Safety and traffic lead AnC Bio Act 250 concerns

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A rendering of what the AnC Bio plant would look like from Lake Memphremagog.

A rendering of what the AnC Bio plant would look like from Lake Memphremagog.

copyright the Chronicle July 23, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — The AnC Bio facility started down the road to Act 250 approval Monday with a site visit from members of the District #7 Environmental Commission and an initial hearing.

Despite wide interest in the project and questions from neighbors of the biotech facility slated to be built at the site of the old Bogner plant, few Newport residents attended the hearing. Nor were there any representatives of state agencies present, aside from those working for the environmental commission.

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At Newport Aquafest: A selfie with an iguana?

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Jeffrey Stuart of Manchester, Connecticut, gets a strong start for the ten-mile Kingdom Swim.  His butterfly stroke earned him first place in the annual open water race, which was held as part of Newport’s Aquafest, in Lake Memphremagog.  Mr. Stuart finished in four hours, 20 minutes, and 17 seconds, more than three minutes ahead of his closest competitor, Cole Gindhart, of Cibolo, Texas.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Jeffrey Stuart of Manchester, Connecticut, gets a strong start for the ten-mile Kingdom Swim. His butterfly stroke earned him first place in the annual open water race, which was held as part of Newport’s Aquafest, in Lake Memphremagog. Mr. Stuart finished in four hours, 20 minutes, and 17 seconds, more than three minutes ahead of his closest competitor, Cole Gindhart, of Cibolo, Texas. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle July 16, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — The weather was kind to Newport this weekend, and people enthusiastically turned out for the city’s Aquafest. A celebration of life on the shores of Lake Memphremagog, the event is in its fifth year since its revival in 2009.

The traditional events associated with the festival, such as the Kingdom Swim and the Swimmers and Pet Parade, were included in the festivities with a few tweaks to keep them fresh.

While Newport’s Main Street was closed off for the parade and a street dance Friday evening, the entire city was open for business Sunday.

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NCUHS board favors plans to hire police officer

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by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — After a discussion that occasionally veered toward the contentious, the North Country Union High School board decided Tuesday to move forward on negotiations with Newport aimed at hiring a city police officer as a community resource officer in the school.

The board was acting on a recommendation from its human resources committee, which favors hiring the officer.

Newport representative Richard Cartee said he is worried that the $40,000 available to pay for the officer will be too little, and the school will find itself spending money it doesn’t have.

Principal Bill Rivard pledged not to spend more than the amount given to the school out of Medicaid funds.

“I’ll hold you to that,” Mr. Cartee said.

“Please do,” replied Mr. Rivard.

Mr. Rivard said the $40,000 represents new Medicaid money above and beyond the money now used to pay for a half-time school psychologist and a behavior specialist.

Mr. Rivard said he has spoken with Newport Police Chief Seth DiSanto and come up with a draft of a memorandum of understanding outlining the responsibilities of the school and the police department.

Under the terms of the memorandum the officer will “provide specialized assistance… to the school’s administrators, teachers and parents.”

The agreement also lists the officer’s duties as providing instruction to students, investigating criminal activity, and dealing with other police matters concerning the school or students.

Newport Mayor Paul Monette, who attended the school board meeting along with Alderman Dennis Chenette, said the council has yet to see the agreement.  Mr. Monette said he is concerned about any potential cost to city taxpayers.

“The bottom line is that we already have a million dollar police force and we don’t want to increase that,” the mayor said.

Mr. Cartee said he was disturbed to hear people saying that he attended the city council meeting Monday night in order to oppose the board’s plans.

He had gone to the meeting as a Newport taxpayer, he said, to express his concerns about the possibility that the city would get stuck with unforeseen expenses.

Richard Nelson, a board member from Derby, said he has mixed feelings about the proposal.  While he understands that the cost of the program’s first year will be covered by the Medicaid grant, “all good things come to an end,” he said.

