• Central Vermont stories of 2012
    December 26,2012
    Mark Collier / Staff Photo

    Ryan Cairns and friend Lia Tarr take a moment to comfort each other following the memorial service for Melissa Jenkins at St. Johnsbury Academy in St. Johnsbury Friday afternoon. Cairns and Jenkins were former roommates.

    Revitalizing downtown Barre

    BARRE — It’s not often that a vacant lot generates a big buzz, but the one between the Paramount Theatre and Studio Place Arts sure did in Barre this year.

    Barring some almost unfathomable turn of events, a four-story, 78,000-square-foot structure will be built on that lot in 2013. However, the proverbial foundation for the game-changing downtown redevelopment project dubbed City Place was poured in 2012.

    It was a yearlong endeavor — one that began in January with a public roll-out of the project that Mayor Thomas Lauzon once described as a pipe dream and will end before 2013 rolls in when the final piece of the financing puzzle is expected to fall into place.

    The year started with Gov. Peter Shumlin pledging to consolidate the currently fragmented offices of the state Department of Education in the proposed structure. It then saw the city pick a developer — DEW Properties LLC of Williston — lobby the Legislature, court prospective tenants and orchestrate an incredibly complex series of land transactions that were finally sewed up during a closing that lasted more than eight hours.

    Assuming DEW gets a thumbs up on its request for federal tax credits, work could begin next month and will take all of 2013 and then some. The building is scheduled to be ready for occupancy a year from February.

    Most of the tenants — including the Education Department, Rehab GYM and Central Vermont Medical Center — have been identified, and the project is expected to bring 300 jobs — most of them state employees — to downtown Barre. Prime ground-floor retail space in the mixed-use building has not yet been spoken for, but a group weighing the potential of creating a cooperatively owned grocery store in downtown Barre is interested.

    — David Delcore

    Worth the wait

    BARRE — The “Big Dig” was a very big deal in Barre in 2012, and while there is a little work left to do next spring, for all practical purposes the long-promised reconstruction of North Main Street is finally in the Granite City’s rearview mirror.

    Insert exhale here.

    The project that was always “coming soon,” but never seemed to arrive, finally did this year. And with the exception of a top coat of asphalt and a short stretch of sidewalk, the $17 million makeover — which included the cost of replacing century-old water and sewer lines deep beneath the road — is complete.

    It was a wild ride, and while there were a few bumps along the way — a fractured sewer line here, a bunch of disappearing cobblestones there — it was truly an educational experience.

    Here’s some of what we learned:

    n Round-the-clock construction is a whole lot less disruptive than it sounds, but worth every penny in terms of expediting a project that closed North Main Street to through traffic for several months.

    n Barre merchants are an incredibly resilient bunch, remaining open and optimistic even when there was no street or sidewalks in front of their stores.

    n The downtown detour worked — perhaps too well, fueling the recent dust-up over whether Summer Street should be converted into a permanent truck bypass.

    Trucks or no trucks, Barre’s new-look North Main Street looks great, was finished ahead of schedule, and has spawned a renewed sense of community pride.

    It was, to quote one merchant who waited more than 20 years for the promise to be kept: “Worth the wait.”

    — David Delcore

    ‘Bath salts’ target of new rules

    BARRE — This year saw plenty of people using “bath salts” — outside the tub.

    In July, Mayor Thomas Lauzon joined in the fight against the recreational drugs known as bath salts, saying there was a significant spike in the use of the dangerous drugs in the city. Two shops in the Barre area were known to be selling the substances, which at the time weren’t outlawed.

    Over the summer, Gov. Peter Shumlin pushed through two emergency rules that banned the substances in Vermont. Earlier attempts to do so around the nation had been thwarted by manufacturers altering ever so slightly the chemical makeup of the substances without changing their effects. To address that problem, the emergency rules written earlier this year included broad language banning any chemicals that caused the desired effect of the drugs.

    Dr. Mark Depman, head of the emergency department at Central Vermont Medical Center in Berlin, said the drugs are stimulants that can be smoked or injected and can cause hallucinations, violent behavior, paranoia, seizures, muscle breakdown and death.

    Depman said in September that the number of people who were coming to the hospital “high” on bath salts had drastically fallen from a few every week to fewer than five in a three-month period, thanks to the new rules.

    Still, bath salts haven’t been entirely wiped out in the region. Police say a man who crashed his car into the side of a building in White River Junction on Dec. 16 may have been under the influence of the drugs.

