MONTPELIER — The Vermont Supreme Court has upheld an Act 250 permit for crushing rock at Rock of Ages, ending a years-long battle with residents.
The decision, released Friday, will allow North East Materials Group to continue crushing granite at the quarries in Barre Town.
North East Materials Group started crushing granite in 2009 after a state environmental commission decided the company didn’t need an Act 250 permit to do so. In August 2016, the Vermont Supreme Court decided the operation did need such a permit. The commission decided against issuing the company a permit due to issues with noise and dust that did not comply with the act.
The Environmental Court reversed that decision, stating the crushing operation did comply with the Act 250 criteria concerning noise and dust. The court based its decision on data from air-emissions modeling that showed the crushing adhered to the state’s air quality standards. It also decided the truck noise from transporting the crushed stone complied with Act 250 based on data modeling.
A group of residents in Graniteville called Neighbors for Healthy Communities has opposed crushing at Rock of Ages for years. The group appealed the Environmental Court’s decision to the state Supreme Court, saying the noise and dust were not in compliance.
In its decision Friday, the court first talked about the noise issue. It said in order for an Act 250 permit to be denied, there needs to be a showing that the noise will cause an “undue adverse effect” on the area. The decision said the Environmental Court concluded the noise from the trucks themselves would not result “in an adverse aesthetic impact” because the noise of the trucks is consistent with the surrounding area, which is an industrial site. The court did say the increase in truck traffic would cause an impact, but it would not be undue. It said the average person would not be “shocked” by the slight increase in truck traffic.
The residents’ appeal over noise was based on the court using two noise assessments: one based on how loud the noise would be at one moment in time and one based on the increase in noise over time. The residents said the Environmental Court should only have focused on the noise at one moment in time. The Supreme Court disagreed, noting there was nothing barring the Environmental Court from using both assessments.
For the dust, the residents argued the Environmental Court erred because its findings were “unsupported by the evidence, implausible, illogical, and internally inconsistent.” They argued the court did not have sufficient evidence to decide if the crushing operation was in compliance.
The Supreme Court said Act 250 states a project will not cause “undue water or air pollution.”
The decision said an expert for the crushing company testified using standards from the Environmental Protection Agency to present modeling that showed the company would be in compliance with such standards. The residents argued such modeling should not have been used, but the Supreme Court said there’s nothing barring it.
“These findings were amply supported by the evidence at trial, and the court’s reliance on the modeling was not in error,” the court said.
James P. W. Goss, an attorney who represented Rock of Ages and the crushing company in the appeal, said Friday the companies are pleased with the result. Goss said the decision was not only a victory for his clients, but also for the planning process and local control.
“This case was about a rock crusher inside the largest rock quarry in the state of Vermont on land which was zoned industrial and been industrial for a century,” he said.
The residents were represented by the Environmental and Natural Resources Law Clinic at the Vermont Law School. Attempts for comment from the clinic were unsuccessful Friday.
BARRE — The teacher evaluation process is suddenly under evaluation in the two-town, three-school Barre Unified Union School District.
Superintendent John Pandolfo told members of the Barre Unified School Board during their Thursday night meeting he established a process for evaluations in his role as curriculum coordinator several years ago.
That process involves extensive evaluations for teachers during their first two years of employment. “Experienced teachers” would have “observation-based assessments” consisting of at least two “walk-through” observations performed by building-based administrators each year. It also includes a more formal evaluation process when there are performance-based concerns and includes supports for teachers whose performance has been flagged.
“The assumption is we are operating from a ‘growth’ model, not a ‘gotcha’ model,” Pandolfo explained.
While the process can lead to a decision not to renew a contract, Pandolfo said the hope is those who need support get it and are able to overcome perceived shortcomings in four broad areas that are evaluated.
Those areas include planning and preparation, instruction, classroom management and professionalism — criteria Pandolfo said ought not be confused with “misconduct” or “discipline.”
“Those are two separate issues,” he said, conceding they are occasionally confused.
Pandolfo said “misconduct” triggers a “progressive discipline process” that can lead to termination, while evaluations focus on teacher performance and how it might be improved.
Pandolfo said the vast majority of teachers across a district, which includes elementary schools in Barre and Barre Town, Spaulding High School and the Central Vermont Career center, are in the “experienced” category. He said a small percentage of them warrant formal evaluation.
School Director Sonya Spaulding was skeptical, suggesting that could be because the evaluations of those teachers are based on brief classroom visits by supervisors, at least one of which is announced.
“I’m concerned that the only thing we’re basing our evaluations on is walk-through observations by the teachers’ boss,” she said, noting teachers might be inclined to up their games when a principal was in the room.
Pandolfo said he is open to alternatives, but reminded the board all three schools have sizable teaching staffs and that would have to be evaluated by a handful of building-based administrators. That’s why, he said, he developed the system now in place.
“It’s better to be more frequently in classrooms doing smaller observations than it is trying to do this big process that is probably more than is reasonable to expect to get done because it wasn’t getting done,” he said.
Spaulding proposed an enhanced evaluation that would solicit input from other sources.
“What I’m suggesting is … we ask other people for feedback — students, parents, para-educators,” she said, suggesting that wouldn’t require any more effort by building administrators.
“I’m not asking them (administrators) to do more walk-throughs,” Spaulding added. “I’m not asking (them) to do any more observations or formal evaluations. I’m not asking for any additional work.”
Except, Pandolfo noted, compiling and analyzing the solicited feedback, which he said is something he conceptually supports.
“I’m all for that,” he said. “I’m going to say that was my idea.”
