Sugarmakers discuss climate change, bugs

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copyright the Chronicle January 11, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

DERBY — About 60 members of Vermont’s Orleans County Maple Producers gathered at Paul’s Sugarhouse and Dancehall here Monday evening to share a meal and gather information in the short time before they begin gathering sap.

Sugarmakers heard about the potential effects of climate change and the likely threat of forest tent caterpillars from Orleans County Forester Jared Nunnery.

They also got a peek at the logo and syrup can labels recently unveiled by the Vermont Maple Sugar Makers Association.

Mr. Nunnery began his talk by asking how many people have seen the chart that shows Vermont traveling down to Tennessee. Not many had.

“Good,” Mr. Nunnery said. “I hate it. Vermont is not going to become Tennessee.”

He said sugar maples are in Vermont not only because of the climate, but also largely because the soil suits their growth. The trees may be in danger, but warm weather is not the problem.

“Sugar maples can be killed by wind or by chainsaws,” Mr. Nunnery said. Otherwise they are not that likely to die because of a single factor.

There has been a recent outbreak of forest tent caterpillars that have defoliated large tracts in the state, he noted.

He asked for a show of hands of those whose sugarwoods have been affected by the caterpillars. Only a couple hands were raised.

Next year many more people will be answering yes to that question, Mr. Nunnery predicted.

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Losses, some gains for Newport businesses

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copyright the Chronicle January 11, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Newport is reportedly gaining a new business, but is losing two others.

A vacant Main Street building may be slated for redevelopment, but up the street, a toy store is closing. In addition, the manufacturing company that took over the former Vermont Teddy Bear factory has shuttered its doors.

Its buildings and equipment have been foreclosed on and are be auctioned off later this month.

Burlington developer Ernie Pomerleau told the Newport City Council recently that his company has found a buyer for the old J.J. Newbury building on Main Street.

At the council’s December 19 meeting, Mr. Pomerleau said, “We just sold the Fishman Building, and I think you’ll see something moving forward that will prove advantageous.”

Mayor Paul Monette pointed out that Mr. Pomerleau meant the Newbury building, which most recently housed a bedding showroom.

Mr. Pomerleau’s father, Tony Pomerleau, bought the building in 2011 and sold it in November of 2011 to TML Commercial, LLC, a St. Albans company owned by Vincent Paradis, according to state records.

City Clerk and Treasurer James Johnson said he does not know when or how Mr. Pomerleau regained possession of the building.

Mr. Pomerleau told council members that the new owner of the property plans to develop “workforce housing and additional retail space” on the site of the Main Street building.

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Newport City continues to struggle with budget

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copyright the Chronicle January 4, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — City Manager Laura Dolgin and Clerk and Treasurer James Johnson had their heads together Tuesday as they worked to provide budget options for Wednesday’s special city council meeting.

Over the past several weeks of meetings, council members have made clear their strong desire to keep this year’s property tax rate as close to last year’s as possible.

According to Ms. Dolgin, that attitude is unrealistic. In a memorandum addressed to members of the council and sent to them before a special budget meeting on December 29, she said a drop in last year’s tax rate was unwise and will continue to haunt budget-making for the next five years.

The municipal tax rate for the 2016-2017 budget year was $1.1797. A year earlier the rate was $1.1942.

Aldermen lowered taxes artificially last year by offsetting spending with $150,000 taken from the city’s reserve fund, she said.

“The offset effectively reduced the tax rate to pre-2015 rates, creating unrealistic expectations for future tax increases,” Ms. Dolgin said. “In order to recover, larger than expected tax increments will need to occur for the next several years.”

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Plans for Spates Block hole developing

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copyright the Chronicle December 21, 2016

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — If a joint effort between Newport, the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA), and Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) is successful, city residents may see progress toward rebuilding Main Street in the New Year.

According to NVDA Executive Director David Snedeker, the court-appointed receiver who controls property belonging to Ariel Quiros hopes to offer the site of the former Spates Block for sale early in 2017.

If a deal can be struck, Mr. Snedeker said, the property might be held by a nonprofit corporation already created by NCIC until it can be developed.

Newport City Manager Laura Dolgin said Friday that she is seeking more grant funding to hire a real estate consultant to advise on the best use for the downtown site.

According to the city’s form-based zoning code, whatever is built on the block between Center Street and Second Street must have off street parking, retail space on the ground floor, office or commercial space on the second, and housing on the higher floors.

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Newport City Council urges deep budget cuts

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copyright the Chronicle December 21, 2016

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — For years the Newport City Council has set budgets that cut city spending to the bone. Based on the discussion at Monday’s meeting, the 2017-2018 budget may cut even deeper.

By the end of the meeting, Mayor Paul Monette was suggesting the council might have to consider eliminating personnel and services.

