Blurt: Seven Days Staff Blog

NOTE: Blurt has been retired and is no longer updated regularly. For new content, follow these links:

OFF MESSAGE: Vermont News and Politics
BITE CLUB: Food and Drink Blog

20 posts categorized "Economy" Feed

July 25, 2012

Is the Gas Prices Debate About Economics or Politics?

250-skipIn this week's issue of Seven Days I wrote about Skip Vallee, the CEO of RL Vallee Inc. — one of Vermont's largest gas station chains. In the latest twist in the unfolding story about high gas prices in Vermont, Vallee purchased a former filing station in Plainfield, only to put it back on the market with restrictions on the deed that would forbid the property from being used as a gas station, convenience store or grocery store.

Some residents in Plainfield are crying foul, saying Vallee is just squashing potential competition for his other gas station up the road — and making it harder to attract a new owner in the process. Ask Vallee, and he'll tell you it's just business — a creative move to protect his company. 

The back story — to cut to the chase — is that ever since U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) took up the drumbeat on higher-than-average gas prices in northwestern Vermont in early July, Vallee and some of his colleagues have faced tough scrutiny for their pricing policies. Sanders says the Burlington area has a "non-competitive market" in which a few companies, RL Vallee included, set the prices. Vallee contends his business is competitive in every market in which it operates. 

In the political undercurrents that pit Sanders against noted GOP player "Gasoline" Vallee, there's been some inevitable sniping back and forth. Sanders' office last week pushed out a press release that included information from superstore Costco saying that its Colchester warehouse, if allowed to build a gas station, would have offered gas at prices 19 cents lower than nearby competitors. (Vallee and another gas station owner are attempting to block the Costco gas station on largely environmental grounds.) From Sanders' press release:

“We applaud your efforts to promote competition in the gasoline business in northern Vermont, which will lead to more rational and competitive pricing for your constituents and our members,” [Costco  Executive Vice President Joe Portera] told Sanders.

Vallee's detractors are quick to point out the irony in the noted Republican's tactics of choice: Not only is he supposedly stifling competition, but he's using environmental regulations to do so.

“What Skip Vallee and his friends are supposed to believe in is the value of competition,” Sanders told me on Monday morning. He said he's not for or against Costco, but also noted that RL Vallee "isn't exactly a mom and pop" operation. 

Vallee can give as good as he gets: “With Costco, I am glad Bernie has finally found a multinational he likes," he quipped in an email to Seven Days.

You can read the whole story (including more details about Vallee's power play in Plainfield) here.

Illustration by Michael Tonn.

June 28, 2012

Church Street Merchants Aren't Digging Construction Project

Church street tear up 012Sweetwaters owner David Melincoff has been watching with trepidation as a disruptive Church Street Marketplace construction project creeps toward his restaurant's front door. And now he's fighting to delay the dig that's scheduled to rip up the pedestrian mall's City Hall block for much of August.

Melincoff collected more than 700 signatures in less than a week on a petition he's circulating — on the social action website, no less — that calls for the lower-block portion of the project to be postponed for a month.

He fears that the noise, dust and unsightliness associated with the electrical rewiring work will hit Sweetwaters hard.

"August is our busiest month of the year," Melincoff explains. It accounts for 17 percent of the restaurant's annual sales and 32 percent of its net income, he calculates. And a majority of summertime diners choose a table on the Church Street portion of Sweetwaters' sidewalk cafe, he says.

"What's happening, in effect, is that they're jackhammering our dining room," Melincoff declares.

Sweetwaters' business will be off by as much as 50 percent as a result, he warns. And that will whack the wait staff right in the wallet, with employees' combined income likely to drop by $60,000 or more, Melincoff says.

Marketplace director Ron Redmond says city officials are striving to mitigate the project's effects up and down Burlington's four-block-long retail epicenter, but suggested it was unlikely the project would be delayed. He notes that work on the Church Street trench stops each weekday at 4 p.m., and construction fencing is scaled back at that time, which means "the outdoor restaurants should be fine for the dinner hours." Construction directly in front of individual outlets on the Marketplace does not last for more than seven business days, Redmond adds.

Continue reading "Church Street Merchants Aren't Digging Construction Project" »

June 01, 2012

'Courageous Conversations,' With Art, Launch in St. Johnsbury

559549_272058466226794_1285184283_nThis month Catamount Arts begins a series called "Courageous Conversations" that will address somber issues "facing the nation in general and the Northeast Kingdom in particular," says an announcement from director Jody Fried. Poverty, mental health and disabilities are the general topics for June, July and August, respectively.

So what's the art part?

Artists have long tackled weighty topics using a variety of media, and the "Conversations" series follows suit. Catamount is augmenting its live community/panel discussions with relevant films on Monday evenings and visual-art exhibits in the organization's Eastern Avenue gallery.

Continue reading "'Courageous Conversations,' With Art, Launch in St. Johnsbury" »

May 01, 2012

Noisy and United on a Raw May Day in Montpelier

March Editor's Note: Staff writer Paul Heintz contributed to this report.

