Stenger outlines plans worth $600-million

Bill Stenger. left, and U.S. Senator Patrick Leahy

copyright the Chronicle 10-3-2012

by Joseph Gresser

JAY — A $600-million investment plan set out by the owners of Jay Peak Resort Thursday could change the face of the Northeast Kingdom over the next three years.  In the process it could create ten thousand new jobs.

That was the message Bill Stenger, co-owner and president of the resort, delivered in a pair of press conferences, one held at Jay Peak, the other at the Gateway Center on Newport’s waterfront.

Sharing the stage with Mr. Stenger were U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, Congressman Peter Welch and Governor Peter Shumlin.

Most of Mr. Stenger’s plans focused on Newport.  They included construction of a new hotel and conference center on the site of the present Waterfront Plaza, the replacement of the Spates block with a five-story commercial and residential building, and construction of a 75,000-square-foot research building for AnC Bio, a bio medical research company.

any of the major players in Vermont politics mingle before the press conference announcing Jay Peak’s new investments. Developer Tony Pomerleau, seated at left, talks with Governor Peter Shumlin. Seated next to Mr. Pomerleau is his niece, Marcelle Leahy, who is speaking with her husband, Senator Patrick Leahy. Standing behind Senator Leahy is U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders. Jay Peak co-owner and president, Bill Stenger, waits at the podium at the far right to begin his presentation. Photos by Joseph Gresser

Mr. Stenger also announced that a German window manufacturer will move to Newport and set up shop in a portion of the old Bogner Building.

The Newport State Airport in Coventry will also get a makeover as Mr. Stenger and his business partner, Ariel Quiros, take over the operation of the field.  They will continue to work with Dan Lathrop of Lakeview Aviation, the current operator of the airport, and will add several hangers, a new terminal building and bonded warehouses.

Mr. Stenger did not completely ignore his skiing properties.  At Jay Peak plans call for an expansion on the Stateside of the mountain where a hotel will be added.  An entirely new area is to be developed in the West Bowl, where a second new hotel is planned.

Mr. Quiros and Mr. Stenger bought the Burke Mountain ski area recently and announced a $102-million project that will include four new ski lodges there.

Ninety percent of the projects’ costs will be funded by money raised from the EB-5 visa program, which grants Green Cards to foreign citizens who invest $500,000 in an approved project that creates at least ten permanent jobs.  The new jobs can be created directly by the projects or indirectly as a result of increased economic activity spurred by the new businesses.

The expected total of over $500-million in EB-5 funds must result in more than 10,000 direct and indirect jobs before all Green Cards are issued by the federal government.

The EB-5 program, which has financed most of the $250-million in improvements made at Jay Peak over the past five years, was slated to expire this month.   Congress recently passed a bill reauthorizing the program for another three years, which President Barack Obama signed into law Friday, September 28.

Mr. Stenger gave much of the credit for the three-year extension of the visa program to Senator Leahy.  Unless the EB-5 program gets a further extension, the projects outlined by Mr. Stenger will have to be completed by 2015.

In his remarks Senator Leahy said he already has his staff working on a bill that would make the visa program a permanent part of U.S. law.

The backgrounds of those who seek to participate in the EB-5 program are investigated by federal immigration officials, as is the source of the funds to be invested.  Federal officials also must certify that the expected jobs have been created before a participant is given final resident status and a path to U.S. citizenship.

Mr. Stenger began his explanation of his investment plans by talking about the work that has been done at Jay Peak Resort over the past five years.  He said construction of two new hotels, a golf course and clubhouse, an indoor ice rink, and water park has resulted in a five-fold increase in Jay Peak’s payroll.

At present the ski area employs 1,200 people, Mr. Stenger said.

He said that Jay Peak has completed 75 percent of its expansion plans.  He said the resort plans to spend $170-million between 2013 and 2015 to build 100 homes, new lifts, an 84-unit hotel and a medical center on the Stateside portion of the ski area.

Mr. Stenger said Jay will build new lifts and trails as well as a new hotel in the West Bowl area of Jay Peak.

Moving east, Mr. Stenger outlined plans that would radically reshape the city of Newport.  Along with Mr. Quiros, Mr. Stenger plans to buy the block on the south side of Main Street between Second and Center streets from Doug and Vivian Spates.

The Spates block on Main Street in Newport occupies the space between Second and Center streets. Plans announced Thursday, September 27, at the Gateway Center call for the whole block to be torn down and replaced with a new five-story building combining retail, commercial and residential spaces.

Conceptual drawings by Black River Design show the new Renaissance Block across Main Street from the Goodrich Memorial Library. The top floors are designed to provide residents with a view of Lake Memphremagog. Drawings courtesy of Jay Peak Resort

Plans call for the Spates Block to be razed and replaced with a five-story building.  In accordance with Newport’s zoning code the ground floor would be devoted to retail space.  The second story will be devoted to office or other commercial uses, Mr. Stenger said, while the top three floors will be residential.

