On March 1, 2017

Rutland Region News Briefs

City programs combat cabin fever

Keep an eye on some of the interesting events at the Rutland Free Library. Wednesday, March 8, will present the Lego Building Challenge sponsored by the Rutland Boys & Girls Club. The library also offers opportunities to practice Japanese, German, and French; programs for babies and toddlers; conversations about land use and the future of Vermont; discussions on the power of dreams; and other programs. Check out its calendar online at www.rutlandfree.org.

The unusually warm weather may have altered snow activities planned for Winterfest but Rutland City and other communities have active recreation departments full of activities to stimulate brain and body. Rutland Youth Theatre is working on a production of “Jack and the Giant Beanstalk,” with its first show March 31. Art classes offer an opportunity to explore hidden talents for all ages. Indoor turf season has descended on Rutland for the months of March and April.

Substance abuse treatment bed scramble

The closing of Maple Leaf Treatment Center in Underhlll earlier in February left the state with a treatment bed shortage. Residential treatment center Grace House, 35 Washington St., Rutland, is offering residential treatment beds to some of the displaced Maple Leaf clients and plans to transport them to Wallingford for treatment at Serenity House, 98 Church St.

Four of Grace House’s eight beds were immediately available. Another one will be open March 1. That offering makes only a small dent in the need. Maple Leaf’s closing eliminated 40 beds from the state’s substance abuse treatment programs.

Persistent efforts pinpoint elusive city water leak

City public works employees may have found the baffling water leak that has been releasing non-chlorinated water into the basement of the seven-story service building, 128 Merchants Row. The source of the water seems to have been cut off.

“We found one,” said Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg, Feb. 22. But it remains to be seen whether or not that leak was the one causing the service building’s wet basement.

Turning off a sprinkler service line for the Paramount Theatre revealed a significant clue. The line itself was not the source of the leak, but it is likely the valve was. It broke; water began bubbling up from the street.

Wennberg said the sprinklers at the Paramount are back online. They were turned off for only about four hours, and the Paramount management knew about the test ahead of time.

The lack of chlorine in the water that had leaked into the service building basement was a “false negative,” Wennberg said. Seeping through the soil may neutralize chlorine enough to get a false negative test result, while manganese in the water may give a false positive, as it did during another recent leak puzzle.

Getting the full-blown resultant leak presented additional difficulties to the public works crew. They hurried to turn off 10 other valves, also all “1870s vintage,” but without relief until workers diverted the flowing water into a storm drain.

Isolating and repairing that leak is “certainly not a permanent fix,” Wennberg said. Over the following couple of weeks, his department will develop a plan for combating the overall conundrum. The city had planned to replace the decaying valves and pipes about a decade in the future, but the valve failure has pushed the project higher on the city’s priority list.

“We still have several hundred similar units in the system. We can’t do them all at once,” Wennberg commented.

Firefighters endorse alderman candidate Allaire

As Town Meeting Day approaches, numerous groups will likely declare their support for specific candidates. The Rutland city firefighters union announced its endorsement of mayoral candidate David Allaire, Feb. 20.

The union had invited all four mayoral candidates to meet with the group, but incumbent Mayor Christopher Louras did not respond to the invitation.

Union President Seth Bride said that Allaire, a 19-year member of the Board of Aldermen, gained favor with the union by fighting the restructuring and funding plan proposed by the current mayor’s office. Louras and current Chief Michael Jones had given the aldermen a budget eliminating a front-line fireman on each shift while creating the new positions of assistant chief and fire prevention officer. The assistant chief would be charged with liaison between management and labor.

The union, Bride said, is “ready for true leadership and support.” It is in conflict with the chief, and its lack of faith will not be bridged with the two proposed positions.

If elected, Allaire would put hiring a new fire chief at the top of his priorities. Candidate endorsement is a rare policy for the union, Bride said. The union favors an immediate search for a new chief although Jones’ contract does not expire until November.

Endorsing Allaire over fellow candidate Michael Coppinger, who also met with the union, is “in no way a negative reaction to Mike. It’s a bad year to have so many candidates,” Bride said.

During January city budget hearings, Louras said that he feels opposition to the restructuring proposal is a ploy to entrench union members in the department. The union said it based its opposition most heavily in loss of boots-on-the-ground ability to fight fires, while Jones has criticized the department as stubbornly clinging to outdated methods of operation, while lacking training and accountability when he accepted its leadership.

GMP seeks transmission upgrade

Green Mountain Power Corporation planned to file a petition Feb. 23 with the Vermont Public Service Board for approval to upgrade electric transmission facilities in Rutland City, Rutland Town, and West Rutland, as well as Pittsford and Proctor. The upgrade, known as the Rutland Area Reliability Improvement Project, would consist of upgrading several 46-kilovolt transmission lines, upgrading substations in West Rutland and Rutland city, and other work.

The improvements are needed “to avoid potential undervoltage and equipment overloading issues in the area” that would result if one of the four area VELCO transformers were lost. Vanasse, Hangen, & Brustlin of Burlington will make a field assessment of natural resource features; TRC Environmental of Lowell, Mass., will perform an archaeological resource assessment of areas proposed for construction or vehicular access.

The company plans to gather all required approvals from the Vermont Wetlands Office, Vermont Division of Historic Preservation, U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and other agencies.

Pool plans still under scrutiny

The aldermen shortchanged the voters when they voted to shrink the scale of plans for the city’s open air pool in White Park, mayoral candidate Michael Coppinger charged Feb. 17. He said the sounder course would be to ask the voters to approve a somewhat larger budget, relying on the strength of the vote for the project. Voters had approved a $2.5 million bond last year with an approximate 3 to 1 ratio. But engineering bids are about $1 million greater.

Coppinger said that the 3 to 1 margin indicates voters would be more likely to approve a $3.5 million project than to be happy with a smaller, less expensive pool with portable toilets and outdoor showers.

Alderman David Allaire, also a candidate for mayor, has commented at recreation committee meetings that he believes in shrinking the pool project, while candidate Kam Johnston has recommended abandoning the pool project completely.

Asked about the pool project, incumbent mayoral candidate Christopher Louras claimed that engineers seem to be giving poor cost estimates, citing not only the pool but also the Center Street Alley, gateway parks, and bike paths. He said he had hoped the aldermen would be able to provide a solution.

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