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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Newport City continues to struggle with budget

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copyright the Chronicle January 4, 2017

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — City Manager Laura Dolgin and Clerk and Treasurer James Johnson had their heads together Tuesday as they worked to provide budget options for Wednesday’s special city council meeting.

Over the past several weeks of meetings, council members have made clear their strong desire to keep this year’s property tax rate as close to last year’s as possible.

According to Ms. Dolgin, that attitude is unrealistic. In a memorandum addressed to members of the council and sent to them before a special budget meeting on December 29, she said a drop in last year’s tax rate was unwise and will continue to haunt budget-making for the next five years.

The municipal tax rate for the 2016-2017 budget year was $1.1797. A year earlier the rate was $1.1942.

Aldermen lowered taxes artificially last year by offsetting spending with $150,000 taken from the city’s reserve fund, she said.

“The offset effectively reduced the tax rate to pre-2015 rates, creating unrealistic expectations for future tax increases,” Ms. Dolgin said. “In order to recover, larger than expected tax increments will need to occur for the next several years.”

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Plans for Spates Block hole developing

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copyright the Chronicle December 21, 2016

 

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — If a joint effort between Newport, the Northeastern Vermont Development Association (NVDA), and Northern Community Investment Corporation (NCIC) is successful, city residents may see progress toward rebuilding Main Street in the New Year.

According to NVDA Executive Director David Snedeker, the court-appointed receiver who controls property belonging to Ariel Quiros hopes to offer the site of the former Spates Block for sale early in 2017.

If a deal can be struck, Mr. Snedeker said, the property might be held by a nonprofit corporation already created by NCIC until it can be developed.

Newport City Manager Laura Dolgin said Friday that she is seeking more grant funding to hire a real estate consultant to advise on the best use for the downtown site.

According to the city’s form-based zoning code, whatever is built on the block between Center Street and Second Street must have off street parking, retail space on the ground floor, office or commercial space on the second, and housing on the higher floors.

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Downtown business is slow this season

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copyright the Chronicle December 14, 2016

by Joseph Gresser

 

NEWPORT — Retailers are always anxious as the Christmas season, which can be make or break for a business, approaches. This year Newport’s merchants have had the arrival of Walmart in the area added to their normal concerns.

For some, business is somewhat slower, others say they are seeing a more drastic affect. No one is saying business is booming.

One business that appeared to be directly in Walmart’s crosshairs is the Vista Supermarket at Waterfront Plaza. The store’s landlord, Ernie Pomerleau, was in town in October working on plans to allow the supermarket to stay in town.

Tim Merrill, the general manager of markets owned by Associated Grocers of New England, a category that includes Vista, said Mr. Pomerleau’s ideas are important to the future of the store. But, he said his company is “pleasantly surprised” at how well Vista has done in the face of competition from the retail giant’s food department.

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Women queue up for business info

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copyright the Chronicle December 7, 2016

by Elizabeth Trail

NEWPORT — When Tara Lynn Scheidet of Sutton lost her job in 2005, she started her own business making custom natural fiber clothing, particularly wedding apparel.

Since then, Ms. Scheidet has won all sorts of grants and awards to help her move ahead with Tara Lynn Bridals.

She even won the Lowell Barn Pitch this year, but lost out in the state competition in Burlington because her business is too small — nowhere near the $300,000 annual income that investors want to see planned before they put their money down.

So when she heard about a new program called ASPIRE!, which helps Northeast Kingdom women start and grow businesses, Ms. Scheidet was one of the first to sign up.

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