Judge approves $150-million settlement

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copyright the Chronicle July 5, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

U.S. District Court Judge Darrin Gayles cleared the way for contractors, merchants, and some EB-5 investors to recover money Jay Peak and Burke Mountain Resorts owes them.

On Friday he gave final approval to a $150-million settlement reached between Michael Goldberg, the court-appointed receiver, and Raymond James & Associates, a financial services company accused of enabling Jay Peak owner Ariel Quiros’ alleged fraud.

Judge Gayles tersely described the EB-5 program as one “through which an investor who invested $500,000 in a project that created ten or more jobs per investor would be eligible to apply for unconditional, permanent residency in the United States on an expedited basis.”

While Mr. Quiros owned Jay Peak and Burke Mountain Resorts, his companies ran eight such EB-5 projects. Six of them were completed or will soon be completed so their investors will qualify for permanent residency in the U.S.

The Burke Mountain Hotel opened for business last fall, but some planned amenities were never built, so not enough jobs were created to make all its investors eligible for green cards.

AnC Bio, the biomedical facility that was to be built in Newport, barely got off the ground, so none of its investors will qualify for U.S. residency.

According to civil fraud charges filed by the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC), Mr. Quiros misappropriated about $220-million of the $350-million investors put into his projects. He was also accused by the commission of taking more than $50-million for his own use.

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Coventry Select Board to interview town clerk candidates

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copyright the Chronicle July 5, 201

by Elizabeth Trail

 

COVENTRY — If all goes well, David Barlow, who was hired to serve as “temporary interim” clerk and treasurer, could be out of a job soon.

The select board here will interview candidates for the positions of town clerk and treasurer at a special select board meeting on Friday, July 7, at 11:30 a.m.

Five people have submitted resumés and letters of interest. They are: Catherine Fletcher, Deb Tanguay, Adam Messier, Carol Simmons, and Sherry Bradley.

All have regularly attended select board meetings over the past year.

The new clerk and treasurer — the select board is hoping to hire a person for each job — will serve until Town Meeting next March, when voters will have the opportunity to elect people to fill the positions.

The offices were vacated under state law on June 9 when former Town Clerk and Treasurer Cynthia Diaz failed to raise a $1.5-million bond.

The Vermont League of Cities and Towns revoked Ms. Diaz’ coverage after they paid a $500,000 claim that the town submitted to get back a portion of the money a recent audit by the forensic accounting firm Graham and Graham found to be missing.

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Barton solar project could raise rates

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copyright the Chronicle June 28, 201

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — If Will and Victor Veve’s planned solar farm is built here on Aldrich Lane north of town, it could push up the Barton Electric Department’s rates by as much as 2.6 percent.

That’s according to some number crunching by the Vermont Public Power Supply Authority (VPPSA).

Under Vermont’s net-metering law, when privately owned solar panels feed power into the grid, the utility pays the panel owners the full retail electric price plus a bonus to encourage solar development.

Barton Electric pays solar panel owners 19.3 cents per kilowatt hour for the power their solar panels feed into the grid.

The payments are made in the form of credits against the customer’s bill. If a customer has enough solar panels, credits can completely offset the bill.

Another part of the net-metering law allows solar developers to sell power to customers at a discount and keep the difference between what they charge and the higher net-metering rate.

The power can be produced anywhere within the utility’s service area, so the nonprofit doesn’t have to host the solar field or buy land to put it on.

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Maple production nears historic levels

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copyright the Chronicle June 28, 201

 

by Tena Starr

 

Although maple sugaring in Vermont has grown at a startling rate in the past decade, it still hasn’t reached pre1935 levels, at least in terms of the number of trees tapped.

That’s according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture (UDSA), which last week released its annual statistic on maple syrup production. This year, 5.4 million Vermont trees were tapped, the USDA said. Before 1935, though, between 5.5 and 6 million trees were tapped on a regular basis.

The USDA also said that Vermont’s 2017 maple syrup production totaled 1.98 million gallons, which was the second highest production on record. That’s up 12 percent from 2016 “and the largest number of taps since 1935,” according to USDA statistics.

Sugaring’s dramatic growth is due, in part, to the fact that it also fell dramatically. The number of trees tapped dipped to around 1.5 million in the 1960s, according to the USDA. In 2003, it climbed to 2.12 million. Growth has been pretty steady since 2007 except for a sharp dip in 2011.

“There used to be a lot more agriculture in the state,” said Tim Perkins, director of the Proctor Maple Research Center in Underhill. “Back at that time, people didn’t do much of anything else.”

In early spring, farmers could either cut firewood or make syrup, he said. Syrup was a cash crop, and almost every dairy farm had a sugarbush that farmers made good use of.

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Overdose awareness walk is a step toward sober living space

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copyright the Chronicle June 28, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Tara Patten called Charles Buckland Jr. “my best friend” as she talked about his overdose death. She was speaking to a crowd of around 80 people gathered around the gazebo in Gardner Park here Saturday.

In front of the stage, a cluster of 104 small purple flags indicated how many people died last year from overdoses.

Mr. Buckland died from a fentanyl overdose in December 2014. Ms. Patten said he was a loving, caring, and funny man, who had a problem that took his life.

The crowd gathered to hear her speak was there because of a result of a pledge Ms. Patten made after Mr. Buckland’s death. She pledged to do something for those struggling with opiates in the Northeast Kingdom, specifically to create a sober living center in the area, complete with the services someone in recovery might need.

