Thursday, December 19, 2013


News to Know November 7th

This communication is put together and distributed on a volunteer basis by resident Corinne Stridsberg simply in an effort to share information and build community, it is not from the town of Berlin.

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pub 11/7/13 Times Argus by David Delcore 
   BERLIN — The public will have an opportunity to weigh in on Montpelier’s pending request that the state ban all ice shanties, internal combustion engines and petroleum-based fuels from Berlin Pond during a hearing tonight. 
   The two-hour hearing, which is set to start at 6 p.m. in the library at Berlin Elementary School, won’t be the only opportunity for residents to react to Montpelier’s attempt to regulate what is allowed on its public drinking water supply. Those interested in influencing the state Department of Environmental Conservation’s rule-making process have until Nov. 30 to submit written comments on a petition filed with the department’s watershed management division in July. 
   The petition came in the aftermath of a Vermont Supreme Court decision a year earlier that struck down sweeping recreational restrictions that had stood for more than a century.
   In a unanimous opinion the state’s highest court concluded that
Montpelier lacked the authority to enforce restrictions on boating, fishing and swimming on the pond. That power, justices ruled, belonged solely to the state under an evolving statutory scheme that made the once-valid restrictions obsolete.
   Unable to make a successful case that allowing folks to fish and paddle around on the pond posed a public health hazard or a public health risk, Montpelier officials have requested restrictions that they argue are needed to safeguard the city’s drinking water supply.
   According to the city, the proposed rules would not prohibit swimming, fishing or boating — providing the boats aren’t equipped with internal combustion engines. Canoes, kayaks and paddleboats could be allowed on the pond, but snow machines and all-terrain vehicles would not. Neither would gas-powered augers commonly used by ice fishing enthusiasts or heaters fueled by petroleum products.
   Boats with gas-powered motors are already prohibited on the pond based on its classification, and
Montpelier’s request would extend that prohibition to gas-powered items that could be brought onto the pond when it is frozen over.
Montpelier’s petition also seeks to ban all ice shanties, which the city contends could help mask “the deliberate or inadvertent contamination of the public water supply of Vermont’s Capital City and the Central Vermont Medical Center.” The petition makes reference to recent acts of domestic terrorism in making the case against allowing even portable pop-up shanties on the ice.
   “The rule may involve inconvenience for ice fishermen who would like to use a motorized auger or lighter fluid to cut a hole in the ice, or heaters or a shanty, but clearly Vermonters have engaged in ice fishing for generations without using motors or shanties, especially on small ponds,” the petition states.
   No decision will be made tonight, and the department will accept written comments on the proposed rule change through Nov. 30.
Montpelier’s petition is available online at
Published 11/2/13 Times Argus by David Delcore
   EAST MONTPELIER — There is more than one kind of “literacy,” and if it is reasonable to expect youngsters to be reading by the time they hit second grade is it really too much to ask that they be able to balance a checkbook before they graduate from high school?
   Money management matters and studies suggest high schools in Vermont and beyond aren’t doing a particularly good job producing graduates who are fiscally responsible and financially aware.
   It isn’t that they don’t offer courses in financial literacy — most, like U-32 High School in East Montpelier, do — but only a tiny fraction of them require all students to take and pass those courses in order to earn their high school diplomas.
   Starting next fall U-32 and Fair Haven Union High School will join a very short list of Vermont schools that have made passing a semester-long personal finance course a graduation requirement.
   That is already the case at Missisquoi Valley Union High School in Swanton and Vergennes Union High School in Vergennes, but George Cook, senior member of the three-member business department at U-32, said those schools are the exception and it shows.
   “When you look at the data … that has been collected it shows failing marks across the board in this area,” he said. “The reality of it is there’s very little awareness of how to manage money properly.”
   Cook credited U-32 board members and administrators for recognizing the value of a course that he believes really shouldn’t be optional. Based on the U-32 board’s recent decision it won’t be starting with the Class of 2018.
   There isn’t any down-side to that decision, according to Cook, who said it won’t require any increase in staff, will help address a glaring short-coming, while providing valuable information to all students.
   “This is a course … that 100 percent of the student body is going to benefit from,” he predicted.
   According to Cook, that is as true of students who will soon be saddled with student loans and weighing career options, as it is of those who take jobs straight out of high school, or enlist in the military.
   “No matter which path they choose all of these kids are going to be able to utilize this (course),” he said. “I don’t know if schools can say that for other classes.”
   According to Cook, the time is right and the need is real for a six-themed course will explore issues ranging from financial responsibility and decision-making to saving, investing and future planning.
   “There’s definitely, hands down, a parallel between the economic downturn of this country and money not being managed well by its citizens,” he said. “For years and years and years this (personal finance) was the primary math taught in schools and now it’s not.”
   The result, according to Cook, has been fairly predictable.
   “People borrow more than they should be borrowing, they spend more than they have, they live beyond their means,” he said. “This isn’t anything that’s difficult to calculate, but it’s a mindset that people need to understand.”
   The sooner the better, said Cook, who notes the currently elective course at U-32 really resonates with students, some of whom are already juggling cell phone bills and car payments, while working part-time jobs.
   “Kids really like talking about money,” he said, noting high school isn’t too soon to introduce them to concepts like credit and investing.
   “When you educate them on how they can make money grow it’s like the light goes on,” he said. “It really is eye-opening stuff.”
   U-32’s efforts on the financial literacy front have already attracted attention and support, according to Cook, who said the Discover Company provided the school with a $10,000 grant to enhance the program. Perhaps more importantly, he said, the school has forged an alliance with the Center for Financial Literacy at Champlain College and the Denver-based National Endowment for Financial Education.
   Cook said Champlain College has provided U-32 with a $26,500 two-year grant and the school’s instructors are receiving specialized training and instruction from recognized professionals that will help them fine-tune a course that all students will be required to take starting next fall.
   “We are getting the most current, up to date, rock solid training possible,” he said. “That is huge.”

