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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Health Department looks at root causes of addiction

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copyright the Chronicle March 15, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Preventing heroin addiction may be as simple, or as complicated, as paying attention to the difficulties individuals face in their early years and offering help to overcome those traumas.

That was the message offered at the latest in a series of meetings dedicated to dealing with an epidemic of opioid abuse that has become increasingly virulent in recent years. The meeting, held at North Country Career Center on March 9, was organized by Julie Raboin, a substance abuse prevention consultant with the state Department of Health.

Ms. Raboin pointed to studies that show young people use alcohol and binge drink more often in Orleans County than they do in the state as a whole. When those numbers are broken down by income, it appears that Orleans County’s higher rate of alcohol use is driven by people of lower socioeconomic status.

Young people from wealthier backgrounds have no higher rate of alcohol consumption than do others of their economic background in the state, Ms. Raboin said.

In fact, higher status youth in Orleans County use marijuana at a significantly lower rate than do their peers in the state as a whole. A much higher percentage of young people from less well-off families in Orleans County smoke pot than similarly situated youth in the rest of the state, she said.

Another survey showed that fewer than 50 percent of young people in Orleans County feel valued by the community, Ms. Raboin said.

Youth in the county are much more likely to be disconnected, that is not in school and unemployed, than in Vermont or the nation as a whole, she said.

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Marchers rally for humane immigration policy

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copyright the Chronicle March 8, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

DERBY LINE — A little before 1 p.m. Saturday a well bundled group of people stood in Baxter Park here, about 150 yards from the Canadian border. Some held signs saying “No Muslim Ban,” “Respect Everybody,” “We Are (Almost All) Immigrants, and “Civility Respect Kindness.”

There were no bystanders and not many passing motorists to hear the group chant “No hate, no fear, refugees are welcome here,” but one man pulled his pickup over and gleefully informed the demonstrators that Donald Trump is now President of the United States.

After a little while the group walked up the street to the First Universalist Parish of Derby Line, where they were joined by late arrivals and some less hardy souls gathering to protest the Trump administration’s immigration policies.

Between 80 and 100 folks squeezed into the church hall for a short program of speeches, songs, and performances by the Bread and Puppet Theater of Glover.

The theater’s band warmed up the crowd with a song before organizer Aimee Alexander introduced featured speaker Susan-Lynn Johns, formerly the minister of the Derby Line church, who currently is associated with a congregation in St. Johnsbury.

Ms. Johns began by reading the opening words from Charles Dicken’s novel A Tale of Two Cities.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair,” she read, comparing the times described by Dickens to the present day.

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Newport officials hear some rare good news

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copyright the Chronicle March 8, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Ernie Pomerleau, the president of Burlington-based Pomerleau Real Estate, hosted a press conference at the Gateway Center here on March 2 to confirm plans he has talked about since at least October. Nevertheless, city and state officials seemed happy to celebrate rare good news, including the owners of the Vista supermarket agreeing to extend their lease for another ten years and to renovate the inside of the store.

Mr. Pomerleau contributed his own glad tidings. He promised to refresh the supermarket’s exterior and to extend the city’s pedestrian path along the shore of Lake Memphremagog from Pomerleau Park to the East Side Restaurant.

Sharing the table in front of about 50 city residents, development professionals, and leaders of nonprofit institutions, were Secretary Michael Schirling of the Agency for Commerce and Community Development, state Treasurer Beth Pearce, Gus Seelig, executive director of the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, Newport Mayor Paul Monette, and Paul Bruhn, director of the Preservation Trust of Vermont.

The star of the afternoon, though, was Mr. Pomerleau’s father, Tony, the founder of the real estate firm, and a man who, at just under 100 years old, is older than Newport, where he grew up. The city was incorporated in 1918; Mr. Pomerleau was born in 1917.

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Federal receiver fields questions in Jay

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copyright the Chronicle March 8, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

JAY — Residents here heard from the effective owner of Jay Peak Resort before they began their Town Meeting Tuesday morning. Michael Goldberg, the receiver appointed by U.S. District Judge Darrin Gayles to oversee the businesses owned by Ariel Quiros, answered questions from voters about the ski area’s future.