An architect’s rendering of the block showed a couple on the top floor of the building, enjoying a view of Lake Memphremagog from the terrace of their penthouse apartment.

The building, which will be called the Renaissance Block, is expected to cost $70-million and is slated for completion in 2014.

The following year the Newport Marina Hotel and Conference Center is scheduled to open on the site of the present Waterfront Plaza on the Causeway.  The cost of the 600-bed hotel is estimated to be $100-million.

The Newport Marina, Hotel and Conference Center, seen here in an architect’s rendering, is proposed for construction on the site of the present Waterfront Plaza.

Mr. Stenger said he is in discussions with Burlington developer Tony Pomerleau to purchase the property, which has extensive frontage on Lake Memphremagog.  Mr. Pomerleau was saluted for his contributions to the state at the press conference, which took place on the eve of his ninety-fifth birthday.

Mr. Stenger described the two projects as bookends for Newport’s Main Street, and asked his listeners to imagine a walk from the hotel up the city’s boardwalk and back down Main Street.

The other Newport developments will be concentrated at the former Bogner property, which was purchased by AnC Bio, the U.S. division of a South Korean biotechnology company.  Mr. Quiros and Mr. Stenger are owners of the U.S. division of AnC.

The biotech company will start manufacturing and distributing products from the existing 90,000-square-foot Bogner building in the spring of 2013.

Work on a 75,000-square-foot research center is to begin next fall at a total cost of $104-million.  The glass tower will essentially be a copy of the company’s research building in Seoul, South Korea.  Inside there will be clean rooms, equipment and research facilities available for lease by other companies or universities, according to William Kelly, the counselor for AnC Bio and Jay Peak.

Mr. Kelly said he expects that researchers will be drawn to the new facility because of the availability of the equipment.

The former Bogner building will have a second manufacturing tenant, this one a German manufacturer of energy-efficient windows.

Mr. Stenger said that one of the people who looked into investing in Jay’s EB-5 program turned out to be someone whose work involved scouting locations in the U.S. where foreign companies might want to locate.

He brought the Newport area to the attention of the owners of Menck Window Systems, who visited the area several times before committing to locating in Newport.

Mr. Stenger said representatives of the company, a 134-year-old family owned concern, were very impressed that Lawrence Miller, secretary of the state’s Agency of Commerce and Community Development, attended the meetings and was solicitous of their needs.

Bringing Menck to Newport will require a $20-million investment, he said, but will result in at least 140 full-time manufacturing jobs.

The Newport State Airport in Coventry will also see considerable investment.  The Federal Aviation Agency will extend the existing runway by 1,000 feet next year from 4,000 feet to 5,000 feet.

This, Mr. Stenger said, will make it possible for larger planes to land and take off, and change the economics of the field.

The existing  runway is to be resurfaced and a separate taxi-way will be built, Mr. Stenger said.

Plans call for the Jay Peak partners to take over operations of the airport, and build a new 10,000-square-foot terminal building, two 15,000-square-foot hangars, a 14,000-square-foot aircraft manufacturing and repair facility, and a 40,000-square-foot bonded warehouse in anticipation of the creation of a Free Trade Zone in Orleans County.

Work at the airport is expected to cost $20-million and be done between 2013 and 2014.

Mr. Stenger credited Senator Leahy with shepherding the visa program bill through the Senate, and thanked Congressman Welch for his work getting it passed by the House.  The legislation passed with overwhelming margins in both bodies.

Each member of the Congressional delegation spoke at the two press conferences, as did Governor Shumlin.  All praised Mr. Stenger and Mr. Quiros for their vision.

Senator Sanders said, “The most popular sport in America is complaining about the federal government.  What you are seeing here is a marriage and partnership between private business and federal, state and local government.”

Secretary Miller, speaking at the Gateway Center press conference, provided assurance that Mr. Stenger’s plans are likely to come to fruition.

He said that sophisticated investors from around the world have carefully examined Mr. Stenger’s plans and made half-million-dollar investments in his projects.

As to whether there are 5,000 people with the skills to take jobs in the new businesses, Mr. Miller pointed out that many people have left the state in search of work.

“We want them back.  We want them home,” Mr. Miller said.

To any who may doubt the reality of his plans, Mr. Stenger offered this assurance:  “We have the mission, we have the vision, we have a love for this community.  We will make it happen.”

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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Anna Baker was a brilliant artist with a comic touch

copyright the Chronicle, August 8, 2012

World of Fantasy, The Life and Art of Anna P. Baker, by Beryl Hutchinson and Roz Hermant.  Self-published.  185 pages in paperback.  $59.95.

Reviewed by Chris Braithwaite

I need to begin this review by confessing my bias.  Anna P. Baker, the subject of this richly illustrated work, was both a close friend and an important contributor in the Chronicle’s early years, when it remained to be seen whether it would sink or swim as a community newspaper.

