Newport Center approves water bond

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copyright the Chronicle April 5, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT CENTER — Voters here gave the nod to a plan to provide an ample supply of safe drinking water to residents of the village of Newport Center. In balloting Tuesday, town residents approved a $745,000 bond by a vote of 95 to 13. One hundred nine out of 1,316 people on the checklist voted.

The money will pay for two new wells, a treatment facility to remove arsenic and manganese from water, and the electrical and plumbing connections needed to keep the new wells flowing.

At an informational meeting held at the town offices March 30, Steve Barrup, who chairs the select board, said the village water board has applied for grants from U.S. Department of Agriculture’s (USDA) Rural Development program to help pay the cost of the system.

Because Newport Center is part of the Rural Economic Area Partnership Program (REAP) zone, comprised of Essex, Orleans, and Caledonia counties, it’s eligible for grants that could cover up to 75 percent of the project’s cost. The hitch, Mr. Barrup said, is the USDA will not consider a request unless a municipality has authorized a bond for the project.

With the positive vote, the town can wait to see what size grant it gets before deciding whether to go forward with the project, Mr. Barrup said.

The entire town must vote for the bond because it will continue to exist even if all the water department’s customers leave the area, he said.

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Fish and Wildlife proposes cutting moose permits in half

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copyright the Chronicle April 5, 2017

 

by Brad Usatch

 

A steep decline in the moose population, both statewide and in the Northeast Kingdom, has led the Department of Fish and Wildlife (DFW) to recommend substantial cuts in the number of hunting permits offered this year.

The Fish and Wildlife Board (FWB) will vote Wednesday on a proposal to authorize a total of 80 permits, including 17 archery season permits, down over 51 percent from 165 permits authorized for the 2016 seasons. Also for the first time, the plan would mandate that only bull moose be hunted in all wildlife management units (WMUs).

Locally, the plan calls for nine regular season permits, and one archery season permit each, for both the D1 and D2 WMUs. WMUs do not align with town or county boundaries, but D1 covers most of Orleans County, south to Hyde Park and Hardwick. D2 overlies the northern two-thirds of Caledonia County, as well as almost all of Westmore, and smaller portions of Barton and other Orleans County towns.

The recommendation also authorizes a total of ten permits each (seven regular season and three archery season) for the E1 and E2 WMUs covering almost all of Essex County.

As recently as 2009, over 1,200 permits were offered on a yearly basis. But that was at a time when Fish and Wildlife was actively trying to bring down a moose population that moose biologist Cedric Alexander said was at an all-time high, perhaps dating back to the last ice age.

Mr. Alexander said the winter tick is the main culprit in the population plunge that took the statewide moose herd from a historic high estimated at close to 5,000 moose in 2005, to a November 2016 estimate of 1,750. Heavy tick infestations affect herd size in two ways, Mr. Alexander explained.

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Dairy farmers and new farmers face a divide

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copyright the Chronicle April 5, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

 NEWPORT — When Dave Simonds and Sarah Gardner slept at a “farm stay” bed and breakfast not too long ago, their host apologized for the dairy farm down the road.

“We’re trying to clean it up,” she assured them. Her special angst was reserved for the silage pit, which was covered in plastic weighted down with tires.

“Horrible,” she said. “I call them dirty farms.”

What the bed and breakfast owner meant was that the farm down the road was a real working farm, not a glorified petting zoo like the carefully choreographed farm stay she was offering to tourists from the city.

What she didn’t know was that her guests were the director and producer of a film called Forgotten Farms, a documentary on how traditional dairy farms and dairy farmers are being left behind in the popular embrace of local food movements.

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Raboin, Merriam named to Newport council

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copyright the Chronicle March 29, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The Newport City Council is again up to full strength. After a special meeting Monday night to select two new members, the council is no longer the all-male bastion it has been since the death of Karin Zisselsberger ten years ago.

With the choice of Julie Raboin and James Merriam, the council has also given itself a more youthful appearance.

