On Wednesday evening, PEG-TV hosted a pre-election forum for nine candidates running for the Board of Aldermen to talk about how they would work to improve the city.
Tom Donahue, executive director of BROC-Community Action in Southwestern Vermont, moderated. After giving a shout-out to West Rutland resident Jim Mumford for his heroic efforts saving a man from a burning vehicle Friday evening in Rutland, Donahue asked each of the candidates present what they’re passionate about.
Two of the candidates, newcomer Jacqueline Fleck and incumbent William Gillam, were absent.
Chris Ettori, who, if elected, would enter his third term on the board, said he cared most about developing Rutland economically, and developing the rental market to protect landlords’ investments is a priority.
Melinda Humphrey, finishing up her sixth year on the board, helped found Rutland Young Professionals, serves as a girls youth hockey coach, is a charter member of the NAACP and along with being a licensed foster parent is working with the Rutland Regional Marketing initiative as a red carpet concierge.
She works as an analyst at Green Mountain Power, and said it was the quality of life that she valued most as a citizen of Rutland.
Rebecca Mattis, hoping to be re-elected for a second term, serves on five committees and serves as board representative to five other city committees. She said her passion was the democratic process and governance.
“I love Rutland,” Mattis said. “This is the best place because of the people here, and I feel very privileged to be able to live here.”
Matthew Merritt, a new hopeful and sales representative for Mitchell’s Tees and Signs in Pittsford, said he was most interested in improving the infrastructure around the city, focusing on the streets, bridges and sidewalks.
Lisa Ryan, a member of Project VISION and program manager of the Rutland County Community Justice Center through BROC, is hoping for a second term on the board. She said she returned to Rutland after she graduated from college and found it was the people and the community that ignited her desire to serve them.
Robert Schlachter, former longtime city fire chief and resident of the Rutland area since 1979, currently serves as president of Rutland County Fire Mutual Aid. He said business and economic development are where he felt most drawn, specifically where the Department of Public Works was concerned.
“I just believe Rutland’s best days are ahead of us,” Schlachter said. “Bringing new business in, with the jobs of the future, developing the workforce that we need to do that.”
Another newcomer, Matt Reveal, owner of Muckenschnabel’s and a longtime resident, is running for the one-year seat left by William Notte. He said he was impressed with the board’s decision to keep the budget steady this year, and aimed to support efforts to keep taxes low for Rutland-area residents.
Tom DePoy, chairman of the Public Safety Committee, expressed concern that a lot of the cuts that contributed to the less than 1 percent rise in the city budget were cuts made to worker’s compensation insurance, which was greatly reduced this year.
“That’s not always going to happen,” Depoy said. “If our worker’s comp experience goes up, we’re going to look at some major increases, which I hope we don’t.”
Throughout the evening, the candidates weighed in on how to improve the city and how to draw business downtown. While Humphrey suggested reaching out to good-paying businesses looking to expand, Schlachter suggested marketing efforts to make Rutland a recreation destination and DePoy said he’d like to see something on the other side of Route 7 now that Five Guys has moved in.
“We need to increase the tax base,” Mattis said.
Former Rutland Area Solid Waste District board member Dan White said the key to bringing Rutland back would be to decrease the number of bars on Center Street.
Ettori suggested more investment in the energy innovation and farm-to-table reputation Vermont already has, and Ryan suggested focusing on the side streets to improve the quality of life for Rutland’s everyday citizens.
The candidates were split on a city sign ordinance, with Merritt and DePoy citing the prohibition of large, brightly-lit signs as dangerous and unneeded, while Humphrey said it wasn’t a business killer, and Ryan, Schlachter and Reveal all expressed that there had to be a way to make sure signs are tasteful, practical and moderate.
“It’s a business killer,” DePoy said.
A bill is working its way through the state Senate that would further regulate PFAS chemicals, mainly in drinking and surface waters.
Per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances (PFAS) have been found in wells in Clarendon and North Bennington. There are about 5,000 PFAS chemicals, but the state has so far focused on five.
According to the bill, S.49, PFAS are artificial chemicals that have been around since the 1950s, and are byproducts of the manufacturing process. In Clarendon, the contamination is believed to have come from firefighting foam used once at the Rutland-Southern Vermont Regional Airport, while in North Bennington the chemicals are believed to be from old Teflon manufacturing operations.
S.49, as it reads now, would require the Agency of Natural Resources to adopt a maximum contamination level for PFAS under the Vermont Water Supply Rule. This is a process the agency has already begun, said ANR Deputy Secretary Peter Walke, adding that the bill gives the agency a timeline for doing so.
According to the bill, on or before Feb. 1, 2020, the ANR secretary will file a final proposed rule with the Legislative Committee on Administrative Rules. The secretary then has until Aug. 1, 2020, to start a public comment process. By March 1, 2021, the secretary must either file a proposed rule with the Secretary of State, or publish a notice that it won’t be regulating PFAS chemicals along with its reasons for not doing so.
Until the agency adopts the MCL, the bill requires all public water systems in the state, starting Sept. 1, to test every six months for PFAS chemicals in drinking water supplies. If the levels are above the 20 parts per trillion the Department of Health has set as a health advisory, the system has to notify the Agency of Natural Resources. The agency shall then direct the system to treat the water and lower the PFAS levels.