That said, Pandolfo warned that union buy-in was crucial and he feared the board was getting ahead of itself by entertaining a proposal to ask its curriculum committee to discuss a mechanism for support staff, parents and in some cases students, to provide feedback on teacher performance.
“We are absolutely going to have to involve the teachers union and the para-educators union in this discussion,” he said.
School Director Gina Akley said the board should proceed with caution when it came to the idea of “360 evaluations.” Done right, she said, they could be tremendously useful tools. Done wrong, they could destroy trust that would take years to rebuild.
“You really don’t want to rush into it,” she said.
Pandolfo agreed the proposal would require thoughtful conversation and an understanding that not all feedback would be objective or useful.
“Sometimes who students think are the best teachers … aren’t necessarily who administrators, colleagues, parents or someone else think are the best teachers,” he said.
Based on his experience as a parent and anecdotal conversations he’s had with others in the community, School Director Tim Boltin questioned whether the evaluation process is working.
“I don’t get how we’re missing this,” he said.
“I’m worried about these students who are getting stuck in classrooms where teachers are not performing to their best,” Spaulding said, lamenting what she characterized as a “lost year” for those students.
“Would you want your kid in that classroom?” she asked Pandolfo.
“I’ve been in that classroom,” the superintendent replied. “Haven’t you been in that classroom? Has every teacher you’ve had throughout your school career been excellent?”
Spaulding didn’t relent.
“That’s my point,” she said. “I think we have to have a level of excellence instead of a level of mediocrity.”
“I hope you understand I’m all about excellence,” Pandolfo said.
“Just like we have a variety of students we have a variety of teachers,” he said. “We’re always trying to improve.”
Though board members spent nearly an hour talking teacher evaluations, they agreed to let the process play out.
School Director Guy Isabelle credited Pandolfo with creating a credible evaluation system that has frequently been used to improve teacher performance in the classroom.
“We have a system,” he said. “Maybe it’s not perfect, but we have a system.”
Isabelle said the district has been well-served by Pandolfo’s sensitivity when it comes to labor relations due to his days as lead negotiator for the local teachers union.
NEW YORK — Major phone companies have pledged to do more to fight robocalls plaguing Americans, the country’s state attorneys general say.
It’s the latest step from government and industry to combat the growing problem. Americans get nearly 5 billion automated calls from scammers, telemarketers, debt collectors and others every month. Parts of the agreement echo steps already taken by regulators and Congress, which is working on anti-robocall bills.
There’s no timeline, though, for the 12 major phone companies in the pact to fulfill the promises announced Thursday by attorneys general from all 50 states and the District of Columbia.
According to the agreement, the companies will offer call-blocking tools for free to customers, with the exception of those who still use old copper landline phones (where it’s more difficult from a technical standpoint). Many of the major companies already offer this, although some charge for some or all of the services.
Also, the companies will block calls for everyone at the network level, landlines included.
The Federal Communications Commission has called on phone companies to block unwanted calls and expects carriers not to charge.
The agreement asks the carriers to deploy a system that can label caller ID numbers as real. Scammers often use faked numbers to get people to pick up. The FCC already has asked for such a system, and companies have started rolling it out.
The state AGs asks the companies to “dedicate sufficient resources” to quickly figure out where illegal robocalls are coming from when asked by law enforcement or by an existing industry group that is dedicated to tracing the origin of scam calls.
The telecom companies involved are AT&T, Bandwidth, CenturyLink, Charter, Comcast, Consolidated Communications, Frontier, Sprint, T-Mobile, U.S. Cellular, Verizon and Windstream. Not included are Altice and Cox, cable companies with millions of customers, as well as many small rural telecoms.
BURLINGTON — The second of two Calais men facing federal drug charges has been sentenced for dealing heroin.
Shaun Kastner, 37, was sentenced in U.S. District Court in Burlington on Monday to nine years to serve on a felony count of conspiracy to distribute heroin. Kastner pleaded guilty to the charge in February.
Victor Tyree, 27, was sentenced in August 2018 to five years and five months to serve for the same charge. He pleaded guilty in March 2018.
According to an affidavit, a member of the Northern Vermont Drug Task Force spoke in February 2017 to a confidential informant who reported he or she was able to buy heroin from Kastner. The informant told the task force Kastner had been selling large amounts of heroin and cocaine and that he or she had purchased drugs from Kastner in the past, according to the affidavit.
In March 2017, the task force met with the informant in Essex, the affidavit said. The informant called Kastner and the pair discussed drug prices, and Kastner told the informant he was currently charging $650 for 100 bags of heroin.
According to the affidavit, a controlled buy was set up later that month. The task force said the informant met with Kastner in Williston and purchased 40 bags of suspected heroin for $280 while task force members watched. The substance field-tested positive for heroin, according to the affidavit.
The affidavit said an attempt was made in May for a second controlled buy. Kastner told the informant he wasn’t around but he offered to help the informant purchase heroin from someone named “Loso.” The affidavit said Loso was later identified as Tyree.
According to the affidavit, a controlled buy was then set up with Tyree. The task force said the informant was given $350 to purchase heroin from Tyree at a residence on Blackberry Ridge Road in Calais. The task force said the informant went inside and came back a short time later with 50 bags of suspected heroin.
The informant reported to task force members that while inside the home he or she saw a gallon-sized ziplock bag that was half to three quarters full of heroin. The informant also reported seeing about $10,000 in cash inside the home.
According to the affidavit, a third controlled buy was conducted in June 2017. The informant was again given $350 dollars and purchased 50 bags of suspected heroin.
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