Task force nabs 26 in heroin sweep

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copyright the Chronicle February 15, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The Emerson courthouse was hopping Tuesday afternoon as teams of State Police Troopers, Orleans County Sheriff’s Deputies, Newport City Police Patrolmen, and Border Patrol Agents brought in a steady parade of suspects in what officials called the largest heroin bust in Orleans County’s history.

At a press conference held at the State Police barracks in Derby, state, federal, and local officials talked about the sweep which took 26 people into custody. According to State Police Major Glenn Hall, the head of that agency’s criminal division, four people were arrested earlier and eight more remain at large.

Almost all face charges related to the sale of heroin.

At the press conference, Acting U.S. Attorney Eugenia Cowles said police seized a “substantial amount” of heroin as well as a number of firearms in the sweep, which officers called Operation Border Line. Ms. Cowles was unable to provide an estimate of the weight or value of the contraband, but said she believed more than a thousand bags of heroin were taken.

Ms. Cowles said all levels of law enforcement recognize that heroin is a substantial problem in the Newport area and in Vermont as a whole.

Major Hall praised the joint investigation in which the Vermont Drug Task Force, elements of the federal Department of Homeland Security, and the Drug Enforcement Agency worked together with officials representing the U.S. Attorney for Vermont, the state Attorney General, and Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett.

The arrests, he said, were the culmination of a seven-month investigation.

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Lake House forced to defend itself

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copyright the Chronicle February 15, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

MONTPELIER — The state Liquor Control Board (LCB) heard complaints about Barton’s only bar, the Lake House Saloon, at an enforcement hearing on Wednesday, February 8. Anne Marie MacEachern, owner of the establishment, defended herself against five charges each of serving intoxicated customers and allowing them to stay in the bar, one charge of having a bar brawl and not calling for police assistance, and one charge of not complying with break-open ticket regulations.

Three of the five board members were present for the two-hour session. They heard witnesses, but adjourned without reaching a decision.

The charges were precipitated by an incident at which local DJ Donald Sackett said brawlers knocked over and damaged some of his equipment. Under questioning by Assistant Attorney General Jacob Humbert, Mr. Sackett said he was performing at the Lake House around 1:30 a.m. on August 6 when a disturbance that started outside the bar moved inside.

Mr. Sackett said 75 to 100 people were in the Lake House at the time and estimated that between 15 and 20 were involved in the brawl.

“It happened quickly on the dance floor. They moved toward me and I got overrun like a rock concert,” Mr. Sackett said.

He said a stand that held the controls for the lights, his computers, and other sensitive equipment was knocked over and its contents were “slammed on the hardwood floor.”

Mr. Sackett said he grabbed a computer and retreated into a corner and watched as people “tromped on my equipment.”

He said he saw Clayton Butler, who works security at the Lake House, in the middle of the fray.

“He couldn’t contain it. He did his best,” Mr. Sackett said. “There were not enough people to control it.”

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“Mesh” may provide low-cost Internet connection

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copyright the Chronicle February 15, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Diane Peel said she has met many parents whose children are expected to do their homework online, but who can’t afford to pay for an Internet connection. For these and those in similar circumstances she and a group of collaborators are starting a low-cost alternative to Comcast and FairPoint they are calling Newport Wireless Mesh.

The group started to test the idea around two years ago after a member came back from a trip to Washington, D.C., and told friends about a project put together by the Open Technology Institute.

That organization set up the Commotion Project to write programs that allowed computer routers to communicate with each other and not just with an Internet provider.

The Commotion Project equipment allowed the creation of a network, or a mesh, through which users can get access to the Internet by connecting to fellow members of the network.

For Ms. Peel and fellow members of NEK 99%, a group of activists who collaborate on projects, including the 99 Gallery on School Street, the technology offered a chance to build a communications system and a stronger community.

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State’s Attorney to launch drug diversion program

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copyright the Chronicle February 8, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett says her office is ready to start a new diversion type program for people with substance abuse problems who have committed minor offenses.

The only thing keeping it from getting off the ground is the lack of the right case, Ms. Barrett said in an interview Monday. She said she needs to find someone who has been charged with a misdemeanor case and is willing to admit to having a substance abuse problem.

When such a case comes across her desk, Ms. Barrett said, she will offer the defendant a chance to expunge the charge through a process that she hopes will lead him or her to combat the addiction.

Her office, like those of other state’s attorneys around Vermont, has received money for efforts to deal with problems connected to the state’s opioid epidemic. Ms. Barrett said state’s attorneys have been given wide latitude to design programs that will respond to the needs of their counties.

She said she designed her program based on a model established by state Attorney General T.J. Donovan when he was Chittenden County State’s Attorney.

To help her in the effort, she has hired Robert Booth to supervise program participants and help guide them toward recovery.

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Major changes for cancer treatment in Newport area

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copyright the Chronicle February 8, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — A decision by Dartmouth Hitchcock Medical Center administrators could mean major changes for cancer treatment in the Newport area. While the decision that came out of Hanover, New Hampshire, precipitated the changes, some may have been in the offing in any event, according to Claudio Fort, the CEO of North Country Hospital

He said in an interview on February 4 that he was surprised to get the call from Dartmouth Hitchcock informing him that two doctors who had been traveling north to treat cancer patients at his hospital would no longer do so as of April 13. But Mr. Fort said that increasing costs for the drugs used in chemotherapy and a stricter set of rules from the federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) were already causing the hospital to rethink how it treats cancer patients.

