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April 2013

April 23, 2013

Ben & Jerry's Cofounder to Protest F-35 Basing Wednesday

LM-Ben-CohenOpponents of basing F-35 fighter jets in Burlington have scooped up a prominent new ally.

No, it ain't Cherry Garcia — but perhaps the next best thing: Ben & Jerry's cofounder Ben Cohen.

"I think the F-35 is the poster child for all that's wrong with the Pentagon," Cohen says. "And I think it's a plane that doesn't have any purpose. Our enemies don't have air forces or fighter jets."

A press release issued Monday by South Burlington attorney Jimmy Leas and other local F-35 opponents said Cohen would join them for a press conference Wednesday outside Sen. Patrick Leahy's Main Street office in Burlington to speak out against the plane's proposed basing in Vermont. According to the release, Cohen would then march upstairs in an attempt to meet with Leahy, a strong supporter of bringing the planes to Burlington.

But Cohen says that's not quite the case. He says he'll meet with reporters, but doesn't plan to storm the castle. 

Leahy's office took exception to the group's press release.

"The group's publicity announcement itself is a trifecta of fallacies, distortions and innuendo. It's the very definition of a publicity stunt," Leahy spokesman David Carle said in a statement, noting that the senator is currently in Washington. "The group's first thought was a press release, and all else was afterthought, including requesting a conversation for Wednesday or even checking the Senate's very public schedule."

Carle added, "Sen. Leahy talked to Ben Cohen this afternoon and Ben told him he had not seen the release and did not write it. The two of them are longtime friends and, of course, Sen. Leahy takes Ben's word for it."

Cohen says he called Leahy earlier Wednesday to give him a heads-up about the action and had a "cordial" conversation with the senator.

Did Leahy sound like he would budge on the issue?

"No," Cohen reports. "He seems pretty locked in."

April 22, 2013

Vermonters First Hits House Democrats with Anti-Tax Mailer

When the Vermont House approved $27 million in new taxes last month — hitting everything from sales to income to meals — we made this not-terribly-bold prediction:

[Y]ou can expect a certain conservative super PAC to weigh in with a television commercial script that goes something like this: “Super-majority Democrats in Montpelier are trying to raise taxes on your paycheck, your gas tank, your kid’s winter coat, your Mountain Dew, your Kit Kat bar, your Marlboros and your next meal at Applebee’s.”

And sure enough, as Green Mountain Daily's Sue Prent first reported over the weekend (and the Vermont Press Bureau's Peter Hirschfeld noted in Monday's paper), the conservative super PAC Vermonters First has pretty much done just that.

But instead of a TV ad, the organization has instead blanketed the state with direct mail pieces calling out House Dems who "just voted to go on a massive taxing spree!" Those culprits, the piece adds, are guilty of "Increasing the cost of gas, clothes, soda, and meals and raising your property taxes."

Vermonters First treasurer and consultant Tayt Brooks wouldn't say Monday how many state reps were targeted, nor how many mailers were sent. But in a written statement he said it "was delivered throughout the state" and specifically focused on House members "who voted to increase the property tax (H.265), increase the gas tax (H.510), and increase the tax on clothing, meals and income (H.528)."

Here's a version sent to constituents of House Majority Whip Tess Taylor (D-Barre):

VermontersFirstP1
VermontersFirstP2
VermontersFirstP3

Continue reading "Vermonters First Hits House Democrats with Anti-Tax Mailer" »

Spotted on Route 74: Landowners Protesting the Pipeline

Photo (8)As the lone member of Seven Days' Addison County bureau (I live in Shoreham), I spend a fair amount of time schlepping back and forth along Route 74, the two-lane highway that runs from Cornwall through Shoreham to Lake Champlain. In recent days and weeks, it's been impossible to ignore the growing number of homemade signs sprouting along the roadside. 

The sentiment is clear: Neighbors here are not pleased about the possibility of a natural gas pipeline cutting through this neck of the woods.

The proposed pipeline would carry natural gas — some of which is derived from the controversial drilling technique known as "fracking" — from Middlebury to the International Paper plant in Ticonderoga. Vermont Gas is pushing the pipeline as part of its effort to expand its natural gas network. The company currently serves customers in Franklin and Chittenden counties, and plans to expand south to Middlebury and across the lake.

The pipeline proposal has incited protests from neighbors and environmentalists alike; neighbors are raising concerns about health, safety and environmental impacts, while environmentalists are pointing out the hypocrisy of Vermont's willingness to expand natural gas access after becoming the first state in the nation to ban fracking.

