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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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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Editorial: A sad echo from across the sea

“They’re still at it!”

That’s what we said when we read the astounding news that on September 5, almost three decades after Vermont State Police raided the Northeast Kingdom Community Church in Island Pond and seized its children, it happened again in southern Germany.

Again it was an early dawn raid on the group, which now calls itself the Twelve Tribes.  Again, the children were taken away by police who said they had “fresh evidence indicating significant and ongoing child abuse by the members.”

We imagine that our outraged amazement that they’re still at it was shared by two groups of Vermonters.

For one group, no doubt the larger group, “They” are the police and the State they serve.  And what they’re at is the persecution of a religious community for straying outside the norms of our society.

For the second group, largely made up of people closer to the story, people who perhaps had friends or relatives living with the group in Island Pond, “They” are the adults in that community.  And what they’re at is the systematic abuse of their own children, using slender wooden sticks of the sort used to hold balloons at birthday parties.

For the record, here’s what the Twelve Tribes says on its website, under “frequently asked questions,” about how it disciplines its children:

“When they are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others we spank them with a small reed-like rod, which only inflicts pain and not damage.”

In Vermont it was evidence of the use of these rods, which left welts on small bodies in beatings that were sometimes very lengthy, sometimes severe, that finally led authorities to resort to the raid.

District Judge Frank Mahady ruled, in 1983 after presiding over a custody battle between a father who left the group and a mother who remained, that the children “were subjected to frequent and methodical physical abuse by adult members of the community, in the form of hours-long whippings with balloon sticks.”

District Judge Joseph Wolchik, after reviewing a large collection of evidence and allegations, signed a warrant ordering police to conduct the raid of June 22, 1984.

But at the Orleans County Courthouse that afternoon, Judge Mahady ruled that the raid was unconstitutional and sent the children home to Island Pond.

Governor Richard Snelling said at the time he would submit the constitutional issue to the Vermont Supreme Court, but changed his mind.

So as a legal matter, that’s how things stand to this day.  Two judges of equal authority disagreed.  No higher court has ever resolved their dispute.

That’s a problem, because the reconciliation of practices based on sincere religious belief and laws that prohibit such practices is a difficult constitutional issue.

There can be no doubt that the adults in the Island Pond community believed they were following God’s will.  And there can be no doubt that they were breaking the laws crafted to protect this society’s most vulnerable members.

There were people, in the aftermath of the raid, who saw the need to tackle the problem, to try and draft laws that would protect children using methods less drastic than a frightening pre-dawn raid.  But public reaction against the raid was strong enough to marginalize anyone who tried to continue the discussion.

It was a stunning victory for the Island Pond community, and we said so on June 27, 1984:

“We hope we’re wrong, but can’t shake off the feeling that those children are out of the reach of the state of Vermont once and for all.  Not out of the reach of some awesome, totalitarian power.  But out of the reach of a community that surrounds them, cares for them and weeps for them.”

Maybe this time, for a different generation of children in a different country, things will work out better. — C.B.

To read the Chronicle story on the Twelve Tribes raid in Germany, click here.

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German police seize Twelve Tribes children

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In this Chronicle file photo, a Vermont state trooper carries a bundle of wooden rods out of a restaurant owned by the Island Pond community on June 22, 1984.

In this Chronicle file photo, a Vermont state trooper carries a bundle of wooden rods out of a restaurant owned by the Island Pond community on June 22, 1984.

by Chris Braithwaite

BAVARIA, Germany — German police seized 40 children of the Twelve Tribes religious community here on September 5, according to press accounts.

The group is one of many international offshoots of the Northeast Kingdom Community Church in Island Pond, whose children were seized by Vermont State Police in a controversial raid on June 22, 1984.

Almost three decades later, German officials say they are investigating allegations that are almost identical to those that led to the Island Pond raid.  According to the British newspaper the Guardian, Germany sent 100 police officers to two of the sect’s complexes on the basis of “fresh evidence indicating significant and ongoing child abuse by the members.”

On its website, the Twelve Tribes acknowledges that adult members strike children with the thin wooden rods that troubled Vermont officials, though it denies that it abuses the children.

“When they are disobedient or intentionally hurtful to others, we spank them with a small reed-like rod, which only inflicts pain and not damage,” the website says.  “Desiring to be good parents, we do not hit our children in anger, nor with our hand or fist.”

Another British journal reported that German police were prompted to act after they were shown graphic scenes of adults beating six children in a basement room.  According to The Independent, the beatings were filmed by a journalist who claimed to be a “lost soul” to gain entry to the community, and used hidden video cameras and microphones.

His footage was shown on German television Monday night, The Independent said.  The program included an interview with a spokesman for the Bavarian youth welfare service who described the film as shocking.  “We never had proof that they do this,” he said.  “It is terrible, they preach peace but they beat their children.”

