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Matthew Ames

Also known as “Hillbilly Sound Machine,” Matthew Ames employs some tech in his acoustic show that goes WAY beyond acoustic guitar as he performs pop, rock and today’s hits. 9:30 p.m.-1:30 a.m. Hide-A-Way Tavern, 42 Center St., Rutland, booking@hideawaytavernvt.com.


“I understand why the city probably didn’t do a lot of maintenance there. They didn’t have a lot of taxpayers out there at the time.”

Rutland Town Road Commissioner Byron Hathaway tells the Rutland City Board of Aldermen about the condition of Campbell Road and some of its history. — A3

Wild card

A State Department Foreign Service officer tells House impeachment investigators that former national security adviser John Bolton cautioned him about Rudy Giuliani, saying his involvement with Ukraine could complicate U.S. goals there. A6

Western wildfire

Firefighters throughout California continue to battle wildfires as hurricane-force winds rake the state. A10

Dunklee Pond Dam demolished

The Dunklee Pond Dam came down Wednesday.

A crew from Markowski Construction began disassembling the troubled structure ahead of expected rain that would have further imperiled it. William Lovett, Rutland City’s emergency management director, said the city would complete restoration work around the pond next year.

“It’s the culmination of the damage that was done in 2014,” Lovett said. “Irene was the beginning of the end with this. It filled it with so much sediment, every winter it froze to the bottom. In 2017, it flowed over the top repeatedly.”

Lovett said pulling out the stones one at a time and allowing water flow to adjust as each is removed avoids the sudden, massive shift of sediment that would happen in a sudden, catastrophic collapse.

The dam, across Route 7 from Rotary Park, was built in the 1880s to create a pond for an ice-harvesting business. Lovett said the records of the business date back to 1910.

The city and state have been looking at removing the dam since at least 2016, saying the effects of a potential failure would be compounded by the large amount of sediment built up over the years. Houses downstream from the dam were evacuated in early 2017 when erosion from a sudden rainstorm triggered fears it might fail. The Board of Aldermen declared it a public safety hazard last year.

After an Oct. 17 storm caused the dam to again overtop — and a retaining wall in its structure to shift 3½ inches — work on the dam became enough of a priority that aldermen voted last week to authorize a no-bid contract for emergency measures to avoid a collapse during the winter, with an eye toward complete removal in the spring.

“Three days later, another big chunk came out,” Lovett said. “They moved it up to the imminent collapse stage. ... We did a lot of planning last Friday and Monday and here we are. The plan is for next fall for the entire dam complex to be re-landscaped to restore the original stream bed.”

The city is hoping to seek a reimbursement for the work from a variety of funding sources — Lovett said they were even holding on to particular pieces of the dam in the hope of getting historical preservation money. Lovett said state officials had been indispensable in the process.

“This is something so foreign to us,” he said. “Thank God for those people who help us through this menagerie of stuff.”



Photo by Jon Olender  

Ghost dance

A group of ghosts graces the front yard of Eileen Shannon and Brad Kelley at 19 Meacham St. in Wallingford on Wednesday morning. They are 1 of 10 houses that are competing in the Wallingford House Decorating Contest. Ballots will be available at the library from 5-8 p.m. on Halloween night for residents to vote for their favorite house.

Senator wants stormwater rules delayed

Rutland County’s senior senator wants to delay the implementation of new stormwater regulations.

Sen. Brian Collamore, a Republican, said that new rules slated to take effect under Act 64 should be pushed back until their costs and funding sources for properties affected by them are better understood. The regulations are part of a multi-faceted effort to reduce runoff and the resulting phosphorus contamination down to the levels required by the federal Environmental Protection Agency.

The new rules — referred to as a “general permit” — require any property with at least 3 acres of impervious surface to either undertake projects to reduce runoff or pay one-time impact fees of $25,000 per acre — $50,000 per acre within certain watersheds, such as Moon Brook in Rutland. Funding for the required projects is expected to be available, but no one seems to know how or how much, and several local organizations are figuring out what they would have to spend to comply.

Padraic Monks, stormwater program manager for the Vermont Department of Environmental Conservation, said the department is taking comments on the draft rules through Nov. 8, after which they will be sent — along with any revisions — to the Agency of Natural Resources’ lawyers for review ahead of final approval by the commissioner.

“It’s effective immediately, but (property owners) have some time to apply, starting at 12 months and going out two years,” he said.

Collamore said he thinks they should get a little longer.

“I don’t think we want to repeal the statute, but I think we can go back in and allow a little more time for this to eventuate,” he said.

Local engineer Nicole Kesselring, who worked with Ocean State Job Lot in determining it would cost around $300,000 to bring that Route 7 property into compliance, said costs can vary widely depending on the nature of the property. A development with access to open land could undertake the relatively simple process of creating a retaining pond, she said, while others would have to dig up pavement and install underground stormwater retention systems.

