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Friday, October 20, 2017

Walters: Tensions High at Lake Carmi Meeting

Posted By on Fri, Oct 20, 2017 at 6:25 PM

  • Wikipedia, Sickter6
  • Lake Carmi
A routine series of water quality meetings about the Lake Carmi watershed have become strained in recent months, leading a state official to request the presence of game wardens at the latest meeting Thursday night. The two wardens were in full uniform, which customarily includes a firearm.

The Lake Carmi Implementation Team meets monthly, bringing together state and local officials and interest groups in an effort to create a cleanup plan for a lake that's been overcome this year with blue-green algae blooms.

"The last three meetings, there's been a very spirited crowd," said Emily Boedecker, commissioner of the Department of Environmental Conservation. "In a situation where I and the team members were feeling challenged, I asked for the wardens to be present."

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Thursday, October 19, 2017

Walters: Judge Orders ‘Limited’ Sorrell Deposition

Posted By on Thu, Oct 19, 2017 at 5:54 PM

Former attorney general Bill Sorrell - FILE: MATTHEW THORSEN
  • File: Matthew Thorsen
  • Former attorney general Bill Sorrell
Former Vermont attorney general Bill Sorrell must submit to a sworn deposition in a legal case regarding his use of a private email account for official business. On Wednesday, Chittenden County Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout ordered Sorrell’s participation, but she set limits on the scope of the deposition.

The Energy & Environment Legal Institute, a Washington, D.C.-based law firm that often represents the interests of the fossil fuel industry, is seeking Sorrell’s records and communications as part of its lawsuit against multiple attorneys general, alleging that they engaged in a legal conspiracy against the industry.

Sorrell had failed to show up for a previous court-ordered deposition on the advice of current Attorney General T.J. Donovan. The limited deposition is to take place on Monday, and, according to Donovan, “We have every indication that Bill Sorrell will appear and be deposed.”

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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-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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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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Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Walters: Scott Creates Cybersecurity Team, Talks EB-5

Posted By on Tue, Oct 10, 2017 at 9:17 PM

Gov. Phil Scott speaks to reporters at his cybersecurity press conference Tuesday. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott speaks to reporters at his cybersecurity press conference Tuesday.
Gov. Phil Scott issued an executive order Tuesday creating a Cybersecurity Advisory Team, a 10-member panel including representatives of state government, the private sector and academia. In doing so, he rolled out a seemingly eye-popping statistic.

“Since January, the state has seen over 3.3 million potentially malicious cyberattacks against our information resources,” he said. “This is equal to 524 attempts to subvert our defenses and gain unauthorized access every single hour for the last nine months.”

Shocking, isn’t it? Well ...

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Wednesday, October 4, 2017

Walters: Bennington Banner Faces Backlash Over Las Vegas Massacre Cartoon

Posted By on Wed, Oct 4, 2017 at 5:42 PM

An image of the cartoon in the Bennington Banner - WCAX
  • WCAX
  • An image of the cartoon in the Bennington Banner
Updated on October 5, 2017.

The owners of the Bennington Banner were trying to tamp down a firestorm of criticism over a political cartoon in Tuesday's paper that addressed the Las Vegas mass shooting. Top executives of its owner, New England Newspapers, have written public apologies, and the firm's president made a quick trip from company headquarters in Pittsfield, Mass., to Bennington Wednesday to meet with offended readers.

The cartoon, by syndicated cartoonist Randall Enos, included the legend "Whatever Happens In Vegas..." above a drawing of a haphazard pile of bodies, drawn in outline without features, scattered on the ground. More than 1,000 people posted comments on the Banner's Facebook page objecting, in very strong terms, to the publication of the cartoon.

The story has brought widespread attention to the paper — so much so that when you Google "Bennington Banner," the first autofill option is "cartoon." Not only have national media picked it up, but so have papers in Great Britain and Australia.

Enos is an illustrator and cartoonist with more than 60 years of experience. When reached at his Connecticut home Wednesday afternoon, he was apparently unaware of the controversy he had sparked.

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Thursday, September 28, 2017

Walters: Pot Commission to Discuss Path to Legalization

Posted By on Thu, Sep 28, 2017 at 5:26 PM

Marijuana Advisory Commission cochairs Jake Perkinson and Tom Little, and the governor's chief counsel, Jaye Pershing Johnson - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Marijuana Advisory Commission cochairs Jake Perkinson and Tom Little, and the governor's chief counsel, Jaye Pershing Johnson
Governor Phil Scott's Marijuana Advisory Commission held its first meeting Thursday and got a very clear charge: Assume that Vermont will legalize cannabis in some way or other, and devise the best and safest way to get there.

"We're going through these meetings with the assumption that some form of legalization is going to happen," said Public Safety Commissioner Tom Anderson. "The question is, how do we address it?"

Other states that legalized cannabis through voter referenda were forced to "build the plane while flying it," said Jaye Pershing Johnson, the governor's legal counsel. "We have the opportunity to build the plane and avoid the unintended consequences that other states have encountered."

The governor created the commission via executive order in August after he vetoed a bill that would have created a legislative commission and established a pathway to legalization. Scott's panel is charged with investigating three primary areas: taxation and regulation, education and prevention, and highway safety.

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Friday, September 22, 2017

Walters: Radio Vet Steve Cormier Buys WDEV

Posted By on Fri, Sep 22, 2017 at 10:09 PM

Steve Cormier and Tom Brennan during their days as Burlington radio personalities "Corm and the Coach" - FILE PHOTO
  • File photo
  • Steve Cormier and Tom Brennan during their days as Burlington radio personalities "Corm and the Coach"
After a long search for the right buyer, Ken Squier found his man working right there next to him.

