Local News
February 18, 2015

Rutland region news briefs

By Lani Duke

RRA eyes Strongs Ave. improvements
RUTLAND—Rutland Redevelopment Authority executive director Brennan Duffy hopes to bring beautification and safety improvements to Strongs Avenue, bringing it up to the standard for Downtown. He plans to urge the city’s Community and Economic Development Committee to apply for construction grant funds to be used for sidewalks complete with curbing, paving, and green space to encourage pedestrian traffic between downtown and the Howe Center. Duffy’s proposal also includes “bump-outs” to make places where pedestrians cross in front of Kelvan’s, The Palms and Gill’s Delicatessen. As part of the grant, Duffy would use concepts from the Downtown Gateway and Infrastructure Study.

The Bus contemplates the future
RUTLAND—The Vermont Transportation Board’s recently released annual report bodes well for the future of The Bus and other public transportation around the state. It appears that being able to conduct their work and leisure without the encumbrance of owning a private vehicle is a strong draw to young Vermonters in choosing where to attend college or enter the workforce.

Nationally too, young adults between 16 and 24 use cars less than that demographic has in the past, traveling 23 percent fewer miles by private vehicle from 2001 to 2009.

Regardless, the Marble Valley Regional Transit District (The Bus) is compelled to ask voters for their support. Last year, its request for $46,000 failed to meet voter approval . . . by just 15 votes. Utilizing capital funds, the non-profit managed to keep Rutland’s five fixed bus routes in operation. If voters turn down MVRTD’s request this coming March, however, some services must be cut back. Without city funding, the company loses the ability to leverage state and local funding.

Keeping The Bus’s fixed city routes running requires about $1.2 million, providing more than 285,000 rides a year, some of it coming from advertising on the buses as well as contributions from Green Mountain Shopping Plaza and the Diamond Run Mall.

Remark prompts resignation call

CLARENDON—One flippant comment may be all it takes to receive a request to resign, Mill River Union High board chair Brownson Spencer found out after he made one at a meeting on Wednesday, Feb. 4. Scientists had recently announced a new technique for in-vitro fertilization that could prevent certain mitochondrial diseases being transmitted to descendants. Spencer remarked aloud that the method might greatly reduce “the number of special ed kids.”

Objectors said his comment offended special-needs students and their families, and requested a public apology. The offense, they said, was in labeling special needs children as inconvenient and expensive. He denied that the intent of his remark was to object to the expense that special-needs children cause a school district.

About 20 percent of the school’s student body at Mill River is classified as requiring some sort of special needs accommodation.

Spencer apologized to School Board members by email, saying that he was speaking as an individual and was not insensitive to how tragic birth defects are. Spencer is up for re-election this year.

More resources for the hungry

RUTLAND—Rutland Area Farm and Food Link (RAFFL) and Vermont Foodbank are collaborating to glean fresh produce from growers throughout the greater Rutland region and put it on the plates of people in need. As more farmers have learned of the effort, they also want to open their fields and orchards to gleaners, and as a result the Foodbank’s storage needs have also grown. The Foodbank’s recent acquisition of 24,000 square feet of storage in Rutland last year makes expension of its service a reality. Last year it distributed 600 tons of fresh produce across the state, the largest amount it has handled since its startup nearly 30 years ago. Working with RAFFL, the Foodbank anticipates gathering and giving out 15 more tons of produce in the Rutland area alone in the upcoming growing season. To donate produce or volunteer in this effort. call RAFFL, 417-1528.

Infrastructure improvements are on the way

WEST RUTLAND-RUTLAND TOWN—Look for invigorated economic growth this year along Business Route 4 in West Rutland and Rutland Town. Working together, the two communities netted a Stronger Communities, Better Connections grant for $80,000 to develop economic opportunities in that vital land corridor. Sponsored by the Vermont Agency of Transportation and the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development, the grant matched $4,000 each from the two communities.

At the same time, public works and utilities and foot traffic improvement projects totaling more than $2 million are getting underway. West Rutland town manager Mary Ann Goulette said a consultant will be advising on future development planning along the corridor with specific recommendations for both short- and long-term projects.