The latter process on a 6-acre parking lot, she said, would definitely be “in the six-figure range.”

All of this supposes, Kesselring said, that the properties are able to undertake remediation projects at all. Some won’t, she said, and will have no choice but to pay the impact fees.

Kesselring said that just making funding available to property owners is not enough.

“It needs to be an easy program for people to navigate,” she said. “For someone who has to get through a program like this, and they’re trying to run a business and keep up with their day-to-day, this is going to be a big distraction for landowners.”

The state assembled a list of properties that would fall under the regulations. Eighty-nine were in Rutland County and 20 in the city. However, Rutland City Public Works Commissioner Jeffrey Wennberg said many of those properties should not be on the list because they are in areas served by a combined storm sewer and as such are exempt.

“I’ve been following this since before it was passed into law, since 2014,” Wennberg said. “This has been cooking a long time.”

Wennberg said the impending regulations are part of why, in its efforts to prevent sewer overflows triggered by storms, the city has limited the areas in which it has built separate storm sewers.

“Our strategy for decades has been to propose storm separation projects where they make sense,” he said. “But as a general rule, we want to increase the size and capacity of the treatment plant.”

The exemption only applies to portions of the city. For example, the fairgrounds, which have roughly 17 impervious acres.

“We have not really started to research yet,” Rutland County Agricultural Society President Robert Congdon said. “Obviously, it’s going to be very detrimental to any small business or to us as well.”

Also not exempt, according to Wennberg, are several city school district properties. Mike Derevjanik, director of buildings grounds and transportation, said they have an “excessively tenuous” plan developed a few years ago in partnership with the Rutland Natural Resources Conservation District.

“If I remember my numbers correctly, it was looking as much as $100,000 to do all the work — a large portion (of the funding) provided by outside entities,” he said. “The school district was looking at 20% to 30% of that. That was a couple years ago.”

Derevjanik said they would need to update those numbers.

“It’s going to cost the school district some money, we’re just not sure how much,” he said. “There’s money from somewhere, but I’m not sure where that money was coming from.”



Officer involved shooting
Officers allowed to watch shooting footage despite VSP objection

MONTPELIER — The police chief says two officers involved in a fatal August shooting were allowed to view cruiser footage of the incident despite being asked not to do so by Vermont State Police.

Chief Anthony Facos said the officers were back on the job a week and a half after the Aug. 9 event.

The comments came at a news conference held at City Hall on Wednesday led by Washington County State’s Attorney Rory Thibault.

Thibault announced Tuesday his office would not file charges against Montpelier Police Cpl. Chad Bean, who shot and killed Mark Johnson. The state attorney general’s office said Wednesday morning it would not charge the officer either.

According to police, Johnson was shot twice in the torso with a patrol rifle on Spring Street after failing to respond to police commands to drop a pistol he pointed at the officers. The gun was found to be a pellet gun.

Officers immediately administered first aid before Johnson was transported to Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, where he was pronounced dead.

Johnson’s body was taken to the Chief Medical Examiner in Burlington for an autopsy. His death was ruled a homicide.

Both Thibault and the attorney general’s office said Bean’s actions were justified given the circumstances. Thibault read a detailed recounting of the incident at Wednesday news conference, including how dashcam footage showed Johnson appearing to point a gun at the officers before he was shot. He said Bean shot Johnson once in the torso, but Johnson remained standing and still pointing the gun, so he was shot again. Montpelier Officer Christopher Quesnel was also on the scene at the time and the entire encounter lasted less than 30 minutes.

But Thibault and the attorney general’s office weren’t using all the same information. Thibault said because Bean and Quesnel were able to view the camera footage before talking to investigators, State Police did not interview them.

Maj. Daniel Trudeau, commander of the criminal division for State Police, said in a Wednesday evening interview that for more than a year it’s been the practice of State Police to interview officers involved in shootings before the officers review footage of the incident.

Trudeau said State Police asked to interview the officers before they reviewed the dashcam footage, but they decided to watch the footage. Facos said the officers were allowed to review the footage before being interviewed, despite State Police asking for the opposite, on the advice of counsel. He said it’s an important practice, so officers have an opportunity to be accurate and consistent when interviewed.

Trudeau said there’s conflicting opinions about this nationally, with some saying video footage is part of the officer’s work product so he or she should get to review it. He said officers review video footage of a DUI case before writing up their report. But he said it’s different in an officer-involved shooting.

“Technically, it’s a criminal investigation. Our argument to that other method where everybody wants to watch the video beforehand, they say ‘It’s my work product, I want to review it,’ that’s fine until you’re the subject of the investigation,” he said.

Trudeau said when investigating whether a shooting was justified, talking to an officer without them watching the video first gives investigators a better look at what the officer’s thoughts, feelings and perceptions were leading up to the shooting instead of just recounting what happened on a video they just watched.

