EB-5 investor sues state

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copyright the Chronicle June 21, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

An investor in the first of Jay Peak’s EB-5 projects is suing the state Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the Department of Financial Regulation, the Vermont Regional Center (VRC), and a number of those agencies’ employees.

The lawsuit, filed in the Civil Division of Lamoille County Superior Court, claims the two branches of state government and the named individuals effectively acted as Ariel Quiros’ and Bill Stenger’s partners, helping them to perpetrate fraud.

Mr. Quiros is the subject of a civil suit filed by the federal Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) that charges he mishandled around $200-million of the approximately $350-million he raised to pay for hotels and other facilities at Jay Peak and Burke Mountain Resorts, as well as a biomedical facility in Newport.

The suit claims that Mr. Quiros also took about $50-million of the investors’ money for his own use.

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Governor Scott visits Albany

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copyright the Chronicle June 14, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

ALBANY — Governor Phil Scott breezed into Albany Monday to sign a pair of bills that he said will help revitalize aspects of the state’s rural economy. One, a bill to increase the number of chickens a farmer may raise, kill, and sell from 1,000 birds to 5,000, was proposed and seen through to passage by South Albany’s own Billy Pearce.

The other, which aids forestry workers in a number of ways, was welcomed by Colleen Goodridge, who hosted the signing ceremony. Ms. Goodridge, the matriarch of Goodridge Lumber, a family business that specializes in white cedar, is also vice-president of the Vermont Forest Products Association.

Governor Scott was welcomed by a crowd of around 70 people that included legislators from around the Northeast Kingdom and state officials, including Secretary Julie Moore of the Agency of Natural Resources.

H.495, the new forestry law, includes a provision exempting logging equipment and the fuel used to run it from state sales taxes. The state will also loan or help loggers purchase pre-made skidder bridges to help them meet clean water requirements.

Governor Scott said the state hopes to have 25 of the bridges available for loan or lease this summer.

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Newport hopes to improve its image

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copyright the Chronicle June 7, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — In a marathon meeting Monday night, the city council considered ways of improving Newport’s image, the future of its downtown program, a new music series on the waterfront, and a possible extension of the city’s recreation path to the Canadian border.

Newport has been looking for a new web master in the months since Mayor Paul Monette told the council that he will no longer be the volunteer custodian of the site. City Manager Laura Dolgin suggested making up for his loss by hiring a firm that will do public relations for Newport in addition to managing its web presence.

Ms. Dolgin argued for hiring John Gilfoil Public Relations, a Massachusetts company. City officials have been fielding an increasing number of complaints from city residents, and it would be a good idea to have someone putting out positive stories about Newport, she said.

Mr. Gilfoil, a former Boston Globe reporter who served as deputy press secretary for former Boston Mayor Thomas Menino, spoke to the council by speaker phone. He said his company would build a new website for Newport and train employees to post information to it for $10,000 if the city also hires the firm at a cost of just under $1,000 a month to handle the city’s press relations.

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Murder charge reduced to second-degree

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copyright the Chronicle May 31, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Orleans County State’s Attorney Jennifer Barrett lowered the charge against the man accused of shooting Ron-Lou Schneider in 2015 from first-degree to second-degree murder Tuesday afternoon.

Ms. Barrett also added a charge of manslaughter against Ryan P. Bacon, 32, of Point Pleasant, New Jersey, during a hearing held in the Criminal Division of Orleans County Superior Court.

Both charges are based on the same set of facts, so Mr. Bacon can only be convicted of one of the charges, Ms. Barrett said after the court hearing.

Judge Howard VanBenthuysen presided over the hearing.

Ms. Barrett said she and Jon Valsangiacomo, Mr. Bacon’s lawyer, will discuss the possibility of a plea agreement and will return to court in two weeks for another status conference.

If the two sides cannot agree on a deal to settle the case, Ms. Barrett said, she will go to trial on one of the charges.

Witnesses to the shooting gave conflicting statements to police, Ms. Barrett said. As a result, it is doubtful that the state could prove the most serious charge, she said.

Under Vermont law, first-degree murder is one “committed by means of poison, or by lying in wait, or by willful, deliberate and premeditated killing, or committed in perpetrating or attempting to perpetrate arson, sexual assault, aggravated sexual assault, robbery or burglary.”

Any other homicide is considered second-degree murder. Manslaughter refers to killing someone when under sudden passion or great provocation that would mitigate, but not justify, the killing.

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World dishwashing record shattered in Hardwick

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copyright the Chronicle May 31, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

HARDWICK — For a while it looked like Bethany Dunbar’s biggest problem would be finding enough dirty dishes. The Center for an Agricultural Economy, where she works, had plenty of clean dishes. It has been collecting them to hold its own zero waste events and has created a 400-dish library to loan to other organizations wanting to do away with paper plates.

A warm sunny day, a rarity this spring, brought huge crowds to Hardwick’s Spring Festival Saturday and it seemed there would be plenty of dishwashers for the assault on the record.

Time passed. People finished their meals and deposited plates and bowls in the bins Ms. Dunbar had set out to collect used plates. Then they set off to do whatever needed to be done in the garden or around the house.

By 2:30 p.m., the time set for people to line up, there was only a fraction of the crowd that had been milling about Atkins Field only an hour before.

Ms. Dunbar and her fellows from the Center for an Agricultural Economy had reason to be nervous.

The plan was to break the Guinness Book of World Records mark for the most people simultaneously washing dishes. Ms. Dunbar said the Center and the Kiwanis Club, which sponsor Hardwick’s spring festival, hoped the attempt would inspire more people to attend.