That it swam, I believe, was due in large measure to one of the most unlikely duos to ever put ink to paper.  Loudon Young was a dairy farmer all his life, and his role in my life as friend, neighbor and mentor in the ways of rural Vermont predated the first Chronicle by four years.  When I asked him if he thought a weekly newspaper in Barton would have a chance of survival he said he didn’t think so.  Given his preference for color in language, he more likely said that such an enterprise would have a snowball’s chance in hell.

So it was a considerable surprise when he volunteered a column for the first issue, and a greater surprise to discover that this highly accomplished talker could also write, and that his writing was very funny, indeed.  His back-page column immediately became a weekly feature in the paper.

We didn’t make Anna Baker’s acquaintance until we were moving the office from a farmhouse in East Albany to an old barbershop on Barton’s Upper Main Street, and she wandered in to find out what the devil her new next-door neighbors were up to.

She found us amusing.  But then Anna found most things in life amusing.  That knack, along with the most exquisite good manners I have encountered in another human being, were pretty much what got Anna through an otherwise challenging life.

Anna told us she was an artist.  But I don’t think she mentioned that she was also a cartoonist.  She was a good enough cartoonist that, as a 16-year-old art student at a London, Ontario, technical school, she was interviewed for a possible career in animation with the Disney Studios.

I didn’t know that last detail until I read this book.  At any rate, it wasn’t long before Anna brought in a cartoon she thought we might like to publish.  Her chosen subject?  None other than the above-mentioned Loudon Young.  Loudon’s profile — a sharp chin often decorated with a bit of a beard, a sharp and substantial nose — was a cartoonist’s dream.  But it was Loudon’s humor that captured Anna, because his ear for what was funny about the most ordinary, everyday situations so exactly matched her eye.

Both of them thought there was something fundamentally funny about the common cow.  Loudon wrote about them constantly.  In her book, Beryl Hutchinson reproduces the first Baker painting she acquired.  Called Pent House Farm, it was executed at that same technical school, which Anna attended in 1944-45.  It’s a whimsical, wonderfully busy urban landscape with people farming on the rooftops of a couple of apartment buildings.  Ms. Hutchinson is careful to point out that it includes, atop one roof, Anna Baker’s first cow, a Holstein.

Anna’s renderings of Loudon and his cows appeared in many Chronicles over the years that followed.  They accompanied the best of Loudon’s columns in the Chronicle’s first book, Off Main Street, West Glover, Vermont, and the dairyman and his Holsteins were featured in a series of calendars she drew for the paper.

A generous selection of these cartoons is included in World of Fantasy.  But there are also many of her “serious” works — whimsical, intensely detailed, richly colored paintings that will delight the fans who have an Anna Baker hanging on the living room wall, and surprise those who know her work only through the Chronicle.

As we grew to know Anna, it became obvious that we were in the presence of an artist of great talent and considerable reputation.  Her works caught the eye of critics and connoisseurs wherever they were displayed.  That her reputation didn’t reach further was to some degree her own fault.  She volunteered once that a friend, a sophisticate in the business of art, had told her she couldn’t find success as an artist if she insisted on living in a backwater like Barton, Vermont.  She needed to be in New York City.  Anna acknowledged the advice as sound, and chose not to take it.  Whatever glue held her to the Northeast Kingdom, we are all the richer for it.

Beryl Hutchinson enjoyed a friendship with Anna Baker that went back to high school.  Her book includes a photo of a schoolgirl softball team named the Eagles with Anna in the front row, Beryl in the back.

Thus Ms. Hutchinson was the ideal person to stitch together this fully illustrated biography of the artist.  She opens with a surprising revelation about Anna’s origins — a surprise best left to her readers — and takes us through the artist’s school days, her formal education at the Art Institute of Chicago, which she entered in 1951, and the early teaching career that led to her friendship with Bunny Hastings, daughter of a prominent Barton physician.  That friendship brought Anna to Barton, and lasted the rest of Bunny’s life.

Anna beat cancer once, but lost the second round and died in 1985, at just 56.

To all of those who still miss her kindness, her wit, and her great talent, this book will serve as long-awaited consolation.

To buy World of Fantasy, go to “contacts” at  www.annabaker.net, or see www.blurb.com/bookstore/detail/3334768.

contact Chris Braithwaite at chris@bartonchronicle.com

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A birdwatcher’s challenge: find 100 species of birds in one day in the Northeast Kingdom

A Blackburnian Warbler. Photo by Bob Stymeist

by Martha Steele

copyright the Chronicle July 18, 2012

Ruth Gjessing, my mother, has lived in Westmore for over 30 years.  Although she and I both grew up in Burlington, neither of us knew much about the Northeast Kingdom before she married Erland Gjessing in 1969.  I vividly recall my first trip to his property in Westmore.  We were driving from the north on Route 5A, when Lake Willoughby, framed by the cliffs of Pisgah and Hor, came into view.  It literally took my breath away; I had never realized Vermont had such a stunning and majestic lake.