The bill also requires ANR to adopt PFAS standards for surface-level water, such as rivers and lakes, and gives a timeline for doing so.
Sen. Christopher Bray, D-Addison, chairman of the Senate Committee on Natural Resources and Energy, said Wednesday he expects the bill to leave his committee sometime next week.
Jeff Wennberg, commissioner of the Rutland City Department of Public Works, said Wednesday that the frequency of PFAS testing the bill currently calls for is “overkill,” especially in systems that have been tested with negative results. He said the tests cost $6,000 each, which can be a problem for smaller systems.
Wennberg said the city’s drinking supply has been tested for PFAS, even before the problems in Bennington and Clarendon were discovered. He said he is concerned that having to test for it too often will lead to water systems putting fewer resources toward more immediate concerns.
“I can understand that perspective because there’s an expense to testing,” Bray said, adding that his committee hopes to speak to people who work with these systems and are familiar with day-to-day operations and challenges.
The bill was sponsored by Bray, with co-sponsors Rebecca Balint, D-Windham, Brian Campion, D-Bennington and Mark MacDonald, D-Orange.
A House version of the bill, H.263, is sponsored by Rep. Brian Cina, D-Burlington. That bill is in the House Committee on Natural Resources, Fish & Wildlife.
Walke said the House bill is more limited than the Senate’s, and it’s expected that most of the headway made on this issue will be done through the Senate bill.
MONTPELIER — Public access officials say the industry is facing problems from multiple sides.
The officials sat down Wednesday with the Vermont House Committee on Energy and Technology to discuss the issues the industry faces.
Kevin Christopher, president of the Vermont Access Network, told the committee public access channels exist to not only give the public the means to produce their own content, but also to cover municipal meetings in order to create a link between residents and their local governments. Christopher said there are 25 public access providers around the state.
He said private cable providers use public rights of way to run their lines in order to conduct their business. In exchange, he said, those providers are required by federal law to provide certain public benefits, such as giving public access organizations the ability to use their channels.
Lauren-Glenn Davitian, executive director of the Center for Media and Democracy in Burlington, told the committee the state’s Public Utility Commission has repeatedly entered decisions requiring cable providers to provide channels for public access.
“For various reasons, over time the cable industry has said that they feel (public access) … is an important offering for their subscribers. But in reality the dominant provider (in Vermont), which at one time was Cox and then it was Green Mountain Cable and then it was Adelphia Cable and now it’s Comcast cable … have actively tried to make it as difficult as possible for the access centers to be part of the main stream of the cable offering,” Davitian said.
She said the state’s ability to require cable providers to also provide public access is being compromised by threats from the cable industry. She said the first threat comes from a general erosion of cable viewers as more people “cut the cord.”
She said it’s more cost-effective for people to pick what they want to watch a la cart via the internet instead of buying a cable package.
Davitian said Comcast sought a renewal of its 11-year contract with the state to provide cable services and in January 2017, the PUC said Comcast could continue to operate in the state under certain conditions. Those included making sure public access channels could be found on the cable provider’s electronic program guide.
“Now this seems like kind of a funny, arcane, small thing, but actually public access channels are not listed on the program guide because of the lack of upgrades that the cable industry has made in their plant. They estimated that it would cost $3 million in order to upgrade these interactive program guides, which is really the heart and soul of the cable system,” she said.
Davitian said the PUC told Comcast it had to make these upgrades so public access channels would be more visible to residents. Instead, she said, Comcast took the state to federal court.
She said that case is still ongoing.
Davitian said the Federal Communications Commission is currently looking at deregulating, and has proposed a rule that would allow cable providers to subtract the cost of channels and other services from the dollars that are allocated for public access. Cable providers currently have to set that money aside for use by public access organizations.
Davitian said the U.S. Supreme Court has also hinted that it might consider public access unconstitutional. The court has never said the Cable Act of 1984, which established the rules requiring cable providers to provide space for public access channels, is constitutional.
“All of those things have our knickers in a twist. We are very concerned about those questions because we think they will effect the long-term viability of this very important service,” she said.
Rep. Timothy Briglin, D-Thetford, is chairman of the committee and wanted to know what could be done in Vermont about the issues facing public access.
Davitian said the state Department of Public Service has asked the PUC to conduct a workshop on these issues with cable providers. She said public access officials are floating the idea of creating a study committee to look at these issues and discuss them in depth. She said the committee would look at what other states are doing to restructure how public access is funded.
“Significant progress has been made (in the opioid crisis). But lives are still being lost; families are being destroyed; and the effects are being felt across every demographic living in Vermont.”
“Rutland’s Got Talent,” the new iteration of a Rutland tradition, is looking to audition a few good acts for the show, singers, dancers, acrobats. A7
New arms race?
Russian President Vladimir Putin sternly warned the United States against deploying new missiles in Europe, saying he would retaliate with weapons of his own. B8
Benefit for GMC
Join GMC’s Killington Section for an afternoon of fun and music by Extra Stout. Talk trail with fellow hikers and enjoy specials benefiting GMC. 4-7 p.m. Inn at Long Trail, Sherburne Pass, Route 4, Killington, firstname.lastname@example.org.