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State budget crunch impacts mosquito control districts

CORNWALL — Vermont’s mosquito control districts may be facing a cash-flow problem given what the COVID-19 pandemic has done to state finances.

In a normal year, the Agency of Agriculture grants $140,000 between the Brandon-Leicester-Salisbury-Goshen Insect Control District and the Lemon Fair Insect Control District. Each gets $70,000 to spend on larvicide, a bacteria that attacks mosquito larvae.

Cary Giguere, director of the Public Health Agriculture Resource Management Division of the Agency of Agriculture, said so far the districts can only access one-quarter, $17,500, of their usual funding.

“They’re operating the same way every state agency is,” he said. “Their money comes out of the general fund and every state agency has to build a budget for the next three months. They haven’t been cut, but they’re only getting a quarter of the funding.”

With the COVID-19 pandemic leaving all levels of government strapped for cash, the Legislature has only budgeted for the first financial quarter, which runs from July 1 to Sept. 30.

“Basically they are getting three months of their grant in the first quarter of the year,” said Giguere. “We don’t know yet what the Legislature will decide when it comes back in August.”

This presents a potential cash-flow problem for the districts.

“The challenge for us is that most of our expenses are during the summer months, as you can imagine you don’t have too many mosquitos during the winter,” said David Dodge, chairman of the Lemon Fair Insect Control District Board of Directors. “I’ve sent an email back to the state asking them to give us some more flexibility as far as pulling money out of future quarters or whatever. I have not heard back from them.”

The Lemon Fair district covers the towns of Bridport, Cornwall, and Weybridge in the Lemon Fair River Valley. The BLSG covers the towns in its name, plus Proctor and Pittsford. Lemon Fair only uses larvicide, while the BLSG used both larvicide and adulticide, the latter a pesticide targeting adult mosquitos.

“We’ll discuss what the consequences would be, but needless to say, we have a certain amount of reserves we can rely on for this summer’s expenses, but if it’s going to be a strict adherence to those quarterly numbers with no ability to move money around from quarter to quarter, we’re going to have to think about cutting back,” said Dodge, adding that it the topic will come up at the next monthly meeting on Tuesday.

“For us to treat 1,000 acres costs us $45,000, which is a combination of helicopter expenses and buying larvicide,” said Dodge. “As you can see, having to treat in August having $17,500 to pay for $45,000, we run out of money pretty soon.”

Fortunately, so far it’s been a mild year for mosquitoes, according to Dodge. There are some out, but the weather has been dry for much of the spring, leaving mosquitoes with less opportunity to breed. Giguere likewise said the state’s regular monitoring efforts show a mild year for the bugs.

“It is good news because last year the states around us had very high EEE prevalence, that’s Eastern Equine Encephalitis, it’s probably the worst mosquito disease that we see, and all the states around us had very high, concerning levels of EEE and were doing aerial spraying,” said Giguere. “I’m glad we weren’t there last year, but we’ll see what happens for Vermont this year.”

Dodge said conditions can still change. Mosquito eggs can survive for years in dry conditions and huge hatches can appear after some wet weather. Conversely, if things are dry enough, the ground soaks up the moisture and the mosquitoes don’t appear.

Several messages sent to the BLSG seeking comment were not returned.

Proctor Selectman Bruce Baccei told the Proctor Select Board at its June 22 meeting that he was at a recent BLSG meeting and that there’s some uncertainty there about funding.

“This is not good timing, but the state doesn’t know if it’s going to give out the rest of it and won’t know until maybe early September,” he said. “It’s questionable whether they’ll be able to get sufficient supplies. It’s been good that it’s been exceptionally dry, so they did do the spraying at the north end of the town the other night, but they weren’t sure what their schedule was going to be because of funding.”


Gregory (center) and Jessie Witscher runs a cultivator through their rows of dahlia blossoms with their Belgian workhorse Lupine on Friday afternoon at Understory Farm in Sudbury on Route 30.

Tried and true

Police enhance road presence for holiday weekend

Law-enforcement officers in Rutland County are going to be out on the roads during the course of the weekend looking for drivers who are impaired, not wearing seat belts, driving aggressively or too fast or otherwise creating dangerous conditions for those trying to enjoy Independence Day.

On Friday, Deputy Kevin Geno, of the Rutland County Sheriff’s Department, said police had already started conducting saturation patrols that morning.

