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Developer seeks to pull Babcock Solar project

BRANDON — The Babcock Solar project won’t be going forward.

On Thursday, Babcock Solar Farm LLC filed a motion with the Public Utility Commission, asking it to dismiss Babcock’s petition for a certificate of public good and to cancel a public hearing and site visit scheduled for Monday.

The PUC responded later in the afternoon with an order granting the request to cancel the site visit and setting a Nov. 28 deadline for any responses to Babcock’s motion to dismiss its own petition.

“I guess the town of Brandon is relieved we won’t have to deal with it,” said Brandon Town Manager David Atherton on Thursday. “I think there’s been a big sigh of relief from the adjoining landowners.”

He said the town has raised numerous concerns about the proposed 2.2-megawatt project that was planned for an area of farmland near Park Street Extension and 21 Country Club Road.

Babcock Solar Farm LLC is a subsidiary of Conti Solar, a company based in Edison, New Jersey.

The project received heavy resistance from its neighbors and the town since it was announced earlier this year. In the past, residents have expressed worries over the project’s potential impacts on aesthetics, the environment and public infrastructure.

Ed Bove, executive director of the Rutland Regional Planning Commission, said his organization has reviewed the Babcock project and listed a number of concerns. Among them, Bove said, was that the project doesn’t conform with the Brandon Town Plan, would be built on prime agricultural land, which the commission discourages, and that it would be built on an undeveloped parcel.

Bove said the commission doesn’t support or not support projects, it just makes its concerns, if any, known to the PUC.

“We are pleased it was withdrawn,” said Cindy Hill, an attorney representing a group of adjoining landowners. “There are still a lot of details to sort out.”

Hill represents Robert and Kathryn Clark, Jonathan Blake and Country Club Townhomes Owners’ Association Inc., who are all parties to the Babcock proceedings. Numerous motions were filed by Hill’s clients and Babcock Solar contesting the group’s status as intervenors and the scope of matters they could testify to. The PUC didn’t rule on these prior to Thursday’s motion by Babcock to withdraw its petition.

Hill said because other parties have become involved in these proceedings, the developer can’t simply withdraw its petition, it has to file a motion to do so and have said motion granted by the PUC. It’s possible some parties may be looking to recoup legal fees and filing fees.

Neighbors also had concerns over a water line owned by Brandon Fire District #1 that runs under the property where the project was to be built. They took these concerns to a Brandon Fire District #1 Prudential Committee meeting last week, where the committee said it would reach out to the PUC for information and would do what was necessary to protect the water line.

Babcock Solar LLC filed its petition for a certificate of public good in August. This came months after it had looked for another site, a search it began after receiving public backlash over its proposal.

Prior to this, the PUC had awarded Babcock a standard-offer contract. These contracts are awarded to qualifying renewable energy projects that apply for them. They guarantee a set price for energy produced. It’s part of a state program to spur the development of such projects. They’re site-specific, however, and Babcock’s request to amend the contract to accommodate another location was denied by the PUC.

Brandon has a number of solar projects built or currently in the permitting process. Another recent filing for a certificate of public good was from Davenport Solar, a 15-megawatt project proposed for an area off Carver Street. Davenport Solar LLC is owned by NextEra Energy Resource, of Juno Beach, Florida. It’s in its early phases regarding permitting and the PUC has yet to schedule a public hearing or site visit.

Atherton said Thursday Brandon is fairly supportive of solar projects, given they’re well-sited.

keith.whitcomb @rutlandherald.com


Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo/  

Tom Donahue, chief executive officer at BROC Community Action in Southwestern Vermont, speaks Thursday at a press conference in Montpelier announcing the results of this year’s Wheels for Warmth annual tire recycling and resale event.


Local
Police officers grow beards for charity

Members of Vermont’s police and sheriff’s departments will be showing off stubble this holiday season as part of the Beards for Kids with Cancer initiative created by the Middlebury Police Department in 2015. The initiative benefits Camp Ta-Kum-Ta in South Hero, where children who have or had cancer go to have fun for free.

