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rlayman / Robert Layman / Staff Photo  

first warming

Don Heleba, potato farmer, chops wood outside his barn in Rutland Town Wednesday morning. Heleba says this winter has required a lot of wood, and although he has a wood splitter tohis left, he still prefers the ax because “my doctor said I have to get up and get exercise.”

GE Aviation awarded $517 million military contract

GE Aviation has been awarded a $517 million contract from the U.S. Army to build parts for Blackhawk and Apache helicopter test engines, the company announced Tuesday.

According to Dave Wilson, communications leader for GE Aviation military systems, the company makes the T901-GE-900 engine, which the U.S. Army plans to test in the Sikorsky UH-60 Black Hawk, and Boeing AH-64 Apache helicopters. The GE Aviation plant in Rutland will build some of the key components to this engine, he said.

This contract alone won’t require an increase in hiring, Wilson said, however it does put GE in a good spot to be awarded a production contract should this test phase go well. As far as the prospect of new hiring goes, Wilson said he couldn't speculate on that at this stage.

Wilson said what this does mean is plenty of work for the Rutland operation during the next several years.

He said that Apaches and Black Hawks have been using GE’s T700 engine for more than 30 years.

GE Aviation has been in this area since 1951 when it opened a plant in Ludlow. The Rutland plant opened in 1957. Wilson said GE Aviation employs 1,200 people in the area. He said the company has done well here because of the labor pool.

Mary Cohen, executive director of the Rutland Region Chamber of Commerce, said Wednesday that GE is an anchor business for the area and news of this contract likely means GE will be here for some time. She said the company regularly hires to fill positions of people who’ve retired. It’s currently seeking to about fill about 45 salaried positions. She said the chamber has a good working relationship with GE, helping it attract employees.

Wilson said during the past 10 years, GE has invested $100 million into its Rutland County operations and increased hiring by a third.

“We are honored to be chosen by the Army to continue powering their Black Hawks and Apaches for decades to come,” said Tony Mathis, president and CEO of GE Aviation’s military business, in a statement. “We’ve invested in the resources and infrastructure to execute immediately, and our team is ready to get to work on delivering the improved capabilities of the T901 to the Warfighter.”

The term Warfighter refers to “the servicemembers doing the fighting, the members of the U.S. Army and other services,” Wilson said in an email.

It was announced in October that the U.S. Air Force chose the Boeing T-X aircraft to train advanced pilots. The engine for that aircraft is made by GE Aviation. The company hired more than 150 people that year to keep up with the demand.


rlayman / Robert Layman / Staff Photo  

Seeking Advice

Laird Christensen, left, professor of English and Environmental Studies at Green Mountain College, talks with sophomore Phil Prevosto during lunch at the Withey Dining Hall Wednesday afternoon. Christensen, who has taught at GMC for over 18 years, gave advice to Prevosto, a former student of his, about the transitional phase students are going through given the recent news of GMC ceasing operations in May 2019.

Capital Panel Discussion
Panel: High youth suicide risk in Vt. due to guns

MONTPELIER — Gun law reform advocates and medical experts teamed up Wednesday in support of legislation that could reduce the high rate of gunshot suicides in Vermont.

At a news conference and panel discussion at the Capitol Plaza Hotel, panelists stressed that access to guns greatly increased the risk of death in suicide attempts. The panelists urged lawmakers to consider waiting periods for gun buyers and a law securing firearms from children.

“When there’s immediate access to guns, the lethality of that mode ending one’s life is fast and it’s complete,” said Clai Lasher-Sommers, executive director of Gun Sense Vermont. “The power that a weapon carries will kill you immediately.”

Lasher-Sommers, who advocated for new gun laws passed by the governor last year after the uncovering of an alleged plot by former student Jack Sawyer to carry out a shooting at Fair Haven Union High School, said preventing access to guns was key to lowering suicide attempts.

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention map of states showed that Vermont has an average of between 3 to 6.3 deaths by gun per 100,000 of population among youth, similar to the high rate in nine midwestern states and Alaska, and the highest among New England states.

