Barton woman given deferred sentence for arson

copyright the Chronicle January 29, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — A Barton woman pled guilty to first degree arson Tuesday in the Orleans Criminal Division of Superior Court.

Rebecca R. Ray, 21, apparently settled the score with an informant who helped police arrest her boyfriend for heroin trafficking — by burning down the informant’s house.

Judge Howard VanBenthuysen deferred sentencing in the case for three years.

Ms. Ray is the girlfriend of Matthew R. Prue, 34, of Barton who, with his brother Louis A. Prue II, 40, of Newport was arrested on July 10 for selling heroin, said Morrisville Detective Jason Luneau.  The brothers were charged with selling 26 grams of heroin in a controlled buy carried out at the Subway in Orleans, he said.

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War on Poverty: Fifty years later schools are the battleground

Lisa Grout is a social studies teacher at North Country Union High School in Newport.  She has a perspective on both poverty and how poverty affects student outcomes.  Photo by Richard Creaser

Lisa Grout is a social studies teacher at North Country Union High School in Newport. She has a perspective on both poverty and how poverty affects student outcomes. Photo by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle January 22, 2014

Editor’s note:  The following story is the first in a two-part series on the link between poverty and success in school.

by Richard Creaser

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared in his State of the Union Address an “all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States.”

Fifty years later, the war rages on with the nation’s public schools as the battleground in this epic struggle.

“As a history teacher, I just can’t help but see that this isn’t anything new,” said Lisa Grout, a social studies teacher at North Country Union High School.  “At times, it has been described as a racial divide, but really it’s something else — it isn’t a war on poverty, it’s a war on the poor.  We need to rid ourselves of this myth that anyone can do whatever they want to do if they really want it.  Our system just isn’t balanced evenly that way.”

In fact, the system appears to be heavily weighted against students from poor families.

A direct link between low household income and student achievement is known in the educational system as the achievement gap.  The evidence is most readily appreciated by examining student performance on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) scores as tabulated by the Vermont Agency of Education.  Agency data for the reporting period of 2011-2012 for North Country is especially telling, although it’s important to consider that NECAP tests are only administered to juniors at the high school level.

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UTG reject Seneca Wind

copyright the Chronicle January 15, 2014

by Paul Lefebvre

FERDINAND — Community opposition in three of the most remote northern towns of the Northeast Kingdom have shut the door on hosting what would have been the third industrial wind project planned for the region’s ridgelines.

On Monday, the Unified Towns and Gores (UTG) joined Brighton and Newark in rejecting a proposal to build a ridgeline wind project on Seneca Mountain.

The decision came on the strength of a referendum mailed to property owners, whose ballots were counted in the UTG office in Ferdinand Monday night.

By a margin of 171 to 107, voters rejected the project and left little choice but for the UTG five-member board of governors to follow suit.

“The board has agreed to support the vote, and that’s what we intend to do,” said Chairman Barbara Nolan, after the results of the vote were announced.

There was also little room to maneuver for Eolian Renewable Energy, the company that had been spearheading a project that came to be known as Seneca Mountain Wind (SMW).  The company had repeatedly vowed that the project would rise or fall on the results of the vote.

“We are committed to abide by the local vote,” said a disappointed John Soininen, a company vice-president who was present during the counting of the ballots.

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Spates Block sale spurs Newport City reappraisal

Newport's Spates Block just sold for $2.85-million.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Newport’s Spates Block just sold for $2.85-million. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle January 8, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — The $2.85-million sale of the Spates Block will change the face of downtown Newport.  It will also require the city to revalue all property on its Grand List.

According to a memo from City Assessor Spencer Potter, the sale, along with the $1.1-million sale of the properties on which the new Maplefields gas station is to be built, will bring a call from the state for mandatory reappraisal.

City Manager John Ward urged the aldermen to act quickly on the matter at the city council’s meeting Monday night.  They heeded his advice and unanimously agreed to proceed with a full reappraisal of Newport.

Mr. Ward said it is quite possible that new sales will drop the city’s Common Level of Appraisal (CLA) enough that the state will raise education tax rates to compensate.  The CLA is a measure the state uses to ensure fairness in the statewide tax by making sure appraisals in all towns generally match the results of actual sales.

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Ice storm causes widespread power outages

A power line on Roaring Brook Road between West Glover and Barton.  Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

A power line on Roaring Brook Road between West Glover and Barton. Photo by Bethany M. Dunbar

by Bethany M. Dunbar

copyright the Chronicle 12-23-2013

An ice storm has knocked out power in northern Vermont and beyond.  Monday morning David Hallquist of Vermont Electric Cooperative said the storm is unprecedented in the amount of damage it’s done because it’s so widespread geographically.  About two-thirds of the cooperative’s coverage area lost power.

Mr. Hallquist said crews are working hard to restore power to everyone.

“We’ve got all the king’s horses and all the king’s men trying to put Humpty Dumpty together again,” he said.  Continue reading

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Flight Design USA will hire 100

Governor Peter Shumlin cuts the ribbon on the Stateside Baselodge on Friday, December 20.  On hand to celebrate the opening, from left to right, are:  Vermont Commissioner of Commerce and Community Development Lawrence Miller, Filippe Acciolye, an investor in the project from Brazil, Ariel Quiros, co-owner of Jay Peak, Governor Shumlin, state Senator John Rodgers, state Senator Robert Starr, Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak, Steve Wright, marketing director for Jay Peak, and William Kelly, counsel for Jay Peak.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

Governor Peter Shumlin cuts the ribbon on the Stateside Baselodge on Friday, December 20. On hand to celebrate the opening, from left to right, are: Vermont Commissioner of Commerce and Community Development Lawrence Miller, Filippe Acciolye, an investor in the project from Brazil, Ariel Quiros, co-owner of Jay Peak, Governor Shumlin, state Senator John Rodgers, state Senator Robert Starr, Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak, Steve Wright, marketing director for Jay Peak, and William Kelly, counsel for Jay Peak. Photos by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

JAY — At the opening of the new Stateside Baselodge Friday, Jay officials threw in a pair of bonus announcements.  A new aircraft company will bring more than 100 skilled jobs to Coventry, and the sale of the Spates Block on Main Street in Newport to Jay Peak co-owners Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros has been finalized.

At a press conference that followed the opening of the 84-room hotel, Mr. Quiros said he has bought Flight Design USA, the company that announced plans this summer to assemble and sell ultra-light planes at the Newport State Airport in Coventry.

Flight Design USA was the American branch of a German company, and the initial agreement allowed the Newport branch to act as one of six U.S. distributors of the company’s two-seater plane.

The new company, called Flight Design Americas, LLC, will have exclusive rights to sell planes in North America, South America and Central America, Mr. Quiros said.

The company expects to hire around 100 engineers, trained mechanics and assembly workers, he said.  It projects sales of as many as 200 planes a year by the third year of production.

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Christmas trees growers turn to the Canaan fir

copyright the Chronicle 12-18-13

by Natalie Hormilla

christmas tree tester

Bill Tester stands with one of his balsam and Fraser fir hybrids at his choose and cut stand in Barton. Photo by Natalie Hormilla

“I will never plant another balsam again,” said Steve Moffatt.  “Between the frost and the disease and the insect issues, I won’t.”

Mr. Moffatt owns and operates Moffatt’s Tree Farm in Craftsbury with his wife, Sharon.

This year is about the tenth year that Mr. and Ms. Moffatt have run the family business, which has been operating in some capacity or another since the 1960s.  Mr. Moffatt’s dad, Jim, still works at the farm, where he was born. Continue reading

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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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