Armed standoff in Newport

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copyright the Chronicle November 30, 2016

by Tena Starr

NEWPORT — A standoff with a man armed with a rifle at Richard’s All Seasons Lodge, formerly the Bayview Inn, led to a heavy police presence here Tuesday afternoon and evening.

The situation was under control, but not resolved, said Dispatcher Laura Fisher at the Newport Police Department as of press time.

A Newport police officer at the scene said he suspected it could be a long night.

And there were reports that the man had barricaded himself in.

Despite rumors that hostages were involved, Dispatcher Fisher said there were no hostages.

Police closed that section of Pleasant Street off and were not allowing through traffic.

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The NEK’s got jobs — a lot of them

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copyright the Chronicle November 30, 2016

by Tena Starr

Neil Morrissette of Creative Work Solutions is an unabashed cheerleader for the Northeast Kingdom. It has everything, he said in a recent interview.

Including jobs. A lot of jobs. In fact, some employers are near desperate for workers, Mr. Morrissette said.

“There’s so much work out there.”

The economic picture he paints is far from the traditional one, which is that the Northeast Kingdom — generally called the most economically depressed part of the state — is one tough place to get a job.

But Mr. Morrissette’s assessment is backed up by a low unemployment rate in the Derby labor market area. The area’s October rate was the second highest in Vermont, but at 3.7 percent it’s very low nationally and can’t be considered high anywhere.

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At long last, Lake Region reigns

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copyright the Chronicle November 9, 2016

by Tena Starr and Brad Usatch

It’s been nearly 40 years since the Lake Region Union High School boys soccer team made it to a championship game. The last time was in 1978 when they lost to Milton. In the school’s 49 years of existence, the team has often been excellent — but never been a champion.

Until Saturday.

It was a big time payback at South Burlington High School Saturday afternoon when LR once again made it to the championship, and once again faced Milton.

This time, an undefeated Lake Region came home with the trophy and a decisive 4-0 win. Over the course of the season, they outscored their opponents 105-6.

The hard fought first half of Saturday’s game ended 1-0 with the goal by Matthew Lawlor, set up by Riley Urie, who scored three in the second half, pretty much assuring a Lake Region win well before the clock ran out.

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House candidates debate in Westfield

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copyright the Chronicle October 19, 2016

by Tena Starr

A good 60 people came to the community center here Monday evening to listen to Republic incumbent Mark Higley and Democratic challenger Katherine Sims debate the issues. Mr. Higley has been the Orleans-Lamoille district’s representative since 2009. Ms. Sims challenged him in 2012 as well and lost 920-887. Following a recount, the vote was 924-892. The race is hotly contested, and both candidates are working hard for the district’s one seat.

The differences between the two were not as stark as one might expect in view of the fact that one is a progressive Democrat, the other a conservative Republican.

Neither likes Act 46 or the current siting process for renewable energy projects. The two didn’t even clash on gun control. They did differ on legalizing marijuana and their views of the most pressing issues in the district, which includes Lowell, Westfield, Jay, Eden and part of Troy.

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Police mystified by disturbed infant grave

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copyright the Chronicle October 5, 2016

by Tena Starr

BARTON — Police are mystified by a peculiar incident at the St. Paul’s Catholic cemetery here.

In early September, the family of an infant who died more than three decades ago visited the grave and found that it had been disturbed.

“There was dirt where there should have been grass, grass where there should have been dirt,” said Chief Deputy Phil Brooks at the Orleans County Sheriff’s Department.

The family reported the matter to St. Paul’s pastor, the Reverend Tim Naples.

Later, Father Naples and the cemetery commissioner took a look at the grave and agreed that something was odd.

Chief Deputy Brooks said they were concerned that someone had been buried there illegally, so they started digging where the earth had been disturbed.

They were digging soft gravel, and it would not have been soft gravel if the ground had been undisturbed for 34 years, the chief deputy noted.

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Unprepared warns of the coming storm

We are Unprepared, by Meg Little Reilly. Published by Mira. Paperback. 353 pages. $15.99.

Reviewed by Tena Starr

It’s sometime around the present, and youngish, fairly prosperous hipsters Ash and Pia have recently moved to the Northeast Kingdom from Brooklyn. Ash is a native Vermonter, so to some extent, he’s coming home, although the little town he and Pia move to is far from his parents in Brattleboro. Ash and Pia’s dream home is a rambling old farmhouse, and they are settling in to a new, and they hope, fulfilling life as better people. The second wave of back-to-the-landers.