A $36,000 Vermont AOT grant funds a study of the groundwork to construct a bike and pedestrian path between West Rutland and Rutland Town. The corridor is also receiving a $2 million water and sewer pipeline extension.

A plan to build a new commerce center is a natural next step for development along Business 4, according to Rutland Town road commissioner Byron Hathaway. He describes the project goal as creating a new center for business in the area.

RUTLAND—The $5.2 million project to separate stormwater from household and business wastewater in the Northwest neighborhood should wind up about the end of June with a $300,000 surplus or maybe even $350,000, according to city Public Works commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg. If his department’s estimates prove out, remaining available funds would allow advancing into a planned Phase Two, diverting even more stormwater runoff into East Creek rather than to the wastewater treatment facility. Wennberg is hopeful that the extra funds would cover expanding stormwater diversion to the neighborhoods around the Rutland intermediate school. The total project will eventually extend the storm sewer lines as far as Main Street.

RUTLAND—A new $300,000 Vermont AOT Transportation Alternatives grant award will extend the sidewalk on Killington Avenue from its current endpoint at Butterfly Avenue east to Stratton Road. Planners expect the construction to take place fairly quickly because the work lies entirely in the existing right-of-way.
Group floats bright ideas for Rutland’s economic future

RUTLAND—Rutland area folks recently gathered with Lt. Governor Phil Scott in a pitch session to share what they believe will improve county and state economic growth. Lyle Jepson, dean of entrepreneurial programs at Castleton State College, extolled the college’s partnership with the city to offer internships and other career expansion opportunities as well as the school’s performing arts program and its work with the Paramount Theatre. He encouraged increasing passenger train activity.

Paramount executive director Bruce Bouchard encouraged tapping into the film industry by bringing back tax breaks to produce movies and television shows. Vermont Farmers Food Center president Greg Cox touted farmers as businesspeople. Although farmers can now sell whole chickens and raw milk, allowing sale of portioned/cut-up meat would give more opportunity for revenue.

Local attorney John Valente said that branding Vermont images such as barns, fields and syrups had been successful but was too limited a selection. A new branding perspective would enhance the economic environment and encourage both tourism appeal and influx of new residents.

Increased public transportation options would make the state seem more attractive, said Ruthellen Weston, owner of The Bookmobile.

Forces gather to fight PSAP consolidation

CENTER RUTLAND—Opposition to the governor’s plan to merge the North Clarendon public safety answering point (PSAP, or emergency dispatch) with the one in  seems to be gaining traction. Some 75 firefighters, EMTs and police officers met with Rutland County legislators and other elected officials at the Center Rutland fire station on Sunday, Feb. 8, to plot a strategy for changing the state’s plan. They represented 15 town fire departments, three rescue squads and two police departments; others were full-time dispatchers who are to lose their jobs or have them transferred to the Rockingham site.

Combining the two southern Vermont call centers and performing a similar constriction in the northern counties would save the state $1.7 million, according to state figures, but Governor Peter Shumlin might be willing to give up on the effort if the figure could be saved elsewhere in the budget, he has said.

Of even greater concern than the loss of income to 14 to 20 families in the state–a circumstance that ultimately costs some 41 jobs or $2.2 million in wages–is what must be a lowered level of public safety and a concomitant lowered trust in the state’s ability to make wise decisions. Technological improvements cannot compensate for the loss of sentient humans with a knowledge of the localities being served.

E-home program lights up homes—at less cost

RUTLAND—Rutland already boasts 14 homes that have been retrofitted with state-of-the-art, energy-efficient technologies that minimize use of fossil fuels, according to Green Mountain Power’s Kristin Carlson. Within the next few months, GMP hopes to bring that number up to 100.

GMP’s initial retrofit was to a home owned by Mark Barkowski, chosen to demonstrate that energy efficiency is accessible to “small, regular” families. The benefit included more than just the installation of a leased heat-pump, alternative water heater, and solar panel(with free installation and maintenance). Borkowski said that his family has also become more energy conscious.

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