The Mountain Times

°F Fri, April 18, 2014

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News briefs from the Rutland Region

Group proposes stricter regulations
As Vermont tries to reach a renewable-energy quota set for the year 2050, attempt to regulate project development are inevitable, some folks in Rutland Town say. Members of the newly formed Vermonters for Responsible Solar believe their work to begin outlining standards for solar installations in Rutland Town will be a model for other communities facing similar circumstances.
The town's planning commission has drafted regulations that would increase installation setback to 200 feet rather than the current 60 feet. That increase and the already extant wetland buffer requirement would reduce the square footage that groSolar's proposed project has available.
Critics claim that proposed fencing and landscaping barriers are insufficient to hide the installation because other properties look downhill into the 'bowl' in the landform. The state Public Service Board has often required developers to take additional steps to disguise their facilities, but there are no obvious instances of a solar project being denied a certificate of public good. There is no definition of what constitutes the "due consideration" the PSB is required to give.

Conditional use controversy continues
The Clarendon Zoning Board of Adjustment recently postponed deciding whether to grant a conditional use permit to Farmer Mold and Machine Works Inc., to relocate to 2720 Route 7B in North Clarendon. After more than two hours of testimony, the ZBA recessed, waiting for more information from the attorneys both for and against in the form of proposed findings of fact. With those in hand, the board may either issue a ruling or reconvene the hearing.
Jim Gilmour, president of Farmer Mold and Machine Works Inc., says his business will bring 20 good-paying jobs to Vermont and bring in outside money from all over the world (the company makes automated equipment used to manufacture batteries).
No major external changes are planned for the former Pepsi building other than adding some windows to the structure and installing a 30-ton silo to hold wood pellets for heating. A mound septic system, already permitted for the site, would be virtually invisible, and the company plans to improve the site's aesthetic appearance in other small ways.
The current zoning, residential-commercial, allows light industrial use, a category Gilmour believes fits his business well. But residential-commercial specifically excludes manufacturing.
Neighbor Marjorie Southard believes Farmer Mold fits that exclusion; her attorney, Victor Segale, cites the equipment listed on a hiring application (welders, grinders, drills, saws, and lathes) as exemplifying the manufacturing classification.

Local schools serve local food
Two food services companies, Café Services and The Abbey Group, have recently joined the Harvest of the Month (HOM) project, pledging to serve local produce year-round. Among the Rutland area schools they serve are Clarendon Elementary, Mill River Union High, Rutland Town Elementary, Vermont Achievement Center, Wallingford Elementary, and West Rutland School.

Consolidating Rutland school systems?
Local supervisory unions are feeling pressure to consider further district merge considerations from the state. The Rutland Central Supervisory Union (Proctor, Rutland Town, and West Rutland schools) recently invited Rutland South Supervisory Union, Addison-Rutland, Rutland Southwest and Rutland Northeast supervisory unions to attend a January meeting in which they might discuss the possibilities.
How far should consolidation go? Will Rutland County eventually contain one gigantic school system? Even if that were to be the eventual goal, what would steps toward that goal "look like"?
Discussion proponents believe they need to "get out in front" of potential Montpelier requirements. Opponents tend to dismiss such concerns.
Representatives from Clarendon and Mill River said they would bring up the issue with their respective board members during meetings this week.
Rutland South comprises Mill River Union High, Clarendon and Wallingford Elementary, and Shrewsbury Mountain schools. Addison-Rutland encompasses Fair Haven Union High, Castleton Elementary and Village, Fair Haven Grade, and Benson and Orwell Village schools.
Rutland Southwest stretches over Middletown Springs and Tinmouth Elementary, Wells Village, and Poultney Elementary and High schools. Rutland Northeast includes Barstow Memorial; Leicester Central; Lothrop, Neshobe, and Whiting Elementary; Sudbury Country; and Otter Valley Union High schools.

Driving homemade machines on the Pico pool floor
Students in Dawn Adams' marine science class at Rutland High recently tested the remotely controlled vehicles they built, "driving" their tiny machines on the floor of the swimming pool at Pico Sports Center. Over some 10 days, students worked in collaborative teams to construct each vehicle's frame, install its three locomotion motors, and insert the circuit board that enables remote maneuvering.
At the pool, students negotiated an obstacle course of five hula hoops, set at varying depths and angles. The task is less simple than it sounds; the tethered nature of the vehicles mandates that they return on the same pathway in which they moved forward. Only one team succeeded in finishing the test in the required 15 minutes. What a fun and educational challenge for these students, all juniors and seniors in the elective science course!

