Thursday, August 4, 2016

Vermont Gas, Pipeline Foes Face Off at Public Service Board Session

Posted By on Thu, Aug 4, 2016 at 7:54 PM

Protesters outside the Vermont Gas hearing Thursday - ALICIA FREESE
  • Alicia Freese
  • Protesters outside the Vermont Gas hearing Thursday
In a small room in a large warehouse, the Public Service Board on Thursday heard Vermont Gas Systems make a case for why it must send its natural gas pipeline through a public park in Hinesburg. And it listened as James Dumont, an attorney representing seven town residents who use the park, argued against the company’s request.

The meeting, which lasted all day, dealt with minutia. But the stakes are high: This is the final right-of-way that Vermont Gas needs to complete its 41-mile pipeline from Colchester to Middlebury, which company officials hope to do by the end of the year.

“This is the last piece of the puzzle in our effort to being able to complete the pipeline,” said Vermont Gas president Don Rendall, in an interview after the hearing. 

Outside the building Thursday morning, pipeline protesters lay on the pavement, their faces painted chalky white and bodies cloaked in white sheets. They explained to reporters that they were staging a “die-in” as the casualties of climate change. 

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Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Judge Orders Public Service Board to Allow Public at Pipeline Hearing

Posted By on Tue, Aug 2, 2016 at 11:05 AM

A crowded meeting on the Vermont Gas pipeline project at Shoreham Elementary School in 2014 - FILE: CALEB KENNA
  • File: Caleb Kenna
  • A crowded meeting on the Vermont Gas pipeline project at Shoreham Elementary School in 2014
Federal Judge Christina Reiss has ordered the Public Service Board to open its upcoming hearing on the Vermont Gas Systems pipeline to the public.

In a move observers called unprecedented, the PSB announced last month that the public would not be allowed to attend its session Thursday on Vermont Gas’ eminent domain hearing, meant to enable construction of its pipeline through Geprags Community Park in Hinesburg. Opponents of the natural gas pipeline have repeatedly disrupted earlier hearings.

The PSB later clarified that members of the media could attend, and it planned to live-stream the event.

But on Monday, Reiss ruled in favor of Lisa Barrett, a retired attorney who took the PSB to court in an effort to open the hearing. 

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Monday, August 1, 2016

Advocates Consider Suing to Restore Vermont GMO Law

Posted By on Mon, Aug 1, 2016 at 5:02 PM

Gov. Peter Shumlin at the GMO bill signing ceremony in 2014. - PAUL HEINTZ/FILE
  • Paul Heintz/file
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin at the GMO bill signing ceremony in 2014.
With the flick of a presidential pen late Friday afternoon, Vermont’s GMO labeling law suffered an early demise. Less than a month after the state law took effect, a newer and less aggressive federal law nullified it.

What does it all mean? To begin with, store owners and food manufacturers who scurried to make sure that foods containing genetically modified organisms were labeled can chill.

But they might not want to toss those labels just yet. Several organizations that 
helped get Vermont’s law passed are considering challenging the federal statute in court.

“VPIRG and a number of organizations around the country are looking at what options we have,” said Falko Schilling, consumer and environmental advocate for the Vermont Public Interest Research Group. 

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Thursday, July 14, 2016

Vermont’s GMO Law Doomed as House Passes Federal Bill

Posted By on Thu, Jul 14, 2016 at 6:25 PM

  • John James
Vermont’s GMO labeling law appears to be doomed to a short life. The U.S. House voted overwhelmingly Thursday for a federal bill that would preempt Vermont’s first-in-the-nation labeling law.

Gov. Peter Shumlin indicated Thursday that he expects President Barack Obama to sign the less-stringent federal bill into law.

Vermont’s law passed in 2014 but just took effect July 1. It requires that many products containing genetically modified organisms be labeled as such. Large food manufacturers opposed Vermont’s law and turned their support to a federal measure that gives them more leeway.

Under the federal bill, manufacturers will be able to use a QR code, which people scan with smartphones, to label products. The U.S. Department of Agriculture has two years to determine rules surrounding what has to be labeled.

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Tuesday, May 31, 2016

Vermont Guard to Spend $25 Million on Taxiway Project

Posted By on Tue, May 31, 2016 at 2:36 PM

Air Force F-35 fighter, scheduled to replace the Vermont Air National Guard's F-16s - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Air Force F-35 fighter, scheduled to replace the Vermont Air National Guard's F-16s
The Vermont National Guard plans to spend more than $25 million to improve the taxiway that military jets use at Burlington International Airport. The project also will replace the apron where Vermont Air National Guard planes park and refuel.

The work is expected to begin this fall and continue through 2017 at the guard base, which is on land leased from Vermont's largest airport. The city of Burlington owns the airport, located in South Burlington.

The construction will not include the main runway, which military planes share with commercial carriers coming in and out of BTV, according to airport and guard officials.

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Friday, May 20, 2016

Shumlin Vetoes Bill to Avoid Adding Clean Water Board Members

Posted By on Fri, May 20, 2016 at 5:41 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Peter Shumlin
Gov. Peter Shumlin vetoed a bill Friday that would have diluted his administration’s control over a clean water fund that was established last year.

Rep. David Deen (D-Westminster) said he tried to persuade the governor’s staff that adding members of the public to the state’s Clean Water Fund Board was a good idea. “I’ve been having an argument with them all afternoon,” Deen said. “And I lost.”

