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August 27, 2013

BREAKING: Nuclear Expert Says It'll Take At Least 20 Years — and More Money — to Clean Up Vermont Yankee

GundersenIn the end, it wasn't the attorney general's federal lawsuit, the Vermont Legislature, the Public Service Board or any of those pesky enviros nitpicking about underground tritium leaks and collapsed cooling towers that shut down Vermont Yankee.

It was the invisible hand of the marketplace.

On Tuesday, New Orleans-based Entergy Corporation announced plans to close the Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Station in Vernon by the end of 2014. Praising Vermont Yankee's talented, committed and dedicated workforce, Entergy chairman and CEO Leo Denault called it "an agonizing decision and an extremely tough call for us."

Denault touched on some of the economic forces that compelled Entergy's decision, including a "transformational shift" in the natural gas market that has driven down electricity-generation costs, high maintainence costs on the 41-year-old trouble-prone plant and "wholesale market design flaws" that have kept energy prices "artificially low" throughout New England.

So what happens next? Presumably, the plant spends the next decade or more decommissioning the plant and cleaning up the radiation. According to Entergy's press release, the Vermont Yankee decommissioning trust has a balance of $582 million, in excess of the Nuclear Regulatory Commission's minimum financial assurance of $566 million for terminating the plant's license.

But one nuclear-engineer-turned-industry-watchdog isn't comforted by that figure. Burlington-based Arnie Gundersen was the first to raise a hue and cry in 2007 about projected shortfalls in the VY decommissioning fund.

Continue reading "BREAKING: Nuclear Expert Says It'll Take At Least 20 Years — and More Money — to Clean Up Vermont Yankee" »

August 26, 2013

Grand Isle Voters Say No to Chloramine in Water and Yes to a Costlier Alternative

Local-chloramineVermonters who oppose the use of chloramine, a chemical disinfectant added to public water supplies to reduce potentially cancer-causing agents, scored a rare victory last week in Grand Isle County. On Aug. 20, residents of the Grand Isle Consolidated Water District voted 94 to 24 in favor of an $809,000 bond to construct a costlier but ultimately more effective and less controversial water-filtration system.

In recent years, the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has required public water systems throughout the country to comply with stricter standards on the presence of so-called disinfection byproducts, which can be harmful to human health. Disinfection byproducts have been linked to certain cancers as well as reproductive and developmental disorders. The EPA has recommended that public water systems switch to chloramine, a combination of chlorine and ammonia, as the "best available technology" for controlling those disinfection byproducts.

Continue reading "Grand Isle Voters Say No to Chloramine in Water and Yes to a Costlier Alternative" »

August 20, 2013

Fear and Loathing Among Airport Neighbors Affected by Home Buyouts

Airport 002Uncertainty and anxiety now pervade a 23-year-old program involving the purchase and planned demolition of scores of homes in a high-noise zone adjacent to Burlington International Airport.

Several remaining neighbors affected by the emptying of those houses and subsequent vandalism to many of them expressed anger and worry at a South Burlington city council meeting Monday night.

Aviation director Gene Richards (seated in photo) repeatedly assured the council that Burlington, the owner of the airport, wants to "mend relations" with South Burlington and to ensure "a better tomorrow." But airport officials were unable to allay concerns about the future of the buyout program or the condition and fate of some 60 vacated homes.

These already-purchased properties are slated to be wrecked or moved away. But a lawsuit filed in Vermont Supreme Court is preventing implementation of that plan, airport planning and development director Bob McEwing (standing in photo) told about 100 residents attending the council meeting at the Chamberlin School.

The vacated homes are meanwhile being vandalized "across the board," added council member Pat Nowak. "Glass has been replaced again and again" in smashed windows in several houses, she said. South Burlington councilors have assessed the current state of about 80 properties in the high-noise zone, Nowak reported.

"We try to keep them secure," McEwing commented prior to Nowak's remarks, "but it's pretty tough." Richards added, "We spend an abnormal amount of resources to take care of those homes."

Continue reading "Fear and Loathing Among Airport Neighbors Affected by Home Buyouts" »

August 13, 2013

Passions Flare on a Summer's Night as Locals Debate the F-35 — Again

F35 005State Rep. Kurt Wright criticized ice-cream baron Ben Cohen, who in turn had indirectly accused Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger of lying.

And so it went at Monday night's speak-out on the proposed basing of the F-35 warplane at Burlington International Airport. The Burlington City Council meeting drew a placard-holding, finger-wiggling, standing-room crowd that generated almost two hours of public comments — to which city officials listened but did not respond.

Ward 7 Democrat Tom Ayres had earlier withdrawn a resolution that would have postponed a council decision on stationing the fighter jet at Burlington's city-owned airport. Ayres said private conversations had indicated that his proposal lacked support "across the spectrum."

The council's Progressives dissed the resolution because it did not explicitly oppose basing the F-35 at the airport. Democrats, who form the largest bloc on the council, had declined last year to oppose local basing, instead passing a resolution that amounted to a slightly weaker version of Ayres' aborted proposal. Ayres said during a meeting recess that council Dems, including himself, remain unwilling to go on record against local bed-down of the stealth fighter.

Speaker after speaker sounded familiar themes Monday night as the two sides clashed in their third showdown at a local city council in the past six weeks. Winooski's council voted 4-0 against the BTV basing option, while South Burlington's council reversed its earlier opposition and passed a resolution on a 3-2 vote in support of the planes.

