Sarah Fortier said she has had enough of Vermont winters.
Fortier, who has been principal of Mount St. Joseph Academy since 2014 and also of Christ the King School for the last two years, has announced that her last day on those jobs will be July 16. She departs to become principal of St. John Vianney Catholic School in Florida.
“I always wanted to live in Florida,” she said. “I came back to Vermont because my husband’s job was here and I was starting out. I always joked with him about moving to Florida. This opportunity arose and it just made sense.”
The opportunity arose suddenly — Fortier said she interviewed and was hired over the last two and a half weeks. She said her parents frequently vacation at St. Pete Beach, where the school is located, so she was familiar with the area.
“A lot of it had to do with the weather,” she said. “I love being warm.”
A graduate of MSJ’s class of 1999, Fortier said it was hard for her to leave and stressed that her departure has nothing to do with the schools.
“The schools are doing great,” she said. “I love MSJ and Christ the King a lot and wish them both the best. All the kids are wonderful, two great staffs.”
While MSJ has struggled with enrollment levels in recent years, the school grew from 65 students to 93 in her tenure. Christ the King had 142 students when it was added to her duties and now has 215, she said. Fortier said she could only claim a small amount of the credit.
“I’ve been at the helm, but I had a great support system and staff,” she said.
Mary Lou Harvey, chairwoman of the MSJ school board, said the vice principal at each school would take over in the short-term, and that how Fortier is replaced would ultimately be the decision of the diocese.
“They’re working on what would happen in the immediate future and the future,” she said. “We are certainly sorry to see Sarah go. She was energetic and cemented that synergy between Christ the King and MSJ.”
POULTNEY — Seven people with massive signs stood in downtown Poultney waving happily to passers-by and shouting loudly into the air.
“No on two!” they said.
“It’s a protective thing as far as I’m concerned,” said Chuck Colvin as he waved from his corner on Main Street beside Pamela Burlingame. “I think Dollar General would take away from some of the mom and pop stores on Main Street … (and) I think any money that goes into Dollar General will go out 24 hours later.”
Burlingame said the general opinion around town was that Len Knappmiller, owner of Poultney Properties LLC, would pursue bringing a Dollar General into town if Article 2 passes in Tuesday’s special election.
“This going through would be selling ourselves short,” Burlingame said. “I know people are really scared that this town is just going to die with the college leaving and think that any business is a good thing … (but) Dollar General is a detractor (from good business) for young families like myself…”
Tuesday’s vote will be by Australian ballot from 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. at the Poultney Fire Department.
In the Poultney High School library Monday, residents gathered for an informational meeting with members of the Planning Commission.
“We’re going to be very civil tonight,” Select Board Chairman Jeffrey King said. “Or you will be asked to leave.”
Planning Commission Chairwoman Jamie Lee thoroughly explained each of the articles, translating the legal language and the history of the applications to have the zoning altered. She emphasized that a case regarding the proposed Dollar General remains active in environmental court.
Article 2, suggested in a petition from David Carpenter, of the Rutland firm Facey Goss & McPhee PC, legal counsel of Knappmiller, asks residents to confirm the addition of “Mixed Commercial/Light Industrial” use into Article III of the town’s zoning bylaws, and to designate those uses as permitted uses within the Village Industrial Zoning District.
The petition came after the Development Review Board denied the proposed transformation of a shop at 61 Beaman St. into a retail location for a new Dollar General a year ago.
“Our town plan very specifically requires some oversight of those applications,” Lee said. “For noise, glare … that sort of thing … it means everyone comes to the table to discuss it.”
No site plan review and fear for the sidewalks, emergency circulation and snow removal were just several factors that made the Planning Commission question the application, and in addition to the nine other parcels that would be affected by rezoning the district.
“In all places village commercial or village industrial … there is always site plan review,” Lee said. “We recommended none of these changes be made.”
Town attorney Neil Vreeland alleged that Knappmiller had been anything but a nice neighbor, claiming that Knappmiller blocked local people from property normally open to them for town-wide celebrations, and abuses town officials and harasses Vreeland and his wife to get his way.
