October 13th, 2008
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — Talk of a congress and “community organizers” might bring to mind national politics — but for the planners behind this year’s Addison County Conservation Congress, a daylong summit slated to take place later this month at Mount Abraham Union High School, those words ring true a little closer to home.
The Oct. 25 event, sponsored by the Addison County Relocalization Network (ACoRN) and Vermont Family Forests (VFF), aims to bring together anywhere between 150 and 300 county residents to dig into this year’s theme: “Addison County in Transition: Visioning Our Community in 2020 and Mapping the Next Steps to Get There.”
The day aims to do exactly what its title calls for: dream up a portrait of the county in 12 years, and begin work on the roadmap necessary to make that vision a reality.
That lofty goal is a departure from the country conservation congresses of the past, which started in 1992, explained David Brynn, a forester with VFF. After five annual meetings, organizers took a hiatus from the project — a break that ended up lasting 10 years.
Brynn and other planners revived the meetings last year. But according to Brynn, this year’s congress signals a paradigm shift for the event.
“The first six were about finding controversial conservation issues that we could deliberate and argue about in a supportive setting,” Brynn explained. “The idea was really to debate them and not necessarily to reach any consensus but to get things out in a respectful environment.”
This year’s congress, the seventh, focuses more on the human community, and the future Addison County’s residents can create for themselves in the face of three major challenges: peak oil, climate change, and the financial crisis.
By KATHRYN FLAGG
ADDISON COUNTY — Look for parents in Addison County and around the state this week sporting buttons that declare “This employee made possible because of daycare” and “Support Vermont’s economy, support quality childcare.”
These parents, along with other allies of early child development programs, are doing their best to draw attention to the necessity for up-to-date subsidies for families struggling to meet steep childcare costs, as well as the importance of available quality childcare in the state.
Organizers are calling the weeklong event a “virtual strike” — a sort of “what if” question. What if early childcare and education programs weren’t available? What if these programs, on which hundreds of parents in the county depend, were to close for the day?
The strike, coordinated by the Kids Are Priority One Coalition, kicks off Tuesday and runs through Saturday. According to Susan Hackett, the local coordinator for the strike and the regional director for a children’s advocacy group called Building Bright Futures, almost 1,000 buttons have been distributed to parents and allies around the county.
Organizers hope that the buttons will raise awareness about the link between childcare and economic development, as well as draw attention to subsidy eligibility guidelines that some childcare advocates say are out-dated and insufficient.
“There is childcare assistance,” said Ginny Sinclair, a referral specialist at Addison County Childcare Services. Sinclair helps families find childcare with one of the roughly 60 local home childcare providers or one of the county’s three state-licensed centers.
Subsidies are based on a family’s income, she explained, as well as a “service need” demonstrated if a parent is working, attending school full-time, or medically incapable of caring for a child at all times.
By JOHN FLOWERS
ADDISON COUNTY — Vermont State Police dispatchers at one of the state’s four E-911 communications centers may soon stop fielding “non-emergency” calls for local police, rescue and fire departments due to the heavy volume of work they are now handling.
At issue are citizen calls made to local police departments’ seven-digit phone numbers during times when the local dispatchers are not on duty. That’s usually 11 p.m. to 7 a.m. and Sundays, for most local departments.
During that time, anyone who calls — for example, the Middlebury police number at 388-3191, or Bristol police at 453-2533 — currently finds their call picked up by a VSP dispatcher in Rutland, who then directs it to the appropriate local public safety official.
But due to staffing issues, the VSP may stop taking those calls.
State police officials stressed the shift in policy would not have an impact on E-911 calls, and that the switch would not occur until the affected departments have found additional technology or manpower to field their own seven-digit calls at times when their local dispatchers are off duty.
Addison County officials this week were candid in their displeasure with news the VSP may soon drop the service, a move they said could cost communities plenty by forcing them to hire additional dispatchers or acquire pagers/cell phones through which to have calls automatically routed to officers in the field.
“As a police officer, I’m not crazy about this idea; as a taxpayer, I’m offended,” said Bristol Police Chief Kevin Gibbs.
The proposed change would affect more than 30 police, fire and rescue agencies in Addison County, according to VSP Capt. Donald Patch, commander of the state police “C Troop,” which includes the New Haven, Rutland and Shaftsbury stations.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Middlebury’s Town Hall Theater has been nourishing the soul with quality entertainment since it officially opened its doors in July. The historic venue will take on the added role of nourishing the body beginning on Nov. 1, when it hosts the first in a series of Saturday “winter markets” that are slated to stretch until next spring.
The “Middlebury Winter Markets” are being spearheaded by the Addison County Localvores. Bay Hammond, a member of the localvores group, explained that Middlebury resident Kate Gridley informally floated the idea last year.
“She said, ‘Wouldn’t it be great to have access to local goods and foods throughout the year?’” Hammond recalled.
Others took a shining to the concept, to the extent that the localvores — affiliated with the Addison County Relocalization Network (ACoRN) — decided to explore the feasibility of a winter market. Hammond explained that the market could logically become an extension of the Middlebury Farmers’ Market, though that organization has been very busy with its summer/fall offerings each Wednesday and Saturday in the Marble Works.
“Our main goal was to just get (a winter market) up and started,” Hammond said of the localvores’ role this year. “It seemed like the time was right. There are a lot of winter markets popping up all over the state.”