“We talked about self-reliance in those days as if it was a state of higher consciousness,” says Ash, the story’s narrator. “It was the explanation we gave for leaving our jobs in New York and starting a new life in Vermont. We wanted to grow things and build things, preserve things and pickle things.  We wanted to play our own music and brew our own beer. This, we believed, was how one lived a “real” life.”

They’re just three months into this venture, however, when they hear about the storms, more specifically, “the Storm.”

Big, violent storms — tornadoes, hurricanes, wildfires, and floods — have already become the norm, but this one threatens to be something beyond what anyone has yet seen. The federal government is providing regular updates about what to expect and when, urging an unprepared nation to get ready in a hurry for weather the likes of which they’ve never seen.

On the sad day that Ash and Pia learn that they’re not likely to have children, they listen to a National Public Radio reporter quote the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA).  “…due to rapidly rising sea surface temperatures in the Atlantic and Gulf of Mexico, we are now approaching a period of extreme weather events. NOAA is predicting as many as thirty named tropical storms and hurricanes in the coming months, along with likely heat waves and drought, and even severe blizzards.”

And just like that the idyllic life that Ash and Pia had envisioned in idyllic Vermont goes straight to hell. Well, maybe not “just like that.” The path is brief but also tortuous.

We are Unprepared is a well crafted and well written book that does a fine job of illustrating how external tension, in this case the threat of colossal natural disaster, can widen cracks in both a marriage and a community. It’s a page turner, and it has much to recommend it in terms of plot as well — severe weather, a collapsing relationship, and the oh so interesting responses of townspeople to the possibility of impending doom.

Predictably, there are those who turn to religion. And predictably, there are religious hucksters happy to take advantage of them.

Then there are the “preppers,” basically survivalists who have built bunkers and aren’t much interested in a community response to threat, who are skeptical of all authority and mainly interested in how they, personally, will survive.

And then there are people like Salty, the selectman who is intent on being practical (if not always totally legal) and coming up with a plan to protect the community when the storm hits.

As the weather worsens, the situation devolves. The town is under strain, Ash and Pia’s methods of preparing for the big storm clash, new alliances are forged, old ones crack up.

When the storm does hit, it’s with far less warning than anticipated. And it’s a whopper alright. The devastation in state after state is stunning.

This is a good book, no question, and there are lots of people who won’t notice the little flaws that develop as Ash and Pia deal with the weather, which flings about everything that a storm can — torrential rain, sleet, and heavy wet snow. All the while the wind is screaming around the house, and anyone who lives in a Vermont farmhouse surrounded by big old maples knows how dangerous that can be. The remnants of Hurricane Floyd felled one of the ancient maples at this reviewer’s house, turning the porch into kindling and a perfectly good car into a cartoon.

Trapped in the house, with no electricity and the windows boarded up, Ash and Pia wonder how to fill the time. Anyone whose lived through a sustained power outage, especially in winter when it’s dark at 5 p.m., knows that it’s primarily boring. What does one do with a long, dark evening?

They fret about food, though they’ve stocked up well, and no storm lasts for weeks. Going hungry is, realistically, a distant worry. Ash mentions the indignity of not being able to flush the toilet. Most any rural person knows you can still flush the toilet if the power goes out. Just dump some water in the tank. And they had plenty of water — outside if not inside. Over the course of the storm’s worst, Ash and Pia are constantly freezing, huddling in bed with layers and layers of clothing and blankets, and worrying about how to dry their wet clothes with no electricity. What will happen when they run out of dry clothes? Ash wonders.

That particular dilemma mystified me. How does one freeze with a wood stove and plenty of firewood, especially when it’s only cold enough outside for sleet? Plenty of Vermonters heat their homes all winter with a wood stove, even when it’s 20 below. And there are, indeed, people who don’t own clothes dryers but somehow manage to walk around in dry clothes.

Urban and suburban readers aren’t likely to pick up on those details, but I found myself, first, disgusted with Ash and Pia’s ineptitude (for goodness sake, if your clothes are wet, hang them up by the stove), then annoyed by the author, who was exaggerating the consequences of the storm.

Annoyed because there’s little doubt that increasingly extreme weather is in our future (and our present), and we are, indeed, not prepared. So let’s talk about consequences realistically rather than overstate them and feed the naysayers by employing ridiculous hyperbole that can easily be jumped on. It’s too bad to have the story’s plausibility diminished by dwelling on problems that don’t even make sense.

As for the storm itself, I was skeptical, so I asked Steve to do a meteorological vetting of it. He, too, liked the book, and said that it stretches what’s meteorologically possible, but for the most part it does stay within the realm of possible.

