Welch talks health care at North Country Hospital

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copyright the Chronicle July 12, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — U.S. Representative Peter Welch sandwiched a visit to congratulate Revision Military for winning a $98-million contract between meetings with Orleans County organizations, including North Country Hospital, here on July 6.

Representative Welch also looked in at the Lunchbox at Gardner Park. The food truck is a project of Green Mountain Farm-to-School and serves free lunches to children around the county.

Mr. Welch filled a few orders, but spent much of his time talking with Farm-to-School’s recently appointed executive director, James Hafferman, and with Superintendent John Castle of the North Country Supervisory Union, who serves on the Farm-to-School board of directors.

Both men shared concerns about proposed cuts to the federal budget they said could seriously hurt their organizations. Over plates of salad they discussed the potential for harm they think might come from actions being contemplated in Washington, D.C.

Mr. Castle worried that the North Country Supervisory Union could lose $500,000 in Medicaid funds it uses to support a variety of programs in schools around the area, including drug and alcohol counseling.

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Overdose awareness walk is a step toward sober living space

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copyright the Chronicle June 28, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Tara Patten called Charles Buckland Jr. “my best friend” as she talked about his overdose death. She was speaking to a crowd of around 80 people gathered around the gazebo in Gardner Park here Saturday.

In front of the stage, a cluster of 104 small purple flags indicated how many people died last year from overdoses.

Mr. Buckland died from a fentanyl overdose in December 2014. Ms. Patten said he was a loving, caring, and funny man, who had a problem that took his life.

The crowd gathered to hear her speak was there because of a result of a pledge Ms. Patten made after Mr. Buckland’s death. She pledged to do something for those struggling with opiates in the Northeast Kingdom, specifically to create a sober living center in the area, complete with the services someone in recovery might need.

Ms. Patten’s first step was organizing NEK Stand Strong. The nonprofit is just getting its legs under it and waiting to get tax-exempt status from the Internal Revenue Service.

Saturday’s Overdose Awareness and Memorial Walk was the first step in achieving her organization’s main aim, Ms. Patten said.

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Newport reappraisal could lead to drop in tax rate

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copyright the Chronicle June 21, 201

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — The preliminary results of the citywide reappraisal are in and, while some property owners are unhappy with the jump in their assessment, Newport’s government is breathing a sigh of relief.

At present, the total value of the proposed Grand List stands at around $399-million, according to Newport City Manager Laura Dolgin. That is well above the $315-million valuation that was predicted last January.

That figure is far from the final word. Taxpayers have the right to grieve their assessment, and it will take a couple of months to resolve most challenges.

But if the result is close to the early figures, it could mean a substantial drop in the municipal tax rate.

The Grand List figure used for budgeting in 2015 and 2016 was $258-million. When members of the city council began work on the current budget, they believed the Grand List would rise to $330-million.

During their deliberations City Assessor Stewart Potter told the council that the actual figure would be closer to $315-million.

Newport’s budget was already expected to rise about $360,000 from the 2016 level of $4.81-million to $5.18-million.

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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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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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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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Trade case could lead to jobs at Columbia Forest Products

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copyright the Chronicle April 26, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Columbia Forest Products, along with several other manufactures of hardwood plywood, scored a preliminary victory in an international trade case that could mean as many as 70 new jobs at the company’s Newport veneer mill.

The Coalition for Fair Trade in Hardwood Plywood, which includes Columbia and five other producers, filed complaints with the U.S. International Trade Commission (ITC) and the Department of Commerce Enforcement and Compliance arm, in November.

The group complained that Chinese manufacturers have been dumping their products in the U.S. and get unfair support from the Chinese government.

The coalition tried to get the commerce department to slap penalties on Chinese plywood in 2012. That effort ended in failure when the ITC ruled against the domestic producers.

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Congressman swings through Northeast Kingdom

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copyright the Chronicle April 26, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — U.S. Representative Peter Welch brought his spring recess tour of the state to the Northeast Kingdom on April 20 with a visit to Derby and Newport.

The state’s only Congressional member asked local leaders what they need from the federal government, but the news he offered in exchange was not particularly good.

Mr. Welch said the budget President Donald Trump proposed completely eliminates two programs that have provided a great deal of benefit to the region in past years. They are the community development block grant program and the Northern Border Regional Commission.

Both have brought millions of dollars to Vermont for infrastructure, housing, and other community projects.

Mr. Welch said both programs are especially important in rural states, noting that a number of his Republican colleagues represent such areas. The Congressman said he thinks it possible that a bipartisan coalition will keep the proposed cuts from going into effect.

He held his first meeting of the day in Derby, where officials from Derby, Newport, and Derby Center came together to tell Mr. Welch the kind of work they will need to do over the next few years to maintain basic services.

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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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