September 11th, 2008
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — The latest place to be hard hit by rising food and fuel prices?
The school cafeteria.
As costs are driven up by shrinking student populations and hefty fuel surcharges on food deliveries, many county schools are facing increasingly large deficits in their hot lunch programs — prompting several to hike prices this year from seven to 15 percent.
For the parents of the roughly 51 percent of all schoolchildren who eat hot lunch on any given day, those increased prices add up.
“The (school) boards have been briefed that this is seriously a belt-tightening year,” said Greg Burdick, the business manager for the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union (ANeSU). Five of the district’s six schools saw lunch price increases this year. “The boards all know that it’s going to be a tough year for hot lunch and a tough year for our budget.”
Burdick said that he didn’t know if price increases were any steeper this year than they’d been in the past — but he did say that increases weren’t as “spotty” as they had been in previous years, when they typically occurred at just one or two schools a year.
But even increased prices cannot fully “true” the mounting hot lunch program deficits facing some local schools — deficits that could creep as high as an estimated $70,000 at Bristol’s Mount Abraham Union High School. Mount Abe raised school lunch prices 40 cents to $3.
Outside of the ANeSU, other schools in the county have seen prices rise this year as well.
At Middlebury Union High School, lunch prices are up a quarter to $2.25 per meal. Vergennes Union High School saw prices increase from $1.75 to $2.
BRIDGING THE GAP
By JOHN FLOWERS
SALISBURY — Shard Villa trustees will not proceed with their previously stated direction of closing the elder care facility this fall. They will instead explore fund raising and other avenues through which they hope to keep the stately, 19th-century mansion in the senior care business for years to come.
In July trustees announced that Shard Villa — a historic landmark and one of the state’s oldest senior care facilities — would likely close its doors on Nov. 1. Trustees explained that soaring heating fuel costs and mounting upkeep expenses were making it very difficult for Shard Villa to remain solvent. The 130-year-old mansion in West Salisbury serves around a dozen elderly residents, many of them in their 90s.
But trustees, at a Sept. 7 meeting with staff and client families, confirmed they are now shifting their focus to keeping Shard Villa’s senior care facility open.
“The Trustees of Shard Villa in West Salisbury announced to staff and families this week that the villa will not be closing on Nov. 1,” reads a statement released to the Addison Independent on Monday by Shard Villa Board of Trustees Chairwoman Diane Benware. “The trustees are seeking alternatives that may be available and several board members are part of a task force being convened by the Preservation Trust of Vermont. The task force will conduct a feasibility study to explore what options may be available that will allow trustees to further the mission of the trust. A capital needs assessment is under way, and an energy audit of the structure will be handled by Efficiency Vermont.”
Benware added the task force will make its recommendations to the full board by the end of the year. In addition, a small working group of board members and family members will be focusing on fund-raising efforts.
By JOHN FLOWERS
EAST MIDDLEBURY — Mary Hogan Elementary School board directors are exploring ways of restoring bus service to many East Middlebury families who have had to find new ways to get their children to school since flood waters ravaged the Lower Plains Road Bridge on Aug. 6.
And the current lack of school busing isn’t the only issue pressing on the minds of the approximately 60 affected households on Lower Plains Road, Blueberry Lane, Daisy Lane and Pratt Road. Those residents — who must currently detour several miles to Route 7 via Plains Road (also known as Beaver Pond Road) in Salisbury — are also concerned about how their neighborhood will be served by emergency vehicles and snow plows.
“The biggest thing is you feel cut off from the town,” resident Michael Pixley said on Tuesday. “It’s amazing to think how that little bridge affects your lifestyle.”
Around a dozen affected residents brought their concerns to the ID-4 school board Monday evening. They emphasized the strain the added chauffeuring duties are placing on their personal and professional lives. Some families have had to dramatically reshuffle their schedules.
