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Secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture says that Vermont is leading the country in terms of Agriculture, but faces challenges from the Food Safety Modernization Act

in Newport/News

NEWPORT — Chuck Ross, the secretary of the Vermont Agency of Agriculture, was in Newport on Tuesday to listen to the concerns of local farmers. The meeting was the first in a series of listening sessions, the rest of which will take place over the next few months throughout the state.

The low turnout in Newport for the meeting made it more of a listening session for the audience, as Ross had plenty to say in regards to the good things that are happening with Vermont’s agriculture. He also warned of the threat that the state faces in light of the Food Safety Modernization Act draft that was recently passed by Congress.

One thing that Vermont’s agriculture has going for it, is Chuck Ross himself. The Secretary of Agriculture has been named President of the National Association of State Departments of Agriculture. Listening to him speak on Tuesday, it was clear that as a state, we have one of the most knowledgeable minds in the industry working for us.

Ross laid it out for those in attendance. As a state, we are leading the way, and we also will face severe challenges set by the Food and Drug Administration.

“When you look at the state of Vermont, and what’s happening in agriculture, it’s really exciting,” Ross said. “We are leading the country in a number of ways. We’re on the cutting edge.”

According to Ross, when you talk about agriculture in Vermont, you have to start with dairy. The dairy farms support the dairy manufacturing industry in the state. This provides many Vermonters with quality jobs.

“I can’t underscore enough the importance that dairy is to the state. A lot of the other agriculture, like cheese making and yogurt, is what I call dairy plus, because it’s supported by the dairy farms. Also, the dairy farmers over the last 70 years have held the land, kept it open, and kept it productive.”

Ross went on to say that although there has been talk about herd numbers across the state decreasing, down about 2,000 cows over the last couple of years, the herd supply is fairly stable, and the milk supply is stable.

“Our farmers are getting better and better at producing more milk per cow, every year,” he said.

Chuck Ross in NewportRoss talked about what he called the “agriculture renaissance,” happening in the state, that is bringing in a younger generation of farmers. This influx of younger farmers are proving to be successful in marketing and exporting their products all over the country, which is helping to build a new and diversified economic based agriculture. At a time when the average age of dairy farmers is in the 50’s, and the number of dairy farmers decreases, these new businesses are making a good partnership with the dairy community by putting less stress on the service industries that have been built around dairy.

Ross also pointed out that Vermont is leading the way in terms of diversification and localization of agriculture.

“Vermont is seen as one of the top three artisan cheese regions in the world,” Ross said. “Our artisan cheeses compete internationally, and do incredibly well in every competition they enter. But, you can’t do good cheese, without great milk.”

Vermont is also the number one producer of maple products in the United States. Maple production is the fastest growing and most profitable agriculture in the state. Our northern neighbors in Quebec are still by far the largest producer of maple in the world.

We are also number one when it comes to direct marketing of agriculture, with CSA programs, farmers markets, and roadside stands, driving this type of growth.

“People are copying what we’re doing in Vermont in terms of supporting and growing our local economies and communities by investing in agriculture,” Ross said.

The challenge that we face comes by way of the federal government, with the Food Safety Modernization Act. The draft is a set of regulations by the Food and Drug Administration, which was drafted in response to legislation passed by Congress to make our food system safer. According to Ross, as the draft stands today, it will seriously impact the state’s agriculture, making it much harder for farmers to do business.

“This is a huge cloud hanging over much of what we’re doing with agriculture in the state of Vermont,” Ross said. “Quite candidly, the FDA wrote a draft that is not well constructed to be useful, effective, or implementable in a way that works for agriculture in Vermont and many other states.”

Ross stated that people producing produce for direct human consumption are going to be regulated according to the Food Safety Modernization Act in ways that they have never been regulated before.

“Very significantly for the state of Vermont, the Pasteurized Milk Ordinance is potentially being rewritten,” Ross said. “The PMO has served us well. I’m scratching my head wondering why are they going to mess with something that has enabled us to produce the best food product for human consumption in the world, year after year.”

Ross said that many have been engaged in pressing the FDA not to take the draft set of rules, and make it a final set of rules. He said that they are requesting that a second draft be written.

While discussing what some of the new rules would be, Ross said that one says that you can not harvest a product for human consumption for nine months after you have applied manure. That would be a growing season in the state of Vermont. You would also have to wait 45 days to harvest a product that used compost as a soil amendment.

When asked if the FDA was considering a redraft of the rules as they stand, Ross said that he is optimistic.

“I’d say we’ve gone from unlikely, to possible.”

Music Series Returns to St. Mark’s Episcopal Church in Newport

in Arts and Entertainment/Newport/News

NEWPORT — After a five year hiatus, music will again fill the historic St. Mark’s Episcopal Church on Second Street, Newport, with “Now Playing Newport – A Vermont Music Series.” It will be the only year-round music series in the Newport area, taking place on a monthly basis.

Jim McKimm, who for five years directed the former “Music For A Sunday Afternoon Series,” is returning to his musical roots after being a founding member of the MAC Center for the Arts, and serving as its president for five years. Mr. McKimm, who moved to Vermont in 1997, has served as Director of Music at St. Mark’s for the last twelve years, having served several churches in both New York City and New Jersey throughout his career.

Lynn Perry, member of the Newport Area Community Orchestra, and Jim McKimm, Series Director, look over the poster for the first concert in the “Now Playing Newport” music series which will begin on December 15th, at St. Mark's Episcopal Church.
Lynn Perry, member of the Newport Area Community Orchestra, and Jim McKimm, Series Director, look over the poster for the first concert in the “Now Playing Newport” music series which will begin on December 15th, at St. Mark’s Episcopal Church.
Joining as local music partners in the series will be Dr. Sara Doncaster, the Music Department Head at Lake Region High School, and Ken Michelli, founder and director of the Newport Area Community Orchestra.

New to the program will be a series of free youth concerts, starting with the Lake Region High School Select Chorus, who will present their holiday program on Sunday, December 15, at 4 p.m., under the direction of Dr. Doncaster. Their repertoire will include sacred music of various types.

