Chronology 2010: Bridges, schools and the economy
Editor’s note: The change of the year is a good time to look back over the last 12 months and recall where we’ve been before diving into the 12 months ahead of us. We present this look back at 2009 to help you bring to mind the big stories of the year and also some of the smaller ones that have touched our lives in Addison County. Happy New Year!
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2010 got off to a sad start with news that longtime Vergennes Fire Chief Ralph Jackman had died at age 85. Jackman had served on the Little City’s fire department for 67 years, 55 of them as its chief. The World War II veteran was believed to have been the longest serving fire chief in the country.
A family outing turned tragic on Lake Dunmore in January when Kevin Flynn, 50, of Whiting, his 24-year-old daughter Carrie Flynn and his 3-year-old granddaughter Bryanna Popp of Brandon died after their snow machines broke through the ice. An estimated 700 mourners crowded St. Mary’s Catholic Church to grieve the loss.
Otter Valley Union High School prepared to bid farewell to its principal, Dana Cole-Levesque, who announced he would be leaving at the end of the school year to become superintendent of the Rutland South Supervisory Union.
Seventeen county bridges made a Vermont Agency of Transportation list of 300 spans deemed particularly vulnerable to erosion during high water events. The agency pledged to monitor those spans closely. Local bridges on the list included several crossing the New Haven River, Middlebury River, Otter Creek, Leicester River and White River.
Fresh off demolition of the former Champlain Bridge, officials were busy planning a new, modern span to link West Addison with Crown Point, N.Y. The New York State Department of Transportation offered area citizens a chance to weigh in — on-line — on a handful of potential new bridge designs. A modified tied-arch bridge design quickly emerged as the favorite.
While things were looking up for a new Champlain Bridge, that came as little solace to hundreds of New York commuters trying to get across the lake to jobs in Addison County. Their commute became even more difficult when the Ticonderoga Ferry was forced to end its run in early January due to mounting ice. That left the Charlotte-to-Essex, N.Y., ferry or a long detour around the southern end of the lake as the main transportation options until a new, temporary ferry service could be installed at the former bridge site.
School boards throughout the county spent many hours putting together 2010-2011 budgets in time for Town Meeting Day. While most boards kept spending increases below 3 percent, the Common Level of Appraisal provision of the state’s education funding law — coupled with declining enrollments — drove up the tax impact of the proposed spending plans. For example, the proposed $16 million spending plan for Middlebury Union middle and high schools featured a 2.81-percent hike in spending, but education tax rates in the seven Addison Central Supervisory Union towns were projected to rise anywhere from 2.42 percent to 19 percent.
Former Vergennes Police Chief Michael Lowe pleaded guilty in Addison County District Court to driving under the influence of prescription drugs, a felony, and one count of obtaining prescription drugs by fraud, in connection with a June 2009 incident in which he drove a city cruiser into a parked car. Lowe, 51, had resigned from his police job the previous September and been undergoing treatment in Florida for addiction to prescription drugs.
Meanwhile, Vermont State Police Lt. Bruce Melendy, commander of the VSP’s New Haven barracks, announced he would be leaving to take the helm of the department’s Derby headquarters. His post would ultimately be filled by Lt. Gary Genova, an Addison County resident.
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February got off to a bang with news that two Addison County residents would add themselves to the mix of candidates running for lieutenant governor. Rep. Christopher Bray, D-New Haven, and Starksboro Republican Mark Snelling confirmed they would seek the office being vacated by incumbent Republican Brian Dubie of Essex Junction, who had his sights set on the governorship.
Commuters who had been inconvenienced by the loss of the Champlain Bridge were enthralled to see a new ferry service open near the site of the recently imploded span. An estimated 1,700 vehicles used the free, temporary ferry in its first day of operation in early February.
Weybridge author Jay Parini learned he would be taking a stroll down the red carpet at the Academy Awards ceremony. Parini’s novel “The Last Station” was adapted into a major film that garnered Oscar nominations for the performances of Helen Mirren (best actress) and Christopher Plummer (best supporting actor).
The Middlebury selectboard took some steps to keep a major employer in town. The board agreed to negotiate a tax stabilization agreement with Green Mountain Beverage to keep the hard-cider manufacturer and its more than 60 workers at 153 Pond Lane. The company was considering an expansion project and had been looking at other communities in which to potentially locate.
While some businesses were in expansion mode, a sluggish economy continued to take its toll on many residents and stores. The impact was felt at the United Way of Addison County, which was struggling to meet its 2009-2010 fund-raising goal of $775,000. The organization, which funnels resources to many area nonprofits, was at 73 percent of its goal in early February and was looking at ways to bridge the $200,000 gap.
Middlebury College officials reported the institution was back on track toward fiscal health after a challenging year that prompted a 10-percent cut in staffing (around 100 positions) and a salary freeze for those earning more than $50,000 annually. President Ron Liebowitz said he anticipated 2011 to bring stable staffing levels and a potential lift of the salary freeze.
