September 1, 2014

Right to the Point2/19/09

Share

Dear President George W. Bush

Feb. 19, 2009

By Mike Benevento

Thank you for all the hard work you did these past eight years for the American people.

Because of your decisive and determined actions following Sept. 11, as The Wall Street Journal observed, “Not a single man, woman or child has been killed by terrorists on U.S. soil since the morning of September 11.” For that, I’m extremely thankful.

Right after taking office, you proposed the No Child Left Behind Act. This bipartisan law improves schools by increasing standards. As Barron’s Editorial Page Editor Thomas Donlan noted, “Mandating testing in public schools forced some states to identify and study their schools’ failures.”

Early on, you reinstituted the Mexico City Policy, which banned U.S. funding for international family-planning groups involved with abortion. Later in your presidency, you kept your pro-life promise by signing the partial birth abortion ban — a bill President Bill Clinton refused to sign.

Alas, just three days after you left office, America’s world standing took a hit when President Barack Obama rescinded the Mexico City Policy — effectively putting American taxpayers in the business of funding abortions throughout the world.

During your term, you pushed three tax-cut bills through Congress. You promoted Social Security reform and championed judicial appointees who support strict interpretations of the Constitution. Additionally, Congress expanded coverage for senior citizens by passing into law your Medicare prescription drug program.

Your unyielding resolve following the unprovoked Sept. 11, 2001 attacks defined your presidency. Immediately afterwards, you took action to prevent further terrorist strikes in the United States.

You reversed course from President Clinton regarding the use of military force to protect America. Realizing our criminal justice system inadequately deters terrorists, you kept America safer by rightfully treating them and those who attack Americans on the battlefield as enemy combatants.

You announced an aggressive global war on terror and invaded Afghanistan after the Taliban refused to stop harboring al Qaeda. You advocated the Patriot Act, which the Senate passed with a 98-1 vote weeks later. In your 2002 State of the Union Address, you defined North Korea, Iran and Iraq as an Axis of Evil that sponsors terrorism and seeks weapons of mass destruction.

Finally, your Bush Doctrine laid out America’s foreign policy principles. They include defending the United States against terrorism and regimes that aid terrorists. The doctrine promotes spreading democracy and calls for preemptive and unilateral engagement if necessary when our country is in imminent danger.

Lest you think I have only good things to say about your presidency, rest assured I did not agree with many of your decisions.

Despite the economic and national security threat to our nation, Congress and your administration did little to stem the flow of illegal aliens across our borders. In fact, your laissez-faire approach to border security and calls for amnesty actually encouraged more illegal — rather than legal — immigration into America.

A major mistake was presiding over massive increases in government spending. Instead of trimming domestic programs in a time of war, Congress continued to spend — often with your blessing. While you watched, the size of the federal government expanded, adding $4 trillion to the national debt.

Republicans like you are supposed to stand for fiscally conservative values. Americans do not support Republicans who abandon their principles. The Republican Party rightfully paid dearly in last November’s polls.

(You will be glad to know that the January election of former Maryland Lt. Gov. Michael Steele as chairman of the Republican National Committee is a big step in the right direction.)

Let’s face it; you are bashed more than any president in modern history. “1-20-09” stickers are still seen on many bumpers. Bush haters abound. Whether deserved or not, you were blamed for almost all of America’s ills, from the seemingly slow Hurricane Katrina response to fixing the price of oil relatively high so Halliburton and your oil buddies could make a financial killing. Heck, many kooks still believe Sept. 11 was an inside job orchestrated by you and Vice President Dick Cheney.

If future travel takes you to Vermont, Calvin, Matthew, Kristine and I extend you and your family an open invitation for dinner at our home. As a former co-owner of the Texas Rangers, you know there is no better place than at the ballpark to catch up with friends — and Vermont has one of the best. After dinner, we’ll take you to Centennial Field to watch the Lake Monsters play. We can chat about baseball, politics and family. It will be our way of saying thanks. Heck, I’ll even spring for some Champ Chips — the new fried pickle concession specialty.

Michael Benevento is a former Air Force fighter jet weapon systems officer. He has a bachelor’s degree in Military History and a master’s in International Relations. Mike resides in Williston with his wife Kristine and their two sons, Matthew and Calvin.