Localvores found willing partners in the THT and its executive director, Douglas Anderson.
“(Anderson) loved the idea,” Hammond said. “We have been working hard to set up dates.”
Organizers believe the THT space will accommodate around 18 vendors, who are likely to sell types of produce with a longer shelf-life (potatoes, garlic, various herbs), as well as frozen meats, baked goods, prepared foods, breads and crafts.
By JOHN FLOWERS
BRIDPORT — Jill Vickers’ recollections of Afghanistan had been of a proud, resourceful population working hard to get by in a foreboding yet majestic setting.
But Vickers’ vivid memories, culled from a stint as a Peace Corps worker in Afghanistan from 1969-1971, had become clouded this decade — not as much from the passage of time as by TV footage of bombings and some media portrayals of Afghans as terrorists.
“Afghanistan is a place where terrorists live and thrive? This was not our experience,” Vickers said of her and her colleagues’ recollections of Afghanistan, where they had scoured the countryside inoculating people in small towns against smallpox.
The Bridport resident and her 16 fellow Peace Corps associates are now sharing memories of their experiences in a new documentary film titled “Once in Afghanistan.” The recently completed 70-minute film was produced by Vickers and Jody Bergedick, the youth program coordinator for Middlebury Community Television (MCTV).
Set for its premier at Castleton State College’s Casella Theater on Thursday, Oct. 16, at 3:30 and 7 p.m., “Once in Afghanistan” features heartfelt and poignant interviews with the 17 Peace Corps volunteers who are now spread throughout the country.
The film, which Vickers expects to air on MCTV at a later date and will be available on DVD, includes still photos of the vaccinators and 1960s-era footage of Afghanistan supplied by Middlebury resident Foster McEdward.
Vickers unwittingly planted the seeds for “Once in Afghanistan” in 2004, during a reunion with her former Peace Corps colleagues. Wanting a keepsake of the gathering, Vickers interviewed the women. She brought the footage back to Addison County and eventually into the MCTV studios. There, with Bergedick’s help, she condensed the material into a seven-minute segment.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Construction crews last week were replacing ties and unloading new rail along sections of the railroad tracks stretching from Middlebury to Salisbury and from Proctor to Florence.
Meanwhile, rail officials last week also confirmed a “minor” derailment of a fuel car on tracks near the Woodbridge Condominiums on Sept. 5. David Wulfson, president of Vermont Rail, said the incident involved one car.
One set of wheels jumped the tracks, according to Richard Hosking, rail project manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans).
“It was put back on (the tracks), and that was it,” Wulfson said. “Those things happen all the time.”
Fortunately, the incident did not nearly rise to the level of the multi-car derailment that occurred almost exactly a year ago on tracks near Merchants Row in downtown Middlebury. Fourteen fuel-laden cars and three carrying rock salt tipped over during that Oct. 22, 2007, incident.
Hosking said the Sept. 5 incident was small enough that it did not warrant notification of local emergency response teams.
“It wasn’t due to track conditions,” Hosking added. “It was like blowing a tire on a car.”
Still, some Middlebury residents living in homes near the tracks said they get little comfort from the term “minor” being used in the same sentence with “derailment.”
Fred Barnes, a resident of the Woodbridge Condominiums, said he went to the scene of the Sept. 5 derailment when workers were jacking the car back onto the tracks at 3 a.m.
“We are told this is not dangerous,” Barnes said. “But whenever we go a step closer to the tanker falling over and spilling gasoline, we are increasing the probability of disaster.
ADDISON COUNTY — FairPoint Communications plans to bring full broadband Internet coverage to Middlebury, Salisbury and Vergennes by the end of 2010, marking the complete coverage of high-speed Internet access for all of Addison County.
The other two telephone and Internet service providers in the county — Waitsfield Champlain Valley Telecom, which serves towns in the northern and eastern part of Addison County, and Shoreham Telephone, which serves towns in the southwest quadrant of the county — have already established full broadband access for their service areas.
By JOHN FLOWERS
MIDDLEBURY — Developers of a proposed small-scale hydro operation at the Otter Creek Falls in Middlebury recently filed the requisite state and federal permit applications for their project, and have shifted their focus back to becoming a wholesale producer of electricity rather than an exclusive provider of power to portion of the town and Middlebury College.
Anders Holm, whose family is spearheading the project, said the Federal Energy Regulatory Commission (FERC) is reviewing a preliminary application for the project, while the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) is determining whether the plan can receive a water quality permit.
“Our preliminary FERC application has been accepted. That’s in, and we’re getting as much information as we can about the specifics of the site at this time, still looking at how much power it’s going to make,” Holm said on Thursday. “The preliminary application is just letting FERC know that there is ongoing interest in the site and we are doing some of the preliminary steps and they can expect more information from us in the future.”
The plan includes a water turbine that would harness electricity from the creek as it flows through a flume under a building (owned by the Holms) that borders the south side of the Otter Creek Falls. The project also includes a powerhouse, a penstock of approximately 120 feet long by 7.5-feet in circumference, and a transmission line of around 500 feet.
In an effort to expedite the ANR’s review of the project, Holm has asked the agency to review a previous, more ambitious hydropower project application that had been submitted by central Vermont Public Service Corp. (CVPS) for the same site around 20 years ago. The project was never implemented.