The series will be reaching out to the other schools and youth groups in the area for the 2014 season.

The series is administered separately from the church and will be administered strictly by grants, sponsors, donations, and ticket sales. Receptions will follow most programs in the church’s Parish House.

St. Mark’s, completed in 1883, has changed little since it was built. The building’s vaulted wooden ceiling makes for wonderful room acoustics. The small venue will allow for an intimate experience for both the audience, as well as the musicians.

For complete details on the series and programs, visit them at www.nowplayingnewport.com.

If you know of anyone who may be interested in taking part in the series, please contact concerts@nowplayingnewport.com.

Photos by Tanya Mueller

Community Dinners Thanksgiving Day in Derby Make it a Special Holiday for Many in the Area

in Derby/News

All photos by Tanya Mueller, unless otherwise noted.

DERBY — The Church of God and the Elks Lodge in Derby both hosted community dinners Thanksgiving Day, making it a special holiday for many in the area. Both offered turkey dinner for anyone who wished to eat with the community, and both offered take out packages as well.

Church of God Pastor Laurence Wall poses with Julie Chase following Thursday's community dinner.
Church of God Pastor Laurence Wall poses with Julie Chase following Thursday’s community dinner.

The day before Thanksgiving, The Church of God delivered 145 meals throughout the area. Hayes Ford of Newport donated the 13 turkeys which were prepared by church members. The community dinner that they hosted on Thanksgiving Day was thanks to Julie Chase, who not only had the idea for the dinner, but cooked a turkey that she raised herself. About 50 people came out Thursday for the meal.

“This is the first time that we have hosted a community meal on Thanksgiving Day,” Pastor Laurence Wall of Church of God said. “It was a good turnout, and it’s all thanks to Julie.”

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The Elks Lodge served 225 people who came out Thanksgiving Day for the community dinner. They also served 300 take out meals throughout the day. This was the eighth year that the Elks Lodge in Derby has hosted the dinner.

Frances Dewing cooked the majority of the food, and the North Country High School Culinary Arts Program donated 69 pies for dessert. The potatoes served were thanks to George Weller of Stanstead.

“George did all the potatoes,” Ms. Dewing said. “Tuesday night they had a potato peeling party at his house, where they peeled all the potatoes. They cooked them this morning, and transported them here.”

Photo courtesy of Frances Dewing.
Photo courtesy of Frances Dewing.

The event was awarded a $2,000 Beacon Grant from the Elks National Foundation which paid for most of the food. With community donations in advance, both cash and in-kind, they raised a total of $3,000 before dinner was even served Thursday.

The money raised goes to the food and fuel fund for the Northeastern Vermont Area Agency on Aging

“It will be a Thanksgiving that continues throughout the season,” Lisa Viles, the executive director of the Northeastern Vermont Area Agency on Aging, said following Thursday’s event.

Northeastern Vermont Area Agency on Aging works to assist individuals who are in crisis for food and fuel throughout the year. They take donations to support their work online at NEKseniors.Org

Frances Dewing in the kitchen at the Elks Lodge in Derby Thursday afternoon.
Frances Dewing in the kitchen at the Elks Lodge in Derby Thursday afternoon.

Detroit Man Said to be Former Member of Bloods Street Gang Pleads Not Guilty of Charges He Conspired to Sell Heroin in Orleans

in News/Orleans

ORLEANS — In U.S. District Court in Burlington on Wednesday, Tony Rudolph Williams Jr. of Detroit, pleaded not guilty to charges that he conspired to sell heroin from an apartment in Orleans, Vermont.

Williams, 34, was arrested on Nov. 14 in Plattsburgh, New York, while getting off of a bus. Police arrested him based on information they received from confidential informants. When searched, he was in possession of more than a half ounce of heroin, a powdery substance, and muscle relaxants. He was ordered to remain in custody after being indicted on a drug conspiracy charge by a federal grand jury last week.

According to an affidavit filed with the court by a Vermont Drug Task Force agent, Williams “admitted that he was on his way to Vermont to make money selling drugs. He admitted this was his fourth trip to Vermont. He said he had transported 2-3 grams of heroin on a prior trip and sold it in Orleans County.”

According to the affidavit, a man identified by the nickname “Shorty,” has yet to be apprehended, but is said to have periodically sold heroin and other drugs from the apartment in Orleans since June.

According to court papers, Williams is said to have told police that he was a former member of the Bloods street gang. The court fillings also state that Williams has 12 prior convictions, three of which are felonies, and that he had two warrants for his arrest in Michigan at the time he was arrested in New York.

Four Stars as QNEK Presented “A Christmas Carol Radio Play,” Sunday Afternoon in Derby Line

in Arts and Entertainment/Derby Line/News

DERBY LINE — QNEK Productions finished off their third performance of “A Christmas Carol Radio Play,” Sunday afternoon at the Parish Hall of the First Universalist Church in Derby Line. The shows, which started Friday night, were performed as a benefit for the First Universalist Church.

QNEK a Christmas Carol Radio Play

Dickens’s “A Christmas Carol,” has captured the imagination, as well as the spirit of Christmas since its release in 1843. The name “Scrooge,” and the exclamation, “Bah! Humbug!” have entered the English language through the story.

It is a tale of overcoming the shallowness of our greedy attitudes, with the kind, thoughtful, and generous sides of our character that make our lives, and those around us, more enjoyable. Scrooge has the opportunity to change his ways, only because he is made aware of the consequences of his actions. The Christmas season itself is supposed to be the time of year when the spirit of good, spotlights our shortcomings throughout the year. It is a classic tale, and one that has been done many different ways.

“A Christmas Carol has been arranged and produced in a few different formats, from something right off the page, to something of a more goofy spectrum,” Phil Gosselin, Associate Producing Director of QNEK said before Sunday’s show. “This production is somewhere in between, with the dialogue being Dickensian, right off the book, but done in a radio play style.”

QNEK a Christmas Carol Radio Play 1

The QNEK cast of 18, which included sound effects and technicians, as well as the voice actors, put on a show Sunday afternoon that was much more than just a radio play. The hall was decorated with wreaths, and the tables were stocked with candy canes. As the audience arrived for the performance, members of the cast were circled around a piano singing Christmas carols. It was a perfect Christmas scene for “A Christmas Carol.”