 

[Read more...]

Liberally Speaking2/19/09

Share

The problem with the truth

Feb. 19, 2009

By Steve Mount

When Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy starts talking about truth-telling, people start to get squirmy. It’s odd — truth-telling should be a goal for all of us, but especially for public servants, for our elected representatives.

Leahy has a plan to create a Truth Commission, to place in the sunlight the most controversial acts of the Bush administration. There are several goals in such exposure. First, exposure gives us a chance to take a sober look at what happened and decide for ourselves if it was all necessary.

Second, exposure shows us places where our system of checks and balances might have failed, and shows where the underpinnings of that system might need to be reinforced.

Lastly, exposure shows the rest of the world that we can admit our mistakes and rise above them.

But when President Barack Obama was asked about the establishment of a Truth Commission, his response was, as described by the Associated Press, “lukewarm.”

I understand Obama’s reticence. He wants to place laser-like focus on the economy right now, putting policies in place to create and maintain jobs, to ensure that struggling homeowners stay in their homes, to get credit flowing. These are all critically important, and he’s loath to support any distraction from those goals.

“My view is also that nobody’s above the law,” Obama said last week, “and if there are clear instances of wrongdoing, that people should be prosecuted just like any ordinary citizen … but my general orientation is to say let’s get it right moving forward.”

I’m in general agreement with the president’s conclusion here — that we need to move forward. However, I agree more with his statement that no one is above the law and people should be held accountable for wrongdoing.

Basically, there are three schools of thought on the whole issue. One was voiced by former Bush aide Mark Thiessen, who said that such a commission would expose the facts about American interrogation techniques, exposure that would be “terribly dangerous.”

Those kinds of remarks make me incredulous. Are you honestly saying that violations of American law, international law and basic human rights should not be exposed because Al Qaeda would then know what we did? This creates an institutional loophole for abuses of power. Cloak the abuses in “national security” and the abuses become un-checkable.

The second school of thought says that we must prosecute everyone from the people who performed torture and should have refused to, all the way up to the person who explicitly or tacitly authorized the torture itself.

Beyond the feeling that justice needs to be served, constitutional scholar Jonathan Turley points out that we have treaty obligations in place in regards to investigating allegations of torture. Turley supports prosecutions, but is incredulous himself over Obama’s lack of support for even a Truth Commission.

“I have great respect for (Obama),” Turley said, “but you cannot say that no one is above the law and block the investigation of the war crimes by your predecessor. It is a position without principle.”

Despite my sense of justice, though, I cannot imagine actual trials having the effect that Leahy’s Truth Commission would have. Those who would be prosecuted would undoubtedly be the lowest-level worker bees, who are actually the least culpable. The prosecution of someone at the level of a department secretary, or even higher, would drag on for years, tangled in so much red tape and black redaction that we might never get the answers we need.

That leaves us with the third school, Leahy’s school. Forget about prosecution — let’s just get it out there. Tell the truth about wire tapping, about political hiring and firing in the Justice Department, about bad intelligence. Tell the truth about torture.

According to Mary Robinson, president of the International Commission of Jurists, our actions are being used as justification by other nations: “We were getting evidence of practices of torture, et cetera … Somehow the laws had changed, the situation had changed, and when we countered that, they would say, well look what’s happening in the United States … Our concern was that countries that were champions of upholding the rule of law had compromised those standards in the name of countering terrorism.”

We should never have compromised those standards. It seems pretty clear that we did. The perpetrators should be punished, but that just may not be practical. At the very least, we should learn the truth, so that we can keep it from happening again.

Steve Mount has been a Williston resident since 1996. He is a software engineer at GE Healthcare and is devoted to his family, his country and his Constitution. You can reach Steve at [email protected] or read his blog at http://saltyrain.com/ls.

 

[Read more...]

Around Town2/19/09

Share

Feb. 19, 2009

Zoning hearing

The town of Williston has scheduled a public hearing on revisions to zoning bylaws.

The hearing takes place Monday, March 9 at 7:30 p.m. at Town Hall.

The rewrite of land-use rules has been years in the making but only recently generated controversy. About a dozen people listened or spoke out during a discussion of the revisions during a Selectboard meeting last week, according to Town Manager Rick McGuire.

