Barrup protests $400,000 sales tax bill

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Rod Barrup stands in the yard of his company, Green Mountain Mulch.  He said his problems with the state Department of Taxes sometimes make him want to shut down his operation.  He doesn’t, he added, because of his workers, who stuck by him when he lost everything in a fire and got the business back in operation in short order.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Rod Barrup stands in the yard of his company, Green Mountain Mulch. He said his problems with the state Department of Taxes sometimes make him want to shut down his operation. He doesn’t, he added, because of his workers, who stuck by him when he lost everything in a fire and got the business back in operation in short order. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle October 15, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

DERBY — Rod Barrup is not happy with the government of what he calls “the first communist state in the U.S.” In particular he is angry about a $400,000 bill from the Vermont Department of Taxes.

Mr. Barrup’s business, Green Mountain Mulch, has been operating for close to 40 years and ships five million bags of bark mulch and another 3,000 trailers full every year.

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At 91, Francis Whitcomb recalls varied career

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Judy Bevans, former chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party, looks on while Representative Sam Young of Glover reads a resolution honoring Francis Whitcomb of Albany.   Photo by Donald Houghton

Judy Bevans, former chairman of the Vermont Democratic Party, looks on while Representative Sam Young of Glover reads a resolution honoring Francis Whitcomb of Albany. Photo by Donald Houghton

copyright the Chronicle September 10, 2014

by David Dudley

ALBANY — At 91 years of age, Francis Whitcomb has held any number of titles, formal and otherwise: Lister, moderator, planning commissioner, justice of the peace, chairman of the Orleans County Democratic Committee, teacher, principal, farmer, sugarmaker, singer, advisor, father, and husband, among many others.

Mr. Whitcomb tried to add state Representative to that list, but the title eluded him through seven campaigns.

Sitting at the head of the kitchen table in his old farmhouse in Albany Monday, Mr. Whitcomb had the air of a preacher. He’s tall and was dressed simply, as though he were going to spend the day in the garden, in the sugarhouse, or engaged in one of his favorite pastimes, walking.

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What makes Vermont special?

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web vermont special2copyright the Chronicle August 20, 2014 

What Makes Vermont Special, by Greg Carpenter. Published by Shires Press. 134 pages. Paperback. $24.99.

Reviewed by Tena Starr

Greg Carpenter, a teacher in Swanton who summers on Echo Lake in Charleston, says the idea for his recent book, What Makes Vermont Special, came from a student. He worked on it for three years, traveling around Vermont taking the photographs himself, and doing the research.

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Louis Garneau celebrates new U.S. headquarters

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Governor Peter Shumlin helps Louis Garneau cut a ribbon to symbolize the opening of his company’s new Derby facility.  Flanking the pair, from left to right, are Paul Garneau, Mr. Garneau’s father; Josée Ferland, company vice-president; Jeanine Garneau, Mr. Garneau’s mother; Megan Sullivan of Congressman Peter Welch’s office; Monique Arsenault, Mr. Garneau’s wife; William Garneau; and Victoria Garneau.  Edouard Garneau, Mr. Garneau’s other son, is not visible in the photograph.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Governor Peter Shumlin helps Louis Garneau cut a ribbon to symbolize the opening of his company’s new Derby facility. Flanking the pair, from left to right, are Paul Garneau, Mr. Garneau’s father; Josée Ferland, company vice-president; Jeanine Garneau, Mr. Garneau’s mother; Megan Sullivan of Congressman Peter Welch’s office; Monique Arsenault, Mr. Garneau’s wife; William Garneau; and Victoria Garneau. Edouard Garneau, Mr. Garneau’s other son, is not visible in the photograph. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle August 20, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

DERBY — A champagne toast celebrated the opening of the brand new U.S. headquarters of a family business that started in a Quebec garage 30 years ago. Louis Garneau, the founder of the company that bears his name, raised a glass along with Governor Peter Shumlin, state senators Bobby Starr and John Rodgers, local officials, and a host of other guests Thursday morning, August 14.