Panel moderator David Gram — a former Vermont Associated Press reporter — noted that the rate of suicide deaths in Vermont is rising, with Vermonters dying at a rate 35 percent higher than the national average. Firearms account for only 5 percent of suicide attempts but are responsible for 50 percent of suicide deaths because of their lethality, he said.

The round table discussion was hosted by the organization Giffords, named for Gabby Giffords, the former Democratic congresswoman from Arizona who suffered a brain injury when she was shot while meeting with constituents in Tucson in 2011 and started a national campaign to enact new gun safety laws. The visit by the organization coincided with new gun bills in the Legislature: H.159 calling for a three-day waiting period after buying a weapon before receiving it, and S.22 seeking child access prevention to firearms with a law to keep firearms locked away.

Factors identified by panelists that made Vermonters vulnerable to gunshot suicide included high gun ownership in the state, serious financial problems, rural isolation, mental illness, substance abuse and chronic disease.

Dr. Rebecca Bell, a pediatric physician at the University of Vermont Medical Center, noted that suicide attempts are often impulsive and involve a violent method, such as a gun. Twenty-four percent of adolescent and young adult survivors say that they acted within 5 minutes of contemplating suicide, and another 50 percent said they acted within an hour or two, she said.

While Vermont has a higher-than-average youth suicide death rate, it had a lower-than-average prevalence rate of youth reporting severe depressive symptoms, suicidal planning and previous suicide attempts, Bell added.

As a doctor, Bell said it was one of her most difficult duties to inform a parent their child committed suicide or would not survive a suicide attempt, and death is much more likely if it involves a firearm compared with other methods, such as ingesting poison or hanging. It was every parent’s worst nightmare to learn that their child had attempted or died from suicide, she added.

She said that suicide survivors invariably said they acted impulsively, but were also much less likely to die by suicide later on in life.

“Mostly, they’re relieved, and frankly embarrassed, and just keep saying, ‘I can’t believe I did this, I was just so upset at the time,’” she said.

Alison Krompf, senior policy adviser at Vermont Department of Mental Health, and Hannah Shearer, a staff attorney at Giffords Law Center, also contributed to the panel.

Other discussions included looking for warning signs of suicidality, reaching out to potential victims who might be isolated and seeking help from suicide prevention services in the state.

For more information, visit the Vermont Suicide Prevention Center at


Divided House narrowly rejects Act 46 extension

MONTPELIER — Confronted with competing amendments that could alter a key deadline in the state’s school district consolidation law, House lawmakers dispensed with one of them before running out of time Wednesday.

Following a roll call vote that capped a debate that spanned more than 90 minutes, lawmakers narrowly rejected an amendment that would have extended the July 1 deadline for all mergers forced under Act 46 by one year. The amendment proposed by Rep. Heidi Scheuermann, R-Stowe, failed, 69-74.

The debate and the ensuing decision exposed the divide in the chamber with respect to the requested extension, while leaving the fate of the underlying bill and a separate amendment — one that enjoyed the support of the House Education Committee — up in the air.

Scheuermann’s amendment was rejected by the education committee by a vote of 7-4 last week and the bill she sponsored was reported out of committee with a negative recommendation as part of an odd process during which House leadership promised her a floor vote in exchange for withdrawing an amendment she tacked on to the budget adjustment act.

Scheuermann got that vote Wednesday and while she came close to amassing the votes needed to advance what has been described as a “blanket delay” in the July 1 deadline, her effort fell short.

A competing amendment was embraced as a compromise by a committee that voted, 7-4, to forward it with a favorable recommendation. That amendment would offer an extension to some districts that were ordered to merge under Act 46 — Scheuermann’s included — but not others. That could prompt opposition from some members of a tri-partisan coalition that sought the blanket delay, while others who voiced support for a more nuanced solution back the committee’s plan. That question was supposed to be answered Wednesday, but House Speaker Mitzi Johnson said that probably wasn’t possible.