Much of the discussion revolved around one particular change that would alter buffer distances around wetland areas. The change could effect an eight-unit subdivision proposed by Waterbury developer Jeff Atwood, who wants to build on land he owns between North Williston Road and Lefebvre Lane. Neighbors oppose the development.

The Selectboard has already approved portions of the new bylaws on an interim basis. After the public hearing on March 9, the board could make the rewritten bylaws permanent or send them back to the Planning Commission for revisions.

Absentee ballots available

Absentee ballots for the March 3 town and school elections and budgets are now available. To obtain a ballot, voters can call the Town Clerk’s office at 878-5121, or can vote in the office between 8:30 a.m. and 5 p.m., Monday through Friday.

The deadline to register to vote at March 2 Town Meeting and March 3 polls is 5 p.m. on Wednesday, Feb. 25.

In praise of the braise

Williston’s Molly Stevens, a food writer and contributing editor for Fine Cooking magazine, is bringing her knowledge to The Store in Waitsfield next week.

Stevens, author of “About Braising: The Art of Uncomplicated Cooking,” will explain the principles of braising — a technique for gently cooking meat, seafood, poultry or veggies in a covered pot.

Her two classes at The Store on Friday, Feb. 27 are from 2:30 p.m. to 4 p.m. and from 5:30 p.m. to 7 p.m. The cost is $55, and registration is requested. Call The Store at 802-496-4465, or go online to www.vermontstore.com.

The Store is located on Route 100 in Waitsfield.

 

[Read more...]

Ice fishing heats up with thoughts of spring2/19/09

Share

Feb. 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

Frigid winter temperatures — including record lows in January — have frozen ponds, lakes and Lake Champlain bays in some of the thickest ice in years, according to local ice fishing enthusiasts. Thanks to Mother Nature, the 2008-2009 ice fishing season is producing ideal conditions, and the best fishing might still be in the future.

 


    Observer photo by Pogo Senior
Bill Hollingsworth of Hinesburg waits for a bite while fishing on Monday at the Sandbar, which is located across from Sand Bar State park on Route 2 between Colchester and South Hero.

Reports from fishermen and bait shop owners say the fishing on northern Vermont ponds and lakes have been outstanding, and parts of Lake Champlain have yielded large catches as well.

George LeClair, owner of the outdoor sports store Big River Dog Supply in Hinesburg, said he’s had a hard time keeping ice fishing gear on the shelves. Business is up, and he thinks the struggling economy is causing people to look for outdoor activities that are close to home and relatively inexpensive.

“People are using their money and they’re buying good, quality stuff,” LeClair said. “A lot of people are back to fishing who haven’t been fishing in a long time.”

It’s been so busy, LeClair said, that he has yet to go out on the ice to fish.

And while the early season and mid-season have passed by, some fishermen are gearing up for late winter and early spring conditions. Ice fisherman James Ehlers said the late season is his favorite time of year to get out. Fishing for northern pike and walleye in the spring is one of his favorite pastimes.

“Those are some of the most exciting ice fishing days I’ve ever had,” said Ehlers, who is also the executive director of Lake Champlain International, which hosts fishing derbies in the spring, summer and fall.

“For pike fishing, the best is in March,” he said. “If you get ice into April, it’s even better.”

Ehlers explained that fish’s metabolism slows in late January and early February, making them more lethargic and more difficult to catch. But they start to become more active toward the beginning of spring.

“That’s when they get hungry,” Ehlers said.

And with the frosty temperatures Vermont has experienced this winter, Ehlers believes ice in April could very well happen.

For some, this season on Lake Champlain has been hit or miss. Linda Rosario said she hasn’t been fishing as much as she’d like this winter. And while she’s had some success off Porters Point in Colchester and on Shelburne Bay, it’s not as much as she’d like. Still, it beats staying indoors, she said.

Not long ago, the St. George resident pulled 15 pounds of fish out of the lake near Shelburne. Last year it would have been a typical catch. But this year, the fish haven’t been biting as much and she said she was fortunate in the catch.

“When the big ones come in, you want to be there,” Rosario said. “It’s a matter of being in the right place at the right time.”

