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Brattleboro Selectboard nixes temporary nudity ban in narrow vote.

BRATTLEBORO — If you’ve got it, flaunt it. Last week the Brattleboro Selectboard, in a 3-2 vote, opted not to impose a permanent ban on nudity along the town’s Route 5 and 9 corridors just one month after passing a temporary ban. The move opens the door for a group of twentysomethings, a nude cyclist and an Arizona man — who had been known to locals for baring it all — to resume their nude strolls through downtown Brat.

The clothes-free situation came to a head last month when a man decided to meander through downtown in the raw during one of the town’s gallery walks, said Town Manager Barbara Sondag. “I think a lot of people felt that it really crossed the line for them,” she said.

Locals had also been distraught over a man who was regularly seen riding his bike along Routes 5 and 9 both in town and on the outskirts, as well as occasional nude sightings involving a group of young adults, Sondag said, explaining the permanent ban was voted down over board members’ disagreement on the specifics of the ban. Some argued for a ban on male frontal nudity while others wanted a blanket nudity ban. The decision came in the face of tangible public support. A petition signed by more than 900 people supporting the ban had been presented to board members prior to the August 21 vote.

The temporary ban is in effect until September 15, after which it is unclear how many nudists will crop up in Brattleboro. “[By] September 15, September 16 it’s starting to get cool,” Sondag said. “I don’t expect anything . . . The majority of people don’t go nude in the downtown area.”

PATRICK RIPLEY

Weed Whacking

Industrial hemp production plummets in Canada

CANADA — If the weed won’t get you high, apparently it won’t sell. Canada, one of the leading exporters of raw and processed hemp fiber to the United States, has seen a significant drop in industrial hemp production over the past year due to what some say is a lack of demand for hemp products.

According to figures provided by Health Canada, our northern neighbor’s federal body that oversees all hemp production in the country, production dropped from a record-breaking 48,060 acres in 2006 to just 11,569 acres this year — the lowest level of production since 2004.

Nabi Chaudhary, senior economic analyst for Health Canada, said the drastic drop in production is a direct result of a declining hemp market. “[Farmers] didn’t see that the market was there in 2007, so they cut down on their acreage,” he said, explaining that many hemp farmers were stuck with a surplus of crops left over from a “stagnant” market following the 2006 growing season.

The drop in production is welcomed by Drug Watch International, a worldwide group dedicated to the eradication of psychoactive drugs. “It’s good news for the movement. It’s bad news for the farmers, because I have sympathy for the farmers,” said Jeanette McDougal, chair of Drug Watch’s Hemp Committee. Industrial hemp does not contain enough psychoactive chemicals to get a person high.

Chaudhary said the main reason for the decline is Canada’s lack of hemp processing facilities to manufacture hemp products. He said federal officials are still hopeful they can attract a processor to the country, and that it is common for agricultural markets to fluctuate.

He estimated the value of Canada’s hemp industry at about $2 million, a figure that jumps to $10 million when you factor in processing. “I think, in the long run, hemp has a place in the agricultural sector,” Chaudhary said.

PATRICK RIPLEY

Turn On, Tune In

Mountain Lake PBS Reaches Out to the Bunny-Ear Crowd

PLATTSBURGH — With the growing domination of the airwaves by cable and satellite television, watching the boob tube has become a necessary line item in American families’ monthly budgets. Still, one local public broadcaster hasn’t forgotten the days of free TV and is catering to its non-paying viewers.

Earlier this month, Plattsburgh-based Mountain Lake Public Broadcasting went live with a temporary broadcast antenna that will increase reception to non-paying viewers in the surrounding area.

“On both sides of the lake — Vermont, New York and into Québec — we have a lot of viewers who still receive us over antenna, probably more so than in other parts of the United States,” said Rhonda J. Santos, director of communications for Mountain Lake.

The temporary antenna is necessary due to the April collapse of the station’s main tower on Lyon Mountain, located south of Saranac, N.Y. Prior to the temporary antenna’s installation, a free signal could not reach Burlington. The temporary antenna does not restore the signal to its original status, but Santos said more people should be able to attain the station, which airs on Channel 57.

Work on the new permanent tower is expected to be complete in October. If the new tower functions as well as its predecessor, Santos predicted, it will send Mountain Lake’s signal as far south as Newport, R.I., and as far north as Ottawa, Ontario.

PATRICK RIPLEY

Hocking Health Care

Private outreach workers out enrolling Vermonters in state health programs

VERMONT — A unique outreach campaign, the first of its kind in the country, has cropped up around the state to help educate and enroll uninsured Vermonters in three adult public-health programs. Beginning on October 1, this will include Catamount Health.

The Vermont Campaign for Health Care Security, a coalition of labor, health-care reform and elder-advocacy groups, has hired field staff to help sign up the estimated 60,000 Vermonters who lack health coverage.

“Currently, about half of those Vermonters are eligible today for VHAP [Vermont Health Access Plan] and Medicaid,” notes Peter Sterling, the campaign’s executive director. “So, it’s very fair to say that the state has not done an amazing job at reaching certain people to make sure they get the health care they’re eligible for.”

The privately funded campaign, which has already raised $140,000, has four outreach workers in Chittenden, Orleans, Rutland and Windham counties. According to Sterling, the workers are targeting “nontraditional” groups, such as churches, fraternal organizations and businesses, whose members may be unaware that they’re eligible for state-funded health care.

As Sterling points out, the number-one reason people don’t enroll in VHAP or Medicaid is because they assume that they’re disqualified because they work. In fact, the majority of uninsured people in Vermont who don’t have health insurance are employed. For more info on the campaign, visit http://www.catamounthealth.org or call 866-482-4723.

KEN PICARD

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