Bears continued to dominate local interest in July, following two bear attacks on house pets in Wilmington. Vermont Game Warden Richard Watkin and Vermont Fish and Wildlife Department black bear specialist Jaclyn Comeau held a public forum at Memorial Hall to discuss bear behavior and how local residents can minimize risk of contact with the animals. The discussion was well-attended.
In a related development, a second-home owner in Wilmington was charged with feeding bears at her White’s Road house. According to Watkin, Claudine Penson had been feeding bears for five years. He said he “pleaded” with her to stop feeding bears the previous year. When the behavior continued in 2017, he obtained a search warrant and collected evidence leading to the charges.
In August, Mount Snow began filling their 120-million-gallon West Lake snowmaking reservoir. Although the system includes an inflatable dam to draw water directly from Cold Brook, the initial gallonage was being pumped out of Snow Lake. The completion and filling of the reservoir marked a triumphant end to Mount Snow’s decades-long quest for more snowmaking water. The project was funded through the federal EB-5 investor visa program, under which foreign nationals can receive a permanent residency visa, or “green card,” for a $500,000 investment in an approved project in special “targeted employment areas” like rural Vermont.
In a related development, the federal government issued a notice of intent to close the state of Vermont’s EB-5 Regional Center, through which Mount Snow’s EB-5 was administered. The notice of closure was in response to a report after an investigation of fraud allegations connected to a project at Jay Peak funded through the EB-5 program. Although Mount Snow’s EB-5 was not under any scrutiny, state and local officials were concerned that the closure could impact Mount Snow’s EB-5, which includes construction at Carinthia that’s currently underway. Mount Snow already had an application pending to create their own EB-5 regional center.
Also in August, Twin Valley School Board members approved a request by elementary school occupational therapist Kami Golimbeski to bring Jovi, a therapy dog she was training, into the school. Golembeski told board members about her experience with Elory, her own “retired” therapy dog. She said the dog’s presence was immensely helpful with students who have intensive needs. “When I started bringing Elory in, I started seeing some kids who were nonverbal become verbal,” she said. “I saw kids with severe behavior challenges whose escalated behavior dropped. I’ve trained guide dogs for a long time and I’ve known the power of dogs, but it took me by surprise. It was truly beautiful.” In Jovi’s case, while he’s helping Golembeski and her students, they’ll also be helping him to develop social skills for his future work as a therapy dog.
On August 21, the eyes of the nation were turned skyward, as a rare total solar eclipse was visible across the United States. In the Deerfield Valley, dozens of residents gathered at the Southern Vermont Natural History Museum on Hogback Mountain. Festivities included gazing at the eclipse with special glasses, or watching projections of the eclipse through various contraptions and equipment.
In September, the Twin Valley School Board and Old School Enrichment Council began the long-anticipated work of transferring the former Twin Valley High School in Wilmington to OSEC for use as a community center. One meeting to approve several aspects of the transfer took action from four school boards – Wilmington, Whitingham, Twin Valley, and Twin Valley Union boards. The four boards share some of the same members. One of the actions at the meeting was to approve a three-year, $60,000-per-year lease between OSEC and Twin Valley for school use of the gymnasium and other facilities.
Just days after making their final payment on a delinquent tax repayment plan in Wilmington, the Hermitage Club missed their first payment for the current tax year. Wilmington Selectboard members expressed disappointment that the Hermitage Club continued to owe more than $300,000 in taxes on 25 properties, particularly after the town nearly ended 2017 with a deficit. The end-of-year deficit was only avoided when the Hermitage paid the July installment of their delinquency agreement a day early – on June 30, the last day of the 2017 fiscal year.
After voters approved the River Valleys merger between Dover and Wardsboro school districts, the new school district held their first meeting at Wardsboro Town Hall. Vermont Gov. Phil Scott gaveled the meeting to order.