Ms. Patten’s first step was organizing NEK Stand Strong. The nonprofit is just getting its legs under it and waiting to get tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.

Saturday’s Overdose Awareness and Memorial Walk was the first step in achieving her organization’s main aim, Ms. Patten said.

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Wandering elk are safely back home

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copyright the Chronicle June 28, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

DERBY — The elk are back home, said Richard Nelson Tuesday evening.

The 16 elk that wandered off from the Nelson’s property in Derby last week finally wandered back, he said.

A gate was left open in their pen, Mr. Nelson said. Neither Mr. Nelson, his father, Doug Nelson, nor any of the farm hands had left it open, he added, but was unwilling to say more.

Mr. Nelson said he and his father were concerned about their herd, but not very worried.

The elk, which are one of the showpieces of Doug Nelson’s restaurant, the Derby Cow Palace, have gotten out before, when a fallen tree knocked a fence over, for instance.

Because they are herd animals the elk don’t like to be apart from their fellows. They also know where their food comes from, Mr. Nelson said.

This time was a bit different than other escapes. The state Department of Fish and Wildlife was involved and was concerned about the possibility that the animals might have, and spread, chronic wasting disease, a condition affecting members of the deer family. It resembles mad cow disease.

Fish and Wildlife Commissioner Louis Porter said Monday there is no reason to think that any of Mr. Nelson’s herd is affected with the condition, which is not believed to affect humans.

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Newport reappraisal could lead to drop in tax rate

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copyright the Chronicle June 21, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The preliminary results of the citywide reappraisal are in and, while some property owners are unhappy with the jump in their assessment, Newport’s government is breathing a sigh of relief.

At present, the total value of the proposed Grand List stands at around $399-million, according to Newport City Manager Laura Dolgin. That is well above the $315-million valuation that was predicted last January.

That figure is far from the final word. Taxpayers have the right to grieve their assessment, and it will take a couple of months to resolve most challenges.

But if the result is close to the early figures, it could mean a substantial drop in the municipal tax rate.

The Grand List figure used for budgeting in 2015 and 2016 was $258-million. When members of the city council began work on the current budget, they believed the Grand List would rise to $330-million.

During their deliberations City Assessor Stewart Potter told the council that the actual figure would be closer to $315-million.

Newport’s budget was already expected to rise about $360,000 from the 2016 level of $4.81-million to $5.18-million.

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Dollar General penalized for scanner violations

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copyright the Chronicle June 21, 201

 

by Tena Starr

 

The Vermont Agency of Agriculture has penalized Dollar General in the amount of more than $210,000 for 47 separate price scanner violations since 2013, including $24,000 in penalties this year.

“Agency inspectors have observed repeated pricing inaccuracies, which could shortchange customers, such as discrepancies between the posted shelf price and the price charged at the register,” an Agency of Agriculture press release says.

The Agriculture Agency’s Consumer Protection Section sends out investigators who check the accuracy of weights at stores that use them. They also look for price scanner violations. For the first violation, the agency issues an official notice. If trouble persists, the agency might issue a penalty and take other action.

“The Agency of Agriculture has levied increasing monetary penalties against Dollar General over the past four years,” said Kristin Haas, head of the Agriculture Agency’s Food Safety and Consumer Protection Division.

“We feel it’s important that consumers are aware of these inaccuracies, so they can take an active role in ensuring they’re charged accurately, by checking their receipts and paying close attention in the store.”

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Pet thieves posing as “humane officers?”

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copyright the Chronicle June 21, 201

 

by Tena Starr

 

The owners of two dogs in Albany believe the animals were stolen last week by someone posing as a representative of P.E.T.S of the Kingdom, a nonprofit that checks on animal welfare.

Ronald Mason said his wife Melissa’s dog and his youngest daughter’s dog were taken from the Albany home where a relative has been caring for them. The Masons recently moved from Albany to Lyndonville and can’t keep pets there, so they left them in Albany with their nephew.

“He came home from work and the dogs were gone,” Mr. Mason said. “My nephew called P.E.T.S., and they said they didn’t take them.”

Mr. Mason said a woman had come around to the Albany home where the dogs were, saying she was doing neighborhood checks of animals and wondered if they would like to get rid of the dogs.

“We were like, no, we don’t want to get rid of them,” Mr. Mason said. “We’ve had these dogs since they were puppies. I just think it’s pretty damned bad when somebody takes something that doesn’t belong to you. Pets can be like family. I’m just plain disgusted.”

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EB-5 investor sues state

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copyright the Chronicle June 21, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

An investor in the first of Jay Peak’s EB-5 projects is suing the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the Department of Financial Regulation, the Vermont Regional Center (VRC), and a number of those agencies’ employees.

The lawsuit, filed in the Civil Division of Lamoille County Superior Court, claims the two branches of state government and the named individuals effectively acted as Ariel Quiros’ and Bill Stenger’s partners, helping them to perpetrate fraud.

Mr. Quiros is the subject of a civil suit filed by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that charges he mishandled around $200-million of the approximately $350-million he raised to pay for hotels and other facilities at Jay Peak and Burke Mountain Resorts, as well as a biomedical facility in Newport.

The suit claims that Mr. Quiros also took about $50-million of the investors’ money for his own use.

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