Final façade improvement grant received
The Gymnasium on Cottage Street recently received $2,620 from the Downtown Rutland Partnership to improve its entryway and outside lighting. Improved lighting will make the entrance safer, and be more efficient. This grant is the final one left in the DRP's façade improvement funds.
Recently purchased from former owner Sue LaPlante, the Gymnasium is in line to receive a number of other improvements, according to new co-owner Bethany Stack. New cardio equipment, new classes and instructors are in the offering; so are more personal trainers, a first-timer introductory program, and locker room remodeling. Stack and fellow local residents Allison Dodo, Tammy Landon and Chuck Charbonneau bought the gym in October.
Stack said they hope to remodel the locker rooms and plan to add more personal trainers, while offering a program for first-timers nervous about starting at a gym.

City budgeting
The new Public Works van is a no-go, and a state-mandated employee are complicating Rutland's DPW budget, the Public Works Commission learned recently. A new DPW van was the committee's first cut, removing $25,000 from a budget that still totals $922,282, including $165,000 to replace both a one-ton and a five-ton trucks.
Water users are being more economical, resulting in a projected $459,000 revenue drop. The department budget has, however, gone up by some $639,000, with much of that increase caused by moving pension contributions and liability insurance payments to the department from the general fund. Less money coming in, but more money going out necessitates a potential water rate increase of 14.8 percent, sewer treatment increase of 18.8 percent, and sewer maintenance increase of 30 percent. A family of four could expect its quarterly water bill to surge from $244 to $281.
Louras and Wennberg collaborated on a list of possible changes that could trim some $500,000 from a variety of funds; altogether, their work could dispel about half the rate increases.
Some budget cuts drew little to no objection, but not increasing the pipe replacement budget is not one of them. Expect more debate when the entire board of aldermen put their eyes and pens on the city's budget.

Moon Brook runoff basin approved
Catch basin creation received approval, to the tune of $213,693. That's a highly preferable alternative to the state's initial demands for far great changes to altering runoff into Moon Brook. Watching over additional responsibilities that the city agreed to undertake necessitates creating a new regulatory position to cover public education and monitoring for illicit discharge, construction-caused erosion, and debris. Or so went the argument. However, some on the committee feel that a new position is not needed, but permitting regulation could instead be covered by staff in the building and zoning office.  The entire board of aldermen will have an opportunity to make the final decision.

LED lighting priority questioned
Green Mountain Power's priorities came under fire, when alderwoman Sharon Davis criticized the power company's failure to replace current street lights with brighter, more cost effective LED lights, especially in the "crime-challenged" Northwest neighborhood. Last year's budget included funds to help GMP make the replacement where it was most needed, although Bellevue Avenue did receive its LEDs. The official word is to expect better lighting in the Northwest area by December 2014.

Ash trees expected to die
The city can expect to lose its ash trees as emerald ash borers reach Rutland within the next five years. Some 400 of the graceful ash trees currently stand in city rights of way. DPW head Jeff Wennberg had wanted the city to invest $30,000 to create an "emerald ash borer preparedness plan."
Some cities are cutting down healthy ash trees now so they don't have to later, Wennberg noted. Treatment might save some of Rutland's ash trees; the city forester had asked for a sinking fund to start with $40,000, projecting an eventual cost of $120,000. Although Wennberg cut the $40,000 to $30,000, Mayor Chris Louras trimmed the entire fund out of the budget before it went to committee. The committee recommends that the full alderman board ask the Public Works Committee to take another look at the ash tree situation.
It will be up to the aldermen to see whether they can make enough cuts to avoid sharp raises in water and sewer rates.

Lani's weekly picks
Fri. and Sat., Dec. 6-7 - The College of St. Joseph hosts the 2013 Rutland County Farmers Market Christmas Fair.
Saturday, Dec. 7 - The First Congregational Church in Wallingford holds its annual Christmas Fair in combination with the St. Patricks Church Fair and Wallingford Elementary School Fair from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. Drop off new toys at the Wallingford Rescue Building, 99 7th Street, from 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. Enjoy a cookie and cup of hot coca or coffee. Stay in town for the evening to see Dickens' A Christmas Carol performed in the Wallingford Town Hall at 6 p.m. Five actors, directed by Gary Metroitt, play multiple roles in full Victorian dress. 366-0110.
Saturday, Dec. 7 - The Santa Train departs downtown Rutland at 10 a.m., 12 noon, and 1:30, 3, and 4:30 p.m.
Saturday, Dec. 7 - Auctioneer Bob Prozzo presents a varied selection of auction items in the annual Festival of Trees Benefit Auction at the Paramount Theatre. 5:30 p.m. Or see Santa arrive and the tree lighting in Depot Park half a block away at 6 p.m.
Sunday, Dec. 8 - The Rutland Moose Club hosts a fund day for Dennis Smith, battling a second bout with cancer along with having lost possessions in a house fire. Duane Carleton Band and DJ Mike Coppinger supply music. 12-noon to 5 p.m.