Ms. Raboin, a substance abuse prevention consultant with the state Department of Health, and Mr. Merriam, who is lead pastor at the United Church of Newport, were chosen from a field of four.   That field also included Woodman Page, who returned to Newport after a career in the Air Force and the Department of Defense, and Ira Morgan Jr., former owner of Hellbilly Hideaway in Derby, and a driving force behind the creation of Newport’s first skate park.

At its meeting on March 13 council members asked interested parties to submit applications for the seats left vacant by the surprise, and as yet unexplained, resignations of Steven Vincent and Neil Morrissette on Town Meeting Day.

Applicants were given until March 22 to volunteer for the post. The council decided to hold the interviews for candidates in open session, but to deliberate on their choice behind closed doors.

Mayor Paul Monette also invited community members to submit suggestions for questions to be asked of the candidates at the open forum.

 

 

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Celebrating Vermont’s natural delicacy

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copyright the Chronicle March 29, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

After weeks of cold, even Saturday’s gray skies and spitting snowflakes didn’t stop people from turning out for the annual Vermont Maple Sugarmaker’s Association annual Maple Open House Weekend.

Chilly overnight temperatures meant that the Fortins at Covered Bridge Maple Sugaring in Barton couldn’t start boiling until noon, even with sap saved in the tank, but by 1 o’clock, the sweet-scented steam was rolling through their sugarhouse.

It was the family’s first open house, and they had gone all out for their guests. There were crockpots of chili, chowder, beans, and maple meatballs; trays of maple cookies and whoopee pies; and of course tastes of freshly made syrup.

About five years ago, Chris and Gerald Fortin bought the sugarhouse that used to belong to the Auger family on Route 16. The place came with a 100-acre sugarbush. They lease another 250 acres from a neighbor. The operation is certified organic.

The Fortins grew up sugaring in their respective families. After their marriage, they made syrup for years on their place in Newport Center, adding a few more taps and a bit more equipment every year.

They finally decided they were ready to move on to a bigger sugaring operation, Ms. Fortin said.

As luck would have it, they heard by word of mouth that Jeannette Auger wanted to sell. They bought the property before it was even listed on the market.

“We’d looked at other places, but this was the right one,” Ms. Fortin said.

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Congressional delegation draws hundreds in Hardwick

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copyright the Chronicle March 29, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

HARDWICK — The parking lot at Hazen Union High School here was filled an hour before the event even started. Inside the school’s gymnasium more than 500 people were already in their seats waiting.

“Is it always like this when this kind of thing happens?” one woman wondered.

There was no answer to the question. Nothing similar had ever happened in this quiet Northeast Kingdom town.

By the time the announcement came, there were between 600 and 700 people in the hall, all of whom rose to their feet and let out a roar when the arrival of the state’s Congressional delegation was announced.

U.S. Senators Patrick Leahy and Bernie Sanders, and Representative Peter Welch walked through the crowd waving and smiling on their way to the small platform at the end of the gym.

There, Vermont Senator Jane Kitchell of West Danville, the master of ceremonies, awaited their arrival. Mr. Welch paused to hug his former state Senate colleague and exchange a few words with her before joining his colleagues in waving to the crowd.

Though billed as a town hall meeting, the event had the unmistakable feel of a political rally and a joyous one at that. The three men were arriving on the heels of the best news their supporters have had since November — the decision by Speaker of the House Paul Ryan and President Donald Trump to pull the bill to repeal and replace the Affordable Care Act (ACA), often called Obamacare, rather than see it fail for lack of Republican support.

 

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Girls with Guns inspires a new generation of athletes

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copyright the Chronicle March 29, 2017

 

by Brad Usatch

 

CRAFTSBURY — The typically serene atmosphere at the Craftsbury Outdoor Center crackled with the sound of gunfire on Sunday as the Craftsbury Green Racing Project (CGRP) hosted its inaugural run of Girls with Guns — a free introduction to the sport of biathlon.

Over 80 girls ranging in age from eight to 18 pre-registered for the event, and a steady stream trickled in to register that day. Biathlon is somewhat obscure in the United States, but may be seeing a big boost locally thanks to the dramatic success of Barton native Susan Dunklee, who this past February became the first American woman to win an individual medal at the biathlon World Championships. Ms. Dunklee is a founding member of CGRP, and when she’s not racing in Europe, she makes her home in Craftsbury.