But the stakes are potentially higher in Burlington, which owns the airport.

Continue reading "Passions Flare on a Summer's Night as Locals Debate the F-35 — Again" »

August 09, 2013

Electric Cars: Climate Friendly in Vermont, Not in Kentucky

Screen Shot 2013-08-09 at 3.20.42 PMSure, we all want to be nice to Mother Earth, but let's be real — if you live in Middle-of-Nowhere, Vt., you're going to need a car to get around. If you want the cleanest, greenest vehicle on four wheels, you'll want an electric car, right? In Vermont that's the case, but in other states ... maybe not!

In fact, there are only 11 states where an electric car is better for the environment than a high-efficiency gas hybrid, and Vermont is one of them, according to a new study by Climate Central. Here, the best electric car emits as much carbon as a gas-powered car that gets 2600 miles per gallon. Good luck finding one of those.

What's the difference? When your car is powered by the grid, it matters where the grid gets its juice — because what's the point of a plug-in car if it's plugging into mountaintop removal? Vermont is the only state in the nation that doesn't get any electricity at all from coal or natural gas sources — here it's all nuclear, hydropower and a little bit from "other renewables."

Continue reading "Electric Cars: Climate Friendly in Vermont, Not in Kentucky" »

The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers

Scoreboard.newWho won and lost the week in Vermont news and politics?

Switch-bumpers, snake-haters, calculators, power companies, TV stations, defense attorneys, creepy travel writers and more!

Here's the Scoreboard for the week of Friday, Aug. 9: 


Brooks McArthur — The Burlington defense attorney played some serious offense this week on behalf of his client, Burlington Police Department Deputy Chief Andi Higbee. When the Vermont State Police refused to give the Burlington Free Press a copy of a cruiser cam video of Higbee's July DUI arrest, Brooks took it upon himself to hand over a copy. A savvy way to score points with Freeps transparency czar Mike Donoghue and shift the conversation to why Higbee was pulled over in the first place. 

WPTZ-TV — Last month WCAX-TV announced that, come September, it would expand its news coverage to weekend mornings. But the station's main competitor, WPTZ-TV, beat Channel 3 to the punch, launching its own weekend news programming last weekend without fanfare. What's more? Channel 5 will feature four full hours of news coverage — twice as much as Channel 3's promised.

The Timothy Szad Beat — The recently-released sex offender is back in town after a brief trip to California. And that's got the state's cops and courts reporters in a tizzy reporting his every last move. Public service journalism or tabloid reporting?

Patrick Leahy — Because the U.S. Senate President Pro Tem's got some very special friends in the entertainment, defense, telecom, legal, tech and beverage industries.

Peter Welch — A BuzzFeed puff piece on the Vermont Congressman's bipartisan street cred netted something even better for Welch: a glowing editorial from the Saint Albans Messenger's Emerson Lynn echoing Welch's — ahem, BuzzFeed's — talking points.

Losers and tie score after the jump...

Continue reading "The Scoreboard: This Week's Winners and Losers" »

July 18, 2013

This Week's Issue: The Adirondack Issue

071713-coverYou know there's, like, a whole world on the other side of Lake Champlain, right? Where you can canoe, eatget an Airstream refurbished, eat, fight over environmental stuff and so much more? Well, there is. So make like Samuel de Champlain, and get crossing!

In other news this week ...

  • Mary Alice McKenzie of the Burlington Boys and Girls Club wants to talk about gangs. Is Burlington ready to listen?
  • Sewage plants overflow frequently into waterways where Vermonters recreate, but the volume of those spills remains a mystery.
  • State prosecutors took the rare step of using a grand jury to charge a Winooski cop with assault for a recent shooting incident. Why did they do it? 
  • And in Fair Game, Paul Heintz evaluates Shumlin's first term as chair of the Democratic Governors Association, looks into a possible ambassadorship for Vermont's biggest political fundraiser, notes our senior senator's Vermont fundraiser for D.C. donors and bids farewell to one of our own.

June 25, 2013

Morning Read: Environmental Activists Take Pipeline Protest to Montpelier

VGS_BannerVermont environmentalists are ramping up their opposition to a proposed natural gas pipeline that, if approved, would extend Vermont Gas’s service south into Addison County.

A group of 20 to 30 protesters took to the halls of the Department of Public Service yesterday, asking the DPS to reconsider its support of the project and complaining that the process for approving the pipeline — overseen by the Public Service Board — is neither transparent nor inclusive for Vermont citizens. 

VTDigger's Andrew Stein has the skinny on the protest, which came in response to pre-filed written testimony the DPS submitted to the PSB earlier this month. That testimony, activists claim, doesn't represent the concerns of Vermonters opposing the project. As Stein reports:

“The Public Service Board process is not participatory, and it’s not accessible,” said [23-year-old Vergennes resident Avery] Pittman. “You have to have enormous financial and human resources to intervene. Now, our only recourse is the Department of Public Service, which ostensibly represents the people of Vermont. But the testimony they submitted on June 14 is a complete rubber stamp of this project.”

Continue reading "Morning Read: Environmental Activists Take Pipeline Protest to Montpelier" »

April 22, 2013

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" »

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"" »

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