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November 3rd, 2008
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — Bristol’s Prince Lane — the alley space that runs behind the buildings on the north side of Main Street adjacent to the Shaw’s and Rite Aid parking lots — is slated for a makeover, thanks to federal and state funding approved this year.
Bristol was one of five towns tapped last week by the Vermont Downtown Development Board to share more than $300,000 in state grants to pay for transportation infrastructure improvements in their downtowns, officials announced last week.
Bristol’s $74,772 piece of that pie, in addition to $241,000 in federal earmark money secured by Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., last winter, will be used to bury utility and power lines, build a new sidewalk to open up access to the rear of the buildings, clean up neglected areas and improve pedestrian safety.
“The stars were all aligned,” said Bristol Downtown Community Partnership board member Larry Buck, who last week joined Town Administrator Bill Bryant and BDCP President Kevin Harper for a presentation to the Downtown Development Board on the grant proposal.
The plan to bury the utility lines has been in the works for years, according to Bryant. A group that eventually became the Downtown Designation committee conceived the project at least three years ago, while working on achieving official Downtown Designation status, which made Bristol eligible for this grant funding.
Motivation for burying utility lines is “primarily aesthetic,” Bryant said, but those improvements will also allow for new sidewalk construction, which will, in turn, let Main Street businesses provide more handicap-accessible entrances to their buildings.
Buck and Bryant both said that they also hope the improvements will encourage business owners to “spruce up” the rear entrances and backsides to their buildings.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — It took 93 years, but Addison County on Nov. 7 will get its first-ever turn hosting the Vermont farm Bureau Annual Meeting and Convention.
The two-day event will see the state’s farm community discuss the condition of Vermont agriculture and draft priorities to push during the upcoming legislative session. The 54 elected Farm Bureau delegates — including four from Addison County — will conduct their business at the Middlebury Inn.
Tim Buskey, administrator of Vermont Farm Bureau Corp., explained that Addison County had not previously hosted the organization’s annual meeting because there was no lodging/convention venue big enough to accommodate the crowd of 150 or more people the event has drawn in recent years.
But in a bittersweet development for the county, participation at this year’s annual meeting is anticipated to be around 125 people, making it a good fit for the Middlebury Inn, Buskey noted.
“This will be one of the smallest groups we’ve had; it’s simply a sign of the times,” Buskey said. “It has contracted a little bit.”
Indeed, this year’s annual meeting/convention was originally scheduled to by a three-day affair, beginning Thursday, Nov. 6. But Buskey said organizers were forced to cut out Thursday’s program when the major event set for that day — an agricultural business tour — failed to draw enough sign-ups.
Still, farm bureau officials are pleased to finally bring the convention to one of the state’s most active farming counties.
“It gives us an opportunity to see an area we haven’t seen,” Buskey said, noting last year’s gathering was held in Burlington and next year’s will be in Rutland.
Our office will be closed on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 27
Our Thanksgiving edition will be on the stands on Wednesday, November26, and in mailboxes, as usual, on Friday, the day after Thanksgiving.
By JOHN FLOWERS
ADDISON COUNTY — Addison County voters are expected to turn out in droves at the polls on Tuesday, Nov. 4, to cast ballots for the candidates they want to represent them in venues ranging from the Vermont Statehouse in Montpelier to the White House in Washington, D.C.
Locally, there will be contests in four of Addison County’s six Vermont House districts. Officials in some towns will also take advantage of Election Day turnout to decide a school bond (Bridport), a fire equipment purchase (Vergennes) and a possible expansion of the local selectboard (Bridport).
Also at stake on Tuesday will be races for Vermont governor, lieutenant governor, secretary of state, auditor of accounts and treasurer.
And Green Mountain State voters will also make an impact on politics in the nation’s capital, as they decide the next president of the United States and who will represent them in the U.S. House.
Vermont Secretary of State Deb Markowitz said around 64 percent of eligible voters have tended to cast ballots in a presidential election year. She is expecting an even bigger turnout this year.
“I wouldn’t be surprised to see it at 69 percent,” Markowitz said on Tuesday.
She noted town clerks have been seeing a heavy turnout of early voters.
“Some towns have already seen a quarter of their checklist turn out,” Markowitz said. “And there is a national trend out there for voting early.”
As of Monday, around 1,000 of Middlebury’s 4,492 registered voters had voted early or absentee, according to Town Clerk Ann Webster. That’s already a big jump from the total 732 voters who cast ballots early during the presidential election of 2004.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — Matthew Dickinson, a professor of political science at Middlebury College, isn’t your typical blogger.
He’s every inch the bespectacled, professorial type, a Bay Stater who came to Middlebury in 1992 by way of Harvard. And his Web site, “Presidential Power,” reflects that same academic slant. Absent are the flashy ads, graphics, and daily polls — but present in large doses is crisp, thoughtful political analysis.
While that staid approach to election commentary seems to be in the minority among Web sites and blogs tracking the election in its last few days, Dickinson’s blog is growing in popularity among a small cohort of dedicated readers — and first and foremost, among his students.
