The Legislature this week: House raises minimum wage to $10.10

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David Mealiea and Anna Dirkse, both of Burlington, were two of four singing pickets who stood outside the State House in March, in support of raising the minimum wage.  “We fight for human rights so all can be free,” they sang.  Photo by Paul Lefebvre

David Mealiea and Anna Dirkse, both of Burlington, were two of four singing pickets who stood outside the State House in March, in support of raising the minimum wage. “We fight for human rights so all can be free,” they sang. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle April 9, 2014

by Paul Lefebvre

MONTPELIER — Vermont is going to increase its hourly minimum wage.

Vermont legislators generally agreed that it was the right and ethical thing to do.

But when, and by how much, is still hanging in the air.

Under a House bill that won preliminary approval Tuesday, next year on January 1, 2015, a minimum wage worker could see his or her weekly pay check jump by roughly $40.

That’s the result of an increase in the minimum wage going from $8.73 to $10.10 an hour.

“Forty dollars in your pocket is not a theory,” said Representative Tom Stevens of Waterbury, speaking in the urgent tone of legislators who wanted to make a change.

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In the Legislature: Local control in wind siting unlikely

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David Mealiea and Anna Dirkse, both of Burlington, were two of four singing pickets who stood outside the State House last Thursday in support of raising the minimum wage.  “We fight for human rights so all can be free,” they sang.  Photo by Paul Lefebvre

David Mealiea and Anna Dirkse, both of Burlington, were two of four singing pickets who stood outside the State House last Thursday in support of raising the minimum wage. “We fight for human rights so all can be free,” they sang. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle March 26, 2014

by Paul Lefebvre

MONTPELIER — Regional and local planners are expected to be the big losers in a bill to open up the siting process for ridgeline industrial wind projects.

Scheduled to appear on the Senate floor, the bill was rerouted to the Senate Committee on Appropriations Tuesday as negotiations continued behind the scenes to strike a compromise and keep it alive.

“Unfortunately, regional planning is one of those things we’re probably not going to wind up with,” said Senator John Rodgers of Glover during a telephone interview Tuesday.

One of the stated purposes of the bill was “to strengthen the role of planning commissions and local selectboard and planning commissions in the siting review process for energy facilities by giving greater weight to their recommendations and plans.”

But at the end of the day, that’s not likely what’s going to happen.

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Did slavery in Vermont really end in 1777?

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This clipping is from a 1786 copy of the Vermont Gazette, and appears in the book The Problems of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810.

This clipping is from a 1786 copy of the Vermont Gazette, and appears in the book The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810.

copyright the Chronicle February 26, 2014

The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810.  By Harvey Amani Whitfield.  Published by the Vermont Historical Society 2014.  140 pages with notes, documents and index.  $19.95

Reviewed by Paul Lefebvre

The assertion that Vermonters kept slaves into the early years of the nineteenth century not only skews the state’s constitutional ban on slavery but also calls into the question the historical belief we have of ourselves as a people who believe in live and let live.

Surely there can be no place for such a belief where men can live off other men’s labor and sell their children.  But that’s what historian Harvey Whitfield has found and documented in his new book, The Problem of Slavery in Early Vermont, 1777-1810.

For those who don’t have the date on the tip of their tongue, 1777 was the year Vermonters formed a Constitution that abolished slavery.  Well, not quite.  What the framers actually abolished was adult slavery.  The children of the new black freemen could still be for sale.

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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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Orleans County now has its own forester

Orleans County Forester Jared Nunery on his first day on the job that was reinstated this year as a full-time position.  Photo by Paul Lefebvre

Orleans County Forester Jared Nunery on his first day on the job that was reinstated this year as a full-time position. Photo by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the chronicle December 4, 2013

by Paul Lefebvre

Not many young professionals would welcome a reporter’s questions on the first day of a new job.  But that’s where Jared Nunery found himself Monday, roughly six hours into the role as the new county forester for Orleans County.

