July 1, 2015

Lawsuit alleges price-fixing among Northwestern Vermont gas distributors

By Sam Heller

For Vermont Digger

Gasoline distributors accused of price gouging in Chittenden, Franklin and Grand Isle counties are going to court.

A class action lawsuit filed in Chittenden Superior Court on Monday by the Washington law office of Bailey Glasser LLP and Burlington Law Practice PLLC, claims that gas distributors R.L. Vallee, Inc., SB Collins, Inc., Champlain Farms/Wesco, Inc. and Champlain, Inc. conspired to illegally fix gasoline prices in northwestern Vermont.

“These companies have had extraordinary profits that cannot be explained by legitimate market forces. At times, those profits have been twice the national average,” a news release from the law firms said. “During its study, the FTC concluded that gas prices in Greater Burlington in late June 2012 were 10 to 43 cents a gallon higher than reliable computer models would predict.”

For the full story, visit:    vtdigger.org

Fat, sugar may relate to loss of cognitive function

A study at Oregon State University indicates that both a high-fat and a high-sugar diet, compared to a normal diet, cause changes in gut bacteria that appear related to a significant loss of “cognitive flexibility,” or the power to adapt and adjust to changing situations.

This effect was most serious on the high-sugar diet, which also showed an impairment of early learning for both long-term and short-term memory.

The findings are consistent with some other studies about the impact of fat and sugar on cognitive function and behavior, and suggest that some of these problems may be linked to alteration of the microbiome – a complex mixture in the digestive system of about 100 trillion microorganisms.

The research was done with laboratory mice that consumed different diets and then faced a variety of tests, such as water maze testing, to monitor changes in their mental and physical function, and associated impacts on various types of bacteria. The findings were published in the journal Neuroscience, in work supported by the Microbiology Foundation and the National Science Foundation.

“It’s increasingly clear that our gut bacteria, or microbiota, can communicate with the human brain,” said Kathy Magnusson, a professor in the OSU College of Veterinary Medicine and principal investigator with the Linus Pauling Institute.

Mice have proven to be a particularly good model for studies relevant to humans, Magnusson said, on such topics as aging, spatial memory, obesity and other issues.

In this research, after just four weeks on a high-fat or a high-sugar diet, the performance of mice on various tests of mental and physical function began to drop, compared to animals on a normal diet. One of the most pronounced changes was in what researchers call cognitive flexibility.

“The impairment of cognitive flexibility in this study was pretty strong,” Magnusson said. “Think about driving home on a route that’s very familiar to you, something you’re used to doing. Then one day that road is closed and you suddenly have to find a new way home.”

A person with high levels of cognitive flexibility would immediately adapt to the change, determine the next best route home, and remember to use the same route the following morning, all with little problem. With impaired flexibility, it might be a long, slow and stressful way home.

This study was done with young animals, Magnusson said, which ordinarily would have a healthier biological system that’s better able to resist pathological influences from their microbiota. The findings might be even more pronounced with older animals or humans with compromised intestinal systems, she said.

What’s often referred to as the “Western diet,” or foods that are high in fat, sugars and simple carbohydrates, has been linked to a range of chronic illnesses in the United States, including the obesity epidemic and an increased incidence of Alzheimer’s disease.

“We’ve known for a while that too much fat and sugar are not good for you,” Magnusson said. “This work suggests that fat and sugar are altering your healthy bacterial systems, and that’s one of the reasons those foods aren’t good for you. It’s not just the food that could be influencing your brain, but an interaction between the food and microbial changes.”

Tame pet care costs

By Jim Miller

Dear Savvy Senior,

What tips can you recommend to help senior pet owners with their veterinary bills? I have two cats and a dog that are family to me, but their vet bills have become unaffordable.

—Fix Income Frankie

Dear Frankie,

The high cost of veterinary care has become a problem for millions of pet owners today, but it can be especially difficult for seniors living on a fixed income. Routine medical care can cost hundreds of dollars, while urgent/specialized treatments and procedures can run into the thousands. But, it is possible to reduce your pet care costs without sacrificing their health. Here are some tips that can help you save.

Shop around: If you’re not attached to a particular veterinarian, call some different vet clinics in your area and compare costs. When you call, get price quotes on basic services like annual exams and vaccinations, as well as bigger-ticket items, like to repair a broken leg, so you can compare. Also, check to see if you live near a veterinary medical school (see aavmc.org for a listing). Many schools provide low-cost care provided by students who are overseen by their professors.

