State and local officials involved with the Special Olympics were concerned about possible cuts to the program’s federal funding, however, the Trump administration is backing off that proposal.
“I’ve overridden my people for funding the Special Olympics,” President Donald Trump told reporters at the White House on Thursday, according to The Associated Press.
His administration’s education budget proposal would have cut $17.6 million from the Special Olympics — about 10 percent of the group’s funding, the AP reports.
Missy Siner Shea, president and CEO of Special Olympics Vermont, said in an interview Thursday, before Trump’s announcement, that the federal cuts would have affected the Unified Champion Schools program, which pairs athletes with and without intellectual disabilities. For Special Olympics Vermont, that’s a matter of $120,000 — about 10 percent of the organization’s funding.
“We have been receiving some calls from athletes and their families, because, believe it or not, the press can be a little bit sensationalized sometimes in the way they present things,” she said. “This is the third year in a row the Department of Education has proposed a budget that cuts $17.6 million of Special Olympics funding for our Unified Champion Schools program.”
She said Rutland High School is considered a “banner school” for its support of Unified Sports. Vermont has 74 schools involved with the Special Olympics Unified Champion Schools program, and while the number of people involved with the program is hard to pin down, it’s open to around 61,000.
“That’s the population as to whom it’s available,” she said.
A cut such as the one the Trump administration was proposing would force Special Olympics Vermont to “make some very difficult choices,” Shea said. Vermonters — businesses and private individuals — are quite supportive of Special Olympics, donating their time and money to make events happen. Shea said the organization is grateful to those who support it.
Mike Norman, athletic and activities director at Rutland High School, said Thursday, before the AP report, that the Special Olympics Unified Champion program is a big part of the school’s sports program, and that it’s “one of the best things we take part in.”
“It’s unbelievable people are even considering making the cut,” he said.
The Associated Press reported that the proposed cut drew a great deal of criticism.
One critic was the vice chairman of the Senate Appropriations Committee, Sen. Patrick Leahy, D-Vt.
“I’ve long been inspired by the Special Olympics athletes that I meet in Vermont,” said Leahy in a statement released Wednesday. “Their achievements go far beyond the medals that they win and have immense positive impacts on our schools, in our homes and in our communities.”
He said the committee needs to send a “strong message” to Education Secretary Betsy DeVos on the value of the program.
The AP reported that DeVos said she wasn’t personally involved with the proposal to eliminate federal Special Olympics funding, but defended it while looking to cut $7 billion from the budget.
Harry Rehm’s family hopes to finally bring him home.
Rehm grew up outside Whitehall, New York, and married Sophie Dziubek of the West Rutland Dziubeks before he was shot down in the Korean War. His nieces and nephews are campaigning to get the government to attempt to identify his remains so they can finally bury them next to his widow, who died in 1969 and rests beneath a two-headed gravestone with a half left blank for her missing husband.
“She’s still there waiting for him,” nephew Stanley Dziubek, of West Rutland, said Thursday.
Dziubek said he does not remember his uncle.
“I probably met him between 2 and 3 years old,” he said. “I was a little too young for anything to stay.”
Dziubek said he grew up knowing his Aunt Sophie, but there were no family stories about his late Uncle Harry.
“It wasn’t a very talked-about thing,” he said. “Even when I got older, they didn’t talk about it. I guess it hurt too much.”
Dziubek said he does know that Rehm served in World War II and then was drafted back into the service during the Korean War.
“They called him back to train bombardiers in Korea,” he said. “That’s what he was doing when he was shot down — training a new bombardier, extra man on the plane.”
The B-29 bomber Rehms was on was shot down Dec. 30, 1952. He was declared missing in action the following day.
In 1954, the family got a letter from the government declaring Rehm dead, but then the wife of another man who was on the plane contacted them. Dziubek said a Lt. Wilcox, who was part of the same crew, claimed Rehm had survived the aerial battle and they conversed while on a truck between POW facilities. Wilcox was freed in a prisoner exchange at the end of the war, Dziubek said, but the North Korean government had no record of Rehm.
Dziubek said he had his uncle’s Purple Heart, which was presented to his aunt, and wanted to inter it to keep it from winding up sold as curio someday. He said interring it with Rehm’s remains seemed like the best option — if only the family could find them.
John Zimmerlee, executive director of the Korean War POW/MIA network, said Rehm could be among several hundred sets of still unidentified remains held by the U.S. Government.
“The war ended in July 1953,” Zimmerlee said — noting that while the fighting ended, the war never officially ended. “We weren’t able to go to North Korea and recover remains. The Chinese and North Koreans agreed to collect whatever remains they could find and ship them to us.”
Zimmerlee said 4,000 sets of remains were shipped. Not all were identified, he said, and some were identified inaccurately. The U.S. did its own tests to identify remains.
“They got down to about 800,” he said. “The government was in a hurry to finish up the war and get everyone to stop talking about it.”