The so-called "Phase II" project (the section of the pipeline that would run to Ticonderoga, which would be funded by International Paper) is still in the early stages of planning. Vermont Gas identified five possible routes for the pipeline, which they narrowed down to two "feasible" options; both would run through Cornwall and Shoreham before cutting under Lake Champlain. The company's timeline calls for selecting a route this spring, securing the necessary permits next year, and constructing the pipeline in 2015. The planning group that is hashing out the Phase II leg will meet next on Thursday, April 25, at 7:30 a.m. at the Addison County Regional Planning Commission.

What do Vermont landowners have to say so far about all of this? The signs speak for themselves. Here's a recent sampling:

Continue reading "Spotted on Route 74: Landowners Protesting the Pipeline" »

The Week Ahead: April 22-28, 2013

The Week AheadHappy Earth Day, you hippies!

Here's what's happening in Vermont news and politics this week. Got a newsworthy event for next week's calendar? Email by Friday to submit.

Monday, April 22

  • At 9 a.m., the Vermont Commission on Women hosts a panel discussion on paid sick day legislation at UVM's John Dewey Memorial Lounge. WCAX's Kristin Carlson moderates.
  • At 10 a.m., two Vermonters — Alyson Eastman, president of Book-Ends Associates in Orwell, and Megan Smith, commissioner of the Department of Tourism & Marketing — will testify before U.S. Sen. Patrick Leahy's Senate Judiciary Committee in Washington, D.C. The topic: the newly unveiled immigration reform bill. Watch the webcast.
  • U.S. Rep. Peter Welch is holding round table talks in Waterbury (at 10 a.m.) and Wilmington (at 2 p.m.) with officials from the federal Small Business Administration. The goal? To hear from businesses devastated by Tropical Storm Irene.
  • At 6 p.m., the Burlington City Council holds a budget work session in city hall (followed by another on Thursday at 6 p.m.)
  • At 6:30 p.m., Vermont Supreme Court Associate Justice (and former VT Freedom to Marry head) Beth Robinson gives a talk about the relationship between human stories and the legal system. See it at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library in Williston.  

Rest of the week after the break...

Continue reading "The Week Ahead: April 22-28, 2013" »

April 21, 2013

Burlington Issues Damning Report on Livable Wage Ordinance

VT LIvable WageIt's easy to see why the report on Burlington's livable wage ordinance — ordered by the mayor last November — was issued at 2 p.m. last Friday. Politicians know that's the best time to release embarrassing information and thus bury a damaging news story.

Sure enough, the 55-page report shows the ordinance has gone almost entirely unenforced during the nearly 12 years it's been on the city's books. Of 160 municipal contracts subject to livable-wage provisions, just 23 — or 14 percent — were found to be in full compliance with the ordinance. And 19 of the 23 conforming contracts came into compliance only after the city began its review early this year.

Mayor Miro Weinberger ordered the review after the city’s Board of Finance issued a controversial exemption from the wage rules to the Skinny Pancake restaurant for cafes it’s operating at Burlington International Airport. Skinny Pancake owner Benjamin Adler persuaded city officials that paying his workers according to Burlington’s livable wage would significantly increase prices for airport customers.

"No restaurant pays their dishwasher $17.71 an hour," Adler told Seven Days in November. "It's not sustainable." The Skinny Pancake is in full compliance with the ordinance because it received the exemption. 

Failure to pay a livable wage is defined in the ordinance as a civil offense subject to fines up to $500 for each day a violator remains out of compliance. But the city has not penalized any contractor in response to this flagrant flouting of its rules. It's unlikely the city was even aware that contractors were out of compliance in most cases or that department heads weren’t enforcing the ordinance. "For most of the city, there is no mechanism or personnel to actually do the monitoring contemplated by the ordinance," says the report prepared by the office of City Attorney Eileen Blackwood.

Continue reading "Burlington Issues Damning Report on Livable Wage Ordinance" »

April 19, 2013

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Scoreboard.newTypically in this space we focus on the narrow little world of Vermont news and politics. But after an awful week in Boston, Washington and Texas — and with all eyes right now on Watertown, Mass. — we're broadening our focus a bit.

Here's the The Scoreboard for the week ending Friday, April 19:

Winners:

First responders, law enforcement officials and all the good people in this world

Losers:

Too many to name

In Brazen About-Face, Senate Nixes Corporate Donation Ban It Approved Weeks Before

Zuckerman.CummingsWhen the Vermont Senate voted 21-8 three weeks ago to ban corporate and union contributions to political candidates, chuckling broke out on the Senate floor.

Aware that many of those voting in the affirmative had long opposed such a move, Sen. David Zuckerman(P/D-Chittenden) stood up to say, "I hope the 'yes' votes were sincere."

Turns out they weren't.

On Thursday, with a much broader campaign-finance bill on the verge of final passage, the Senate dramatically reversed course, stripping that legislation of the corporate and union donation ban. This time they voted 19-11 against prohibiting such contributions.

