MONTPELIER — A call to combat climate change with a comprehensive strategy to save the planet has come from the central Vermont chapter of the Vermont State Employees Association.
The call to action came at the annual meeting of the VSEA chapter last week and may come up again at the annual meeting of the VSEA at Okemo Mountain Resort on Sept. 14.
VSEA is a union that represents 6,200 state employees to improve wages and working conditions through contract negotiations, legislative lobbying, training and education. It is an independent organization, not affiliated with any international union and controls its own policies, procedures and budget.
The central Vermont chapter of the VSEA has defined the dire predictions of climate change in its declaration of a global calamity – but also laid out a detailed strategy to respond to the crisis approved by members. The statement the VSEA chapter issued was drafted by members Bob Atchinson and Ned Swanberg.
“The whole thing was inspired by Greta Thunberg,” said Atchison, referring to the Swedish schoolgirl who sparked a global call to action last year, urging students to skip school and launch protests in their communities, calling for more action to combat climate change.
Since then, there have been several school strikes in Vermont that led to protests that shut down a session the House of the Representatives this year and blocked streets in the Capital City. Other affiliated organizations in Vermont involved in climate protests include 350 Vermont, Extinction Rebellion Vermont and Uprise Youth Action Camp in Marshfield.
More actions are expected, including a call for a global action Sept. 20 that is expected to paralyze many cities and towns with large protests.
However, Atchison said that VSEA members will not be allowed to strike in their official capacity as state employees because of an agreement with the state. But individually, VSEA members can be involved in campaigns that combat climate change, he said.
“People have to realize that there really is something wrong with the planet and it is indeed an emergency,” Atchison said. “So, (our statement) are affirmations that prove that there is a climate emergency and then it talks about some solutions for it.”
“The members of the Central Vermont Chapter of the Vermont State Employees Association calls on all union members and all governments and peoples worldwide to declare a Climate Emergency,” said the statement issued by the VSEA chapter at its annual meeting last week.
The statement went on to call for actions to reverse global warming by restoring “near pre-industrial global average temperatures and greenhouse gas concentrations” and halt all new fossil-fuel infrastructure and technologies that rely on them. The statement also called for efforts to “draw down” carbon from the atmosphere, transitions to regenerative agriculture and end the risk of “the sixth mass extinction” of species on Earth.
Instead, the statement called for efforts to create “high-quality, good-paying jobs with comprehensive benefits for those who will be impacted by this transition,” the statement added.
The statement said there needed to be a return to the goal of the 2015 Paris Climate Accord signed by 175 countries committed to reducing the temperature of the planet to below the 2 degrees Celsius of pre-industrial levels or at least limit the temperature increase to 1.5 degrees Celsius. President Trump has disputed climate change and withdrawn the United States from the climate accord, drawing widespread criticism.
The statement calls for a “blue-green” alliance of labor unions and environmental justice groups to work together to phase out industries that are “harming workers, community health and the planet, while also providing just pathways for workers into new livelihoods.”
To reverse climate change, the statement calls for: A shift in the economy from “dirty energy” by reducing highway construction and expanding public transit; moving from incinerators and landfills to zero waste; switching from industrial agriculture and food systems to more local food production; moving away from urban sprawl to smart-growth urban development; halting “rampant, destructive over-development; and promoting habitat and ecosystem restoration.
The statement said a broad effort to combat climate change would require the participation of all sectors of society, including community organizations, the interfaith community, labor unions, business, and groups that represent people with disabilities, minorities, immigrants and women’s rights organizations.
Atchison said he is already involved in efforts to combat climate change at the local level in central Vermont.
He is a member of RAMP (Revitalizing All of Marshfield and Plainfield), which is a group of residents from both towns that have banded together to strengthen their communities in the face of climate change and make the towns more energy efficient.
The two towns have also joined forces with the Vermont Council on Rural Development, which has developed a climate economy model for communities.
The plan calls for identifying strategies to reduce energy use and carbon emissions and find ways to switch from fossil-fuel use.
Other proposals include strengthening the resiliency of the Route 2 corridor between the two towns, improving and expanding the housing stock, expanding the area’s farm and food network, improving transportation options in the towns and increasing renewable-energy use in homes, businesses and other institutions.
VSEA President Steve Howard said it was not yet clear whether the union would consider adopting the central Vermont chapter’s declaration of a climate emergency statewide at the annual meeting next month.
“Whether the union as a whole will, is not clear at this point,” he said. “Members can certainly bring up anything that is not on the agenda. And there are members of VSEA who are interested in the impacts of climate change.
“You just have to look back to Tropical Storm Irene and all of the dislocation that occurred and all of the state employees risking their lives to save patients at the former state hospital (in Waterbury). VSEA members are concerned about the environment, the impacts of climate change,” he added.
BARRE — Water and sewer rates in the Granite City are now set to go up and up and up and up.
City councilors narrowly approved a plan to incrementally boost rates for both municipal utilities over the next four years following a protracted discussion that required Mayor Lucas Herring to cast the decisive vote Tuesday night.
Though it was at odds with his recommendation, City Manager Steve Mackenzie wasn’t complaining following a 4-2 decision that went further then he was comfortable requesting.
“The need is real,” Mackenzie said shortly after the meeting adjourned.
No one on the council disputed that, though Rich Morey and John LePage said they were uncomfortable committing to four annual rate increases on a single Tuesday night – particularly given one resident’s suggestion they explore an out-of-the-box idea for generating new revenue.