Meanwhile, on College Street, the three owners of the Addison House senior care home announced they would be closing the facility within 90 days. The owners explained they had reached retirement age and were in the process of relocating the remaining seven residents. Plans called for the Addison House to be placed on the market. Middlebury College ultimately purchased the property.
A long-discussed proposal for a 3.3-mile rail spur linking the Omya quarry off Lower Foote Street to the main line west of the Otter Creek in Middlebury got a big boost when the Federal Highway Administration ruled such a project could meet federal environmental standards. The $34.3 million plan is being pitched as an alternative to Route 7 truck traffic in getting Omya’s — and other local businesses’ products — to their destinations.
While Lake Dunmore and Fern Lake were covered with ice on February, property owners surrounding those bodies of water in Salisbury and Leicester were thinking ahead to the summer and the ongoing battles against Eurasian milfoil. Members of the Lake Dunmore Fern Lake Association announced they would ask Salisbury and Leicester residents to bump their milfoil eradication contributions up from $2,322 annually to $7,225. The request stemmed from spreading of the nuisance underwater weed in both lakes and a reduced state commitment to fund eradication efforts.
Porter Medical Center reported progress in implementing a $4.4 million project to bring the hospital’s information system and medical records into the 21st century. The system, when fully brought on line, will allow Porter staff to access medical records electronically instead of through paper files.
On an elevated mat with more than 1,200 fans watching in the Vergennes Union High School gym, Otter Valley’s George Mitchell and Middlebury’s Bryan Ashley-Selleck, both juniors, on the last Saturday in February won state titles at the Vermont state high school wrestling championship meet.
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March in Vermont is, of course, synonymous with town meeting, when communities make a lot of pivotal budget and policy decisions, as well as elect local government officials.
Voters backed some very tight school budgets — except in Bridport, where residents rejected, by a 179 to 172 tally, a spending plan that represented a 0.93-percent increase.
In Middlebury, residents voted — by an overwhelming 531 to 113 tally — to phase out the community’s machinery and equipment tax over a six-year period. While the move was projected to cost the town some significant revenues, local officials successfully argued that cutting the tax would provide an incentive for new businesses to choose Middlebury as their home, thereby adding new jobs and expanding the tax base.
In a vote followed closely throughout Vermont, all five Addison Northwest Supervisory Union towns strongly backed a proposal to allow one 12-member board to govern the four-school union. The final tally across Addison, Panton, Waltham, Ferrisburgh and Vergennes was 908-539 (63-37 percent), much to the joy of Vermont Education Commissioner Armando Vilaseca, who had been urging the state’s many school districts to consolidate resources and governance as a way to save money and become more efficient.
Meanwhile, Addison Central Supervisory Union officials began exploring the pros and cons of governance consolidation in their seven-town union. To that end, the ACSU board began reviewing a report prepared by former Barre school Superintendent Ray Proulx. In his extensive report, Proulx outlined some potential merger scenarios in which some of the smaller schools with shrinking enrollments (such as Ripton and Weybridge) might merge with Mary Hogan Elementary or some of the larger grade schools.
Brandon voters were in an agreeable mood on their Town Meeting Day, as they endorsed all of their money items, including a $395,000 bond for a new police station.
The mood was not as good in Bristol, however, where residents rejected an updated town plan by a 598-364 margin, and a proposed gravel-extraction zoning ordinance by a 627-349 tally.
Seniors in Vergennes got some good news in March when the Vermont Community Development Program awarded a $500,000 federal grant to the city for a long-planned, 25-unit elderly housing project near the Vergennes Legion Post 14 building off Monkton Road.
Speaking of Legion Post 14, the organization announced it would honor former Ferrisburgh Fire Chief Bob Jenkins for his 50 (and counting) years of service as a firefighter.
Also in Ferrisburgh, organic dairy farmers Cheryl and J.D. DeVos laid plans to build the Green Mountain Organic Creamery in hopes of escaping the economic uncertainty of the bulk milk market.
Meanwhile, the Bristol Rescue Squad was appealing to the community for more support — in the form of volunteers and resources — to continue its good service to people of the five-town area.
The Vermont Department of Education flagged 10 of the state’s lowest achieving schools, a list that included Mount Abraham Union High School and Fair Haven Union High School. State officials noted the listed schools could take advantage of some federal money to boost their standing, but taking that money would mean making some drastic changes — such as replacing key staff.
New York and Vermont transportation authorities in March began advertising for a contractor to build the new Champlain Bridge, with the hope of getting the new span in service by the fall of 2011.
Not too far from the bridge site, Vermont Division of Historic Preservation officials began uncovering what they believed to be the remnants of a 279-year-old French fort — an fortunate archaeological find.
County residents enjoyed a sneak preview of warm spring weather, but the 60-degree temperatures raised concerns among some area sugarmakers who depend on cold nights and sunny days to get the maple sap flowing.
Skihaus re-emerged as a retail anchor in downtown Middlebury. This occurred when longtime Alpine Shop employees Barb Nelson and Anna Boisvert closed on the purchase of the Battell Block business, returning its name to “Skihaus of Vermont.”
Vermont State Police Lt. Gary Genova took over as commander of the agency’s New Haven barracks in March, replacing Lt. Bruce Melendy.