These days, my husband, Bob Stymeist, and I spend a lot of time year-round peregrinating throughout the Northeast Kingdom, particularly Orleans County, in search of birds.  By far, the best time for birding in the Kingdom is May and June, the time when migratory birds return to breed and are in full song, establishing their territories and finding their mates.

Arguably, the Northeast Kingdom is one of the better areas to bird in the lower 48 states during those two months.  Its combination of a northern latitude, boreal forest habitat, mountain peaks, and numerous small ponds, marshes, and lakes gives plenty of habitat for many breeding songbirds.  On our property alone in Westmore, over the past several years, we have recorded a total of 84 species of birds.

During our vacation this past June, we decided to do a Big Day for Orleans County to see if we could tally at least 100 species of birds in the county in one 24-hour period.  A birding “Big Day” requires some prior scouting to find birds that are relatively uncommon or restricted to certain habitats or areas.  They also require planning a route to maximize the chances of seeing as many bird species as possible.  We listened to weather reports and decided that our Big Day would be June 14.

A Hairy Woodpecker, spotted at Barr Hill Nature Preserve in Greensboro.

At 2:15 a.m. on that Thursday morning, we got up to get the coffee going and get ready to leave.  The first birds we heard in the darkness were an Ovenbird along our forest edge and a distant common loon from Lake Willoughby.  We left the house at about 3 a.m., headed for East Charleston near the NorthWoods Stewardship Center, where we heard Eastern Whip-poor-wills calling.  As the sky began to brighten, the dawn chorus along the fog-enshrouded Clyde River was nearly deafening:  Wilson’s Snipe, Alder Flycatcher, Warbling Vireo, Red-eyed Vireo, Winter Wren, Wood Thrush, American Robin, Veery, Gray Catbird, Common Yellowthroat, Chestnut-sided Warbler, Northern Waterthrush, Black-throated Warbler, Black-throated Green Warbler, Northern Parula, American Redstart, White-throated Sparrow, Indigo Bunting, Red-winged Blackbird, American Goldfinch, and more.  An Osprey was on its platform nest, and by 5:30 a.m., we had tallied 40 species.

We went on to the Newport area, headed for the Barton River and Coventry marshes.  These locations added such birds as Ring-necked Duck, Hooded Merganser, Pied-billed Grebe, Double-crested Cormorant, Great Blue Heron, Bald Eagle, Virginia Rail, Herring Gull, Ring-billed Gull, Chimney Swift, Belted Kingfisher, Marsh Wren, House Wren, Eastern Bluebird, Pine Warbler, Black-and-white Warbler, Savannah Sparrow, Northern Cardinal, Eastern Meadowlark, and Bobolink.  We then opted for a quick detour to the Coventry quarries where we picked up bank swallow and then headed back to Barton by way of Burton Hill Road, where we added cliff swallow and barn swallow in Irasburg.  In Barton, we stopped at the Randalls’ feeders on Breezy Hill Road to get what would be our only White-breasted Nuthatch of the day.  Earle Randall came out to greet us, but we were already heading out to the next stop (“Got our nuthatch, gotta go, see you later!”)

It was now time to return to the feeders and woods of our property in Westmore for a quick lunch and a few more species:  Ruffed Grouse, Ruby-throated Hummingbird, Blue-headed Vireo, Red-breasted Nuthatch, Lincoln’s Sparrow, Rose-breasted Grosbeak, Pine Siskin, and Purple Finch.  Our next stop was the Westmore Town Forest, where we added Canada Warbler, Magnolia Warbler, and Nashville Warbler.  It was now almost 2 p.m., and we were up to 92 species.

The problem, of course, is that as you get more species, there are fewer new ones to get.  We headed to the Barr Hill Nature Preserve in Greensboro, where we saw a few species that we still needed during our pre-Big Day scouting.  This small boreal jewel produced what we hoped for:  Golden-crowned Kinglet, Mourning Warbler, and Dark-eyed Junco.  An added bonus was finding a Northern Rough-winged Swallow cruising over Caspian Lake.

It was now about 6 p.m. and we had 96 species, just four short of our goal to reach 100.  We were missing some we thought surely we would get:  Wild Turkey, American Bittern, Broad-winged Hawk, Peregrine Falcon, Pileated Woodpecker, Hairy Woodpecker, and Scarlet Tanager.  We headed back to our property in Westmore, but had no luck along the way or back at the house.  As nightfall descended, we hoped our barred owl would call — not this night — or that there might still be calling American Woodcock in the field below us.  But after calling and displaying nightly since sometime in March, they too had quieted down.  So, the curtain came down at 96 species, and an exhausted pair hit the sack.

