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Gov. Phil Scott says:
Scott: Vermont likely meets disaster aid threshold

PITTSFIELD — Gov. Phil Scott, while touring storm-damaged back roads in Pittsfield and Bethel on Wednesday, said it’s likely the state has met the damage threshold for federal assistance.

“We’re still trying to do the assessment at this point, but it appears to me, and it appears to our officials that we’ll exceed the declaration amount, so we’ll be applying for that declaration,” he said.

Scott toured Pittsfield in the area of Upper Michigan Road and Hawk Mountain Road, alongside Pittsfield town officials, and Erica Bornemann, director of Vermont Emergency Management. He was shown washed-out roads, blown culverts and silt-covered driveways.

Second Constable Doug Mianulli said there was one spot with a 16-foot deep rut cut into it by water.

Much of Vermont experienced flooding Sunday night and into Monday. Rain mixed with snowmelt, leading to the closures of scores of roadways.

With the National Weather Service forecasting more rain this weekend, starting Friday, many are worried there’s more damage to come.

“My concern is as much about what’s happened thus far, and what may happen this weekend with another storm coming,” Scott said.

Pittsfield Road Commissioner George Deblon said every town road was affected in some way, but the worst hit were Guernsey Hollow Road, Liberty Hill Road, Hawk Mountain Road and Upper Michigan Road.

“All we’re doing now is just opening up the roads so people can get in and out, there’s still a lot of work to be done,” he said. “By tomorrow everybody will be able to get in and out.”

Deblon spoke next to a large hole in the ground that he was busy filling in so a resident could leave their driveway. He said it’s a wild guess, but damage to town roads is at least in the $600,000 to $750,000 range, and said he wouldn’t be shocked if it turns out to be higher.

“I would say it’s second to Irene for sure, absolutely,” said Deblon, speaking of Tropical Storm Irene, which devastated Vermont in 2011 with floods.

Scott said that from what he’s seen, Irene’s lessons have been learned well.

“You can see it in this community, you have an emergency management response team right here locally, as well as working with town officials doing the right things, making the right calls, working together, and if there’s any silver lining to all of this, it’s that we’re much more prepared than we were in the past,” he said.

Pittsfield Select Board Chairman Charles Piso said he and other town officials have estimated the damage to be approximately $1.5 million, though it is a rough estimate.

“It’s about 10 times the highway budget,” he said. “It’s more than we have in our whole town budget.”

He said parts of Liberty Hill Road were completely destroyed, as were sections of Upper Michigan Road. Large parts of Guernsey Hollow Road were taken out by the Guernsey Brook.

According to a statement released Wednesday, Bornemann has requested a “Preliminary Damage Assessment” from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) in Rutland, Bennington, Caledonia, Essex, Orange, Washington and Windsor counties. This will determine whether or not Vermont meets the threshold to ask for federal aid.

According to the statement, that threshold must be at least $1 million in “response and public infrastructure recovery costs.” The state has already identified $2 million in damage to public infrastructure.

“These floods were devastating for the small towns in their path,” Bornemann said in the statement. “Washed-out roads, bridges and other infrastructure damage was significant, and several small towns are now facing restoration costs in the hundreds of thousands of dollars, which is a serious hardship for taxpayers.”

She told Deblon on Wednesday to document all costs associated with repairs and to keep the documentation in a central location.

Scott said part of what he and Bornemann are doing is making sure the affected towns have up-to-date, accurate information about what they should do.


DPS seeks Otter Creek Solar probe

The state is formally asking the Public Utility Commission to open an investigation into Otter Creek Solar over allegations that site-clearing work for a solar project is in violation of the company’s permit.

Otter Creek Solar 1 and Otter Creek Solar 2 are two solar arrays being built by Otter Creek Solar LLC off Cold River Road. The projects were awarded a “certificate of public good” by the Public Utility Commission in February 2018. In January, Vermonters for a Clean Environment, an environmental watchdog group, filed a complaint with the Public Utility Commission accusing Otter Creek Solar of violating the certificate by selling wood from the site as firewood, burning wood on site and using Cold River Road to access the site instead of Windcrest Road, as it said it would do.

The Public Utility Commission ordered the Department of Public Service to investigate and file the results.

