Orleans sixth-graders learn how to make a difference

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copyright the Chronicle April 19, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

ORLEANS — How do ordinary people go about trying to solve big problems, like hunger, cancer and homeless cats?

That’s the question that Andrea Gratton’s mostly sixth-grade language arts students at Orleans Elementary School set out to answer each year.

The project, called “Make a Difference,” pairs each student with a nonprofit organization. Students study the nonprofits they’ve chosen, prepare a presentation, and do a project under the supervision of a mentor.

Last week, the students put the final touches on the displays they’ve created and spent the day teaching other students, teachers, and family members what they’ve learned.

Students start by choosing a nonprofit. They can pick one from Ms. Gratton’s list, or they can choose an organization they already know about.

“I ask them what’s a problem in the world that you care a lot about?” Ms. Gratton said. “It’s a very long project, so you’d better pick something you feel passionate about.”

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Glover voters approve bond for new garage

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copyright the Chronicle April 12, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

GLOVER — By a narrow margin, voters here directed the select board Tuesday to borrow up to $750,000 to pay for a new town garage. The garage will be built on the site of the recycling shed next to the present town garage on Route 16.

The tally was 73 in favor and 68 against.

Of the town’s 776 voters, 141 turned out to cast their ballots, including 25 who voted by absentee ballot ahead of time, and another 27 who voted by absentee ballot on Monday night at an informational meeting at the town hall.

About 40 people showed up for Monday night’s meeting in addition to the three selectmen and other town officials.

Passumpsic Bank has offered the town a fixed rate, 20-year loan at 3 percent interest, Selectman Jack Sumberg said.

Seven hundred fifty thousand dollars would be the most that the town would borrow. That works out to about $30 more taxes a year on a $100,000 property.

No grants are available to cover the cost of a new garage.

“If we’re going to do it, we have to pay for it,” Mr. Sumberg said.

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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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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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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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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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History students take a stand

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copyright the Chronicle March 22, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

  

NEWPORT — In 1967, authorities tried to drag Kathrine Switzer off the course in the middle of the Boston Marathon because she was a woman.

Women weren’t officially allowed to run in the event until 1972. Ms. Switzer had gotten a race number by filling out the entry form with just her initials.

Robin Nelson, an eighth-grader at Glover Community School, won a first prize in the NEK History Day fair in Newport last Thursday for her research on Ms. Switzer.

In just a few weeks, Robin and the rest of her family will be in Boston cheering her mother, Tara Nelson, across the finish line.

Of the 30,000 entries in this year’s race, about half with be women.

Ms. Switzer, who went on to win both the Boston and New York marathons after they were opened to women, took a stand for equality in her sport, Robin said.

But Robin’s choice of project highlights another trend at this year’s NEK History Day event.

Maybe it was the theme of this year’s national and local history day events — “take a stand for history.” Or maybe it was the recent election, the national political climate, and the widely publicized women’s marches around the country.

But just over a third of the projects entered in this year’s NEK History Day were about women.

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Act 46 committee struggles to define its purpose

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copyright the Chronicle March 15, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — A committee formed Monday evening to study how schools in the Orleans Central Supervisory Union (OCSU) will comply with the state mandate to consolidate into fewer districts struggled with the seemingly simple task of defining its goals.

Members of the committee were sharply divided on whether the point is to make another try at consolidating into a single unified school district, or explore other alternatives.

And they disagreed about whether to have the process driven by input from the community, or whether to start with the state mandate and figure out how to sell it to voters.

About 20 people, some members of the Act 46 Study Committee, and some interested citizens, came to the meeting in the COFEC building in Barton.

It was the committee’s first meeting since Town Meeting Day, when study committee members from each school district opened a dialogue with the public at their respective meetings and passed out copies of an updated Act 46 survey.

At its first meeting, the study committee decided it was important to get more public input.

Although the district merger proposal was defeated last year by five of the six towns in the Orleans Central Supervisory Union, only 552 people actually went to the polls.

In many towns, the margins were narrow, Chair Amy Leroux pointed out. In Albany, the consolidation measure was only defeated by three votes.

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Susan Dunklee takes silver at biathlon world championships

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copyright the Chronicle March 1, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

BARTON — When Stan Dunklee and Judi Robitaille-Dunklee of Barton went to Austria two weeks ago to watch their daughter Susan compete in the biathlon world championships, they didn’t know they’d see her make history.

But on the last day of the competition Susan Dunklee did just that, winning a silver medal and becoming the first American woman ever to stand on the podium at that level of competition in biathlon.

“Biathlon is huge in Europe,” her father said. “It’s the most watched winter sport. But it’s relatively new in the United States.”

And breaking into the winner’s circle has been hard. The 31-year-old Ms. Dunklee was the first American woman to medal at the world championships. And no American woman has yet earned an individual medal in biathlon at the Olympics.

“We try to go to this one every year,” Mr. Dunklee said of the International Biathlon Union World Championships, held this time around in Hochfilzen, Austria.   “It’s the densest cluster of events.”

The IBU World Cup, in comparison, took place over nine weekends in nine countries, starting in Sweden in November, he said.

The Dunklees also watched their daughter race in the 2014 Sochi Olympics, where she placed seventh and eighth in two of the biathlon events.

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South beach project faces opposition

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copyright the Chronicle March 1, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

LYNDONVILLE — About 70 people filled the Burke Mountain Room at Lyndon State College on February 23 to express their concerns about plans to put restrooms, parking, and handicapped-accessible trails at the south end of Lake Willoughby. The land is part of Willoughby State Forest.

Site plans were recently released by the Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation (FPR), and the public was invited to Thursday’s informational meeting.

Participants seemed to be divided between the simply curious and people who wanted to see the plans scaled back. A vocal few just wanted the beaches at the south end of the lake left alone.

“This is nature’s cathedral, why don’t we protect this?” asked Beverley Decker.

Louis Bushey from the St. Johnsbury office of FPR seemed a little taken aback by the size of the group and the objections.

“We held a public meeting in November 2015,” he said. “And these plans are the direct result of what people said they wanted.”

“All of the calls that I’ve gotten have been positive,” said Bill Perkins, a member of the Westmore Select Board.

Because the south end of the lake is state land, the select board has no control over the plans, he said.

The plans aren’t intended to change the nature of the south end of the lake, Mr. Bushey said. And they’re certainly not intended to increase the volume of visitors, though that’s likely to happen over time, just because the population is growing.

The point, he said, was simply to address existing problems — cars parked along the road shoulder, paths eroding from foot traffic, human waste in the woods, and runoff from the road going directly into the lake.

“We’ve all seen the plume after a rain,” he said to nods around the room.

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