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Tuesday, June 8, 2021

Will Raap Plans to Turn Nordic Farms Into a Grain-Based Ag Hub

Posted By on Tue, Jun 8, 2021 at 1:00 PM

Will Rapp at Nordic Farms - JAMES BUCK
  • James Buck
  • Will Rapp at Nordic Farms
Entrepreneur Will Raap, the founder of Gardener’s Supply and the Intervale Center, is purchasing Nordic Farms, a roughly 600-acre former dairy farm on Route 7 in Charlotte, he said last week.

Raap, 72, has an ambitious vision for the site. In collaboration with partners, he intends to build an agriculture center that showcases Vermont grains, botanicals and beverages on a working farm that produces these goods.

Envisioned as an “ecosystem” of enterprises, the project would encompass private businesses, nonprofit organizations and agricultural education. Shoreham-based WhistlePig Whiskey would have a tasting room and storage facility at the site , which would also be home to the Cyrus Pringle Museum. Named for the Charlotte-born, 19th-century botanist and grain breeder who cofounded Horsford Gardens & Nursery, the museum will focus on grains in the Green Mountain State.

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Friday, May 21, 2021

Lawmakers Pass Historic $7.3 Billion Budget Laden With Stimulus Funds

Posted By on Fri, May 21, 2021 at 6:34 PM

The Vermont Statehouse - FILE ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File ©️ Seven Days
  • The Vermont Statehouse
Vermont lawmakers on Friday passed a $7.3 billion budget swollen with nearly $600 million in federal dollars to stimulate the pandemic-battered economy, accelerate broadband internet availability, invest in new affordable housing and reduce greenhouse gas emissions.

“This is a lot of money going into the Vermont economy in a lot of ways,” Sen. Jane Kitchel (D-Caledonia) told colleagues shortly before the Senate passed what lawmakers refer to as the “big bill.”

That move, and a subsequent vote by the House, marked the last consequential action of the legislative session, after which lawmakers formally adjourned the first year of the biennium.

The close of the first — and likely last — fully-remote legislative session of the General Assembly was accompanied by congratulations from leaders for all they’ve accomplished this session.

"We demonstrated so clearly that we still have a healthy democracy here in the Green Mountain State, and soon we will all be back in the People’s House
Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint
 together," Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) said before adjourning.

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Tuesday, May 11, 2021

Company Scraps Plan to Scuttle an Obsolete Ferry in Lake Champlain

Posted By on Tue, May 11, 2021 at 3:26 PM

The retired ferry Adirondack in Port Kent, N.Y. - ROB FOUNTAIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • ROB FOUNTAIN ©️ Seven Days
  • The retired ferry Adirondack in Port Kent, N.Y.
Lake Champlain Transportation is scrapping plans to sink a retired ferry in Burlington Bay after lawmakers and environmental groups warned that scuttling the 108-year-old vessel could further pollute the lake.

The company and state officials on Tuesday withdrew the application for a permit that the Department of Environmental Conservation had approved in March, and which environmental groups appealed in court.

“We’ve concluded, in consultation with the transit company, that in light of the rising tide of public opposition, the cost of the project due to the appeal of the lake encroachment permit, and the pending review by the City of Burlington, that it is best not to move forward,” said Laura Trieschmann, the state’s historic preservation officer.

The state Department of Historic Preservation was a co-applicant for the permit because the sunken Adirondack would have become property of the state, as well as part of the network of historic shipwrecks called the Lake Champlain Underwater Historic Preserves.

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Monday, May 10, 2021

Hoffer: Vermont's Dairy Industry Netted $285 Million in State Support Over a Decade

Posted By on Mon, May 10, 2021 at 1:47 PM

  • File ©️ Seven Days
Vermont has spent $285 million to support its struggling dairy industry in the last decade, according to a new report from the state auditor’s office.

The tax breaks, reduced fees, grants and technical assistance that the dwindling number of dairy farms received between 2010 and 2019 illustrate just how dependent the industry has become on state assistance for its survival.