Two hours after the start of a statewide march and rally on a raw May Day in Montpelier, climate-change activist Bill McKibben began his speech to a dwindled crowd by asking, "Where's global warming when you really need it?"

The spirit of the event felt more like the tulips and apple blossoms on the Statehouse lawn than like the sullen sky above the golden dome. Several hundred Vermonters joined in a noisy, festive demonstration, waving red-and-white placards emblazoned with the slogan, "Put People First."

A panoply of causes was represented on an occasion that most of the world celebrates as the workers' holiday. Many of the grievances got at least a mention from U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) who earned the day's loudest cheers after being introduced as the one politician "who stands up for us in Washington and stands with us here today."

Guy FawkesThe Senate's sole socialist deplored income inequality, child poverty, climate change, the Citizens' United corporations-are-people decision, and "our dysfunctional health care system." Sanders also denounced three U.S. wars: in Iraq, in Afghanistan and "against women." He said, "It's terribly important at this key moment that men stand with women to make sure the gains of the past 50 years are not lost."

Continue reading "Noisy and United on a Raw May Day in Montpelier" »

March 09, 2012

Republican Emerges to Challenge Bernie Sanders — And He's Got a Colorful Past

John MacGovern
U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) has been raising millions of dollars for his re-election campaign this year, but so far no candidate — Republican or otherwise — has come forward to run against him.

Until now.

Yesterday, the conservative website reported that John MacGovern, a former Republican Massachusetts lawmaker who lives in Windsor, will challenge Sanders. MacGovern has already launched a campaign website with his bio, issue positions, news clippings and online donation form. On the site, MacGovern names the "skyrocketing national debt" as the most serious problem facing the country.

Without naming him, MacGovern's website states that Sanders is leading America down the road toward "catastrophic national bankruptcy and further increases in unemployment."

"It seems that he has does [sic] not know what it takes to create jobs, and, in fact, supports raising taxes on the producers of jobs which, needless to say, would make it more difficult to create them," MacGovern states on the site. "In short, his vote can almost always be counted on to continue down the wrong road."

MacGovern also wades into the contraception controversy roiling Washington D.C. and the nation, though he never mentions birth control by name, saying America is facing a "full frontal assault on our religious liberties."

Vermont Republican Party executive director Mike Bertrand said he met MacGovern for "about 15 seconds" at a GOP event and said he seems like a "a very capable individual." But Bertrand stressed there's at least one other Republican exploring a candidacy, though he did not name the person.

"I would not assume by any stretch of the imagination that that is the one candidate," Bertrand said of MacGovern.

Continue reading "Republican Emerges to Challenge Bernie Sanders — And He's Got a Colorful Past" »

January 19, 2012

Statehouse Reacts to Vermont Yankee Ruling

DSC01647Bob Stannard was standing in the Statehouse cafeteria Thursday when his phone rang. It was Gov. Peter Shumlin, calling to tell him that a federal judge had finally ruled on Vermont Yankee's lawsuit against the state. Entergy, owner of the nuclear power plant Stannard had lobbied to shut down for five years, had won. The state had lost.

"I haven't had a chance to read this tome," said Stannard (pictured), glancing over the 102-page decision on his iPhone. "It appears we'll get nothing from Entergy except radiation and spent fuel. We get stuck with their waste."

News spread quicky through the capitol Thursday afternoon after federal Judge J. Garvan Murtha ruled that the 40-year-old nuclear reactor can remain open past 2012, and that the Vermont Legislature pre-empted federal authority when it voted to shut the plant down two years ago. Stannard fought to close the plant for five years as the lobbyist for the Vermont Citizens Action Network. He witnessed a major milestone in 2010 when the Vermont Senate, led by then-Senate President Peter Shumlin, voted 26 to 4 against letting state regulators hear the plant's petition for a 20-year license extension.

At the time, a series of radioactive leaks and false statements by company officials had Entergy on the run. But Entergy sued the state, contending that federal agencies, not states, had sole authority to regulate nuclear power. When Thursday's ruling arrived in favor of Vermont Yankee, Stannard and other Statehouse denizens seemed disappointed, but hardly surprised.

Continue reading "Statehouse Reacts to Vermont Yankee Ruling" »

Ag Activist Balks at Popular "Working Lands" Bill


Top among Vermonters’ values is this: Ninety-seven percent of residents in the state say the “working landscape” is key to Vermont’s future. 

That’s according to questions asked in 2008 and 2009 by the Council on the Future of Vermont, which conducted what they’re calling the most comprehensive survey of Vermonters’ values in the state’s history. More so than any other value, Vermonters could agree on the fact that supporting farm- and forestland is important. Now, champions of the new “Working Lands Enterprise Investment Bill” are parlaying that support into a plan that backers say could revitalize Vermont’s farm and forestry economies.

The bill (known by Statehouse followers as H.496/S.246), is currently being reviewed by the House ag and commerce committes and the Senate ag and economic development committees. When the bill cropped up for a public hearing last night in Montpelier, the mood in the Statehouse meeting room was overwhelmingly supportive.