The remainder were buried as unknown soldiers, though the government maintained a forensic file on each one. He said roughly half came from POW camps and half came from isolated or temporary graves. In many cases, Zimmerlee said, the government has been able to narrow down who the remains belonged to by a process of elimination.
Government investigators started by looking for identifying items such as dog tags. Bone structure allowed them to estimate height, age and range. Some were identified as airmen because they were found among aircraft wreckage. Some were narrowed down by uniform type and the units active in the area the remains were found.
“Those are really guessing games,” he said.
In the case of Rehm, Zimmerlee said, the last known radio contact with his plane provides an indication of where it went down, and the unidentified remains include one set that was found within 10 miles of that site. He said that is far from conclusive, though — several other planes were shot down within a 10-mile radius of that spot.
And Rehm couldn’t have died in the crash if he conversed with Wilcox as a POW. Zimmerlee said POW records pose their own difficulty. Chinese military officials recorded the names of POWs, he said, by transliterating them phonetically into Chinese. Translating those back into English, he said, is an ongoing challenge. On top of that, Zimmerlee said, there is reason to believe more than 1,000 Korean War MIAs were secretly kept as prisoners by North Korea and China.
Zimmerlee said the government decided to exhume and conduct DNA testing on the remains several years ago, but the process is moving slowly. He said he hopes petitions like the one the Dziubeks are circulating asking to make Rehms a priority for testing will speed the process along.
“It should be a fairly quick and easy process,” he said.
Significant changes are coming to the state and federal incentive programs designed to spur solar development, and according to some, 2019 may be the “last best year” to start a net metering project.
That’s according to Phil Allen, owner of Same Sun of Vermont in Rutland City. That’s not to say solar net-metering projects will cease to be attractive, he said.
Allen recently pitched to Rutland Town a proposal to build a 150-kw to 500-kw array that would take advantage of the state’s net-metering program.
“We don’t want people to think that if they don’t go solar this year, they’ve just missed out,” he said. “It would also be bad for people, because solar companies in the state of Vermont are going to be so busy this year that a lot of people who want to go solar this year aren’t going to be able to when they figure this out, so I want to make sure everybody knows solar in the future is a good thing.”
Even so, what Green Mountain Power pays owners of net-metered solar projects for the energy they produce has been on the downswing. According to the “2018 Biennial Update of the Net-Metering Program Final Order” posted on the Department of Public Service website, the price the state’s largest utility pays users per kilowatt hour will drop another cent, to 2 cents per kilowatt hour, on July 1.
Allen said when the program began, the rate, which is ultimately approved by the Public Utility Commission, was 6 cents.
“We detect a pattern,” Allen said. “Six, five, four, three, two, you can figure out what comes next: It’s either one or zero.”
There’s also a 30 percent federal tax credit set to begin fading out after this year, Allen said.
“We’ve seen incentives for solar go down every year, and we actually support that,” said James Moore, co-president and founder of SunCommon, a solar company based in Waterbury.
Moore said control over the pace of solar growth has always been important. Larger projects that don’t apply for permits before June 30 will lose 15 percent of their value, while smaller projects will lose somewhere between 5 and 7 percent.
“Those are definitely significant steps down,” he said.
However, it might not be much of a deterrent to businesses or homeowners wanting to build a net-metered project. Moore said the cost of the installations has also decreased, making the projects attractive to those looking to cut their energy costs. Investors looking to build and sell an installation, however, might not be as interested going forward.
“The thing is, even though incentives have been going away, it hasn’t really mattered because the price has gone down. Capitalism worked,” Allen said. “But it’s hard to imagine solar becoming cheaper. The price of the modules and what they do is so inexpensive now, and labor isn’t going down, nothing else is going down, so we feel the price is now at the bottom.”
He said some of the best solar modules one can buy cost about as much as a screen door at Walmart.
“We have to look at the big picture,” said Vermont House Rep. Laura Sibilia, I-Dover, vice-chairwoman of the House Committee on Energy and Technology, on Tuesday. “We certainly have made progress on our renewable energy goals.”
Vermont, she said, needs to take a break from incentivizing solar projects and assess what needs to be done. She said electric utilities have expressed concern that spending too much on incentives will increase costs for the rate payers not using them. She said there’s been talk in Montpelier about possibly putting a cap on 500-kw projects, with an exemption for schools.
Green Mountain Power expects to see solar continue to grow in Vermont, GMP spokeswoman Kristin Kelley said.
“We have seen tremendous growth in solar in our territory, and we continue to see more applications coming in for interconnection,” she said.
Kelley said the company is favorable to solar projects, as they tend to provide more power during peak usage hours, that generally being the middle of the day during summer when it’s hot out.
There have been some adjustments to how the company pays owners of net-metered projects.
“A couple of years ago, the Public Utilities Commission ruled that certain fees such as the customer charge, which every customer pays, cannot be paid with net metering credits, but you are allowed to use the net metering credits to offset 100 percent of your electricity usage,” said Kelley in a Thursday email.
Not all feel lowering the incentives is a good thing.