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The month of April didn’t bring just spring showers — it brought the beginning of construction work at the site of the emerging Cross Street Bridge and its environs in Middlebury. On either side of the Otter Creek at the bridge site, road crews began a process of reworking traffic patterns that would continue until late October.
Mount Abraham Union High School reeled after being pronounced a “persistently low-achieving” school, with some calling the designation an attack on the school and the system. Still, the school board began to pursue funding made available by the designation.
And as college and high schools rolled out their spring sports lineups, the Middlebury College track and field team got off to a strong start, and Mount Abe’s new lacrosse program made its varsity debut on April 14 in Montpelier (the Eagles lost, 8-4, but won their next game, 6-5 over Otter Valley).
Shoreham lost a town landmark in the early morning of April 7 when the Newton Academy burned to the ground. The town had been gearing up to celebrate the 200th anniversary of the state’s oldest standing secondary school building, and members of the community had been actively raising funds and restoring the building.
In early April, the John Graham Emergency Shelter in Vergennes celebrated 30 years of helping those in need, and an accompanying change in goals. From simply providing a temporary shelter, the organization has broadened its scope to provide ongoing support for struggling families.
Meanwhile, as 2010 milk price forecasts rolled out, many area dairy farmers settled in for another bleak year. 2009 saw a number of dairy farmers in the county close up shop and many others forced to go into debt to stay open, but lawmakers and area dairy farmers alike continued their push for legislation to control the volatile commodity market.
On April 11, the five Democratic gubernatorial candidates kicked off the campaign season at their first debate. The candidates spoke to a packed auditorium of students and county residents at Middlebury College, serving as a preface to the long months of back-and-forth discussion between the candidates.
In mid-April, the Vermont Legislature approved $800,000 in low- and no-interest loans for Addison businesses affected by the closure of the Champlain Bridge. Local legislators had originally hoped to push through a larger package of loans and grants, but had a hard time finding support from other members of the House and Senate.
On April 17, Middlebury artist Kate Gridley had her first meeting with Gov. Jim Douglas for a landmark project: She had been selected to paint the governor’s official portrait. It was due to be finished by December and slated to hang in the Vermont Statehouse after he leaves office this coming January.
The Bristol selectboard set the wheels in motion on its plans to renovate historic Holley Hall, on April 26 awarding the construction contract to Brandon-based Naylor & Breen Builders. The plans called for added weatherization and ventilation, better handicap accessibility and a reorganization of basement space.
On April 28, former Vergennes police chief Mike Lowe was sentenced to six to 12 months in jail for the felony charge of obtaining prescription drugs by fraud; he had pleaded guilty to the charge in January. Lowe’s legal woes were touched off when, in June of 2009, the police cruiser he was driving struck a parked vehicle.
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May began with some bad news: The 70-employee Middlebury branch of RetailVision announced that it would be laying off 20 workers.
The county got some relief, though, when Montpelier sent down a transportation bill that contained almost $100 million in funding for road repaving and bridge replacement in Addison County over the coming years. Chief among the projects was the Champlain Bridge, with $28 million of funding headed to that project. It also funded road repaving on Route 30 in Cornwall and Whiting, Route 125 from Route 7 east into Hancock, Route 17 between Routes 22A and 7, and parts of River Road in Lincoln. Future bridge repair will take place on Route 125 over the Lemon Fair River in Cornwall and Middlebury River in East Middlebury, and at the “stoplight bridge” on Route 116 in Bristol.
And as crews made progress on the roadwork in downtown Middlebury, town officials put together an ad hoc committee of local politicians, historians and residents to discuss the installation of a monument at the center of the new roundabout emerging in front of Two Brothers Restaurant. While a final decision remains up in the air, officials hoped to see a centerpiece go in by the fall of 2011.
Meanwhile, in Bristol, things were rolling along: the county’s first roller derby team, the ChampPain Rollers, was dressed to the nines in fishnets and makeup, practicing hard.
May 6 was the first hearing on an antitrust class-action lawsuit filed by Northeast dairy farmers in the U.S. District Court of Vermont against two major dairy companies. Farmers accused the Dairy Farmers of America co-op and Dean Foods Company, the nation’s largest dairy processor, of keeping the prices paid to struggling producers artificially low.
Also on May 6, Middlebury College named its library for the family of Jim Davis, an alumnus, trustee emeritus and former owner of the New Balance shoe company. Prior to the naming, the six-year-old Davis Family Library had been known simply as “the new library.”
Following a Town Meeting Day victory for the proposed consolidation of school boards in the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union, Addison voters on May 11 reversed their decision. In revoking their determination to back the consolidation efforts, work to make the governance consolidation a reality came to a grinding halt.
On May 25, Weybridge resident Spence Putnam announced his run for state representative in the Addison-5 district, which includes his hometown plus New Haven and Bridport. Putnam, who serves as the Weybridge town moderator, jumped at the opportunity for the Democrats to maintain the Addison-5 House seat after incumbent Rep. Chris Bray (D-New Haven) announced that he was seeking the position of lieutenant governor.