Pub 11/1/13 Times Argus by Eric Blaisdell
   MONTPELIER — The proposed bike path in Montpelier has come in at a steep cost and will now move out toward East Montpelier rather than Berlin, since the path can no longer follow the old railbeds.
   Around 15 people filed into the City Council chambers in City Hall Wednesday night for a forum on the new path.
   Mayor John Hollar said the city is working on rights of way, easements and permits for the path. He said he expects plans to be finalized in the spring, with construction starting in late 2014 and completed in 2015.
   Evan Detrick of DuBois & King, the engineering consulting firm that’s overseeing the project, gave a 20-minute presentation of where the project is and what the plans are going forward. The path will start at the Granite Street bridge where it will continue to a shared use path to the Pioneer Street bridge. From there the path will follow Old County Club Road and then more shared use path to Gallison Hill Road. The path will then run along Gallison Hill Road to the Civic Center where it will connect to the Cross Vermont Trail.
   The estimated cost of the two-mile path is around $3.45 million, which Detrick said is almost twice the cost of a typical shared use path which runs around $1 million per mile. The cost of the proposed path does not include right-of-way acquisition or inspection of the construction.
   Eighty percent of the cost of the trail will be picked up by the federal government, with 10 percent each being paid for by the state and the city.
   The major reason for the higher cost is because the trail originally was planned to be placed where the old rail line in Montpelier runs along the Winooski River, but in 2009 Vermont Railway said the trail had to be moved, as they had plans to rebuild the old railbed so the company could move granite blocks out of Barre. Detrick said the railroad could not use the current active rail line in Montpelier because it is in poor shape and the bridges the trains would have to cross with the granite would not support the weight.
   Now the trail will be placed parallel to the railbed, when not on Gallison Hill and Old Country Club roads, which means constructing a trail from scratch that will need retaining walls which Detrick said are expensive. Adding to the cost, Detrick said the section of the proposed path near Barre and Granite streets will actually run along the active railroad so the city will have to move a part of the railroad off to the side.
   Detrick said since the new trail will be within the railroad’s right-of-way, it has final say on the project and can veto it at any time. The railroad also told the city which retaining wall to use, which Detrick said are the most expensive cast-in-place concrete walls. That was a few years ago and Detrick said the city is going to approach the railroad again to see if a possible cheaper solution can be used instead.
   The original plan was to have a bike path from Montpelier through Berlin and Barre City to Barre Town. But after the railroad pulled the plug on using the old railbed, no solution has been conceived.
   Detrick, who also is consulting on the bike path currently being designed in Barre, said the Granite City is also having difficulty figuring out a way to build the path from the Granite Museum to Berlin.
   It may only be a matter of time, however, until someone figures out a way to connect Barre and Montpelier. “Once this path gets built and things get built in Barre, there’s going to be more and more pressure to connect the two,” he said.
Pub 11/1/13 Times Argus by David Delcore
   BERLIN — The soft-sell of a new municipal water system is officially under way as nearly two dozen potential customers thirsty for information about the $5.5 million project turned out to hear what the engineer who has been working on it for the past six years had to say.
   No commitments were made and none were solicited during a session that was pitched as a primer on a water project that has been talked about for more than two decades and seriously pursued since 2007.
   On a night when one woman said she would like a free sample before making up her mind and others posed questions about costs and construction schedules, Mark Youngstrom of Otter Creek Engineering said it is possible that water from three capped town-owned wells could be flowing through distribution lines and spurting out facets by this time next year.
   “The plan is to be under construction first thing in the spring,” Youngstrom said, suggesting the largest remaining hurdle involves rounding up enough committed customers to make the system proposed for the area around Berlin Four Corners financially viable.