Groton farmers market manager Mary Berlejung said she’d watched farmland disappear first on Long Island, then in Fairfax County, Va., and didn’t want to see the same thing happen in Vermont. Montpelier resident and well-known writer Tom Slayton called the bill a “bold step” that would protect the working landscape that he called a signature of the state. From Bethel resident Carl Russell came this: “It’s about time.”

So… what’s not to like?

Continue reading "Ag Activist Balks at Popular "Working Lands" Bill" »

January 13, 2012

Leahy Backs Down on Controversial Online Piracy Bill. Where Do Sanders and Welch Stand?

473px-Leahy2009 (1)While most of Vermont was focused on Gov. Peter Shumlin's budget address yesterday, U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy was making national news on Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition."

And it had nothing to do with a cameo in the upcoming Batman movie.

Leahy, who chairs the Senate Judiciary Committee, announced on the show that he was preparing an amendment to the controversial PROTECT IP Act. Leahy said he would "set aside" the so-called domain name provisions in the bill, which would allow law enforcement to block access to foreign-based websites that illegally post pirated movies, music and other copyrighted content.

"This is a highly technical issue, and I am prepared to recommend we give it more study before implementing it," Leahy said in a statement issued after the VPR broadcast.

PIPA and its companion bill in the House, the Stop Online Piracy Act, or SOPA, have won praise from the entertainment industry and opposition from tech giants like Google, Facebook and Twitter, as well as from watchdog groups that say the legislation threatens free speech online. Among other things, PIPA gives the U.S. attorney general authority to order U.S.-based search engines and domain registrars to block access to offending websites.

For instance, a foreign website hosting a pirated version of The Dark Knight. Or more troublingly, WikiLeaks.

Continue reading "Leahy Backs Down on Controversial Online Piracy Bill. Where Do Sanders and Welch Stand?" »

January 11, 2012

Huntington, Vt.'s Roy Haynes featured on TLC's "Extreme Cheapskates"


Clicking past the cable TV channel TLC is like trying to walk by a train wreck: It's a gruesome disaster unfolding before your eyes but your morbid curiosity just won't let you look away. Such was the case last night when some friends and I chanced upon TLC — which, I suspect, now stands for Total Lunatics Channel — only to see a recent episode of "Extreme Cheapsakes." The show regularly features "average" Americans who try to stretch every penny well beyond its normal tensile strength. 

As the episode started, it previewed all that was to come, including a Kansas City woman, Angela Coffman, who refuses to buy toilet paper for her family and instead uses reusable cloth wipes, which she washes wih the rest of her laundry. There was a collective groan of revulsion in the room at the sight of her kids holding up the skidmarked rags — "Don't worry, they're clean!" mom insists. But before the channel could be changed to something less nauseating, we all began to recognize some familiar local landmarks.

Lo and behold, this week's episode (original air date: December 28, 2011) prominently featured Vermonter Roy Haynes, aka the self-anointed "cheapest man in America." Haynes, 58, lives with his wife, LIsa, in a surprisingly attractive house in Huntington. There, the couple runs a dog-rescue shelter called Save Our Strays, which was featured in Seven Days' March 2009 Animal Issue. Previously, Haynes was also featured for his Dumpster-diving proficiency in this September 2003 7D story, "Cheap Tricks." 

Continue reading "Huntington, Vt.'s Roy Haynes featured on TLC's "Extreme Cheapskates"" »

November 01, 2011

Why Farmer Chris Wagner Hired Migrant Workers to Milk His Cows

Picture 1A Franklin County dairy farmer whose migrant workers were removed by the U.S. Border Patrol earlier this year is speaking out about the incident, and about why he hired Hispanic workers to milk his cows.

Chris Wagner (pictured) and his wife own a 300-cow dairy in the town of Franklin, where he's employed Hispanic workers off and on for the past 10 years. On January 7, 2011, one of his workers was trying to call Mexico and mistakenly dialed 911 instead of 011 (to place an international call.)

When the dispatcher asked the nature of the emergency, the worker allegedly said, "No speak English" and hung up. That 911 hangup triggered a response from the Vermont State Police, who sent two cruisers to the farm. State police, in turn, called the U.S. Border Patrol to come and "act as an interpreter." A short while later, three migrant farmworkers were in federal custody and Wagner was handcuffed in the back of a cruiser.

Wagner says he's speaking out now to clear up what he has long felt are mischaracterizations in the official police report. He also felt prompted by the recent, high-profile detention of a migrant farmworker leader and the debate it sparked over immigration enforcement and migrant labor in Vermont.

"They're excellent workers, very strong work ethic in comparison to some of the local help," Wagner says  of his migrant laborers. "Which is unfortunate because there's so many people that need work and these jobs are available. But there aren't that many people who seem willing to put the effort into some of these highly intensive ag jobs."

Continue reading "Why Farmer Chris Wagner Hired Migrant Workers to Milk His Cows" »

Stuck in VT (VIDEOS)

Solid State (Music)

Mistress Maeve (Sex)

All Rights Reserved © Da Capo Publishing Inc. 1995-2012 | PO Box 1164, Burlington, VT 05402-1164 | 802-864-5684