It was our first Big Day for Orleans County, and the experience has us already planning for next year.  In the 48 hours before and after our Big Day, we saw several species in Orleans County that we had not recorded on the Big Day, including Peregrine Falcon, at Jobs Pond and our property; Bicknell’s Thrush, Blackpoll Warbler, and Yellow-bellied Flycatcher, at Bald Mountain in Westmore; Broad-winged Hawk, Pileated Woodpecker, and Scarlet Tanager, on our property; Wild Turkey in Brownington; Swainson’s Thrush at Long Pond Road and Bald Mountain; and Hairy Woodpecker at Barr Hill Nature Preserve in Greensboro.  We also now know of other spots that we have yet to fully explore, such as the Bill Sladyk Wildlife Management Area in Holland or even the top of Jay Peak.

We may be crazy birders searching for any species we can find for no reason other than “it’s there to be done.”  But in the process, we are filled with joy in the pursuit and in the din of the familiar songs that greet us each spring for only some weeks before the songs are quieted as parents grow busy feeding their young.  The next time we go to Westmore this summer, we will hear far fewer birds, but we know they are there.  We know they will leave in the late summer and early fall, and we know they will return again next spring.  And this time, we’ll be ready.

A Chestnut-sided Warbler, spotted in East Charleston. Photo by Bob Stymeist

 

 

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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

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Governor tours local high-tech businesses

Jordan Medley feeds a maple board into a saw at Appalachian Engineered Flooring in North Troy as Governor Shumlin looks on. Photos by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle August 1, 2012

Governor Peter Shumlin visited two new high tech businesses that are bringing much needed jobs to the Northeast Kingdom last week.

Both are companies that take advantage of high-tech production methods.  For one, Numia Medical Technology, a maker of infusion pumps used for administering medications in hospitals, that is not a startling discovery.

The use of precision technology at a forest products factory in North Troy, may be more of a surprise.

That plant, Appalachian Engineered Flooring, uses high technology to create top-of-the-line  tongue-and-groove hardwood flooring, according to company officials.

The Governor was welcomed, on his July 25 visit, by Appalachian’s president, Jean Leduc and the company’s 18 employees.  He asked how many had been unemployed before Appalachian opened earlier this year.

A couple of hands went up, and Mr. Shumlin appeared pleased.

He praised Mr. Leduc for opening his factory in North Troy.  Appalachian Engineered Flooring is the sister company to one Mr. Leduc already operates in Cowansville, Quebec.

“You could have settled anywhere,” the Governor said.  He added, Vermont can boast “the best workforce in the world in the Northeast Kingdom.”

“I promise to be a great partner as you grow, expand, create jobs and make money,” Mr. Shumlin said.

“This is what we intend to do,” Mr. Leduc replied.

He led the Governor and his entourage on a tour of the plant.  These included Kiersten Bourgeois, a senior project manager with the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, an aide who snapped pictures of the Governor with workers and immediately sent them by e-mail, and his State Police bodyguard.

Inside, Mr. Leduc showed off the production line, through which eight-foot long pieces of wood are transformed into flooring.  The wood is, as far as possible, locally harvested, said Magella Levesque, the project manager for Appalachian.

The company makes its flooring from maple, red and white oak, birch and walnut, Mr. Levesque said.

While the raw material for most of the flooring arrives at the factory in the form of sawn lumber, the birch flooring is made from plywood.

Mr. Leduc explained that the only place he has been able to find the right quality of birch plywood is Russia.  He lifted a sheet for the Governor and explained that the grain of the white birch — in the layers of veneer that go into the plywood — are glued together at right angles.

“We are trying to develop a local product.  We’re close, but not enough,” Mr. Leduc told Mr. Shumlin.  “It has to be very stable.”

Nearby Richard Lamb got ready to feed maple boards into a saw that would slice it to the thickness of the final piece of flooring.  Before doing so, he measured its thickness with a set of calipers.

That is an indication of Appalachian’s drive for quality, said General Manager Robert Collette.

“Our objective is to be the best, not necessarily the biggest,” he said.  “We want to be the beacon for the industry.”

As an example, Mr. Collette said that his company only uses diamond-tipped cutting tools.

The wear experienced by carbide tips leads to less precise dimensions in the final piece of flooring, Mr. Collette said.  The cutting heads are changed on a regular schedule, he added, before they begin to show signs of wear.

Further down the production line, Mr. Collette pointed out a scanner that examines each piece of flooring produced by the plant.  It quickly grades the piece and marks where it ought to be cut.

A clear section of flooring will be marked by the machine as class 1, a slightly less perfect section will be designated as class 2 or antiqued floor, and anything below that is class 3.

Mr. Collette said the scanner can divide the flooring piece into a section as short as one foot or as long as 84 inches, thus maximizing the value of every piece of wood, while maintaining the quality of the final product.

The last step in production is performed by a trio of human inspectors.  A fourth quality control worker patrols the plant looking for any problems, Mr. Collette said.

