple Research Center have stumbled onto a new way of sugaring that could revolutionize the most rapidly growing agricultural industry in Vermont.

Instead of getting 100 taps per acre, it would be possible to get 5,000 or more.  Instead of getting roughly 40 gallons of maple syrup per acre, it would be possible to get as much as 400 gallons per acre.

It would be possible, in other words, to have a prosperous sugaring operation on a single acre of farmland.

The idea is that saplings could be “tapped,” either in a regenerating sugarbush, or in a densely planted field.

Four years ago, Tim Perkins and Abby van den Berg at the Proctor Maple Research Center set out to study how sap flows in maple trees when a vacuum system is employed.  Vacuum sucks sap out of a tree rather than letting it flow at its natural, and much less predictable, rate.

Normally, in a thaw, sap flows downward through the tree.

“But if you’re on vacuum, you continue to get sap out of a tree after that process stops,” Mr. Perkins said.  “The only logical conclusion was that we were pulling sap up out of the ground.”

If that’s the case, then the top of the tree isn’t necessary to get a sap run, Mr. Perkins noted.  So, to test the theory, he and Ms. van den Berg lopped the top off a sapling, attached a plastic bag with a piece of tubing to the top of the stump, and sucked the sap out with vacuum.

It worked.  It worked so well, in fact, that, after four years of research, Mr. Perkins has concluded they discovered a whole new way of making syrup — one that could protect the industry from climate change and Asian longhorned beetles, allow new sugarmakers to get into the business despite prohibitively high land prices, and permit existing operations to expand.

A new sugarmaker could plant a closely spaced plantation of maple saplings.  A sugarmaker already in business could end up “tapping” the saplings that have grown up in his woods instead of clearing them out.

“There’s no question it works,” Mr. Perkins said.  “We generally don’t like to talk about things unless we know they’re going to work.  We spent four years looking at this before we began talking.  You can certainly make considerably more syrup per acre than with the standard method of sugaring.”

The only problem is it’s not yet possible to sugar such a plantation.  That’s because the device needed to get sap out of a sapling doesn’t exist — at least not on a large scale.

Mr. Perkins said the researchers made the equipment they used by hand, but no one would want to make enough for an entire plantation.  “It’s the same as if you had to whittle your own spouts,” he said.  “You wouldn’t want to make 5,000 or 6,000 of them.”

The device that’s missing is the plastic bag with the piece of tubing that would connect to the rest of the system.  “You need to get that sap out of the bag,” Mr. Perkins said.  “You can’t do it now because the devices to pull out the sap aren’t available commercially.”

Manufacturers have been approached and expressed interest, but at the moment no one is producing the piece needed for such a sugaring operation, Mr. Perkins said.

“We’ve spoken to manufacturers very briefly,” he said.  “Our next step is to start meeting with each manufacturer, describing it in more detail, and seeing if they want to start working with us.”

Among longtime sugarmakers, the procedure has generated good-natured cautiousness.

“When I saw it my immediate opinion was that’s crazy,” said Bucky Shelton of Glover, who has sugared for 35 years and is a sales and service man for Lapierre USA in Orleans.  “But if you put your mind into the future then it’s probably an interesting way to do this.  I’ll say one thing, you don’t have to worry about the wind blowing them down.  “It’s more secure as far as environmental problems go.”

Wind is a major threat to sugarmakers, and storms have been increasing, Mr. Shelton said.  He’s still cleaning up his own sugarbush, which was hit by a windstorm in May.

Jacques Couture, chairman of the Vermont Maple Sugarmakers Association, also a longtime sugarmaker, agrees that plantation sugaring could be a defense against increasing threats.  For instance, the hurricane of 1938 wiped out many mature sugarbushes, setting the business back years, he said.

“Some of the older sugarmakers talked about that.  All these beautiful sugarbushes got completely mowed down.”

“I don’t see myself doing it anytime soon, but it’s interesting,” Mr. Couture said.  “If we had some kind of major disaster, a lot of people would look at this seriously.”

That’s one of Mr. Perkins’ points.  Vermont’s sugaring industry, thriving right now, is whim to weather and pests, as is any agricultural venture.

The Asian longhorned beetle isn’t yet in Vermont, but it’s been found in neighboring states, and currently there are infestations in Massachusetts, New York, and Ohio.  It’s a serious threat to maples and other hardwood species, but it doesn’t like little trees, Mr. Perkins said.  They’re big beetles, and they like big trees to bore into, he said.  Saplings just don’t appeal to them.