“We’ve covering all the high crash areas. As you know, we’ve had two fatal crashes in Shrewsbury in the last four weeks,” said Geno, who is the highway safety coordinator for Rutland County.

On June 1, Ryan Ahonen, 21, of Mount Holly, died in a crash on Route 103. Katrina Centariczki, 74, of Reading, died on June 24 when the car in which she was a passenger was part of a two-vehicle crash.

Geno said deaths in car accidents are on the rise this year in Rutland County as compared to 2019.

“A lot of it is crossing the centerline and there’s a certain amount of distraction involved in each of these crashes,” Geno said.

Also, drivers in Rutland County should expect checkpoints where police will be screening for impaired drivers.

On Friday afternoon, Geno said he had been out for four hours on patrol and already stopped 12 people who were driving 15 to 25 mph over the speed limit.

Geno and his colleagues in Rutland County aren’t the only ones urging caution to Vermont drivers over the holiday weekend.

At a news conference Wednesday, Lt. Tara Thomas, the safety programs unit commander for the Vermont State Police, reminded drivers to wear seat belts among other cautions, according to a prepared statement about the event.

“Speed, aggressive, distracted and impaired driving are the demons that continue to haunt our roads, and these behaviors will be the targets this holiday weekend,” she said.

The amount of traffic on Vermont roads has decreased due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the Vermont Department of Public Safety.

But from Jan. 1 to July 1 in 2019, there were nine fatal crashes on Vermont roads. This year, the number is 21.

In 2019, 50% of Vermont’s fatal crashes involved impairment, the release said. Nationally, the percentage is almost 30%,

For Rutland County’s enforcement, Geno said the sheriffs would be working with the departments in Castleton and Fair Haven, the Poultney constable and troopers with Vermont State Police, among others.

“We’ll be working as a team out there to do some saturation patrols and do a checkpoint tonight (Friday.) You figure the lakes region is going to be busy especially with this hot weather,” Geno said.

There are issues with speeders on Route 22A and West Haven, Benson and Fair Haven so officers will be watching those areas, Geno added.

One of the reasons for increased speeding and distracted driving might be the pandemic, Geno said.

“I think they forgot that caution when COVID-19 was going on. They had all this freedom on the road. There was no one around them. It allowed them to drive in excess of the speed limit. They haven’t retrained themselves now that probably 90% of that traffic is now back, that they need to follow within the guidelines and traffic laws,” he said.

One piece of advice Geno had from a long career in traffic safety Geno offered was for people to not only put down their cellphones but to put them somewhere inaccessible so the driver isn’t tempted to look at it. He said he had stopped people for distracted driving who had hands-free technology but couldn’t resist the urge to look at their phones.

Geno reminded drivers that police are not trying to harass them or ruin the holiday but to keep the roads as safe as possible.

“If we went out and didn’t issue any tickets or arrest any drunk drivers, I don’t think that would bother any of us,” he said. “But we know that’s not going to happen.”


July 4ths of the Past
Parades of Horribles

Montpelier’s 1884 Independence Day celebration began with a bang. Literally.

According to the Watchman, a 100-gun salute at sunrise announced the start of the July 4th observances.

Small boys were turned loose with tin horns, drums, firecrackers, torpedoes, etc., rendering sleep out of the question for nearly every person in town. Procession after procession of drum corps and horn blowers paraded the streets and the authorities with a justifiable spirit of forbearance left the revelers undisturbed.

Pandemonium reigned until 10 a.m. when the assembled throng, numbering in excess of 12,000, lined the parade route along Main Street to witness the procession of the “Antiques and Horribles,” an old New England tradition that had been a part of Vermont Independence Day parades since the mid-19th century.

The prize-winning float that morning depicted recent “Wall-Street swindles.” The Watchman reported: “At one end of a cage was the man who stole $50,000 with his feet on a table, enjoying a cigar and reading a newspaper with all the nonchalance of a banker in his private office, while at the other end of the cage, without even a chair for furniture crouched the miserable wretch who stole a loaf of bread to keep his family from starving. There was too much reality in this illustration to have the average American feel proud of his country and its laws.”

If the foregoing seems to be an odd addition to a Fourth of July parade, such tableaux were a standard feature for such occasions in the 19th century. The spectacle of “Antiques and Horribles” was expected at Independence Day observances throughout New England, and especially in Vermont. In Barre, two years later, the Montpelier Argus and its reporter were the target for ridicule.

