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Wednesday, March 30, 2022

Goodbye, Off Message Blog. Hello, 21st Century!

Posted By on Wed, Mar 30, 2022 at 9:00 AM

© WELLPHOTOS | DREAMSTIME
  • © Wellphotos | Dreamstime
After nine and a half years, Seven Days is finally saying goodbye to its “Off Message” blog. Uh, we had a blog? And still did, in … 2022? What makes a blog different from, say, a website?

All good questions! The blog came about as a way for us to write about things that happened during the week, in between Wednesday issues of the print paper. Nowadays — and actually for many years — we run a robust website that isn’t just a place for short snippets as much as one that’s home to fully reported articles.

Hence, the decision to ditch “Off Message,” which originally was intended for stories just about politics. Instead, it became a catchall for everyday news “blogs.”

Eliminating “Off Message” won’t change much for you as a reader. Everything will still be online, free and available 24 hours a day, but without the “Off Message” header. Web-first news articles will still be published in the news section and each story will also have some time on the homepage, ready for you to read.

Internally, we still call online stories “blogs.” As in, “Hey editors, I’m blogging today, but it won’t be ready until 10 p.m. Have fun!”

And, you know what? We probably will continue to call them blogs. Old habits die hard.

Tuesday, March 29, 2022

Vermont-Based Feds Pursue Fraud Claims Against Health Records Company

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2022 at 9:54 PM

U.S. Attorney for Vermont Nikolas Kerest - U.S. DEPARTMENT OF JUSTICE
  • U.S. Department of Justice
  • U.S. Attorney for Vermont Nikolas Kerest
Federal prosecutors in Vermont are pursuing yet another electronic health records company for false claims related to its medical records software.

Newly unsealed court records show that a former executive of Modernizing Medicine filed a whistleblower lawsuit against the Boca Raton, Fla., company and its cofounders, Daniel Cane and Dr. Michael Sherling, in 2017. Earlier this month, the U.S. Attorney’s Office informed the court that it would take up the whistleblower’s case.

The complaint alleged that ModMed’s patient records software didn’t work as purported, the company cheated federal certification tests and created incentives for doctors in ways that violated federal anti-kickback laws.

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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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Beta Expansion at Airport Hits Snag Over SoBu Parking Regs

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2022 at 4:49 PM

The Beta facility at BTV - FILE: OLIVER PARINI
  • File: Oliver Parini
  • The Beta facility at BTV
Beta Technologies' plan to construct an electric aircraft manufacturing plant at the Burlington International Airport hit a snag last week over the placement of a parking lot, prompting outcry from the fast-growing startup and Gov. Phil Scott.

South Burlington's Development Review Board gave conditional approval to the master plan for Beta's 40-acre airport campus. But a single condition — that the company erect a building to block a parking lot from view along Williston Road — could sink the project entirely, the company claimed.

Scott addressed the matter at his weekly press conference Tuesday, just as the municipal board was voting to reopen Beta's application, a sign that it may reconsider its recent decision. Failure to do so, Scott told reporters, could prompt Beta to move its manufacturing plant to Plattsburgh, N.Y., where it already tests its experimental aircraft, or elsewhere.

"We can't let that happen," he said. "This is too important."

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Northern Stage Theater to Build Apartments for Staff in White River Junction

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2022 at 4:33 PM

Northern Stage in White River Junction - COURTESY OF RACHEL WILLIAMSON
  • Courtesy of Rachel Williamson
  • Northern Stage in White River Junction
Northern Stage, a nonprofit theater company in White River Junction, plans to build 15 apartments for its workers and visiting artists on a site that the theater purchased on Monday.

The new property is half a block down the street from the theater. It was previously the home of an insurance company that moved out in 2018. The buildings on-site will be demolished to make way for the new apartments.

Founded in 1997, Northern Stage employs 40 people full time and draws about 250 artists each year on short-term contracts.

