Some skeptical of Conte expansion

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copyright the Chronicle October 18, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

A federal plan to expand the Sylvio O. Conte, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife refuge that includes thousands of acres in northeastern Vermont, has met with skepticism in some circles. One of the more influential of those skeptics is Governor Phil Scott.

The Conte, as it’s often called, was established in 1997 to conserve native plant, fish and wildlife species, as well as ecosystems, throughout the Connecticut River watershed. Currently, it includes a little over 36,000 acres within parts of the four watershed states of New Hampshire, Vermont, Massachusetts, and Connecticut. About 25,000 of the Conte’s acres are in Vermont, primarily in Essex County.

The federal government wants to add about 60,000 Vermont acres to the refuge — not through eminent domain, but by buying the land from property owners, or by acquiring conservation easements.

Nonetheless, it has generated concern about how municipalities and the forestry industry will be affected. While no one wants to say they oppose conservation in theory, in practice it can have unintended consequences.

Last month, Governor Scott wrote Department of the Interior Secretary Ryan Zinke expressing concern about the proposed expansion.

“Unlike many western states, where large percentages of land are owned or controlled by the federal government, our land use history and heritage centers on private ownership,” the Governor wrote. “These lands provide our citizens with recreational opportunities, an exceptional quality of life, and jobs.”

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Fire destroys landmark barn in Barton

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copyright the Chronicle October 11, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

BARTON — State Police are looking for information about the Monday afternoon fire that burned the landmark barn known as The Pines to the ground. Firefighters poured a steady stream of water on the farmhouse, which suffered only minor damage, but the barn burned in a hurry.

In a press release issued shortly before midnight on Monday, Detective Sergeant Michael LaCourse said the cause of the fire is undetermined, but remains under investigation.

“Investigators are aware that numerous people took photographs of the fire in its incipient stage and would like to speak with anyone that may have witnessed the fire,” the release says.

A young woman at the neighbor’s house called in the fire after noticing flames shooting out the upper story where hay was stored.

Michael and Kim Riendeau of Brownington own the Kinsey Road property. They said there were no animals in the barn at the time; they were still out to pasture because of the good weather.

The Riendeaus have owned the place for about a year and a half. Before that, Jim Young and Raymond Leblanc owned it, and it was frequently used for livestock and equipment auctions under the name of Northeast Kingdom Sales.

Mr. Riendeau said on Tuesday that he was on his way home from Poulin Grain in Newport Monday afternoon when he ran into his son John in Orleans, who stopped him and told him the barn was on fire.

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Where have all the colors gone?

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copyright the Chronicle October 4, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

State officials and others are still hoping for good fall foliage color, but at the moment Vermont’s famous fall color isn’t too colorful. In many places, it’s still largely green, and some trees have simply dropped their leaves after they turned crispy brown.

We’re not just talking about pretty scenery here. According to Phil Tortura, communications director for the state’s Department of Tourism and Marketing, upwards of 3 million people show up in Vermont in the fall, presumably to look at the leaves. That’s a real boost to the economy, as well as the state’s tax base.

“Peak foliage season often has some of the busiest, if not the busiest, tourism weeks of the year,” Mr. Tortura said.

Early October of 2015, the last year for which there is data, was, in fact, the busiest tourist time of that year, he said.

“If we define fall as September, October and November, Vermont had approximately 3.2 million out-of-state visitors in 2015,” he said.

Those visitors spent $600-million in food, lodging, travel, and other retail sales and second home expenses, Mr. Tortura said. They spent $109-million on overnight accommodations alone.

And the state received more than $37-million in meals and other tax money from activities in those three months, he said.

October 10-12 was the busiest tourist three days of the entire year in 2015, Mr. Tortura said.

So, foliage is clearly a big part of Vermont’s tourism economy, but visitors this year might end up being disappointed. Or not coming at all.

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State seeks ways to boost rural economy

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copyright the Chronicle October 4, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

BARTON — Bleak as the picture for dairy so often is in Vermont, it’s the decline of the state’s forestry industry that people wanted to talk about Tuesday at a Senate Agriculture Committee hearing on farming, forestry, and the rural economy. The Barton meeting drew about a dozen people.

The commissioners of agriculture and forests, parks, and recreation were present, as was the deputy commissioner of forests, parks and recreation.

Senate Agriculture Committee Chair Bobby Starr of North Troy said the committee is traveling around Vermont listening to ideas about how to improve the rural economy.

“It’s important for us to hear what you folks would like us to do,” he said. “Believe it or not, we work for you.”

“We are going to take all the comments and ideas and try to come up with a few pieces of legislation that will help rural Vermont and outlying areas,” Mr. Starr said.

The meeting also provided information about what is already being done.

Agriculture Commissioner Anson Tebbetts said he actually had some good news to report.

Many Vermonters who work in agriculture attend the annual Big E fair in Massachusetts in the hope of acquiring new and bigger markets, Ms. Tebbetts said.

Visitors to exhibits on Vermont Day were at an all time high, he said. He said there were 171,897 visitors on just the one day. Put that in perspective, he said, and that’s like one-fifth of Vermont was there.

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Widow shares story of husband’s decision to end his own suffering

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copyright the Chronicle September 20, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

EAST CHARLESTON — Eric Stevens was 67 years old last year in July when his son-in-law carried him out to the porch, where, surrounded by his immediate family, he ate a pudding-like mixture of Seconal and maple syrup. Soon, possibly within minutes, he was dead.

Mr. Stevens was a musician and an avid outdoorsman. In a photo taken less than two weeks before his death, he looks young for 67, tanned and robust, his dark eyes looking into the camera in the straightforward manner he was known for.

