News Briefs
July 26, 2017

Rutland Region News Briefs

Hickory Street affordable housing enters final phase

Rutland City’s Forest Park neighborhood will be no more, once current demolition is complete, Rutland Housing Authority Executive Director Kevin Loso told the Rutland Herald. The demolition signals the beginning of the third and final phase of removing the aging housing project in favor of a development that appears “more like a traditional neighborhood” with streets realigned so that the Hickory Street neighborhood blends into its surroundings.

Projected to be completed in 2018, the third phase of the Hickory Street project consists of 22 housing units in three buildings. The initial stage, finished in 2011, contained 33 units in seven buildings. The second phase comprised three buildings containing 23 units and was finished in 2013. The initial phase cost approximately $21 million, with subsequent components costing approximately $5 million and $6 million, respectively.

Some of the funding came from federal grants, with concomitant regulations, Loso noted. In all, 11 awards have had a part in the three construction phases.

Forest Park, subsidized housing erected about 50 years ago in the southwest corner of Rutland city, carried a certain stigma. In contrast, Hickory Street is designed to resemble the surrounding neighborhood and will offer its 78 units at a range of costs reflecting Rutland’s overall economic picture.

City officials praise the positive influence the first two phases of Hickory Street have already generated throughout the entire southwest Rutland neighborhood, Rutland Redevelopment Authority Executive Director Brennan Duffy commented.

Demolition and reconstruction were the only effective methods to transform the neighborhood, Loso said. Asbestos in the aging buildings had to be removed, and the inadequate drainage on the site had to be remedied.

The units are expected to be ready for occupancy in the autumn of 2018. RHA will accept applications in the spring, Loso said. The first two phases have a nine-month wait list. People still on the wait list will have priority when phase three is complete.

State asks reimbursement determination

The Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation decided to intervene in 2013, declaring an environmental emergency as a “plume” of the dry cleaning solvent and proven human carcinogen tetrachloroethylene (“perc”) threatened to invade the water table, heading toward a residential neighborhood adjacent to Woodstock Avenue, DEC representative George Desch told WCAX in 2013. State estimates for the 2014 cleanup were $1.2 million.

The property’s owner, John Ruggiero, said he was unable to pay for the cleanup at the former Filippo Dry Cleaners on Woodstock Avenue, which he had acquired for $10 at a tax sale. At the time, he owed $170,000 in back taxes, but the state intended to recoup its expense from the former attorney.

Ruggiero still has not paid the state. At a hearing in mid-June, he signed an agreement with Assistant Attorney General Justin Kolber, promising to file a document by July 3 listing city properties he owns that he would sell to pay the $650,000 the state asks of him, according to VTDigger.

That list has not been filed. Ruggiero has not responded to Kolber’s attempts to contact him, the AAG wrote to the judge, requesting a “damages hearing” in which the judge could add monetary charges. Judge Toor set the Rutland Superior Court hearing for damages for Sept. 25.

Ruggiero owns or manages about 19 other properties in the city. In late May he was part of a group that acquired 24 and 24-1/2 Cottage St.

Ingenuity wanted

The Vermont State Fair inaugurates a new competition called Ironwood. Entries may be agricultural and forestry machines, implements, attachments, restorations, gadgets, and more, that demonstrate creativity, ingenuity, fabricating, and mechanical skills. There are awards in four categories: agricultural motorized and non-motorized, and forestry motorized and non-motorized, explained Jim Philbrook, superintendent of the fair’s forestry department.

The Ironwood competition grew out of a realization that working people and the creative practicality that they bring to their everyday lives deserve public attention and appreciation, Philbrook explained. Entries will be accepted Monday, Aug. 14, from 9 a.m. to 7 p.m., and Tuesday, Aug. 15, from 9 a.m. to noon, along with one submitted Entry Form A for each item. The form may be downloaded from the Vermont State Fair website or requested from the fair office. First, second, and third prizes are $20, $10, and $5 respectively, in each category, with a Best in Show prize of $50. Entrants may also request a prize book from the fair office by emailing vermontstatefair@outlook.com or calling 802-775-5200. For information specifically on the competition, email Philbrook at james_philbrook@yahoo.com or call him at 802-797-8159.

Farm organization future uncertain 

Funding has dwindled for the Rutland Area Farm & Food Link (RAFFL), a non-profit gathering of individuals who began with the mission of helping connect the community’s food producers with local consumers in 2004. Board president Larry Courcelle hopes to reinvigorate the organization’s partners and stakeholders he told VTDigger.

The organization suffers from a funding gap, and lost its sole full-time employee this spring when Ellen Gustafson left. RAFFL must get into the coming round of funding, a task that has been the executive director’s responsibility, Courcelle said.

Courcelle was unsure how quickly the stakeholders’ meeting may be held. Among its programs are the annual Locally Grown Guide, a directory of Rutland County’s food production community; Farm Business Development, help with planning and maintaining the business aspects of farming; Farm Fresh Connect, a portal for accessing locally produced foods year-round and scheduling deliveries; Glean Team, a volunteer corps that gathers produce from local farms that might otherwise go to waste and distributes it to community organizations’ and Everyday Chef, a workshop series in using locally grown foods.