Mr. Shumlin said his farewells and headed for Newport, where he paid a brief visit to the Pick and Shovel and to the Emory A. Hebard State Office Building before driving over to the old Vermont Teddy Bear factory on the banks of Lake Memphremagog.

There Numia’s employees were in a festive mood, waiting for the Governor to arrive.  Numia’s president Eric Flachbart had laid out refreshments to welcome Mr. Governor and a group of legislators, and representatives of organizations that helped in his company’s growth including the Vermont Economic Development Authority (VEDA) and the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA).

Numia designs and produces infusion pumps, the devices that drip medications into intravenous lines connected to hospitalized patients.

“We stand here today, because Eric came up here from Massachusetts and saw a better place to live,” Mr. Shumlin said.  He said that Mr. Flachbart originally expected to be the only employee of his company, but now has 35 workers and thinks he may be up to 50 within 18 months.

He added that Numia is bringing the Northeast Kingdom “one step closer to making sure no Kingdom kid who wants to stay here has to leave for lack of a job.”

Along with Appalachian flooring, Mr. Shumlin said Numia is bringing “a slow but steady improvement in the lives of the people of the Kingdom, creating jobs one job at a time.”

One of those jobs is held by Kaytlyn Darling, a Lyndonville native.  While leading a tour of the plant, Ms. Darling told how she was hired by Numia as temporary worker after she graduated from Lyndon State College in 2009.

She is currently the lead lab technician for the company.

Ms. Darling showed a small group of visitors into her domain, where several cream-colored boxes stood attached to the kind of upright stands normally seen in hospitals.

Each box had a screen and control buttons and each box was attached to a device into which a nurse might fit a hypodermic syringe.  The boxes can be programmed to administer continual doses of medication from the needle into an intravenous line, or to provide a measured dose at scheduled intervals, said Rolf Zuk, the company’s principal software engineer.

He said Numia has a patent on the very accurate motor that controls the dosage.  Another company wanted to license that technology for its own product.

After looking over the Newport operation the company asked Numia to take over other aspects of product development, until Numia was finally hired to see the project through to completion.

That process involves seeking approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA), Ms. Darling said.  That can be painfully slow, Mr. Zuk added saying that documentation was sent to the FDA in September and no decision has yet been made.

Ms. Darling pointed at a bookshelf that was filled with a dozen thick loose-leaf binders.  That, she said, is the paperwork that is required of manufacturers of medical devices.

The need to make safe products that can be used without error, is a big issue for Numia, Mr. Zuk said.  He said that a substantial portion of the price of a pump goes to pay for liability insurance.

Ms. Darling led the tour into a dimly lit room.  On one wall was a two-way mirror looking into what appeared to be a hospital room.  A moment’s glance showed that the patient was actually a medical mannequin.

Nurses and other medical professionals visit the room for instruction in how Numia’s products work, Ms. Darling said.  After a few days they return and operate the equipment without supervision as Numia workers look on from behind the mirror.

They note errors that can be corrected by better design and make changes to the pumps, Mr. Zuk said.

He said that one group of nurses tried to insert syringes backward.  The pumps were redesigned to make that impossible.

Another nurse was seen struggling to open another pump.  That machine was reengineered to require less force to open it.

Numia’s products have yet to take over the medical universe.  Mr. Flachbart said hospitals buy large amounts of pumps on a regular schedule.  The market is considerable, though.

While a small hospital like North Country in Newport may have an inventory of about 150 pumps, a large teaching hospital such as Massachusetts General in Boston, may have a fleet of 10,000, Mr. Flachbart said.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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

 

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Dunbar was uniquely qualified to write Kingdom’s Bounty

Reviewed by David K. Rodgers

Kingdom’s Bounty “A sustainable, eclectic, edible guide to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom,” by Bethany Dunbar, published by Umbrage Editions 2012, soft cover, 128 pages. $25.

Bethany Dunbar of West Glover is uniquely qualified in many significant ways to have written and illustrated her new book, Kingdom’s Bounty, “A sustainable, eclectic, edible guide to Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom.”  She was raised and went to school in Craftsbury, graduated from Lyndon State College, worked with her ex- husband as a dairy farmer for 11 years, was a reported for the Hardwick Gazette, and then for the last 25 years has been a reporter and co-editor at the Barton Chronicle.  In addition she gives a weekly radio interview about local news stories on WDEV, is a regular contributor to New England Country Folks and is past president of Vermont Press Association, still serving on its board of directors.  A fine photographer, she knows the Northeast Kingdom in great depth and has her finger on the pulse of new trends there, especially those involving food.

