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Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Newport Prison Superintendent Removed From Post

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2022 at 8:35 PM

Northern State Correctional Facility - DEPARTMENT OF CORRECTIONS
  • Department of Corrections
  • Northern State Correctional Facility
The superintendent of Vermont's largest prison, Northern State Correctional Facility in Newport, was removed from his role this week over concerns about his management, the Department of Corrections said.

The state placed superintendent Scott Martin on paid leave Monday, a status that's typical during human resources investigations. But, in a press release Tuesday, the department said  that Martin "will not be returning to his position."

The release cited "concerns" that were "raised and reviewed regarding the management and direction of NSCF."

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Monday, March 28, 2022

DEC Commissioner Peter Walke Is Stepping Down to Lead Efficiency Vermont

Posted By on Mon, Mar 28, 2022 at 2:13 PM

Peter Walke - JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Peter Walke
Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Peter Walke is leaving state service to join Efficiency Vermont, the organization that runs key energy conservation programs.

Walke said he has enjoyed being commissioner for the past two years and is eager to expand programs to help the state meet its ambitious climate goals.

“I’m looking forward to being able to be on the implementation side of things,” Walke told Seven Days Monday.

The Vermont native moved back to the state in 2017 to be a deputy secretary for the Agency of Natural Resources after stints in the U.S. Navy and as chief of staff at the New York State Department of Environmental Conservation.

In the latter role, he worked on efforts to clean up drinking water in Hoosick Falls, N.Y., that had been contaminated by PFAS, the same class of fluorinated chemicals discovered in Bennington-areas wells in 2016.

Walke took a lead role in efforts to get Bennington residents with contaminated wells hooked up to clean water supplies and to hold Saint-Gobain Performance Plastics, the owner of a former North Bennington factory that polluted the wells with PFAS, responsible.

The company agreed in 2019 to spend approximately $25 million to run water lines to 245 homes in the area. Affected residents reached a $34 million settlement with the company in 2021.

Walke has been the administration’s point person to explore the state’s possible participation in the Transportation Climate Initiative, a multi-state tax-and-regulate program to regulate emissions from vehicles. Walke’s boss, Gov. Phil Scott, ultimately declined to join.

Walke also served on the year-long Climate Council that sought a strategy to help the state comply with the Global Warming Solutions Act, which Scott also opposed.

Walke declined to address whether these challenges put him at odds with the Scott administration on key environmental issues or whether those contributed to his departure. Scott has been widely criticized by environmental groups for not doing enough to ensure the state meets its goals of reducing climate pollution.

The commissioner thanked Scott and Agency of Natural Resources Secretary Julie Moore and the “amazingly passionate and competent” staff at DEC.

Walke will start on May 9 as Efficiency Vermont’s new managing director.

“We’re excited to welcome Peter as the next leader of Efficiency Vermont,” Rebecca Foster said in a written statement. Foster is the CEO of VEIC, the nonprofit clean energy organization that operates Efficiency Vermont as what is  known as an efficiency utility.

“Peter’s wealth of experience partnering with diverse stakeholders to find solutions that work for all Vermonters is the perfect match for this role," Foster said. "Peter’s career reflects his strong ethic of listening to all voices to make thoughtful and consistent progress toward solving complex challenges.”

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Monday, March 21, 2022

South Burlington's University Mall Sold for $60 Million

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2022 at 6:47 PM

The University Mall - CAT CUTILLO
  • Cat Cutillo
  • The University Mall
The University Mall in South Burlington has new owners. In a deal inked on March 4, Taconic Capital Advisors and Eastern Real Estate partnered to purchase the 52-acre property on Dorset Street for $60 million.

The new owners are exploring plans to "reenergize" the 617,000-square foot mall, according to a press release the two companies sent Monday. The release said the mall is 95 percent occupied, with more than 50 local and national businesses as tenants.

"The property has been a gathering place for decades and our commitment is to build on its success as a vital retail and economic asset for Vermont," Taconic Capital Advisors director Alex Fleming said.

