Trade case could lead to jobs at Columbia Forest Products

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copyright the Chronicle April 26, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Columbia Forest Products, along with several other manufactures of hardwood plywood, scored a preliminary victory in an international trade case that could mean as many as 70 new jobs at the company’s Newport veneer mill.

The Coalition for Fair Trade in Hardwood Plywood, which includes Columbia and five other producers, filed complaints with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and the Department of Commerce Enforcement and Compliance arm, in November.

The group complained that Chinese manufacturers have been dumping their products in the U.S. and get unfair support from the Chinese government.

The coalition tried to get the commerce department to slap penalties on Chinese plywood in 2012. That effort ended in failure when the ITC ruled against the domestic producers.

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Congressman swings through Northeast Kingdom

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copyright the Chronicle April 26, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — U.S. Representative Peter Welch brought his spring recess tour of the state to the Northeast Kingdom on April 20 with a visit to Derby and Newport.

The state’s only Congressional member asked local leaders what they need from the federal government, but the news he offered in exchange was not particularly good.

Mr. Welch said the budget President Donald Trump proposed completely eliminates two programs that have provided a great deal of benefit to the region in past years. They are the community development block grant program and the Northern Border Regional Commission.

Both have brought millions of dollars to Vermont for infrastructure, housing, and other community projects.

Mr. Welch said both programs are especially important in rural states, noting that a number of his Republican colleagues represent such areas. The Congressman said he thinks it possible that a bipartisan coalition will keep the proposed cuts from going into effect.

He held his first meeting of the day in Derby, where officials from Derby, Newport, and Derby Center came together to tell Mr. Welch the kind of work they will need to do over the next few years to maintain basic services.

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Raymond James agrees to $150-million settlement

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copyright the Chronicle April 19, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

A year and a day after the federal and state governments filed civil charges connected with Jay Peak’s EB-5 projects, the receiver in the case announced a settlement intended to pay money owed to contractors and return the money invested in some failed enterprises.

Michael Goldberg, who was appointed to oversee businesses and other assets owned by Ariel Quiros, appeared at a press conference April 13 in Montpelier with Governor Phil Scott to announce an agreement with Raymond James & Associates, Inc., that could be worth as much as $150-million.

The same day, Raymond James posted the text of the settlement reached with Mr. Goldberg in a filing with the SEC. As a publically traded company, the financial services firm is required to disclose events, such as legal settlements, that may affect its business prospects.

Although it agreed to pay, Raymond James did not admit any wrongdoing.

According to the settlement documents, the company and the receiver have been discussing a settlement since last summer. Last June the Vermont branch of Raymond James reached a $5.95-million settlement with the state. That money will be subtracted from the $150-million the national firm is to pay out.

In a telephone interview Tuesday, Mr. Goldberg said he is pleased with the settlement, but said it had taken a lot of hard work to come to terms.

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Environmental ruling boosts expansion of Coventry landfill

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copyright the Chronicle April 12, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

COVENTRY — The District #7 Environmental Commission issued a ruling on April 5 that could give a boost to the New England Waste System of Vermont’s effort to add 50 acres to the state’s only remaining landfill. The decision, signed by commission Chair Eugene Reid, says the property owned by New England Waste System, which includes a nearby solar array, is properly classified as an industrial park.

The decision could lower the fees the landfill’s owner must pay to mitigate the loss of primary agricultural soils from the $635,000 demanded by the state Agency of Agriculture, Food, and Markets to about $145,000.

New England Waste asked the district commission to weigh in on the issue before it goes further with its plans to enlarge the landfill in the direction of Northeast Kingdom International Airport.

The commission ruled the landfill is part of an industrial park, but it has not answered the second question New England Waste put to it — how many acres must the landfill pay for mitigating.

Vermont law says damage to primary agricultural soils can be mitigated through a payment to the state’s Housing and Conservation Fund. The state’s current mitigation fee is $1,325 an acre.

