August 18th, 2008
By ANDY KIRKALDY
FERRISBURGH — Addison County fire service veterans see the banners outside of the Ferrisburgh Fire Department’s Route 7 station as signs of the times.
Those recruiting banners read: “Volunteers Wanted, It’s easier than you think” and “Seeking Volunteers, You CAN Do It!”
Ferrisburgh Fire Chief Bill Wager said until recent years his volunteer department has had about 30 firefighters. Now, with recruiting failing to keep pace with retirements and resignations, his ranks have dwindled to 19.
It’s getting to the point, Wager said, where Ferrisburgh’s tactics at fires may be changed: Federal safety rules reasonably require, for example, that two firefighters remain outside a burning structure for every two who enter it.
“I think we’re going to be faced with being much more creative with staffing and how we engage the fire, what tactics we’re using ... whether we make an attack on the fire or take a defensive posture to protect other structures,” he said.
His department also calls other volunteer departments for mutual aid for significant fires, and now must cast a wider net asking for help: Many other towns also have fewer volunteers available to respond.
“Usually we called one or two departments to get enough staffing, but now we call four or five departments,” Wager said.
While they have some ideas on how to create incentives for new recruits and many departments’ numbers remain healthy, fire service leaders say the problem is widespread in the county, state and nation.
Addison County Firefighters Association President and Vergennes Fire Department Deputy Chief Jim Breur said numbers are down in many communities, and that many towns are also dealing with aging rosters.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — At the forefront of a public hearing last Tuesday on proposed changes in zoning and subdivision regulations was a hot button topic for Middlebury residents: plans to restrict so-called “big box” development in all of the town’s zoning districts.
The hearing was the latest step in a major update of Middlebury zoning and subdivision regulations, which have been in the works for several years. Selectmen must approve the current draft regulations or send them back to the planning commission with recommended changes.
Many residents at the well-attended selectboard meeting commended the Middlebury Planning Commission, which drafted zoning regulation revisions that make permanent the interim zoning ban on building mega-stores enacted two years ago. The interim ban, which has expired, prohibited any single retail store larger than 50,000 square feet in all Middlebury zoning districts.
Some critics of “formula retail” and big box businesses, fearing the impact those national franchises could have on Middlebury’s character and economy, called for even stronger restrictions to keep such businesses from locating here.
“Now there is a need for, I think, a next step along this same way,” said Bill McKibben, a Ripton resident and environmental writer. “Square footage is always going to be a crude measure.”
Ripton resident Michele Fay agreed.
“It doesn’t necessarily have to do with the size of a … store,” Fay said. “It has more to do with the money staying within the local economy and people in the community benefiting from that.”
McKibben, along with other area residents, suggested the Planning Commission and selectboard turn a critical eye on even small and medium-size franchise store developments — such as Starbucks, which considered building in Middlebury last year.
By JOHN S. McCRIGHT
ADDISON COUNTY — After suffering through an unusually wet summer area farmers have one eye on the skies and one eye on the calendar. If fields don’t dry out soon, many fear they will loose much of the feed they will need to keep their livestock productive this winter.
“This is going to be a critical time in the next three weeks,” said Craig Miner, executive director for USDA’s Farm Service Agency (FSA) in Addison County. “We could have problems similar to 2006 if we don’t have extensive dry weather.
“The crops have defiantly been hurt by the rain.”
Lousy weather, beyond ruining picnics and vacations, means a lot in a county that is one of the largest dairy producers in Vermont. That is particularly true when wet conditions threaten the economic livelihoods of a large segment of the local businesses.
Farmers say their businesses have already been hurt, and the pain could get even worse.
“The hay we have standing has no feed value,” said Steve Getz, owner of Dancing Cow Farm in Bridport. “We’re crossing our fingers that we’ll get a good second cut (of hay) or we’ll be buying feed this winter.”
Getz believes he can buy forage from Canadian suppliers if it comes to that. “It’s good hay but it’s expensive,” he said.
The fact that diesel fuel prices are much higher this year than last only makes the expense of trucking in extra feed that much more costly.
By ANDY KIRKALDY
ADDISON COUNTY — An uncooperative and mysterious shift in the jet stream, the major west-to-east airflow across North America, lies behind this summer’s steady diet of wet weather, according to a National Weather Service meteorologist in Burlington.
The NWS’s Brooke Taber said that the jet stream, a high-speed upper atmosphere wind that he likened to a river of air flowing toward the East Coast, normally crosses well to the north of Vermont and New England at this time of the year.
But since early June the jet stream has sagged down across the northern U.S., where it soars between humid tropical air to the south and cooler air to the north.
The result, Taber said, is that Vermont and its neighbors are caught in a “battle zone” between the conflicting air masses that usually collide over central Canada.
The result Taber described probably goes without saying.
“This contrast of air masses has produced numerous showers and thundershowers across our area,” Taber said.
