July 17th, 2008
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — Chart-topping heating oil prices have some local fuel vendors considering scrapping pre-buy plans this winter. With fuel oil prices having risen 80 percent in the past two years to near $4.50 a gallon, some say prices have got to fall.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — The cement floors and creaking garage door betray the space’s original purpose — but the photographs, paintings and sculptures arranged throughout the new Gallery at 85 North Street in Bristol signal the little building’s wholehearted transition from storage space to fine art forum.
The gallery is the latest addition to Bristol’s blossoming arts scene, and the darling of artists Karla Van Vliet and Kit Donnelly. The Bristol residents celebrated the opening of the seasonal summer and fall gallery on July 4.
“We wanted to bring our philosophy into the world,” said Van Vliet.
She and Donnelly, who have been friends since meeting in an artists’ critique group several years ago, began concocting plans for the gallery while Donnelly was staying with Van Vliet at her home on Bristol’s North Street, just a quick jaunt from downtown. Both women have been artists for decades — and wanted not only to generate business, but also foster a space for artists and art lovers in town to congregate.
So the two turned their eye on the garage on Van Vliet’s property, which at the time was crowded and dim. But with artists’ eyes attuned to possibility, Van Vliet and Donnelly envisioned clean white walls and gracefully mounted fine art.
“We started dreaming about what we could do with this space,” said Donnelly.
The garage is no stranger to the business of beautiful things. Frances Jeffers, who owned the home at 85 North St. for 40 years before Van Vliet took up residency, ran a flower and vegetable business out of the garage. A Bristol fixture, she plied her customers with well-tended plants and homegrown charm.
The latest business venture, Donnelly said, is a nod to “independent, entrepreneurial women.”
By LEE J. KAHRS
BRANDON –– Robert Martin has worked at Vermont Tubbs for almost 30 years, but at the end of the day Friday he and roughly 90 of his co-workers will be out of work as the furniture manufacturing plant closes its doors.
Despite the efforts of local and state officials to keep Vermont Tubbs afloat in Brandon, the company’s new owners announced last week that the furniture manufacturing plant would be closing its doors July 18.
“We feel terrible for the employees and their families,” said Janet Mondlak, executive director of the Brandon Area Chamber of Commerce. “This is a huge loss for Brandon. We feel helpless, and if there is anything we can do for any of the employees, we will.”
The plant closure comes just six weeks after the company was sold to Brownstreet Furniture, a New Hampshire-based manufacturer of high-end wood furniture. Although new owners Kyle and Adam Tager had initially said they would wait 90 days before making any decisions about the Tubbs plant, the Vermont Department of Labor was informed of the closing July 10. Calls to Tubbs and Brownstreet for comment were not returned.
BSF Transitions issued a press release late Friday saying that it faced the same economic pressures that the previous Tubbs owners faced and that those pressures drove BSF to move operations to Whitefield, N.H.
Martin, 60, works the rough mill machine at the plant. He and his wife, Patty, live in Brandon. Martin said he has seen the company change owners many times in his years at the plant, but last week’s announcement surprised him.
“I didn’t see it coming,” he said. “Everything was going good. Orders were coming in and going out. I assumed everything was fine.”
By JOHN FLOWERS
RIPTON — Ripton officials on Thursday were optimistic their community would soon see basic mail service return to their community, while around a half-dozen people have expressed interest in filling the town’s vacant postmaster position.
Ripton Town Clerk Sally Hoyler said plans call for the U.S. Postal Service (USPS) to provide funding to resurrect delivery and mail handling at the Ripton Country Store, where those services were offered until late last month. However, any financial transactions — like buying stamps — would still have to be handled at the East Middlebury Post Office, which has been handling all mail functions for Ripton since the USPS abruptly closed the tiny community’s post office late last month.
“I think it’s important we get service back as quickly as possible,” Hoyler said. “Getting service back soon works in our favor.”
In an interview on July 9, Hoyler said she hoped service could be restored within days.
Hoyler said plans call for Ripton’s most recent postmaster, Bonnie DeGray, to be re-installed in her position on an interim basis. Other part-timers would be trained to fill in for DeGray during hours she will be unable to cover because of other commitments, according to Hoyler, who is one of the likely fill-ins. DeGray could not be reached for comment.
This interim setup would be in place for roughly 60 days, at which time the USPS hopes to name a new postmaster, according to Hoyler.
Ripton’s post office closed after DeGray’s contract expired and the USPS could not negotiate a new pact satisfactory to both parties. For reasons the USPS has declined to explain, the postal service did not seek another new postmaster before closing the Ripton Post Office.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — The Middlebury Development Review Board (DRB) next week will draft a final list of requirements the developers of a proposed Staples will have to fulfill if they hope to get the green light to build the 14,600-square-foot office supplies store in The Centre shopping plaza off Route 7 South.
Those requirements, according to DRB Chairman John Barstow, may include a “master plan” depicting The Centre and its relationship with, and impact on, neighboring properties; an agreement between the developer (Middlebury Associates, aka Myron Hunt Inc.) and adjacent property owners on links between their respective parking lots to improve traffic flow in and out of The Centre; and landscaping, traffic island and crosswalk upgrades to improve pedestrian safety in The Centre.
