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Friday, July 19, 2019

Data Dive: As Opioid Crisis Ramped Up, Pills Flowed Into Vermont by the Millions

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 8:06 PM

One hundred ninety-one: Opioid manufacturers and distributors sold that many pills in bulk in Vermont for every man, woman and child during  the seven-year period that ended in 2012.

The total tally of oxycodone and hydrocodone pills sold at wholesale in the Green Mountains during that period was a whopping 119,480,773.

The figures come from a database released this week by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration detailing itemized purchases of prescription opioids in the U.S. from 2006 through 2012. The dataset offers an unprecedented window into the pharmaceutical industry's business dealings as the opioid crisis grew.
Oxycodone and hydrocodone purchases peaked in 2011 at 18.2 million pills. That same year, Vermont medical providers wrote 502,566 prescriptions for opioids in a state with a population of just under 627,000.

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Vermont Supreme Court Makes Media Shield Law Ruling Public

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 3:23 PM

A still from WCAX's report on a police shooting at Montpelier High School in January 2018 - SCREENSHOT
  • Screenshot
  • A still from WCAX's report on a police shooting at Montpelier High School in January 2018
Updated 4:30 p.m.

A secret judicial order that upheld press freedom from prying state investigators must be made public, the Vermont Supreme Court ruled Friday.

The February 2018 order in question was the first test of a state media shield law enacted in 2017 after lobbying by Vermont journalists, who were worried that law enforcement could compel reporters to disclose their sources or notes.

But the landmark ruling has remained sealed for more than a year because it came as part of a closed-door inquest regarding a police shooting.

Police shot and killed Nathan Giffin, a suspected bank robber, in January 2018 after an hourlong standoff outside Montpelier High School. WCAX captured the shooting on video, which state prosecutors subpoenaed in the course of determining whether the shooting was criminal.

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Developer: CityPlace Burlington Project Will Be Redesigned

Posted By on Fri, Jul 19, 2019 at 11:28 AM

The construction site - MATTHEW ROY
  • Matthew Roy
  • The construction site
Updated 5 p.m.

The developer of one of the most ambitious building plans in Burlington history confirmed Friday the project may be a bit too ambitious.

Brookfield Asset Management, majority owner of CityPlace Burlington, released a statement confirming the obvious, that the 14-story downtown project is on hold. Brookfield also said that the “scope, scale, and the timing” of construction may change.

The delay is the latest setback for a polarizing project to transform the ailing Burlington Town Center mall property downtown into a vibrant mixture of housing, office and retail space. First approved in 2016, the repeated delays have strained relations between the developers and city leaders and frayed nerves of downtown residents and business owners alike.

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Thursday, July 18, 2019

Media Note: Free Press Owner in 'Advanced' Merger Talks

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 8:00 PM

Sunday's Burlington Free Press
  • Sunday's Burlington Free Press
Gannett, the corporate owner of the Burlington Free Press, is reportedly close to agreement on a merger with GateHouse Media. The Wall Street Journal reported Thursday that GateHouse, the smaller of the two firms, would be the buyer and its CEO would retain his title in the combined enterprise. The New York Post quoted an unnamed source as saying the deal had a 75 percent chance of happening.

News of merger talks between the two companies first broke in late May, not long after Gannett's board rejected a takeover bid from hedge fund Alden Global Capital.

Gannett and GateHouse are the two largest newspaper chains (by circulation) in the country. As industry analyst Ken Doctor of the Nieman Journalism Lab wrote in May, "Totaled up, 267 dailies would fall under a single ownership and management. That's an unprecedented concentration of control in the history of the American press." (The combined firm would also own more than 1,000 weekly papers. None of GateHouse's properties are in Vermont.)

Doctor wrote of a "megaclustering" trend in the journalism industry, as newspapers suffer continuing declines in advertising and circulation and seek ways to streamline operations through regional sales and reporting efforts.

That's "regional" as in "not local."

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Holcombe Hires Out-of-State Campaign Team

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 6:07 PM

  • File: Jeb Wallace-Brodeur
  • Rebecca Holcombe
Democratic gubernatorial candidate Rebecca Holcombe has enlisted an experienced campaign team — but only one of its members hails from Vermont.

Serving as senior adviser is Brian Lenzmeier, a political operative who appears to have run congressional campaigns in New Mexico in 2014 and in Michigan in 2016; in 2018, he seems to have run a secretive super PAC backing a Pennsylvania congressional candidate.
Lenzmeier did not respond to requests for information about his background, but he did provide the names of Holcombe's other consultants:

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Frontier's BTV-Denver Flight Will Go on Seasonal Hiatus in November

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 4:15 PM

  • Sean Metcalf
In January, Frontier Airlines announced a new nonstop flight from Burlington International Airport to Denver, Colo.

