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Tuesday, October 17, 2017

Keep BT Local, Ting Picked as Finalists to Buy Burlington Telecom

Posted By on Tue, Oct 17, 2017 at 1:16 AM

Residents speak in favor of Keep BT Local. - KATIE JICKLING
  • Katie Jickling
  • Residents speak in favor of Keep BT Local.
Keep BT Local will move on to the final round to buy Burlington Telecom, along with Toronto-based Ting.

Burlington City Council members cast six votes in favor of the co-op and five votes for Ting in a four-hour meeting on Monday night. Republican Kurt Wright offered the sole vote for the third company, Schurz Communications.

About 150 residents crowded into Contois Auditorium to voice their support for the co-op's bid. They stood along the walls and sat on the floor, bearing signs with slogans in favor of Keep BT Local.

"How about we keep our internet & just sell Miro instead?" read one, taking a shot at Mayor Miro Weinberger. Read another, "Hands off our internet."

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Monday, October 16, 2017

CBD Products Are Subject to Sales Tax in Vermont, Officials Say

Posted By on Mon, Oct 16, 2017 at 5:56 PM

A hemp field in Middlebury - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • A hemp field in Middlebury
Retail outlets should be charging sales tax on products made from the hemp-extract cannabidiol, the Vermont Department of Taxes said in a recent ruling.

Ceres Natural Remedies, a CBD retailer with locations in Burlington and Brattleboro, queried the tax department about the issue after some initial confusion.

“We wanted to make sure we were doing everything in accordance with the law,” David Mickenberg, a lawyer representing Ceres, told Seven Days.

As a result, Mickenberg said the Ceres store will charge 7 percent state and local sales tax on its over-the-counter CBD products, which include pills, salves and patches designed to offer pain and anxiety relief.

Ceres was initially charging sales tax but paused after numerous complaints from customers who said that other retailers were not charging sales tax, according to Mickenberg. The company then sought the guidance of the Tax Department, he said.

Green State Gardener, another Burlington outlet that sells CBD products, has been charging sales tax on such items and will continue to do so, according to general manager Kelsy Raap.

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Sunday, October 15, 2017

Walters: Oliver Olsen to Resign From House

Posted By on Sun, Oct 15, 2017 at 10:35 PM

Rep. Oliver Olsen (I-Londonderry) taking part in a legislative debate - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • File: Terri Hallenbeck
  • Rep. Oliver Olsen (I-Londonderry) taking part in a legislative debate
Vermont Rep. Oliver Olsen (I-South Londonderry) announced he will resign his seat before the new session begins in January. In a message posted on his Facebook page Sunday, he cited a successful and demanding career as the primary reason for his departure.

"With responsibility at work that is now global in scope, I have already clocked more than 100,000 air miles this year," he wrote, "and have come to the realization that it would be a logistical impossibility for me to spend a meaningful amount of time in Montpelier this winter."

This has apparently been building for some time, as Olsen wrote that he has been sounding out potential successors "over the past year." Taken literally, that would have begun before he was reelected to the House last November.

"More recently, I have had substantive discussions with two well-respected and very capable women who have given serious thought to serving," he wrote, and added his belief that "at least one will come forward and seek an appointment from the governor."

Gov. Phil Scott will choose a new representative for Olsen's district; by tradition, that person will be a political independent like Olsen. Indeed, Olsen expressed hope that his successor will be "an independent thinker who understands the unique needs of our region."

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Friday, October 13, 2017

Bread & Butter Farm Ground Beef Recalled for E. coli Risk

Posted By on Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 6:22 PM

A full house at Burger Night - FILE/STACEY BRANDT
  • file/Stacey Brandt
  • A full house at Burger Night
The state Department of Health is asking Vermonters to check their freezers for ground beef that was raised at Bread & Butter Farm in Shelburne and processed at Vermont Livestock Slaughter and Processing in Ferrisburgh.

Meat with lot codes 072517BNB and 072417BNB and establishment number "EST.  9558" have been recalled by the processor for possible contamination with the toxin E. coli O157:H7, according to the Department of Health.

"If people have [the ground beef], they should throw it out or take it back to the place of purchase," Bradley Tompkins, the state's food-borne disease epidemiologist, said Friday afternoon. The ground beef  "continues to be a risk and it's very possible that people have this in their freezer."

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Meat Cleaver Murder Suspect to Undergo Sanity Evaluation

Posted By on Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 5:36 PM

  • Ryan Mercer/Burlington Free Press
  • Aita Gurung in court Friday
A man accused of hacking his wife to death with a meat cleaver in broad daylight on a Burlington street has been ordered held without bail and must undergo a mental competency and sanity evaluation, a judge ruled Friday afternoon.

A shackled Aita Gurung, 34, looked at the floor and showed no expression as an interpreter explained Judge Kevin Griffin's orders during an appearance in Vermont Superior Court. Gurung will be evaluated at the University of Vermont Medical Center and will be kept in the custody of the Department of Mental Health until it's complete, Griffin ruled.