LeClair said he’s heard from area fishermen that alewives have been a problem for them. These tiny fish, an invasive species in Lake Champlain, have been a main food source for bigger fish like perch, walleye and pike. As a result, the larger fish are full and less likely to take the bait.

Ehlers has heard the alewife theory, although he’s not sure he believes it.

“I don’t know if that’s fisherman folklore or something,” Ehlers said, claiming that the fishing near Grand Isle and Isle La Motte has been fantastic.

LeClair said he’s been steering a lot of newcomers to the sport to smaller ponds and lakes inland from Lake Champlain. Shelburne Pond in Shelburne, Lake Iroquois on the Williston-Hinesburg town line, Monkton Pond in Monkton, Baldwin Pond in Starksboro and the Waterbury Reservoir toward Waterbury and Stowe have been successful. Shelburne Pond is especially popular with out-of-state fishermen.

“It’s the most fat little pond,” LeClair said.

Ehlers said no matter where people fish, it’s become a long-standing tradition for Vermonters to get outside and enjoy the cold weather.

“It’s important to a lot of people,” Ehlers said. “These are people who are doing it religiously and that’s what they do for fun every weekend.”

Rosario agrees with that sentiment. For her, ice fishing is a time for socializing and getting the freshest catch she can. If she’s lucky, she’ll go home with some fish and perhaps some fish stories.

“Just being outside in the winter and the fact I love to fish,” Rosario said. “I look forward to it every year.”

 

Popular ice fishing spots

Lake Champlain

Malletts Bay, Colchester

Porters Point, Colchester

Isle La Motte

Sand Bar State Park, Milton

Knight Point State Park, North Hero

Shelburne Bay, Shelburne

Button Bay State Park, Vergennes

Around the Valley

Indian Brook Reservoir, Essex

Lake Iroquois, Hinesburg/Williston

Milton Pond, Milton

Monkton Pond, Monkton

Shelburne Pond, Shelburne

Baldwin Pond, Starksboro

Waterbury Reservoir, Waterbury

 

[Read more...]

Sales tax revenue rebounds slightly2/19/09

Share

Numbers still down, but not as much

Feb. 19, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

In a small ray of sunshine amid the spreading economic gloom, local sales tax revenue fell during the fourth quarter, but by a much smaller amount than in recent periods.

Williston received $684,146 from the local option tax for the three-month period ending

Dec. 31. That is down 1.1 percent from the same quarter in 2007. But it is a much smaller drop than in the previous two quarters, when sale tax revenue fell by 11.8 percent and 8.9 percent.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said he was mildly surprised by the rebound in sales, which comes amid steep declines in tax revenue at the state and national level.

But he warned the data may be skewed by factors such as tardy tax returns by businesses or by going-out-of-business sales by big-box retailers Circuit City and Linens ‘N Things.

“I can’t really draw too much of a conclusion based on this quarter because some variations defy logic,” McGuire said.

Williston has for the past six years enjoyed millions of dollars in annual revenue from the 1 percent local option tax, which is tacked onto the 6 percent state sales tax. Proceeds fund about a third of the municipal budget and help reduce the property tax rate.

But the levy has proven to be a fickle revenue source over the past two years. In 2007, the state changed rules governing what is taxed, with products that are bought in Williston but shipped elsewhere no longer generating income for the town.

Revenue, which had steadily risen in prior years, began to erode with the rule change. Each quarter in 2007 produced less revenue than the same period a year earlier.

The story was much the same in 2008, with falling revenue recorded in three of four quarters. The decreases were perhaps exacerbated by the deepening national recession, which has been blamed in part for driving both Circuit City and Linens ‘N Things — each had an outlet in Williston — out of business.

But it appears the biggest of the big-box retailers in town may be boosting Williston’s fortunes. Many economists believe Wal-Mart is benefiting from the recession as people economize by shopping at the store.

Figures released Tuesday appear to back up that theory. Wal-Mart reported net sales in the U.S. rose 6 percent in the fourth quarter. Sales for the year are up 6.8 percent. The company said it created 60,000 jobs in 2008.

Wal-Mart does not release figures for individual stores, so it is unclear to what extent the Williston outlet has shared the company’s good fortune. But based on anecdotal evidence — it’s not uncommon to encounter checkout lines, even during normally slower times on weekdays — business is booming at the store.