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State unveils plan to clean up Memphremagog

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copyright the Chronicle May 24, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Lake Memphremagog has a phosphorus problem and the state Department of Environmental Conservation (DEC) has a plan to fix it. Actually, the plan is still in draft form, and Watershed Coordinator Ben Copans is touring the Kingdom looking for comments on the DEC’s proposal.

His first meeting on a three-stop tour of the Memphremagog watershed was in Newport where, in a meeting room overlooking the lake Monday, he outlined some of the measures called for by the plan. Mr. Copans will take his presentation to Brighton on May 30, and Craftsbury on May 31.

The federal Clean Water Act requires states to set a total maximum daily load, Mr. Copans said. That’s the limit on how much phosphorus can flow into a lake from its watershed while it still meets water quality standards.

Mr. Copans said the U.S. end of Lake Memphremagog has phosphorus levels that are 20 percent higher than the 14 parts per billion standard set for the lake. Currently the levels in Vermont’s portion of the lake average around 17.6 parts per billion, but rise and fall during the year.

The Canadian portion of the lake is about three-quarters of Memphremagog’s surface area, although much more than half the lake’s watershed is in Vermont.

Officials from the two nations meet in the Quebec Vermont Steering Committee on Lake Memphremagog and are working together to reduce the nutrient load coming from both the state and the province, Mr. Copans said.

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Mock crash makes powerful point

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copyright the Chronicle May 24, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

When the Lake Region Union High School student body poured into the bright sunshine on the morning of May 17, they saw a horrific sight. Two wrecked cars stood in the drop-off area, one with a young woman lying on the hood in a pool of blood.

As gruesome as the scene was, it was not a surprise. The entire school had just watched a student-created video depicting the events leading to the tragic scene laid out before them.

A young man, texting as he drove his blue car down the road, was seen just before he plowed head-on into a red car filled with happy teens.   The screen went black as the cars collided, although the audience could hear the Sheriff’s Department dispatcher taking a report of the smash-up.

The student actors were in place as their classmates gathered around. Student videographers were positioned in the area, as they shot footage for another cautionary film.

Members of the Orleans Fire Department, Orleans Ambulance, and the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department were also in position, and at the signal from Sheriff’s Department Captain Phil Brooks, they went into action.

Captain Brooks narrated as the firefighters checked the two cars, evaluated the potential for immediate danger, and looked to see what kind of assistance they could render.

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FBI investigating Orleans man

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copyright the Chronicle May 17, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

ORLEANS — FBI agents went calling at the Orleans home of a man suspected of stealing from the Cabot Cooperative Creamery, and left with a trove of financial records, according to federal court documents.

Agents executed a search warrant at the home of Randy Swartz, the former maintenance manager at Cabot, and seized equipment and computers as well.

FBI Special Agent Patrick Hanna filed a request for the warrant in U.S. District Court in Burlington on March 9. In it, he laid out what he said were facts justifying the search of Mr. Swartz’s home, workshops, and computer files.

Mr. Swartz has not been charged with a crime, but the affidavit says he is under investigation for allegedly ordering equipment and parts for his personal business and charging them to Cabot.

According to the affidavit, one of Mr. Swartz’s subordinates went to creamery officials on January 25 and told them Mr. Swartz had been having parts Cabot paid for delivered to his home. He did not reimburse the company for the parts and had Cabot employees perform work for his private business on company time, Special Agent Hanna said.

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New law could speed Newport’s development

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copyright the Chronicle May 17, 2017

 

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The Vermont House and Senate have come to an agreement on an economic development bill that, among other things, will permit the creation of six new tax increment finance zones.

“We shook on it, but haven’t signed it,” said Representative Mike Marcotte of Coventry, who was a member of the conference committee charged with ironing out differences between House and Senate versions of the bill, S.135.

The zones, also known as TIF districts, are designed to help communities attract development without raising taxes on its existing Grand List. A town that needs to upgrade some of its infrastructure in order to attract new development issues bonds for the cost of the work.

It can then use additional tax revenue generated by the new development to pay off the bond.

That includes municipal taxes and, in the past, 75 percent of the state education tax collected on the new development. Under the new bill that percentage would fall slightly to 70 percent, leaving the education fund with another 5 percent.

Some legislators are concerned the TIF program takes too much money out of the state education fund, Mr. Marcotte said Tuesday. S.135 calls for the Legislature’s economist, fiscal office, and the state auditor to see what effect the districts have on a community’s economy.

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2017 Legislature has a new fan

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copyright the Chronicle May 10, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

EAST ALBANY — Many people complain about state regulations, but few are willing to take the time and trouble to go about changing them. Bill Pearce, the proprietor of Pearce’s Pastured Poultry has been raising, slaughtering, and selling chickens from his farm in East Albany for the past seven years.

State law allows growers to sell up to 1,000 birds to end users from their farm, without state inspection. Mr. Pearce recently sold part of his business to Hannah Pearce, one of his daughters, and realized that the two could not make ends meet if they could only sell 1,000 chickens.

“You can’t support yourself on that few birds,” he said.

Mr. Pearce said he has no problem with regulations about how birds are slaughtered, but having to pay for state inspectors would raise the price of his birds a dollar or more a pound.

He said he takes great pride in producing a clean bird, and sends a sample chicken from each batch he processes to the same lab the state uses to test poultry for e coli bacteria.

“We’ve really learned a lot by doing that,” Mr. Pearce said. The state has three categories for processed chicken, based on the amount of bacteria discovered by the lab. Acceptable means there is a minimal amount of e coli on the chicken, a somewhat higher amount garners a rating of marginal, unacceptable is the label for contaminated chickens.

“We were all over the place

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