Editorial: Newport City Council missed the boat

The Newport City Council missed the boat last week when approached about the possibility of putting a tar sands resolution on the agenda for the annual City Meeting in March.  The council could have welcomed city residents who want to talk about an important local issue.  Instead they snubbed them.

The council told residents and an environmental organizer who wants to put a question about tar sands on the ballot that they might accept a petition from 5 percent of the city’s voters and put it on the ballot.  Or they might not.

Traditionally, the city council has turned down items that are not strictly city business, aldermen told the voters.

In this discussion, they told voters and a representative of the Sierra Club that they should not put anything “politicized” on the ballot.

Isn’t the whole idea of Town Meeting Day about local politics?  How strange for the city’s leading political figures to say they want to avoid politics at their city meeting.

Beyond that, just whose city is Newport anyway?  If 5 percent of city voters want to talk about something, what harm is that going to do?

The city council seems to be saying that tar sands is not a local issue.

City Manager John Ward called the Sierra Club, “just one more lobbying group coming here to tell us how to live.”

But tar sands is definitely a local issue.  The Portland Pipeline goes through Newport Center, which borders the city.  The pipeline goes through a number of towns further south where the rivers drain into Lake Memphremagog.

Does the council believe that an oil spill into rivers and streams leading to Lake Memphremagog would not harm the city’s economy, not to mention the environment?  If there were a spill, we wouldn’t be eating bass, walleye, trout or perch for years to come.

Newport City’s annual meeting is typically a brief, perfunctory affair where almost no one comes and almost nothing is discussed.  The city’s business is done by paper ballot.

Certainly this works well in terms of getting a good number of people to vote on municipal and school budgets and elections.  It’s more convenient for working people to choose their voting time.

But the lack of discussion is unfortunate, and here is an opportunity to allow city residents to have a debate about an issue that could affect the city drastically.  What is the problem with allowing that discussion and even a vote on a resolution?

There is such a thing as being too provincial.  The Northeast Kingdom sometimes has that reputation, and it’s time for that to change.

The city council could have taken a step to welcome discussion on an important regional topic, but instead they mostly closed the door on it.  Why?  Tradition?  Maybe it’s time for a new tradition. — B.M.D.

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What kind of birds fly through Orleans County?

American woodwock.  Photo by Bob Stymeist

American woodwock. Photo by Bob Stymeist

by Martha Steele

Seasons in Orleans County are not just about changing weather, leaves, or recreational pursuits.  They also bring wide swings in bird populations, from the near absence of sound or flight during a mid-winter walk in the woods to the deafening chorus of an early spring morning.

My husband, Bob Stymeist, and I have been regularly visiting my mother in Westmore and chronicling the birds we see and hear all year-round.  In 2013, over 56 days, we tallied a total of 152 bird species in Orleans County for the year, our personal record.  In all, birders recorded 179 species in Orleans County in 2013, according to Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s eBird.  Our total number since we started birding the county about a decade ago is 178 species.

Birders love statistics and to keep lists.  A yard list.  A town list.  A county list.  A year list.  A trip list.  A life list.  The term “lifer” becomes a unique word for birders, not only indicating a new species that the birder has never seen, but expanding to anything new to the individual, be it a road, a restaurant, or anything at all.

For us, Orleans County holds special affection.  It is where we welcome back our avian friends every spring.  “Our” wood thrush returns every year to a particular spot on our property.  A northern waterthrush greets us with song every spring morning along the road to Willoughby.  A chestnut-sided warbler sets up territory near our mailbox.  We are truly astonished and moved by the ability of birds to travel thousands of miles to and from their wintering or breeding grounds, only to settle in the same place as the year before.  Welcome back indeed.

These snow buntings were photographed on Schoolhouse Road in Brownington.  Wheeler Mountain is in the background.  Photo by Bob Stymeist

These snow buntings were photographed on Schoolhouse Road in Brownington. Wheeler Mountain is in the background. Photo by Bob Stymeist

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After IROC: White strives to continue outdoor events

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage.  Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games.  Photo by Tena Starr

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage. Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games. Photo by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — Phil White, lawyer, former county prosecutor, and the man who tried so valiantly to save IROC, has taken on a new venture.

Mr. White has started a for-profit company called Kingdom Games to organize and promote outdoor activities such as biking, swimming and running in the Northeast Kingdom.  Next year, Kingdom Games will offer about 15 events designed for both amateur and professional athletes.   Some of those will be the popular events that IROC hosted, such as the Dandelion Run and the Kingdom Swim.  Others will be new.

“When IROC closed there was a real risk that the summer events would end,” Mr. White said in a recent interview at his modest home on Lake Memphremagog.  He said he couldn’t let them end this past summer, since so many people had already registered.  It would have left a bad taste about the Kingdom if the year’s events had been abruptly canceled, he said.

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