“Our goal is to save people money so they can live better,” said Wal-Mart spokesman Steven Restivo. “That general goal has never been more relevant than it is today.”

For all of 2008, Williston received $2,379,679 in sales tax revenue. That is a 5.2 percent drop from the previous year and a whopping 22.3 percent decrease from 2006, the peak year for sales tax revenue.

The small revenue rebound in the fourth quarter eases concerns that the sales tax would leave a large hole in the municipal budget. For the fiscal year ending July 1, McGuire said sales tax revenue is running about $50,000 below estimates. He said such a small shortfall can be erased using reserves, so there will be no cuts in services.

McGuire expressed guarded hope that the latest tax figures, combined with some other key indicators, could signal the local economy will not experience the deep recession seen in other parts of the country. He noted the property tax delinquency rate is still below 1 percent and home values remain substantially above the town’s appraised values.

“There are lots of positive things,” he said. “You can’t get worked up about all the negative things.”

 

[Read more...]

Mother of sex abuse victim pleads not guilty2/19/09

Share

Feb. 19, 2009

The mother of the victim at the center of a local sex abuse case pleaded not guilty in Vermont District Court on Friday to charges of aggravated sexual assault.

The woman is facing the same charges to which Williston resident Mark Hulett pleaded guilty in 2006, after years of abusing the woman’s daughter.

Chittenden County prosecutors accuse the victim’s 33-year-old mother of knowingly letting Hulett commit sex acts on her daughter for a period of four years, when the girl was between the ages of 6 and 10. If convicted, the mother could face a minimum of 10 years in prison. She faces a maximum sentence of life.

The Observer is not releasing the mother’s name to protect the identity of her child.

A status conference has been set for March 6 at 2 p.m.


— Tim Simard, Observer staff

 

[Read more...]

Farmers

Share

New location would bring more business, organizer says

Feb. 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

The Williston Farmers’ Market, a Saturday staple at the Village Green the past two summers, could move to a new location in the upcoming season.

Christina Mead, the market’s coordinator, said she’s been in talks with representatives of Maple Tree Place to hold the weekly event at the shopping center’s green.

Mead said while the Village location was charming, she believes moving the market to Maple Tree Place will benefit the vendors.

“It’s to have more space and more traffic,” Mead said. “And the Village Green, which is very picturesque and has been a great venue for us, isn’t set up well for entertainment.”

Maple Tree Place recently built a new bandstand at its green, which can accommodate live music. The open air mall also has better power outlets for food vendors and a better drainage system if it rains, Mead said.

A representative with Maple Tree Place was unavailable to comment on when or if the farmers’ market would be approved.

The Williston Farmers’ Market started two years ago at the Village Green and has had 20 to 25 vendors on summer Saturdays, Mead said. Vendors include farmers selling fruit and vegetables, local artisans with crafts and artwork, and merchants offering prepared food specialties. Around 300 to 400 shoppers have visited at its peak, Mead said, and she hopes the numbers will double with a move to Taft Corners.

When the market was organized a few years ago, Mead initially approached Inland Real Estate Management, the owners of Maple Tree Place, about hosting the market at the shopping center. The idea was rejected, but Mead said staff turnover at Inland has brought in people more amenable to community-oriented events.

Mixed feelings for vendors

While most vendors said they’ll follow the farmers’ market to Maple Tree Place if the deal is approved, they do it with a bit of sadness.

Williston resident Marsha Drake, a vendor who owns Sparkle Jewelry Design, said she’s torn by the idea of moving to Maple Tree Place, but believes she’ll see more customers.

“I love the Village and I love that there’s a farmers’ market on the green,” Drake said.

Still, the market is the only place where she sells her jewelry.

“No matter where it is, I’ll definitely be a part of it,” Drake said.

Lynne Gavin, a Richmond-based vendor who owns Sunflower Soaps, a small business specializing in handmade soap and body care, said she likes the idea of a community-based market in Williston Village. But she likes the possibility of new customers that a move to Maple Tree Place could bring.

“I think there’s a lot more traffic there on a Saturday morning,” Gavin said.

Gavin also has a booth at the Richmond Farmers’ Market, which takes place at the town’s village center, but it’s hard to compare the towns, she said. Richmond’s main businesses are located next to its village green, unlike Williston’s.