Throughout the show, the actors used their voices to perfectly portray the action and suspense of the story. The radio play style naturally has a way to draw an audience inside the story, and the live sound effects made for an even more memorable experience. There was even a bit of comedy thrown in, thanks in part to the playfulness between the cast members themselves.

“It’s a story about rich and the poor, good and bad,” Josh Rediker, who played Bucky Maxwell, said after the show. “As a character, Scrooge changes because people gave him a chance, which warms his heart. It’s a great story for the Christmas season, and I loved working with all the people here. They’re fantastic.”

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“The performance changes all the time,” Brian McCrae, who has been with QNEK for four years, said. “Every night there is something different, and that’s what makes live theater great. You never know what’s going to happen.

Sunday afternoon, QNEK did a superb job of recreating the traditional radio play style of old. Although we have yet to have finished the Thanksgiving dinner that officially starts the holiday season, QNEK’s performance of A Christmas Carol left those who attended any of the shows over the weekend feeling that not only is Christmas just around the corner, but perhaps the days leading up to the actual holiday are more important than the day itself.

If you missed the shows in Derby Line, QNEK will present “A Christmas Carol Radio Play” on December 13, at 7:30 p.m. at the MAC Center in Newport. Visit them on the web at QNEK.com, and, for a short video of the cast warming up the audience on Sunday, visit DISPATCH TV.

QNEK a Christmas Carol Radio Play 2

Nelson Farms – Highest Recipient of Dairy Subsidies in Orleans County

in Derby/Derby Line/News

DERBY — According to the Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database, Nelson Farms, who was recently ordered to stop polluting two local waterways, is the highest recipient of Dairy Program subsidies in Orleans County. According to the database, they have also received the third highest amount of Dairy Program subsidies in the State of Vermont.

The Environmental Working Group Farm Subsidy Database tracks $256 billion in farm subsidies from commodity, crop insurance, and disaster programs, as well as $39 billion in conservation payments, between the years of 1995-2013.

Nelson Farms was recently taken to court by the State of Vermont Agency of Agriculture and the Agency of Natural Resources for discharging waste into the Clyde River and the Crystal Brook.

Last week, the Attorney General’s office announced a win in the water quality case against Nelson Farms. A preliminary injunction order was handed down by Orleans County Superior Court Judge Howard VanBenthuysen against Nelson Farms on November 6. The injunction states that farm operators are not allowed to discharge manure and other agricultural waste into the waterways.

The state alleges Nelson Farms allowed manure and other dairy operation drainage to overflow and discharge directly into the Clyde River from its farm in Derby Center, as well as directly into the Crystal Brook from its Derby Line location. According to a press release from the Attorney General’s office, the Nelson’s Clyde River farm has 450 dairy cows, and 200 heifers, and the Crystal Brook location has 575 dairy cows.

Between 1995-2013, Nelson Farms received $540,986 in dairy program subsidies, the highest in Orleans County.

Nelson farms dairy subsidies 2

The amount ranks third highest overall in the state of Vermont.

Nelson farms dairy subsidies 1

“Vermont farmers are stewards of the land and provide many environmental and economic benefits to our state. However, it is not acceptable for farmers to allow barnyard waste to pollute our waterways,” Attorney General William Sorrell said in a press release. “Although an acre of farm land produces less phosphorus than an acre of urbanized land, excess phosphorous in our waterways from any source deprives freshwater fish and plants of essential oxygen.”

Between 1995-2013, Nelson Farms received a total of $1,213,303 in USDA subsidies.

newport vermont news

Willey Claims Charges of Chasing Border Patrol Agent and Waving Handgun “Totally Fabricated”

in Newport/News

NEWPORT — “This is all totally fabricated,” Jason Willey, 30, of Derby Line told Judge Howard VanBenthuysen in court on Tuesday.

Willey is accused of chasing a Border Patrol agent in a residential area, as well as displaying a handgun while speaking with a Customs officer. He claims to have no idea why he was in court, and is being held at Northern State Correctional Facility in lieu of bail, after invoking his right to take 24 hours before entering a plea.

The judge said the court would enter pro forma not guilty pleas to misdemeanor charges of reckless endangerment and careless or negligent operation. Bail was set at $25,000. The judge also ordered Willey to refrain from harassing any state or federal law enforcement officers, or possessing any weapons.

The incidents took place on two separate occasions, starting on Nov. 2, when Willey is said to have spotted Customs and Border Protection Officer Stephan Isabelle off duty at the Circle K station in Derby Line. According to an affidavit filed by Sergeant Michael LaCourse, Willey was starring at Isabelle while pumping gas, and allegedly pointed his finger in the shape of a gun, and made a shooting gesture.

Isabelle followed Willey and called for back-up. Customs and Border Protection Officer Justin Speaks spotted the car parked in Willey’s driveway on Lyon Road, where Willey is said to have grabbed a handgun that was tucked in the waistband of his pants. Willey put his hands about his head for Speaks to seize the gun after Speaks drew his weapon.

The chasing incident took place Nov. 14, when Border Patrol Agent John Marquissee saw Willey drive by. Marquissee states that he noticed Willey because of the incident which took place on Nov. 2.

According to an affidavit filed by state police trooper David Upson Jr., at 11:30 p.m., Marquissee stated that Willey began following him at speeds up to 80 miles per hour in a 25 miles per hour zone. Marquisse claims that he was being followed so closely, that he could not see Willey’s headlights, and that at one point, Willey cut his headlights completely.

Afterward, Willey sped off, and Marquisse was unable to locate Willey’s vehicle. Later, state troopers found Willey’s car parked in a lot on Route 105 in Newport Center, where Willey’s girlfriend, Pamela Binette, was in the drivers seat.

Binette is said to have confirmed the story of the chase, and that Willey told her to switch seats with him, which she did out of fear.

Gov. Shumlin Bags a Buck Over the Weekend, and Twitter Goes Wild

in News/Opinion

Saturday marked the start of rifle deer hunting season in Vermont, and Governor Peter Shumlin’s weekend hunting played out across Twitter like a soap opera.