“(Mr. Knappmiller) wants to remove all zoning review over the property, put anything commercial that he wants,” Vreeland said. “Have no hearing from the DRB, have no input from the town, have no input from the neighbors, anything goes.”
The first ballot item, submitted in a petition from the “undersigned registered voters of the Town of Poultney” and signed by 264 residents, asks residents whether they would be in favor of revising Article III: The Table of Uses for the Industrial Zone, to require conditional use approval as well as site plan approval, among other conditions.
“I am urging you to vote tomorrow to vote ‘yes’ on Article 1 to preserve zoning on this property,” Vreeland said. “To tighten up the zoning so that the neighbors and the town has some input on it, and it can be reasonably used.”
Carpenter refused to comment on whether Knappmiller had signed a contract with Dollar General.
“What you have at this particular location is a set of buildings that can be used,” Carpenter said. “These buildings have sat vacant, and Mr. Knappmiller wanted to develop them … the chances of an industrial use arriving in Poultney, I think we can all agree, are pretty small.”
Rather, Carpenter said Knappmiller wanted the authority to rest with Town Manager Paul Donaldson and the voters of the town, rather than solely relying on the town. He said the newly-zoned retail use shouldn’t be seen as a Dollar General, but rather as just retail in general.
C.B. Hall asked where Knappmiller was, and why he didn’t seem interested in collaborating with the voters of the town who continued to attend meetings and work with his lawyer, but never with him.
Planning Commissioner Mark Teeter also demanded to hear from Knappmiller.
Wilda White, another resident, questioned why Knappmiller bought the parcel of industrial-zoned land for the price of industrial zoned land, but then subsequently attempted to have the zoning changed.
“If it meets the requirement, he doesn’t really have the discretion to say ‘no,’” White said of Donaldson’s perceived ability to refuse Knappmiller should the zoning be changed, as Knappmiller’s petition asked. “This affects a lot of parcels.”
Traditionally, Lee said there would have to be environmental oversight, letters to the Rutland Regional Planning Commission and letters to the surrounding towns.
“This is to circumvent all of those (boards that are) meant to protect our environment,” White said.
CLARENDON — Part of Gorge Road will be closed for the foreseeable future following a severe washout that happened after a June 20 rainstorm. Road Commissioner Cash Ruane said the six people living along the road are able to access Route 7, but about two-thirds of the road is closed to traffic and blocked off by cement barriers. The washed-out portion is about 40 feet long, and two and a half feet wide. Ruane said the road may be undermined to a greater extent than it looks from the surface. Ruane said it’s believed the road was impacted by runoff from the airport. He said there’s a section of the airport where three culverts, spaced about 15 feet apart, overloaded the town’s drainage system.
He said he’s been in contact with airport officials as well as others from the Agency of Transportation (AOT) regarding a fix. Ruane said it’s been estimated the cost to fix the road will be around $20,000. Large rocks need to be placed to build up the foundation.
“It’s not a safe situation to open the road,” he said.
Select Board Chairman Mike Klopchin said the airport’s drainage hadn’t been an issue before, but recently the AOT has removed some trees from the site, which led to more runoff. Klopchin said the AOT installed a culvert to handle the runoff, but it was too small.
He said he believes state and federal dollars are available for the town to cover the damage.
At Main Street Park on Friday, organizers are hoping to share words, prayers and calls to action to oppose the detention of migrant children and families at the border as a part of the international vigil Lights for Liberty.
“There doesn’t look like an end in sight,” Rutland resident and Castleton Indivisible co-founder Heather Stevenson said of the migrant detentions by the border. “We wanted to do something. ... We heard of some events being done locally, we wanted to bring attention to what’s happening to our community.”
Citizens from eight cities in Vermont are joining people around the world in opposition to the camps where immigrants on the southern border are being held, many separated from their families at very young ages, according to media reports.
