The Mountain Times

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News briefs from the Rutland Region 12.29

BAD ROADS, WEATHER TRIP UP FAIR HOPES

In addition to the hardship she inflicted on Vermont as a whole, tropical storm Irene put a crimp in plans for what had promised to be a record year for the Vermont State Fair. Advance sales, concert tickets, and admissions all appeared ahead of the previous year.

Washed out roads, clogged culverts, and general sogginess awaited this year's fairgoers. So did rain for half of the fair's open days. The Rutland County Agricultural Society took a $67,791 loss; Society president Richard Rivers predicts a need to find some additional financial help for winter bills, but concessionaire money will provide for a normal opening.

Getting to the 2011 fair was problematic at a time when many of Vermont's roads needed repair to approach adequacy. Total attendance was down, 60,722, rather paltry compared to 2010's 84,766. Receipts are down too, about $440,000 below the previous year, with some of that weakening from a lack of summer concerts and monster truck extravaganzas.

Weather and the overall economy permitting, Rivers expects better results in 2012.

Next to the railroad tracks and close to the state's major western highway crossing, the fairgrounds has appeared ripe for alternative development, according to some community forces. The subject periodically comes up, can "we" do something else with the fairgrounds.

Any changes to the fairgrounds must conform to the initial intent of the local landowners who donated this choice piece of river bottom to the community with the stipulation that it host an annual agricultural exposition. Activities are controlled by a 172-person countywide board, with a lengthy waiting list of individuals who hope to be on the board someday. Generally, they support the fair's traditional activities, including horse racing, livestock shows, and educational programming for young people. If the fair were to disappear, the land would revert to the original donors or their estates.

METHADONE CLINIC

Rutland may yet be home to a methadone clinic. A notion that seemed absolutely impossible when the effort was considered a decade or so ago. After statewide debate, then-Governor Howard Dean signed legislation that allowed the health commissioner to approve up to five opiate addiction treatment program clinics. The popular opinion was that there would be three of them: in Burlington, Rutland, and Brattleboro.

The rules adopted by the state Department of Health in  2001 followed the  language of 18 VSA § 4702(b)(7), placing such treatment programs be established only in medical hospitals or medical school facilities. However, additional legislation allowed programs outside a hospital or medical school, in a multi-use building so that anyone entering the building would not suffer from being identified as someone with an addiction problem. Programs must be close to other medical and social services, not in geographically isolated settings.

Although Rutland Regional Medical Center and Rutland Mental Health Services were among the effort's chief backers, law enforcement officials, local doctors, and community members were not sure they wanted a clinic to treat addicted individuals in their community. Concern grew. Seventy-one doctors at RRMC signed a petition against the plan; grass-roots group "Rutland First" hosted a forum at the Howe Center that drew an audience of more than 100 to hear a panel of doctors and out-of-state law enforcement officials opposed to methadone. Local plans for a methadone clinic were shelved.

Some 10 1/2 years after the Rutland First meeting, establishing a methadone clinic in the City is again under public scrutiny. Now, public perceptions are favorable. Why? Numbers and familiarity.

A decade ago, heroin sale and use seemed to be an urban problem, far away from Vermont's pastoral setting. In the intervening years, the number of addicts in Vermont who were seeking help rose from 49 in 2000, to roughly six times that number, 315, in 2008.

Initially, the Rutland First group had expressed concern that hosting a treatment center would draw addicts from other areas to Rutland, an occurrence that did take place in Pennsylvania. Nor had there been any other community experience in Vermont; the first methadone treatment facility in the state, the Howard Center in Burlington, had not opened yet.

But now Vermont holds seven treatment centers, with access readily available pretty much across the state other than the Rutland area. Ten years of operation in Burlington have resulted in no discernible increased number of addicts in the vicinity, nor has the four years of operation of another treatment center in Brattleboro.

And methadone as an addiction treatment is proving to be less of a threat to the community when compared to other drugs which lack such strong federal controls. Unlike methadone, administered to patients under strict controls inside a clinic setting, buprenorphine drugs may be prescribed to treat addicts, but they are allowed to take it home to use - or, unfortunately, abuse. And, like methadone, buprenorphines may be enjoyed outside their medicinal context. The growing number of individuals addicted to prescription painkillers has also changed the picture of what type of addiction clinic is needed in Rutland. So has the number of burglaries - often undertaken to score funds for drugs.

There is growing awareness of the need for a more complex approach to curing addictions, one that combines input from law enforcement officials, medical providers, housing providers, and case workers, working together to coordinate and oversee every facet of the recovery process. Recovery is a process, our society is finding out, not a matter of diagnosis and prescription dispensation.

WORKFORCE DEVELOPMENT MAY BYPASS COLLEGE

Locals from the Rutland Region Workforce Investment Board brought back some new ideas from the statewide Workforce Development Council. Keynote speaker Dr. William Symonds, Harvard University College of Education, told the group that urging all high school students to prepare for and pursue college is a mistake. A better approach is to aim for middle skill positions that require either an Associates degree or specific certification. Wahoo! A practical academic!

HOUSING BLIGHT

What's one person's idea of blight may be another's idea of quaint or even cozy. So what is blight? There's been a lot of talk about blighted properties in Rutland. Some may appear derelict; others may be merely vacant; still others may be livable but "iffy."

If the Rutland Redevelopment Authority is to work on clearing blighted properties from the City, it first needs a determination on what it will (and perhaps won't) do. RRA exec. director Brennan Duffy has asked the aldermanic board for a committee to write an ordinance.  The ordinance should include steps to define a blighted property, steps toward remediation and the rights and responsibilities of property owners.

The aldermen have discussed whether an ordinance is needed or whether those powers are already included within the charter, but agreed to create the committee. Duffy's goal is to have an ordinance ready soon after the first of the year, in time to be put on the town meeting ballot if necessary.

COMING SOON ON YOUR BALLOT

Voters will most likely have the opportunity to vote on a bond issue to cover the city's share of work on high priority bridges over the upcoming five years. Those bridges listed are West Street and Crescent Street over East Creek, Ripley Road over Otter Creek, River Street over the railroad and over Otter Creek, Forest Street over Moon Brook, and Church Street over Tenney Brook. The $2 million bonded would leverage about $8 million in grant funding.

Now is a good time because bond interest rates are likely to increase within the next year or two. These bridges have long been sources of concern to the areas they serve and to emergency rescue planners.

LANI'S PICKS

Wednesday, Jan. 4 - What makes a classic movie; how is it different from others of its time and genre? Rick Winston, former co-owner of the Savoy Theater and program director for the Green Mountain Film Festival, discusses some of the elements that seem to reappear most frequently in those movies we've taken to our hearts. Rutland Free Library, 7 p.m.

Tagged: rutland report