Last year, WCAX tweeted that WCAX reporter Susie Steimle followed Shumlin into the woods to find out more about Vermont’s 81st governor.

Picture 3

“In the end, we saw no deer or bear or any wildlife at all. Instead, we got an unusual glimpse of Vermont’s governor attempting to find some peace and quiet,” Steimle wrote.

But this year Shumlin redeemed himself when he posted this tweet:

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VT Fish and Wildlife were quick to follow up the announcement:

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Burlington Free Press followed suit:

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Even Anne Galloway, of VTDigger.org got in on the action.

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The event did not go without a bit of humor also:

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Or:

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But the best of all came last:

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derby Vermont arts and Crafts fair

Dailey Memorial Library’s Christmas Arts and Crafts Fair a Success

in Arts and Entertainment/Derby/News

DERBY — “Looking to the future while preserving the past.” These are the words guiding the capital campaign for the expansion project of the Dailey Memorial Library. With some of the proceeds from this years Christmas Arts and Crafts Fair going toward the expansion project, Saturday’s event both looked toward the future of the library, while preserving the past, marking the 22nd time that the annual event has taken place.

1 derby Vermont arts and Crafts fairInside the gymnasiums of North Country Junior High, visitors were treated to an eclectic mix of products that showcased the rich tradition of arts and crafts throughout the region. There were 33 vendors involved this year, selling a range of products.

Riley Brooks, of B3 Balsam, brought out a line of products made from ground up balsam firs. The pleasing smell of the soft, fir stuffed pillows, were a popular seller Saturday morning. According to Mr. Brooks, the fir scent of the pillows will last for many years.

“We were at a craft expo when we found Maine Balsam Fir Company, the supplier who we buy our dried firs from,” Mr. Brooks said. “We bought a pound that night, and since we had a fir pillow that was 16 years old and still smelled nice, we decided to try and make our own. B3 Balsam started that night using a 1940 Singer Straight Stitch machine.”

Mr. Wambach, from Nic & Wambach Creative Arts based out of Red Hook New York, said he visits his sister once a month in Vermont, and enjoys drawing the state’s picturesque scenes. His display showcased some of these works.

derby Vermont arts and Crafts fair 1“I enjoy the beauty of Vermont, and it’s a place with a phenomenal amount of history,” he said.

One of his favorite Vermont scenes to draw are covered bridges.

I plan to do as many of the covered bridges as I can. There are 138 in the Northeast Kingdom, and I’d like to draw all of them,” he said.

His work can be found at the East Side gift shop, or visit them online.

Richard and Vera Long, of Long Branch Wooden Bowls, brought out their entire inventory of wood turned bowels.

To make the bowls, the couple haul the logs in from their property in Holland. It takes about ten to twelve months for each piece to be finished. Mr. Long starts with a rough cut, then shelves and dates each piece. Once dry, they are put back on the lathe for a final shaping. The bowls are finished in walnut oil and beeswax.

IMG_9293“I hand sign each piece with a wood burning tool,” Vera Long said. “Because they are heirloom gifts, many customers want them for a wedding present. I put the name of the couple with the date they were married on the back.”

Jim Hutchins, of Hutch and Ricka Custom Leather Carving, displayed an assortment of handcrafted leather and hardwood items made in Newport Center. A sign which read, “little hands welcome to touch,” was posted above the display, encouraging the curiosity of the many children who came out Saturday. Their work is part of the Wooden Horse Arts Guild, and can be viewed online.

Kimberly Covert, from Covert Essentials of Enosburg Falls, was busy selling personal care products. She started her own line of products after working for an all natural skin care company in New York. Covert Essentials started making soap, but has evolved into much more.

Her biggest seller has been her deodorant products.

IMG_9265 (2)“I wanted a natural deodorant that actually works,” she said. “Using a combination of organic coconut oil and beeswax forms a nice barrier, and combined with some powder, keep you dry for a really long time.”

Her products can be found in Stowe, but should soon be available in the Newport area.

Saturday’s craft fair lasted until 2 p.m. Although the event draws many people every year, this year was especially steady. The money raised will go to the operating fund of the Daily Memorial Library, as well as the capital campaign for the expansion project.

To see a video of what the new library will look like, please watch the video below.

Nelson Farms Ordered to Stop Polluting the Clyde River

in Derby/Derby Line/News

DERBY LINE — The Vermont Attorney General’s office announced a win this week in a water quality case against two farms owned by the Nelson family. The preliminary injunction order was handed down by Orleans County Superior Court Judge Howard VanBenthuysen, against Nelson Farms on November 6. The injunction states that farm operators are not allowed to discharge manure and other agricultural waste into the Clyde River, or the Crystal Brook.

The state alleges Nelson Farms allowed manure and other dairy operation drainage to overflow and discharge directly into the Clyde River from its farm in Derby Center, as well as directly into the Crystal Brook from its Derby Line location.

According to the press release from the attorney general’s office, the Nelson’s Clyde River farm has 450 dairy cows, and 200 heifers, and the Crystal Brook location has 575 dairy cows.

Nelson Farms has until Dec. 15 to present plans to the state as to how both locations will permanently eliminate any potential waste runoff entering the brook or the river. They also must allow inspectors on site to inspect the farms anytime between 6 a.m. – 9 a.m.

“Vermont farmers are stewards of the land and provide many environmental and economic benefits to our state. However, it is not acceptable for farmers to allow barnyard waste to pollute our waterways,” Attorney General William Sorrell said in the press release.

“Although an acre of farm land produces less phosphorus than an acre of urbanized land, excess phosphorous in our waterways from any source deprives freshwater fish and plants of essential oxygen.”

“The State’s agricultural water quality laws and programs are designed to assist farmers to help keep our waterways clean,” Sorrell said. ”When voluntary compliance efforts fail, however, the Agency of Agriculture, the Department of Environmental Conservation and my Office will work cooperatively to take enforcement action.”

Click to download the injunction (PDF)

Click to read the Attorney General’s press release.