That, Dickinson said, is his audience. The blog has its roots in a series of e-mails that Dickinson began sending to his students over a year ago. Every fall, the political scientist teaches a class at the college on the American presidency, and he noticed last year that his students had taken a strong interest in the upcoming election. He also noticed, though, that “they weren’t getting the full story.”
“The media coverage, the stuff that they talked about when they came into class, was — inaccurate is too strong a word, but it was misleading,” Dickinson said. That semester, he began e-mailing his students almost every night, commenting on a story in the day’s news that he felt deserved a second look.
Soon, his students were forwarding Dickinson’s e-mails on to parents, friends and other relatives. Before Dickinson knew what had happened, his political e-mails were going out to a diverse and vast list of readers. From there, the leap to blogging — a medium that he said has played en even larger role in this election than in the 2004 race — was a logical choice.
By ANDY KIRKALDY
VERGENNES — On Tuesday, Vergennes aldermen inched closer to possibly supporting the developers of a proposed 25,000-square-foot, $5.8-million elderly housing complex off Monkton Road that would provide a community center and services as well 25 living units.
Aldermen clearly favor the elderly housing, the first phase of a proposed larger project near American Legion Post 14 that would also include a childcare center and 24 affordable, single-family condominiums.
But at the same time they oppose a state law that allows affordable and elderly housing projects to be taxed based on their cash flow, not on their cost to build.
That approach, because most renters pay less than market value, produces a lower assessment and less taxes to host communities. In October 2007 aldermen passed a resolution saying that they would not endorse any block grant applications for affordable or elderly housing units that can be taxed at a lower rate that privately owned property.
The project developers, including Addison Count Community Trust (ACCT) and Housing Vermont Inc., would like to include a $325,000 block grant as part of their funding package, ACCT Director Terry McKnight has been discussing with aldermen a binding document that would obligate the project owners to pay taxes at a rate acceptable to the city.
On Tuesday, the council agreed unanimously a motion proposed by Alderman David Austin that he, interim city manager Mel Hawley — also a city lister — and McKnight meet and work out details.
“What might work now is for Terry, myself and Mel to sit down and see what the potential impacts are,” Austin said.
“I certainly would accept going forward with that condition,” he said.
Aldermen emphasized their support for the project, and their focus on taxpayers.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association (MVAA) is seeking permission to build a new, 11,860-square-foot headquarters on a one-acre site just north of Porter Medical Center.
The new, $1.5 million facility would relieve cramped conditions at the MVAA’s current headquarters off Elm Street and give the growing organization room to expand in the future.
Middlebury College owns the land on which the new building would be built. Plans call for the college to lease the property to the MVAA, which would build a structure that would include a four-bay garage to accommodate up to eight emergency response vehicles; a conference room; a training room; a second-floor storage area; offices; changing rooms; sleeping quarters for up to eight workers; kitchen facilities; an exercise room; and a future dispatching office.
The land slated for the new headquarters currently serves as an emergency helicopter-landing site. That site would be temporarily relocated on the Porter campus.
Dispatching for the MVAA is currently done through Porter Hospital. Bill Edson, executive director of the MVAA, explained that there may come a time when the ambulance association will have to do its own dispatching.
“By building in a dispatching office, it will make that transition a lot easier,” said Edson, who anticipates the new headquarters will meet the MVAA’s needs for at least the next 50 years.
The organization has grown in recent years, mostly due to increasing calls for service. Edson said the organization is on target to answer upwards of 2,000 calls this year, which would be the most in the MVAA’s 30-year history.
The MVAA currently has 13 paid staff (seven of which are full-time); three paramedics; and 47 volunteers who Edson said provide invaluable service, particularly on weekends and during the evenings.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — Skyrocketing grain and hay prices are making the cost of keeping horses harder to saddle for some Addison County stables.
“It’s quite a serious issue,” said Kate Selby, the owner and trainer at the Equestry in New Haven. “In a relatively break-even business for all of us, the rising cost of hay in particular, being so sudden, is hard to handle.”
Higher fuel prices appear to have driven up the price of hay.
Selby said she’s seen hay triple in price from last summer, from roughly $1.50 per bale out of the field to $4.50 today. The Equestry does not put up any of its own hay, unlike some other local stables. With fuel costs so high this summer, though, Selby said she’s heard from other stable owners that their hay cost twice as much to produce this year.
Also increasing, stable owners reported, is the price of grain, with 50-pound bags selling for around $15, said Linda Schmidt, who sits on the board of directors at the Eddy Farm School in Middlebury.
“When you’re feeding 28 horses, that adds up,” said Jill Phillips, the owner of the Wishful Thinking stable in New Haven.
These feed costs — along with rising farrier and veterinary fees, which Selby attributed to high gasoline prices — are “taking a toll,” Selby said.
Despite rising costs and tough economic times, Selby said, most horse owners are doing their best to make ends meet rather than sell their animals.
“If you’ve made the commitment to owning a horse … it’s not the first thing that goes,” she said. “You don’t sell your dog. That’s not the first thing (horse owners) are going to do. They may cut back on lessons but they’re not going to cut back on care.”