The toast followed the ceremonial ribbon cutting that inaugurated the 60,000-square-foot building.

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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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War on Poverty: Fifty years later schools are the battleground

Lisa Grout is a social studies teacher at North Country Union High School in Newport.  She has a perspective on both poverty and how poverty affects student outcomes.  Photo by Richard Creaser

Lisa Grout is a social studies teacher at North Country Union High School in Newport. She has a perspective on both poverty and how poverty affects student outcomes. Photo by Richard Creaser

copyright the Chronicle January 22, 2014

Editor’s note:  The following story is the first in a two-part series on the link between poverty and success in school.

by Richard Creaser

On January 8, 1964, President Lyndon Baines Johnson declared in his State of the Union Address an “all-out war on human poverty and unemployment in these United States.”

Fifty years later, the war rages on with the nation’s public schools as the battleground in this epic struggle.

“As a history teacher, I just can’t help but see that this isn’t anything new,” said Lisa Grout, a social studies teacher at North Country Union High School.  “At times, it has been described as a racial divide, but really it’s something else — it isn’t a war on poverty, it’s a war on the poor.  We need to rid ourselves of this myth that anyone can do whatever they want to do if they really want it.  Our system just isn’t balanced evenly that way.”

In fact, the system appears to be heavily weighted against students from poor families.

A direct link between low household income and student achievement is known in the educational system as the achievement gap.  The evidence is most readily appreciated by examining student performance on the New England Common Assessment Program (NECAP) scores as tabulated by the Vermont Agency of Education.  Agency data for the reporting period of 2011-2012 for North Country is especially telling, although it’s important to consider that NECAP tests are only administered to juniors at the high school level.

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Flight Design USA will hire 100

Governor Peter Shumlin cuts the ribbon on the Stateside Baselodge on Friday, December 20.  On hand to celebrate the opening, from left to right, are:  Vermont Commissioner of Commerce and Community Development Lawrence Miller, Filippe Acciolye, an investor in the project from Brazil, Ariel Quiros, co-owner of Jay Peak, Governor Shumlin, state Senator John Rodgers, state Senator Robert Starr, Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak, Steve Wright, marketing director for Jay Peak, and William Kelly, counsel for Jay Peak.  Photos by Joseph Gresser

Governor Peter Shumlin cuts the ribbon on the Stateside Baselodge on Friday, December 20. On hand to celebrate the opening, from left to right, are: Vermont Commissioner of Commerce and Community Development Lawrence Miller, Filippe Acciolye, an investor in the project from Brazil, Ariel Quiros, co-owner of Jay Peak, Governor Shumlin, state Senator John Rodgers, state Senator Robert Starr, Bill Stenger, co-owner of Jay Peak, Steve Wright, marketing director for Jay Peak, and William Kelly, counsel for Jay Peak. Photos by Joseph Gresser

by Joseph Gresser

JAY — At the opening of the new Stateside Baselodge Friday, Jay officials threw in a pair of bonus announcements.  A new aircraft company will bring more than 100 skilled jobs to Coventry, and the sale of the Spates Block on Main Street in Newport to Jay Peak co-owners Bill Stenger and Ariel Quiros has been finalized.

At a press conference that followed the opening of the 84-room hotel, Mr. Quiros said he has bought Flight Design USA, the company that announced plans this summer to assemble and sell ultra-light planes at the Newport State Airport in Coventry.

Flight Design USA was the American branch of a German company, and the initial agreement allowed the Newport branch to act as one of six U.S. distributors of the company’s two-seater plane.

The new company, called Flight Design Americas, LLC, will have exclusive rights to sell planes in North America, South America and Central America, Mr. Quiros said.

The company expects to hire around 100 engineers, trained mechanics and assembly workers, he said.  It projects sales of as many as 200 planes a year by the third year of production.

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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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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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