But he was far from robust by then. He had an advanced case of multiple systems atrophy (MSA), a rare neurological disease.  It’s similar to Parkinson’s, but crueler.  Parkinson’s victims often develop dementia towards the end.  Those who suffer from MSA do not.  Their bodies shut down bit by bit, but the brain is acutely aware of every bodily failure, every indignity, of the next dreadful step in the progression of their fatal disease.

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Orchard owner searching for stolen apple trees

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copyright the Chronicle September 20, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

BARTON — Randolph Cross of West Glover is looking for information about who stole two of his best apple trees.

Mr. Cross, who lives on Parker Pond, also owns property on Route 16 in Barton, just north of Glover Village. He’s put up a garage there, and has perennial gardens, a vegetable garden, and a small orchard with apple and nut trees — walnuts, pecans, and chestnuts.

“It’s something to do, to keep my mind working and to keep active,” he said.

It’s a tidy and well-tended place that Mr. Cross said is something of an experiment — to see what grows and thrives here. He did auto repair for 40 years, which is why he built the garage, he said.

The apple trees were four years old and producing well, Mr. Cross said. His theory is that someone dug them up to transplant them in the woods, or a field somewhere, to bait deer.

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Lawsuit alleges voter fraud in Victory

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copyright the Chronicle August 23, 2017

 

 by Tena Starr

 

VICTORY — In a town the size of Victory, whose population is about the size of a big extended family, a small number of votes can make a very big difference in a local election. In fact, former Victory Town Clerk Tracey Martel claims four votes in particular, which she alleges were illegal, contributed to her defeat as town clerk and treasurer at Town Meeting in March.

She also claims that others who might have voted for her were prevented from voting. Her opponent, current and incumbent Town Clerk Carol Easter, actively kept people from voting by failing to mail absentee ballots on a timely basis and challenging some people’s residency, Ms. Martel charges.

She has sued the town, Ms. Easter, the Victory Board of Civil Authority, and a host of others — 18 people or entities in all — including Robert and Toni Flanigan and their two adult sons, who she says are residents of Connecticut, not Victory, and should not have been allowed to vote in the March Town Meeting election for local office.

The lawsuit is the latest, or near latest, in Victory where conducting town business can be so fractious that law enforcement attends select board meetings. Essex County Sheriff Trevor Colby said the town has contracted with his Sheriff’s Department to provide security at all select board meetings.

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Beware of fake eclipse viewing glasses

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copyright the Chronicle August 16, 2017

 

 by Tena Starr

 

Northeast Vision Center in Newport recently bought 100 pairs of special glasses to hand out to patients so they could safely watch the August 21 solar eclipse. They intended the glasses to be a gesture of good will, a service to their customers.

But on Monday Amazon delivered the unfortunate news that the glasses might not be safe after all.

Now, Northeast Vision is urging patients who received the glasses to throw them away. Instead they can come in and get a new pair that will be safe.

The problem, Sophie Logan at Northeast Vision said, is that the market has suddenly been flooded with fraudulent eclipse-viewing glasses as a result of the rare eclipse. And the fraudulent marketers have gotten very good at making their fakes appear to be the real thing.

“We are all so devastated,” Ms. Logan said. “Thank God we only had 100 of them to give out. We have 100 to replace those now, and we’re getting another 100 on Friday for people to come and get.”

The result of viewing a partial solar eclipse without proper glasses could be blindness, Ms. Logan said.

“It’s pretty scary stuff,” she said. “I feel like everyone should be aware of this. In general, I know a lot of people who have ordered from Amazon.”

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Bleak outlook for forestry industry

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copyright the Chronicle August 2, 2017

 

by Tena Starr

 

Nearly 50 years ago, a few weeks out of high school, Ken Davis had a tiff with his farmer father that set him on a new career course. Instead of a farmer, he became a logger.

And for nearly half a century that’s pretty much how he’s made his living.

Until recently, that is, when the venerable logging industry went to pieces, especially in the Northeast Kingdom.

“I gave it up over a year ago,” Mr. Davis said in a recent interview. “I logged for 48 years. It’s pretty bleak out there from a logger’s point of view.  I couldn’t make a profit anymore.”

He still operates a logging station in Hardwick, meaning he takes in wood from loggers, then finds a market and distributes it.  But even that has become increasingly precarious, he said.

“We aren’t sure what the future is going to bring. We did find a pine market up in Maine. That’s helped us. We’re still in business, but it’s a dire situation.”

 

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Non-stop rain taking its toll on farmers

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copyright the Chronicle July 19, 201

 

by Tena Starr

 

Farmers, who have been accused of complaining about the weather even more than most Vermonters, have good reason this year.

It’s rained, and it’s rained some more, making it nearly impossible to get in dry hay. Plus it’s often been on the chilly side. And in few places did corn reach the hoped for knee high by the Fourth of July stage.

It’s no one’s imagination that it’s been raining a lot, but since that rain has frequently come in the form of showers rather than a uniform, steady rainfall, some places have fared a little better than others.

At the Fairbanks Museum in St. Johnsbury, it rained 18 out of 31 days in May; 18 out of 30 days in June; and half of the first 16 days in July.

At meteorologist Steve Maleski’s weather station in Sutton, measurable rain was recorded 21 out of 31 days in May, including nine out of the first ten days; 20 out of 30 days in June, including six consecutive days to start the month, and 11 out of 12 days between June 19 and June 30. It rained nine out of the first 16 days of July.

The Chronicle’s recent weather records, which are from Brownington, say that between June 13 and July 17 it rained 23 out of 35 days.

Gary Lyman of West Glover said this is his forty-third year farming, and he’s “never been through anything like this year. It’s wicked tough.”

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