Daniel C. Burke, special counsel for the Department of Public Service, said in an interview Wednesday that the department conducted said investigation over the past few months and determined that the issues around wood should be addressed by the Agency of Natural Resources, not the Public Utility Commission.

The access road issue is, however, something the Public Utility Commission should look into, he said.

“The Department has concluded that there is good cause for the Commission to open an investigation and take evidence on whether Otter Creek violated its CPG by accessing the project location from Cold River Road for clearing, and if so, to impose an appropriate penalty pursuant to 30 V.S.A. §§ 30(a) and 247. The Department, accordingly, respectfully moves for the Commission to open such investigation,” reads part of a filing Burke made Wednesday. The filing also asks the commission, “... to require that Otter Creek file an affidavit under oath that it is in compliance with the terms and conditions of the CPG, and if warranted, to show cause for why it should not be penalized for acting in violation of its sworn testimony, and for doing so without first seeking either a CPG amendment or a non-substantial change determination from the Commission.”

Burke said the word “investigation” is a term of art in this circumstance. The Department of Public Service and the Public Utility Commission are two separate entities. The commission, he said, has authority to grant certificates of public good and issue penalties, whereas the department, outside limited ability to impose small fines, does not. He said a rough analogy would be that the Department of Public Service functions as a prosecutor, while the Public Utility Commission is akin to a judge in a courtroom proceeding.

If the Public Utility Commission chooses to open an “investigation,” Burke said, it would likely mean asking the parties involved to file affidavits and exhibits of evidence, and possibly take testimony.

Burke said the department opted not to impose a fine here on its own, as it thinks the overall remedy will require a change to Otter Creek Solar’s certificate of public good, which the department doesn’t have the authority to order.

Filed along with Burke’s motion was a letter from Thomas Melone, president and senior counsel for Allco Renewable Energy Limited, the parent company for Otter Creek Solar. It was sent on Feb. 27 to Megan Ludwig, special counsel for the Department of Public Service, who investigated the complaint.

Melone directed requests for comment on Wednesday to the letter.

In the letter, Melone explains that the solar project’s neighbor is IsoVolta, and that both Otter Creek Solar and IsoVolta believed Windcrest Road to be a public road, even beyond the railroad tracks that cross it.

According to its website, the local IsoVolta plant makes mica paper. The company itself is based in Austria and has facilities in several other countries.

Melone, in his letter, said questions then arose as to who owned Windcrest Road beyond the railroad tracks. There was discussion between the parties, then, according to Melone, IsoVolta stopped communicating with Otter Creek Solar.

“Finally, after ignoring (Otter Creek Solar) communications for an extended period of time, we were told by Isovolta that opponents of our Bennington projects contacted Isovolta and scuttled the final documentation of the access,” Melone wrote in the letter. Of course, such action crosses the free-speech line to the tortious interference line.”

Allco Renewable Energy Limited is behind multiple solar projects in Bennington that have generated controversy and opposition from that community. In the letter, Melone accuses Vermonters for a Clean Environment and its “cohorts” of making misleading and slanderous statements about Allco-backed projects.

Annette Smith, the leader of Vermonters for a Clean Environment, declined to comment on Wednesday.

“We do not believe that access from Cold River Road is a material variation or a substantial change,” Melone writes in the Feb. 27 letter. “Access from Cold River Road does, however, increase costs, and (Otter Creek Solar) may look to those Bennington individuals and their associates for those increased costs as the result of their direct tortious conduct. That said, (Otter Creek Solar) intends to continue to work towards finalizing the access from Windcrest Road, which until the interference from (Vermonters for a Clean Environment’s) Bennington cohorts, (Otter Creek Solar) was led to believe would not be a problem, and incurred costs in reliance thereon.”


H.57 hearing
H.57: Senate panel hears pro, con opinions

MONTPELIER — Doctors, advocates and opponents testified Wednesday before the Senate Health and Welfare Committee on H.57, a bill that codifies a woman’s right to an abortion in Vermont.

“The incendiary language used by our opposition is newsworthy in a headline-driven environment,” said Meagan Gallagher, CEO and president of Planned Parenthood of Northern New England. “It catches attention and builds a rhetoric that is not grounded in the reality of peoples’ lives.”

Sharon Toborg, of Vermont Right to Life, said the bill allows for what she called “unlimited, unregulated” abortion throughout a woman’s pregnancy, including partial-birth abortion, and prevents public entities from weighing in.

