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Archive - 2007

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October 29th

Freight back on track in Middlebury but safety questions asked

FRED BARNES, A resident of Middlebury’s Woodbridge Condominiums off Seymour Street Extension, stands on the railroad tracks that run near his home. Barnes is concerned about the potential for future freight train accidents and is circulating a petition asking state and local officials to demand upgrades to the line.
Independent photo/John McCright



10/29/07

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Life returned to normal in downtown Middlebury on Thursday evening as road blocks were lifted and train service resumed following the Oct. 22 derailment of gasoline-laden freight cars near the Merchants Row overpass.

The derailment of 18 rail cars, tentatively blamed on broken track, resulted in the leaking of gasoline from seven tank cars. Emergency personnel closed 30 roads within a half mile of the accident and evacuated businesses and 400-500 residents.

The return to normalcy left some Middlebury officials and residents a little uneasy, wondering if the newly repaired rail line would indeed hold firm for the multi-ton tankers that once again rumbled through the downtown on their run from Albany, N.Y., to Burlington.

“I don’t sleep now,” said Fred Barnes, a resident of the Woodbridge Condominiums complex off Seymour Street Extension, which neighbors the Vermont Railway line on the north end of Middlebury Village. “When I go to bed and I hear a train — and I’ve seen the trains increase their speed on these horrible tracks — it really bothers me. I’m really thinking of the worst.”

Barnes on Wednesday drafted a non-binding petition asking that local and state officials demand the repair/replacement of railroad tracks in Middlebury, and that an “independent auditor/assessor be engaged by the town of Middlebury to assess the quality of any such repairs or replacement of tracks.”

full story

County real estate weathering storm

10/29/07

By ANDY KIRKALDY

ADDISON COUNTY — Local real estate professionals channeled Mark Twain when asked about Addison County’s real estate market: All said rumors of its demise were greatly exaggerated.

Available numbers for the most part backed them, although the figures also uncovered a few soft spots. And the experts acknowledged some uncertainty going forward given the steady drumbeat of bad national news.

Waltham real estate appraiser Bill Benton, also Middlebury’s town assessor, summed things up.

“The national news is doom and gloom, but Addison County and Vermont were spared the worst part of it,” Benton said. “I wouldn’t be too concerned about doom and gloom right here.”

Tom Walsh, owner of Coldwell Banker Bill Beck Real Estate, which has offices in Middlebury and Vergennes, pointed to 2007 Addison Country Board of Realtors Multiple Listing Service (MLS) statistics. He said they have tracked below 2006, but not far below.

For example, he said, the median sales price of a home sold through the county MLS so far this year (half the homes sold are for more than the median price, and half are sold for less) is roughly $220,000, while in 2006 the median sales price stood at about $226,000.

That drop of 2.6 percent can be explained by the softness in the county’s high-end market, Walsh said. As of mid-October, nine MLS homes had sold in Addison County this year for more than $500,000. In the same time span in 2006, 17 homes had sold for more than $500,000.

“That certainly knocks the heck out of your average numbers,” Walsh said.

full story

Bristol group plans eco-cemetery

10/29/07

By CYRUS LEVESQUE

BRISTOL — For some, concern for the environment is a lifelong passion. But the end of life doesn’t have to be the end of one’s commitment to a healthy ecosystem.

A local group is trying to start an eco-cemetery, where the interred are buried in biodegradable caskets without being embalmed, as an alternative to conventional burial methods.

“It’s kind of an ecological alternative to being cremated or having their remains interred in a formal cemetery,” said David Brynn of Bristol. Brynn is chairman of the board of the Watershed Center, which owns the Waterworks Property on Plank Road in Bristol, the possible site of an eco-cemetery. On Sunday, the Watershed Center hosted a public presentation on eco-cemeteries and the feasibility of one in Bristol.

The idea began with a class project by University of Vermont graduate Meghan Bannan, a resident of Essex Junction. “It is a good way to stay environmental when you die,” she said of eco-cemeteries.

About 15 people attended Sunday’s presentation and were interested in starting an eco-cemetery, Bannan said. “The people who were there were definitely open to the idea,” she said.

When Bannan learned about eco-cemeteries during a research project last year, she became interested in starting one in the area. She discussed it with Brynn, director of Vermont Family Forests and a forester for UVM. They decided that the former site of the Vergennes waterworks, now owned by the Watershed Center’s board of directors, might be a good spot.

full story

October 25th

Quick response avert fiery explosions after fuel-filled train cars derail in downtown Middlebury

FIREFIGHTERS STAND BY as an emptied tanker car is lowered back onto its wheels Wednesday at the site of Monday’s train wreck in Middlebury. The cars were all expected to be set back on the tracks and hauled away sometime Thursday.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell



October 25, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Vermont Railway officials have tentatively cited a broken section of rail line as the cause of a train accident that toppled 18 cargo cars in downtown Middlebury on Monday, sending an undetermined amount of gasoline into the Otter Creek.

Fire, police and state environmental officials, fearing an explosion or adverse health effects from breathing gasoline fumes from the spill, cordoned off most of downtown Middlebury to traffic for almost 24 hours after the 2 p.m. accident. During that time crews evaluated the site and began moving the rail car wreckage while keeping the gasoline spill to a minimum.

As of Wednesday afternoon officials said they hoped to have the line open again by late Thursday.

While the accident temporarily inconvenienced motorists and an estimated 400 to 500  residents of the Cross Street/Main Street/South Pleasant Street neighborhoods who had to be evacuated (see related story), Middlebury officials breathed a collective sigh of relief realizing that no one had been hurt and that things could have been a whole lot worse.

full story

Evacuation snarls traffic, pinches businesses

October 25, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Monday’s train accident transformed downtown Middlebury from its usual beehive of activity to an almost eerie no-man’s land.