Vermont’s effort to seize and detain the sect’s children to look for evidence of physical abuse collapsed in the Orleans County Courthouse in Newport.  Judge Frank Mahady ruled that the state’s claim that all the children in the community were in danger of abuse was too vague to justify their emergency detention.  He sent them home to Island Pond that afternoon.

The sect has consistently denied that its children in Vermont were victims of physical abuse.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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In Island Pond: Quebec maple firm seeks syrup factory

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IP maple web

The REM building in Island Pond. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

by Paul Lefebvre

ISLAND POND — A Quebec maple company may be setting up shop in an empty factory here that failed to gain traction as a woodworking facility and create jobs after the Ethan Allen plant shut down in 2000.

The empty factory, known as the REM building on Meadow Street and owned by the town, could have a tenant as early as the middle of the month, according to Brighton Administrative Assistant Joel Cope.

A representative from Bernards Maple of Saint-Victor, Quebec, talked to Brighton’s selectmen late last month, and on Tuesday confirmed that the company is interested in leasing the building and more.

“It’s not a building we’re looking at, it’s an industry,” said Jacques Letourneau, who is negotiating with the town on behalf of the company.

Mr. Letourneau, who spoke guardedly during a brief telephone interview, said negotiations over leasing the building with an option to buy are still at a very preliminary stage, and he preferred “not to divulge anything until everything is in place.”

According to the minutes of the August 27 selectman’s meeting, the company would like to move in by September 16 and have environmental permits in place by the end of October.

“We’re happy to help them with that and move through the process,” said Mr. Cope, speaking in an interview last Thursday.

Still uncertain is what the deal would mean in terms of jobs.  Best estimates suggest that only a few jobs would be created at the outset, with as many as 30 to 40 to “maintain the operation” and three or four permanent jobs at the plant.  Yet the potential has the power to excite town officials.

“We think it’s a very exciting opportunity and is exactly what this community needs,” said Melinda Gervais-Lamoureux, chairman of the Brighton selectmen.

She said the company is considering a two-phase development over four to five years, “and that’s where the jobs will come from.”

The deal offered by the town last week would be to lease the factory for $15,000 — $1 per square foot — with the annual lease payment going toward a $250,000 purchase price.

Tentatively, the company plans to make maple syrup in the building with sap trucked in from maple bushes in the area that it seeks to lease.  To that end, it has already begun talks with Plum Creek, the large timber company that owns more than 86,000 acres in northern Essex County.

Mr. Cope said the company would like to collect sap from roughly 100,000 taps, and expand up to one million.

“If they can find the land and the trees,” he added.

Mr. Letourneau said the company knows the trees are there, having done its research before approaching the town.  Realtor Mick Conley of Derby, who is serving as the company’s agent in Vermont, said Essex County has the third highest number of maple trees in the state.

Mark Doty, a public affairs agent with Plum Creek, would only confirm Tuesday that the Canadian company has expressed an interest.  “It’s still very, very preliminary,” he said.  “Nothing to report.”

The town put the REM building on the market about a year ago, according to Mr. Cope.  It derives its name from the previous owner, Robert E. Miller of South Burlington, who gave the building to the town after its previous tenants — the Island Pond Woodworkers, an employee-owned woodworking factory — failed to make a go of it.  Mr. Cope estimated the town has owned the building since 2010.

Located in Saint-Victor, about an hour south of Quebec City and 125 miles north of Island Pond, Bernards Maple is a fifth-generation-owned company that “has been making maple syrup for over 200 years,” said Mr. Letourneau.

As a company it is involved in every aspect of the maple industry, from tapping the trees to distributing the final product.

“We’re about as close to the consumer as you can get without putting it in the refrigerator,” he said.

The company plans to start off slow and expand.  It wants assurances from the town that it will be able to put on a 5,000-square-foot addition to the building without running into any regulatory delays.

Located in a light industrial zone, the building already has an Act 250 permit.  On Tuesday Steve Paterson, who heads the regional planning agency, the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA), said his group is looking at what additional permits may be required.

According to the minutes of the selectmen’s meeting last month, the company could be running as many as ten big trucks a day into Meadow Street at certain times of the year.  The REM building appears to be well situated to overcome any permitting obstacles.

“None seem to be insurmountable to me,” said Mr. Cope.

If the company comes to town, one change that will occur quickly is that the building will change its name to the Island Pond Maple Factory.

Mr. Letourneau said Tuesday that, as an old family company in Quebec, Bernards Maple wants the community to be involved.  He told selectmen that the company wants to make sure that the residents of Meadow Street are not disturbed by the heightened traffic on their street.  And on Tuesday, he spoke of the need for community support for the project.

