State explains plans for Lake Memphremagog

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copyright the Chronicle November 15, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — While the federal and state governments have been making a great deal of fuss over Lake Champlain in recent years, Lake Memphremagog has received far less attention.

At a Tuesday meeting at the East Side Restaurant on the lake’s shore, Watershed Coordinator Ben Copans shared Vermont’s plans to cut the amount of phosphorus in Memphremagog.

Mr. Copans, who works for the Department of Environmental Conservation, told a group of around 40 people that the lake is suffering some of the harmful effects of excess phosphorus, including occasional algae blooms caused by more nutrients in the water.

Ideally, the lake would have no more than 14 parts per billion of phosphorus. At present it averages 17 parts per billion, Mr. Copans said.

During the 1980s the lake’s phosphorus levels soared to as many as 30 parts per billion, according to a chart Mr. Copans showed his listeners.

“Things improved after the city improved its water treatment facility,” he said.

The chart showed levels dropping to 14 parts per billion for a few years after the renovated sewage plant was put into operation, but they have risen since then to their current level.

Most of the lake is in Canada, but the vast majority of its watershed is in Vermont, Mr. Copans said. While Vermont and Canadian officials are working together to limit the amount of phosphorus getting into the lake, the northern portion of the lake is in compliance with the 14 parts per billion limit.

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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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NEK Ice Fishing Derby draws 720 competitors

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Masyn Harvey of Orleans struggles to hold up this whopper.  He caught it in Lake Memphremagog on Saturday.  Photo by David Dudley

Masyn Harvey of Orleans struggles to hold up this whopper. He caught it in Lake Memphremagog on Saturday. Photo by David Dudley

copyright the Chronicle February 18, 2015

by David Dudley

DERBY — Hundreds of enthusiastic ice fishermen braved the weekend’s bitter cold to participate in the eleventh annual Northeast Kingdom Ice Fishing Derby.   Sub-zero temperatures didn’t discourage people from setting their shanties up on lakes Willoughby, Memphremagog, Crystal, and Shadow, among others.

What compels people to go outside in such brutal conditions?

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At the Newport Penguin Plunge: The brave leave luau for freezing waters

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Scott Whitehouse of Newport took the Penguin Plunge Sunday. Though he's new to the area, he raised $300 for Special Olympics Vermont.  Photos by David Dudley

Scott Whitehouse of Newport took the Penguin Plunge Sunday. Though he’s new to the area, he raised $300 for Special Olympics Vermont. Photos by David Dudley

copyright the Chronicle February 4, 2015

by David Dudley

NEWPORT — Before the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge took the Internet by storm, there was the Penguin Plunge. Now in its thirteenth year, the Penguin Plunge drew participants from all over the Northeast Kingdom to raise money and awareness about the Special Olympics by taking a dip in the frigid waters of Lake Memphremagog.

Liza Reed, special events manager at Special Olympics Vermont, has organized the event for the past three years. At Sunday’s Plunge, she said they were hoping to match last year’s mark of $30,000.

“We have teams from all over the Northeast Kingdom,” Ms. Reed said. “We have 130 participants this year, so we’re confident that we will at least match last year’s number. That is, if we don’t surpass it.”

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Cold water swimming draws one back home

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Brynna Kate Tucker makes a snow angel before a swim.  Photos courtesy of the Tuckers

Brynna Kate Tucker makes a snow angel before a swim. Photos courtesy of the Tuckers

copyright the Chronicle January 28, 2015

by David Dudley

NEWPORT — Though Brynna Kate Tucker was born and raised in Sutton, it didn’t occur to her that swimming in cold water might be the thing to do until she moved to Brooklyn, New York.

“In November of 2006, one week before my birthday, I joined the Coney Island Polar Bear Club,” Ms. Tucker said, via phone. “I’ve been swimming every week since.”

Her matter of fact delivery might raise some eyebrows, but there are numerous benefits to cold water swimming and bathing. She says that, among other things, it’s a great conversation starter.

“People never forget you when you say that you’re a cold water swimmer,” Ms. Tucker said. “Of course the first question I always get is, Isn’t that cold? The obvious answer is, Yes!”

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Safety and traffic lead AnC Bio Act 250 concerns

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A rendering of what the AnC Bio plant would look like from Lake Memphremagog.

A rendering of what the AnC Bio plant would look like from Lake Memphremagog.

copyright the Chronicle July 23, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — The AnC Bio facility started down the road to Act 250 approval Monday with a site visit from members of the District #7 Environmental Commission and an initial hearing.

Despite wide interest in the project and questions from neighbors of the biotech facility slated to be built at the site of the old Bogner plant, few Newport residents attended the hearing. Nor were there any representatives of state agencies present, aside from those working for the environmental commission.

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At Newport Aquafest: A selfie with an iguana?

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Jeffrey Stuart of Manchester, Connecticut, gets a strong start for the ten-mile Kingdom Swim.  His butterfly stroke earned him first place in the annual open water race, which was held as part of Newport’s Aquafest, in Lake Memphremagog.  Mr. Stuart finished in four hours, 20 minutes, and 17 seconds, more than three minutes ahead of his closest competitor, Cole Gindhart, of Cibolo, Texas.  Photo by Joseph Gresser

Jeffrey Stuart of Manchester, Connecticut, gets a strong start for the ten-mile Kingdom Swim. His butterfly stroke earned him first place in the annual open water race, which was held as part of Newport’s Aquafest, in Lake Memphremagog. Mr. Stuart finished in four hours, 20 minutes, and 17 seconds, more than three minutes ahead of his closest competitor, Cole Gindhart, of Cibolo, Texas. Photo by Joseph Gresser

copyright the Chronicle July 16, 2014

by Joseph Gresser

NEWPORT — The weather was kind to Newport this weekend, and people enthusiastically turned out for the city’s Aquafest. A celebration of life on the shores of Lake Memphremagog, the event is in its fifth year since its revival in 2009.

