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jebcas / Jeb Wallace-Brodeur / Staff Photo  

Barn Fix

Ed Blackwell replaces siding Wednesday on his historic barn in East Montpelier. Blackwell says the sun takes a toll on the southern side of the barn.

Council to find out what weather vane is worth

BARRE — City councilors say sometimes you have to spend money to save money. They are going to find out the worth of the hammered copper weather vane that was forged for $75 in 1903 and is currently insured for $1.2 million.

Three weeks after tabling a request that they invest in an appraisal of the antique weather vane, councilors agreed it is time to determine what the priceless relic is really worth.

Councilors were told the answer likely will be less than the $1.2 million the city has insured it for since 2007, but the cost of the appraisal – roughly $1,200 – could allow the city to shed what has become a $2,300-a-year insurance expense.

That prospect was part of the council’s calculation, as it weighed whether to invest in an updated appraisal they were told would be needed in order for the Vermont Historical Society to add the city-owned weather vane to the “fine arts policy” that covers its collection.

VHS Executive Director Stephen Perkins officially extended that offer to councilors Tuesday night, suggesting the last appraisal was obsolete and a new one would be needed, barring a decision to gift the weather vane to the historical society.

Though a 12-year-old appraisal suggested the weather vane, which depicts “flying” horse-drawn hook-and-ladder truck, would fetch between $700,000 and $1.2 million at auction, Perkins warned times have changed.

“My opinion (and) I’m not an appraiser, is it’s over-valued at this point (given) where American decorative arts are selling right now,” Perkins said. “That market has cratered.”

That wasn’t the case when the city obtained the earlier appraisal shortly after receiving an unsolicited offer to by the unique weather vane for $500,000. At the time a similar vintage weather vane – this one depicting a steam locomotive tender – had recently been purchased at auction for more than $1.2 million.

Councilor Michael Boutin said he wasn’t worried about the money.

“No matter what value you put on that weather vane, it will not cover the cost of the history that is lost if something happens to it,” he said.

However, Boutin also said he wasn’t convinced the city should continue to pay a premium to insure what Councilor Teddy Waszazak agreed was a “priceless” and “irreplaceable” artifact.

“I’m not confident that we need to insure it for … what we’re insuring it for,” Boutin said, welcoming Perkins offer to insure the weather vane as part of the historical society’s collection.

Perkins said that policy was likely quite different than the one the city is paying for and is based, in part, on the 10 most valuable items in a massive collection.

According to Perkins the city’s policy likely places a replacement value on something that can’t be replaced.

“It’s equating it to cans of tomatoes,” he said. “How much does it cost to replace $1.2 million worth of tomatoes? Here’s the insurance.”

The historical society’s fine arts policy works differently and acknowledges the rare nature of items – like the city’s weather vane – that are covered.

“It’s a one-of-a-kind, so if there’s a loss how do you monetize the loss?” Perkins said of the weather vane.

“It always becomes a negotiation with the insurance company at the time of the loss, regardless of what you valued it at to begin with,” he added. “You lose a Monet painting, Monet is not going to paint it again so … what happens with that?”

Perkins said the historical society’s policy covers its collection and can cover items – like the weather vane – that are loaned, provided there is an up-to-date appraisal performed.

“If we gave it to you?” Boutin asked.

“It would just fall under our policy,” Perkins replied.

Either way Mayor Lucas Herring said an appraisal was warranted and City Manager Steve Mackenzie said any conversation of “gifting” the weather vane to the historical society was premature.

“In theory, this appraisal will pay for itself in a year,” he said. “I say ‘why not?’”

In a related matter, councilors were told the American Folk Art Museum in New York City is interested in including the weather vane in a show planned for next year.

Perkins referred the inquiry to Mackenzie, who said he will bring it to the council when he has more details.

Assuming councilors agree to loan the weather vane for the show it would mark only the second time it has left Barre’s boundaries since it arrived from Boston more than 115 years ago.

The weather vane, which was removed from its long-time perch atop the hose drying tower at the old firehouse in 1983, was stored at the Aldrich Public Library until it was moved to the Vermont History Center in 2007.