And, 50 years down the road, as the temperature warms, smaller maples will be more likely to produce syrup.  Being smaller, they freeze and thaw quicker, allowing for more sap runs.

“In the projected environment we’re going to have 50 years from now, smaller trees will probably be better suited for sugaring,” Mr. Perkins said.

The ideal maple for plantation sugaring would actually look more like a bush than a stately 100-year-old maple.  Two-inch stems are optimum, Mr. Perkins said.  A single stem works fine — for a while.

The first year the top would be cut off to get the sap run.  Each year another six to 12 inches would be cut off the top of the stem to get the sap running.  But with a single stem, “eventually, you’re going to get to ground,” Mr. Perkins said.  A sapling with multiple stems, on the other hand, could last a very long time.

At the moment, the cost of production, for a variety of reasons, works out about the same as for a traditional sugarbush, Mr. Perkins said.

“Where this new method starts to get better is if you can plant saplings that have the genetics to be sweet trees,” he said.

And work has been done on developing particularly sweet varieties of maples, Mr. Perkins said.  Individual trees vary in sugar content, he said, and researchers were breeding for sweetness.  That work came to an end when reverse osmosis was introduced, he said.  Reverse osmosis removes some of the water from sap before it’s boiled, thus “sweetening” it and reducing boiling time.

“If we can increase the sugar content of sap to 3 percent, you’d go from 400 gallons an acre to 600 gallons,” Mr. Perkins said.

A plantation of particularly sweet trees would significantly cut the cost of production.  “If we could breed sweet trees and grow them fairly quickly,” the economics would be quite different, Mr. Perkins said.

The cost, and availability, of land is also a factor in sugaring today, he said.  “In Vermont right now about 50 percent of the optimal land for sugarbushes is being used for sugarbushes,” he said.  “The rest of it is mostly tied up.  There’s still land available, but it may not have the highest density, or people don’t want sugaring there.  This provides another option for people to continue to grow their operation.”

The idea of plantation sugaring, turning what is currently a semi-wild crop into a farm crop, causes some sugarmakers to raise an eyebrow — and laugh a little.

“It’s not too romantic,” Mr. Shelton said.  “One of my first thoughts was, boy, this is pretty far from tradition.”

“It does change the image if it becomes a cornfield type of thing, or sugarcane type of thing,” Mr. Couture said.

No, cutting the tops off saplings is not a traditional notion of sugaring, Mr. Perkins said.  “But, unfortunately, the traditional image doesn’t represent the reality of what’s out there.  We don’t have people walking around with horses anymore.”

He said he doesn’t see the new way of sugaring replacing the traditional methods anytime soon, although it could augment some operations and buffer the entire industry against disaster.

So far, the reaction from sugarmakers has been generally positive, Mr. Perkins said.

“I’m definitely open to seeing how it works,” Mr. Shelton said.  “They’re thinking out of the box, and I think we need to think out of the box for the future.  Everything old school is just getting uprooted.  It’s important to be thinking in these terms.”

Steve Wheeler at Jed’s Maple in Derby, which produces organic syrup and maple products, said he had not yet even heard about sugaring maple saplings.  “We’re set up so traditionally here that it’s kind of a shock,” he said.

He said he hasn’t formed an opinion, but sees no reason why sugaring in a whole new way wouldn’t work.  “I don’t see why you can’t approach it like traditional farming.”

Mr. Wheeler said he has great respect for the UVM researchers.  “Proctor has some really neat ideas,” he said.

contact Tena Starr at tenas@bartonchronicle.com.  For more free stories like this one, see our editor’s pick category on this site.  We hope these will interest you enough to make you want to subscribe to our online or print editions.

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Circus Smirkus zoning permit is appealed

Brin Schoellkopf hovers above the tight wire.

Brin Schoellkopf hovers above the tight wire, in a Circus Smirkus show.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle November 20, 2013

GREENSBORO — Circus Smirkus’ local zoning permit, which allows it to move its camp to Greensboro Village, has been appealed to Vermont Environmental Court.

No trial or hearing dates were set after a telephone conference Monday because the project will also need an Act 250 permit.

Once that permit application is filed, the Act 250 case and the local zoning case will most likely move forward in a bundle, according to Mark Hall, the lawyer representing the circus.

Meanwhile, the show must go on — and so must the camp.  It will, in Burke. Continue reading

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In the UTGs: Has industrial wind worn out its welcome?

UTG webby Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle 11-13-2013

ISLAND POND — Seneca Mountain wind developers stuck their head in the lion’s den here Monday night, and the lion roared back.