He said it might be necessary to close down the Department of Parks and Recreation and zero out the entire capital budget for the year in order to get budget numbers to the level aldermen hoped to hit.

No action was taken on either suggestion, and it was unclear whether the mayor was advocating for the changes or pointing out the consequences of cutting the budget too deeply.

Mr. Monette drew the line on proposed cuts to the road repaving budget, arguing that strategy was tried in the past. Its result, he said, was the need to float a million dollar bond to get city streets back into shape.

The aldermen overruled the mayor’s objections.

Over the past several years, council members have gone to great lengths to keep municipal taxes from rising. Last year the city’s tax rate even saw a small decrease.

Their decisions were made with the implicit understanding that development projects promoted by Jay Peak would provide eventual relief by adding to the city’s tax base.

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Downtown business is slow this season

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copyright the Chronicle December 14, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Retailers are always anxious as the Christmas season, which can be make or break for a business, approaches. This year Newport’s merchants have had the arrival of Walmart in the area added to their normal concerns.

For some, business is somewhat slower, others say they are seeing a more drastic affect. No one is saying business is booming.

One business that appeared to be directly in Walmart’s crosshairs is the Vista Supermarket at Waterfront Plaza. The store’s landlord, Ernie Pomerleau, was in town in October working on plans to allow the supermarket to stay in town.

Tim Merrill, the general manager of markets owned by Associated Grocers of New England, a category that includes Vista, said Mr. Pomerleau’s ideas are important to the future of the store. But, he said his company is “pleasantly surprised” at how well Vista has done in the face of competition from the retail giant’s food department.

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Review: Our Revolution

Our Revolution, by Bernie Sanders. Published by Thomas Dunne Books — St. Martin’s Press, New York City, 2016.  450 pages. Hardcover. $27.

 

Reviewed by Joseph Gresser

 

Senator Bernie Sanders’ new book clearly was written in expectation of a different reality than the one we are living in. Its combination of autobiography, campaign narrative, and policy manifesto was meant to push President Hillary Clinton to fulfill the pledges embodied in the Democratic Party’s platform, and to nudge her farther along a path long advocated by Vermont’s junior senator.

For those who agree with Senator Sanders’ political philosophy, the book may be a bittersweet suggestion of what might have been. Alternatively, it could also be seen as a declaration of principles to guide those who find themselves in stark opposition to the new direction the country will surely take with three branches of government under the control of the Republican Party.

The first third of Mr. Sanders’ book recaps his political career, including his amazingly successful run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Mr. Sanders, famously, was born in Brooklyn, New York, and moved to Vermont after college. He lived in central Vermont for a time, spent several years in Stannard, a town even Northeast Kingdom natives have a hard time finding, and finally moved to Burlington.

At a meeting of the Liberty Union Party in 1971, he volunteered to run for the U.S. Senate in a special election held after the death of Senator Winston Prouty. Mr. Sanders says he spent a lot of time studying the issues and preparing positions, and then went out campaigning.

He pulled in a whopping 2 percent of the vote, a result that encouraged him to run again, this time for Governor in the 1972 General Election.

This time his percentage of the vote dropped to 1 percent. Unfazed, Mr. Sanders ran again for Senate in the 1974 race that sent Senator Patrick Leahy to Washington. He drew 4 percent of the state’s votes.

Two years later, Mr. Sanders’ hat was back in the ring. This time he faced Republican Richard Snelling and Democrat Stella Hackle in a race for Governor.

During the campaign he took part in a televised debate, in which he acquitted himself well. It being a Vermont debate, the two establishment candidates treated their scruffy opponent and his radical ideas with respect.

I still remember Mr. Sanders, who by this time had moved to Burlington, coming back to Stannard to boast of his 6 percent showing, the highest, he said, of any third-party candidate in the country.

Around this time a couple of friends and I were elected to the Stannard Select Board. Mr. Sanders showed up one day and tried to persuade us that part of our duties involved finding ways to provide civic employment for people in town.

After a long discussion, we concluded that it was impossible to do that in our tiny municipality. The exercise was an early glimpse into his view of a government’s responsibility to its citizens.

Frankly, I recall thinking that Mr. Sanders’ views were more appropriate to the 1930s than the modern world of the 1970s. In light of subsequent events, I think he may have been prescient.

After spending eight years as mayor of Burlington, Mr. Sanders set his sights on Washington. In his first run for the U.S. House of Representatives, in 1988, he narrowly lost to Peter Smith in a three-way race.

Two years later he won and took his seat as an independent who caucused with the Democrats. He maintained that unusual balance through his eight terms in the House and most of his time in the Senate. He is serving his second term in that body.

Mr. Sanders only joined the Democratic Party to run for its presidential nomination. His account of the campaign is a nuts-and-bolts explanation of how to run a true grassroots campaign.