Ask your vet for help: To help make your vet bills more manageable, see if your vet’s office accepts monthly payments so you don’t have to pay the entire cost up-front. Also, find out if your vet offers discounts to senior citizens or reduces fees for annual checkups if you bring in multiple pets.

Search for low-cost care: Many municipal and nonprofit animal shelters offer free or low-cost spaying and neutering programs and vaccinations and some work with local vets who are willing to provide care at reduced prices for low-income and senior pet owners. Call your local shelter or humane society to find out what’s available in your area.

Look for financial assistance: There are a number of state and national organizations that provide financial assistance to pet owners in need. To locate these programs, the U.S. Humane Society provides a listing on its website that you can access at humanesociety.org/petfinancialaid.

Buy cheaper medicine: Medicine purchased at the vet’s office is usually much more expensive than you can get from a regular pharmacy or online. Instead, get a prescription from your vet (ask for generic is possible) so you can shop for the best price.

Most pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS, Walmart, Kmart, Rite Aid and Target fill prescriptions for pets inexpensively, so long as that same drug is also prescribed to humans. And, many pharmacies offer pet discount savings programs too.

You can also save by shopping online at one of the Veterinary-Verified Internet Pharmacy Practice Sites accredited by the National Association of Boards of Pharmacy, like 1-800-PetMeds (1800petmeds.com), Drs. Foster & Smith (drsfostersmith.com), KV Supply (kvsupply.com) and PetCareRx (petcarerx.com).

Consider pet insurance: If you can afford it, pet insurance is another option worth looking into. You can get a basic policy for under $10 per month and some insurers provide discounts for insuring multiple pets. See petinsurancereview.com to compare policies. Membership discount plans like Pet Assure (petassure.com) are another way to save, but you’ll need to use a vet in its network.

Look for other ways to save: In addition to cutting your veterinary bills, you can also save on pet food and other supplies depending on where you shop. Target, Walmart, Costco and the dollar stores typically offer much lower prices than supermarkets and specialty retailers like Petco and PetSmart. You can also save on treats and toys at sites like coupaw.com and doggyloot.com.

Jim Miller is a contributor to the NBC Today show and author of “The Savvy Senior” book.

Friendly faces at Lake Iroquois

Greeters will provide invasive aquatic plant education

Observer staff report

Four Willistonians will be at Lake Iroquois this summer to greet boaters, swimmers and fishers.

The Lake Iroquois Association has hired a team of young people to serve as greeters at the State Fishing Access. This year’s greeters are all from Williston—Chloe Trifilio, Warren Grunvald and Katie and Julie Macuga. Katie Macuga is in her second year as a greeter and will serve as coordinator of the group, scheduling shifts and working with the town’s financial officer, Susan Lamb, to report the hours worked by each greeter.

Greeters offer boaters hull and trailer inspections, as well as educational information on how to limit the spread of aquatic invasive plants and animals. The greeters will cover weekend hours when boat traffic is at its highest.

The program is funded in part by a grant from the Department of Environmental Conservation. The Lake Iroquois Association picks up the remainder of the costs.

Warren Grunvalt

Warren Grunvald

Macuga2

Katie Macuga

Macuga1

Julie Macuga

Chloe Trifilio

Chloe Trifilio

Around Town

Town sets tax rate

Homeowners will get a tiny reprieve on their property tax bills. 

During its June 15 meeting, the Selectboard set the municipal tax rate at .28 cents per $100 of value—half a cent lower than what was projected at Town Meeting in March, since the town’s grand list increased more than projected. The rate is a penny increase from last year’s rate.

That’s a municipal tax bill of $1,120 annually for a $400,000 home. The largest chunk of the property tax bill, however, comes from the education rate, typically released by the state on June 30 or July 1. 

Not all Williston taxpayers pay the same rate. Approximately half of homeowners qualify for income sensitivity, meaning they pay based on income rather than property value. 

Fourth of July volunteers needed

Williston is seeking residents to share in the Fourth of July celebration theme—“Community Begins Here”—by volunteering at one of the Independence Day events. The Recreation Department is looking for people to help out with the Fun Run on July 3 from 5-7 p.m., the parade lineup on July 4 from 9-11 a.m. and parking at the fireworks on July 4 from 6-8 p.m. Groups welcome. If you are interested, email the Recreation Department at [email protected] by July 1.

The library is also seeking volunteers for its annual book sale. See page 8 for details.