Eolian Renewable Energy is proposing a 20-turbine project for Seneca Mountain that would be sited exclusively in the town of Ferdinand, a small, sprawling community and a member of the Unified Towns and Gores (UTG). Continue reading

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Examining the crossroads of bullying and social media

Irasburg Village School students wore blue to take part in “Stomp Out Bullying,” on October 7.  October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month.  To signify its importance, STOMP Out Bullying created Blue Shirt Day, which is the World Day of Bullying Prevention.  Pictured, sitting in the front row, from left to right, are:  Mia Moore, Harley McCormick, Holden Lefebvre, Brody McDonald, Chase Monfette, Owen Brochu, Hutch Moore, and Dominick Daigle.  Sitting in the back row are:  Katelyn Turgeon, Abby Mcdonald, Sam Fecher, Thomas Annis, Ava Carbonneau, Joey Annis, Ryan Moulton, Seth Moulton, Tyson Horn, Hunter Baraw, Cy Boomer, and Zachary Rooney.  Standing in the front row are:  Dominick Fontaine, Bronson Smith, Logan Verge, Freddie Moore, Tyler Goodridge, Wyatt Gile, Rosie Fecher, Abigail Moore, Nicole LaFratta, Madison Berry, Mckenna Cartee, and Isaiah Brochu.  In the next row are:  Alyssa Butler, Byanna Palmer, Nicole Parrish, Hunter McElroy, Peyton Lackie, Garrett Labounty, Tyler Young, Keira Butler, Kaylee Jewer, Harlee Miller, Nicole Dutton, Mercedez Hodgdon, Dakota Jones, Taylor Schneider, and Michael Kittredge.  In the next row are:  Beverley Hall, Tyler Jewer, Dillon Stebbins, Josh Cole, Dinah Daigle, Glen Cartee, Drew Drageset, Connor Lanou, Dawson Stebbins, Emma Downs, Denise Goodridge, Seraphina Fecher, Abigail Bromley, and Sarah Cousino.  In the last row are:  Desiree Ouellet, Tucker Wilson, Jordan Fecher, Kiara Hodge, Brendan Dutton, Cody Lanou, Garrett Gile, Jacob Young, Nick Young, Maureen Currier, Emily Wells, and Francis Annis.  Photo courtesy of Paul Simmons

Irasburg Village School students wore blue to take part in “Stomp Out Bullying,” on October 7. October is National Bullying Prevention Awareness Month. To signify its importance, STOMP Out Bullying created Blue Shirt Day, which is the World Day of Bullying Prevention. Pictured, sitting in the front row, from left to right, are: Mia Moore, Harley McCormick, Holden Lefebvre, Brody McDonald, Chase Monfette, Owen Brochu, Hutch Moore, and Dominick Daigle. Sitting in the back row are: Katelyn Turgeon, Abby Mcdonald, Sam Fecher, Thomas Annis, Ava Carbonneau, Joey Annis, Ryan Moulton, Seth Moulton, Tyson Horn, Hunter Baraw, Cy Boomer, and Zachary Rooney. Standing in the front row are: Dominick Fontaine, Bronson Smith, Logan Verge, Freddie Moore, Tyler Goodridge, Wyatt Gile, Rosie Fecher, Abigail Moore, Nicole LaFratta, Madison Berry, Mckenna Cartee, and Isaiah Brochu. In the next row are: Alyssa Butler, Byanna Palmer, Nicole Parrish, Hunter McElroy, Peyton Lackie, Garrett Labounty, Tyler Young, Keira Butler, Kaylee Jewer, Harlee Miller, Nicole Dutton, Mercedez Hodgdon, Dakota Jones, Taylor Schneider, and Michael Kittredge. In the next row are: Beverley Hall, Tyler Jewer, Dillon Stebbins, Josh Cole, Dinah Daigle, Glen Cartee, Drew Drageset, Connor Lanou, Dawson Stebbins, Emma Downs, Denise Goodridge, Seraphina Fecher, Abigail Bromley, and Sarah Cousino. In the last row are: Desiree Ouellet, Tucker Wilson, Jordan Fecher, Kiara Hodge, Brendan Dutton, Cody Lanou, Garrett Gile, Jacob Young, Nick Young, Maureen Currier, Emily Wells, and Francis Annis. Photo courtesy of Paul Simmons

by Natalie Hormilla

“I wish that I could put a scrambler over my building that would not allow any airwaves to come in and out during the day,” said Lake Region Union High School Principal Andre Messier. 

He made that comment during a phone interview Monday on the topic of cyber bullying.

Sometimes cyber bullying happens only online — as in a “comments fight,” or nasty e-mails — and sometimes there’s an instance of a real incident continuing to live online.