It was a contrivance on wheels, drawn by a white horse, consisting of a large banner headed “Argus Reporter,” underneath being a representation of the reporter in a frightened condition, with a dog at his heels, a big foot helping him along, and his notebook flying. Behind this was a concern labeled “Argus Lie Factory.” Following this wagon was a life-sized effigy of the reporter — tarred, feathered — and riding on a rail carried by two men.

A butcher’s cart was made attractive by an enterprising butcher offering woodchucks and bones for sale, Jackson’s Livery, Barre Laundry, the millinery trade, “Barre Sausage Factory,” poker players and other trades or happenings were very comically represented. In fact, the horribles were a success and equal to those gotten up in larger towns or cities.

A St. Albans newspaper in 1878, writing of that town’s parade, characterized the Antiques and Horribles as the American version of “twelfth night mummers and maskers of olden time.” The reporter noted in his description of the parade “this portion of the procession more nearly approached the Roman Carnival, and the ancient Saturnalia than any other mode in which American honor has the privilege of publicly displaying itself. Most of the reigning monarchs of Europe and most of the leading characters of the New World were burlesqued.”

Etymologist Ben Zimmer documented the first parade of Ancients and Horribles which transpired in Lowell, Massachusetts, in 1851. It was intended to lampoon America’s oldest and most honored military company, The Ancient and Honorable Artillery Company of Massachusetts, which was organized in 1638 but had become exclusively a ceremonial unit mustered by the Governor for affairs of state and other official duties that required a degree of pomp and pageantry. The aging stalwarts of the “Ancients and Honorables” adorned themselves in elaborate military costumes and their self-seriousness eventually made them the object of derision. As a 1989 article in Yankee opined, “What better subject for parody than overdressed rich boys playing soldier?”

As the satirical version of the Ancient and Honorables rehearsed their burlesque of the venerable artillery company, the Lowell Courier noted, “The Antique and Horribles meet for drill at the Phalanx Armory to-night. The Governor, whose duty it will be to commission the officers on the Common, has not yet been elected — but he will be duly installed into office before the 4th. It is said that Wm. F. Johnson, the comedian, is the leading candidate. From his known ability, his experience, and the soundness of his creed, it would seem that he is admirably qualified, and will discharge the gubernatorial duties in a manner that could not be approached by his present Excellency, Gov. Boutwell.”

In their Lowell debut, reported the Brattleboro Weekly Eagle, they came out on the morning of the Fourth of July, “with a cannon composed of a pistol mounted on a big pair of stone wheels, and drawn by an ox team!” The Farmers Cabinet (Amherst, New Hampshire) announced, “Among other companies which will be out on the occasion, is the Antique and Horrible Company, whose fantastic dresses will afford considerable amusement.”

The Boston Daily Atlas reported, “the Antique and Horrible Artillery were under command of Capt. J. G. Peabody, who appeared in a venerable coat, said to have been worn at the battle of Bunker Hill. The company numbered about seventy-five, and no two had uniforms alike; there were high-crowned hats and low-crowned hats; long-tailed coats and strait jackets; long guns and short guns; and everything that was grotesque and ludicrous.”

From this well-reported beginning on July 4, 1851, similar spectacles spread throughout New England and, along the North Shore of Massachusetts, some persist to this day. In Vermont, the Horribles procession seems to have found fertile ground in almost every Independence Day parade between 1870 and 1920. It featured a contingent of costumed clowns prepared to poke fun at most established institutions, but especially politicians. As Gail Wiese points out in her 2008 article in “History Connections” (Vermont Historical Society), “horribles parades were infused with an irreverent humor and biting satire. Lofty subjects were made absurd, antiquated, and horrible. Parading with Montpelier Horribles of 1884 were caricatures of President (Chester) Arthur and Ulysses S. Grant.”

While the Parade of Horribles was abandoned by 1900 in most large city Independence Day Parades, the practice seems to have persisted in Vermont for another two decades and the satirical virus infected other celebrations, as well.

A photo from 1911 shows a contingent of Horribles at Barre’s Columbus Day Parade of that year. As newspaper accounts dwindled through the 1920s, the last Antiques and Horribles Parade reported in the Brattleboro Reformer was in Wardsboro in 1950.

Paul Heller is a writer and historian who lives in Barre.


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