In Middlebury, on May 26, the town formally named its public works facility after the late Sonny Cyr, in honor of his 42 years of work for the department. Cyr had been retired from the department since 2004, and died in January.
Then, after the Dec. 2009 demolition of the Champlain Bridge, the contract for the bridge rebuild was awarded to Flatiron Construction Corp., a Colorado-based company, on May 27. At $70 million for the project, the company presented the lowest bid of the eight offers that came in.
Also late in the month, a judge revoked the license of Alden Place, a Vergennes nursing home, ordering the removal of the home’s 13 elderly residents. The following month, owner Virginia Booska appealed the state’s decision, contesting the alleged violations that had led to the home’s closure.
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As summer drew close and campaign season picked up in earnest, one member of the state government was uncharacteristically sitting back and watching. Gov. Jim Douglas, a Middlebury resident, sat down to reflect on his political career, which began when he was elected state representative for Middlebury in 1972 at age 21. He will finish his fourth and final term as governor in January. Douglas told the Independent that he felt good about his service to the state of Vermont, but that he wouldn’t be slacking off until his term ended.
Later on in the month, another local announced his bid for office: Republican Jason Gibbs, a Forest Dale native, said he would be running for secretary of state in the 2010 election.
Early in June, the Goodrich Corp.’s Vergennes plant announced it had landed a $54 million U.S. Army contract for its helicopter safety systems. The contract was just one sign of the company’s return from a difficult economic year: After laying off workers in 2009, Goodrich was again looking to hire.
And in a month of charitable pleas, two organizations, Helping Overcome Poverty’s Effects and the Middlebury Volunteer Ambulance Association, both launched significant fund-raising drives. Middlebury-based aid agency HOPE asked for $145,000 from the community, hoping to beat the previous year’s take by about $15,000. MVAA announced it was seeking $1 million to raise funds to pay off the $2.4 million price tag of its new headquarters on South Street, which it moved in to at the end of the month.
June also saw the end of the spring season for high school sports, and the Mount Abraham Union High School baseball team coasted to victory, snagging the Division II title for the third year running. And the members of the baseball team weren’t the only Eagles who claimed state titles in June. Mount Abraham’s Cassie Marion won the triple jump at the state track and field meet in Fair Haven, claiming the only individual title for Addison County schools. Orwell resident Chelsea Montello won three events — 100- and 200-meter dashes and the long jump — to help the Fair Haven Union girls win the D-II team crown. The beautiful new FHUHS track and field facility was named in honor of longtime Slater track coach David Heitkamp of Orwell and his family.
High school graduations rolled around, and most members of the 2010 graduating class in area high schools were making plans to proceed on to two- or four-year colleges. Area schools bid farewell to their graduating seniors and several schools lost a number of longtime teachers,
Meanwhile, in downtown Middlebury, road crews continued to work toward the October opening of the new bridge. While the roundabout remained several months from completion, the town opened Academy Street, the newly constructed stretch of road behind Middlebury’s municipal building.
And the June 17 filing date for Vermont House and Senate candidates yielded a host of names, both familiar and new to the political playing field.
Still, incumbent State Sen. Harold Giard, a Bridport Democrat, missed the filing deadline and announced that he was gearing up for a write-in campaign for the August primary.
If Giard’s write-in campaign was successful, it would allow him to join fellow Democratic Sen. Claire Ayer of Weybridge, Orwell Republicans Andrea Ochs and Mark Young, and Ripton Independent Robert Wagner on the ballot for the two seats representing Addison County and Brandon.
And as schools examined their food plans for the coming year, Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union was making efforts to consolidate lunch systems under the Abbey Group, a collective that officials believed would save the schools money and bring food service options to students in Whiting and Sudbury.
Meanwhile, bucking the privatization trend, Mount Abe took a different tack on its lunch program: The school board decided to build an independent food cooperative. School directors expected the plan would ultimately reduce food prices for the school, and it was already negotiating with several elementary schools in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union to expand its program.
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As July began, so did a new fiscal year, and news arrived that at least parts of some tax rates would not rise.
In Vergennes, a budget surplus helped aldermen keep the municipal portion of the city rate level. In the shire town, Middlebury selectmen kept spending and the municipal rate in check. But in both communities, paying for schools eventually boosted overall rates, at least for those who were not eligible for state tax relief.
In Bristol, the Snap’s Restaurant team of Matt Jackman, Chris Berry and Kevin Berry rolled to their second with in as many years in the annual Bristol Independence Day Great Outhouse Race.
It was hot during the second full week of the month. How hot was it? It was so hot that Middlebury College called off language classes on July 8 after several days in a row of 90- to 100-degree weather.
Where and when is every vote worth about $32,000? In Middlebury on July 13, when by a 65-28 tally residents backed $3 million of water system improvements. Voter turnout ran at 2.1 percent.
On July 16, an Environmental Court ruling offered a split decision on a proposed Champlain Oil Co gas station, fast food restaurant and convenience store on Route 7 in Ferrisburgh. The court ruled the project’s lot was too small, but stated COCO could have a drive-through window at the restaurant and that the town plan did allow convenience stores on the site, both contested points. COCO quickly went to work adding land to its proposal.
