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April 2011

April 26, 2011

Vermont Yankee Employees Out of the Loop on Relicensing?

VY State lawmakers aren't the only ones who have felt left in the dark by the embattled owners of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant. Some VY employees apparently felt out of the loop too.

The Vernon reactor's corporate owners, Louisiana-based Entergy Corp., sued the state of Vermont in federal court in Burlington last week seeking to prevent the state from shutting the plant down when its operating license expires next year.

Among the hundreds of pages of exhibits attached to the lawsuit are "exit interview" forms completed by eight plant workers on their way out the door. The records are intended to show that uncertainty over the plant's future is costing the company employees — and they do. The eight employees, all of whom left the company between January and March of this year, list uncertainty over the plant's future as the primary or secondary reason for their departure.

One worker wrote: "It was a very hard decision — I waffled back and forth — what I need the company can't supply — get re-licensed."

But the forms wind up illustrating something else too. Several nuke plant workers —  whose names were removed from the questionnaires — complain that plant higher-ups didn't communicate about the status of the re-licensing effort. Ironic, considering Vermont Yankee has spent thousands of dollars on TV and print newspaper ads that use personal testimonials from VY employees to argue for re-licensing.

In response to the question, "What are your general feelings about VY?", one unnamed worker wrote: "Communications are lacking — we find out information from the Newspaper versus in house communications department."

Illustration by Tim Nuke 'Em

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Alice Eats: The Hub Pizzeria and Pub

21 Lower Main Street, Johnson, 635-7626

IMG_2165 The sign always made me curious. In tiny Johnson, the Hub's metalwork planets certainly stand out. When I saw the latest menu, featuring 50 different specialty pizzas (the largest selection of pizzas in the Northeast, according to the menu), I hightailed it to Lamoille County to see if the pies were as cool as the sign.

The walls were covered in paintings, large and small, some colorful and faux-tribal; a spooky, black-and-white face filled one wall.

The menu is huge, both physically and in scope. Whatever the toppings, specialty pizzas are a set price. A 14-inch medium was plenty for two and only $16.99, so we had money left over to try a pair of starters.

Continue reading "Alice Eats: The Hub Pizzeria and Pub" »

April 25, 2011

Due West of Burlington, New York Wants a Nuke

Nuclear-power-plant Ed note: Kevin J. Kelley contributed this post.

Ridicule might seem the right response to the undeterred effort to build a nuclear power plant in Massena, N.Y.

Despite the ongoing disaster at the Fukushima complex in Japan, Massena Mayor Jim Hidy says an atomic energy plant is just what his village needs. “In light of the Japan incident, I'm even more confident we should have it,” Hidy says. “The nuclear plant was about the only thing still standing there after the earthquake and tsunami.”

Besides, the mayor notes, Massena doesn't lie on a fault line, as some have said, but rather on a “glacial retreat.” And that's not as geologically significant, he says he's been told.

The town does lie on the St. Lawrence River, an abundant source of coolant for a nuke and a body of water “not likely to have a tsunami,” Hidy points out.

He and Town Supervisor Joseph Gray began in January to pitch Massena, 90 air miles west of Burlington, as a perfect site for a new nuke. They say they have the support of New York's senior U.S. senator, Charles Schumer, as well as several local lawmakers.

But such a plant is never going to be built, insists Laura Haight of the New York Public Interest Research Group. “It's somebody's pipe dream,” she says. “It's not real.”

Continue reading "Due West of Burlington, New York Wants a Nuke" »

VT Labor Dept. Shutters Montpelier's Samosaman Café

Talk about some bad Restaurant Week timing for the Montpelier-based Samosaman Café: As the blog Montpelier Matters first observed on Saturday, the Vermont Department of Labor has issued the downtown café a "stop work order" until the business comes into full compliance with the state's workers' compensation law.

As Seven Days first reported in this February 2 article, café proprietor Fuad Ndibalema ran into some legal snafus earlier this year after several of his workers complained to the state that, among other things, they weren't being adequately compensated under the state's minimum-wage law. The workers, all Peruvian women who were visiting Vermont as part of the U.S. State Department's J-1 Summer Work Travel Program, have since left Ndibalema's employ and returned to their home country.

Now it appears that original investigation turned up other problems. "After an investigation we concluded that, it turns out the different [Samosaman] locations have different corporate ownership and they only had workers' compensation insurance for the [Winooski] location," says Steve Monahan, director of workers' compensation and safety at the Vermont Department of Labor. "Since the statute says that if a business has not complied with workers' compensation, we're to order them closed until they get it." 

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Nifty Map Showing VT Yankee's Potential Risk

Picture 4 Last week, Nature published a hefty piece about populations that would be at risk in the event of a nuclear accident. In the article, the authors outline nuclear plants around the world that are close to large population centers. According to their analysis, two-thirds of the world's 211 nuclear power plants have more people living within a 30-kilometer (18.6-mile) radius than the 172,000 people living within 30 kilometers of the Fukushima Daiichi plant. Uh oh. That doesn't sound good. 

And it gets worse. Twenty-one plants have populations larger than 1 million within that radius, and six have populations larger than 3 million, including two in China and one in Pakistan. Eek.