Nevertheless, Mr. Nelson continued, most of the people he’s spoken to about the proposal have favored hiring a school resource officer.

“I spoke with some police officers,” he said.  “They’re eager to see it, see how it works.  It could be a benefit to the school and a benefit to the students.”

Mr. Nelson said the school has an ex-state trooper serving as truancy officer, who is “a hell of a good guy doing a good job,” but he will retire someday.

The school could think about combining the two positions, Mr. Nelson said.

He said that although some people worry about having a law enforcement officer in school “I always believe, if you have nothing to hide you have nothing to fear.”

The board need not worry about negotiations, he suggested, because any changes made by the police or city officials would have to be ratified by the school board.

Scott Boskind, another of Derby’s representatives on the board and himself a former school principal, said that it’s important to think about the question of school safety.

“While no one wants to talk about the most horrific events,” he said, the violent attacks in Newtown, Connecticut and Columbine, Colorado, should never be forgotten.

Mr. Boskind even cited a school massacre in 1927 in Michigan “where a school board member planted a bomb because he was disgruntled.”

Mr. Cartee laughed.  “I appreciate that,” he said.

“While I’m glad that we have a board member who is cognizant of finances, we all have a passion to make sure students come to school and are going to be safe,” Mr. Boskind said.

“I think that never, ever, ever can you say I am not concerned about safety of students,” Mr. Cartee said.  But all too often the school approves spending on a program and then exceeds that amount, he continued.

He said that a good example is the cost of the school’s new running track, the bulk of which was to have been paid for through private fund-raising events, but which was largely paid for with public funds.

If hiring a resource officer costs $50,000 a year, and voters approve the expense, that would be fine with him, Mr. Cartee said.

Mr. Rivard said that the cost of a Newport officer would vary depending on the amount of experience the officer has.  Should a very senior officer decide to seek the post, that might mean fewer days on the job.

For instance, Mr. Rivard said, it might mean the officer is in the school 125 days a year rather than 175.  In no event, he said, would the cost exceed $40,000

Maggie Griffith, one of Newport’s representatives, asked Mr. Rivard if officers are called to the school often.

Mr. Rivard said he didn’t have figures, but they are there “some.”

Mr. Nelson said the officers he talked to said there ought to be a school resource officer because they are called to the school four or five times a week.  He made a gesture indicating that he didn’t believe those statements.

There were no votes cast in opposition to the plan to seek a school resource officer.  Mr. Nelson abstained from voting.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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

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Newport House district race draws three public servants

The four candidates for the two seats representing Orleans-2 in the state House of Represenatives answer questions.  From left to right sit Newport Alderman Tim de la Bruere, Representative Duncan Kilmartin, Representative Michael Marcotte and Newport Mayor Paul Monette.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle 10-24-12

by Joseph Gresser

DERBY — It is unusual for challengers in an election to be as well known to voters as the incumbents.  But, in the case of the race to represent Newport, Newport Center and Coventry in the state House of Representatives, each of the four candidates has a high public profile.

Representatives Duncan Kilmartin and Michael Marcotte seek re-election from the two-member Orleans-2 district.  They are opposed by Newport Mayor Paul Monette and Newport Alderman Timothy de la Bruere.

The candidates met Monday night at IROC for a forum sponsored by local newspapers and broadcasters.  Differences between the candidates could be found more in tone than in substance and the discussion was courteous despite the competitive nature of the event.

“I voted for Mayor Monette every time I went to the polls, I will not vote for him this time,” Mr. Kilmartin said with a smile, in what could have been the most contentious moment of the evening.

This was in the context of his introduction, in which he described himself as a retiring criminal lawyer.  Mr. Kilmartin said he hopes to have his final cases done by May.

Mr. Kilmartin said that during his 12 years in the Legislature he has gained a reputation for solid research on issues.  “I like to get down in the weeds,” he said.