Sara Puls of the Chittenden County Public Defender's Office, who represented Gurung in court, entered not guilty pleas on his behalf.

Authorities say that on Thursday afternoon, Gurung killed his wife, 32-year-old Yogeswari Khadka, and critically injured his 54-year-old mother-in-law, Tulasa Rimal. Burlington Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said she was expected to survive. Gurung was charged with first-degree murder and first-degree attempted murder.

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State Sen. Debbie Ingram Arrested for DUI in Williston

Posted By on Fri, Oct 13, 2017 at 9:51 AM

Sen. Debbie Ingram - WILLISTON POLICE
  • Williston Police
  • Sen. Debbie Ingram
Updated at 10:20 a.m.

State Sen. Debbie Ingram (D-Chittenden) was arrested Thursday night and charged with driving under the influence of alcohol after allegedly steering her car into a ditch, Williston police said.

Around 8 p.m., Williston police responded to a crash on South Road. Police said that Ingram, an ordained minister and a freshman senator, had gone off the road, struck a "fixed object," continued on and then veered off the road again.

She was cited to appear in Chittenden Superior Court on November 2 on a charge of driving under the influence.

Ingram released a statement Friday morning through her attorney, Ted Kenney:

Last night I was arrested near my home in Williston and charged with a DUI. I
am grateful that no one was injured as a result of my irresponsible behavior. I
suffer from a disease for which I have been getting treatment through a 12-Step
program. I had a temporary setback last night and will continue to seek treatment to ensure that something like this never happens again. I accept full responsibility for the consequences of my actions. 
Ingram, 55, a Democrat who first won election to the state Senate in 2016, is the executive director of Vermont Interfaith Action, a nonprofit alliance of religious groups. She previously served on the Williston Selectboard.
Sen. Debbie Ingram speaking in favor of raising the legal smoking age to 21 - FILE: TERRI HALLENBECK
  • File: Terri Hallenbeck
  • Sen. Debbie Ingram speaking in favor of raising the legal smoking age to 21

She lives on South Road in Williston, according to publicly available records. Earlier this year, she pushed for a failed bill that would have raised the legal smoking age from 18 to 21.

Ingram is a graduate of Stanford University and Fuller Theological Seminary, and completed a fellowship at Cambridge University in England, according to her legislative biography.

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Thursday, October 12, 2017

Walters: Legislative Panel Delays Wind Rules — Again

Posted By on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 at 7:27 PM

Public Utility Commission staff attorney John Cotter, PUC member Margaret Cheney and utilities analyst Tom Knauer testify before the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Public Utility Commission staff attorney John Cotter, PUC member Margaret Cheney and utilities analyst Tom Knauer testify before the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules.
After kicking the can down the road at its previous meeting on June 22, the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules has put off action for two more weeks on new rules that set noise limits for wind turbines.

The rules were crafted by the Public Utility Commission (formerly the Public Service Board), and have been criticized by advocates on both sides of the wind issue. Opponents of large-scale wind say the rules are too permissive, while renewable energy advocates say they would comprise an effective moratorium on large turbines.

The rules must be approved by LCAR, which is often a formality. In this case, it’s anything but. The panel met Thursday, the first time since June when all eight members could be present. But they were clearly undecided on a number of questions. After a nearly four-hour hearing, LCAR and representatives of the PUC agreed to a two-week delay to allow the commission to provide more information.

It was clear from the questioning that there’s a solid majority of LCAR that is inclined to reject the rules. Only its two Republican members — Sen. Joe Benning (R-Caledonia) and Rep. Linda Myers (R-Essex) — appear to favor them.

Opponents of ridgeline wind provided a striking visual display at the hearing, as they faced the committee wearing their trademark lime-green vests. It was an impressive sight, but there were only 22 of them in the room. And they didn’t change anybody’s mind.

LCAR members expressed three primary areas of skepticism. First was the noise limit of 42 decibels in daytime and 39 at night.

“Other states have significantly higher decibel limits: 45, 50, 60,” noted LCAR chair Sen. Mark MacDonald (D-Orange). “We’d be the most restrictive of any state in the country. I’d be alarmed if the commission proposed the most permissive numbers; I’m equally concerned that they come in as the lowest.”

“Our charge wasn’t to consider other jurisdictions,” responded PUC policy analyst Kevin Fink. “It was to gather information and expertise and make our own determinations.”

 The second issue has to do with planning a new project. A turbine proposal must, on paper, meet state noise limits before it can be permitted. But some LCAR members pointed out that the PUC’s rules wouldn’t allow the developer to incorporate modern noise-reduction technology in a turbine’s design. That would make it harder for a project to pass muster.