Biathlon combines the sports of Nordic skiing and target shooting in races of various lengths and formats. Common to each of the biathlon disciplines, the skiers race between shooting ranges where each has five bullets to hit five targets from either a standing or prone position. For every missed target, the racer must ski a penalty loop.

Girls with Guns was the brainchild of CGRP’s Emily Dreissigacker, a Morrisville native and member of the U.S. Biathlon development group. She said she was inspired by the nonprofit group Fast and Female that was started by a pair of elite American and Canadian skiers, and has branched out to support competitive athletic training for young women across a variety of sports.

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Auditor says roughly a million missing in Coventry

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copyright the Chronicle March 22, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

COVENTRY — Between $876,343 and $1.43-million has gone missing in Coventry over a six-year period, according to new figures from auditor Jeff Graham.

Selectmen said at their meeting Monday that they are preparing to file an insurance claim for $876,383 for losses that occurred between 2009 and 2016.

According to forensic accountant Jeff Graham, that’s the most conservative estimate of how much tax money was collected but not deposited by Town Clerk, Treasurer, and Delinquent Tax Collector Cynthia Diaz.

But by using the numbers that Ms. Diaz herself presented in town reports for the same years, Mr. Graham said, the actual amount of missing money could be as much as $1.43-million.

In fact, Mr. Graham said he has evidence of checks received that bring the total closer to Ms. Diaz’ figures than to his lower number.

But without documentation to show what the checks are for, he doesn’t plan to include them in the claim. And he hasn’t included the 8 percent penalty and monthly 1 percent interest applied to delinquent properties, even though Ms. Diaz has said publicly that she always charged those fees, he said.

In a way, it’s a moot point.

The town’s insurance policy, which reimburses for losses through fraud, will only pay up to $500,000.

The difference comes out of the pockets of Coventry taxpayers. So does the estimated $360,000 in fees that have been paid to Graham and Graham for the auditing firm’s work over the past two years.

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ATVs — pest or new economic driver?

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copyright the Chronicle March 22, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

When a group of ATV enthusiasts went before the Westmore Select board recently to ask that some town roads be opened to them, they touted the usual arguments, the main one being that allowing people who love to ride on the versatile machines to get to stores and restaurants would be good for the economy.

And they received the usual arguments for the select board’s hesitation, the main ones being the town is worried about rogue riders and liability if something happens.

“They’re hoping to get some roads open so they can connect to Brownington roads, which are all open,” said Selectman Bill Perkins. They would also like to have access to amenities, he added.

As of Sunday, the board hadn’t made a decision, though Mr. Perkins, at least, wasn’t inclined to offer much resistance.

“Our main concerns are the same as with snowmobiling,” he said. “We just want to make sure the town isn’t going to be held liable for anything if there’s ever an accident. We don’t want the town responsible in any way. Other than that we don’t see a big problem with them.”

The Westmore request is only one of the latest in a growing debate about whether ATVs — which some think may replace snowmobiles as a major economic engine driving Vermont’s outdoor economy — should be provided more access to town and village roads.

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Local senators muse over legislative session

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copyright the Chronicle March 22, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

Due to concerns about federal budget cuts proposed by the Trump administration, Vermont’s Legislature may adjourn early this year and go back to Montpelier in October.

“Trump’s been talking about cutting a lot of stuff,” Senator Bobby Starr of North Troy said. “It may make more sense to draw up a temporary budget and reconvene when we have some real numbers.”

Senator Starr agrees with colleagues in the Legislature who are saying that it would make more sense to finish the budget in October than to function without a finished budget until next year.

“We’ve been taking testimony on the 2018 budget,” Mr. Starr said. “Where we’re going to run into trouble is not knowing what’s going to happen in Washington.”

In addition to being chair of the Senate Agriculture Committee, Mr. Starr sits on the Senate Appropriations Committee.

“Word is going out that the legislators should be making plans to be back here in the fall,” he said.

Meanwhile, he’s keeping busy in Montpelier, as is the region’s other Senator, John Rodgers of Glover.

“There’s always plenty to do here,” Mr. Rodgers said.

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