Members of the DRB, during a three-hour hearing on the project on Monday, also asked Chris Hunt of Middlebury Associates to request that Staples slightly alter the location of the proposed store. Instead of having it built directly next to Hannaford Supermarket, some DRB members would prefer to see the store moved slightly south within The Centre, on land that is currently used for parking. DRB officials argued the lost parking spaces could be replaced on the spot currently being eyed for the store. They also argued that modifying the design of the store and bringing it slightly forward would give The Centre buildings a horseshoe-type configuration with a courtyard-style parking area that would be more visually pleasing and potentially safer for pedestrians.
Barstow cited the Courtyard by Marriott hotel, located across the street from The Centre, as an example of a company that ultimately agreed to forego prototype franchise architecture to meet the town regulations on architectural aesthetics.
“Nothing is impossible,” he said.
By JOHN FLOWERS
ADDISON COUNTY — There’s good news and bad news for Addison County farmers.
The good news is that milk prices have continued to remain strong, giving dairies a good return on their products.
The bad news is that skyrocketing production costs — particularly in the areas of fuel and feed — have all but negated the more robust return for milk.
“The price of milk and the price of inputs are not balancing,” said Addison County Farm Bureau President Bill Scott. “The cost of fertilizer has doubled, grain prices are way up and freight hauling is going to be up also because of the cost of diesel fuel.
“It’s the same old story,” he added. “Everyone is caught up in the cost squeeze, even though the price of milk is up.”
Bob Wellington, senior vice president economics, communications, and legislative affairs with Agri-Mark/Cabot, forecast a June blend price of $19.40 per hundredweight for milk, up around $1 compared to the May price. He projects another $1 bump in price for July.
It should be noted that the $19.40 represents the price in Boston; Vermont farmers, when factoring in transportation costs for their project, can expect to receive $18.50 to $19 per hundredweight, according to Wellington. He said the firm June price should be released next week.
The problem for many farmers is that even with milk prices now at around $6 per hundredweight more than three years ago, it’s still not enough to keep some farmers afloat.
“Vermont farmers need prices above $20 (per hundredweight) to cover all of their costs, because feed costs are so outrageous, and energy costs,” Wellington said. “It’s a real problem for farmers.”
By KATHRYN FLAGG
BRISTOL — Four weeks after a catastrophic, 40-foot fall from the roof of a Middlebury Main Street business, Robert Demic — the patient doctors are calling the “miracle man” — is looking forward to dancing his way back onto Addison County stages in a year’s time.
“I’ll be tap dancing in a year,” said 54-year-old Demic. “That’s my story and I’m sticking to it.”
Demic tumbled over 40 feet from the roof of Wild Mountain Thyme on June 9 after being knocked from his feet by what he believes was some sort of electrical shock. He was on the roof taking photographs of work he had completed for the business’s owner, Paula Israel. The camera dropped to the roof approximately 15 feet from the roof’s edge — exactly where Demic was standing at the time of what he believes was a massive shock.
“My memory is of being totally surprised, that I got blown backwards,” Demic said.
Israel, who was in her shop at the time, said she felt the building shake and heard “a big thump” — a sound she and Demic believe to have been his body hitting the roof, after which his body continued over the building’s edge.
Demic landed feet-first in a small patch of mud on the bank of Otter Creek behind the building close to the falls. When he came to, he said, he was disoriented but soon noticed his right leg was badly mangled and bleeding. He recalled struggling into the Otter Creek, which runs alongside the building, to wash away the blood from his leg — still dazed and partially incoherent.
By JOHN FLOWERS
RIPTON — Addison County officials are anxiously awaiting word from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) and the White House on whether Ripton, Middlebury and Lincoln will be awarded aid for repairs to roads, culverts and other public infrastructure damaged by a major storm last month.
Gov. James Douglas, a Middlebury Republican, formally requested the federal disaster declaration from the FEMA on July 1. The request is for declarations in Addison and Franklin Counties.
Tim Bouton, a senior emergency planner with the Addison County Regional Planning Commission, was one of several state and local officials who gathered in Middlebury on July 2 to go over a final tally of storm-related damage. Bouton said Vermont’s total estimated damage from the June 14-16 storm is $960,000.
That $960,000 means that Vermont falls $40,000 short of the $1 million threshold required to qualify for a “federal disaster declaration” from FEMA, a declaration that would funnel in grant money from the nation’s capital to cover up to 75 percent of the storm-related damage.
Still, Bouton and other officials said Vermont could qualify for aid based on a per-capita calculation of the damage. On that score, Vermont would qualify, with a per capita damage assessment of $1.24.
In essence, the declaration hangs in the balance at a time when dollars are tight and the feds are processing massive aid requests from the Midwest (major flooding) and California (fires).
“It’s unknown what the response will be from Washington,” said Bouton, who added the all-important verdict is likely to be handed down within the next two or three weeks. “We are hoping that with help from our congressional delegation, we will be successful.”