The traditional events associated with the festival, such as the Kingdom Swim and the Swimmers and Pet Parade, were included in the festivities with a few tweaks to keep them fresh.

While Newport’s Main Street was closed off for the parade and a street dance Friday evening, the entire city was open for business Sunday.

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Editorial: Newport City Council missed the boat

The Newport City Council missed the boat last week when approached about the possibility of putting a tar sands resolution on the agenda for the annual City Meeting in March.  The council could have welcomed city residents who want to talk about an important local issue.  Instead they snubbed them.

The council told residents and an environmental organizer who wants to put a question about tar sands on the ballot that they might accept a petition from 5 percent of the city’s voters and put it on the ballot.  Or they might not.

Traditionally, the city council has turned down items that are not strictly city business, aldermen told the voters.

In this discussion, they told voters and a representative of the Sierra Club that they should not put anything “politicized” on the ballot.

Isn’t the whole idea of Town Meeting Day about local politics?  How strange for the city’s leading political figures to say they want to avoid politics at their city meeting.

Beyond that, just whose city is Newport anyway?  If 5 percent of city voters want to talk about something, what harm is that going to do?

The city council seems to be saying that tar sands is not a local issue.

City Manager John Ward called the Sierra Club, “just one more lobbying group coming here to tell us how to live.”

But tar sands is definitely a local issue.  The Portland Pipeline goes through Newport Center, which borders the city.  The pipeline goes through a number of towns further south where the rivers drain into Lake Memphremagog.

Does the council believe that an oil spill into rivers and streams leading to Lake Memphremagog would not harm the city’s economy, not to mention the environment?  If there were a spill, we wouldn’t be eating bass, walleye, trout or perch for years to come.

Newport City’s annual meeting is typically a brief, perfunctory affair where almost no one comes and almost nothing is discussed.  The city’s business is done by paper ballot.

Certainly this works well in terms of getting a good number of people to vote on municipal and school budgets and elections.  It’s more convenient for working people to choose their voting time.

But the lack of discussion is unfortunate, and here is an opportunity to allow city residents to have a debate about an issue that could affect the city drastically.  What is the problem with allowing that discussion and even a vote on a resolution?

There is such a thing as being too provincial.  The Northeast Kingdom sometimes has that reputation, and it’s time for that to change.

The city council could have taken a step to welcome discussion on an important regional topic, but instead they mostly closed the door on it.  Why?  Tradition?  Maybe it’s time for a new tradition. — B.M.D.

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What kind of birds fly through Orleans County?

American woodwock.  Photo by Bob Stymeist

American woodwock. Photo by Bob Stymeist

by Martha Steele

Seasons in Orleans County are not just about changing weather, leaves, or recreational pursuits.  They also bring wide swings in bird populations, from the near absence of sound or flight during a mid-winter walk in the woods to the deafening chorus of an early spring morning.

My husband, Bob Stymeist, and I have been regularly visiting my mother in Westmore and chronicling the birds we see and hear all year-round.  In 2013, over 56 days, we tallied a total of 152 bird species in Orleans County for the year, our personal record.  In all, birders recorded 179 species in Orleans County in 2013, according to Cornell Laboratory of Ornithology’s eBird.  Our total number since we started birding the county about a decade ago is 178 species.

Birders love statistics and to keep lists.  A yard list.  A town list.  A county list.  A year list.  A trip list.  A life list.  The term “lifer” becomes a unique word for birders, not only indicating a new species that the birder has never seen, but expanding to anything new to the individual, be it a road, a restaurant, or anything at all.

For us, Orleans County holds special affection.  It is where we welcome back our avian friends every spring.  “Our” wood thrush returns every year to a particular spot on our property.  A northern waterthrush greets us with song every spring morning along the road to Willoughby.  A chestnut-sided warbler sets up territory near our mailbox.  We are truly astonished and moved by the ability of birds to travel thousands of miles to and from their wintering or breeding grounds, only to settle in the same place as the year before.  Welcome back indeed.

These snow buntings were photographed on Schoolhouse Road in Brownington.  Wheeler Mountain is in the background.  Photo by Bob Stymeist

These snow buntings were photographed on Schoolhouse Road in Brownington. Wheeler Mountain is in the background. Photo by Bob Stymeist

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After IROC: White strives to continue outdoor events

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage.  Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games.  Photo by Tena Starr

Phil White at his winter “office” in his garage. Mr. White has just started a corporation called Kingdom Games. Photo by Tena Starr

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — Phil White, lawyer, former county prosecutor, and the man who tried so valiantly to save IROC, has taken on a new venture.

Mr. White has started a for-profit company called Kingdom Games to organize and promote outdoor activities such as biking, swimming and running in the Northeast Kingdom.  Next year, Kingdom Games will offer about 15 events designed for both amateur and professional athletes.   Some of those will be the popular events that IROC hosted, such as the Dandelion Run and the Kingdom Swim.  Others will be new.

“When IROC closed there was a real risk that the summer events would end,” Mr. White said in a recent interview at his modest home on Lake Memphremagog.  He said he couldn’t let them end this past summer, since so many people had already registered.  It would have left a bad taste about the Kingdom if the year’s events had been abruptly canceled, he said.

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