In a Friday afternoon press release, Squier announced the sale of the Waterbury-based Radio Vermont Group, which includes WDEV-AM and FM, to the firm’s director of sales, Steve Cormier.

“I am thrilled that after 87 years [of Squier family ownership] the station will remain among Vermonters,” said Squier in the release.

Squier’s father, Lloyd, founded WDEV in 1931, and the station continues to offer predominantly local programming. Ken Squier, 82, has worked at the station since he was 12 years old; he also achieved national fame as a NASCAR broadcaster, and he is a member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

In addition to WDEV, the Radio Vermont Group also operates 101 the One, which plays classic hit songs, and country station WLVB-FM in Morrisville.

Squier had been quietly looking for a buyer for a couple of years. His search was first reported by Seven Days in June. At the time, he said he was looking for “a Vermonter or some Vermonters who are interested in and dedicated to local programming.”

Cormier would seem to be a good fit. Before joining the Radio Vermont Group in 2015, he was station manager at WTSA Radio in Brattleboro. And that followed a 26-year run in Burlington broadcasting, most famously as cohost of the “Corm and the Coach” morning show.

“Local radio, there’s nothing like it!” Cormier said. WDEV’s local-heavy format, he added, “ain’t going anywhere.” That includes Squier, who does weekday sportscasts on WDEV and the renowned “Music to Go to the Dump By” show Saturdays at 9 a.m.

“I want him there every day,” said Cormier of Squier, who will serve as an advisor as well. “‘The Dump’ show, sports, until he decides he doesn’t want to do it anymore.”

Cormier also plans no changes at WLVB-FM, and minimal changes, if any, at 101 the One.

Cormier professed a personal commitment to maintaining WDEV’s emphasis on local programming. “I’ve worked for Clear Channel,” he said of the nation’s biggest radio conglomerate, now known as iHeartMedia. “I saw what they did. They didn’t care about their communities.”

The sale is subject to approval by the Federal Communications Commission, which is expected to take a few months. Cormier would not discuss the sale price, referring inquiries to Squier, who did not respond to requests for comment.

There will be one departure from Radio Vermont. Eric Michaels, vice president, general manager and cohost of WDEV’s “Morning News Service,” is resigning. Cormier noted that Michaels has “done wonderful things” in bolstering the company over the years.

“For 30 years, Eric has managed to maintain and grow the Radio Vermont Group as a relevant broadcasting voice in Vermont,” Squier’s press release said.

Cormier promised no changes, but he realizes that the broadcasting industry is constantly evolving. And WDEV itself has changed — slowly, deliberately — over time. He plans a collaborative approach to the future.

“There are a lot of bright people at those stations,” he said. “Any major decision I make, I’ll talk to Ken about.”

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Thursday, September 21, 2017

Walters: Another Hat for Don Turner

Posted By on Thu, Sep 21, 2017 at 5:33 PM

House Minority Leader Don Turner confers with House Speaker Mitzi Johnson - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • House Minority Leader Don Turner confers with House Speaker Mitzi Johnson
Vermont House Minority Leader Don Turner (R-Milton) has been hired as permanent town manager in Milton. He has no plans to leave the state legislature, despite rumors to the contrary. "I am not done in Montpelier," he says.

Turner, who is also a realtor, a partner in a family construction business, and Milton's fire and rescue chief, has been serving as interim town manager since March. In June, the selectboard named Turner as the sole finalist for the permanent job, but the arrangement wasn't finalized until this week.

Selectboard chair Darren Adams told the Milton Independent in June that Turner's "hat question" would be an issue. Turner acknowledges that being town manager and House Minority Leader "will be a lot of work," even for a guy accustomed to wearing multiple hats. But he will carry on — at least for now.

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Thursday, September 14, 2017

Walters: Scott Declares 'Milestone' Reached in Opioid Fight

Posted By on Thu, Sep 14, 2017 at 10:47 PM

Gov. Phil Scott at a press conference Thursday at Burlington's Howard Center. From left to right: Attorney General T.J. Donovan, University of Vermont Medical Center president Eileen Whalen, Scott, Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Howard Center CEO Bob Bick. - JOHN WALTERS
  • John Walters
  • Gov. Phil Scott at a press conference Thursday at Burlington's Howard Center. From left to right: Attorney General T.J. Donovan, University of Vermont Medical Center president Eileen Whalen, Scott, Human Services Secretary Al Gobeille, Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger and Howard Center CEO Bob Bick.
In a bipartisan lovefest with the occasional cautionary sprinkle, Gov. Phil Scott announced Thursday that “Vermont now can quickly meet the demand for [opioid] treatment in all 14 counties.”

Scott appeared with a brace of administration officials, Democratic officeholders and health care providers at Burlington's Howard Center to declare that, in Chittenden County, there is no longer a waiting list for addiction treatment services. Elsewhere in the state, he said, waits had been reduced.

The Republican governor began the press conference with a shoutout to his predecessor, Democrat Peter Shumlin, for prioritizing the opioid crisis, and made it clear that his own team had continued “the strong work of the previous administration in this area.”

He went on to credit Burlington’s Democratic mayor, Miro Weinberger, Democratic Attorney General T.J. Donovan and the predominantly Democratic state legislature. And while plenty of Dem officeholders were on hand, Scott was the only Republican elected official in the room.

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