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Dieng Wins Burlington Council Race as Judge Rejects Ballot Challenge

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2022 at 6:06 PM

Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7) - FILE: COURTNEY LAMDIN ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Courtney Lamdin ©️ Seven Days
  • Councilor Ali Dieng (I-Ward 7)
A state judge on Monday affirmed Ali Dieng as winner of the Ward 7 Burlington City Council race, rejecting a claim by Democratic challenger Aleczander Stith that city election officials didn’t properly handle several invalid ballots.

The ruling appears to settle the contest, which incumbent Dieng, a political independent, won by two votes. Stith said he does not intend to pursue any further appeals.

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Longtime COTS Leader Rita Markley Announces Upcoming Retirement

Posted By on Mon, Mar 21, 2022 at 4:15 PM

COTS executive director Rita Markley, right, with Ron Redmond - COURTESY OF BECKY HOLT/COTS
  • Courtesy of Becky Holt/COTS
  • COTS executive director Rita Markley, right, with Ron Redmond
Rita Markley,  a longtime leader in the effort to end homelessness in Vermont, will retire from the Committee on Temporary Shelter this fall after three decades of service.

The Burlington nonprofit announced Markley's retirement in a press release Monday that praised her as a lifelong advocate against inequality.

“When I first walked through the doors of COTS 30 years ago as a volunteer, I had no idea that this organization would become the greatest love of my life, besides my family,” Markley said in the release.

Markley has served as COTS' executive director since 1996. She's credited with helping shape the nonprofit into a national leader in homelessness advocacy and programming.

Among her achievements is the restoration of the COTS headquarters on 95 North Avenue in Burlington from a run-down building into an activity hub that now hosts a housing resource center and the Daystation, where people can connect with various social services.

She also spearheaded several statewide initiatives, including the Coalition to End Homelessness, and has overseen the completion of more than 50 affordable housing units. Another 16 apartments for families are expected to come online next year.

“Rita is an intrepid leader who has inspired thousands of others to take action to end homelessness,” said Tom Stretton, who chairs the nonprofit's board of directors, in the announcement. “It is no exaggeration to say that through her work, both directly and indirectly, Rita has touched millions of lives over the past three decades."

Stretton and the rest of the nonprofit's board will lead the search for Markley's replacement. The outgoing leader expressed gratitude for her colleagues and said she believes the organization has "never been stronger."

"I am thrilled to see what the next generation of leadership will achieve," Markley said. 

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Thursday, March 17, 2022

Boves Reverse Course, Say They Won't Evict Winooski Tenants

Posted By and on Thu, Mar 17, 2022 at 11:08 PM

300 North Main apartments - DEREK BROUWER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
  • 300 North Main apartments
This story was updated at 3 p.m. on March 18, 2022.

Following weeks of public outcry, Mark and Rick Bove say they no longer plan to kick out the 24 low-income, mostly refugee families who live at a housing complex the brothers own in Winooski.

The Boves told tenants in February that they would all need to leave by July 1 ahead of "major renovations" at the 300 Main Street property. The brothers then intended to raise rents at the updated complex to market rate.

But affordable housing organizations, nonprofits that support refugees and immigrants, and Winooski city officials all decried the mass eviction at a time when rents are soaring and housing is hard to come by. They later pressed the issue in a letter to state lawmakers, calling for reforms that would better protect tenants. A community fundraiser started over the weekend to support the families had raised more than $16,000 as of Friday afternoon.

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Thursday, March 10, 2022

Mass Evictions From Bove Brothers' Building Prompt Call for Tenant Protection

Posted By on Thu, Mar 10, 2022 at 6:36 PM

300 North Main apartments - DEREK BROUWER ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • Derek Brouwer ©️ Seven Days
  • 300 North Main apartments
Winooski city leaders and a coalition of nonprofits are pleading for state lawmakers to enact new protections for tenants in the wake of a mass eviction of refugee and low-income renters.