Images From Newport Fire Thursday Afternoon

in Newport/News

All photos by Manfried Starhemberg

NEWPORT — The fire which blazed Thursday afternoon on Central Street in Newport left three families without a home. The apartment building, owned by Memphremagog Rentals, was completely destroyed. Nearby homes were evacuated by the Newport City Fire Department and Police Department due to the thick, noxious smoke which filled the surrounding area.

Newport Vermont Fire

The fire broke out around 1 p.m. The Derby Line Fire Department was called in to help battle the fire which burned well into Thursday evening.

Newport Vermont Fire 2

As of Thursday night, not much is known as to the cause of the fire, however, a cause and origin investigation will be done. There were no injuries. All residents who were inside the building at the time made it out safely.

Newport Fire Vermont

State Senator Robert Starr Offends Arab-American Group

in Newport/News

NEWPORT — At a Vermont Transportation Board public hearing on October 30, Vermont State Senator Robert Starr made a remark which angered the Arab-American Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC). In a letter sent to Senator Starr the group requested that he address the matter publicly.

During the public hearing, Senator Starr was addressing members of the Vermont Transportation Board, who were taking responses from participants as to how the state could make up for a loss of gas tax revenue as the use of electric vehicles increases.

The state of Vermont’s energy plan sets a goal of 25 percent of all vehicles to run on alternative fuels by the year 2030.

“Part of the revenue that the state gets for transportation is tied to the gas tax,” Vermont Transportation Board Executive Secretary John Zicconi stated during an interview last week. “When we hit 143,000 electric vehicles, we will loose about 21 million dollars annually in revenue. The question Senator Starr was responding to was if this is coming, how do we make up that revenue?”

Senator Starr voiced his opinion that electric rate increases in the state would make it more expensive in the future to operate electric cars, than to drive gas powered vehicles.

“As far as electric cars go, the way I see it, if our electric rates keep going up at the rate they’ve been going up, I don’t think we’ll ever hit that magic number of 5,000 electric cars, because it’s going to cost more to plug those suckers in than it does to go give the Arabs four dollars a gallon for the gas,” Senator Starr said.

A participant in the crowd that night, who wishes to remain anonymous, was troubled by what he heard. The next day the incident was reported to the ADC. The group, based out of Washington, D.C., is the largest Arab American grassroots organization in the country.

In a letter sent to Senator Starr, the ADC wrote:

“ADC strongly believes that your statement is highly offensive to the Arab-American community and perpetuates demeaning stereotypes of Arab-Americans. Your statement can be interpreted as a generalization toward all persons of Arab ethnicity.”

Starr’s comment was confirmed through an audio recording that exists of the incident.

“What Senator Starr said was very stereotypical, and there is no room for that in politics,” ADC Director of Legal and Policy Affairs, Abed Ayoub, said during a telephone interview.

“Elected officials, and those seeking office need to be more responsible with their words, and need to have a better understanding of different ethnic groups and individuals that make up a part of this country.”

Although the individual who reported the incident demanded full anonymity, he provided this statement regarding his initial shock after hearing Starr’s comment.

“There are many ways his remark could have been taken, all of which were offensive.”

“His metaphor and his words were very careless, and very stereotypical,” Mr. Ayoub stated.

It took a week for Senator Starr to have the opportunity to respond to the letter because he never actually received it. Although the letter from the ADC was sent within a few days, they faxed it to the number given for Vermont State Senators online. Since they do not have offices in Montpelier, any fax that would have arrived for Senator Starr would be waiting in Montpelier until January.

When made aware of the letter, Starr was quick to offer an apology, and to retract what he said.

“I shouldn’t have said it that way,” Starr stated when asked about the incident.

“See our electric rates here in Vermont are the fourth highest in the nation. I should have said with our electric rates so high, we aren’t going to be able to use electric cars. I certainly didn’t want to offend anybody, and should have said it would be cheaper to give our money to the big oil companies and oil men. I did not want to offend anybody, and if I did I am certainly sorry that I did. My statement was more of a reaction to electric rates here in Vermont being so high.”

When made aware of Starr’s response, the individual who reported the incident appreciated Starr’s willingness to address the issue. He had been advised by the ADC that sometimes issues like this go without response.

“He acknowledged what he said, took responsibility for it, and offered an apology. You can’t ask for more than that, and usually don’t get as much,” the individual who reported the incident said. “When someone says something that offends someone else, and you find sincerity in their apology, you move on, and everyone grows from the situation,” he went on to say.

“I’ve worked with the public since I was a kid, and I don’t ever want to offend anyone,” Starr said. “I wasn’t applying gas prices to any individual, or individuals, but we do buy a lot of foreign oil, and our electric rates have gone up considerably over the last four years.”

Newport Area Community Orchestra Fall Concert Draws a Crowd

in Newport/News

Newport Area Community Orchestra Vermont 4NEWPORT — The Newport Area Community Orchestra played their annual Fall concert Saturday afternoon inside the assembly room at the Goodrich Memorial Library. Around 75 people came out to hear the orchestra play selections and excerpts from Mozart, Mussorgsky, Brahms, and Witt.

With the annual Fall concert behind them, and all the hard work leading up to Saturday’s performance over, the Newport Area Community Orchestra has a chance to reflect on the journey the group has taken. The orchestra, now in its third season, started out as a quartet led by conductor Ken Michelli. They now number 30 musicians, 23 of which played on Saturday.

As the orchestra continues to grow in numbers, so does its audience. Saturday’s performance filled the room to capacity.

“I was real pleased with the audience size,” Ken Michelli said following the concert. “This is the largest crowd we’ve had here at the library.”

The orchestra played superbly. Marc Semprebon, who introduced each piece, provided both insight and entertainment as he gave a brief history of each work before its performance. His often humorous, and thought provoking introductions made for a more intimate experience.

IMG_9301Heather Webster, who played a flute solo during the first piece of the night, Andante for Flute by Mozart, offered advise on how to face the nervousness of being in the spotlight.

“Nerves are just a negative way we look at excitement,” she says. “It was a good experience for me because I never played a solo like that in front of people, so I actually had to seek out a flute teacher and work hard on it.”

