Can Newport emulate St. Albans’ renewal?

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copyright the Chronicle April 5, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

ST. ALBANS CITY — The St. Albans City Hall is an elegant structure, dating from the time it was known as the Railroad City. The high ceilings and tall wooden doors are indications of a past when citizens flaunted their community’s wealth through architecture.

Today city hall has just undergone a $2.3-million renovation and emerged as a stunning reminder of the past and a declaration of St. Albans’ present day ambitions.

City Manager Dominick Cloud has an office on the second floor looking out over Main Street. From his window he can point to a pair of the projects that are part of the city’s plan to remake itself. To the left, Mr. Cloud can point to a large Ace Hardware store.

He explained that the city bought the land where the store is, tore down a vacant building, and found a buyer, who was looking to expand an existing store.

To the left, Mr. Cloud indicated an empty lot and three vacant buildings that he hopes will soon get the same treatment.

The two examples hint at the larger strategy the city has been putting into practice over the past several years, taking calculated risks designed to expand St. Alban’s Grand List and make the downtown look sharper and more welcoming.

So far, Mr. Cloud said, St. Albans has invested $16-million and added $50-million to the Grand List.

“It’s a pretty good return,” he conceded.

St. Albans’ track record has certainly caught the eye of leaders in Newport, who hope to make use of the lessons it has learned as they look for ways to reinvigorate their city’s downtown.

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Dairy farmers and new farmers face a divide

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copyright the Chronicle April 5, 2017

by Elizabeth Trail

 

 NEWPORT — When Dave Simonds and Sarah Gardner slept at a “farm stay” bed and breakfast not too long ago, their host apologized for the dairy farm down the road.

“We’re trying to clean it up,” she assured them. Her special angst was reserved for the silage pit, which was covered in plastic weighted down with tires.

“Horrible,” she said. “I call them dirty farms.”

What the bed and breakfast owner meant was that the farm down the road was a real working farm, not a glorified petting zoo like the carefully choreographed farm stay she was offering to tourists from the city.

What she didn’t know was that her guests were the director and producer of a film called Forgotten Farms, a documentary on how traditional dairy farms and dairy farmers are being left behind in the popular embrace of local food movements.

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Raboin, Merriam named to Newport council

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copyright the Chronicle March 29, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The Newport City Council is again up to full strength. After a special meeting Monday night to select two new members, the council is no longer the all-male bastion it has been since the death of Karin Zisselsberger ten years ago.

With the choice of Julie Raboin and James Merriam, the council has also given itself a more youthful appearance.

Ms. Raboin, a substance abuse prevention consultant with the state Department of Health, and Mr. Merriam, who is lead pastor at the United Church of Newport, were chosen from a field of four.   That field also included Woodman Page, who returned to Newport after a career in the Air Force and the Department of Defense, and Ira Morgan Jr., former owner of Hellbilly Hideaway in Derby, and a driving force behind the creation of Newport’s first skate park.

At its meeting on March 13 council members asked interested parties to submit applications for the seats left vacant by the surprise, and as yet unexplained, resignations of Steven Vincent and Neil Morrissette on Town Meeting Day.

Applicants were given until March 22 to volunteer for the post. The council decided to hold the interviews for candidates in open session, but to deliberate on their choice behind closed doors.

Mayor Paul Monette also invited community members to submit suggestions for questions to be asked of the candidates at the open forum.

 

 

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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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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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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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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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Diaz pleads the Fifth, then testifies

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copyright the Chronicle February 1, 2017

 

by Elizabeth Trail

 

NEWPORT — Immediately after she took the witness stand in Orleans County Superior Court on Monday, Cynthia Diaz invoked the Fifth Amendment.

“Hadn’t you better hear the questions first?” Judge Howard VanBenthuysen asked Ms. Diaz, who appeared in court without an attorney. “Some of them might be to your benefit to answer.”

The Coventry town clerk, treasurer, and delinquent tax collector was back in court to answer a motion for contempt. It was filed on behalf of the town by attorney Paul Gillies after she allegedly failed to meet a December 30 deadline to turn over all original town documents in her possession.

Ms. Diaz brought a thumb drive and a foot-thick stack of papers to court on Monday but that didn’t even come close to being what the town of Coventry believes is missing.

After a lengthy recess to allow Mr. Gillies, forensic accountant Jeff Graham, and 
Coventry Selectman Scott Morley time to look over the documents, Mr. Gillies pronounced them “insufficient.”

“The missing records we asked for would fill a six-foot by six-foot square about six feet tall,” Mr. Graham told Judge VanBenthuysen, “not the small pile she brought to court today.”

“Are these all the town documents you have?” the judge asked Ms. Diaz.

“All the original town documents, yes,” Ms. Diaz replied, stressing the word “original.”

Judge VanBenthuysen ordered Ms. Diaz to hand over all town records in her possession, whether she considered them original or not.

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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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