Furious with the last-minute about-face, the ban's chief proponent, Sen. Peter Galbraith (D-Windham), cast the lone vote against the broader campaign-finance bill, as 29 of his colleagues voted to send it to the House for consideration.

"This bill is a sham," Galbraith said after the final vote was cast. "It is intended to persuade Vermonters that we are serious about campaign-finance reform when we are not."

Pictured above: Zuckerman attempts to pigeonhole Sen. Ann Cummings (D-Washington) during a brief recess.

Continue reading "In Brazen About-Face, Senate Nixes Corporate Donation Ban It Approved Weeks Before" »

April 18, 2013

IBM Advises City: "Make Burlington Synonymous With Green Tech"


IBMOn April 1, the city of Burlington welcomed a team of six international experts from IBM's "Smarter Cities Challenge Initiative." Their goal: Spend three weeks meeting with Burlington stakeholders to figure out how to reduce the city's carbon footprint. Seven Days previewed their arrival in the March 27 story, "IBM Wants to Help Burlington Reduce Its Carbon Footprint — No Strings Attached."

On Thursday night, April 18, after more than 40 meetings with over 150 people, the IBM team reconvened in Contois Auditorium with their findings and recommendations. Their advice was summed up in six words by IBM team member Christian Raetzsch of Prague: "Make Burlington synonymous with green tech." In other words, Raetzsch advised, build off Burlington's unique strengths, culture and infrastructure and use them to create a "new ecosystem" of sustainable, renewable energy.

The IBMers, who hail from Germany, France, the Czech Republic, Brazil and the United States — and whose consulting services over the past two weeks are worth an estimated $400,000 — focused their efforts on five areas: transportation, Burlington's new smart grid metering system, renewable energy, energy efficiency and stormwater lake protection. The team offered up four major recommendations, all of which will be spelled out in greater detail in a written report available within a month. Those recommendations include:

Continue reading "IBM Advises City: "Make Burlington Synonymous With Green Tech"" »

In New Ad, Vallee Hits Sanders on Wind Development

Gasoline magnate Skip Vallee is lashing out once again at Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) — this time targeting the senator for opposing a moratorium on industrial wind development.

The Maplefields owner and gasoline distributor has ponied up $10,000 to run a new, 30-second attack ad on WCAX-TV for a week, according to the station. In it, Vallee accuses Sanders of seeking to "industrialize our mountains with giant wind turbines."

"Once we sacrifice our mountains to big corporate interests, it will change Vermont forever," the ad's narrator says. "Tell Bernie Sanders we won't let him and his corporate cronies spoil our Green Mountains." 

The ad appears to be referring to a press conference Sanders held in January to express his opposition to a proposed three-year moratorium on industrial wind development in Vermont. The state legislature has since mostly abandoned that proposal.

Here's what Vallee's ad looks like:

Continue reading "In New Ad, Vallee Hits Sanders on Wind Development" »

Lake Champlain Bike Ferry to Sail Again This Summer

IMG_2122Lake Champlain bike ferry service is primed to restart on June 14, restoring a seamless bike route between downtown Burlington and South Hero … and beyond.

Local Motion director Chapin Spencer and Lake Champlain Regional Chamber of Commerce president Tom Torti jointly announced the return of the ferry at a press conference Thursday afternoon.

The link across the lake was severed two years ago as a result of the spring floods that washed away chunks of the causeway in Colchester. The seasonal service remained out of operation as repairs were made to the route.

Local Motion and partner groups raised $1.5 million for causeway repairs and a more frequent ferry schedule. Spencer said a 30-foot, six-passenger craft will make the two-minute trip across the causeway cut on 51 days this year — more than twice as many as in 2010. The ferry will operate from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. on Friday, Saturday, Sunday and holidays from June 14 to September 2, and on Saturday, Sunday and holidays until October 14.

IMG_2117The announcement was made almost two months in advance of the ferry’s return because Canadians and other potential bike visitors to Vermont “are scheduling their summer vacations right now,” Spencer (at right in photo) explained. Torti (at left in photo) added that the ferry is an integral component in a cycling network that serves as a big draw for tourists — and consequently as an economic booster for Burlington and the Champlain Islands.

Ferry passengers have been asked in the past to contribute to the cost of the service, with $10 posted as the suggested donation in 2010. The amount of a requested payment for this season has not yet been determined, Spencer said, but he indicated it would likely be less than $10.

Brian Costello, a Local Motion cofounder and the ferry’s pilot, said at the Thursday press event on the Burlington bike path that daily service in summer and early fall remains “our big goal.” A stride toward it will take place in 2014 when plans call for a larger ferry to operate 75 days, Costello said.

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