Speaking with the musicians afterward, they overwhelmingly felt that the final piece of the night, Symphony in C by Witt, was their best.

“We put a lot of effort into that last piece. It was our longest, so we had a lot of pages to flip through. We had to concentrate to stay together and in time,” violinist Nathaniel Wendt said.

“I loved that last movement that we played. It was powerful, and a nice way to end,” Ms. Webster said.

Michelli, who also viewed the final movement to be the strongest, was proud of the way the group has the ability to rise to the occasion when putting on a concert.

“It came together quite well I think. It usually does. We just work that way,” he said.

The group is featured in this weeks State of the Arts section of Seven Days. To see a video of Saturday’s concert, click here.

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Penn’s Fish House of Vermont Grand Opening – Making You Rethink Fried Food

in Derby/News

DERBY― After eating at Penn’s Fish House of Vermont, you will realize that there are two types of fried food. There is the over-battered, usually deep frozen variety that we have grown used to suffering through, and then there is the proper, thin-battered variety that is something much different. Penn's Fish House Derby Vermont 1Penn’s will make you forget whatever you thought you knew about the subject. Until you experience fried food done properly, you will never know what you’ve been missing.

Exactly one month since opening their doors, Penn’s Fish House celebrated its grand opening in Derby with a benefit event that saw 50 cents of every meal going toward North Country Hospital.

It was a full house Friday night, with word spreading around town that there is something special about this place. Although Penn’s offers grilled food and salads as well, it’s the fried food that they serve which has people talking.

Penn’s commitment to fresh ingredients is part of the reason that your first meal there is sure to surprise you.

IMG_9283“Nothing is pre-battered. When the order comes in, we cut the fillets, batter it, and cook it fresh,” Vikram Sood, who owns Penn’s, said Friday night.

The other secret to Penn’s unique taste, is in the batter they cover the fresh fillets in.

“This type of fried food is totally different than what people in this area are used to. Our batter is crispier and much thinner. This soaks in the least amount of oil.”

The fired catfish with hushpuppy I tasted Friday night perfectly demonstrated this concept. The thinner batter made for a fried meal that was light and extremely tasty. It was a pleasant surprise from the first bite through to the last.

In bringing Penn’s to Derby, Sood has taken a style of cooking unique to one specific region of the United States, and slightly altered it to match the tastes of the Northeast.

IMG_9277“It seemed like an interesting idea to introduce food from the southern United States into this part of the country. We slightly altered some recipes to match the taste of the region, with haddock and tilapia being favorites up here,” Sood said.

The haddock is the number one selling item at Penn’s, with catfish a close second.

If you order the hushpuppy to go with your meal, Sood is quick to point out a little tip. He suggests mixing the red hot sauce that sits at the table with some mayonnaise. It is good advice.

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Walmart and Vermont, business as usual.

The Payoff That’s Not a Payoff: For $200,000 Opponents Promise Not to Fight Walmart in Derby

in Derby/Newport/News

DERBY–Preservation Trust and the Vermont Natural Resources Council have agreed not to oppose a Walmart Superstore in Derby. The two Vermont conservation groups made a complex deal with developer Jeff Davis, the Shumlin administration, and the Legislature, requiring Davis to pay $200,000 for future improvements to downtowns throughout Orleans County.

The deal, signed September 25th, and unveiled in Burlington Wednesday afternoon, was welcomed by Newport City Mayor Paul Monette and Derby Select Board Chairman Brian Smith, who have been trying to bring Walmart into the area for years. Davis could possibly apply for local permits for the Walmart Superstore within 30 days.

For not opposing the future Derby store, Preservation Trust will receive payment once the store is built, with the $200,000 used entirely for grants to help downtowns in Orleans County. In addition, the state will add $500,000 to its downtown improvements tax credit program.

Davis also agreed to pay $600,000 over six years to Newport City. The city will use the money to ease the economic impact the store will bring.

“To me, the most important thing was to get Newport and Derby a Walmart,” Davis said.

One final addition to the deal is that Davis agreed that for the next five years, he will not seek to build any other Walmart stores outside other Vermont downtowns.

Both conservation group executive directors brought up the fact that there was a lack of organized opposition to the Derby store, and that the deal reached was a fair compromise, given the fact that a long battle could cost hundreds of thousands of dollars.

In the past, both Derby and Newport City voters have supported the idea of an agreement with Davis being made in order to move the project along. In 2010, 85 percent of voters favored a Walmart in Derby being built.

When asked if the deal amounted to a payoff to stop fighting the Derby Walmart, Paul Bruhn, executive director of Preservation Trust, stated, “We don’t think of it in that way.”

The Town and the Village: Derby Line Voters Cross Town to Vote on the Same Issue

in Derby/Derby Line/News

Derby Line Village HallDerby―Voters from Derby and the village of Derby Line overwhelmingly voted yes to bond for the funds needed to move forward with a water system upgrade.

Voters in Derby were simply voting yes or no to borrow the $410,000 needed to help split the cost with the village of Derby Line for the new waterline to the Derby Elementary School. The town agreed to contribute to the cost of the new waterline extension because it was a safety issue, and currently there is not enough water flow to aggressively fight a fire if one ever broke out at the school.

The village of Derby Line voted yes to bond for the $1.2 million needed for the entire cost of the project, but, since they are also residents of the town, they were allowed to go to the ballot box at the Municipal Building in Derby Center, and vote on the $410,000 loan.

Village Clerk Sharon Booth and village Clerk Fay Morin reminded voters from the village that they had the opportunity to cast their votes across town as well.

Now that the bond vote is over, plans will move forward to upgrade the water system.

On Main Street, 1,200 linear feet of new 10 inch diameter waterline from Louis Street, running south to Valentine Avenue, will replace the original 4 inch cast iron waterline.

The installation of approximately 4,900 linear feet of new 8 and 10 inch diameter waterline will begin at Forest Avenue, run along Forest Terrace, and continue west through the corn field to Derby Elementary School.

The final design will be completed in February. Construction is set to begin in April and finish in September.

The average Derby Line resident resident pays about $370 per year for water. The village portion of the annual loan payment will be around $53,000, increasing the water rate an extra $85 dollars per year.