   According to Youngstrom, that means entering into formal agreements with property owners who would collectively use roughly 96,500 gallons of water a day, or 386 “equivalent residential units (ERUs).”
   That, Youngstrom said, is a fancy name for home and an acknowledgement that many of the potential customers in the proposed service area would use far more water than the average residence.
   “When we get to the magic number (386 ERUs) construction starts,” he said, ticking off the benefits a system that would provide a reliable source of potable water, and “full fire protection” – including strategically placed fire hydrants and the ability to accommodate commercial sprinkler systems.
   Youngstrom told those attending the first in a series of informational meetings about the water project Wednesday night that the town wasn’t asking them to commit to anything yet, but they should start thinking about whether they want to hook on to the system and be ready to make a decision in the not-too-distant future. He said the time is fast-approaching when those who own homes, commercial property, and even undeveloped land will be asked whether they want to reserve what isn’t an unlimited capacity of water.
   “If I could look five years down the road you’re going to reach the capacity of your three wells,” he predicted. “You could sell out the (water) system in a short period of time.”
   Though it will take at least 386 ERUs to begin construction, Youngstrom said 500 ERUs is probably the maximum capacity of the current wells.
   Tapping out a system that hasn’t yet been built and searching for a supplemental source of water would be a welcome problem, according to Youngstrom, who encouraged those in attendance to seriously consider becoming a customer.
   “When somebody finally comes to you and ask you to sign on the dotted line, please sign,” he said.
   Asked about price, Youngstrom said rates hadn’t yet been set, but the goal has been and remains to supply water at an annual cost of between $550 and $600 per ERU — a figure he said is around the state average for a well-run municipally owned water system.
   Youngstrom did say he would not recommend a price break to persuade high-volume users to hook on to the system.
   “Everybody understands fairness, and fairness is everybody pays the same,” he said.
   According to Youngstrom, a typical water bill would likely be broken down into three components — flat fee to pay off the bond that will finance construction of the system, a base rate for the ability to use the water, and a per-gallon consumption fee.
   Though the drop-dead date hasn’t yet been established, Youngstrom said, those who commit to capacity in advance can avoid the expense of a yet-to-be-established connection fee that will be charged those who choose want to hook on at a later date. However, even those who take advantage of that incentive will be required to cover the cost of tapping into the water line that will stop at their property lines, he said.
   With a voter-approved bond issue in-hand, and federal financing for the project locked up, Youngstrom said he is finishing up the final design and working on bid documents in anticipation that recruiting customers won’t be a problem.
   According to Youngstrom, the design-work is 60 percent complete, surveys are done, and soil borings have revealed no insurmountable subsurface problems with ledge along the five-mile route of the proposed distribution system.
   Youngstrom said that route may yet change based on interest from potential users along Paine Turnpike North, which runs from the Route 62 intersection near the local fire station to the Fisher Road intersection where a new state hospital is now under construction. Adding that area into the project scope would likely require dropping a segment of Comstock Road between Granger Road and Paine Turnpike, he said.
   Berlin resident Charlotte Brewer, who hasn’t had water in her house that didn’t come from the well in her yard, said she would be interested in a taste test.
   “I’m dying to try it,” she said of the water produced by the town-owned wells.
   According to Brewer, her own well has good water pressure, but she isn’t wild about the taste that her husband, Lee, attributes to an elevated salt content that has rendered several wells in the proposed service area undrinkable.
   “Ours isn’t bad, but it (the water) does leave rust spots on our stainless steel knives,” he said.


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