Both Morey and LePage said they favored Mackenzie’s plan – one that would have boosted rates this year and re-evaluated them next year with the expectation additional increases would be needed at that time.
“People are feeling squeezed,” LePage said defending his decision to vote against the multi-year proposal that essentially embraced the findings of a financial analysis of both enterprise funds performed by city staff.
Like LePage, Morey said he would have supported the increases recommended by Mackenzie despite being repeatedly lobbied to vote against them. However, he questioned the wisdom of setting rate increases – that absent some interim action by the council – will automatically go into effect this time next year, the year after that, and the year after that.
Morey said he was concerned the four-year plan could generate “sticker shock” among rate payers that could prove unnecessary if the rate structure is retooled based on a suggestion provided earlier in the evening by Berlin Street resident Mark Duquette.
Essentially, Duquette told councilors they could ease the burden on Barre homeowners by changing the way the city assesses the “base rates” for both water and sewer. Those combined rates currently total roughly $104 a quarter and a charged per connection – not per user.
Duquette argued the city could generate more than $700,000 in new revenue by levying that charge on rental on more than 2,300 rental units instead of just the 600 buildings that house them.
Councilors were intrigued by the idea and while Mackenzie questioned whether it was viable he said it could be studied in the next few months.
Morey argued limiting the proposed increases to one year would send a signal the council was serious about studying the rate structure before considering additional increases next year.
“I’m just concerned if we say ‘four years’ we’re going to sticker shock people (for no reason),” he said.
However, Councilor Teddy Waszazak argued the council owed it to residents to be as clear as it could about the financial needs – current and future – of the water and sewer funds.
“To me, it’s an honesty thing,” he said, noting nothing prevented the council from exploring the idea and possibly revisiting its decision next year.
Faced with rising operating costs and saddled with $3.4 million in new voter-approved debt service and a $921,000 obligation to the state that must be paid off in the next four years, Mackenzie told councilors a rate increase was required. The need, he said, is far more pronounced on the sewer side, which is already running in the red before absorbing the new expenses.
Presented with a plan they were told would cure that over four years and a recommendation they consider implementing it in phases councilors opted for the former. However, in the absence of Councilor Jeffrey Tuper-Giles, Herring had to cast the decisive vote. Herring joined Waszazak, Michael Boutin and John Steinman in the requisite four-vote majority. Morey and LePage both voted against the proposal solely because it contemplated increases beyond those that will be reflected in rates used to calculate bills that will be mailed in coming weeks.
Morey described the consumption-based component of the city’s sewer rate as “shockingly low” compared to other Vermont communities and didn’t dispute the need for the first of four 20 percent increases approved by the council.
Barring some subsequent council-approved adjustment that portion of the rate will more than double over the next four years, from $2.70- to $5.60-per-100 cubic feet of sewage used. That is still less than cities like Burlington and Rutland already charge.
Meanwhile, the sewer “base rate” – the fee you pay just for having the service – is slated to increase 4 percent a year. It will rise from $44.28 to $51.80 per quarter as part of the just-approved plan.
Absent an adjustment the water “base rate” will increase from $4.57- to $5.30-per-100-cubic feet consumed over the next four years. That reflects a 3 percent increase this year and annual increases of 4 percent in each of the three following years.
BARRE TOWN — The state is days away from improving the intersection at Route 110 and Mill Street.
At its regular meeting Tuesday night, the Select Board heard from Erin Parizo, the project manager for the Agency of Transportation, who was there to give a presentation about the project. The intersection, located near the East Barre fire station, has been on the minds of officials for decades. It’s actually a point where four different roads intersect as Mill Street comes down a hill into Route 110 close to where Old Route 302 and Bianchi Street both end at Route 110.
The plan is to realign Mill Street to form more of a curve so that it comes down into Route 110 at a sharper angle. Parizo said the agency wants to do this because right now that intersection has issues with site lines and is a concern when it comes to crashes.
“The impetuous for this project was based on safety and improvements for crashes that were happening in rear-end and sideswipe collisions coming down Mill Street. Essentially we’re T-ing up the intersection a little bit better. Tightening up some of these wide, open pavement areas,” she said.
Some of the pavement will be removed from the area which will increase the green space. The project also includes installing a new drainage system on the south side of Mill Street and adding sidewalk on the north side of the road. Crosswalks will also be added across Route 110 near the roundabout and on Mill Street.
The project is estimated to cost $530,000.
George Carpenter, project manager with J.P. Sicard which has been contracted by AOT to do the project, said it will start Aug. 26 and be finished on or before Nov. 15. Carpenter said the construction will take place during the day. Route 110 will remain open to two-way traffic, but Mill Street will be down to one lane for part of the project. The project will happen in two phases, with the drainage work going first and then the altering of the intersection.
Board member Bob Nelson said there are businesses operating in the area where the construction will take place. Nelson asked if there had been any consideration into doing the work at night. Carpenter said that hadn’t really been discussed, but the business owners have been contacted and consulted.
There had also been some discussion about making Bianchi Street one way when this project was in planning stages. Parizo said that is no longer part of the project so the street will remain two-way.
“We long for change. We are uneasy in the prickles of our dissatisfaction. We are confused by the wild complexity of this world around us. We live in chaos and in chaotic times. We strive for simple moments of comfort and understanding.”
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Big Hat No Cattle
Old and new songs with a vintage western vibe. Local food vendors, bake & book sale and silent auction. Free, 6:30-8:30 p.m. Jaquith Public Library, 122 School St., Room 2, Marshfield, firstname.lastname@example.org, 802-426-3717.