On July 17, the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum unveiled the Hazelett Watercraft Center, a new building to house the institution’s growing collection of boats.
The loudest part of Green Mountain Power’s effort to rebuild its dam and power plant at the Vergennes Otter Creek Falls came in late July, when GMP blasted bedrock from the falls. Water over the west end of the falls was diverted for most of 2010 and into 2011 as the project continued.
The District 9 Environmental Commission late in the month denied an Act 250 permit to a gravel pit proposed for an area not far from the Bristol village. The commission ruled the pit, the application for which has been tied up in litigation and the permit process for seven years, would be detrimental “to public health, safety or general welfare.” The pit’s impact on neighbors and the impact of increased truck traffic appeared to be the major issues.
Also in Bristol, the annual Three Day Stampede to fight cystic fibrosis had another successful year, and this year’s initial intake of $93,000 pushed the event’s 17-year fund-raising total to more than $1 million.
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As always, early August brought Addison County Fair and Field Days. As well as the usual quota of rain, well-groomed livestock, high-cholesterol snack foods, rides, acts and booths, the fair this year also offered a debate among the five Democratic contenders for the party’s gubernatorial nomination.
In Vergennes and Panton residents backed a $5.1 million upgrade to the Vergennes-Panton Water District’s aging Lake Champlain plant, 104-49, in a vote marked by limited turnout on a Wednesday. Vergennes businessman and Alderman Randy Ouellette led a petition drive for a revote, but the district board ruled the effort did not garner enough signatures. Board members cited a statute specific to bond votes that they said required 10 percent of voters to sign on, not the 5-percent threshold relevant for most petitions to take effect. Ouellette and city officials did not agree with that position, and debate was sharp at points, but ultimately the vote stood. Water rates almost doubled, but were still less than the state average for municipal water, board members said.
Also in early August Vermont Commissioner of Education Armando Vilaseca announced the amount of cuts each local school district would have to make to meet the 2010 Challenge for Change legislation. Statewide, the total cuts that were either required or strongly suggested — interpretations varied at that point — stood at about $23 million. Locally, supervisory unions were looking at 2 percent cuts from current spending that would prove more difficult in some districts that had already frugally level-funded some budgets.
The weather was hot. How hot was it? The apple and raspberry crops ripened early. According to one orchard operator, apples were 10 days early and berries were ready a week before normal. “It’s probably the earliest crop we’ve ever seen,” said Bill Suhr of Champlain Orchards.
Aug. 24 was primary election day in Vermont, an earlier date than in past years and something that longtime Addison County Sen. Harold Giard (D-Bridport) initially forgot — Giard had missed the filing date. He ran as a write-in candidate and turned back a spirited fellow write-in challenge from East Middlebury’s Amy Sheldon, a first-time candidate, by a slim, 845-757 margin. Would he get enough support in November in the General Election to hold off challenges from two Republicans and an independent?
Two other local residents came up short in seeking their party’s nods for lieutenant governor. Rep. Chris Bray, a New Haven Democrat who left his House seat to pursue the higher office, lost to Rutland’s Steve Howard, 52-48 percent. Starksboro Republican businessman Mark Snelling lost to Berlin’s Phil Scott on the G.O.P side, 56-44.
In the primaries for governor, incumbent Republican Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie faced no serious opposition. Sen. President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin won the most votes on the Democratic side, but he and Sen. Doug Racine (D-Chittenden County), a former lieutenant governor, wound up in a statewide recount after Shumlin’s initial margin of victory stood at just 178 votes. The recount gave Shumlin a 203-vote win. Critically, Shumlin beat Racine in Middlebury in August by 202 votes, 385-183.
In Addison County, Shumlin won a few more votes than second-place Matt Dunne.
By the end of August, workers were wrapping up a major upgrade to Bristol’s downtown stormwater drainage system and water mains ahead of schedule. Roads were finally being paved, dust and long lines of traffic were subsiding, and residents and merchants were breathing sighs of relief.
As the month came to a close, politics returned to the news: Longtime Vermont House member Steve Maier (D-Middlebury) announced he was close to accepting a new job and withdrew his name from the Nov. 2 ballot after winning four terms. The chairman of the House Health Care Committee, Maier eventually accepted a position in the public healthcare field. The Middlebury Town Democratic Committee met and chose businessman Paul Ralston to run in Maier’s stead, in a close vote in which Amy Sheldon was the other candidate.
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As the saying goes, when one door closes, another opens: A national recall of salmonella-tainted eggs in September boosted sales for Salisbury’s Maple Meadow Farm. Maple Meadow’s owners said the slightly higher prices for their local product suddenly seemed more reasonable given the billion factory-farm eggs recalled and 1,000 people sickened.
Another local farm, in Shoreham, went in a different direction this month. A former competitor on the TV show “The Apprentice” set up shop in the former Norris dairy, which is now the headquarters for “WhistlePig” straight rye whiskey. Raj Peter Bhakta hopes eventually to distill his high-end liquor there, but for now it is produced in Canada and bottled in Shoreham.