Such was the case recently when an argument between students at the Orleans Elementary School was posted online.

The incident occurred while students were on the way home from school and involved a group of middle schoolers and at least one younger student. 

What most agree was basically an argument between kids generated much attention because videos of it were posted online, and it appeared to some that a young black girl was targeted by an older white boy.

Orleans Elementary School Principal Kim Hastings conducted an investigation into the argument, which took place off school grounds last month, she said in a phone interview Monday.

“It was a just a verbal fight amongst middle school kids,” Ms. Hastings said.  “There were inappropriate things said all around by the kids, and what happens is that they all got mad.”

Social media has exacerbated bullying, Mr. Messier said. 

He has been an educator for 22 years, so he’s been on the front line of handling social media issues with students as they have become more prevalent and more complex.

“Back in our day, it was passing notes and throwing them in people’s lockers…now everything is so immediate and so much out into the world,” Mr. Messier said.  “You know, you post something and it’s not just that one person you’ve written this note to, it’s public.”

Because of the public nature of the Orleans incident, many people learned about the fight, which some did consider to be a case of bullying.

At least one of the students recorded two videos of the incident and posted them on Facebook.  Then an account of the story appeared in a local newspaper. Continue reading

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Hungry Vermonters face cuts in aid

hunger web

Joe Patrissi at the NEKCA food shelf. Mr. Patrissi said it was fully stocked on Monday morning, but demand is great, and a few hours later several of its shelves were bare. Photo by Tena Starr

Years ago, Kim Arel found herself in a tough spot.  She had two young children to feed, and for a brief time the only way to swing that was to visit a food shelf.  “I was surprised to see other people there that I didn’t think I would,” she said in a recent interview.

Later, when she was in a better place, Ms. Arel decided to pay it forward, and became a donor to food shelves herself.  And for the past 12 years or so, she’s been running the food shelf in Jay, which serves five towns.

Last week, she said, many of her clientele were talking about the latest round of cuts to 3SquaresVT, the program that helps poor Vermonters put food on the table.  “They don’t know what they’re going to do.”

Those cuts, which will take effect on November 1, are due to the expiration of the American Recovery and Reinvestment Act funding, which passed in 2009 and included a temporary increase for help with food through the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP).  The temporary boost increased the monthly SNAP benefit by 14 percent. Continue reading

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Moose harvest lagging at mid-season

Barry Adams of Lyndonville hunting with his father, Dave, shot this 442-pound cow in Wheelock Monday morning.  Photo courtesy of Cedric Alexander

Barry Adams of Lyndonville hunting with his father, Dave, shot this 442-pound cow in Wheelock Monday morning. Photo courtesy of Cedric Alexander

by Paul Lefebvre

BARTON — Halfway through the 2013 season and the moose harvest is running about 40 percent behind last year’s figures at this time, according to biologist Cedric Alexander of the state’s Fish and Wildlife Department.

Early estimates suggest that 115 moose had been taken as of Monday night, said Mr. Alexander, the department’s moose biologist who was at the Barton reporting station Tuesday.

Mr. Alexander attributed the trailing harvest to a reduction in permits — about 30 fewer than were issued a year ago.

A hunter not included in the mid-season report was Chris Manges of West Burke, who shot a 622-pound cow Tuesday in Craftsbury.

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Roger Pion shown competent for trial

Attorney David Sleigh (left) represents Roger Pion in Orleans Superior Court.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Attorney David Sleigh (left) represents Roger Pion in Orleans Superior Court. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Bethany M. Dunbar

NEWPORT — A new examination of Roger Pion’s mental health shows that he is currently competent to stand trial, attorneys and Judge Howard Van Benthuysen heard in the criminal division of Orleans Superior Court Tuesday.

His new lawyer, Chandler Matson, asked for some time to prepare for a trial.  He is the third attorney on the case and said he does not have all the records yet.  He said he is 60 to 70 percent up to speed.

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Passenger train might come to Island Pond

Kato's Railroad

copyright the Chronicle, October 9, 2013

by Paul Lefebvre

ISLAND POND — For two private developers who would like to start a nighttime rail passenger service between Montreal and Portland, slow is beautiful.

The working name for the project is train-hotel, and in a special meeting here Tuesday with Brighton Selectmen, Francois Rebello of Montreal and Richard Bennett of Biddeford, Maine, laid out a business proposal that would warm the heart of nearly everyone in a town that the railroad put on the map.

Essentially, the pair want to put evening passenger trains on three different routes, all linking Montreal to New York.  Initially, the trains would run for three months, starting in the summer.

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