    -Eric Blaisdell

    Hearing set in St. J murder

    ST. JOHNSBURY — Tuesday was the first Christmas of many that Melissa Jenkins’ young son will have to celebrate without his mother.

    Police say the St. Johnsbury teacher was brutally murdered by a Waterford couple in March and her body dumped into the Connecticut River. According to court records, Jenkins’ two-year-old son was found in her vehicle and may have seen Jenkins get strangled after she was lured out of her home by the couple.

    Patricia Prue, 33, is facing an aggravated murder charge, accused of killing Jenkins during a sexual assault or attempted sexual assault. Allen Prue, 30, is facing a first-degree murder charge. Both have pleaded not guilty and are facing separate trials.

    Caledonia County State’s Attorney Lisa Warren said that Patricia Prue has a hearing scheduled for this Friday because her attorney has requested the records of the inmates with whom Prue is being held. Warren said she objects to the motion, citing a lack of relevance to the case.

    Earlier this year, Patricia Prue had tried unsuccessfully to get her trial moved out of Caledonia County.

    Another court date has yet to be set in Allen Prue’s case.

    Barring any further motions that could delay the trials, Warren said she expects them to begin next summer.

    -Eric Blaisdell

    Moretown landfill slated to close

    State officials declared the Moretown landfill was not meeting the necessary standards to keep operating.

    The state issued a scathing criticism of the landfill in late November, noting the company’s 13-year history of odor problems, which includes two court orders and six notices of alleged violation. Days before Christmas, the state released a draft determination, which if it stands, will be issued as a final decision March 8 and immediately trigger a closure plan.

    Whether the operating company of the landfill continues with an application for a proposed Cell 4 expansion, equivalent to the size of the previous three cells or dumping areas, remains to be seen.

    -David Taube

    Waterbury long-term recovery projects continue

    Undeterred by reduced grant funding and competitive applications, Waterbury officials have continued to pursue long-term recovery projects in the aftermath of Tropical Storm Irene.

    More than 20 recovery projects have been conceived, ranging from proposals for a new municipal center and arts center, the creation of a local development corporation, and enhanced business marketing efforts.

    State Rep. Rebecca Ellis, D-Waterbury, said seven projects have already received some sort of funding, and 13 projects are likely to get funding in the future. One key part of the effort has been to develop a stretegic recovery plan that’s been used a template for ongoing grant proposals.

    “It’s really helpful to have a plan and to have goals.” Ellis said. “As a result we’re really able to take advantage of grant opportunities when they come up.”

    -David Taube

    Pond debate

    BERLIN — Splash! Splash, splash, splash, splash!

    What might make such a sound?

    In 2012 it arguably could have been attributed to all five members of the Vermont Supreme Court hopping feet first into a long-running legal battle over Montpelier’s right to unilaterally regulate recreational use of its public drinking water supply.

    For folks who haven’t been paying attention: Montpelier lost.

    The justices — every last one of them — came down on the side of a couple of scofflaws from Barre, who argued that a long-standing prohibition on boating, fishing and swimming in Berlin Pond was obsolete.

    Turns out they were right, at least in the estimation of Vermont’s highest court, which toppled a precedent that had stood for more than a century. Their ruling, which was issued in May, essentially concluded that if Montpelier was interested in imposing recreational restrictions on the pond that it relies on for drinking water, it was going to have to ask the state for permission.

    State officials quickly opined there was no good reason to grant such a request, and what ensued was pretty predictable: kayakers kayaked, canoeists canoed, fisherfolk fished, nobody seemed much interested in swimming, and folks who live around the pond and a good number who simply view it as a rare ecological resource complained.

    Members of the Berlin Select Board struggled to respond to the competing demands of two equally passionate groups. In the end, they punted — placing a referendum on the November ballot that went in favor of those who support reasonable recreational access to the pond.

    However, for the moment at least, a tiny town-owned parcel with 85 feet of shoreline remains posted against trespassers, and guardrails were recently installed at town expense on Mirror Lake Road. That location has become the favored access to the pond because the public right of way overlaps the edge of the pond at a culvert.

    Town officials are still wrestling with how to respond to the state’s offer to develop a modest access for nonmotorized boats in the wake of the lopsided November vote. Though things have been quiet lately, that will likely change when the pond freezes over and folks decide to go ice fishing there.

    - David Delcore

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