The town of Derby anticipates raising the funds to pay their portion of the annual loan payment through town property taxes.

The breakdown of the vote was as follows:

Derby Line – 69 yes | 12 no

Derby – 195 yes | 42 no

Voter turnout was low, at about 20 percent in Derby Line, and less than 10 percent in Derby.

Apple Cider Flowed in Derby Friday Night at the Coutts-Moriarty Camp

in Derby/News

It’s a simple, two step process. You have to grind the apples somehow, and then squeeze the heck out of them. Step two requires a tremendous amount of force, and step one requires that something sharp be continuously moving as the apples are fed through.

It should come as no surprise that all you would have to do is search YouTube for “homemade apple grinder,” or “homemade cider press,” to see just how incredibly dangerous the whole process can be when someone tries to build their own contraption to accomplish these two steps.

Kasen helps load apples into the grinder Friday night.
Kasen helps load apples into the grinder Friday night.
Although there are ways to get ‘er done with an electric drill and a 5 ton bottle jack, luckily for everyone who came out Friday night to the new heated lodge at the Coutts-Moriarty Camp in Derby, there was a much more elegant, and much safer machine on hand. It was so safe in fact, even the kids took turns running it. However, a few needed to be reminded not to put their hands in the grinder.

With minimal effort, the cider was flowing.

Around 50 people came out for the free community event which was organized by Jason Brueck of the Coutts-Moriarty Camp. It was an eclectic mix of people, music, and apples, and it was just the type of event that Mr. Brueck had in mind while the new lodge was being built.

“One of our big goals is to be a community resource, and to have lots of different people from the community come out tonight was great,” Mr. Brueck said.

IMG_9186Guests were encouraged to bring their own apples to run through the machine, and make their own cider. Many, like Holly Spencer from Derby, came with buckets filled with apples they had collected from all over town.

“I got my apples from somebody I know who has a small orchard in Morgan, and some also came from North Troy,” Ms. Spencer said, proudly displaying her mason jars filled with the amber colored liquid.

If you didn’t have any apples to press, a $3 donation got you a quart of cider to take home.

Members of the Plymouth State University Choir, featuring North Country graduates Hannah Chambers and Kyle Quirion, put on the short concert that followed the cider pressing. Those who came out Friday night were treated to sounds that ranged from solo saxophone, to a capella music. The concert concluded with a jazz combo playing Thelonious Monk.

The musicians, who are Music Education students, sat through a day of classes that ended at 4 p.m., and a two hour drive from New Hampshire, in order to put on the concert.

“The kids all had fun, and there was even a couple of dogs, so we’re really pleased with the way the night turned out,” Jason Brueck said after the event.

IMG_9214The people at the Coutts-Moriarty Camp are settling into their new 80-by-40 foot Education Lodge and Hall. The facility can hold up to 80 guests.

“This is only the first winter we’ve been up and running with this new heated building, so now that we’re able to have year round events, we’re pretty excited.” Mr. Brueck said.

For more information on the Coutts-Moriarty Camp, visit them on the web, and to see the proper way to make cider, have a look at the video from Friday’s event below.

Vermont Transportation Board Gets in Touch with Public at Hearing in Newport

in Newport/News

NEWPORT — The Vermont Transportation Board held a public hearing in Newport Wednesday night at the Gateway Center. About 25 people from the area participated in the hearing, which was a fairly large number, considering that the Boston Red Sox were playing in the World Series at the same time.

The purpose of the hearing was to go over the budget situation that the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) is facing, and to discuss with the community what are our local priorities when it comes to proposed budgeting.

“We only have sixty-five percent of the money we need to do everything that we need to do,” a VTrans Board member said.

With a 35 percent gap in funding, some cuts will need to be made, but the goal was to find out where Vermonters would like to see those cuts made.

“We’re looking for your suggestions on how to fill that gap,” he went on to say.

Throughout the hearing, questions were asked of the participants. One such question was how the state should deal with tax revenue loss from an increase in electric vehicles. Since the gasoline tax makes up the largest share of the funding that VTRans receives, they are starting to look ahead toward a day when Vermonters purchase less gasoline.

One of the options on the table, and also the one most disliked by the participants, was a user based fee for electric cars, based on in-state mileage. When asked how that would be calculated, the Vtrans Board discussed a sticker fitted with GPS.

The suggestion was so unanimously opposed, that most participants laughed, making jokes about the NSA.

What to do with the Vermont railway system was another topic of discussion, with VTrans making it clear that even an increase in passengers would not prevent the state from loosing money in keeping them up.

Vermont State Senator Robert Starr addressed the board in the video below:

On a positive note, it looks like Newport will soon see a bus service running from:

Newport > St. Johnsbury > White River Junction

The Vermont Transportation Board also asked participants where would be good locations in the area to place Park and Ride stations. It seems that we will see more of them coming to the area soon.

All that is left of the home which was destroyed by fire Tuesday night in Derby Line.

Fire Blazes in Derby Line – Firefighter Injured, But Okay

in Derby Line/News

Derby Line Fire 1DERBY LINE — The fire which destroyed a vacant house on Highland Avenue in Derby Line Tuesday evening, left one firefighter injured.

Derby Line firefighter Tanner Jacobs was taken from the home on a stretcher and rushed to North Country Hospital.

“The building collapsed on one side, and trapped him inside. It pinned his legs down,” a fire investigator said on site Wednesday morning.

“He’s fine. He went to the hospital but was released. It was just a bumps and bruises type of thing,” he went on to say.

Derby Line Fire 2At about 8 p.m. Derby Line firefighters arrived on the scene. While flames blasted out of the roof, back up came from across the boarder, with members from the Stanstead, Quebec, department helping to contain the blaze.

The house belonged to Dale Bennett, who was having the house renovated for sale. However, as of Tuesday night when the fire started, it was still vacant. A few residents of Highland Avenue described the house as extremely old, perhaps one of the oldest in the village.

Neighbors gathered around to watch the fire, and a few talked about the possibility of arson, based on witnessing the way the fire so quickly engulfed the home.