“Abortion advocates have stated repeatedly that abortions done later in pregnancy are only done for reasons of fetal abnormality or maternal health,” Toborg said. “This is simply not true.”

Toborg cited the Partial-birth Abortion Ban Act as evidence that late-term abortions occurred, and referred to an article from the Bergen Record of New Jersey that reported 1,500 partial-birth abortions occurred every year.

“For the abortion-rights movement, unrestricted abortion rights throughout pregnancy is not a philosophical problem,” Toborg said. “It is a public-relations problem.”

Gallagher said her organization provided contraception to 9,600 patients, almost 4,800 pregnancy tests, almost 2,500 cervical cancer screenings, more than 3,500 breast exams, more than 37,000 sexually-transmitted infection tests and about 1,100 abortions in 2017.

Gallagher said the majority of Americans are supportive of her organization. She said “a lie makes its way around the world while the truth is putting its shoes on,” referring to the spread of misinformation regarding abortion.

“For many patients, PPNE is their only provider,” Gallagher said. “The decision to have an abortion is personal, and only the person who is pregnant can decide what is best for them … many women of reproductive age do not know what their health care will look like if, and likely when, Roe v. Wade is overturned.”

For Brooklyn native Garin Marschall, having an abortion was a necessary hell: after his wife’s first pregnancy ended in miscarriage, they became pregnant again and ended up having to travel hundreds of miles to Colorado where they spent thousands of dollars for a late-term abortion.

Little warning signs became troublesome, Marschall said, and at the 30-week mark, an excess of amniotic fluid was found during one of their weekly ultrasounds.

“That meant the fetus couldn’t swallow,” Marschall said. “That indicated it wouldn’t be able to breathe outside the womb.”

Because of the law in New York at the time that prevented an abortion after 24 weeks unless it threatened the life of the person, the couple had two options: carry the pregnancy to term, or leave the state and seek help elsewhere.

The late-term clinics, he said, were few and far between and rarely get reimbursed for services by health care insurance providers, which meant they had to borrow money to pay the $10,000 abortion fee up front, a sum they had to acquire in two weeks time.

Though they received the treatment they needed, Marschall’s wife still had to be induced and endure 30 hours of labor.

“They’re always a complicated situation,” Marschall said. “It’s not an easy procedure. It is not a frivolous thing that someone would enter into. It’s not cheap. The rhetoric that we’re hearing about these procedures doesn’t match patient experiences.”

Cary Brown, executive director for the Vermont Commission on Women, said family planning and the ability to choose was directly tied to higher earnings and more economic, educational and occupational opportunity.

“Every woman has a natural and unalienable right to choose when to bear children,” Brown said. “Women earn 3% more for each year they delay having children … the most common reason women give for seeking an abortion is that they are not able to afford the cost of having a child.”

Brown cited studies reporting half the women nationwide seeking abortions are below the federal poverty level, and women denied an abortion are more likely to end up raising a child in a single-parent household.

Jessica Barquist, the new director of policy and organizing for the Vermont Network on Domestic and Sexual Violence, said women were at the greatest risk of violence from their intimate partner during their reproductive years, and reproductive and sexual coercion was a frequently overlooked form of abuse that the right to an abortion helped to free women from.

“Women with unintended pregnancies are four times more likely to experience intimate partner violence,” Barquist said.

Dr. Erica Gibson, director of adolescent medicine at the University of Vermont Children’s Hospital, asserted that the availability of confidential health care encouraged trust between health care workers and patients.

“Only 3% of abortion patients are 15 to 17 years old,” Gibson said. “Most minors faced with an unplanned pregnancy will voluntarily disclose to a parent or trusted adult.”

But many times, young people hide their pregnancies out of fear or shame if they are mandated by state laws to inform an adult of their pregnancy in order to obtain abortion, Gibson said.

Chloe White, assistant director of the American Civil Liberties Union, reminded the panel that Justice Brett Kavanaugh recently expressed dissent in the case “June Medical Services v. Gee,” a decision that blocked a law that would have closed most abortion clinics in Louisiana. Justice John Roberts was the swing vote.

Kentucky, Mississippi and Ohio have signed “heartbeat” bills into law restricting abortions after six weeks, and a bill was recently proposed in Texas that would sentence women who procured abortions to death.