Finally, the PUC had proposed noise limits and a setback requirement — that the distance between a turbine and any occupied structure be at least 10 times the height of the turbine. Large-scale turbines are 500 feet high, so they would have to be sited almost a mile from any building.

Representatives of the PUC told the committee, just as they had in June, that they were willing to scuttle the setback rule. This mollified LCAR skeptics, but didn’t convince them. They seem determined to wring concessions on the other two points before approving the rules, and left the door open for further questions and objections at the committee’s next meeting, scheduled for October 26.

Benning argued for limited action by LCAR. “The courts give great deference to the body proposing a rule,” he noted. “We are not a committee of expertise. There has been a wealth of evidence presented to the commission.”

He argued that LCAR was overstepping its bounds by trying to make policy instead of considering rules on procedural grounds. And he added with a touch of exasperation, “This horse has been beaten to death by this commission and this committee.”

“Our business is beating dead horses,” MacDonald replied forcefully. “That’s what we do. We do not set policy here."

LCAR member Sen. Ginny Lyons (D-Chittenden) argued that it was the PUC that was overstepping its bounds, by setting rules that would ban large-scale wind. She said that policy question is for the legislature to decide.

“That’s the elephant in the room,” said PUC member Margaret Cheney. “The perception is that this rule would effectively ban wind. If we thought that the rule was an effective moratorium, we wouldn’t have offered it.”

Her words were carefully chosen. Lyons didn't claim that the rule would prohibit all wind — just large-scale turbines.

The PUC has two weeks to change minds on LCAR. Lyons was “dubious” that it can do so. “It looks like the rules are extremely conservative and extreme,” she said. But she expressed a hint of optimism due to the commission’s willingness to drop the setback requirement and provide more information on other points.

If LCAR formally objects to an administrative rule, the agency can still adopt it. But the objection would be powerful evidence against the rule in any subsequent court action. Given the clear dissatisfaction expressed by advocates on both sides of ridgeline wind, a lawsuit appears likely from one side, the other or both.

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Burlington Cops: Man Armed With Meat Cleaver Kills Wife

Posted By on Thu, Oct 12, 2017 at 5:38 PM

A police car in front of 72 Hyde Street - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • A police car in front of 72 Hyde Street
This story was updated at 9 p.m.

A man released from a hospital where he'd sought mental health treatment returned to his Old North End home on Thursday, killed his wife with a meat cleaver and attacked his mother-in-law, Burlington police said.

Aita Gurung, 34, on Saturday sought “police attention for mental health issues and concerns about his deteriorating relationship with his wife,” Police Chief Brandon del Pozo said in a press release. Police called for emergency medical services, and he was taken to University of Vermont Medical Center.

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Wednesday, October 11, 2017

Border Patrol Breaks Up 15-Person Smuggling Attempt in Derby

Posted By on Wed, Oct 11, 2017 at 1:02 PM

A sign near the border - FILE: MARK DAVIS
  • File: Mark Davis
  • A sign near the border
Authorities arrested three people after U.S. Border Patrol agents disrupted an attempt to smuggle 15 undocumented immigrants from Canada into Vermont, the U.S. Attorney's Office said Wednesday.

Agents took into custody 11 Guatemalan citizens, four Mexicans and their driver, Hector Ramon Perez-Alvarado, who is also undocumented and from Honduras, federal authorities said.

Perez-Alvarado was arrested, as were two Mexican men: Noe Perez-Ramirez and Alberto Alvarado-Castro, both of whom were charged with attempting to reenter the country after having been previously deported. Authorities said Alvarado-Castro had several prior felony burglary convictions in the U.S.

All three appeared in U.S. District Court in Burlington on Tuesday and did not oppose prosecutors' requests to hold them in prison pending trial.

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Vermont Senators Press Natural Resources Head on Lake Funding

Posted By on Wed, Oct 11, 2017 at 10:37 AM

Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore speaks Tuesday night at a forum in Shelburne sponsored by the Chittenden County Senate delegation. - TERRI HALLENBECK
  • Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore speaks Tuesday night at a forum in Shelburne sponsored by the Chittenden County Senate delegation.
Julie Moore, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources secretary, insisted Tuesday night that state officials are committed to cleaning up Vermont waterways.

Her boss, Gov. Phil Scott, intends to make the investments needed to meet goals for reducing phosphorus, she said. Chittenden County senators, who sponsored the hearing in Shelburne that drew about 45 local residents, wanted to know if that means Scott will agree to a new funding source to get it done.

"He hasn't said absolutely no," Moore responded.

Wary senators pressed further.

Sen. Phil Baruth (D-Chittenden) asked if the governor would require new spending to be offset by cuts to other environmental programs. Baruth noted that Scott made a similar proposal this year in education, when the governor called for increased investments in early and higher education while reducing spending on pre-kindergarten through 12th-grade education.

"I haven't heard that from the governor," Moore said, noting that a legislatively mandated working group is scheduled to produce water-quality funding recommendations by November 15.

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