What has caused the summer without much sun is hard to say, he said, although experts have been able to rule out a couple of the usual suspects — changes in the surface of the Pacific Ocean.
“It’s a long wave pattern that has been very persistent across the U.S.,” Taber said. “It’s not El Niño or La Niña.”
When the pattern occurs, the showers and thundershowers follow; that much is known, Taber said. But why the pattern has persisted as well as why it started both remain unknown.
“That’s the question: Why has it hung in for several months now?” he said.
Although at times it may not seem like it, there was a point this spring it did not rain excessively: May saw just 1.94 inches of rain in Burlington, more than an inch below normal.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
MIDDLEBURY — In the second of two discussions this week focusing on the winter use of the municipal gym, Middlebury selectmen backpedaled during their Tuesday board meeting from tentative plans aired last month to close the space to reduce heating bills and conserve energy.
Town Manager Bill Finger reassured those who use he gym — including a large contingent from the growing teen center — that plans to close the gym had been tabled. Currently, he said, he’s exploring other solutions to counter a spike in heating prices that could double the already-steep $44,000 bill Middlebury paid to heat the town offices and municipal gym last year.
“The thought of closing the gym is not foremost in my mind — it’s more how can we reorganize the programs that are in the gym and how can we better control the heating system and make that more efficient,” he said.
Finger said that the “guestimate” is that the gym is responsible for around 70 percent of the entire building’s 20,000-gallon heating oil consumption.
Tuesday’s conversation followed on the heels of a meeting Monday for “stakeholders” in the municipal gym space, including members of the teen center, the Russ Sholes Senior Center and members of the recreation department.
Many of those same supporters turned out for Tuesday’s selectboard meeting to reiterate the importance of the space — including the role it plays in creating a vibrant downtown community.
“One of the things we all agreed on last night is how important this building is,” said Emily Joselson, a co-founder of the Addison Central Teens group that uses the 94 Main teen center. “We also agreed that everyone — you guys who work here, and we guys who play here — deserve a better building.”
By JOHN FLOWERS
RIPTON — Gov. James Douglas and Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) officials are confident that widespread flood damage caused by the Aug. 6 rainstorms will qualify for a major infusion of federal aid.
Douglas and FEMA Regional Administrator Art Cleaves came to that conclusion on Thursday while surveying some of the infrastructure in several Addison County towns, including roads and bridges, that had been devastated by floodwaters.
As the Addison Independent went to press, officials were still tallying up damage in the hard-hit communities of East Middlebury, Ripton, Hancock, Goshen, Granville, Salisbury, Leicester, Bridport and Forest Dale. Authorities said they expected the damage to easily eclipse the $1 million needed to trigger a federal emergency declaration from the White House, thereby paving the way for up to 75 percent reimbursement for flood-related repairs.
“We’ve been to Ripton, East Middlebury and Salisbury and the damage is quite extensive,” Douglas said during an interview Thursday afternoon at Middlebury State Airport, where he quickly boarded one in a convoy of four Vermont Army National Guard helicopters that flew over the destruction.
“I think this is the most significant (natural disaster) in my tenure,” he added.
Road crews have been working overtime to restore access to roads and bridges heavily damaged when the Middlebury River and a collection of other brooks and streams jumped their banks, sending water cascading across already-saturated ground.
Workers on Thursday had restored emergency access to Route 125 between East Middlebury and Hancock, though it may be many more days before regular, two-way traffic resumes on the busy road.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
Editor’s note: The 60th edition of the Addison County Fair and Field Days last week offered, as ever, a smorgasbord of sights, sounds, smells and sensations. With so many events, demonstrations, fried treats and heated competitions to take in, we picked just a few favorites for our readers to savor. Here’s a sampling of what we saw.
The ribbon above April’s stall proudly declares this four-month-old Jersey calf a “novice champion.” She and her handler, Ethan Sausville, 8, of Addison, snagged top honors at the Thursday morning 4-H competition in handling and showmanship. But for the youngest of the Weybridge Willing Workers (WWW), the real marvels in the 4-H Dairy Barn are not the ribbons, but the cows themselves.
Sausville, Matthew Ouellette and Addy Parsons of Weybridge, all 8, crowd around a few of the calves the club is showing this year at the fair. Two little Jerseys, April and Lila, are munching away happily on their grain, perfectly content to let their handlers stroke their backs and necks.
The calves seem pretty happy to be shown, the kids explained — though “sometimes April gets spooked,” Sausville says. She straightens up once her show halter is on, Parsons chimes in.
It’s not easy, they explain — though the calves are sweet-tempered, they can be stubborn.
“You’ve got to really work with them,” Sausville says.
And occasionally, accidents can happen.
“Last year, when I was a PeeWee, I got kicked in the stomach by a really big cow,” Ouellette confides, not without a note of pride. The children confer on the size of the “really big cow” before ultimately deciding she was somewhere along the lines of Cinnamon’s height, gesturing to a massive Jersey lolling in the sawdust a few stalls down from the calves.