Unlike other reports from State Auditor Doug Hoffer’s office that attempt to ferret out fraud or waste in state spending, the “investigative report” neither finds fault with the funding nor recommends any changes.

“This report is intended to serve as a resource for State policymakers, program managers, and the public as they consider the future of dairy in Vermont and what role public funds should play," the report states.

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Tuesday, May 4, 2021

Burlington School Board Votes to Abandon PCB-Contaminated High School

Posted By on Tue, May 4, 2021 at 10:20 PM

Warnings at Burlington High School - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Warnings at Burlington High School
The Burlington School Board voted unanimously on Tuesday to terminate a $70 million high school renovation project, paving the way for plans to build a brand new building at a yet-to-be-determined location in the Queen City.

The board’s decision came after Superintendent Tom Flanagan recommended that the district halt the project because of widespread contamination from polychlorinated biphenyls (PCBs) on the high school campus.

“I feel strongly, after collaboration and consultation with my team and with our experts in this work, that it is no longer possible to meet our stated goals of the ReEnvisioning Project,” Flanagan told the board. “The PCB contamination and remediation that will be needed to address the contamination pushes us over the threshold of what is possible in this building, and I believe that we need to start fresh with a new build.”

Burlington voters approved a $70 million bond in November 2018 to undertake the extensive renovation of the city’s high school and technical center. As part of the project, the school district was required to perform environmental testing of the property.

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Monday, May 3, 2021

Burlington Harbor Commission Will Consider Plan to Sink Ferry in Lake Champlain

Posted By on Mon, May 3, 2021 at 5:18 PM

A Lake Champlain ferry ride in winter - FILE ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File ©️ Seven Days
  • A Lake Champlain ferry ride in winter
Burlington officials will weigh in Tuesday on a controversial plan to sink an old ferry in Lake Champlain.

The city’s Parks & Recreation Commission, which also serves as the Harbor Commission, will take the issue up at its 5:30 p.m. meeting, under an agenda item labeled “ferry scuttling.”

It will be the first of two public hearings on a proposal that environmental groups, concerned about impacts on water quality, have opposed.

The Lake Champlain Transportation Company wants to sink the retired ferry Adirondack about a mile off the Burlington shore to create a “reef” that divers could explore.

The 108-year-old ferry has been operating on Lake Champlain between Burlington and Port Kent for 65 years.

The state Department of Environmental Conservation granted the company a permit, but local organizations have appealed the decision.

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Thursday, April 29, 2021

Bill That Would Ban 'Forever Chemicals' Advances in Vermont House

Posted By on Thu, Apr 29, 2021 at 2:51 PM

Aaron Sutton, an employee of an environmental firm, testing a well outside the Air National Guard base in South Burlington - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Aaron Sutton, an employee of an environmental firm, testing a well outside the Air National Guard base in South Burlington
A bid to ban consumer products that contain the kind of “forever chemicals” that polluted wells in the Bennington area passed a key committee Thursday in the Vermont legislature.

S. 20 would prevent food containers, rugs and ski wax made with PFAS chemicals from being distributed and sold in the state.

The bill received lengthy testimony and debate in the House Human Services Committee, much of it involving how firefighting foam containing the chemicals should also be phased out. The foam is used at the Vermont Air National Guard base in South Burlington, where it has polluted the groundwater, and by the petroleum industry.

The issue was complicated by concern that the state lacks the power to regulate the use of the foam by the Guard, which is governed by Department of Defense regulations but provides fire protection to the civilian Burlington International Airport.

Ultimately, the committee required firefighting foam used in the state to be free of such chemicals by October of 2023, with a limited one-year extension for petroleum distributors who use it for fuel fires. The date aligns with the target the Department of Defense has set for shifting to new firefighting foams.

Rep. Ann Pugh (D-Burlington) pushed back against some of the criticism, including from members of her own committee, that earlier versions of the bill contained too many exemptions for industry groups and others that opposed it. An early version proposed exemptions for the petroleum industry stretching to 2028.