The Addison Northwest Supervisory Union teachers and administration struck a new labor deal in September after faculty worked for a year without a contract. Both sides agreed the new deal preserved the status quo: Teachers accepted only increases in pay due for increased experience or education, and the administration left teachers’ co-pay for health care benefits at 10 percent. But new negotiations will have to start soon — the pact will expire next summer. Addison Central and Addison Northeast teachers returned to work without new deals in place.
In sports, the state’s first cooperative team made its debut in early September. The joint Mount Abraham-Vergennes football team opened with a 34-6 loss at Windsor playing under the Mount Abe name and coaching staff. The reinforced Eagles would win just once, but were somewhat more competitive than in 2009.
Ferrisburgh got into the real estate business in September when selectmen listed for sale land the town owns at the junction of Routes 7 and 22A. Officials hope to get $375,000 for the 35-acre parcel, of which only 9.7 acres is neither wet nor encumbered by easements. Selectmen hope to use the proceeds to offset the purchase of a home and 2 acres next to the town office/community center building (the Grange replica), a move they said will allow for future expansion and parking needs. Residents later backed that $150,000 purchase in November.
The United Way of Addison County kicked off its annual fund drive in mid-September, with $750,000 as its goal under co-chairpersons Erin and Pam Quinn.
At least one business was growing: Hard-cider producer Green Mountain Beverage added three juice-holding tanks, the first phase of an expansion that is to include a 7,400-square-foot addition to its Pond Lane, Middlebury, plant in 2011. The business also hopes to add 10 more jobs in 2011, a number that would bring its total to 80, up from 58 in December 2009. Middlebury granted a one-time waiver of sewer and water tap-on fees to induce the company to stay in town.
Vergennes Union High School middle school teacher Jennifer Lawson earned the highest recognition Vermont has to offer her profession in September: The Vermont Board of Education named Lawson the 2011 Vermont Teacher of the Year, and she was honored at an all-school assembly with a standing ovation.
In a 4-2, vote, the Middlebury Development Review Board late in September denied a proposal for a 16-acre gravel pit off Route 116 near Quarry Road. The decision came after a series of sometimes contentious hearings. The 13-page decision concluded the proposal failed to comply with eight sections of town zoning laws, including those referring to noise, town plan conformance, and undue adverse effect on the neighborhood.
Lincoln Community School board members were sent back to the drawing board when Commissioner of Education Armando Vilaseca said the state would not support their proposed $3 million to $4 million bond to upgrade the town’s elementary school. A Nov. 2 vote was scrapped. Some said the decision was unfair, and others agreed the cost would have been too high.
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With one month to go before Election Day, gubernatorial candidates state Sen. Peter Shumlin and Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie faced off at a Vermont Press Association debate on Oct. 3, during which tensions ran high due to the particularly negative slant of both candidates’ campaigns.
While political arguments over economic strategies were aired, local business owners said they were surviving, but many remained on the skeptical side of the spectrum in terms of the economy turning around anytime in the near future.
The Middlebury community continued to grapple over gravel when members of the Fenn family decided to appeal to the Vermont Environmental Court the Middlebury Development Review Board’s denial of their application for a gravel pit off Route 116 near the Lindale trailer park and the Butternut Ridge neighborhood. The appeal was filed one week after the DRB issued its 13-page denial of the proposed 16-acre pit, slated for a 70-acre parcel that would be accessed via a new driveway off Route 116 a short distance north of Quarry Road.
Also in Middlebury, the public works committee continued to fine tune its 20-year bond proposal that will likely include provisions for a $3 million bond issue to address a growing backlog of road improvement projects that would otherwise linger on the town’s to-do list due to a lack of available resources. Middlebury residents may be called upon to vote on the bond at town meeting in March. Projects put on the table include upgrades to paved portions of Creek Road, Quarry Road, Butternut Ridge, and the Painter Hills area, as well as to Charles, Foote, Water, South and Weybridge streets, among others.
In education news, the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union established a new two-year teacher contract, which will expire in June 2012.
Robinson Elementary School and the Starksboro town offices teamed up to purchase 25 solar arrays, which were installed on property just behind the school. Both the town of Starksboro and Robinson Elementary jumped on the bandwagon of rebates that the state sponsored earlier this year for improvements in energy efficiency. They signed onto a five-year power purchase program with Green Mountain Power and AllEarth Renewables that will not only ensure fixed electricity rates of 19 cents per kWh for the next five years, but will also allow them to benefit from the solar arrays with very little upfront cost.
Along a similar, earth-friendly vein, Oct. 10, 2010, — 10-10-10 in shorthand — proved more than cosmically significant after Bill McKibben and his 350.org team dubbed it “Global Work Party” day. The Ripton-based environmentalist and the group of Middlebury College alums led an international charge to raise awareness for global warming legislation by encouraging people around the world to make a difference in their own communities. Addison County residents joined in by laying out new bike paths, installing new solar arrays and gleaning on behalf of local food shelves.