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Lawsuit claims EB-5 fraud started in 2008

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copyright the Chronicle April 12, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

BURLINGTON — Two investors in EB-5 projects at Jay Peak Resort claim that securities fraud at the ski area started in 2008 when Ariel Quiros paid for the resort using money meant to build hotels. They also say Jay Peak’s former owner had to know what was going on.

Antony Sutton and a man referred to only as John Doe filed a civil lawsuit in U.S. District Court for Vermont on April 7 and charged Saint-Sauveur Valley Resorts, Inc., the former owner, with turning a blind eye as Mr. Quiros paid with money that they told him was meant solely for improvements to the resort.

The two want Saint-Sauveur to return $21.9-million they claim it first gave to Mr. Quiros and then improperly accepted as payment when he bought the resort from the Canadian company.

Mr. Sutton invested $500,000 in Jay Peak Hotel Suites LP (Phase I), and Mr. “Doe” put the same amount into Jay Peak Hotel Suites II LP (Phase II).   Both projects raised money through the federal EB-5 visa program, which trades investments in job-creating companies for a U.S. Green Card and a path to citizenship.

The first two of what would eventually be seven such projects were started by Saint-Sauveur and taken over by Mr. Quiros when he bought Jay Peak.

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Can Newport emulate St. Albans’ renewal?

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copyright the Chronicle April 5, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

ST. ALBANS CITY — The St. Albans City Hall is an elegant structure, dating from the time it was known as the Railroad City. The high ceilings and tall wooden doors are indications of a past when citizens flaunted their community’s wealth through architecture.

Today city hall has just undergone a $2.3-million renovation and emerged as a stunning reminder of the past and a declaration of St. Albans’ present day ambitions.

City Manager Dominick Cloud has an office on the second floor looking out over Main Street. From his window he can point to a pair of the projects that are part of the city’s plan to remake itself. To the left, Mr. Cloud can point to a large Ace Hardware store.

He explained that the city bought the land where the store is, tore down a vacant building, and found a buyer, who was looking to expand an existing store.

To the left, Mr. Cloud indicated an empty lot and three vacant buildings that he hopes will soon get the same treatment.

The two examples hint at the larger strategy the city has been putting into practice over the past several years, taking calculated risks designed to expand St. Alban’s Grand List and make the downtown look sharper and more welcoming.

So far, Mr. Cloud said, St. Albans has invested $16-million and added $50-million to the Grand List.

“It’s a pretty good return,” he conceded.

St. Albans’ track record has certainly caught the eye of leaders in Newport, who hope to make use of the lessons it has learned as they look for ways to reinvigorate their city’s downtown.

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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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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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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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Medicaid could be cut by $200-million

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copyright the Chronicle March 15, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

MONTPELIER — Vermont is likely to see a $200-million reduction in federal Medicaid funds if Congress passes the version of the American Health Care Act (AHCA) now making its way through the House of Representatives. That was the message delivered Friday by officials of the state Agency of Human Services (AHS) at a press conference here.

According to Corey Gustafson, commissioner of the Department of Health Access, the Medicaid program covers the medical costs of approximately 24 percent of Vermonters. Around 35 percent of Vermonters are covered by group policies provided by employers, and another 22 percent get their health coverage from Medicare, the program for those above 65 years of age.

Another 11 percent are covered by small group policies, military benefits, and federal employee insurance. Only about 2 percent of Vermonters lack any insurance at all, the second lowest percentage in the nation.

Vermont has the smallest percentage of uninsured children, according to AHS Secretary Al Gobeille.

The large reduction in payments is the result of an unfortunate coincidence, he said. The AHCA will cap the amount of money going to states based on the number of patients covered in 2016, a year that the number of people covered was artificially low, Mr. Gustafson said.

Mr. Gobeille said the change in the way funds are allocated to the state could require Vermont to make difficult choices in the years ahead.

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