Local police and fire officials blocked off a whopping 30 roads leading into, and out of, the core village area while investigators and clean-up crews combed through the toppled rail tankers along the Otter Creek near Merchants Row.

Motorists accustomed to traveling through Middlebury via Routes 7, 125 and 30 found themselves making detours.

Authorities established a “hot zone” near the accident site that they sought to keep free of vehicle traffic. That zone extended around the core village area and included all, or portions, of Charles Avenue, Court Square, North Street, Stewart Lane, Methodist Lane, Middle Seymour Street, Park Street, Bakery Lane, Shannon Street, Storrs Avenue, Franklin Street, Chipman Park, Water Street, South Pleasant Street, Cross Street, Duane Court, Mary Hogan Drive, Court Street, Benedict Lane, Merchants Row, Main Street and North Pleasant Street.

Police established two routes around Middlebury for passenger traffic, according to Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley. One led from Route 7 through Buttolph Acres, connecting with High Street. The other, southbound, was from Route 7 to Stewart Lane, followed by Seminary Street to Foote Street to Route 7 south of the downtown.

Vermont State Police stopped commercial traffic at the intersection of Routes 7 and 17 and routed southbound commercial traffic out to Route 22A. Northbound traffic was stopped at Route 125 in East Middlebury before it got into town and it was diverted to Route 116.

full story

College, Town Hall Theater ink $1 million deal

October 25, 2007

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury College has played a strong supporting role in renovating the Town Hall Theater (THT). Now the liberal arts institution is jumping into the act in an even bigger way.

College and theater officials confirmed on Monday that they had formed a partnership that will give the institution and its student body regular use of the THT for productions, rehearsals and mentorships. The college in turn will provide the THT with $1 million over the next 20 years to give the theater a strong financial footing as it prepares for major interior renovations that should allow for an opening next summer.

“It gives the college an extra place to perform as well as a wonderful connection to downtown Middlebury,” THT Executive Director Douglas Anderson said. “We see it as a win-win situation.”

Middlebury College President Ronald D. Liebowitz agreed.

“There are a whole bunch of things we see happening that will bring the college and town arts scenes together,” Liebowitz said. “We are pleased to help make this happen.”

This is the third substantial contribution the college will have made to THT, a 124-year-old building off Merchants Row that is being renovated for use as a performing arts center. The college previously donated $125,000 in both 2001 and 2006.

Boosters have set a $5 million price tag for the project and are just $130,000 short of meeting a $500,000 anonymous challenge grant to reach the fund-raising finish line. Anderson stressed the college’s $1 million commitment should be seen as separate from the effort to match the $500,000 challenge grant.

“We are still trying to raise around $130,000,” Anderson said.

full story

October 24th

Middlebury rail line could open Thursday

By JOHN FLOWERS

MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury Fire Chief Richard Cole reported late Wednesday afternoon reported substantial progress in the clean up of the train derailment that shut down much of downtown Middlebury on Monday.

Vermont Railway officials on Tuesday tentatively cited a broken section of rail line as the cause of a train accident that toppled 18 cargo cars in downtown Middlebury on Monday, sending an undetermined amount of gasoline into the Otter Creek.

Fire, police and state environmental officials, fearing an explosion or adverse health effects from breathing gasoline fumes from the spill, cordoned off most of downtown Middlebury to traffic for almost 24 hours after the 2 p.m. accident. During that time crews evaluated the site and began moving the rail car wreckage while keeping the gasoline spill to a minimum.

As of Wednesday afternoon officials said they hoped to have the line open again by late Thursday.

While the accident temporarily inconvenienced motorists and an estimated 400 to 500  residents of the Cross Street/Main Street/South Pleasant Street neighborhoods who had to
be evacuated, Middlebury officials breathed a collective sigh of relief realizing that no one had been hurt and that things could have been a whole lot
worse.

full story

October 23rd

Middlebury cleans up after rail spill

By JOHN FLOWERS AND JOHN S. McCRIGHT

MIDDLEBURY — Public safety officials on Tuesday morning lifted the evacuation order for the area of downtown Middlebury that was shut down on Monday afternoon following the derailment of a train car carrying gasoline.

Four streets nearest the overturned tanker car remained closed: South Pleasant, Cross, Water and Charles streets. Middlebury Union High School and Mary Hogan Elementary School, which were closed and evacuated on Monday, were reopened Tuesday morning. The Gailer School and Mary Johnson Children’s Center, which are located on closed streets, remained closed on Tuesday.

Downtown Middlebury returned to its normal level of activity after being completely closed down on Monday.

Seventeen cars of a Vermont Railways train derailed on the tracks along the west side of the Otter Creek across the river from Mr. Ups restaurant at a little after 2 p.m. on Monday. The line of overturned cars stretched from the railroad trestle near Water Street to the point at which the tracks go under Merchants Row.

Officials said that 14 of the cars carried gasoline and the three at the north end were carrying road salt. Spillage of gasoline and salt was minimal, and a firefighters quickly extinguished a small fire.

“This could have been MUCH more catastrophic had there been explosion or major spillage,” Middlebury Town Planner Fred Dunnington said in a release Tuesday morning.

Only one rail car sustained any substantial loss of gasoline, officials said on Monday evening. Nevertheless, local firefighters and state hazardous materials teams set up booms in the Otter Creek just above the Middlebury Falls as a precaution.

full story

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