“I thought there’d be more traffic, more people (in Williston Village),” Gavin said.

Richmond vendor Michael Adams, the owner of Eddie’s Energy Bars and Green Mountain Mustard, said he initially thought a change to Maple Tree Place was a “bad move.”

“It didn’t exactly embody what a farmers’ market should be,” Adams said.

But he said he’s since changed his mind with the idea of more customers and better entertainment possibilities. And the Williston Farmers’ Market always has been a profitable venture for his burgeoning business.

“Out of the three farmers’ markets we did last summer, it was our best by far,” Adams said, explaining that he was a vendor at the Middlebury and Hinesburg farmers’ markets.

Maple syrup producer Bernie Comeau, who with his wife Ann owns Comeau Family Surgarhouse, thinks a move would be “win-win” for everybody involved. He believes the new location would bring in not only new customers, but new vendors as well.

“We’re bound to do more business,” Comeau said.

Mead said the decision has been based on what’s best for vendors, even though it won’t be easy leaving the peaceful surroundings of the Village Green.

“The Village is special,” Mead said.

 

[Read more...]

Majestic 10 adds a new dimension2/19/09

Share

Feb. 19, 2009

By Tim Simard

Observer staff

With the recent installation of new three-dimensional cinema equipment, Williston now offers some of the most state-of-the-art movie-going experiences in Vermont.

 


    Observer photo by Stephen Mease
The Majestic 10 movie theater in Williston has added new technology that allows it to show movies in digital 3-D.

The Majestic 10 movie theater at Maple Tree Place installed new digital projection units in two of its theaters to offer customers a cinema experience they previously could find regionally only in Montreal.

Majestic 10 co-owner Howard Blank said the new kinds of 3-D films will play an important role in the future of movie entertainment.

“It’s our intention to do what we can to keep up with the pace of technology,” Blank said.

Today’s digital, three-dimensional technology is a far cry from 3-D movies of the past. Before, 3-D movies were filmed two-dimensionally and then converted for the extra dimension. Blank said the effects weren’t always convincing, and sometimes made customers sick. But with today’s digital filming techniques, 3-D movies are actually filmed in three dimensions.

“It looks real because it is real,” Blank said.

Digital 3-D films have been slow to take off in recent years, even though the technology is available. It might have had something to do with the cost. Blank would not specify how much it cost to install the new equipment, only saying it was “absurdly expensive.” The theater bought two 6,000-watt digital projectors, computer servers and other 3-D equipment.

The theater also had to purchase new 3-D glasses, which Blank said are a big improvement over the old glasses associated with such films. Gone are the red and green cellophane and cardboard glasses, which originated in the 1950s when science fiction and monster movies attempted 3-D. Today’s eyewear resembles sunglasses, Blank said, and are far more comfortable.

Like the 3-D theater equipment, the glasses don’t come cheap. Blank said the cinema purchased more than 1,000 pairs at $30 apiece. Customers who want to see the film in 3-D can rent the glasses for an extra $2 on top of the cost of admission.

The first 3-D film Majestic 10 will show on the new equipment is Focus Features’ stop-motion animated film “Coraline.” The fantasy movie’s plot centers around a young girl who discovers an alternate reality of her life, which turns out to be not as pleasant as she originally thought. The film is adapted from a short story by Neil Garman, and created and directed by Henry Selick, famous for directing Tim Burton’s “The Nightmare Before Christmas.”

Blank said the film opened at the Majestic 10 on Feb. 6, and audiences he talked to said it was a whole new film-going experience.

“It’s a nice early success for us,” Blank said.

Blank said the movie theater would be the only one in the state to show the concert film “Jonas Brothers: The 3D Concert Experience.” He expects a huge turnout of teenage fans when the movie opens on Feb. 27.

Other 3-D films in the works include the DreamWorks computer animated film “Monsters vs. Aliens,” to be released on March 27, and Disney and Pixar’s animated movie “Up.”

Blank said digital 3-D filmmaking has attracted big-name producers and directors. James Cameron, famous for writing and directing the first two Terminator films and 1997’s Best Picture “Titanic,” said he would only make films in digital 3-D. Cameron’s “Avatar” film is due out on Dec. 18.