Here in the Northeast, our biggest nuclear plant in terms of population proximity is New York's Entergy-owned Indian Point, which has 17 million people living within a 75-kilometer (46 miles) radius. Thanks to a nifty Google map accompanying the article, you can see exactly how Vermont Yankee stacks up against its nuclear brethren. While small by comparison, VY does have 150,000 people living within a 30-kilometer radius and 1.26 million people living within a 75-kilometer radius. Try evacuating that many people in the event of a meltdown. If that happens, I'm hightailing it to Bermuda where there are no nuclear reactors at all. 

To check out a fun graphic illustrating our "nuclear neighbors," click here.  

Photo via nature.com.

April 22, 2011

Vermonter Named to Kennedy Center Board

StetsonCloseBill Stetson, a Vermont filmmaker, has been named by Pres. Barack Obama to a key committee that advises the prestigious John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts.

Steton's official title is Member, Advisory Committee on the Arts for the Kennedy Center. As part of his role, however, he will serve as the key liaison between regional artists and performing art centers and the Kennedy Center.

In short, Stetson hopes to bring a little of Vermont to the progamming of the Kennedy Center and a little bit of the Kennedy Center programming to Vermont.

Stetson is a longtime political friend of the president who helped raise millions for Obama in the 2008 election, including hosting a 2007 primary fundraiser at his and his wife's Norwich home that raised hundreds of thousands of dollars. His wife, Jane Stetson, is currently the finance director for the Democratic National Committee. The couple, who have a home in Norwich, also own one in Washington, D.C.

"I plan to use my friendship with the president to really pitch to him the creative economy in Vermont, and put our state and its artists and creators on the national stage," Stetson told Seven Days. As well, Stetson will be able to help bring Kennedy Center programs to cultural centers in Vermont and New England.

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Two Vermont Abenaki Tribes Earn State Recognition

282233735 Gov. Peter Shumlin signed two bills today that grant official state recognition to two Native American tribes: The Nulhegan and the Elnu.

For decades, Vermont's Abenaki tribes have sought state recognition. It's been a bitter fight with lawmakers and various administrations, as well as internally between tribes and family bands within the Abenaki as well as Abenaki who have contested the legitimacy of the recognized tribes.

With state recognition, these two tribes — estimated to have a few hundred members combined — will be able to sell their crafts as Native American-made, or Abenaki-made, if granted approval by a federal crafts board. In addition, the tribes will also be able to apply for federal housing and education grants, though winning approval of those funds isn't guaranteed.

For the Abenaki in the room, however, the official recognition was more about ending decades of hiding their identity and charting a new path for their children.

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April 21, 2011

Burlington City Planners Object to Restaurant's Wind Turbine

The Spot*Updated below with comment from Burlington Planning and Zoning Director David White and photos*

File this one under "alternative energy vs. historic preservation."

Russ Scully (pictured, at left) installed the small wind turbine on his surf-themed restaurant, The Spot, to power his kitchen appliances and make a statement about renewable energy.

But Burlington city planners say the turbine is historically out of character on the gas-station-turned-café. In their estimation, it breaks the terms of his permit — and have slapped him with a violation notice that he is now appealing.

Scully won approval to erect the Honeywell-made turbine last year based on drawings of an early design. The turbine he installed was a newer model and came with "fins" that keep the turbine pointed into the wind to maximize energy production. City planners say the fins violate conditions of Scully’s approval and must be removed. Planners also cited The Spot for failing to to meet another condition of approval: that the sweeping, bat-wing-style canopy (pictured below the turbine) be "open" where the metal truss goes through it.

Scully and his contractor, Mike Gervais of Williston-based renewable energy company Yellow Brick LLC (pictured, at right), admit they should have secured necessary approvals for the fins but have appealed to the Development Review Board to keep them on.

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April 20, 2011

BTV Ups Its Enviro Cred With Bicycle Compost Pick-up

Compost Thanks to a new bicycle compost collection business, Burlington is now one step closer to standing side-by-side with Portland, Ore., and other progressive bike-centric cities. Revolution Compost, a new service of One Revolution, a relatively new bicycle hauling operation in Burlington, picks up residential compost by bike and deposits it at the Chittenden Solid Waste District drop-off center on Pine Street. The service began mid-March, and so far has 18 customers. (We profiled One Revolution here.)

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A 4/20 Nomination for the Green Mountain State's Budmaster General

71099_154926904544584_92470_nLast Friday, when the Vermont Senate passed S.17, a bill to establish nonprofit medical marijuana dispensaries around the state, the legislation addressed a broad spectrum of public concerns ranging from where the dispensaries can be located, to what security measures must be in place on the premises, to how many total plants, dried herb and other THC-infused products — tinctures, oils, baked goods and spreadable jams — a dispensary can possess.

However, nowhere in the 53-page bill did state lawmakers explicitly spell out a critical detail about these dispensaries: Upon what criteria will aspiring medicinal pot growers be chosen? What credentials will be considered? Will they have to present a portfolio of their previous work? And if so, who gets to sample the goods?

Currently, S.17 designates much of the rule-making authority about the dispensaries to the Vermont Department of Public Service. Clearly, the Vermont State Police have ample expertise when it comes to drug manufacture, possession and distribution — mostly, that is, with the business of breaking it up. However, when it comes to the delicate business of cultivating a particularly tasty strain of Afghani Kush, Northern Lights or White Widow, Vermont's guys and gals in the green duds aren't exactly the best choice for cannabis connoisseurs. Let's face it: You want to grow great pot? Hire a great pot grower.

Better yet, hire a master gardener, like Sue Thayer.

Continue reading "A 4/20 Nomination for the Green Mountain State's Budmaster General" »

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