Green Mountain National Forest officials approved the use of forest land for the Deerfield Wind Project. The project will add 15 wind turbines to the current 11-turbine wind power generating facility located in Searsburg. Seven of the new turbines would be built along the same ridgeline as the current facility, extending into Readsboro. Eight new turbines would be built on a ridge in Searsburg located to the west of the current facility. According to opponents of the plan, the decision set a precedent as the first time such commercial construction was approved on national forest land.
Also in January, Halifax parents attended a school board meeting to protest a proposal to eliminate school choice and officially designate Twin Valley High School as the town’s secondary school. School board chair Homer Sumner said the proposal, which would have to be approved by voters, was an effort toward controlling the town’s school budget. Halifax’s per-pupil spending had increased more than $1,000 over the previous year, he noted, and Twin Valley’s tuition was $1,000 less than Brattleboro Union High School. He estimated taxpayers would save $69,000 in tuition and transportation costs under the proposal. But parents were not only concerned about losing school choice, they were concerned that Twin Valley was “in the midst of upheaval,” referring to the joint school’s building consolidation plan.
After several months without a town manager, the Wilmington Selectboard voted unanimously to appoint Scott Murphy to the position. Murphy brought a wealth of relevant experience to the table, serving as Bennington’s director of economic and community development. Murphy was chosen with the town’s post-Irene revitalization in mind, board members said.
In February, second-home owners Tamara and Dan Kilmurray were seeking donations for the Wilmington Fund VT. The couple seeded the fund with $250,000 of their own money, and set a goal of raising $3 million. The Kilmurray’s vision was for a fund that would act as a “land trust” that would purchase, renovate, and rent or sell historic downtown buildings damaged by Irene. In the past year, the Wilmington Fund VT purchased, began renovating, and sold the Parmelee & Howe building; made grants crucial to renovation work at North Star Bowl, and Dot’s Restaurant; helped new village businesses, Chapman’s InTown Antiques and Beyond Imagination, with leaseholder renovations; and partnered with the town’s long-term recovery parking and green space committee on a village walkway. The Kilmurrays said that, like many second-home owners, Wilmington is more than a place where they vacation, it’s like their second hometown.
Also in February, it was learned that Mount Snow had filed a lawsuit against Winter Dew Tour organizers AlliSports, NBC Universal, and several other defendants for breach of contract. According to Mount Snow’s complaint, they signed a contract with AlliSports agreeing to produce two Winter Dew Tour events in 2010 and 2011, as well as a third Winter Dew Tour unless either Mount Snow or AlliSports terminated the agreement “no later than 60 days after the completion of the (2010) event. Mount Snow claimed they weren’t informed of AlliSports’ decision to cancel the third Mount Snow Dew Tour event until July 13, 2010 – about 97 days after the end of the 2009-2010 event. Mount Snow sought $2 million in damages. The matter is still in litigation.
Residents of East Dover’s “zone 3,” the town’s last dial-up-only Internet wasteland, were closer to joining the 21st century with FairPoint DLS, thanks to the town’s economic development efforts. Dover Selectboard members approved a $275,000 contract with FairPoint Communications to bring the service to residents.
Despite a lack of natural snow, there was hopeful news from at least one ski area in early March. The Haystack Club, owned by Hermitage Inn owner Jim Barnes, announced that the Witches lift was up and running, carrying skiers and snowboarders for the first time in seven years. (The Haystack Club was renamed the Hermitage Club at Haystack later in the year.)
For the second time in four years, Wilmington Town Meeting voters passed a 1% local option tax on retail sales, rooms, meals, and alcohol. The selectboard told voters the money would be used for Wilmington’s recovery from Tropical Storm Irene, and the funding would be “critical to the success of rebuilding the town better than before.”
A similar tax was passed at the 2008 Town Meeting, but it was overturned after a petitioned revote.
After more than a dozen years and at least two previous bond votes, Whitingham and Wilmington voters approved a $13.5 million Twin Valley School facility consolidation bond. The vote followed a 2011 vote to add the two towns’ elementary schools to the joint contract agreement. Under the Twin Valley School Board’s plan, Deerfield Valley Elementary School in Wilmington will be renovated to accommodate students from both towns, and Whitingham School will be renovated to serve as the Twin Valley Middle/High School. The current Twin Valley High School facility in Wilmington will be closed. Construction on the elementary school project broke ground in late November.
After months of agonizing over the decision, Dot’s Restaurant owners Patty and John Reagan announced that they would, as many had hoped, rebuild the flood-ravaged landmark. Gov. Peter Shumlin and a throng of state and local officials joined the Reagans at a press conference in front of the battered West Main Street structure. Immediately after the storm the couple faced well-intentioned public pressure after they said they probably wouldn’t rebuild the restaurant. But Friends of the Valley (which also funded much of the rebuilding of North Star Bowl) pledged $100,000 to the effort, and the Wilmington Fund VT stepped up with another $50,000. Other organizations stepped in as well, and the public responded with donations and the purchase of “Rebuild Dot’s” T-shirts. Over the summer and fall, local residents watched as the restaurant was lifted off its site of more than 150 years and replaced on a new foundation. Work continues on the project.
“We chose to rebuild because (Dot’s) is the heart of Wilmington,” John Reagan told the crowd.
Also in March, teams from Twin Valley middle and high schools walked away with the top prize in the Junior Iron Chef Vermont competitions for the fifth year in a row. At least one Twin Valley team has won the competition since it began in 2008.