“I don’t trade in sound bites, I trade in conclusions based on facts,” Mr. Kilmartin later declared.

Like Mr. Marcotte, Mr. Kilmartin is a Republican.  Mr. Monette and Mr. de la Bruere are running as independents, but each said they would likely caucus with House Democrats in order to get committee assignments.

Mr. Kilmartin described himself as being “one generation off the farm.”  His grandfather, he said, was a dairy farmer.  His father was a pipefitter and Mr. Kilmartin said that he pursued that trade as he worked his way through college and law school.

He has two daughters and three grandchildren, “who can’t afford to live in Vermont,” Mr. Kilmartin said.  Mr. Kilmartin told the forum audience he was at the event at the urging of his wife, even though she was ill and in the intensive care unit of North Country Hospital in Newport.

Mike Marcotte, like Mr. Monette and Mr. de la Bruere, is a Newport native.  A graduate of Sacred Heart High School, Mr. Marcotte now lives in Coventry where he is chairman of the town selectmen.

He was first elected to the Legislature in 2005 and serves as vice chairman of the House Committee on Commerce and Economic Development.

Mr. Marcotte is married and has two sons and one daughter.  He has owned the Jimmy Kwik store in Newport for the past 29 years.

Mayor Monette, a product of Newport’s public schools and a graduate of North Country Union High School, attended Lyndon State College where he studied meteorology.

After graduation he moved to Boston where he worked for Weather Services International, travelling the country setting up weather stations around the country.

Mr. Monette said he became homesick for Newport and moved back.  He took a job with a software company in Richford and, after the company laid him and other employees off, started his own computer business.

Today he works as technology coordinator for Newport City Elementary School and is a partner in Baan Thai Cuisine, a restaurant on Newport’s Main Street.

Mr. Monette is in his second term as mayor, and served on the city council for 12 years before that.

Mr. de la Bruere said that he has been involved in public service for a third of his 30 years.  He dated his interest in working for the community even earlier, to his days as a Boy Scout.

He graduated from Sacred Heart High School and attended St. Lawrence University in Canton, New York, where he majored in history and Native American affairs.

Mr. de la Bruere has worked as an electrician, as have many of his family.  He currently is employed as a 911 dispatcher.

At the forum he recalled being hoisted atop the shoulders of Governor Howard Dean when he went to Montpelier to be honored for becoming an Eagle Scout at age 14.

He was appointed by Governor Jim Douglas to serve on the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs in 2006 and credited both Mr. Kilmartin and Mr. Marcotte with working with him during that time.

He was elected to the North Country Union High School board in 2007 and to the Newport City Council the next year.  He is currently serving his second term as alderman.

The forum, which was moderated by Tod Pronto of NEKTV and WMOO radio, produced little in the way of major differences between the candidates.

All four candidates said they would be able to work with people of all political persuasions should they be sent to Montpelier.

Mr. Marcotte cited his experience on the economic development committee.  After the crash of 2008, he said, the state unemployment fund appeared to be in danger of bankruptcy.  Attempts in the Legislature to craft a remedy went nowhere and a summer study committee was appointed.

When it appeared that nothing was being accomplished Mr. Marcotte said he called then-Representative Michael Obuchowski, a democrat.  Together they worked to develop the outlines of a plan that was made law, Mr. Marcotte said.

Mr. Kilmartin said his reputation in the Legislature is that he works to make bills he favors, better.

Those bills he feels neutral about, Mr. Kilmartin said, he tries to make better crafted.  And with bills he dislikes mildly, he works to make sure they achieve their stated objectives.

Mr. Monette said he has worked with a city council that embraces varying shades of political opinion and helps work as effective force for the public good.

An unsuccessful attempt to see a ban on disturbing unmarked graves enacted into law, was recounted by Mr. de la Bruere.  He said that he expected that a bill granting respect to all cultural and religious traditions would be embraced by all sides, but was disappointed.