He operated on the assumption that by addressing people directly and talking about issues that affect their lives, he could upset Ms. Clinton, the establishment’s preferred candidate. As it happened, that assumption was not that far off the mark.

In the end, Ms. Clinton’s well-financed campaign, backed by almost all of the nation’s elected Democratic leaders, prevailed over the insurgent. But in view of the results of the recent election it may have been a hollow victory.

Many news organizations now say the support of ignored white working class voters made the difference in the election of Donald Trump. Those voters, Mr. Sanders’ book points out, were people he was able to reach with a message saying their problems were ones shared with people of color, Latinos, Native Americans, and other marginalized groups.

Ms. Clinton did not follow Mr. Sanders’ playbook and fell short of election even while capturing the popular vote.

The bulk of Senator Sanders’ book is a detailed exposition of his proposals for improving the lives of Americans. None will surprise anyone who has followed his career. Privately and publicly, the issues of climate change, providing good jobs at decent wages, affordable education and health care, and civil rights are ones that have preoccupied the Senator for his entire political career.

To summarize them would not do Mr. Sanders’ thoughts justice. While that portion of the book was intended as a roadmap for action, at the moment it appears to be a chart of the path not taken.

Mr. Sanders suffered more than a few defeats in his ascent to high office. Most people would have given up after losing by the margins of his early losses.

But Vermont is fortunate in having people, like Mr. Sanders’ erstwhile Liberty Union colleague Peter Diamondstone and other members of their party, who never give up, but put their ideas forward year after year in the teeth of the prevailing political winds.

Mr. Sanders will, no doubt, continue to press for the adoption of his ideas regardless of election results, and he continues his decades-long call for a “political revolution.”

While the story of Mr. Sanders’ campaign is interesting and potentially instructive to those who come after, and the policy section of the book provides a clear agenda for a progressive political movement, the real meat of Our Revolution may come in its last couple of pages.

It is there that Mr. Sanders directly addresses the many people he inspired during his run and explains how they can make a difference.

“I hope that you will stay involved and get your friends involved. Run for the school board, city council, state legislature. Run for governor. Run for Congress. Run for the Senate. Run for President. Hold your elected officials accountable. Know what they’re doing and how they’re voting — and tell your neighbors.”

That’s a path Mr. Sanders has traveled, and one that many others, regardless of what their political beliefs may be, must follow if “government of the people, by the people, and for the people,” is to survive.

It’s likely that the book’s message will be heard. Our Revolution is already high on the bestseller list. I thought of buying it for a couple of politically minded young people, but they both already owned the book and had read it.

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SEC wins early victory against Quiros

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copyright the Chronicle November 23, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

 

In a ruling issued Monday, U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles gave the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) an early victory in its suit against Ariel Quiros. The federal agency was granted its request for a preliminary injunction to keep things as they have been since it went to court in April and charged Mr. Quiros with securities fraud.

The judge’s ruling maintains the status quo until the underlying issues in the civil suit are resolved at trial. That means Mr. Quiros’ property remains under the control of Michael Goldberg, the court-appointed receiver, and Mr. Quiros is barred from any kind of involvement in businesses connected with the federal EB-5 visa program.

When the case comes to trial, Mr. Quiros faces the prospect of being forced to disgorge as much as $200-million in money the government said was improperly used. Mr. Quiros has also been charged with taking more than $50-million for his personal use.

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Walmart opens amidst policing concerns

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copyright the Chronicle November 16, 2016

 

 by Joseph Gresser

DERBY — The Derby Walmart Supercenter will open its doors for the first time early on November 16, but according to State Police Lieutenant Walt Smith, commander of the Derby barracks, issues of public safety remain to be addressed.

Lieutenant Smith, along with Captain Mike Henry, who heads the St. Johnsbury State Police outpost, visited the Derby Select Board back in March. He said his troopers would not be able to handle what he expects will be a large number of calls from the new store.

Lieutenant Smith explained that he’s responsible for ensuring the safety of 30 communities in the Northeast Kingdom, and his forces are stretched too thin to allow him to focus on minor offenses committed at Walmart.

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Changing the way health care is delivered

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copyright the Chronicle November 16, 2016

 

by Joseph Gresser

On October 26 the Green Mountain Care Board (GMCB) gave its approval to a new way to pay for medical services, called the all-payer model. The next day Governor Peter Shumlin and Secretary Hal Cohen of the state Agency on Human Services followed suit, putting their names to an agreement that’s meant to reconfigure the state’s health care system.

Even before the election, Governor-elect Phil Scott said he thought the agreement was approved with too much haste. In interviews after voters picked him to succeed Governor Shumlin, Mr. Scott said he plans to look at the model more closely before deciding whether to continue on the path it sets out, or cancel the agreement.

The results of the national election may relieve him of that task. President-elect Donald Trump has promised to repeal the Affordable Care Act (ACA), more commonly known as Obamacare.

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