And this year, the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department is growing it out, too.

“In law enforcement, typically you don’t see a lot of facial hair,” said Deputy James Bennick. “It allows us to do something unique for the kids.”

So from Nov. 1 to the end of December, 18 of the deputies at the Rutland County Sheriff’s department will join numerous other departments in looking a little furrier on patrol.

By making a cash donation to the camp, each officer is permitted by their superior to abandon the normal shaving standards for several months.

They’ll also have bearded buttons: every participating officer will be donning a pin with a bright yellow cancer ribbon and a long beard on it as a show of solidarity.

“These kids have this disease. They really can’t control it,” Bennick said. “With all of the treatments they have to go through, I can’t imagine .... More people need to know about this camp.”

Hattie Johnson, executive director at Camp Ta-Kum-Ta, said the charity raised $2,000 in its first year and $3,000 last year.

“Every donation helps,” Johnson said. “It gives the child some of life’s most precious gifts: freedom, joy, the ability to be a kid.”

Johnson said 75 children and their families come to the nonprofit camp year-round for everything from cross-country skiing and ice skating in winter to swimming and campfires in summer. Programs take place every month.

“In January, we have a winter weekend for our middle campers,” Johnson said. “Then the youngest come, and then the oldest. In April, we do our moms retreat.”

As the camp operates entirely from donations, charities like Beards for Kids with Cancer are invaluable to providing the campers with a mixture of activities and some special once-in-a-lifetime experiences, Johnson said.

“The number of children diagnosed is not decreasing,” Johnson said. “We have a slogan: until there’s a cure, there’s camp.”

Officer Darrin Hinterneder, of the Middlebury Police Department, said the idea all started with “no-shave November” three years ago.

“We have a policy here: We can’t have facial hair below the upper lip,” Hinterneder said. “And we have a bunch of us that like to deer hunt, so this was our own spin on it.”

Hinterneder said Chief Thomas Hanley liked the idea, and originally called the fundraiser “Deer Camp Beards for Kids with Cancer,” after choosing Camp Ta-Kum-Ta as the charity benefiting from the police department’s new grooming standards.

“This coincides with deer season,” Hinterneder said. “So we began growing beards Oct. 6, and we’re keeping them until the day after Christmas.”

This year, 14 Middlebury officers are stopping the shave.

“Last year, we raised $2,002 dollars,” Hinterneder said.

“We decided to jump on board with him,” said Lt. Peter Newton, of the Addison County Sheriff’s Department. “We sort of half got on board with it last year .... Pretty much the whole department is participating this year.”

Newton said 12 deputies are retiring their razors for the holiday season.

“I know we’ll be close to $500, but I’d like to see us closer to $1,000,” Newton said.

Middlebury spread the word to other departments throughout the state and officers jumped at the chance to do what they could.

“Well, there’s four of us here, and we’re all participating,” said Bristol Police Chief Bruce Nason. “We’re following their lead. We’ll raise as much as we can.”

Though only one Bellows Falls Police Officer is participating, officer Joshua Paulette has already raised $45 for the camp.

Bennick said their department is already making a major dent in their target pool.

“Our goal is to raise $1,500,” Bennick said. “So far, we’ve raised $1,050.”

Though the Rutland deputies are all enjoying their break from the beard trimmer, once Christmas is over it’s back to bald, Bennick said.

“I’d never wear a mustache,” Bennick said. “I’d look too much like my father.”

katelyn.barcellos @rutlandherald.com


Local
MVP wants Rutland Pharmacy lawsuit dismissed

MVP Health Care has asked a federal court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by a local pharmacy that accused the health care giant of using illegal tactics to keep small, independent stores from providing the same drugs and at the same price as national chains.

Rutland Pharmacy, through its attorneys, filed the lawsuit at the end of October.

The complaint alleged that MVP denied requests for reimbursements for specialty medications and made it difficult for customers to buy those medications from independent pharmacies. Instead, those customers are pushed toward larger pharmacies like CVS, which owns its own set of retail stores including proprietary or “captive” pharmacies.