“I may not have won the battle,” Mr. de la Bruere said of his efforts to bring Legislators together, “but, at least I tried.”

The most startling information that came out was the in that while all oppose industrial wind projects, three of the four would favor siting a nuclear power plant in the Northeast Kingdom.

Mr. Kilmartin, and Mr. Marcotte and Mr. Monette each expressed enthusiasm for the idea, but acknowledged that practical considerations make the construction of such a plant impossible.

Only Mr. de la Bruere said he would not support a nuclear reactor.

Mr. Kilmartin said that an engineer working for General Electric told him there is not enough water available in the Kingdom to cool such a plant.

Mr. Marcotte said that if such a plant were to be built he would like to see it use a European design to minimize the amount of radioactive waste produced.

Mr. Monette said he initially supported large-scale wind power, but after seeing projects built on local ridgelines has changed his mind.  He said that he has solar panels mounted on the roof of his house and supports all sorts of small-scale renewable energy.

Addressing an issue that has been in the news lately the four men applauded Bill Stenger of Jay Peak for his proposal to spend more than $500-million in projects intended to bring 10,000 jobs to the area.

Mr. Kilmartin, though, expressed concern about possible negative effects on Newport residents.  About 30 percent of the city’s Grand List is non-taxable properties, he said.

He noted that more than 500 drivers could be commuting each day to and from a biotechnology plant planned for the former Bogner building.

How, he asked, will these workers navigate the three-way stop at the intersection of Main Street and the Lake Road?  Mr. Kilmartin suggested that the resolution of the problem may be up to the federal government because Main Street is also Route 5, a federal highway.

Mr. Monette responded, saying that Newport has plenty of capacity for growth.  He pointed out that the city has, in the past, boasted a population 2,000 souls greater than today’s number.

He said that transportation issues will be important in Newport’s ability to deal with the new jobs as will affordable housing and good child care for workers.

The addition of between $100-million and $300-million in new investment, is likely to bring new tax income to Newport, Mr. Monette said, which may lower the tax burden on property owners.

Mr. Marcotte said that while development in Newport is important “we can’t forget outlying communities.”

Newport Center, Coventry, Barton and Charleston will all feel the effects of the new investment, he said.

“We have to make sure everybody is at the table,” he said.

On the issue of plans to reform the state’s health care system the four men’s opinions ranged from highly skeptical to strongly opposed.

Mr. de la Bruere said he had spent time while a fellow of the Snelling Center studying the plan with one of its architect and said “I came away more confused than ever.”

He said he would have preferred it if state officials had tried to mend the current system rather than tear it down to build a new one.

Mr. Monette said he has spoken with Claudio Fort, chief executive officer of North Country Hospital, who says he fears the new system will force his organization to cut services.

The state ought to open the health insurance market to all comers, as is done with car coverage, Mr. Monette said.  He suggested the result would be lower rates.

Mr. Marcotte asked if large corporations and state workers will be included in the pool for an eventual single-payer system.  If not, he said costs will be much higher for everyone else.

Saying that he has been further in the weeds than ever before on the issue due to his wife’s health problems, Mr. Kilmartin said Vermont’s claim that it can improve health outcomes for its citizens while reducing costs, makes no sense on its face.

He said everyone ought to be charged something for the medical care they get “because people don’t value what they don’t have to pay for.”

The forum was one of a series sponsored by the Chronicle, Vermont’s Northland Journal, the Orleans County Record, the Newport Daily Express, WMOO, NEK TV, IROC and the East Side Restaurant.  The full forum will air on NEK TV, which is channel 15 on Comcast cable.

Both the House district forums will air on Wednesday, October 24, at 9 a.m., Thursday at 9 a.m. and 9 p.m., and Friday at 2 p.m.  They will be rebroadcast at other times as well.  For more information, see www.nektvonline.com.

contact Joseph Gresser at joseph@bartonchronicle.com

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

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