Hermitage Club President James Barnes announced a plan to raise funding for vendor debt repayment, property tax payments, and operations through what he called a one-time membership dues adjustment. The adjustment essentially meant doubling existing membership fees for the year, which would raise $5.5 million. A large portion of the funds raised were earmarked to pay vendors and contractors who had filed dozens of liens on club properties, as well as delinquent taxes in Wilmington and Dover.
Members of the bitown marketing project announced that efforts to collect marketing information through their online economic dashboard failed thanks to a lack of participation from local businesses. In April, the chamber of commerce introduced the software to help track rooms, meals, and retail activity in the valley with the hope of getting insight into the effectiveness of the marketing campaign.
The intention with the software was to have business owners enter sales statistics weekly. Chamber officials said that, with scant business owner participation in the program, it was impossible to obtain data sufficient to drive marketing.
Attorneys for the town of Whitingham filed a lawsuit against the state in Windham Superior Court, seeking a declaration that Vermont’s education property tax and funding system is unconstitutional, and an injunction against its enforcement. Sadie Boyd, a Twin Valley student and daughter of former Twin Valley School Board Chair Seth Boyd, and Whitingham property tax payer Madeleine Klein were named as plaintiffs in the suit, along with the town of Whitingham.
In the suit, the plaintiffs argue that the state’s education funding law violates the Vermont Constitution and the 1997 Brigham decision in several ways, each connected to the system’s dependence on a per-pupil basis for collecting and distributing funds. In Whitingham, according to the suit, the system creates a situation in which Whitingham taxpayers pay a high price for a low quality education. The suit presented a disturbing picture of education at Twin Valley schools, with test scores below the statewide average in 11 out of 14 standardized tests, and dropout rates above the state average. According to the suit, few Twin Valley students took advanced placement tests, only one AP class is being taught in the current school year, and Twin Valley students have fewer options for elective courses than students at larger high schools. Attorneys argued that because the system distributes funding on a per-pupil basis, rather than the actual funding needed to educate Whitingham students, the state fails to ensure the “substantial equality of educational opportunity” required under the Brigham decision.
Deerfield Valley Rescue purchased a new building and closed on the sale of their old building. Rescue began fundraising for a new home after Southwestern Vermont Health Care announced their desire to expand their Deerfield Valley Campus on hospital-owned land occupied by Deerfield Valley Rescue’s building. Although Deerfield Valley Rescue continues to raise money for the new building, their initial payment came from several sources, including donations from Dover and Wilmington, the sale of their old building, and help from a charity founded by Dover resident Marc Schauber. His Emergency Medical Services Fund, a 501(c)(3), awarded Deerfield Valley Rescue a total of $95,000 in grants, including $45,000 for specialized equipment, and $50,000 for construction of a training and meeting space in their new building.
ABC’s “The Bachelor” was filming at locations around southern Vermont, including several in the Deerfield Valley for a winter-themed season of the show “The Bachelor Winter Games.” Local shooting locations included the Hermitage Club and Cask & Kiln in Wilmington, as well as locations in Manchester. The season is slated to premiere sometime in February.
The long saga of Buck, a dog who was involved in a vicious dog hearing in Dover in 2016, nearly came to an end in December. After learning that the dog was back in town, the Dover Selectboard took action to humanely dispose of the dog due to violations of an order pertaining to the dog and its owner. But Buck got another chance after the board’s hearing.
Buck, formerly Buckshot, first came to the board’s attention in 2016, after a complaint was brought by Lucy Imperatore, who said Buckshot bit her hand, causing damage. At the time, the board ordered the dog to be euthanized. However, after Buck’s attorney, James A. Valente, of Brattleboro, came to the board on behalf of the dog, the board agreed to an addendum to the order that allowed the dog to go to a trainer, Kevin Behan, of Newfane, who would determine if the dog could be rehabilitated and deemed adoptable. Per the order, James Green, Buckshot’s owner, was to be responsible for all associated costs, the dog was never to return to Green, and the dog was never to return to Dover. Over the course of the year, the board received several updates that indicated Green had not paid Behan for his services, and then learned that the dog was back in town. Before the board’s order could be enforced, however, Buck was reported to have been moved out of the state.