As the month waned, commuters continued to cope with the closure of the Champlain Bridge one year after its closure. Drivers have settled into their new routines and look forward to a new bridge, which is slated to open in October 2011.
Though the Champlain Bridge remains in the works, Addison County saw one major bridge project come to completion. On Oct. 30, Middlebury celebrated the opening of the new, $16 million Cross Street Bridge in style. Town Hall Theater Executive Director Doug Anderson headed up the day-long festivities, which included performances by local musical groups, a historical reenactment of the first Battell Bridge crossing and an “illumination” light show. The contractor, Kubricky Construction, picked up the $12,000 tab for the occasion. The project, made possible through a partnership between the town and college, was over 50 years in the making.
And along with the new, East Middlebury celebrated the old when the Waybury Inn marked its 200th anniversary.
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When Election Day came around, Addison County voters fell in line with statewide trends in selecting Democrat Peter Shumlin for governor, Republican Phil Scott for lieutenant governor, Democrat Jim Condos for secretary of state, and incumbent Republican Tom Salmon for state auditor. Area voters also supported new terms for both U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt., and U.S. Rep. Peter Welch, D-Vt.
On the morning of Wednesday, Nov. 3, Lt. Gov. Brian Dubie, a Republican from Essex Junction, conceded the governor’s race to Sen. Pres. Pro Tem Peter Shumlin of Putney. Shumlin had a 4,000-vote lead over Dubie with a few precincts left to come in.
Locally, there were several hotly contested races for legislative seats.
Senate Majority Whip Claire Ayer, D-Weybridge, also held onto her seat after raking in 9,516 votes in Addison County and Brandon. Incumbent state Sen. Harold Giard, D-Bridport, managed to finish second with 7,366 votes, though Orwell Republican Mark Young gave him a run for his money.
Reps. Gregory Clark, R-Vergennes, and Diane Lanpher, D-Vergennes, beat out challengers former Republican Vergennes Mayor Thelma “Kitty” Oxholm and Ferrisburgh Democrat Elizabeth Markowski for the seat representing Vergennes and surrounding towns.
In the Addison-4 district, Democratic incumbents Michael Fisher and Dave Sharpe finished in front of their Republican challengers; and in Addison-5, New Haven Republican Harvey Smith took the win over Weybridge Democrat Spence Putnam for the seat given up by incumbent Chris Bray.
Shoreham Independent Will Stevens won his third term in the Vermont House of Representatives in the Addison-Rutland-1 district, beating out Whiting Republican Joy Jones.
Three uncontested races reinstalled William Jewett in Addison-2, Republican Joe Acinapura in Brandon and Betty Nuovo in Middlebury to their House seats. Paul Ralston, also of Middlebury, won his first race for a House seat.
Also on Tuesday, Nov. 2, Ferrisburgh residents voted in favor of the town purchasing a home and adjacent two acres of land just south of the town’s Route 7 office building and community meeting center for a sum of $150,000.
Once Shumlin had been lined up to take over, Vermont Gov. Jim Douglas announced that once his eighth year as governor is complete, he will begin teaching at his alma mater, Middlebury College, during the January term in addition to serving as “Executive in Residence” at the college. Middlebury College President Ronald Liebowitz invited Douglas to teach a course on “Vermont Government and Politics,” an offer Douglas readily accepted. The teaching position will only last through the month of January, after which Douglas plans to move on to another long-term position in the private sector.
As budget deadlines loomed nearer, area schools struggled to meet the state’s Challenges for Change mandate to lower spending in 2011-2012. The nine schools in the Addison Central Supervisory Union made a combined total of $613,340 in spending cuts — the middle and high school proposed spending plans even cut $70,000 beyond the state’s 2.15-percent guideline — and the Mount Abraham Union High School board has shaved around $266,767 off this year’s spending plan for the coming fiscal year. The other schools in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union (ANeSU) did not fare as well. In the Rutland Northeast Supervisory Union, Leicester Central School set its target at $12,177 in cuts and Whiting Elementary School hoped to reduce by $4,774. In an attempt to tighten their belts, schools in the Addison Northwest Supervisory Union (ANwSU) went back and forth about the staff cuts necessary to meet Challenges goals. Vergennes Union High School found it necessary to cut $165,000 in spending from its previous budget just to reach level funding, and Vergennes Union Elementary School managed to meet the 2 percent spending reduction target after a veteran teacher accepted early retirement. Ferrisburgh Central School managed to cut $51,300 without touching staff positions, though Addison Central School faced dire straits.
Toward the end of November, Addison Central continued to face rising per pupil costs due to declining enrollment, and those in support of maintaining the school — though as a private institution — criticized the move to unify the five boards currently governing the ANwSU into one 12-person board. Addison Central supporters feared that the new board would choose to close the school until a clause was added to the unification proposal that would prevent any such board closing any schools without first holding a union-wide vote. As November wound down, almost all ANwSU board members supported the decision to put the unification to a vote for a third time on Town Meeting Day.
The ANeSU board faced its own source of contention in negotiating teacher contracts. Teachers from within the union picketed in the hallways of Mount Abraham Union High School on multiple occasions to encourage the board to return to the bargaining table.