And two weeks ago, Castleton Indivisible decided Rutland would host a candlelight vigil of its own.
“We need to be part of that national dialogue, and we need to show that Rutland County cares,” Stevenson said. “For our brothers and sisters.”
Members say they’re also celebrating diversity and what it brings to a community, including economic enrichment, positive connection and general world outlook. Friday’s event starts at 7 p.m.
“It’s really important to what’s happening globally and the type of damage we’re causing right now,” said Tabitha Pohl-Moore, Vermont director of the NAACP. “We really are a part of the problem.
“Vermonters need to be just as aware, just as involved and just as active in seeking justice for migrants in particular.”
Stevenson said connections to Migrant Justice and RAICES (The Refugee and Immigration Center for Education and Legal Services), a 501c3 nonprofit with 130 attorneys, legal assistants and support staff dedicated to providing legal assistance and representation to migrant communities both in Texas and after they leave the state, will be provided so attendees can leave with direct instructions as to how they can help.
Fifty-one thousand cases were closed in 2017 with no cost to their clients, according to the RAICES website.
Many times, false information regarding refugees leads to false assumptions, accusations and stigmas, event organizers say.
“They’re not eligible for benefits,” Stevenson said of the myths surrounding undocumented immigrants seeking asylum. “They play a crucial role in our agriculture ... We will be handing out fact sheets with that information, tips on how to talk to friends and family about this.”
Castleton Indivisible was started in 2017. Co-founders Mary Droege and Stevenson have hosted a series of socio-political events previously in Rutland, including a “Families Belong Together” march last year when family separations became a subject of nationwide controversy, and a vigil in 2017 to honor the victims of the Charlottesville riots, Droege said.
“It’s important in Vermont because we’re 98% white, and a lot of the immigrants are people of color,” Stevenson said of the vigil. “It’s important for white Vermonters to know that we were originally immigrants and we need to recognize their humanity. We have a history of dehumanizing them and thinking of them as ‘other’ ... (when) Vermont’s economy and well being depends on bringing in more people.”
“I think its abhorrent what’s happening down at the border, with children being held in such despicable conditions,” Droege said. “I’m surprised that anyone considers that okay.”
Spiritual leaders from around the county have been invited, and the event is open and free to anyone hoping to join in a peaceful, flashlight-lit evening ceremony, Droege said.
The “Lights for Liberty” vigil is hosted by a multitude of international rights organizations, including the New Sanctuary Coalition, the Border Network for Human Rights, the Hope Border Institute, WeCount and Witness Homestead.
Sponsors of the event number over 130, including the Washington Ethical Society, United Church of Christ, Border Angels and the Dolores Huerta Foundation, according to the event website.
“It’s something our government is doing that we disagree with,” Droege said. “I would hope not holding children in those conditions would speak across political lines. It’s fundamental to morality.”
Pohl-Moore said Vermonters remain largely insulated from the issues of race and prejudice more common in other, more urban communities, and have a responsibility to educate themselves as to what other human beings remained capable of.
“It’s directly linked to society’s inability to see the humanity, to see the injustice, and to see the pain is connected to racism and their insensitivity to the pain of people who do not look like them,” Pohl-Moore said. “We don’t get to celebrate the Fourth of July and freedom when we’re putting people in cages. Nobody should be in a cage.”
Start ‘em up
The 40th annual RAVE Car Club car show will take place this weekend at the Vermont State Fairgrounds in Rutland. A3
Where Bridges Country Store used to be on Route 4 in Mendon now sits Depalo Coffee, a roastery and store with roots that sprouted in Nicaragua. A3
The United States women took their second consecutive and fourth ever World Cup trophy by defeating the Netherlands on Sunday. B1
on the Farm
Silas McPrior performs. A social gathering for friends and neighbors. Share dinner, music and games. Bring a blanket and a picnic dinner or visit our food vendors. $5 per family suggested donation, 6-8 p.m. Pittsford Village Farm, 42 Elm Street, Pittsford, firstname.lastname@example.org.