The two physicians, Dr. Sergey Devitskiy and Dr. Ronal Kubica, will continue to practice at the Norris Cotton Cancer Center’s outpost in St. Johnsbury, Mr. Fort said. But they will no longer see patients in Newport.

Dr. Les Lockridge, who set up a private practice in Newport in 2012 after the hospital let him go when it closed its department of oncology and hematology, said Tuesday that he is willing to see what he can do to make up for the loss of the two Dartmouth-affiliated doctors.

Ironically, it was the willingness of Dr. Devitskiy and Dr. Kubica to travel to Newport that enabled the hospital to close its own oncology department.

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Former addicts discuss routes to recovery

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copyright the Chronicle February 1, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — A panel of a dozen people, all with experience in the field of opioid addiction and treatment, engaged in a freewheeling discussion Monday night. The two-hour conversation, moderated by Judge Howard VanBenthuysen, was the second part of a program called Conversations of Hope, sponsored by the HealthWorks Coalition, a project of Northeast Kingdom Learning Services.

In the course of the lively evening, Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett announced her intention to start a new drug diversion program that will allow some defendants to avoid a criminal record if they get treatment for addiction problems.

Three panel members: Gilles Gentley, associate pastor at New Beginnings Christian Church; licensed vocational nurse and graphic artist Savannah Bradshaw; and Community College of Vermont student Mitt Lyman, testified to the possibility of freeing oneself of drug dependency.

Another six panelists spoke of ways that goal can be accomplished.

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NCUHS search for principal narrowed to two

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copyright the Chronicle January 25, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT—The committee set up to find a new principal for North Country Union High School narrowed the field to two applicants at its meeting Monday night. At a meeting earlier this month the 16-member group picked four potential leaders for the school from an original group of 16, according to North Country Supervisory Union Superintendent John Castle.

The committee interviewed all four before deciding to place the names of Chris Miller and Jessica Puckett before the high school board for its consideration.

Ms. Puckett already works at North Country, serving both as director of special programs and as one-third of the tri-principal group that has been leading the high school this year. The other two in the group are assistant principals Anita Mayhew and Bob Davis.

Mr. Castle said that neither Ms. Mayhew nor Mr. Davis applied for the job.

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State spells out plan for use of Great Hosmer

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copyright the Chronicle January 25, 2017

 

 by Joseph Gresser

 

CRAFTSBURY COMMON — At a community meeting here Saturday, the state proposed a framework for deciding what kinds of activities will be allowed on Great Hosmer Pond. More than 110 people gathered in the Craftsbury Academy gym to hear the idea put forward by a study committee, but it was unclear how many were optimistic about the outline.

For some time there has been friction between people who want to enjoy water skiing or other activities involving speedy power boats and those who like kayaking, canoeing, or sculling. Many of the scullers are connected with the Craftsbury Outdoor Center, which runs a sculling program that uses the pond for its classroom and practice area.

According to Rebecca Ellis, senior counsel for government affairs for the Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC), a six-member task force met three times and came up with what was called a straw proposal.  It provides a framework for changes to state regulations governing the pond, Ms. Ellis said.

The two parts of the proposal said:

  1. Racing shells and rowing sculls are allowed at all times except not between… and ….
  2. Waterskiing and any towing of persons by a motorized vessel is allowed between… and …, or when other boats are not on the water.

The blanks will be filled in with set times and a new regulation put in place by late summer, according to Ms. Ellis.

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Current Use penalty too high, Starr says

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copyright the Chronicle January 18, 2017

A recent decision by the Vermont Supreme Court could cost the new owners of the former Champion lands in Essex County a million dollars in lost property tax relief.

State Senator Bobby Starr of North Troy thinks he has a better way to approach such situations, but said he needs to wait until the courts are finished with the matter.

The question involves 56,000 Northeast Kingdom acres that were once owned by Champion International Corporation, but sold to the Essex Timber Company in 1998. Essex Timber enrolled the property in the state’s Use Value Appraisal program, more commonly known as the Current Use program.

Under that program, a landowner is taxed for a forested or agricultural property at its “current use” value, rather than at its fair market value.

One of the conditions of the tax relief program is that a landowner must submit a forest management plan to the state. That plan must conform to state standards and be approved by the state Department of Forests, Parks, and Recreation (FPR), which must periodically inspect each property to make sure the owner abides by the management plan.

If Forests and Parks finds that a landowner has failed to comply with its forest management plan, the director of the state Division of Property Valuation and Review (PVR) must remove the parcel in question from Current Use for five years.

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Amount budgeted for policing in Derby nearly doubled

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copyright the Chronicle January 18, 2017

 

 by Joseph Gresser

 

DERBY — The Derby Select Board voted at its meeting Monday night for a municipal budget that would nearly double the amount set aside for policing — from $47,000 to $90,000. However, select board members said they would prefer not to have to spend the full amount. Their discussion came after former state Representative Bob Lewis presented a report on how the new Walmart might affect the town’s law enforcement needs.

Mr. Lewis, who served both as a State Police trooper and game warden before his retirement, said he spoke with the security manager at Walmart, Newport City Police Chief Seth DiSanto, and Orleans County Sheriff Kirk Martin in preparing his presentation.

He pointedly omitted Lieutenant Walt Smith, the commander of the Derby State Police barracks, from his conversations with law enforcement, saying that the lieutenant made his attitude about responding to the town’s needs clear in statements to the select board last March.

“I think it’s just political,” Mr. Lewis said of Lieutenant Smith’s refusal to commit to responding to low level crime at the new big box store. He suggested that Tom Anderson, the newly appointed Commissioner of Public Safety, might reverse that policy if pressed by local representatives.

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