While in the care of the library the once-gilded weather vane was taken to Boston to be restored. That work, which involved reattaching the head of one of the two firefighters driving the horse-drawn fire wagon, was financed with a $3,000 grant the library secured in 1993.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

Mackenzie readies to re-bid pool project

BARRE — There is no salvaging the swimming season next summer, but after talking to two contractors City Manager Steve Mackenzie said he is hopeful that plans to make a seven-figure investment in the city’s 70-year-old swimming pool can be revived.

Those plans were dealt a significant blow when the lone bid that was recently received came was more than double the engineer’s estimate. The sobering development derailed plans to have construction start this year in order to finish by a June 26, 2020, deadline.

After speaking with representatives of the only bidder – Weston & Sampson – Mackenzie said the tight time-frame that required winter construction and the shortage of suitable sub-contractors were at least partly responsible for the unexpectedly high $2.4 million bid.

Mackenzie said those considerations also prompted a local firm – E.F. Wall & Associates – not to bid on the project after expressing interest initially.

According to Mackenzie, “debriefing sessions” fueled hope that soliciting a second round of proposals that would give contractors next year’s construction season to complete the project would yield more bids and likely a better price.

How much better is unclear though Mackenzie, who planned to meet with the city’s pool consultant to discuss the project today, expects it is some where between the $1.2 million estimate and the $2.4 million bid.

Even if it is closer to the former than the latter something will have to give because the city only has about $1 million to spend.

“It’s unlikely we can afford the project as conceived,” said Mackenzie, who is advocating an “a la carte” approach to soliciting a second round of bids.

Mackenzie explained that would entail carving the project up into parts that could be bid separately.

“When we get good bids, we can pick and choose as to what we can afford,” he said.

Some work, like decommissioning a structurally compromised subsurface mechanical room isn’t optional. Neither is resealing the leaking pool that has been hemorrhaging roughly 8,000 gallons of water a day.

Mackenzie said plans to create a “beach entry” could be bid separately, while acknowledging that could potentially jeopardize $200,000 in federal funding the city has secured for the pool project.

“I don’t know the answer to that question, but we’ll have to figure it out,” he said, noting the beach entry was initially viewed as a component of the core project.

Plans for to install a splash pad at the pool were recently bid separately and Mackenzie said that wouldn’t change though he predicted the list of items bid as alternates would be somewhat longer and the city is exploring work it could do to bring the project cost down.

Mackenzie said there will be a conversation – first with the consultant and ultimately with the council and interested members of a committee that assisted with developing the pool project – in coming months. He said he plans to put the project back out to bid by mid-February with a mid-March deadline for contractors.

“If we get good bids, it’s full steam ahead,” he said, expressing hope that by providing more lead time, an entire construction season and taking winter work out of the mix he will be able to cobble together a project the city can afford.

Mackenzie said Recreation Director Stephanie Quaranta is working on summer programs that will likely include a day camp for youth with the expectation the pool will be off limits – and hopefully under construction.

“That’s the plan,” he said.

david.delcore @timesargus.com

Bigfoot sightings in central Vermont?

EAST MONTPELIER — Is Bigfoot living in central Vermont?

If you listen to East Montpelier resident Christopher Noel, there is plenty of evidence to justify such a claim – something that has captured the attention of locals on social media in recent days.

Recent posts by Noel present videos of locations in the woods near his home where footprints and stick shelters constructed have been found, as well as audio recordings he made that include strange calls that are not those of “normal” woodland animals.

Noel is convinced they are all made by Bigfoot.

Bigfoot is so-named for the large footprints the creatures create. Sasquatch, the other term applied, means “wild man” in Salish, the language of an ethno-linguistic group of the Pacific Northwest where there have been numerous reported sightings and alleged evidence found. In North American folklore, the creatures are said to be hairy, upright-walking, ape-like creatures that dwell in the wilderness and leave footprints. Depictions often portray them as a missing link between humans and human ancestors or other great apes.

But many critics say the creature, which has been “sighted” in nearly every U.S. state, is mythical or the subject of hoaxes.