With a long line already forming downstairs for a public hearing on a controversial bill that would guarantee the right to abortion in Vermont, Johnson said the House chamber had to be cleared and wouldn’t be available until later in the evening.

Though coming back at 7:30 p.m. was an option, Johnson said it wasn’t optimal and suggested lawmakers defer the debate on the committee’s amendment for a day and adjourn for the night.

On that, almost all of them agreed — a stark contrast to the debate and vote that had just concluded.

While some questioned whether the Legislature should make any adjustments to a law while legal challenges are pending, Johnson concluded tinkering with the deadline did not stray into the constitutional and procedural questions the court has been asked to resolve.

Scheuermann said those lawsuits — including one challenging the forced merger of the Stowe and Elmore-Morristown school districts — needed time to play out, but the requested extension was designed to give districts ordered to merge late last year by the state Board of Education time to prepare for that transition.

“This bill does not do anything to negate or change Act 46 in any substantive policy way,” she said, describing the requested extension as an accommodation for districts that aren’t remotely ready to begin operations on July 1.

“To do this right this process will take significant time,” said Scheuermann, who bristled at the suggestion many districts ignored the looming deadline by pursuing a provision of the law that could have allowed them to maintain their current governance structures.

Speaking on behalf of the education committee, Rep. Peter Conlon, D-Cornwall, recounted the panel’s opposition to Scheuermann’s amendment and the underlying bill.

“The committee recommends this bill does not pass,” he said, suggesting the proposal was “problematic” and could derail mergers in districts capable of meeting the deadline that has been on the books since Act 46 was passed in 2015.

Conlon said the committee’s amendment sought to keep those efforts on track, while proposing extensions in districts where no formal merger proposal was ever presented to voters.

Rep. Tommy Walz, D-Barre, said the fragile alliance being forged between Barre and Barre Town would be undercut if the goal posts were suddenly moved and a one-year delay was an option.

“For some school districts passing this amendment would be a really bad idea,” he said. Rep. Johannah Donovan, D-Burlington, agreed, suggesting the reasons for passing Act 46 have not changed and expressing concern the requested extension would “send the wrong signal” and fuel, or in some case re-fuel, divisiveness that would be counter-productive.

Donovan was among those who hinted they might be more amenable to the alternative amendment recommended by the committee.

“Progress should not be halted for those who can move forward on the original act 46 timeline,” she said.

Others, like Rep Charles Conquest, D-Wells River, openly wondered whether the time frame written into the law nearly four years ago was ever realistic.

In retrospect, Conquest said expecting districts merged against their will to be ready to begin operations in seven short months was overly optimistic.

“I think we got a lot of things right in Act 46,” he said. “We ought to admit we got that part of it wrong.”

Three pending lawsuits challenging various aspects of Act 46 were cited by those on both sides of the issue.

Some, like Rep. Maxine Grad, D-Moretown, said she seriously questioned whether the Legislature should make any adjustments to the law with court cases pending, while others, like Rep. John Bartholomew, D-Hartland, said the requested delay could buy time to get a better read from the court.

“Its one compelling reason to slow down,” he said.

The back and forth highlighted the House was clearly divided on the proposal and the roll call vote was too close to call from start to finish.

Though Scheuermann’s amendment failed by five votes, several hinted the committee’s alternative might be preferable. That amendment is expected to be debated and voted on Thursday.


ProvideD photo  

Actor and native Vermonter Sam Lloyd Jr. with his baby son, Weston.


Sam Lloyd

Vermont-born actor and new father Sam Lloyd, who appeared in many Weston Playhouse productions and went on to a career in television, has been diagnosed with brain cancer. There’s a GoFundMe page for friends and fans to support him at A2

Lane question

Rutland Town Select Board debates the question of whether to keep a slip lane off Route 7 to East Pittsford Road. A3

Potter Night

It’s the second Harry Potter Night at 6 p.m. at Rutland’s Phoenix Books, 2 Center St. celebrating magic and mythology. Admission is free. Muggles also welcome. A7

Not paid yet

Nearly two weeks after the end of the longest government shutdown in U.S history, many federal workers remain unpaid. B8