January 4th, 2010
Middlebury’s much-discussed $16 million Cross Street Bridge project moved from the drawing board to actual construction in 2009. With bond approval and financing through Middlebury College and a series of local option taxes, initial work in April keyed on the two massive concrete piers that would support the 240-foot long span across the Otter Creek in downtown Middlebury.
2009 marked the end of an era in Vergennes — the Ralph Jackman era.
Jackman, a U.S. Army veteran of World War II who passed away two days into 2010 at the age of 85, stepped down as chief of the Vergennes Volunteer Fire Department on Nov. 1 after serving in that capacity for a remarkable 55 years. City officials believe he was the longest-serving fire chief in the United States.
Jackman, who had cited health concerns for his decision, was widely credited by city and state officials for helping make the Vergennes department one of the most highly regarded in Vermont.
Less than one year ago, the phrase “swine flu” was used only in connection with a scare back in the ’70s, or not at all by those too young to remember it. But in April, the H1N1 strain of the contagious disease also known as swine flu landed front and center in the international media when the World Health Organization warned of a possible pandemic. In June the pandemic was officially declared. And though cases of the illness were slow to reach Vermont, the state Department of Health recommended precautionary measures to inhibit the spread of the contagious disease.
The story of Vergennes Police Chief Mike Lowe’s legal problems first broke in early June. When off-duty, he drove a police cruiser into a parked car in a low-speed accident. The Vergennes patrolman on the scene called in Vermont State Police, who processed Lowe for driving under the influence — as it turned out the charge was for under the influence of prescription drugs, not alcohol.
Enthusiasm for green energy burned bright in 2009 as more local groups embraced alternative means for heating their homes and businesses.
In January, Middlebury College fired up its $12 million biomass gasification boiler to convert wood chips into steam for heating. The new plant marked a huge step forward for the college toward its goal of achieving carbon neutrality by 2016: Using wood chips harvested within 75 miles of the institution, the boiler is anticipated to cut the college’s carbon dioxide emission by 40 percent while saving the school roughly $700,000 each year.
2009 was a landmark year for same-sex couples in Vermont, who won the right to marry. The bill passed easily in both chambers of the Legislature — by a margin of 26-4 in the Senate and 100-46 in the House. Both Addison County senators and all but one county representative voted for the bill. The 100-vote tally in the House on April 7 gave the bill’s proponents the super-majority they needed to override Gov. James Douglas’s veto.
The polls were tight and Middlebury Republican James Douglas didn’t have a clear read on his prospects for the governorship when voting closed on election day in November of 2002.
Douglas ultimately scored a 45 percent to 42 percent win over challenger Douglas Racine, a Richmond Democrat and sitting lieutenant governor.
There was so much going on in Addison County that it seemed absurd to limit ourselves to only 10 big stories for 2009. Here are a couple others — in no particular order — that also caught our attention.