The bill, H. 518, would have added four people, including two municipal officials, to the five-member board established as part of a broad clean water bill last year. The existing five members are all state agency secretaries. The board’s job is to make recommendations to the governor about how to spend money intended for cleaning up waterways.

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Tuesday, March 29, 2016

Snelling Resigns Senate Seat to Lead Natural Resources Board

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2016 at 11:24 AM

Helen Riehle (left) will replace Sen. Diane Snelling (right), who was appointed Tuesday as chair of the state Natural Resources Board. - NANCY REMSEN
  • Helen Riehle (left) will replace Sen. Diane Snelling (right), who was appointed Tuesday as chair of the state Natural Resources Board.
Diane Snelling, the lone Republican representing Chittenden County in the Vermont Senate, is leaving the legislature to become chair of the state Natural Resources Board.

Snelling, who has held the Senate seat since 2002, will be replaced for the remaining weeks of the legislative session by former senator Helen Riehle, a Republican who chairs the South Burlington city council.

Gov. Peter Shumlin announced the two appointments Tuesday morning in his ceremonial Statehouse office. Snelling’s resignation took effect shortly thereafter. Though governors often wait for party committees to recommend replacements to fill vacant legislative seats, Shumlin said he acted swiftly because the session is winding down.

Snelling, 64, of Hinesburg, said that when former board chair Jon Groveman announced his departure in February, she was immediately interested. 

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Monday, March 28, 2016

In Shelburne, 'FIX IT' Signs Speak to Vermont Railway President

Posted By on Mon, Mar 28, 2016 at 6:09 PM

Sign in Shelburne Village - MOLLY WALSH/SEVEN DAYS
  • Molly Walsh/Seven Days
  • Sign in Shelburne Village
The sign along Route 7 in Shelburne Village reads: "Mr. Wulfson, FIX IT."

The not-so-veiled message is yet another expression of opposition to Vermont Railway president David Wulfson's construction of a salt shed and a freight yard a mile north of the village.
So far, the town has been unable to stop the intermodal freight project in court, but loud opposition is resounding in the court of public opinion in Shelburne.

In addition to the signs, a Facebook group called Vermont United has been circulating a petition. Opponents have also purchased ads in the Shelburne News. And they've promoted a video featuring 10-year-old Madeleine Connery of Shelburne deploring the tree cutting and the potential for pollution at the site, which sits next to the LaPlatte River and land preserved by the Nature Conservancy Vermont Chapter. Connery also tells Wulfson to "fix it" in the video.

Through his attorney, Peter Young, Wulfson declined to comment on the signs. But construction continues on the freight yard, which Vermont Railway is building under a legal federal preemption without local or state Act 250 environmental permits. The town has sued in federal court to stop the project, and a hearing date is set for May 3 to May 5. Supporters of the project say it's a good location with direct access to Route 7, and that intermodal freight yards help reduce long-haul truck traffic on the nation's highways.
Town manager Joe Colangelo emphasized that the town, while opposed to the rail project, has nothing to do with the signs and said they are not permitted in the public right-of-way.

"The signs were not given approval by the town and are therefore unpermitted, but it is impossible, given our current staffing levels, to police these types of signs," Colangelo wrote in an email to Seven Days. "Similarly, signs in support of politicians are not allowed in the public right-of-way but we are just unable to get around town to pull them out. It's a very difficult task to do during a presidential election season."

Town officials enforce the sign rule when they can. In late January, the town notified Christopher and Christine Sharp of 5373 Shelburne Road that their Bernie Sanders sign in the shape of a cow was larger than what's allowed in the public right-of-way without a temporary sign permit. They took it down, according to Colangelo.

The FIX IT sign in the village was posted in front of Brianne's Vintage Chic at 5462 Shelburne Road. The owner of the business did not respond to a message seeking comment. 

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Tuesday, March 22, 2016

World Climate Experts Converge for Conference in Burlington

Posted By on Tue, Mar 22, 2016 at 7:59 PM

Filipe Domingos Freires Lúcio - COURTESY
  • Courtesy
  • Filipe Domingos Freires Lúcio
Science can't stop the extreme weather events that appear to be increasing as a result of global warming, but it can help countries prepare and be resilient. That was one of the messages Tuesday at a climate conference that brought 130 experts from around the world to Burlington this week.

The 14th annual Climate Prediction Applications Science Workshop, held in Burlington for the first time, opened Tuesday at the Hilton Burlington hotel and runs through Thursday.

David Grimes, president of the World Meteorological Organization, said weather forecasting has improved immensely over the past 20 years and there is copious data to help countries better prepare for inevitable weather disasters.

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Tuesday, March 8, 2016

Shumlin Commits to Aid for North Bennington Water Woes

Posted By on Tue, Mar 8, 2016 at 2:08 PM

Ron Pembroke, left, and Gov. Peter Shumlin discussing the water contamination - NANCY REMSEN
  • Nancy Remsen
  • Ron Pembroke, left, and Gov. Peter Shumlin discussing the water contamination
Gov. Peter Shumlin went to North Bennington Tuesday morning to see for himself the community where residents suddenly have to worry about drinking water from their wells. Tests by the Department of Environmental Conservation recently detected a chemical contaminant, perfluorooctanoic acid (PFOA), in five wells near a plant that used to make Teflon and other products.

The state has collected and is testing samples from 135 more wells, with results expected next week.

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