Noel is convinced the elusive species is real.

Noel is a Yale University philosophy graduate who previously taught at the Vermont College of Fine Arts. He is the author of numerous books and writings on the Bigfoot, including one that helps identify Sasquatch so-called “stick structures” in the forest attributed to dwellings constructed by the creatures. He also leads “Wild Vermont Expeditions” with targeted trips in Vermont for people interested in immersing themselves in the folklore and legend.

Noel said recent evidence uncovered in the area had led him to go public with his discoveries.

“I have been researching this species quietly and privately for a number of years,” Noel said in an interview Wednesday. “Now I’ve decided to come out ... and reach out to others who may have information to share with me and learn what I have found out, so we can begin to fill in the picture of the habits, the roots and the behavior of our local population.”

Noel was unfazed by questions about the veracity of previous reported sightings recorded on video that were discounted after by anthropologists who declared the creatures were humans disguised as Bigfoot and revealed by their human gait and movement, calling the whole genre into question.

“It’s hard to boil it down, but the best evidence we have so far, even though it’s 51 years old, is the Patterson-Gimlin film, shot in northern California,” Noel said, adding that it was possibly the second most-viewed film footage, after the footage of John F. Kennedy’s assassination in Dallas in 1963.

The Bigfoot film shot by Roger Patterson and Robert Gimlin in northern California in 1967 allegedly depicts a female Bigfoot, informally known as “Patty,” looking back at Patterson and Gimlin.

“The consensus is, outside of the circle of pure cynics, by people who have analyzed the footage with an open mind, is that limb proportions and the gait are not human,” Noel said. “By all rights, the existence of the species should have been confirmed by that footage.”

Noel said there is other recent evidence from trail camera video in Asia, and even DNA evidence.

“I think anyone who spends even two hours looking into the matter, with skepticism but with an open mind, will come away (thinking differently),” Noel said. “Either the species exists or the tens of thousands of reports that have been filed over the decades by people, witnesses – many who don’t want to use their names for fear of ridicule – all have to be incorrect.”

“If even one of those accounts is correct, then probably most of them are, because it means that the species is real – that’s one way I package it,” he added.

Noel added there is more undeveloped forest in North America than there was 100 years ago, providing ample habitat for the creatures.

“The plausibility of the species having been proven already – if people would simply look into the evidence – is that thousands and thousands of footprints have been found from British Columbia to the top of Florida, and they all share a very tight cluster of anatomical traits,” Noel said.

Noel said he was returning to visit a man in Worcester on Wednesday who said he had heard strange calls in the woods and had recorded the sounds.

“He has heard screams in the middle of the night coming from the mountain that rattled the walls in his house and he’s been a hunter and guide for 40 years and knows all the ordinary sounds of the forest, and had never heard anything remotely like that when he first heard it and has now heard it a bunch of times,” Noel said. “The volume is just on a completely different level, in the sense that it rattles windows and walls, and you can feel it in your chest, even though you know it’s no closer than 100 yards away.”

On the Plainfield People Facebook page, Noel has been asking for further evidence, and the public’s help in sharing information. The posts are being widely shared, and have generated a fair amount of comments (as well as skepticism).

To contact Noel, write to MontpelierSasquatch@gmail.com. To view his videos, visit https://youtu.be/m-OaFLbgrGs and https://youtu.be/PxUKeNIwjL4. To visit his website, go to https://www.thebigfootportal.com/christopher-noel/

stephen.mills @timesargus.com


“Two positive developments have emerged in recent days. One is that John Bolton is out as the administration’s national security adviser. ... The other is that the EPA has set itself upon a course to reduce, and eventually eliminate, the practice of subjecting animals — specifically, mammals — to laboratory testing to assess the likely impact of chemicals and other substances upon human beings.”

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Karen Kevra

Meditation Concert. The doors will open at noon, and audience members will find a seat and begin a period of silent meditation. Free, 12-1 p.m. Vermont State House, Cedar Creek Room, 115 State Street, Montpelier, info@capitalcityconcerts.org, 802-793-9291.