“At least nine states have statutes explicitly protecting the right to an abortion,” White said. “Vermont should join these states and enshrine the protection in statute.”


Public offers testimony on Prop. 5

MONTPELIER — Though many in the House chamber Wednesday donned pink shirts printed with “I stand with Planned Parenthood,” or stickers that said “Support Prop 5,” they were outnumbered by the buttons that shone out from lapels and pockets that read “Life is precious,” above an image of a red rose.

Proposition 5 would add Article 22: Personal Reproductive Liberty, to the Vermont Constitution, securing “an individual’s right to personal, reproductive autonomy.” The proposed constitutional amendment passed in the Senate earlier this month.

To continue the process of amending the Constitution, it must now be approved by a majority in the House.

The proposal would then have to be approved by the Legislature elected in 2020 and, if approved a second time, go before voters in a statewide referendum.

The first to speak at Wednesday’s public hearing was 11-year-old Roland Laverty.

“I think no one should be aborted,” Laverty said. “My teachers tell me to stand up for what I believe in. They tell me the words that I use matter. Sometimes people call babies fetuses. They’re still babies.”

Lisa Laverty said it was the mother’s rights that were actually being taken away. She recounted when she found out her son, Gus, had Down syndrome and she was offered the opportunity to abort the pregnancy by her obstetrician.

“One moment, my baby was valued,” Laverty said. “The next — worthless … and I got to choose. I’d like to know — who was there protecting my reproductive freedom? … My government told me it’s OK to take my baby’s life. How was I free that day? … My doctor and my government failed me by giving me a choice that was no choice.”

Michelle Faye explained that pregnancy can often be used as a form of control by abusive partners, while Thomas Kelley called for the consideration of “pure and unborn human beings” and the “preservation of potential life.”

Many cited how birth control, or contraceptives, allowed them to pursue their professional and educational prospects, which in turn allowed for their family later on to have more options and better income.

“I’m asking for the same rights that any woman before me would have,” said supporter Katie Michael.

Nurse Kathleen Grange proposed that the reproductive rights attributed to the mother and the father might also apply to those of the pregnancy, which presented another moral dilemma: whose rights are more important?

“If a woman is pregnant and wants to deliver her baby, but the man doesn’t want the child to be born, whose individual right to personal reproductive autonomy prevails?” she said. “Abortion is forever. A baby is murdered in the womb.”

Chloe White, of the American Civil Liberties Union, warned of the threat against women’s reproductive rights by what she deemed a right-leaning Supreme Court. Supporters argued that the proposition would not force a woman to have any procedure done, but instead would give women the freedom to make the final decision regarding her health and body if she should choose to.

Lynn Caulfield referenced a video where children who had been separated from their parents after crossing the southern border could be heard crying, and asked if a similar recording of the cries of fetuses that had been aborted would warrant an outcry.

“Would there be anyone … who would give voice to those cries which have been silenced?” Caulfield asked.

Opponents of the proposition suggested abstinence as a solution. Pastor Michael Rumshard called abortion a sin, and spoke about the possibility of repentance.

“If you do not want to be pregnant, you should not have sex,” said Lynn Pike.

Hunter Hadenberg said, as a young public school teacher, she would not be willing to live in a state that doesn’t value her health and safety.

Howard Jaentschke retold the story of how 17 years ago he begged his wife not to have an abortion, and celebrates the relationship he now has with his daughter.

“I rescued a baby from an abortion clinic,” Jaentschke said. “If I was not there to speak for the child, who could not say any words, today she would not be a part of this beautiful world.”

“Ending legal abortions won’t stop abortions,” said Bailey Grebbin.

Nurse Kathleen Lynch said abortion training was not a part of her national nursing training, and believes that life begins at conception.

“Why is my workplace expected to accommodate death as a goal?” Lynch asked. “These cases cause disruption in patient care throughout the operating room.”



Aretha honored

The Pulitzer Board, best known for awarding prizes for achievements in journalism, literature and photography, awards a special citation to Aretha Franklin, known as the Queen of Soul, who passed last year. A8

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Bird bath

Get ready for spring by making a place for birds to hang out. Ages 12+. $10, 4-5:30 p.m. Courcelle Building, 16 N. St. Ext., Rutland,, 773-1822.