Wilmington appealed the US Forest Service decision approving the construction of 15 wind turbines on Green Mountain National Forest land in Searsburg and Readsboro. Based on findings by Andres Torizzo, president of Watershed Consulting Associates, the town’s appeal claimed that the forest service failed to consider the project’s substantial impact on soil and water resources. Board members expressed concern about flood impact, in particular. The selectboards of Searsburg and Readsboro, which stand to gain revenue when the turbines are up and running, expressed their dismay.
The US Forest Service dismissed all appeals, including Wilmington’s, of its decision to approve the construction of wind turbines on Green Mountain National Forest land. Seven appeals had been filed by various groups.
FEMA’s direct participation in the Long Term Community Recovery Plan was coming to a close, with a meeting that paired the “champions” of 24 projects with potential funding partners.
Plans included several economic development initiatives, community development projects, flood mitigation, and infrastructure improvements.
Rep. Peter Welch got an earful from local residents and business owners regarding federal disaster relief efforts during the congressman’s tour of some of the areas hardest hit by Tropical Storm Irene. But few Irene “survivors” were as frank as North Star Pizza owner Steve Butler. “FEMA doesn’t exist,” he said. “FEMA is a four-letter word that begins with ‘F.’”
Several Deerfield Valley families were left in limbo, waiting for federal funding to pay for buyouts of their homes, which were destroyed by flooding during Irene.
In Wilmington, the Brissette family was waiting to hear whether their South Main Street house would be included in the program. Sherry Brissette said the wait was the most frustrating part of the process. “We don’t know how much money we’re going to get or when we’re going to get it,” she said. “It could be anywhere from six weeks to two years.” A business property in Wilmington and at least two home owners in Readsboro had also applied for the relief.
Also in April, a Jacksonville business’s mascot, a plastic goat, was missing and presumed stolen. The almost-life-size plastic goat had been passed around to different friends as part of an ongoing joke, eventually ending up at the First Stop gas station and convenience store on Route 112. The goat rustlers have yet to be brought to justice.
The Wilmington Selectboard learned that the damage from Irene may be far from over. A retaining wall along the river bank behind the Village Pub and the Cady & Dugan building collapsed into the river, threatening the stability of both structures. Some South Main Street residents speculated that the damage might extend under the road to properties on the east side of the road. Pub owner Mary Jane Finnegan asked the town for help – not only in meeting the cost of the repair, but in obtaining state permits to do the work. According to Finnegan, the Agency of Natural Resources appeared to be reticent, or at least lackadaisical, about issuing permits for emergency work in the river. The town eventually enlisted the help of Gov. Peter Shumlin to grease the regulatory skids.
At a Dover Selectboard meeting, Amiee Pritcher and John Sprung, new owners of the East Dover General Store, presented their plan for restoration of the store, the grounds, and the historic scale house. Sprung and Pritcher sought a beautification grant for the re-creation of what Pritcher described as a formal English garden on a triangle of land between North Street and Dover Road. “It was a showpiece at one time,” said Pritcher. Sprung reasoned that the East Dover General Store was one of the first things travelers see when they come into town from Newfane, and it was in the town’s interest to make a good impression. But board members declined to grant the beautification funding, noting that there was no mechanism for such a grant.
After a public meeting with Susan McMahon of the Windham Regional Commission and Vermont Division of Historic Preservation Downtown Designation Coordinator Leanne Tingay, Wilmington Selectboard members decided to move forward with an application for downtown designation, a goal identified under the FEMA Long Term Recovery Plan. Under the state’s Designated Downtown program, the town could qualify for revitalization funding in the form of matching grants, as well as other assistance to improve the village.
In June, former state trooper Eric Howley pleaded not guilty to charges that, while he was on duty as a state police officer, he assaulted two Wilmington residents who he claimed had stolen a canoe from him. According to police affidavits, Howley slammed one man’s head into the trunk of his cruiser, and pushed another man into a large boulder, causing him to hit his head. The alleged incident occurred in early April; Howley resigned on May 14. A plea deal in the case was rejected in November.
Also in June, a Windham Superior Court judge denied an appeal by David Boglioli for a reduction in his sentence. Boglioli was convicted of voluntary manslaughter in the 2008 shooting death of Wilmington resident George Riccitelli. In his appeal, Boglioli claimed he had health issues that weren’t being addressed in prison and that his sentence precluded him from participating in prison programs or qualifying for parole. In 2008, Boglioli was sentenced to 10 to 15 years in prison. Boglioli was originally charged with second degree murder. A jury found him guilty of voluntary manslaughter after he testified that Riccitelli had threatened him with an ax handle.
Lobbyist Kevin Ellis, of KSE partners, met with Dover and Wilmington officials to report on a bill they helped push through the Legislature during the previous session. The firm had been hired by the two towns to lobby for education funding reform after a study they commissioned indicated that Act 60 and Act 68 failed to provide an equal educational opportunity for some Vermont students. The chief outcome of the legislative session was the passage of a bill creating a work group to gather data and evaluate “how Vermont’s current education system allocates financial and other resources in a way that promotes high quality equitable educational opportunities throughout the state.” Ellis said his firm had been successful in changing attitudes about education funding among some legislators. “We succeeded in turning the battleship around ever so slightly,” said Ellis.
And finally, Wilmington’s downtown was brightened up almost overnight thanks to the help of 28 youth volunteers and their chaperones from St. Mary’s Catholic Church in Holliston, MA. The group painted and repaired buildings, rebuilt a brick walkway at the Crafts Inn, and helped build the boardwalk next to Pickwell’s that connects sidewalks on West Main Street to the improved municipal parking along the river.
Next week: July through December