Not reported at the time: The flight is seasonal. It began in May and will stop running as of November 13, 2019, for a winter hiatus before resuming in spring 2020, an airline spokesperson told Seven Days. Two days after the route is suspended, the discount airline will again offer its seasonal cold-weather flight from BTV to Orlando, Fla.

"We’ve been very happy with the results we’ve seen so far and look forward to continuing our success at BTV," Zach Kramer, Frontier's manager of corporate communications, wrote in an email.

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On Target? Axe Throwing Venue to Open in Burlington's Old North End

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 10:41 AM

Jules Townsend, Mike Garber and Jesse Snyder of Burly Axe Throwing - COURTNEY LAMDIN
  • Courtney Lamdin
  • Jules Townsend, Mike Garber and Jesse Snyder of Burly Axe Throwing
Burlington entrepreneur Mike Garber has an axe to grind: There aren’t enough places to have good, clean fun in the Queen City. So he’s opening one of his own.

By sometime next month, Garber hopes to have Burly Axe Throwing, a competitive axe throwing venue, up and operating at 294 North Winooski Avenue.

Participants chuck two-pound axes — really more like hatchets — at a bullseye painted on a wooden wall to earn the most points.

“It’s a lot like darts,” Garber said. “It sort of gives you the feeling of danger, but it’s under control.”

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Peter Welch Calls for the Impeachment of Donald Trump

Posted By on Thu, Jul 18, 2019 at 12:06 AM

Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) - FILE
  • File
  • Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.)
Updated July 18, 2019, at 4:43 p.m.

U.S. Rep. Peter Welch (D-Vt.) on Thursday became the first member of Vermont’s congressional delegation to call for the impeachment of President Donald Trump.

“I do not arrive at this conclusion lightly,” Welch wrote in a statement released Thursday morning. “The power of impeachment granted to Congress by our Founding Fathers should not be casually employed.”

But, he argued, Trump “has established a clear pattern of willful disregard for our Constitution and its system of checks and balances. His presidency has wrought an unprecedented and unrelenting assault on the pillars and guardrails of our democracy, including the rule of law on which our country was founded.”

Welch’s 382-word statement included a litany of grievances against the president. He accused Trump of attacking the courts, the press, the rule of law and democracy itself. But in a conference call with reporters on Thursday afternoon, Welch pointed to a pair of offenses he said had pushed him over the edge: Trump’s refusal to comply with congressional oversight and his racist attacks on four members of Congress.

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Wednesday, July 17, 2019

Workers Remove Crane From Site of Long-Stalled CityPlace Project

Posted By on Wed, Jul 17, 2019 at 3:25 PM

Workers removing a crane at the CityPlace Burlington site - SASHA GOLDSTEIN
  • Sasha Goldstein
  • Workers removing a crane at the CityPlace Burlington site
Workers finally got busy at the CityPlace Burlington construction site on Wednesday — but only to remove a large crane that has been parked in the downtown crater for nearly a year.

One of the workers, who declined to give his name, said the crane was needed at a different site.

But John Franco, an attorney representing opponents of the redevelopment, called the explanation “bullshit.” In reality, he said, the crews were disassembling a "Potemkin village" — a term for a deceptive façade — meant to convince locals that work was underway on the controversial project.

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Tuesday, July 16, 2019

Burlington Settles Lawsuit Challenging No-Trespass Ordinance

Posted By on Tue, Jul 16, 2019 at 7:23 PM

ACLU of Vermont attorney Jay Diaz - FILE: JEB WALLACE-BRODEUR
  • File: Jeb Wallace-brodeur
  • ACLU of Vermont attorney Jay Diaz
The City of Burlington will pay $13,500 to a Queen City man and his attorneys who challenged the city’s no-trespass ordinance last summer after he was barred from City Hall Park.

The June 26 settlement with Jason Ploof also says the city will rewrite its trespass ordinance by year’s end, according to the American Civil Liberties Union of Vermont, which represented Ploof along with attorney Justin Barnard of Dinse in Burlington.

“Our parks, especially central parks like City Hall Park, are something that belongs to everybody,” ACLU of Vermont staff attorney Jay Diaz told Seven Days. “We’re glad that the city going forward is going to take that more seriously than they have in the past, applying due process of law whenever they attempt to revoke people’s rights.”

In 2015, Burlington police ticketed and trespassed Ploof twice for having an open container in the park, the second time for 90 days. Police then arrested Ploof when they saw him conversing with friends near the fountain during that period, according to court documents.

With the ACLU of Vermont’s backing, Ploof contended that the banishment “unlawfully restricted [his] freedom to receive information and enter a traditional public forum, in violation of the First Amendment.” The suit survived the city’s attempts to dismiss it.

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