In a March 8 letter to Gov. Phil Scott and legislative leaders, they call for more funds to boost the supply of affordable, family-sized rentals across the state. But development incentives alone aren't enough, they emphasize.

"Investments in housing to meet this crisis must be coupled with requirements to ensure that mass displacements like the one underway in Winooski do not happen," the letter states.

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Tuesday, March 1, 2022

Happy Town Meeting Day! Get Out and Vote, Vermont

Posted By on Tue, Mar 1, 2022 at 1:32 PM

Checking in voters at the Miller Center in Burlington - LUKE AWTRY
  • Luke Awtry
  • Checking in voters at the Miller Center in Burlington
Town Meeting Day might look different again this year, but the vibe is the same.

Vermonters are voting — by voice, by mail, by paper ballot — as part of the state's unique tradition of direct democracy. Town clerks and volunteers are doing their part to count ballots and keep the polls running. Candidates are out for one last 12-hour campaign push before polls close at 7 p.m.

For the last few months, Seven Days has covered various Town Meeting Day issues in municipalities around the state. Here's what you need to know:

February 28: "Scott Blocks Brattleboro's Bid to Lower the Voting Age"

February 25: "Burlington Seeks a Makeover for Main Street With TIF Bond"

February 23: "Democracy How? The Pandemic Has Weakened — but Not Killed — Vermont’s Grand Town Meeting Day Tradition"

February 23:
"Burlington Voters Will Again Consider New City Spending — and a Tax Hike"

February 23:
"Winooski, Montpelier Will Allow Noncitizens to Vote, but Few Have Signed Up"

February 18:
"Milton School Board Race Jolted By Candidates’ Manifesto"

February 16:
"Local Commotion: National Divisions on Race and Equity Are Roiling Vermont School Boards"

February 9:
"Control of the Burlington City Council Likely Hinges on One Race: Ward 8"

February 2:
"A Proposed Tweak to Burlington’s Charter Sparks Impassioned Debate Over Sex Work"

January 18:
"Burlington Progs Consider Six Candidates for Council Seats"

January 12:
"Burlington Council Elections: Hightower Will Run, Stromberg Won't"

January 12:
"Burlington’s Town Meeting Day Could Look Much Different for Progressives"

December 19: "Burlington Dems Endorse Five Candidates for City Council Elections"

December 9: "Burlington City Councilor Chip Mason Won't Seek Reelection"

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Friday, February 25, 2022

Nationwide Opioid Settlement Nets Vermont $64 Million

Posted By on Fri, Feb 25, 2022 at 1:00 PM

OxyContin on a pharmacy shelf - DREAMSTIME
  • Dreamstime
  • OxyContin on a pharmacy shelf
Vermont will receive about $64 million from nationwide settlements with three major opioid distributors, as well as drugmaker Johnson & Johnson, to help the state recover from the effects of the opioid epidemic.

The cash comes from $26 billion in settlements, initially proposed last summer, that resolved thousands of lawsuits brought by state and local governments alleging that the companies helped fuel the addiction crisis. Distributors McKesson, Cardinal and AmerisourceBergen will collectively pay $21 billion; Johnson & Johnson will contribute $5 billion.

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Thursday, February 17, 2022

Two Colchester Mobile Home Parks Convert to Resident Ownership

Posted By on Thu, Feb 17, 2022 at 9:23 AM

Breezy Acres mobile home park in Colchester. - COOPERATIVE DEVELOPMENT INSTITUTE
  • Cooperative Development Institute
  • Breezy Acres mobile home park in Colchester.
Two Colchester mobile home parks were converted to resident-owned cooperatives this month, bringing the total number of such co-ops in Vermont to 16.

The residents of the Hillcrest and Breezy Acres parks are now paying off mortgages instead of paying rent in a deal that closed February 9.

When the two parks went up for sale for $14 million in 2020, the nonprofit Cooperative Development Institute of Northampton, Mass., got in touch with residents to let them know they had the option of buying the parks, said Erikka Yandow, the secretary of the newly created Hillcrest board. The parks are next to each other and have a combined 233 homes.

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