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November 5th

$2.25 million in rail upgrades planned for Middlebury

November 5, 2007


MIDDLEBURY — The Vermont Agency of Transportation (AOT) will soon initiate a total of $2.25 million in repairs to approximately eight miles of railroad line that will encompass much of downtown Middlebury and extend into New Haven.

That was the word last week from AOT Rail Program Manager Richard Hosking, who said work had been scheduled even before the Oct. 22 train accident in Middlebury that saw 18 freight cars derail with some of them spilling gasoline into the Otter Creek. Vermont Railway officials have cited a broken section of rail line as the cause of the accident.

Hosking said the first leg of the project will involve replacing rail ties and tracks beginning at the line’s intersection with Elm Street, extending south for around three miles. Work on the ties — the wooden planks that the metal tracks sit on — is scheduled to begin next spring. The AOT will then contract with an outside firm to replace the actual rail in a job Hosking hopes will begin next fall.

The AOT has budgeted $1.5 million for this segment of work, according to Hosking.

Also slated for work next year is a segment of the rail line extending from Elm Street north for around five miles into New Haven. That project, budgeted for $750,000, will involve replacing rail ties.

“In the future, we may come in to replace the rails,” Hosking said. “The rail there is in better shape than the rail south of Middlebury.”

In the meantime, he believes the current rail line in Middlebury is safe for freight traffic — in spite of some of the split ties and loose spikes that have unnerved area residents.

“The rail that’s in there now is perfectly adequate,” Hosking said. “The reason we are replacing it is to make sure any improvements we do meet passenger rail status.”

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Photographs represent a requiem for wildlife

November 5, 2007


MIDDLEBURY — The deer hangs upside-down above fresh snow, a chain wrapped around the base of its antlers seeming to pull it closer to the ground. On one side of the dead animal is the grill of a truck, on the other a folded lawn chair. 

The black-and-white photograph, taken on Route 100 in Londonderry, was the first in a series Orwell artist May Mantell began upon moving to Vermont eight years ago, a series that focuses on animals killed, intentionally or otherwise, and their unlucky place in the human world.

A show of the photographs, titled “Animals, a Requiem,” is on display at the Johnson Gallery of the Christian A. Johnson Memorial Art Building at Middlebury College through Monday, Nov. 12. On Wednesday, Nov. 7, at 4:30 p.m. Mantell will discuss her work in a talk at the gallery.

For Mantell, taking pictures of dead animals is a way to acknowledge not just the indifferent human approach to animal death, but to human death as well.

“I think of them as poems about mortality,” she said.

This became clear to Mantell in 2003 at the start of the Iraq war. At the same time, almost to the day, she brought her camera to the Orwell coyote derby and took pictures of piles of coyote corpses as they were dusted with a light snow. That’s when she knew her work over the last few years had a theme.

“It wasn’t anything I could put my finger on,” she said. “It was just a real sadness about the way humans often treat each other and other creatures, without considering the preciousness of life.” 

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November 1st

WWII vet honored 62 years later

LIFE-LONG MIDDLEBURY resident Charlie Novak was presented on Sunday with a belated bronze service star in recognition of his service in the Pacific during World War II.
Independent photo/Trent Campbell

November 1, 2007


MIDDLEBURY — It was 62 years ago that an Army medic all but laughed at the notion of recommending Charlie Novak for a Purple Heart for a shoulder wound he received in 1945 during an air raid on the island of Leyte in the Philippines during World War II.

Novak, a Middlebury native, never really felt slighted by the medic’s actions.

“I kind of got a kick out of it,” Novak, now 86, said last week.

Well, the United States government last month made up for any shortchanging of recognition for Novak and more than 70 soldiers who served with him in the 317th Troop Carrier Group of the U.S. Army Air Force. In a belated move that has yet to be fully explained, the U.S. military last month awarded Novak and his comrades the Asiatic Pacific Campaign Medal with Bronze Service Star Attachment, in recognition of their actions during WWII in the Pacific.

Gov. James Douglas formally presented Novak with the award, along with two other medals, at a special ceremony at the Middlebury American Legion headquarters on Wilson Road on Sunday, Oct. 28.

“I’m very proud,” Novak said, his voice brimming with emotion as he looked down at the shiny medal that was more than a half-century overdue.

“I have some good memories, but also some bad memories, because a lot of good guys were killed,” he said.

His military journey began in 1941 in a rather unconventional fashion.

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Migrant workers to breathe easier under new Middlebury policy

November 1, 2007


MIDDLEBURY — Undocumented migrant workers in Addison County who have steered clear of the public eye for fear of being deported can now walk openly without fear in Middlebury — providing they abide by the law, just like any citizen.

The Middlebury Police Department recently adopted a new policy on how to respond to reports of undocumented foreign nationals. The policy stipulates that Middlebury officers will only report to federal authorities undocumented foreign workers who:

• Have committed a crime.

• Are “suspected of conduct or conspiracy that is criminal in nature … or which undermines homeland security.”

• Are suspected to be involved in human trafficking, or have “no credible means of identification nor any U.S. citizen or consular officials to provide identification, country of citizenship, residence and purpose for their presence for the United States.”

The new policy, unanimously endorsed by town selectmen last week, also states that Middlebury police will accept the validated Mexican Consular ID card, or “Matricula Consular,” as proof of identity and documentation. Middlebury now becomes one of only a few communities in the state to recognize the controversial Matricula Consular as a valid ID.

“We wanted a standardized way on how to deal with undocumented immigrants,” Middlebury Police Chief Tom Hanley said. “Obviously, it’s a looming issue in Addison County, with the numbers (of undocumented foreign workers) we have here.”

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Personal battles show challenges of eating disorders

November 1, 2007


MIDDLEBURY — At a doctor’s visit about a year and a half ago, Jade Denny, who was 19 and five feet tall at the time, weighed in at 60 pounds. She had been anorexic since her junior year at Vergennes Union High School, but it wasn’t until this appointment that she acknowledged she had a problem.

If Denny didn’t get help now, her doctor told her, she was going to die.

“When am I going to die?” she asked.

“A week or two, a month, maybe more,” she recalled her doctor saying.

But it wasn’t easy getting help. On paper, Denny looked fine. Her pulse and blood pressure were normal; the hospital wouldn’t admit her.

Over the next month or so, a nutritionist tried to reintroduce her to food. She ate, knowing it was a matter of life or death, but still entrenched in her eating disorder, she began refusing liquids. Her mother, Maria Farnsworth, would later see this as a blessing in disguise; dehydration was her ticket to Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Once admitted, Denny and her mother could meet with a mental health team to talk about treatment for her anorexia.

According to ANAD, the National Association of Anorexia Nervosa and Associated Disorders, approximately 7 million women and 1 million men in the United States currently suffer from eating disorders, including anorexia, or self starvation; bulimia, eating large amounts of food and then purging that food by vomiting or using laxatives or diuretics; or binge eating. 

Denny was one of about 2 percent of adolescent girls in the U.S. with anorexia.

“I said to Jade that day (at Fletcher Allen), ‘This is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to say, but this isn’t working and you can’t come home,’” Farnsworth said. “‘You need to go and get help.’”

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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



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.”

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County real estate weathering storm



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.

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Bristol group plans eco-cemetery



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.

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