Kingdom’s Bounty, just published by Umbrage Editions, goes beyond a simple factual guide to being a real celebration of the people, community and landscapes of the area.  As one of the people profiled in this book (Mrs. Everts of Too Little Far,), susintly summed it up about locally grown food, “It has a story and a name behind it.  It has a person.  It has a place.”  Ms. Dunbar uses her journalistic skills to bring out  the human aide of numerous hardworking entrepreneurs and artisans who are fulfilling their personal vision of a better life and an excellent product, all of whom have put the Northeast Kingdom on the national map as being in the forefront of the local, organic, healthy food movement.  These are people who really care about what they do, who are solidly connected to the land and the cycles of the animal and plant life around them, living in a more biological rhythm as opposed to the omnipresent mechanical (and now electronic) rhythms of our culture.

This guide is generously illustrated and very attractively printed, predominately with Ms. Dunbar’s own well composed evocative photographs, which are always empathetic to the subjects.  The text has 32 profiles and over 200 listings, carefully organized alphabetically by the name of the enterprise and the town where they are located, with helpful cross references, suggested tours, and a good map.  What makes this guide special is that it combines a lot of useful information with an engaging personal narrative.  It is comprehensive in that it includes more than the edible, with entries on museums, inns, bookstores, county fairs and other activities as well as interesting side features on types of cows, barns, and not to mention the history and geology of the region.

Altogether Kingdom’s Bounty is a labor of love for the beauty of the Northeast Kingdom and the richness of its people.  We should carry a copy of it in our car to encourage exploring this amazing place we call home.

Bethany M. Dunbar will share a booth at the Orleans County Fair in Barton with the Chronicle.  The fair is August 15 through 19.  To order a copy of Kingdom’s Bounty at a special discount for Chronicle readers ($20 plus $9 shipping and handling), click here. Kingdom’s Bounty is also available for $25 plus tax at the Galaxy Bookshop in Hardwick, the Woodknot Bookshop in Newport, the gift shop at the Old Stone House Museum in Brownington, the MAC Center for the Arts in Newport, Barnes and Noble in Burlington, Hudson News at the Burlington International Airport, and the Craftsbury General Store.

 

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Hi tech ideas from a low-tech couple

Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser
copyright September 27, 2006
WHEELOCK — Energy researchers are busy in unlikely looking houses along many of the Northeast Kingdom’s back roads. Most favor low-tech solutions to fueling cars, heating homes or generating electricity.
Not so Phillip and Leigh Hurley. From their South Wheelock home they work to put the latest hydrogen fuel cell technology in the hands of average people.
Their business, Good Ideas Creative Services, publishes electronic books under the Wheelock Mountain Publications imprint. Five of them, written by Mr. Hurley, instruct the home experimenter on topics ranging from building your own solar panel to constructing a solar hydrogen fuel cell system.
“If we can do it, anyone can do it,” Mr. Hurley said during a conversation Saturday afternoon. Certainly there is nothing about his or Ms. Hurley’s background that would suggest they might be energy gurus.
He has a bachelor’s degree in human services, she majored in music. They both have masters degrees in theology.
While he lacks formal training, Mr. Hurley said he has “years of experience with avocational electrical experimentation.”
If he had guidance at an early age, he said, he might have pursued a more traditional path in the field of science. As it is, Mr. Hurley said, his work has interested many people who can boast the formal credentials he lacks.
While working on building hydrogen fuel cells, Mr. Hurley said, he needed to find an economical way to create a platinum-coated membrane. He hit on the idea of copying the process photographers use to make paper sensitive to light. Mr. Hurley said he was surprised when scientists termed his idea a stroke of genius.
“I’m not a genius,” he said.
The Hurleys’ research is directed at producing electronic books to help others pursue their backyard or basement research. They have discovered, though, that universities and schools find their books helpful as textbooks.
Mr. Hurley said that some scientists working for large laboratories in the field of fuel cell technology can be so focused on their small portion of the project that they don’t have a clear picture of the way the entire system works. He said he has received calls from such researchers thanking him for his work.
Mr. Hurley is the team’s writer, Ms. Hurley creates the e-books, that are their stock in trade. E-books are electronic books designed to be read on a computer screen.
The couple’s distribution of tasks seems quite flexible. Both are fully conversant with the science and the mechanics of the business. The only place where a firm line exists is customer service. Ms. Hurley handles that.
“He is of the Basil Fawlty school of customer service,” she said of Mr. Hurley.
A person seeking one of the couple’s books goes online to their web site, www.goodideacreative.com, where she can order and pay for it. The customer then downloads her copy.
“It’s instant gratification,” Mr. Hurley said.
Ms. Hurley said when the couple first started publishing most people didn’t understand the idea of e-books. “People would call up and ask for a copy of the actual book, and we would explain this is the book,” she said.
Mr. Hurley said young people are, in general, more comfortable than older people with reading books on a computer screen. He said the style of publishing has advantages both for the reader and the publisher.
The buyer, Mr. Hurley said, will find far more color photographic illustrations than could be economically included in a printed book. He estimated that an equivalent traditional book would have to be priced at $160. Mr. Hurley’s books cost between $8 and $17 to download.
Mr. Hurley said a person living in Botswana, in Africa, would once have had limited access to the kind of information he is offering. Even if a person could afford the book, he would have to order it and wait weeks for delivery.
Ms. Hurley said the couple had heard from a person in Brazil who built a business using information from their book on building solar panels.
The couple’s business benefits from not having to risk more than time and energy in publishing their books. They have no inventory, they depend on few suppliers other than the company that hosts their web site.
Their current business is not their first joint enterprise. For a while they sold and installed solar electric systems.
They also put on fireworks displays and made supplies for pyrotechnic shows.
“We put on the Burlington fireworks show for two years,” Mr. Hurley said. “From where I ran the controls I couldn’t see the fireworks, but I could hear people on boats oohing and aahing. I used their responses to time the show.”
The Hurleys also made the very pure type of charcoal used by fireworks makers. “We figured out a process that used the gases that came off the wood to further purify the charcoal,” Mr. Hurley said. “When we started it up it sounded like a jet engine.”
He said most fireworks makers want willow charcoal, but Mr. Hurley said poplar charcoal has superior qualities.
The couple got out of the charcoal business because it was too dangerous, he said. Even though they ground the material outdoors, the cloud of charcoal dust produced by the process was potentially highly explosive.
“We still get calls for the charcoal,” Ms. Hurley said.
The couple created Good Ideas Creative Services to offer design services to corporations. When the Internet bubble burst, their main client went with it. They suffered as well.
When they were considering what to do next, Ms. Hurley suggested they try to make an electronic book out of a short book he wrote to teach people how to set up the solar panels they once sold.
Mr. Hurley said he was dubious about the project, but Ms. Hurley persuaded him to try. She used the experience she gained from the design service to put the book together and design a web site. The response wasn’t enough to support the couple, but enough to permit the site to pay for itself.
Mr. and Ms. Hurley went on to study and write about hydrogen fuel cells. The cells produce electricity by combining hydrogen and oxygen. The only byproduct besides the energy is a small amount of water and water vapor.
While an individual fuel cell produces only a small amount of energy, the cells can be stacked in a manner that boosts the flow of current.
The Hurleys’ books are designed to teach people to construct experimental systems with simple tools and techniques. Mr. Hurley said he looks hard for useful techniques.
One portion of their process is based on Ben Franklin’s method of making silhouettes, he said. To make their membranes, the pair had to find a substitute for the huge presses used by manufacturers.
“We came up with taking two brass plates held together with c-clamps,” Ms. Hurley said. “We heated them in the oven.”
A supplier catering to amateur experimenters now offers a kit based on their method, Mr. Hurley said.
One of the problems of fuel cell technology is getting pure hydrogen. Using electricity off the grid to separate water into its constituent parts serves no purpose, as a great deal of energy is lost in the process.
The Hurleys came up with the idea of using the sun to power the reaction. Mr. Hurley said one drawback of solar power is storage. Batteries must be continually charged and discharged. A battery charged in the summer will no longer have a charge when winter rolls around, he said.
Hydrogen, on the other hand, can be stored in pressurized tanks or in metallic compounds called hydrides. This hydrogen can be run through fuel cells whenever electricity is needed to recharge a system’s batteries.
Mr. Hurley said that on a bright summer day, solar panels can recharge batteries in a matter of a few hours. The rest of the day’s electricity can be used to create hydrogen.
Hydrogen is not something to be trifled with. One of Mr. Hurley’s books says it contains more energy than any other fuel known. If enough hydrogen and oxygen come together a small spark is enough to set off a large explosion.
For this reason the couple’s books are larded with safety instructions. Their designs also call for numerous features intended to minimize the inherent dangers of experimental systems.
Mr. Hurley doesn’t necessarily see his solar system as a way to get off the grid completely. Rather he said, people can “use it in an intelligent way to add to the green.”
He is not a fan of net metering, selling home-generated power back to the electric grid. Mr. Hurley said it is very difficult for a home system to create enough electricity to provide for one’s own needs and extra to sell.
The Hurleys’ home has two separate sets of wiring, one for commercial power, one for home-generated electricity. They also have two solar systems, one connected to directly to the power system, the other specially designed for hydrogen production.
Mr. Hurley calls his solar array “an electronic Stonehenge.” That idea, he said, is his philosophy of life.
Now that the couple has five books out on hydrogen production and solar power, Mr. Hurley thinks he might turn his attention to nanotechnology. He’s thinking of trying to build a microscope able to examine atomic structure.
As Ms. Hurley said, “We’re both easily amused.”
Mr. Hurley proved the point by telling of the time the two built a million-volt Tesla coil in their dorm room in divinity school. The device is a spark generating device familiar to anyone who ever has seen a mad scientist’s laboratory in a horror movie.
“When we built it we didn’t know how far the sparks would fly,” he said, “so we were hiding behind the bed.”

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