“We didn’t do this for industry. We didn’t do this for the military. We didn’t do this for the rug companies or for the ski wax people. We did this to protect Vermonters,” Pugh said.

PFAS compounds are called "forever chemicals" because of how long they take to break down in the environment. The same durability that makes the chemicals effective as coatings for cookware or strengthening textiles also makes them last in the environment. After they were discovered in groundwater in Southern Vermont in 2016, subsequent state testing has found elsewhere.

Water systems, groundwater, landfill leachate and wastewater treatment plants in the state have all tested positive for PFAS chemicals, many at levels significantly higher than the 20 parts per trillion standard set by the state for drinking water.

The bill is intended to expand the state’s response from merely cleaning up the mess to preventing PFAS chemicals from being used in Vermont in the first place. The consumer products identified in the bill are those known to have high PFAS levels or — as in the case of some food packaging— a direct pathway to consumers’ bodies.

The bill is expected to get a full House vote next week, after which it would need concurrence by the Senate. 

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Monday, April 19, 2021

A Spirited Lewis Creek Advocate and Her Husband Die in Boating Accident

Posted By on Mon, Apr 19, 2021 at 11:00 PM

Marty Illick at Lewis Creek - FILE: CALEB KENNA
  • File: Caleb Kenna
  • Marty Illick at Lewis Creek
Lewis Creek Association founding member Marty Illick and her husband, Terrence Dinnan, died Monday after a small boat capsized in the creek. Their 3-1/2-year-old grandson managed to make his way to safety and back to the couple's home.

The three had been on an outing in the boat near Spear Street in Charlotte, according to Vermont State Police. Fishermen reported to police at about 12:30 p.m. that they had discovered two bodies in the water. Troopers searched for the child for an hour before finding him safe in his grandparents’ car in their driveway. Illick, 70, and Dinnan, 71, lived on Lewis Creek Road.

“The child was wearing a life vest, while the adults were not," police said in a press release. "The child was able to make it to shore and then returned on his own to the vehicle outside the house. He was reunited with his parents at the scene.”

Illick was one of a group of people who founded the influential Lewis Creek Association in the early 1990s to carry out conservation work in several Lake Champlain Valley towns.

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Thursday, April 15, 2021

Report: Trace of PFAS Detected in Shelburne Water

Posted By on Thu, Apr 15, 2021 at 6:41 PM

  • File: Michael Tonn
A new report on the state of America’s drinking water supply is again highlighting the problem of “forever chemicals” in the environment, including a recent positive test result from drinking water in Shelburne.

The Guardian newspaper teamed up with Consumer Reports to sample 120 water systems in the nation, and found that almost all of them — 118 of 120 — had detectable levels of lead, arsenic or PFAS chemicals found in household products from cookware to rugs.

Included in the report was a noteworthy test result from Shelburne that indicated PFAS levels of 5.77 parts per trillion. That’s well below the federal advisory level of 70 parts per trillion and Vermont’s more stringent 20 parts per trillion level.

But it is more than has been reported by the water system serving much of Shelburne, the Champlain Water District, raising questions about how the contaminant made it into the sample.

“We don’t have any PFAS detected in our source water,” said Joseph Duncan, general manager of the Champlain Water District.

The district delivers drinking water from Shelburne Bay to 75,000 people in eight towns, including South Burlington, Essex and Milton.

The district samples for PFAS both at its treatment plant on Queen City Park Road and at points in the water distribution network, but not in people’s homes, he said. 

Tests performed in 2019 and in 2020 both came back as “non-detect,” meaning the sample has less than 2 parts per trillion, and the five PFAS compounds Vermont regulates were considered not detected. The Guardian story also included a result of 1.74 parts per trillion from Bennington, but that falls below what is considered detectable by the state.

Complicating the issue is that the sampling regimen utilized by the publications relied on volunteers, and the conditions under which the water sample was taken could not be confirmed.

