With the end of construction on one school and the beginning of construction on another, progress on work at Haystack and the Deerfield Valley Airport, and continued work toward economic development, the second half of 2013 was pretty positive for most people in the valley. That upbeat feeling was capped by the opening of Dot’s Restaurant at the end of the year. Many residents felt the return of Dot’s marked a turning point in the valley’s recovery from Tropical Storm Irene.
In Whitingham, construction began on what would become the Twin Valley Middle/High School. The start was almost a year later than board members had initially hoped, thanks to an Act 250 permit snafu. Twin Valley Middle School continues to use the former elementary school wing, while construction crews work on new structures and renovations in unused portions of the building. Construction is slated to be finished in 2014.
After a long search for an interim superintendent, Windham Southwest Supervisory Union hired Richard McClements to the position.
The town of Wilmington sold 55 Haystack lots abutting the Deerfield Valley Airport to the Hermitage Inn Real Estate Holding Company. Hermitage Inn owner Jim Barnes expressed his intention to expand the airport, which he had purchased a few weeks earlier, and to merge some of the lots for the construction of single-family homes. Barnes also repaved the existing runway and began renovations on buildings at the airport.
The Wilmington Fund VT held a fundraiser with special guest Meryl Streep at the Hermitage Inn. The 115 guests paid between $1,000 and $5,000 per plate, raising money to help rebuild Wilmington Village. Streep, a friend of Wilmington Fund VT founders Tamara and Dan Kilmurray, posed for photos with guests and chatted with attendees. In an after-dinner chat hosted by Tamara Kilumurray, Streep recalled stopping for ice cream in Wilmington at Gene’s KreeMee when traveling between Vassar and Dartmouth to see a college boyfriend. Other guests included Rep. Peter Welch and Gov. Peter Shumlin.
Three Deerfield Valley residents were charged with sexual assault and lewd and lascivious conduct after a 14-year-old girl reported that she had been raped at the Wilmington apartment of one of the men. Affidavits filed by police indicate that the three men confirmed the general circumstances of the incident, but claimed that the girl had told them she was of legal age. Two of the men have entered guilty pleas and could avoid jail time in a deal that has yet to be finalized. A trial date has yet to be set for the third man.
Three years after a contentious public debate over the design of the pergola at River Bank Park, an inspection revealed that the structure’s tree trunk posts were rotting. According to the report, decay was found at nearly every connection of the post and beam as well as at the intersections of the posts and deck. Other posts showed extensive cracking. The report recommended replacing the posts as soon as possible. The town has applied a sealant to the posts to prevent further decay while a permanent solution is sought.
Windham County State’s Attorney Tracy Shriver dropped a charge of aggravated murder against John Grega. In 1995 Grega was convicted of the 1994 murder of his wife Christine Grega at a West Dover condominium. In July 2012, Grega was released after new DNA testing of evidence in the case indicated the presence of skin DNA from an unknown male in a swab that had been taken from Christine Grega’s body. After 17 years in prison, Grega’s conviction was vacated and he was released pending a new trial. Prosecutors still have the option to reinstate the charges, and Shriver has vowed to bring Grega’s killer to justice.
Gov. Peter Shumlin joined local representatives and town officials to commemorate the second anniversary of Tropical Storm Irene. Shumlin said it was a day to celebrate the resilience of Vermont communities. After speeches at Memorial Hall, Shumlin toured Dot’s Restaurant which, at the time, was still being renovated. At a booth across the street, Shumlin joined local residents enjoying a bowl of Dot’s chili served by Dot’s owners Patty and John Reagan and their employees.
Entergy announced that they would close Vermont Yankee Nuclear Power Plant in Vernon at the end of 2014. Although the plant had seen its share of controversy in Vermont, Entergy had recently received a 20-year renewal of their federal permits, and had won an appeal filed by the state of Vermont. Entergy cited the low price of electricity and the high cost of operation at the plant for their decision. Although the news may have delighted opponents of the plant, Southeastern Vermont Economic Strategies and Brattleboro Development and Credit Corporation said the decision would be a crushing blow to the local economy.
Also in August, Dover administrator Nona Monis resigned to start her own business as a virtual assistant, providing administrative help to small businesses via the Internet.
Elementary students from Wilmington and Whitingham attended their first day at their new school in Wilmington. Although most of the building was built around 1970, recent renovations and additions transformed the interior of the school. New individual classrooms with a central hall replaced the open classrooms of the former Deerfield Valley Elementary School, and each classroom had new technology, including SMART boards. The construction added a new cafeteria area and four new classrooms.
The Independent Television and Film Festival captivated the valley. Along with the 58 documentaries, comedies, and dramas available for screening, festival goers could also see the debut of “Triumph and Tragedy: A Civil War Anthology,” an 18-minute docudrama by Dover teacher Michael Degnon’s fifth-grade class. The screening tent was packed. Other local films at the festival included Marty Kasindorf’s story of the former Mountain Mills school house, now a lakeside camp that belongs to him and his wife Irma Hawkins; “Akt 2,” a Swedish-language film by a Newfane filmmaker; and “Forgotten Rails,” a railroad documentary series by Townshend filmmaker Tim Lawrence. Organizers and participants declared the festival a success, and the town signed on for another year of funding. In late November, the festival’s board of directors signed a deal with organizer Phil Gilpin to anchor the event in Dover until at least 2017.
Wilmington native Damon Redd lost much of his inventory and equipment when his business, Kind Design, was destroyed by flash flooding in Boulder, CO. Redd’s company designs high-quality American-made clothing. In the wake of Tropical Storm Irene just two years earlier, Redd helped raise money for his hometown of Wilmington.