In business news, Kennedy Brothers in Vergennes announced that it will be closing its doors after 50 years of providing the community with gifts and crafts and working with 50 different craft vendors who rented space within the North Main Street marketplace.
Also in November, Vermont farmers reported that prospects are looking better in the organic dairy business. The Cary Family Farm signed a contract with the Organic Valley milk cooperative. Russ Cary predicted that he will begin to bring in $13 more per hundredweight once he begins selling his milk to Organic Valley. Mike Eastman of Addison and Shoreham’s Kathleen Hescock, who both sell their milk to organic processors, said that business has been steady since making the switch from conventional dairy.
Things were also looking up for area farmers who reported better-than-usual crop yields in 2010. Despite an unseasonably wet early fall, the growing season proved quite fruitful, and many farmers came away with abundant supplies of corn and hay for feeding their livestock during the winter months ahead.
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In early December, the Community College of Vermont (CCV) reported that in the last two years, enrollment hit an all-time high of 7,300 part-time, full-time and non-degree students around the state. In Addison County, the Patricia A. Hannaford Center noted that enrollment numbers at the technical center have declined in recent years, moving director Lynn Coale to brainstorm new ways to entice students. Coale hopes to implement programs like the “green jobs institute” that will group courses by desired career paths that would hopefully lead to certification of some sort. Coale said that conversations surrounding the institute idea have only just begun and changes are a long way off, though the center will start offering new courses starting in the spring.
The nonprofit group that has raised $350,000 in grants toward an “Addison County Dental Center” announced its plan to tag along with the Five-Town Health Alliances proposed Federally Qualified Health Center (FQHC) in Bristol. Though the Dental Center may still be located in Middlebury, it will benefit from the financial security of the Alliance’s $650,000 grant, should it be awarded to them. Both groups will find out in the summer of 2011 whether or not the funding will be granting.
Local real estate gurus acknowledged that no, the real estate market is not booming. Surprise, surprise. Though, the news is not all bad, according to appraisers who said that homes in the lower and middle markets still seem to be fairly active. Homeowners looking to sell properties above $300,000, however, will likely wait a while before they see their property move.
The new Champlain Bridge began to take shape as winter moved in and the sub-structure was completed. The more visible elements of the bridge’s anatomy were put into place, though it still had a long way to go until its Oct. 9, 2011, completion date.
Language software company e-Corporate English chose Middlebury as its new home base, and announced that it could bring in as many as 100 well-paying jobs to the area by 2013. The company, currently based in Malta, offers intensive language training to corporations around the world in-person, online and via phone.
E-Corp is set to fill the vacant Vermont Electro-Mechanical Assembly Services (VEMAS) space at 1197 Exchange St. next year. Both town and college officials were pleased with the development, as both will benefit from the influx of jobs and resources. To continue the trend of economic growth in Middlebury, members of the Better Middlebury Partnership lobbied for the hiring of a new economic development director, underwritten by Middlebury College, and a part-time marketing coordinator.
Addison County gained a leadership position in the Vermont House and went down one in the Senate when Rep. William Jewett, D-Ripton, ran unopposed for the assistant majority leader spot. Sen. Clair Ayer, D-Weybridge, however, chose to sit out of the race for deputy majority leader (whip) this time around in order to focus more heavily on health care reform. Constituents will be looking to see if she wins a committee chairmanship in 2011.
Members of the Lincoln School Board in December made the decision to put the $2 million school renovation bond up for vote on Jan. 18, 2011, in order to bring the Lincoln Community School’s facilities up to snuff. Meanwhile, Sudbury voters chose to continue to support their own local school.
As of mid-December, United Way of Addison County managed to keep ahead of last year’s fund-raising pace announcing that it had reached 60 percent of its 2010-2011 $775,000 goal, despite “limited resources and increased needs.”
The local food movement continued to grow within the county as members of the Addison County Relocalization Network (ACORN) teamed up with Vermont Refrigerated Storage to open up the possibility of communal cold storage to area farmers.
The state headed into winter having received $14.4 million in heating fuel assistance from the federal government, though Richard Moffi, fuel assistance program chief for the Vermont Department of Children and Families, predicted that an additional $10 million would be needed.
In an energy-saving effort, Ferrisburgh weighed the options of becoming a “Property Assessed Clean Energy,” or PACE, community in an effort to fund more energy-efficient upgrades and additional solar options — though the town put the plan on hold because of outstanding questions. At the same time, developers flipped the switch on a $5 million solar project — the Ferrisburgh Solar Farm — off Route 7, next to Vergennes Union High School.
Around 40 National Guard members from the Vergennes Armory made it home for the holidays after a nearly yearlong deployment to Afghanistan.
As the year wound down, teachers and school board members in the Addison Northeast Supervisory Union could not decide on a contract and the boards will decide in January whether to impose a contract.
And Gov.-elect Peter Shumlin outlined his priorities for the New Year, which include advancing health care, extending broadband Internet coverage, reforming taxes, and improving higher education. His first day on the job as governor of Vermont will be Jan. 6.
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