George Lucas has even indicated that he would release all six of the Star Wars films in 3-D formats, although Blank has not heard a timetable on when that might happen.

Blank said he’s excited about the 3-D films coming down the pipeline, and excited about what it could mean for the movie-going public.

“I see 3-D cinema as a very important piece of the theater industry,” Blank said.

 

[Read more...]

Residents fired up about wood heat2/19/09

Share

New systems reduce soot and smoke

Feb. 19, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Williston resident Mike Isham has found the Holy Grail in a state where six-month winters and three-figure heating bills are the norm: A way to reduce his fuel bill to nearly zero.

 


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Veronica Jordan, accompanied by her 18-month-old grand-nephew, Iverson, stands next to her wood-fired boiler. She enjoys cranking up the thermostat without worrying about it hiking her monthly fuel bill.

 


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
Mike Isham shows off his wood-fired boiler. Isham harvests wood from his own land to fuel the new heating system.

 


    Observer photo by Greg Elias
This insulated tank in Isham’s basement holds 1,500 gallons of water heated by the wood-fired boiler and functions as an energy storage system, supplying heat and hot water even after the fire has burned out.

The secret sits in a barn behind his home on Oak Hill Road. Inside, an aquamarine-colored box the shape and size of a refrigerator burns wood, putting out enough BTUs to heat his family’s sprawling farmhouse.

Isham’s wood gasification heating system is a new twist on mankind’s oldest energy source. With the help of a complex system of fans, thermostats and plumbing, it burns wood far more efficiently and cleanly than an old-fashioned stove or fireplace.

Linked to a water tank the size of a small swimming pool, Isham’s system replaces an oil-burning setup that included three boilers and five hot water heaters. Isham needs to fire the new boiler up just twice a day in the winter and about once a week in the summer, when it’s used only to supply hot water.

“It’s a pretty smart system,” he said. “It’s not like the old wood stoves, where the fire goes out and the house gets cold.”

With many people struggling to pay rising heating bills and increasing concern about the environment, alternative heating systems are a common topic these days.

Wood is a popular option. Many Vermonters have long used wood stoves to supplement oil or gas furnaces. Now, some like Isham have shifted entirely to the fuel source.

Isham calls his American-made Econoburn boiler the “Cadillac” of wood-fired systems. He admits the $50,000 price tag isn’t for everyone.

The cost included heavy-duty plumbing and connections to keep his old oil burner working as a backup. It is big enough to heat the farmhouse, built in 1852, and its attached apartments.

Isham said he could have opted for a smaller, less expensive system, but he likes the fact that the furnace is large enough so he only has to load wood infrequently.

Williston resident Veronica Jordan also has a wood gasification system. Her 2,400-square-foot home in the village was built in the early 1800s. Her system is considerably smaller than Isham’s, but puts out enough heat to keep her abode a toasty 72 degrees.

Jordan paid roughly $16,000 for the system, which included the boiler, plumbing and installation costs.

“It definitely was a chunk of money,” she said. “But I think in the long run it will basically pay for itself.”

Jordan noted with satisfaction that she used to pay $3,200 for natural gas to heat her home each year. Now she spends a fraction of that for wood, supplied at a reduced price by a son who works in the timber business.

Scott Gardner is president of Building Energy, a Williston-based company that conducts energy audits and installs alternative heating and energy systems.

He said wood gasification systems are best suited to large, older homes, and they work well for people who have lots of wooded land.

“It’s a good choice to economize for those who have their own wood or have a larger structure that is difficult to insulate efficiently,” Gardner said.

Green and clean energy

Wood gasification systems differ from fireplaces and older wood-fired stoves in that they produce little of the polluting black smoke associated with those devices and burn wood much more efficiently. Isham said he sees only a little white smoke when he first stokes his boiler.

Wood gasification burns cleaner by forcing a mixture of fresh air and hot smoke back down through the fire. The process raises the temperature within the boiler, producing temperatures reaching 1,800 degrees and burning almost all the excess gas that would have otherwise gone into the atmosphere.

The systems work at thermal efficiencies of around 90 percent. Older wood furnaces and stoves work at only about 50 percent efficiency.

In Isham and Jordan’s systems, the boiler heats water stored in insulated tanks that circulates to baseboards throughout their homes.