Thibault said his office interviewed the two officers, with their counsel present, so he could gather as much information as he could before deciding whether to press charges.

Asked whether it was not too soon for the officers involved in the shooting to return to duty just a week and a half after the incident, Facos replied: “Not necessarily, given the totality of the circumstances. We do a full process with them from a psychological standpoint, a physical health standpoint and also what we do know at that time and what the circumstances were.”

The city has released the dashcam footage and posted the news releases. They can be seen at www.montpelier-vt.org/1115/Montpelier-Officer-Involved-Shooting-892.



National Assessment of Educational Progress
Vt. mirrors nation in scores

MONTPELIER — The decline continues.

According to the federal Agency of Education, Vermont is among most states that saw little to no improvement on math and reading scores. But overall, Vermont fares well when compared to other states in fourth- and eighth-grade education.

Ted Fisher, director of communications and legislative affairs at the Agency of Education, said the statewide average in the federal agency’s National Assessment of Educational Progress can’t be broken down on a district-by-district basis, but the results still put Vermont students above the national average for reading in fourth and eighth grade and mathematics in eighth grade.

“This is obviously a trend,” Fisher said. “Across the board, we’ve seen scores go down. ... (This test) is a barometer.”

Fisher said the findings of the report, released Wednesday, cannot be tied to any particular influences, but that it represents a need to continue reevaluating the educational systems in place in order to draw up a blueprint for the future of Vermont’s educational systems. He said recommendations will be made to districts after the recent findings have been thoroughly analyzed.

“While the NAEP results are a useful barometer — they help us understand what’s happening — we shouldn’t use the data to leap to conclusions about why we see the trends that we do,” Wendy Geller, director of the Data Management and Analysis Division at the Vermont Agency of Education, said in a news release. “They are a signpost for us to dig deeper, not an answer or an indication of a cause and effect relationship.”

“This is what we all own as Vermonters,” Fisher said.

Grade four students scored below the national average in mathematics, and scored lower overall in 2019 compared to previous scores gathered in 2017, even though the Green Mountain State appears to be generating generally stable or positive numbers compared to other states nationwide with the exception of Grade 4 mathematics.

Despite lower math scores, Vermont students ranked better in algebra and measurement, and scores rose among the 90th percentile in geometry and measurements among eighth graders. The survey noted students scored the same in algebra and operations as they did in their previous assessment.

Eighth-grade readers scored lower in “literacy experience” than they did in the “gaining information” category. The report also included that Vermont schools that hosted mathematics competitions ended up with higher in eighth-grade mathematics scores in 2019, as did schools that had math clubs or chess clubs.

Ironically, schools that offered “Family Math Nights” ended up with lower scores than those that did not, according to the report.

“This year’s NAEP scores paint a concerning picture for Vermont,” said Secretary of Education Dan French. “Many of these metrics have been declining for years now, and while Vermont students are still performing above the national average, we clearly have more to do as a state to ensure our students are prepared for success.”

Vermont’s Grade 4 reading scores ranked it among 17 other states with scores performing higher than the national public average, far above the jurisdictions of California, Texas, Oklahoma, Alabama, Arkansas, West Virginia, South Carolina, Alaska, Arizona, New Mexico, which each scored “significantly lower than the national public.”

Vermont’s Grade 4 math scores were rated as “not significantly different than national public,” ranking them one of 20 jurisdictions that scored lower than jurisdictions in Virginia, Texas and Florida, but higher than California, Oregon and New York.

Average Grade 8 math scores in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts were among those that performed “significantly higher than the national average,” while Kentucky, West Virginia and California were three of the 16 jurisdictions that scored “significantly lower.”

To round it off, Grade 8 reading scores from Vermont in 2019 were also rated as “significantly higher” than the national average, and writing scores in fourth grade from 2002 were rated as “significantly higher” than the national average, as were fourth grade science scores from 2015.

Science scores from eighth grade in 2015 were rated as “significantly higher” than the national averages, as were eighth grade writing scores from 2007, according to the report.

“We will be taking a deeper look at the NAEP data along with Smarter Balanced data to determine if trends can be identified and patterns established,” Deputy Secretary Heather Bouchey said in a news release. “It’s important that we work together and do everything we can to ensure the success of Vermont students.”



Photo by Jon Olender  

Digging the Earth

Archaeologists Chris Brouilette, left, and Desiree Dunn of the Northeast Archaeology Research Center of Farmington, Maine, inventory pieces of native pottery and stone tools found on a dig site at the confluence of the Leicester River and Otter Creek along Old Jerusalem Road in Leicester on Monday. They are doing a survey required by the National Historic Preservation Act (Section 106) that provides for the preservation of historic resources. There is a culvert planned for the spot and the archaeologists are doing a study for the state Agency of Transportation.