PFAS chemicals are prevalent in clothing and a range of consumer goods, and sampling must be done with precision, Duncan noted.

“At the parts-per-trillion level, you have to be very careful with how you collect the sample in order to not cross-contaminate it and wind up with a false positive,” Duncan said.

He stressed he was not questioning the competence of the volunteers or the value of the reporting, and said he supports greater public awareness of water quality issues. Nevertheless, a single data point from an unknown origin that doesn’t align with the district’s own regular sampling results makes drawing conclusions difficult, he said.

Water quality advocate James Ehlers said he found it telling that the district was sampling at the source and not at the point that really matters to customers — the tap.

“I think the way that you sample, in large part, can determine the results that you get,” Ehlers said. “It’s really easy not to find something you’re not looking for.”

The state Department of Environmental Conservation required water systems in Vermont to test for the five PFAS chemicals it regulates following the 2016 discovery of widespread contamination of groundwater in Bennington.

A toxin called perfluorooctanoic acid, also known as PFOA, was detected in private wells near a North Bennington manufacturing plant once operated by Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics. Among other fines, the company has agreed to pay $25 million to extend municipal water service.

The subsequent testing has turned up 10 water systems in the state, most of them small, that have had results above the 20 ppt standard since 2019. They range from Mount Holly School at 323 parts per trillion to others like the Killington Village Inn at 20.03 parts per trillion. The state is helping the systems perform the testing and fund fixes where possible.

Water systems aren’t the only places where the class of chemicals is turning up. Contamination from the Vermont National Guard Base in South Burlington is reaching the Winooski River, as Seven Days reported in 2019.

For years, soldiers trained with and used firefighting foam containing PFAS, which seeped into the ground and reached groundwater. The Guard has spent millions on cleanup and monitoring efforts that are expected to last years.

Ehlers says a more aggressive response is needed.

“The state needs to be taking this as seriously as it took COVID,” Ehlers said.

There is a bill in the legislature, S.20, that seeks to restrict the sale of consumer products containing PFAS, including some firefighting foam, food packaging, rugs, ski wax and children's toys.

Ehlers says the bill doesn’t go far enough, and should also ban all fluorinated firefighting foams and force landfills to contain their leachate.

Despite the water quality challenges of Lake Champlain, Shelburne Bay is a safe source of drinking water, Duncan said. The water is taken from two intake points in a trench 80-feet below the bay, where surface contamination rarely reaches, he said.

Shelburne Bay is fed by Potash Brook in South Burlington and the LaPlatte River in Shelburne, and contains roughly 3 billion gallons of water, so any PFAS flushing into it would be highly diluted, Duncan noted.

The contamination reported in the Guardian could have been introduced after the water left the lake, from sources such as waterproof tape wrapped around pipe fittings or materials in the fixtures themselves, he said.

While water sampling is generally best done by professionals, Duncan said he supports greater citizen awareness of the problem and legislative efforts to clamp down on PFAS products.

“The more we continue to produce materials with PFAS, the more prevalent it could potentially become in our environment and have the potential to work its way into different water sources,” Duncan said.

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Friday, March 26, 2021

Housing Bill Advances Despite Water Pollution Concerns

Posted By on Fri, Mar 26, 2021 at 6:43 PM

A sign in Vergennes after a storm in 2019. - KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • A sign in Vergennes after a storm in 2019.
Vermont senators advanced a bill Friday to encourage the construction of more affordable housing over the objections of water quality advocates who say it will increase the amount of untreated wastewater flushed into waterways during rainstorms.

Lawmakers have been deluged in recent weeks with concerns from environmental groups and residents who worry that streamlining wastewater permits for new housing projects would only further pollute the state’s streams, rivers and lakes.

One of the most controversial provisions of the bill would delegate the state's authority to issue new water and wastewater permits to municipalities, replacing the current “redundant and costly” system, Senate President Pro Tempore Becca Balint (D-Windham) said.

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