“My goal is to be the best resource I can for the county,” said Mr. Nunery, who comes to the job with a degree in forestry from the University of Vermont.

A native of Freeport, Maine, Mr. Nunery has worked in a variety of forestry related fields that have taken him to places like Alaska and Montana — states whose land mass and wilderness dwarf that of Vermont.

In Montana he even had a job that many professionals in the outdoor world would trade their firstborn for — the reintroduction of wolves into a state known for big game such as elk, bighorn sheep, and mountain lions.

Not Mr. Nunery, who found counting wolves “incredibly boring.”

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

UTG webby Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle 11-13-2013

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

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

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Rifle season for white-tailed deer opens November 16

deer menard web

The weekend before rifle season is set aside for youth hunters. Noah Menard of Barton poses proudly with the spikehorn he shot Sunday, November 10, in Barton. He and his father, Nathan, stopped by the Chronicle for a photo before having the deer weighed, but his first buck, taken at a distance of 55 yards, was big enough to put a smile on the eight-year-old’s face. Photo by Joseph Gresser

by Paul Lefebvre

copyright the Chronicle 11-13-2013

Why do deer hunters enjoy less success in the Northeast Kingdom than they do elsewhere?

The 2013 deer rifle season opens Saturday, and the Department of Fish and Wildlife is projecting a harvest similar to 2012 when rifle hunters took 6,159 buck over the 16-day season.

Adam Murkowski, the department’s top deer biologist, said he expects that 16 percent of the state’s deer population will be harvested.  He estimated the herd’s present population at roughly 130,000, and noted that the harvest rate has been stable for the last few years. Continue reading

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Vermont history through the eyes of a lawyer

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paul gillies book webUncommon Law, Ancient Roads, and other Ruminations on Vermont Legal History, by Paul Gillies.  Published by the Vermont Historical Society. 2013.  414 pages with index. $24.95.

Reviewed by Paul Lefebvre

People who major in history in college often find themselves going to law school once they graduate.  More often, anyway, than those who major in physics or biology.  Ironically, Paul Gillies, who has a master’s degree in English from the University of Vermont, reversed that familiar transition by becoming a historian after he first became a lawyer.

Fortunately, for anyone interested in Vermont history, it’s been a seamless transition.  As a lawyer with a flair for writing, Gillies has given us a book that is quirky, original and highly entertaining as a study of Vermont’s past.

What’s original about Uncommon Law, Ancient Roads and Other Ruminations on Vermont Legal History, is how revealing our laws reflects our history.  Not just the laws as they were passed 200 years ago, but as recent as the Ancient Road Law that was passed by the Legislature in 2006.

The key question underlying ancient roads, say Gillies, writing as an attorney, is:  “What happens when the town announces it intends to develop the public road that runs through your property that nobody has traveled for several centuries?”

The question requires a legal resolution, but Gillies the historian frames its importance in a much larger context.  The lasting value in finding ancient roads — those having “no nexus to the current highway map” — is to show how a town evolved, or “how the hill farms were abandoned, the villages developed, and the land subdivided.”

Politically, a republic is a country governed by laws.  And to read Gillies is to see how laws mirror a country or state’s historical development.

Following the American Revolution, the country as well as Vermont did away with the British custom of judges wearing scarlet and ermine robes in court.  The tradition of judges wearing robes, however, remained.

By wearing a robe, explains Gillies, “the person is covered up and the office made manifest by the costume.”  And while individual judges may retire, “the robe comes back every day.”

Not to be outdone by members of the judicial branch, Vermont legislators even went one step further in 1789 by allowing members to “sit with their heads covered, except when they address the Speaker.”

Gillies, himself, appears to have little patience with some of the practices still at work today when a Latin phrase is used instead of an English one.  For while it may elevate a proceeding, he says, it also has a downside for the layman who has come to court.

“Latin can be so powerful, until you have to translate it, and then it falls flat, like explaining a joke to someone who doesn’t get it.”