Herald plans operations downsize

The Rutland Herald plans to move its operations to smaller quarters at 77 Grove St., the former Central Vermont Public Service building. The Herald offices will move out of space it has occupied on Wales Street since the mid-1930s, about 8/10 acre with frontage on three city streets and a fully accessible basement as well as “the Pit,” now used for downtown parking. The property has been listed for sale since mid-August last year.

The publishing company, now using the name Vermont Community Media, currently occupies approximately 5,000 square feet of the ground floor at Wales Street, slightly more than one-third of the 13,468 square feet on that level. Technology changes have enabled publishers to conduct their information gathering, editing, and layout in far smaller workplaces, and the Herald more so than many others, now that it is no longer running a printing press onsite.

General manager Rob Mitchell anticipates the relocation to take place about November, according to a staff report the paper released Nov. 21.

The Herald is still negotiating the terms of its lease on Grove Street, Mitchell told VTDigger, July 20. MKF Properties, owner of the Grove Street building, will update and customize the space to meet the paper’s needs.

Like many other print publications, the Herald and its sister paper, the Barre Times Argus, have struggled to survive in competition with the shortened daily news cycle of television news programming but even more so with the immediacy of online news. Its previous owners, the Mitchell family, sold the two publications to Reade Brower and Chip Harris in August 2016. Brower more recently purchased the Sun Media Group, a venerable Maine publishing group, Megan Doyle reported in the Portland Press Herald.

Potential life sentence on sexual assault

Ronald Hall Jr., age 16, could face jail for life on the charge of sexual assault as well as a five-year sentence for unlawful restraint of a 14-year-old girl, July 5. Hall was arraigned July 17 ad held without bail. He was to face another hearing July 19 on whether he would continue to be held without bail.

Hall may be a defendant also in another case, arson. The site of the assault, specifically the couch and chair on which it took place, in the former Lynda Lee dress factory on Cleveland Avenue, was set on fire July 11.

At Hall’s July 19 hearing, Judge Nancy Corsones ruled there was sufficient evidence to keep Hall in jail until trial. Although he was charged as an adult, the six-hour hearing was closed to the public because of juvenile issues. State’s Attorney Rise Kennedy told the Rutland Herald’s Gordon Dritschilo that she could not supply details other than that the case is unique.

Lack of composting facility hinders local compliance

Rutland County residents are at a disadvantage when they try to comply with the Vermont legislature’s mandates for disposing of food waste. The Vermont legislators know the state will eventually run out of room in its sole landfill site, and sought to slow the influx of the 30 percent of its content that is food waste, said Jim O’Gorman, Rutland County Solid Waste District (RCSWD) manager.

The state’s ruling that all transfer stations must accept food waste starting July 1 is not a problem in other counties that already have a composting facility. Rutland, however, must send compostable material to either Foster Brothers Farm’s Vermont Natural Ag Products in Middlebury or Trevor Mance’s TAM Organics in Bennington.

Although some other Vermont counties are served by a single solid waste district ,and therefore follow a completely common path in disposing of all their communities’ wastes, Rutland County has two. “In the late 80s and 90s some towns left to form the Southwest Alliance of Communities,” O’Gorman said. Seventeen member communities remain in the RCSWD: Brandon, Castleton, Clarendon, Danby, Hubbardton, Ira, Killington, Mendon, Mount Tabor, Mount Holly, Pittsford, Poultney, Proctor, Rutland City, Wallingford, Wells, and West Rutland. They serve a combined population of 47,792.

An alternative to building a compost facility is to contract with Casella Waste Management, owner of a 45,000-gallon food waste digester in Bridport. Food waste is turned into a slurry that is anaerobically digested before being spread on farm fields.

There is some lead time for deciding on the most effective approach and pursuing it, but there will be no excuse after 2020. Haulers were going to be required to start picking up food waste this July, but the Legislature relented, setting the date back until July 2018.

Homeowners may compost their own food scraps, O’Gorman said. The RCSWD sells a household-size composter for $45 to district residents, $47.50 (at cost) to non-residents. It also sells a “green cone,” a digester that can be buried on individual properties, at a cost of $120, that will dispose of bones, fish, and meat.

The burden of compliance is not only the responsibility of householders, but also institutions that create food waste: hospitals, restaurants, hotels, and resorts. Apartment dwellers may work out an arrangement with their landlords, or bring their food waste to a transfer station.

Complying with the state mandate may be more difficult for towns like West Rutland, O’Gorman said, that do not have their own transfer station. There are several possible solutions. The Agency of Natural Resources indicated that there is a proposal to build a facility in the area. Another possibility is that Trevor Mance might develop a Rutland County substation.

Most other counties in Vermont already have a composting facility, “We’re late bloomers,” O’Gorman commented. “Chittenden County built a $2 million facility. We’re still in the early stages. We’re bound to have some hiccups along the way.”

Building a composting facility is a strong possibility but finding the money and charging enough to cover the cost of operation may be problematic. Getting construction funding from the state may restrict a district’s ability to charge enough to cover costs.

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