Where it falls apart in his view is when the final storm hits. Hurricanes don’t land in North Carolina in February and become category fives while inland and headed toward New Jersey. And the cold front that smashed into it would not have made off on its own. Storms merge; they don’t separate, says Steve. And massive flooding in February? The assertion that six feet of snow melted in the course of a week in February strains credulity.

The author is no lightweight. She has worked as treasury spokesperson under President Obama, deputy communications director for the White House Office of Management and Budget, and producer for Vermont Public Radio. She’s a native Vermonter whose family has a place in West Glover, and she’s a graduate of UVM. She currently lives in Boston.

For all my pickiness here, We Are Unprepared is a book well worth reading. Keep in mind that I am, and always have been, fascinated by extreme weather. (But then I think most Vermonters are.) It’s a well told, complex story that you won’t want to put down.

It’s available on Amazon, and there’s a copy at the Barton library.

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Tony Pomerleau pledges up to $120,000 to St. Paul’s School

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copyright the Chronicle September 28, 2016

by Tena Starr

BARTON — Chittenden County developer Tony Pomerleau has given St. Paul’s School here a very big birthday gift.

He will match every dollar the school raises up to $120,000.

This year the school turns 120. The class that started school this fall is the one hundred-twentieth entering the parish school; the one that will graduate in the spring will be the one hundred twentieth to graduate.

Mr. Pomerleau heard about the anniversary and wanted to do something special because he has connections to both Barton and Catholic schools, said St. Paul’s Principal Joanne Beloin. She said that Mr. Pomerleau is a regular donor to the school, but she certainly never expected a gift of this magnitude.

“He challenged us with such a generous match,” she said on Tuesday. “We did not expect that at all.”

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Communities struggle to find new uses for old churches

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copyright the Chronicle September 14, 2016

by Tena Starr

One of Vermont’s iconic images is the steepled white church that’s at the center of so many villages. But with the number of people who attend services dwindling to near extinction in some cases, the remnants of those congregations are looking at what to do with their gracious old church buildings. Somehow, most of them have been maintained, if lightly used, but that’s getting harder, too.

The First Congregational Church of Westfield stopped having services maybe ten years ago when the handful of remaining churchgoers found the meager pay for a weekly pastor prohibitive. Services there were revived in May with a new pastor, John Klar of Irasburg.

And for the past two years or so Katherine Sims of Lowell and her husband, Jeff Fellinger, have hosted a summer monthly concert series at the building, where once women made enormous batches of pies and sold them as a fund-raiser for the church, where years ago people of all ages attended lively card parties in the basement. The proceeds from the concert series go towards church repairs and maintenance.

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Meth lab discovered in Barton

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copyright the Chronicle May 25, 2016

by Tena Starr

BARTON — Police were taking no chances Saturday at a meth lab found at a Barton home on Cottage Lane between the Crystal Lake state beach and St. Paul’s school. A hazardous materials unit, as well as a clandestine lab team, were at the scene, with both Barton Ambulance and the Barton Fire Department standing by in case of an accident. For much of the afternoon, workers in bulky hazmat suits cleared the building of the volatile chemicals used in making methamphetamine.

On Monday, Terry A. Parson Jr., 33, was charged with both possession and sale of meth, the latter a felony. He pled innocent in the Criminal Division of Orleans County Superior Court and is being held on $100,000 bail.

The Northern Vermont Drug Task Force started an investigation into the distribution of meth in Orleans County late this month. The target was Mr. Parson, court records say. The investigation involved what police call a “source of information” and a “cooperating individual,”…To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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Is there too much syrup?

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copyright the Chronicle May 18, 2016

by Tena Starr

It’s been a banner year for maple syrup – by many accounts the best in the history of the business.

For many sugarmakers that means it’s also a profitable year.  Although the price of bulk syrup is down somewhat, nearly everyone has more syrup to sell than they did last year.

But others, particularly those who are new to the industry, may be struggling to find a buyer for their bulk syrup.  What some have called a glut of syrup also raises the question of whether maple production is outpacing its market, even though that market is growing.

“A lot of syrup has been produced this year, and a lot of the big packers have got what they need,” said Denise Marshall at D&D Sugarwoods Farm in Glover last week.  “Therefore, lots of sugarmakers don’t have a place to sell their syrup this year because there’s so much of it.”

Ms. Marshall buys a couple hundred drums of syrup each year for use at her own business.  She buys more from local customers to resell to Butternut Mountain Farm in Morrisville, a much bigger packer than she is, and a couple others.

She said she finds herself in a tough spot because she’s had the same customers for years and wants to be loyal to them.  But this season she’s been unable to buy all their syrup, because she has no market for it, at least right now, and she’s not quite sure…To read the rest of this article, and all the Chronicle‘s stories, subscribe:

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