Property laws or those regulating trade and commerce often come in reaction to something that is causing a conflict.  Gillies lays out an number of case histories on point, including those stemming from an eighteenth-century enterprise that every spring churned the waters of the Connecticut River until the early nineteen-hundreds:  the log drives.

“Like the law, log driving took balance, judgment, and quickness,” he writes in verve that is typical of his style.

In 1785 the Legislature passed a law that gave an owner nine months to remove his logs from a drive that had become snared by the river.  Similar laws ruled that the logs could be no longer than 20 feet and had to be marked for identification by the owner.

Throughout the decades there were laws passed that regulated log diameters and set deadlines for driving logs from one point to another.

“The present law is a museum of regulations of the log driving industry,” write Gillies.  And they still remain on the books.

Selectmen determine the location of the boom in rivers and streams to hold back the logs, “and no boom may be anchored until the fees are paid,” Gillies writes.

“Should log drives come back, the law awaits them.”

Packed into this big book — which can easily be read as an anthology — is a chapter on what Gillies understandably calls “Luminaries,” former Supreme Court Justices.  As profiles they run the gambit from Nathaniel Chipman — who in 1786 at 33 years old was elected to serve on the Supreme Court — to Justice F. Ray Keyser, who joined the Court in 1964.

Justice Chipman was Vermont’s foremost legal scholar, but what he contributed to the state’s legal foundation is, in Gillies’ view, the lynchpin to what we have become today as a society.

In his Sketches of the Principles of Government, written in 1793, Justice Chipman took a very benign and, at the time, radical view of human nature.  People do not need a government to protect themselves from each other, because they have a natural “relish for society.”

In other words, writes Gillies, “human beings in Chipman’s view were drawn intuitively to society, order, and organization as a fulfillment of their quest for happiness and social improvement.”

Among his peers, Gillies says, Chipman was a lawyer who liked to play in deep waters but had difficulty when it came to sustaining a lawyer-client relationship.

The profiles make up a hefty third of the book, which may explain why Gillies offered a writer’s disclaimer before forging ahead.

“Each essay is a violation against the law of practicing psychology without a license, but the perfume of the temptation is irresistible against the possible odor of the risk,” he writes.

Gillies concluded his book with a lengthy examination of Act 250, whose significance for Vermont he underscores by writing:

“In 1969, there was Woodstock, Vietnam, the moon landing, the Manson murders, and Act 250.”

He credits Governor Deane Davis for seeing the need and the 1970 Legislature for following through to pursue “a public interest in traditionally private matters when it comes to land and how it is used.”

Gillies says that Act 250 has reached maturity, and traces its evolution over four decades.  The results over the first ten years were mixed, or constitute what the author calls a difficult childhood.  By 1980, he says the Act “had found its bearings,” after the Legislature eliminated the “ten-acre loophole,” which took away lot size as an exemption from Act 250 review.

The third decade, “its most difficult,” saw wrangles with the Legislature over membership on the Environmental Board.  An Environmental Court was created.  Accusations proliferated that the Act 250 process was too unwieldy.  Gillies called it a time for retrenchment.

Throughout its fourth decade, which began in 2000, Act 250’s power to regulate was diminished by the Legislature and the High Court, according to Gillies.

Speaking of the Act as a process, the author writes:  “It has been revised almost as often as educational theory.  What other law has had to be saved so often?”

As a lawyer, Gillies has made his mark by representing towns.  Before ancient roads became such a hot political issue, he may have been municipal government’s first road warrior.  To that end, he is also the first historian to study the state’s past by looking at its routes of travel.

“The developing road network is a revelation of several centuries of community evolution,” he writes.

“This is the beginning of the golden age of Vermont highway law.”

contact Paul Lefebvre at paul@bartonchronicle.com

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

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Moose harvest lagging at mid-season

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

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

by Paul Lefebvre

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

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

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

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

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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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