Building Block award nominations sought

United Way of Chittenden County invites individuals and organizations to nominate community volunteers for the 2015 Building Block Awards. These awards honor outstanding volunteers helping to address community needs in the areas of education, income and health.

The nomination deadline is Wednesday, July 8. To submit a nomination online, visit www.surveymonkey.com/s/2015BBAwardsNom.

Host a Fresh Air child

June 29 marks the beginning of Fresh Air summer experiences for thousands of inner-city children and their volunteer host families as The Fresh Air Fund kicks off its 139th summer of serving New York City children. The Fresh Air Fund is currently seeking more host families.

Fresh Air children are boys and girls, from 6 to 18 years old, who live in New York City. Children on first-time visits are 6 to 12 years old and stay for one or two weeks. 

For more information, contact Mary Sherman at 782-5426 or visit www.freshair.org.

Grand opening set for St. George Schoolhouse

Observer courtesy photos St. George’s Little Red Schoolhouse is nearly restored. A grand opening is set for Sunday.

Observer courtesy photos
St. George’s Little Red Schoolhouse is nearly restored. A grand opening is set for Sunday.

schoolhouse 001

By Stephanie Choate

Observer staff

After three years of work, the restoration of St. George’s Little Red Schoolhouse is nearly complete.

A grand opening is set for Sunday, June 28 from 2 to 4 p.m. Light refreshments will be served.

 “Senator Jean Ankeney of St. George would be pleased if she were alive as it was her dream that the Little Red Schoolhouse be saved,” said Ginger Isham, a member of the St. George Historic and Conservation Trust’s Board of Directors. “It is on its way to nearly being finished, but we still need funds to complete the work, especially outside.”

Restoring the schoolhouse has been an ongoing community effort.

In 2012, it was moved from Vermont Route 2A to a spot near the St. George town offices. Donations from residents and community members, the town of St. George, Ben Cohen and Jerry Greenfield, Simon’s Convenience Stores, the Patrick Foundation, Lois McClure and Mortimer Kaufman, who owns the St. George Villa, have totaled $116,000.

Isham said the group still needs to raise $30,000 to finish insulating, install storm windows, purchase signs and finish landscaping, as well as set money aside for monthly maintenance and electricity costs.

Last weekend, volunteers met to paint, clean floors, move old-fashioned school desks and a teacher’s desk in, hang hooks and arrange books on a bookshelf built by Eagle Scout Jacob Parker—preparing the one-room schoolhouse to take visitors back to the 19th century.

The blackboard features a list of school rules from 1872, including one instructing children to wash their hands, face and feet if they are bare at the end of class. The rules for teachers were stricter. Men were given “one evening each week for courting purposes, or two evenings a week if they go to church regularly.” Those who frequent pool or public halls or were shaved in a barber shop gave “good reason to suspect his worth, intention, integrity and honesty.” Female teachers who married or engaged in “unseemly conduct” were dismissed.

The one-room schoolhouse was built in 1852 and was attended by St. George children until 1965.

Organizers hope to hold library programs in the summer, along with a farmers’ market, organization meetings and other events, including St. George’s Town Meeting.

“St. George has held town meetings at CVU and now (residents) can meet in their own town,” Isham said.

For more information, contact Ginger Isham at 878-4875 or visit www.stgeorgevtschoolhouse.org.

Spring water recalled

Observer staff report

Hannaford and Shaws supermarkets are recalling some brands of bottled water after evidence of E. Coli was found at the water source.

Niagara Bottling issued a recall for spring water products produced from its Pennsylvania manufacturing facilities between June 10 and June 18. 

The “best by” codes on outer-wrap shrink-film or on the bottle for the affected cases would be between Dec. 8 and 16, 2016 and the product codes begin with the letter F or A. 

Brands of spring water include Acadia,
Acme, Big Y,
Best Yet, 7-11,
Niagara,
Nature’s Place, Pricerite, Superchill,
Morning Fresh, Shaw’s, Shoprite, Western Beef Blue and Wegmans. 

Consumers are being warned to discard the water or boil it for a full minute. Customers who purchased the water at Hannaford or Shaw’s stores can return the products for a full refund. 

There have been no reports of illness related to the water, according to Niagara. The company is no longer using that water source, since workers there did not notify it in a timely manner, according to Niagara’s public notice. 

Marijuana laws: fed vs. local

Regulations create conflict for DRB members

By Adam White

Observer correspondent

Marijuana legalization has been a divisive topic nationwide for decades. But as the issue reaches an important juncture in Williston, the lines being drawn have surprisingly little to do with pro and con.