Burning wood makes particular sense in Vermont, where there is a large enough supply of timber to heat every home in the state, Gardner said. When harvested responsibly, wood is a renewable resource.

Wood sold for fuel is usually taken from felled timber, Gardner said, and clearing deadwood actually helps maintain healthy forests.

Experts generally view burning wood as carbon neutral because decaying trees left to rot in the forest also emit carbon, although that equation may change for older, less efficient wood stoves or fireplaces.

Newer wood stoves certified by the Environmental Protection Agency also operate cleanly and efficiently. Pellet stoves in particular are a good alternative for many homes, Gardner said.

Wood now an expensive fuel

Burning wood can reduce heating bills, but the fuel is not free unless you owns lots of land like Isham and are willing to put your own back-bending labor into cutting, splitting and stacking it. Isham calls his woodpile — 4 feet high and 50 feet long — his “wall of toil.”

Cord wood costs vary depending on demand and other factors. Kiln-dried, split wood has been selling for around $300 a cord this season. Green wood goes for about $200 a cord. Those prices are unusually high, said Gardner, who anticipates costs will fall with new suppliers set to come online.

Jordan estimated she will use 10 cords this year. If she bought dried wood on the open market, it would cost her almost as much as she was paying for natural gas heat.

But gas and oil prices are likely to rise again. If wood costs drop, wood-burning systems will be a more economical choice compared to other fuel sources.

Isham said when the price of oil inevitably spikes again, he will be happy he invested in wood heat.

“When heating oil gets back to $4.50 a gallon and propane is expensive too, I’ll be grateful I’m not paying for that,” Isham said.

 

[Read more...]

Roy considers run for secretary of state2/19/09

Share

Incumbent may seek governor’s post

Feb. 19, 2009

By Greg Elias

Observer staff

Williston Selectboard member Chris Roy may run for secretary of state, the latest entry in a game of political musical chairs involving top statewide offices.

 


   
Chris Roy

Roy, a Republican, said he is forming an exploratory committee, a preliminary step toward formally filing for election to the post currently held by Deb Markowitz, a Democrat whose term expires in 2010. Markowitz recently announced she is considering a bid for governor.

Roy said the secretary of state has “sort of an odd collection of duties,” including professional regulation and licensing, that dovetail with his experience as a lawyer with Downs Rachlin Martin in Burlington.

Roy said he would decide whether to run independent of Markowitz’s final call on entering the governor’s race. But he acknowledged that the lack of an incumbent in such a high-profile contest piqued his interest.

“It doesn’t take a great political figure to know Vermont likes its incumbents,” he said.

Markowitz’s potential departure after a decade as secretary of state has prompted interest among others. Former state Sen. Jim Condos, a Democrat, is also rumored to be considering a run for the office.

Meanwhile, state Sen. Doug Racine, a Democrat from Richmond, plans to run for governor. State Treasurer Jeb Spaulding ruled out a candidacy for governor earlier this month, but a number of other prominent Democrats have expressed an interest in challenging incumbent Gov. Jim Douglas.

Referring to his potential competitors, Douglas last week said political leaders should focus on the economic crisis, not campaigning. He said most Vermonters view as “perverse” runs for office so far ahead of an election

Kicking off a potential candidacy for statewide office 20 months before an election isn’t unusual in other states, Roy said, noting that it only seems premature in Vermont because of the relatively short two-year terms for statewide offices. He said getting word out early about a potential candidacy gives him a chance to build name recognition.

Roy, 44, was born and raised in Barre. He attended Harvard University, earning a degree in government before obtaining his law degree from Cornell University.

He has worked at Downs Rachlin Martin since 1990. His law practice has concentrated on commercial and property litigation.

Roy was elected to a two-year term on the Selectboard in March 2008. He has also served on the Vermont Environmental Board and the Vermont Advisory Committee to the U.S. Commission on Civil Rights.

Roy said he would have to resign his post at Downs Rachlin Martin if elected as secretary of state. But he left open the possibility of continuing on the Selectboard.

His Selectboard term ends in March 2010, eight months before the statewide election. He said he would likely run for re-election to the Selectboard and then decide whether to stay on if he becomes secretary of state.

The Associated Press contributed to this story.

 

[Read more...]