Jenny Quesnel and her husband, Tawnya, have one child each at the Mary Hogan school, Middlebury Union Middle School and Middlebury Union High School. Quesnel had hoped to re-enter the workforce full-time this month, but has been unable to do so because of her rigorous morning and afternoon drop-off and pick-up duties at all three schools.
“It feels like you’re making a constant circle,” said Quesnel, who placed her weekly fuel bill at around $200.
Quesnel said Lower Plains Road parents were originally told they’d have to supply their own transportation for the first week of school.
By JOHN FLOWERS
ADDISON COUNTY — Mosquito control officials in the state’s three insect control districts — all located in Addison County and Brandon — are getting ready to close the books on what they say was one of the buggiest summers in recent history.
Seemingly incessant rainfall throughout July and early August caused frequent flooding of area wetlands, as well as spillovers of the Otter Creek and its tributaries. The resulting water pooling created ideal conditions for mosquitoes to spawn, hatch and wreak havoc throughout the county.
“Statewide, we’ve been getting a lot of reports and calls of elevated levels of mosquitoes in areas that have never called before,” state Entomologist Jon Turmel said on Thursday. “It’s been because of the amount of rain we’ve had.
“The rain hasn’t been absorbed (into the ground) and there are all these puddles. We just can’t find them all.”
It hasn’t been for a lack of trying.
The Lemon Fair Insect Control District’s airplane conducted more than 40 larvicide dropping sorties throughout the three insect control districts, encompassing Bridport, Cornwall, Weybridge, Brandon, Leicester, Goshen and Salisbury. In all, the plane dumped larvicide — which kills mosquito larvae in their early stages of growth — on a whopping 7,288 acres this summer. By contrast, the Lemon Fair district’s plane dropped larvicide on only 608 acres last year during what was a comparatively dry summer. All of the larvicide drops last year were confined to the Brandon, Leicester, Salisbury, Goshen (BLSG) Mosquito Control District.
“We handle an area that is very large, and it got even larger,” Lemon Fair district Manager Tom Baskett said of the impact of the rainy conditions. “It shifted from day to day.”
By JOHN FLOWERS
BENSON — Nov. 4 could be called “independents day” in Addison-Rutland 1, the Vermont House District that includes Shoreham, Orwell, Benson and Whiting.
That’s because two independent candidates — and nary a Democrat or Republican — are vying for the right to represent the district for the next two years.
Benson Town Moderator John Hill confirmed on Thursday that he will run as an independent challenger to freshman incumbent Rep. Will Stevens, I-Shoreham.
Hill, 56, is an accounts auditor with the firm NEIS Inc. He inspects payroll and sales records for the insurance industry, performing 95 percent of his duties in Vermont.
A Sunderland, Vt., native, Hill and his family have lived in Benson for the past six years. He recently served his community on the Benson school board and is now enjoying his role as town moderator.
“I like fairness and I believe when you give people enough information, they’ll make good decisions,” Hill said.
He believes that same philosophy holds true for a state representative, a role in which he sees himself gathering information on issues to share with his constituents for feedback.
“I’m the people’s advocate to get information out,” said Hill, who is no stranger to political contests. Thirty years ago, he ran as a Democrat in a four-way contest for one of Bennington County’s two seats in the Vermont Senate. Hill recalls finishing a “respectable fourth,” but hadn’t launched another bid for the Statehouse until this year.
He stressed he is not running simply to unseat Stevens.
“My decision is based exclusively on a desire to give back to the community and help the district and state become better,” Hill said.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — Visitors to the Middlebury Farmers’ Market are well accustomed to the cheerful, small-town skyline of tents and colorful pavilions that appears twice a week during the summer and fall.
But one tent slated to crop up at this coming Saturday’s market won’t be peddling the usual assortment of local produce and fresh flowers.
Part interactive art project, part activist awareness prop, the tent is the central symbol of the Tents of Hope movement, a national art project aimed at promoting awareness and action to end genocide in the Darfur region of the African nation of Sudan.