According to the complaint, MVP’s actions run contrary to Vermont law written to level the playing field between small pharmacies and national chains.

On Wednesday, MVP responded with a request to dismiss the Rutland complaint, arguing that the alleged violations of Vermont’s prescription drug statutes had not happened and the suit would circumvent the Vermont Department of Financial Regulation.

The response, signed by attorney Gary Karnedy, of the Burlington law firm, Primmer, Piper, Eggleston & Cramer, agreed that the state has a statute that requires health insurers and pharmacy benefit managers, or PBMs, to allow all pharmacists to fill prescriptions in the same manner and at the same level of reimbursement.

But the response said the Rutland Pharmacy was not excluded from that program. MVP said the Rutland Pharmacy simply hadn’t completed its application to join CVS’ specialty pharmacy program.

In its complaint, however, Rutland Pharmacy officials said they had tried to join the program but they were required to sign a confidentiality agreement, which the local drugstore believed was vague and could require them to give up rights if there were future disagreements.

MVP’s response said Rutland Pharmacy had failed to identify an actual incident or events that would require resolution through a federal lawsuit.

“Instead, (Rutland Pharmacy) alleges a hypothetical dispute that arises solely from its failure to execute standard confidentiality agreements that CVS require as part of the application process to join its specialty pharmacy network,” the response said.

The second argument for dismissing the local complaint was that it addresses a “complex state regulatory issue” that Vermont already addresses, which is called a “Burford” abstention based on a Supreme Court decision from 1943.

“Insurance regulation is, by its very nature, a complex endeavor requiring a high level of specificity to administer and thus courts have long recognized that insurance regulatory frameworks contain precisely the type of ‘specificity’ that the Supreme Court had in mind when articulating the Burford doctrine,” the response said.

The final argument made for dismissing the lawsuit was that it would violate the doctrine of “primary jurisdiction,” which says the court should not interfere when a specialized rule-making authority already has jurisdiction over a complex issue.

For Rutland Pharmacy’s complaint, the Department of Financial Regulation has “extensive expertise in this area and is thus, respectfully, better positioned than the federal court to consider the issues raised in this lawsuit,” the response said.

Karnedy could not be reached Thursday.

The lead attorney representing Rutland Pharmacy, Michael Endler, an attorney with the Albany, New York, firm Boies, Schiller, Flexner said the response had only raised technical issues and not substantive issues.

Endler said his client planned to oppose the motion to dismiss.

In October, Endler said the lawsuit addressed two important issues for Vermonters. The first was the continued operation of independent pharmacies that serve many in the state and the second was to continue to allow residents to have choices and not have independent stores driven out of business.

The Rutland Pharmacy complaint asked for damages. While no specific figure was requested, the complaint said MVP’s rejection of reimbursement for specialized medications had cost the pharmacy more than $100,000.

patrick.mcardle @rutlandherald.com


Spotlight

“It’s going to be all against one, one against all. All of Central America against one, and one against Central America.”

Migrant asylum seeker Henry Salinas, of Honduras, in Tijuana, Mexico, saying he hopes to jump the border fence with others to overwhelm Border Patrol agents. — B4

Sex abuse

Seven women have joined a lawsuit in New Hampshire naming Dartmouth College trustees as responsible for three professors accused of a pattern of sexually abusive behavior. A2

FDA crackdown

FDA pledges to crack down on menthol cigarettes and sweet-flavored electronic nicotine delivery systems to discourage young smokers. A7


Hotspot

Saturday

Holiday Fair

Vermont Farmers Market — Unique handcrafted items for holiday gifting. Free admission. 9 a.m. to 4 p.m. Holiday Inn, Route 7, Rutland.


Online

Talking Pictures: Joan Gamble, of Rutland, is a big art fan and why not? Who isn’t? Answers here, sort of, on Page A5. Visit bit.ly/1116WhyArt to see the video.