What started as a plan to install a heating and air conditioning unit at Memorial Hall turned into a point of controversy after two abutting property owners filed an appeal of the Wilmington Development Review Board’s permit. The plan called for a 10’-by-30’deck at the back of the building. The appellants, who didn’t attend the DRB’s hearing on the plan, claimed that they hadn’t been properly warned of the matter. The abutters also raised issues of access to the building and whether the deck conformed to historic district guidelines. The court declined to hear the appeal, but in the meantime construction season came to a close and fall and winter events, including an annual charity concert, were canceled. The town has since sought to negotiate with the abutters.
Dover Police Chief Robert Edwards retired. Edwards had been a Dover Police officer for 37 years - since the age of 18 - and chief for 32 years. Edwards, who was known nationally for some of his initiatives, was a strong advocate of community policing. “You can’t do your job if you’re not connected to the community,” he said. “Law enforcement is not policing, law enforcement is only an element of policing. When I first started, I had an attitude of how I would treat people, and true leadership is getting everyone on board with a single idea and within the department we had the attitude to treat people well.” Dover Selectboard members appointed long-time police sergeant Randy Johnson to fill the position.
In October, Wilmington’s Development Review Board took a walk along the runway at the Deerfield Valley Airport during a site visit to get a firsthand look at the possible ramifications of a runway expansion. Hermitage Real Estate Holding planned to extend the 2,650-foot runway another 1,800 feet in phase one of their development master plan. Jet aircraft would be able to land at the airport after the runway expansion, and abutters expressed concern about noise. Hermitage representatives said they expected the frequency of traffic at the airport to remain within the currently permitted parameters. The permit was eventually issued with conditions.
Whitingham Selectboard members, steaming over several acts of vandalism at the town’s recreational site on Town Hill, offered a $1,000 reward for information leading to the arrest and prosecution of the perpetrators. In addition to damaging vital radio equipment and utility boxes at the site, vandals also removed shingles from the roof of a structure at the park to form an obscenity. Despite the bounty, no perpetrators have been charged for the vandalism, but the reward stands and selectboard members are still seeking justice.
Windham County Sheriff Keith Clark and Twin Valley School Board members discussed the role of a resource officer who would primarily work at Twin Valley Middle/High School. Board members and, during consolidation discussions the public, expressed concerns about the middle/high school’s location in a town without full-time police protection. Although a school resource officer would offer a level of security at the school, Clark said the officer’s role would be far greater than that of a security guard. He said the SRO would be a resource for anti-bullying and harassment, would help teach in classrooms, and would work with students who might be experiencing problems at home. Board members haven’t made a decision regarding the issue.
The Deerfield Valley News took a look at government surveillance in the state following the publication of a Vermont American Civil Liberties Union report that raised concerns about the issue. The report revealed that, under a federal law, those living within 100 miles of an international border are subject to increased surveillance by the Department of Homeland Security as well as local surrogates. According to the report, Vermonters are subject to data collection through face recognition technology, cell phone tracking, and automatic license plate readers (ALPRs). The data is processed and stored at a “fusion center” in Williston. A second story in the series focused on ALPRs, which are in use around the state. One of Wilmington’s police cruisers sports one of the devices, which automatically reads license plates, whether the cruiser is stationary or mobile, and can instantly check the information using the National Crime Information Center database. ALPRs can help police identify drivers with suspended licenses, find stolen cars and cars connected to wanted individuals, and even help find children who are the subject of an Amber Alert. But critics say the devices are intrusive. Equipped with global positioning systems, ALPRs can record where and when a plate has been read, and that information is retained in a Department of Public Safety database in Waterbury for 18 months. The VACLU said the information could be used to follow the movements of individuals, which in turn affects individual privacy. Nearly 50 of these systems are in use statewide.
Decorated plywood snowmen began appearing all over the valley. The snowmen were based on a pattern created by Dover residents Kathy and Jim Martin, and were part of this year’s Bright Lights celebration. Organizers plan to spread the snowmen around the valley even more liberally next year.
The MOOver held a “Feed the MOOver” food drive to help the Deerfield Valley Food Pantry make up the loss of donations when their biggest event, the annual holiday concert, was canceled. The MOOver parked one of their trademark cow buses in front of Shaw’s Supermarket, and challenged shoppers and local residents to fill the bus with donated items. The collection came at a critical time.
Supervisory union officials predicted a deficit of $150,000 in the current Twin Valley budget, thanks to a shortfall in anticipated revenue, most of which was in secondary tuition. Officials said there were 20 fewer tuition students than had been expected. At the same meeting, board members learned they would have to reduce spending next year, too, to avoid school tax rate increases of around 23 cents in both towns.
Southeastern Vermont Economic Development Strategies (SeVEDS) released their Comprehensive Economic Development Strategy, a regional economic development study and plan. SeVEDS said the document would put southern Vermont on the path to becoming a model for regional economic development. One of the plan’s several goals and objectives included a Wilmington Works plan to create a Wilmington downtown commercial redevelopment entity that would purchase vacant village buildings and renovate them.
At the end of the month, Dot’s Restaurant opened and the valley let out a collective cheer. After more than two years of work after a flood nearly destroyed the building, Patty and John Reagan attempted to open quietly on a Thursday morning, without any fanfare. But word spread like wildfire and local residents, eager to be among the first to eat at the completely renovated Wilmington landmark, quickly filled the place. The Reagans opened with many of the same staff members who had worked at Dot’s before the flood and, despite the changes to the building, it seemed like old times at the diner.