The local incarnation of the project comes to Addison County this month care of the Middlebury College Chaplain’s Office and the Middlebury Area Clergy Association, and will travel to two more Middlebury locations, appearing for three consecutive Saturdays this month before eventually being sent to Washington, D.C., for a rally on the National Mall in November.
“Our main goal is to kind of bring the situation in Darfur to the front of peoples’ consciousness,” said Tim Franklin, the pastor at the Bridport Congregational Church and one of the project’s local organizers. “This is something that for many people is on the edges of their awareness.”
Townspeople will be invited to help paint the tent, and information and petitions will be on hand for those interested in learning more about the Darfur region of western Sudan. The region has been the focus of international attention since government troops and militia groups known as janjaweed began conducting widespread civilian killings in the area in 2004. At least 200,000 individuals are thought to have died, and more than 2.5 million others are believed to have fled their homes in the region.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
VERGENNES — When Ann Rivers, Richard Catchapaw and Anthony Korda got the call from Vergennes Area Rescue Squad (VARS) Operations Officer Chuck Welch last Friday afternoon, the three volunteer rescue workers had less than an hour to make up their minds. Were they ready and willing, Welch wanted to know, to push off for the Gulf Coast — and could they do it in three hours’ time?
With Hurricane Gustav set to bear down on Louisiana and Mississippi, Welch told them, the call had gone out for out-of-state assistance, and American Medical Response (AMR), the private company responsible for contracting emergency response teams for the Federal Emergency Management Agency, tapped the Vergennes crew for help.
The VARS ambulance crew was one of 11 Vermont rescue crews to head south in preparation for Gustav’s landfall. (A mechanical breakdown in Virginia meant that 10 Vermont ambulances arrived by Saturday evening.)
Though they were given just a few minutes to make the decision, all three responders — Korda, from the Town Line First Response team in Bridport, and VARS volunteers Rivers and Catchapaw — pushed off on the 3,000-mile trek to Mississippi last Friday, just over four hours after VARS received the initial call from AMR.
“They drove straight through,” Welch said, and arrived in Jackson, Miss. — a staging area for out-of-state ambulance crews — on Saturday night around 6 p.m.
“We’re pretty fortunate to have dedicated folks that are able to drop everything and go,” he said.
Gustav is not the first natural disaster that has sent VARS volunteers south to chip in while hurricanes chart their course for the states along the Gulf of Mexico.
By JOHN FLOWERS
VERGENNES —A half-dozen Vergennes-area church congregations are joining forces to pull together money, food, clothing and other resources to help needy residents weather high heating fuel prices this winter.
Working together as the Economic Crisis Community Response Team, or ECCRT, the parishioners have already brainstormed such ideas as filling gas cans with enough fuel to get needy households through the night until they can tap into assistance programs, assembling an emergency firewood pile, reaching out to people who may have surplus vegetables in their gardens, and organizing trips to the Wal-Mart distribution center in Johnstown, N.Y., to get free “seconds” for distribution to those in need.
“We all expect (an economic crunch) is coming, because of the cost of fuel,” said Connie Goodrich, chairwoman of the ECCRT. “Our biggest concern is for seniors on fixed incomes and the working parent who doesn’t qualify for fuel assistance or food stamps.”
ECCRT membership currently includes members of the Congregational Church of Vergennes, St. Peter’s Catholic Church, St. Paul’s Episcopal Church, the Ferrisburgh Community Methodist Church, Addison Baptist Church and Vergennes Methodist Church. Organizers will reach out to fellow parishioners and non-church-goers alike in their effort to find resources for people they fear may have to choose between food, medicine and heating fuel this winter.
“We are anticipating a crisis of some kind,” said the Rev. Gary Lewis, pastor of the Congregational Church of Vergennes.
The Addison Independent reported on Sept. 1 that the number of families needing help from the Congregational Church’s food shelf has jumped 25 percent compared to the same time last year. The food shelf is currently helping around 125 households.