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WHAT A YEAR! (PART 1)

December 30, 2012

Bill Stenger of Jay Peak Resort talks about regional and workforce development. File photo

NEWPORT - Wind. Wind. Wind. If there's one issue that dominated the news and the minds of people in the area, it was industrial wind towers. From the battle on the hillsides of Derby Line to the protests and sign waving on the Lowell Mountain ridgeline, wind was the hot issue of the year, and may be for years to come.
Canada got into the act in Derby Line when Stanstead Mayor Philippe Dutil decided enough was enough and rallied forces against a wind project designed for two farms on the U.S. side of the international border. Eventually, opponents won as the clock ran out for a Burlington developer on that project.
Lowell was another matter. Green Mountain Power, which gave birth to the project, had done its homework and pushed forward despite tremendous pressure from opponents. Ground was broken (and in many places blown to smithereens), huge turbines were hauled from the rail yard of Island Pond (although one got dumped on Interstate 91), and the towers went up and are now functional.
Everything was completed just in time for NVDA, the Vermont Legislature, and Vermont Electric-Cooperative to open discussions on an industrial wind moratorium.
In the meantime, the Lowell Six (a group spearheaded by Dr. Ron Holland) were arrested and charged with trespassing for trying to block the access to Lowell Mountain. They were eventually found guilty despite a dispute over ownership of the land on which they were standing.
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In keeping with the theme of power and energy, GazMetro got permission from the Public Service Board (now seen as the great enemy of the people) to purchase CVPS, the state's largest utility. GazMetro already owns Green Mountain Power and the acquisition required certain concessions, most notably the state had to forego the $21 million owed by CVPS to its rate-payers as the result of an agreement that kept it out of bankruptcy in years past. Gov. Peter Shumlin, after hemming and hawing a bit, decided to support the sale. Rate-payers, and in particular the AARP, were not happy.
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Not to be outdone, Chris Braithwaite, of the Barton Chronicle, was arrested and charged with trespassing while covering the protesters on Lowell Mountain as a journalist. Some law enforcement officials said Braithwaite was rude and directly disobeyed orders to leave the area. Braithwaite argued Constitutional rights and Freedom of the Press. As the case approached trial, defense attorney Phil White subpoenaed emails from Green Mountain Power that indicated, at best, that GMP had implicitly allowed Braithwaite to be on the mountain by establishing, as a matter of policy, that he was not to be arrested. What they actually meant by that and whether it made any difference with regards to the case was left unanswered when the prosecuting attorney dropped the charge. Shortly thereafter, upon a motion from defense, the court dismissed the case with prejudice, meaning the state could not revisit the issue down the road. Braithwaite's reaction? Sue GMP for withholding evidence that might have lead to an earlier dismissal and saved him over $20K in attorney's fees.
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Probably the next biggest story, or possibly a tie for first place, was the Jay Peak Resort Expansion and Renaissance Project. It should be noted that the name "Renaissance Project" was created by the press as the result of a plan by Jay Peak to tear down a decrepit Newport City block and build what was dubbed the Renaissance Block in its place.
Jay Peak, under the guidance of Bill Stenger, had been expanding for quite a while with new condos, an 18-hole golf course, a large water park, a full-sized ice rink, new hotels and.... Am I missing anything? Oh, yes, plans to develop a medical clinic on the mountain.
Now developers want to bring that money into Newport by reconstructing a major part of downtown, opening at least three new companies (a German window manufacturer, a biotech company from South Korean and an airplane parts company at the airport), constructing a hotel and conference center on the site of the Waterfront Plaza, and expanding the airport in Coventry. That's a lot of money and a lot of work - for a lot of people. The next step in this grand scheme is to develop the workforce necessary to accomplish these goals.
Well, it's going to be a long few years, so let's see how it all goes.
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Dr. Leslie Lockridge got fired by North Country Hospital, but that didn't stop the oncologist from drumming up a massive amount of support, which resulted in a public hearing on the matter. Of course, the hospital board didn't change its mind about the firing, but the event gave Dr. Lockridge more than 15 minutes of fame, enough to raise money and open his own clinic.
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Starr Trucking of North Troy closed its doors. After rumors of its demise went viral in the community, the family owned business sold out and officially announced its closure.