David Blittersdorf, founder and CEO of Williston-based AllEarth Renewables said his company stopped working on projects in the 150kw to 500kw range several years ago because of changes to both net-metering rules and where arrays could be built.
“You can’t put solar in the same places you could in the past,” he said, adding Vermont was once a leader in renewable energy but has since fallen behind in solar and wind, the latter which his company develops.
“The perception is that everything is fine now, and it isn’t,” he said, referring to renewable energy development as a way to halt or slow climate change.
Blittersdorf said he fears that fewer incentives, both state and federal, will cool the solar market.
“The only reason a person wouldn’t go solar in Vermont right now is if they just didn’t have a viable site or if they just don’t know about it, because it’s so much smarter than paying your electric bill, and, of course, it’s a very important thing to do environmentally,” Allen said. “But next year, the incentives are going to be less, and I don’t think the price is going to go down. It’s still going to be better than paying your electric bill, but I do think we’re going to look back at 2019 in our market as the last, best year.”
RUTLAND — A Vermont State Police station commander in Rutland, who was placed on temporary paid leave last October, has been permanently removed from his post, demoted and given a new job.
Former Lt. Michael “Stu” Studin, who oversaw the Rutland County barracks for two years, was lowered to detective sergeant and is now assigned to the detective bureau for the Royalton barracks, State Police spokesman Adam Silverman confirmed Thursday.
The changes were effective last week but were never announced publicly by State Police.
Lt. Jeff Danoski, who was the station commander at the New Haven barracks, has been Studin’s replacement in Rutland for five months while he was on paid leave. Sgt. Matt Daley from the New Haven barracks has filled in for Danoski in Addison County.
Silverman said he expects the department will fill those two posts in the coming days.
Studin, who lives in Chester, has declined comment throughout the case. Efforts to reach him by phone and text messages were unsuccessful Thursday.
He found himself placed on paid leave Oct. 29, 2018, as part of an Internal Affairs Office investigation into an incident reported in Bennington County the day before, officials said.
An off-duty rookie trooper from the Rutland barracks was discovered passed out at the wheel of his private car behind Cumberland Farms on Northside Drive in Bennington about 6:30 a.m. Oct. 28, 2018, officials said.
State police also placed Troopers Thomas Stange and Benjamin Irwin, both assigned to the Shaftsbury barracks, on paid leave Oct. 29. They were at the Bennington store for another incident and were asked by a store manager to check on the unresponsive off-duty trooper, Spencer Foucher.
Stange and Irwin remained on paid leave for 17 weeks and eventually returned to work Feb. 25. State Police said it hired Stange on July 16, 2012, and Irwin on July 10, 2017.
Foucher resigned Oct. 29, one day after the incident at the store. Foucher, who grew up in Bennington, joined the State Police Jan. 16, 2018.
It remains unclear if Studin’s case is directly or indirectly connected to the Foucher/Irwin/Stange investigation.
All investigations by the VSP Internal Affairs division are withheld from normal public review under a special Vermont law.
Bennington County State’s Attorney Erica Marthage said based on the report provided by State Police, there was not enough evidence to file any criminal charge. She said the two troopers never requested a breath test from their colleague.
The Vermont Department of Public Safety, which oversees State Police, initially denied a public records request late last year seeking information about the four troopers. After a request for reconsideration, VSP opted to provide some material.
Studin joined VSP on July 14, 2003. He later became a senior trooper and was promoted to patrol sergeant at the Rockingham barracks March 24, 2013. He was promoted to lieutenant and named station commander in Rutland County on Sept. 4, 2016.
By coincidence, Studin’s administrative leave began exactly 10 years to the day from another high profile discipline case involving him.
Studin made a splash Oct. 29, 2008, when he drove a super-charged unmarked State Police cruiser at 133 miles per hour in a 65-mph zone on Interstate 91 in Rockingham and passed then-Public Safety commissioner Thomas Tremblay and his wife in their private vehicle.
Instead of charging Studin in criminal court, then-Vermont attorney general William Sorrell’s office issued Studin a civil speeding ticket. Studin was eventually assessed $1,036 in fines and fees, records show. The speed was determined by the in-cruiser video for the 2008 Dodge Charger normally reserved for the Southern Traffic Safety Unit.
Studin, who was assigned to the Southern Vermont Drug Task Force at the time, was transferred back into the uniform division Jan. 4, 2009, and faced other internal discipline, the department and union members said at the time.
“I couldn’t believe how readily available pharmaceutical drugs were.”
New York social worker Justin Sangeorge, who became addicted to OxyContin when after a dental procedure, he received a prescription for the opioid painkiller. — B8
Every year Killington Elementary School 4th-graders head for the sugar bush to learn first-hand how to harvest and boil down Vermont’s favorite sweetener. A2
With John Churchman, featuring the new Sweet Pea & Friends book, “The Easter Surprise!” 11:30 a.m.-12:30 p.m. Phoenix Books Rutland, 2 Center St., Suite 1, Rutland, 855-8078.