The theater company owns 15 homes and apartments in Quechee and White River Junction that it rents to staff at 30 percent lower than market value, said Ryan Klink, the company’s director of sales and marketing. Northern Stage also rents 14 apartments in the area because the company is contractually obligated to provide housing for its visiting artists, he said.

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Judge Rules for Neighbors in Case Against Panton Dairy Farm

Posted By on Tue, Mar 29, 2022 at 10:28 AM

Vorsteveld Farm - FILE: CALEB KENNA
  • File: Caleb Kenna
  • Vorsteveld Farm
A large Panton dairy farm must make changes to stop turbid runoff and foul odors from contaminating a downslope neighbor, a state judge ruled Monday.

The decision by Superior Court Judge Mary Miles Teachout, following a civil trial held in December and January, does not specify how the three Vorsteveld brothers, who operate one of the 38 largest dairy farms in Vermont, must halt the pollutants. As Seven Days previously reported, the case also touched on broader issues in the dairy industry and how Vermont regulates farms.
Neighboring landowners Vicki and Dennis Hopper sued Vorsteveld Farm in 2020, alleging that runoff was interfering with life at their lakefront home and the operations of their daughter’s grass-fed livestock farm, known as Aerie Point.

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Monday, March 28, 2022

Woodstock Program Would Pay Property Owners to Provide Long-Term Rentals

Posted By on Mon, Mar 28, 2022 at 9:26 PM

Downtown Woodstock - COURTESY OF JENNIFER SCHMIDTKE
  • Courtesy of Jennifer Schmidtke
  • Downtown Woodstock
The Town of Woodstock’s Economic Development Commission wants to pay property owners who turn their short-term rentals into long-term housing.

The incentive program — which the Woodstock Selectboard must first approve  — would use $35,000 from the town Economic Development Commission’s $303,000 budget for grants this year. Short-term rental owners would get $3,000 if they sign a one-year lease with a tenant, and $7,000 if they sign a two-year lease.

The plan, which the commission approved last week, is loosely based on a recently enacted program called Rent Local in the ski town of Big Sky, Mont. The payments there depend on the size of the rental unit and length of the lease.

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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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Friday, March 25, 2022

Scott Signs First New Gun Control Measure Since 2018

Posted By on Fri, Mar 25, 2022 at 7:09 PM

Gov. Phil Scott - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Gov. Phil Scott
Gov. Phil Scott on Friday signed S.4, a bill that doesn't quite close the so-called "Charleston loophole" in mandated background checks of gun buyers, but narrows it.

Legislation sponsored by Sen. Phil Baruth (D/P-Chittenden) initially sought to eliminate the loophole, which has allowed people to buy guns when their background check wasn’t completed in time. That's what enabled a 21-year-old white supremacist to buy the .45-caliber pistol that he used to murder nine Black members of a Bible study group at Mother Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, S.C., in 2015.

Vermont had allowed sales to proceed when background checks weren’t completed within three days. The new measure extends that period to seven business days. Scott had earlier vetoed a bill that would have blocked firearms purchases altogether unless the background check was complete. But he told lawmakers he would favor extending the period to seven days.

The House and Senate approved that this week. The bill also blocks people who are not law enforcement officers from carrying guns in hospitals, and includes some other measures that gun safety advocates had sought.

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Wednesday, March 23, 2022

Idaho Company Acquires an Iconic Vermont Energy Storage Firm

Posted By on Wed, Mar 23, 2022 at 6:00 AM

Jay Bellows of Northern Reliability - FILE: KEVIN MCCALLUM ©️ SEVEN DAYS
  • File: Kevin McCallum ©️ Seven Days
  • Jay Bellows of Northern Reliability
Waterbury-based energy storage systems manufacturer Northern Reliability has been acquired by an Idaho company — but it’s not going anywhere.

KORE Power announced that NorthernReliability will be part of a new entity called KORE Solutions and will remain in Waterbury. It will immediately add 25 positions, KORE Power said in a prepared statement.

The Waterbury company has created more than 1,000 energy storage projects around the world, including many for off-grid uses in extreme environments such as Antarctica.

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