Presumably, that support will grow as jobs become available.  But as Ms. Gervais-Lamoureux noted, the potential for jobs will increase only if the factory is occupied.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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Bernie Henault of Island Pond lived a life of advocacy

Bernard Henault of Island Pond.

by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle August 1, 2012

MONTPELIER — As a one-legged fellow, Bernie Henault had a long stride:  a stride that carried him through the doors of one social agency after another in the Kingdom and into the State House committee rooms here in the state’s capital.

Perhaps it was fitting and most appropriate then that the last tribute paid to Bernie was in the cafeteria where politicians and lobbyists mingle over lunch and pitch issues.

“He spent a great deal of his life roaming through these halls and that’s the reason why we’re meeting in this cafeteria,” said Sharon Henault, Bernie’s wife and partner in working for the poor and those who must cope with a physical disability.

Saturday’s potluck tribute to Mr. Henault, who died June 4, came on what would have been his seventieth birthday.  A familiar figure at town meetings as well an animated talker on the streets of Island Pond, Mr. Henault was indefatigable in his advocacy for social justice for the poor and the disabled.  Nor was he afraid to step outside the box.

“He was the best antidote to group think I know,” said Susan Yuan of Jericho, who served on low-income committees with Bernie.

She said he had a larger vision than most of the other committee members in that he saw that advocacy begins at home.  She noted that Bernie urged other advocates to take the issues that affected their clients back to their local school boards and town meetings.

Ed Paquin of Montpelier, who once served as a state legislator in the House and is the current executive director of Disability Rights of Vermont — a nonprofit agency that provides legal representation to its clients — described Mr. Henault as a tenacious fighter for the cause and one not easy to appease.

“He was a great guy to call your bluff,” recalled Mr. Paquin, who gets around in a wheelchair.

Mr. Henault was 17 when he was struck by a drunk driver that led to the amputation of one of his legs, according to an interview he gave recently to a reporter with the Rutland Herald.

A man with an empty pant leg who relied solely on crutches, Mr. Henault was equally as passionate about education as he was social justice.

He served on the North Country Union High School Board and along with Sharon adopted two biracial girls, whom he guided on what to expect in a Northeast Kingdom public school system that historically sees few people of color.

Samantha, who is now a 21-year old single mom, living at home with her mother and going to college, recalled her public school experience as the “only girl with two disabled parents and the only mixed girl.”

Bernie, she said, taught her to feel proud that she was different, told her to hold her head high.

“He was always protective of me.  Always,” she said, as she contended with a different problem in the same hallways where her father had once bent a legislator’s ear:  Her two-year old daughter, Jaelyn, was acting up.

A Democrat who worked for Robert Kennedy in the party’s 1968 presidential primary, Mr. Henault was no stranger to electoral politics.  He repeatedly ran for a seat in the Vermont House and, although he never won, his ardor for public service never diminished.

No doubt it was a trait that U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders admired and praised when he showed up Saturday in the closing moments of the tribute.

Their relationship dated back to the 1970s when the two worked together on low-income issues, recalled Mrs. Henault in a telephone interview this week.

“If Bernie was looking down from above I know he’d be pleased,” she said, adding that the two men were friends as well as political allies.

People who worked with Mr. Henault recalled that he had a big voice and a pointing finger when it came to advocating on behalf of his clients.

Testimonials Saturday recalled that Bernie told his clients to see themselves as differently able people, never disabled, which gave them a different outlook about themselves and the world.

More than one speaker remembered him as the person who initiated the first wheelchair, “Mini Olympics” games in the state.  Or as the powerful voice who spearheaded the movement for independent living in the Kingdom.

Assertiveness was one of his traits.

“He was a guy to push you all he could if you represented the system,” noted one of the speakers.

Sarah Laundervill remembered meeting Bernie when she was teaching a class at Springfield College’s satellite campus in St. Johnsbury.  Her students were making their final presentations in a course on social work.  Bernie, who had come to the campus on another matter, stuck his head in the classroom to listen.  He wasn’t impressed.

“You must do better if you’re going out into the community,” he told one of the students.

Afterwards, Ms. Laundervill said she made a point of engaging Bernie in a conversation, but recalled having a difficult time getting him to listen to her.

Someone in the group quickly picked up the thread of her story, saying that at this moment Bernie was no doubt up in heaven telling them how they could do it better.

“I don’t think God could get a word in edgewise,” she concluded.

People Saturday characterized Bernie as someone who was infallibly human, someone who had his weaknesses as well as his strengths.  But most agreed that as an advocate he was a person who put the human in human services.

“It’s going to be very Bernie-like,” said Sharon, when she earlier characterized how she expected the tribute would play out.

“Very informal with people sitting around eating and talking.”

That’s pretty much the way it went with one exception:  On behalf of the Vermont Statewide Independent Living Council, Harriet Hall presented a plaque to Mrs. Henault in recognition of Bernie’s efforts for the group.

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

For more free articles from the Chronicle like this one, see our Featuring page.  For all the Chronicle‘s stories, pick up a print copy or subscribe, either for print or digital.  

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