IMG_9104Wednesday morning, when asked, one of the fire investigators confirmed that it was being investigated, but that arson is not always suspected based on how quickly a fire spreads.

“Right now we’re waiting on an excavator to get a good look at things, but when you run into a fire that has a lot of ventilation, it can seem as though it’s an accelerated fire, but that’s not always the case,” the fire investigator said.

As of noon Wednesday, Boarder Patrol was on site, along with the fire investigators, keeping watch on the destroyed home.

An Afternoon of Learning at the Osher Lecture Series Newport

in Newport/News

The fifth lecture of the Fall 2013 Osher Lecture Series took place Wednesday afternoon inside the Conference Room at the Hebard State Office Building in Newport. The lecture, given by Bob Manning, was titled, “The Neolithic World of Stone: From Gobekli Tepe to Stonehenge.” About 50 people were in attendance.
osher logo

It was a bit like attending a college lecture from one of your favorite professors, which is usually someone who has the ability to entertain, as well as enlighten.

Mr. Manning, an art historian, artist, and retired Professor Emeritus of Fine Arts, is a graduate of Pratt Institute and the University of Hartford. His lecture Wednesday focused on two Neolithic sites, Stonehenge and Gobekli Tepe. Gobekli Tepe, located in Turkey, predates Stonehenge by 6,000 years.

“I’m probably one of the only people left in Vermont still using slide projectors,” Manning joked early on during the presentation.

The sound of the fan cooling the light bulb inside the projector, and the snapping of the slides as they changed over, added to the ambiance of the presentation.

Over the years Mr. Manning has traveled throughout the world visiting ancient stone circles, and many of the slides in his presentation were photographs from his travels. He also projected some of his own drawings, many of which were done on site.

The first part of the lecture focused on the more well known stone circle sites in England and Ireland. A large number people attending the lecture raised their hands when asked if they had visited any of the sites.

When the lecture shifted to exploring the known facts about Gobekli Tepe, Manning, using a quote, brought into context what an incredible feat in human achievement the site represents.

“It’s as if someone had built a 747 in a basement with an X-Acto knife.”

Mr. Manning’s presentation was not only full of images and information on Neolithic stone circles, but a good amount of humor as well.

“Living as long as I have, I have years of witnessing many things, including drawings inside the walls of men’s rooms,” Manning said amusingly while displaying some of the more explicit etchings on the stones of Gobekli Tepe.

In summing up the importance of such sites, Manning returned to another quote about stone circles. They are, “a space set apart to harbor the inner life.”

The Osher Lecture Series brings together a community of adult learners who enjoy engaging discussions on a range of topics. The lectures seek to engage the minds and stimulate the senses.

The next event in the series will take place Wednesday, October 30, at 1 p.m. The lecture, “The Best of Broadway and Beyond-Right in Your Own Backyard,” will be given by Lynn Leimer.

Demonstrators gather outside U.S. Port Of Entry in Derby Line to stand with Mi’kmaq Nation

in Derby Line/News

Derby Line—It’s not often that you pass through a port of entry into the United States, and you’re greeted with the sounds of Native American drumming, chanting, and the smell of burning sage. If you entered the U.S. at Derby Line on Route 5 Saturday afternoon between 12-4 p.m., that was exactly how you were welcomed in.

Ten people came out Saturday afternoon to Derby Line to voice their opposition of the practice of hydraulic fracturing.

Hydraulic fracturing, or “fracking,” is the process of drilling and injecting fluid into the ground at a high pressure in order to fracture shale rocks to release natural gas inside.Derby Line Vermont.jpg

The demonstrators were particularly opposed to the practice when done on lands belonging to Native Americans. They stood in solidarity with a wave of protests that have broken out in New Brunswick, where members of the Mi’kmaq Nation have been taking a stand against a company conducting seismic testing, which many believe is a prelude to fracking operations.

The protests in New Brunswick have recently escalated, with Elsipogtog First Nation Chief Arren Sock, who had issued the company an eviction notice on October 1, and the band’s council, being arrested on Friday.

The demonstration in Derby Line was also part of a larger, worldwide movement scheduled for Saturday, known as “Frackdown Day.”

On U.S. Route 5, demonstrators, mostly Native Americans from the United States, gathered across the street from the port of entry, playing drums, chanting, and holding up signs in the direction of motorists entering the country.20131020-150846.jpg

“Our hearts and prayers are with the Mi’kmaq Nation in New Brunswick, being forced to have fracking done on their land. The Canadian government is not respecting the native treaties,” Melody Nunn of St. Johnsbury said while taking a break from drumming.

Ms. Nunn went on to express her motivation for organizing the event coming after seeing images of clashes between Royal Canadian Mounted Police (RCMP) and protesters in New Brunswick.

“The image of the siege that will stay in my heart is a Mi’kmaq woman on her knees, holding an eagle feather as her only defense from several hundred RCMP with loaded rifles. It’s their land, and we’re here to stand in solidarity with our brothers and sisters across that boarder.”

The decision to stage Saturday’s demonstration so close to the port of entry was made late Friday night. Although they did not foresee any problems, they were aware of the possibility of running into opposition from authorities.

“The message today outweighs the outcome of any trouble we might face,” Kevin Carney stated when asked about the legality of demonstrating in the location. Mr. Carney traveled from New Hampshire with his wife to attend.

Like most of the cars that passed by after entering the U.S., Boarder Patrol agents waved to the group to greet them as they drove past during routine patrols of the area. It was a peaceful scene.

Members of the group were quick to point out that for them, the gathering was not a protest.

“We are not here as a protest. We are here with good in our hearts, not anger, to show our support for the people of the Mi’kmaq Nation,” Ms. Nunn said.

When asked what people could do to help if they wanted to support the cause, the group agreed that informing oneself and others is the best thing anyone can do.

“Spread the word, and go out and tell people to find out what’s happening to Native people,” Mr. Carney said.

“It’s about government and business, power and greed working together to take what they want, when they want. It’s not right, and most people when they know what’s going on would agree with that,” Neil Chaske said.

Mr. Chaske, originally from Manitoba, is part of the Sioux Valley Dakota Nation. He has lived in Orleans, Vermont for the past two years.

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