The big news was that construction will soon begin on the remaining portion of what is known as the Stateside project. Mr. Quiros, who is facing civil charges of investment fraud in state and federal court, raised money from foreign investors to build a hotel, a recreation center, a medical center, and around 84 homes at the resort.

Mr. Goldberg said work will begin in the next few months on the medical and recreation centers as well as the homes. The hotel was completed and opened in 2013.

The receiver said it is important to finish all construction at the resort so as to get the best price when it goes on the market. The sale, he said, will probably take place in a year or two.

Mr. Goldberg said the area had a record winter, and has already booked 60 weddings for the coming summer.

“To book a wedding a year out, you have to have faith the place is going to be there,” Mr. Goldberg said.

A year or two more of profitable operation should make sure the resort fetches top dollar when it goes on the block, he said.

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Four vie for two city council seats

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copyright the Chronicle March 1, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — City voters won’t be asked to make many choices when they cast their ballots on Town Meeting Day. Mayor Paul Monette, who has already served in that office longer than any of his predecessors, is running unopposed for another four-year term and with two exceptions, no city officers face opposition this year.

Newport citizens will be asked to pick two aldermen from a field of four. Three are old city council hands, and the fourth a newcomer to Newport’s government.

Aldermen Jacques Roberge and Steven Vincent are just completing their first two-year term in the twenty-first century, but both men served on the council three decades ago.

Denis Chenette has been off the council for two years. He decided not to run for a fourth term in 2015, opening the way for a six-person race to succeed him and retired Alderman Richard Baraw. Mr. Roberge and Mr. Vincent won the two vacant seats.

The fourth candidate is Bill Hafer, who has lived in Newport for the past 11 years. A Pennsylvania native, Mr. Hafer moved around the country as required for his job with General Electric. He decided to settle down in the Northeast Kingdom when he retired.

All of the candidates spoke with the Chronicle Saturday and Sunday and each shared his vision for the city’s future.

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Some refugees leaving through Derby Line

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copyright the Chronicle February 22, 2017

 

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

DERBY LINE — In the past few months an increasing number of foreigners have been crossing the U.S. border and seeking refuge in Canada. Canadian authorities say the trend is greatest in Quebec, but they are unwilling to talk about where individuals and families are entering the province.

Some, at least, are walking over the line in Derby Line and Beebe, according to Stephen Henesy, who was recently named Patrol Agent in Charge of the Border Patrol Station in Newport.

Agent Henesy said those crossing are not people who are in the U.S. illegally, but have entered the country on tourist and other visas. Once here, some have made their way north to seek “what Canada has to offer,” he said.

Many of the people he has seen at the border come from South America and Africa, Agent Henesy said Tuesday. At least one came from Eritrea, a multi-ethnic country in the Horn of Africa, he said.

Border Patrol Agents can stop someone heading for the border, he said, but only long enough to make sure the person is not in the U.S. illegally or wanted for criminal activity. If they find no problem, the person is free to go on his way, even if that means crossing into Canada.

The illegality only begins once the person goes over the border and is under Canadian jurisdiction, he explained.

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Most defendants jailed in heroin sweep

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copyright the Chronicle February 22, 2017

 

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The 16 people who appeared in the Criminal Division of Orleans County Superior Court on February 14 won’t remember it as their best Valentine’s Day. They were brought to court to face drug-related charges, most having to do with the sale of heroin to police informants.

Their alleged offenses took place between October 2015 and this February, and ranged from driving the car from which a dealer did business, to selling significant quantities of the drug.

Many were not able to meet the bail set by Judge Howard VanBenthuysen and were sent to Northern State Correctional Facility or other state lock-ups.

The burden of prosecuting the cases was distributed between Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett and Assistant Attorney General Paul Barkus.

Mr. Barkus drew the case of Dana Nadeau, 30, of Morgan who pled innocent to a felony charge of selling more than 200 milligrams of heroin. He was sent to Northern State for lack of $10,000 bail.

According to the affidavit of State Police Detective Cassandra Herbes, the drug task force enlisted the help of an informant referred to as Orange to buy heroin from Mr. Nadeau.

Orange was paid to assist police, but the money did not depend on arresting a particular person, the affidavit says.

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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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