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The Derby Selectboard saw its share of rife with battles between a number of its members, most notably chairman Brian Smith and board member Karen Jenne. Jenne, who also serves as Derby Line Village Clerk, came under fire for allegedly sneaking around the Derby Town Clerk's offices after hours. Forget that she has a right to be there, or that she had a key, or that Smith was holding "private" and unannounced meetings in the building after hours, somehow this made Jenne a target for Smith and other members of the board.
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And both Derby Village Boards were busy, especially the zoning board. A developer named Bill Simendinger did his best to tear down some property he owns on the international border and put up mini-mart and gas station. That news met with a huge amount of resistance and, in the end, Simendinger met with his own personal woes and disappeared from sight, at least for a while.
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The Derby Town Meeting had its own strife when assistant town clerk Maryann Tetreault managed to beat town clerk Nicole Daigle for the position of delinquent tax collector. That job had brought in significant extra money to Daigle and tensions in the office increased every day after that until Tetreault had her hours cut and Daigle left for another job. By then, both ladies were worn thin from the battle, much of which wasn't about them at all but about the internal struggles of the Derby Board.
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After a bumpy and rather strange start, Faye Morin took over as Derby Town Clerk following a hastily called election in which she was the only person to run. Faye had been hand-picked by outgoing clerk Nicole Daigle and some people in the community were unhappy with how that had happened. Regardless, Morin was deemed the best person for the job and will hold it at least until the next March Town Meeting.
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As if all the power issues and protests weren't enough, a march was held in opposition to a large oil company (ExxonMobil) reversing the flow in huge pipes (The Portland-Montreal Pipeline) that run through the heart of the Northeast Kingdom, from Troy to Victory and beyond, in order to send tar sands oil to ports in Maine. Tar sands oil is notoriously corrosive and a spill in Kalamazoo, Michigan, caused disastrous environmental damage. The pipes would have to be replaced and heated. Tar sands oil is also infamous because of the way it is collected. Miles and miles of Alberta forests have been decimated in order to strip the oil from the ground. The effect of this "mining" is chilling. The nature of tar sands, and Americans revulsion of it, lead to the demise of the Keystone Pipeline project opposed, at least for now, by Pres. Obama.
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And while we're on the topic of protesters, members of the NEK99%, a local arm of the Occupy movement, were charged with "disorderly conduct" for writing on the sidewalks of Newport City with chalk. In a hearing held before a Lamoille County side judge, the three were ordered to pay $50 fines. No one seemed to object to what they were writing, only that it was done in chalk and "upset business owners." The group argued they had a write to use the sidewalks to express their ideas, especially since the city (or some members thereof) had taken to tearing down a community newsletter, calling it litter. The city, however, sanctioned putting up posters and other information that supported commercial projects downtown. The phrase that seems to be coming up a lot is, "Local merchants don't want it." Members of the NEK99% and their supporters want the city to know that the merchants aren't the only game in town, that people live here, too.
They plan to appeal the fines.
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In local elections, long-time state senator Vince Illuzzi gave up his seat to run a failed attempt for state auditor. The race for his seat got pretty hot, but in the end, Democrats John Rodgers and Bobby Starr went to Montpelier. The races were tight and more than one race ended with a recount.
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Morgan residents said a final goodbye to their school, which closed. The students were reassigned to other schools, many coming to Derby.
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It was a year for getting sick. An epidemic of Whooping Cough is still making its way around the state and people died from EEE and West Nile Virus.
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The first ever International Film Festival was held at the Haskell Opera House, and while we're there, both the opera house and it's lower-level library were the sites of criminal activity, from a burglary upstairs to a possible illegal guns deal across the border downstairs. Not bad for an otherwise haunted building.
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Dog lovers in the Northeast Kingdom got their wish and won a tidy sum of money to establish a dog park in Derby, which officially opened.

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