A medical marijuana dispensary proposed for 4540 Williston Road is on the verge of possibly being granted a discretionary permit by the Development Review Board, yet public backlash has been virtually nonexistent. Instead, conflicts of interest for two board members—hinging on discrepancies between federal and state regulations governing the drug—have delayed the next step of the project.

DRB members Brian Jennings and John Bendzunas, both employees of the federal government have recused themselves from voting on the dispensary project due to federal marijuana regulations. Without them, the granting of a permit would require positive votes from four of the remaining five members, a majority of the entire board, not just those present for the vote.

A public hearing on the project was scheduled for Tuesday night’s DRB meeting, but was postponed until July 14. Chairman Scott Rieley was absent from Tuesday’s meeting, meaning the board would have only had four members to vote on the project—even with Planning Commission member Michael Alvanos filling in—due to Bendzunas and Jennings recusing themselves.

That would constitute a quorum, but require all four votes in the affirmative in order for the permit to be granted. Senior Planner Matt Boulanger said that when told of the situation, the applicant requested that the hearing be delayed.

“We informed them that this might not be the best night for this hearing, and they agreed,” Boulanger said.

Bendzunas is a Supervising U.S. Probation Officer, and said he has been employed by United States Probation—a federal agency—for 15 years.

“I have a professional conflict with the application as an employee of the Federal Judiciary,” wrote Bendzunas in an email. “While the State of Vermont permits marijuana to be used to treat certain medical conditions, Federal law classifies marijuana as a Schedule I controlled substance.

“In light of the tension between state and federal laws, I will be recusing myself from the application.”

Jennings works for the Department of Homeland Security, with close to 30 years of federal employment on his resume. He said it was made clear to him and his colleagues that Vermont’s stance on the drug would not supersede or in any way change the one held at a federal level.

“Right after states started legalizing marijuana, we started getting notifications that it is still against the (federal) law,” Jennings said.

Jennings said that regardless of his personal feelings on the issue, he chose to recuse himself because his voting record on it could be end up being a factor in background checks for security clearances and other official purposes.

“I thought it was best to steer clear of it,” he said.

Town planner Ken Belliveau said employment issues are a common reason for recusal.

“This is a little more atypical, because the majority of the time board members will recuse themselves from a situation in which the outcome could potentially be of benefit to their employer,” Belliveau said. “But in this case, the assumed risk is that it could jeopardize their employment.”

When asked if he anticipated the federal government aligning itself more with individual states when it comes to marijuana legislation, Jennings drew a parallel with another current issue.

“It’s likely that it will be like gay marriage,” he said. “Certain states will take the lead on it, and maybe in time the federal laws will change.”

While the board members dealt with their own conflicts on the issue, public reaction to the proposed dispensary remained nonexistent. Despite the hearing having been originally scheduled for Tuesday’s meeting, everyone in attendance was there for other business rather than the discussion of the marijuana topic.

Belliveau called the lack of public input on the issue so far “surprising.”

“We have had no one from the public reach out to us directly on this,” he said. “What that tells me is that this is not a controversial issue in this part of the world.”

Belliveau did speculate that the dispensary’s proposed location in Williston’s Industrial Zoning District West may be a factor in the silence surrounding its movement through the early stages of the development process.

“In my experience, what tends to generate the most reaction from the public is when something is proposed in their backyard,” he said. “Nobody lives next door to where this is being proposed.”

Pipeline hangs on board’s decision

By Erin Mansfield

For Vermont Digger

After two days of testimony, the Public Service Board is re-evaluating a December 2013 decision to grant Vermont Gas a permit for Phase 1 of the Addison Rutland Natural Gas Project. The pipeline would run from Colchester to Middlebury and serve about 3,000 customers.

The board has the power to halt the pipeline construction. At issue is the escalating cost of the pipeline, which has increased from $86.6 million to $153.6 million.

That increase prompted the Public Service Board to take another look at the company’s certificate of public good. From here, the quasi-judicial Public Service Board can issue an order to keep the project going, or make the company re-argue for its state permit. In October, the board went through an identical series of hearings but ultimately decided the project was still a benefit to the public. This week, they appeared to be more skeptical.

Vermont Gas put its top executives on the witness stand during the first day of hearings. On Tuesday, public advocates brought in witnesses who criticized both the pipeline extension project and the calculations that the company has used to justify the efficacy of the pipeline.

For the full story, visit: vtdigger.org