MONTPELIER — Levels of toxic PFAS from leachate in treated water leaving the Montpelier Waste Water Treatment Facility are well within national safety guidelines, according to a team monitoring the levels.
Kurt Motyka, assistant director of public works, told city councilors on Wednesday that PFAS in leachate processed in Montpelier were measured at 69.5 parts per trillion, just under the health advisory limit of 70 ppt set by the Environmental Protection Agency. However, the state has set a much more cautious limit of 20 ppt, Motyka added.
Motyka and state environmental officials made a presentation to the council following media reports of concerns about higher levels of PFAS found in treated water at wastewater treatment facilities in Montpelier and Newport.
Newport, which had PFAS levels of 65 ppt has since stopped taking leachate as a result of the Coventry landfill’s new Act 250 permit to expand the facility.
PFAS, or per- and polyfluoroalkyl substances, are a class of so-called “forever chemicals” that do not break down in the environment. Heat resistant and water repellant, they were widely used since the 1940s for non-stick cookware, in waterproofing garments, and as a fire-fighting foam.
PFAS have been found in food, commercial household products, production facilities, biosolids, leachate, drinking water and living organisms, said a report presented to the council. Studies have found that PFAS can cause cancer, damage organs, the reproductive system, and lead to low birth weight.
In 2016, the Department of Environmental Conservation began a study of PFAS in drinking water and surface waters after water supplies in the Bennington and Clarendon areas were found to be contaminated as a result of nearby industrial manufacturing processes.
Montpelier is the largest receiver in the state of leachate, at nearly 11 million gallons in fiscal year 2018, Motyka said.
Motyka’s report to the City Council notes that the city built a receiving station at the wastewater facility in 2002 to accept septage (from septic tanks), and leachate (liquid that leaches from landfills).
The report notes treatment processes are not able to remove PFAS from wastewater. While the EPA and the state had set health advisory limits for PFAS in drinking water, the state had not yet set a PFAS limit for wastewater discharges, the report states.
The report also states the Montpelier facility was the only viable treatment option for leachate with the lowest environmental impact. If Montpelier stopped receiving leachate, it would have to be trucked out of state to other wastewater treatment facilities, but trucking would increase Vermont’s carbon footprint, the report added.
“This is an emerging contaminant and we’re still doing a lot of sampling and trying to get a handle on where things are with it,” Motyka said. “There’s no discharge limit in Vermont for wastewater.”
State officials noted that all landfills and wastewater treatment facilities tested had varying levels of PFAS chemicals.
Lawmakers recently passed Act. 21, requiring the Department of Environmental Conservation to come up with surface water standards for PFAS levels by 2024. However, the state also is waiting to see what the EPA established as “ambient water quality levels,” based on PFAS presence in aquatic species as a guide to risk to human health, by 2022.
Speaking after the meeting, Motyka said the issues of PFAS in leachate would not affect the $16.5 million expansion of the wastewater treatment facility to handle more “high strength waste,” such as dairy and brewery byproducts that would provide an additional revenue source for the city.
MONTPELIER — Activists urged lawmakers Thursday to support a Green New Deal for Vermont as a way to fund immediate steps to address climate change.
There is concern this week that some lawmakers said the bill, S.311, was submitted too late to make it past crossover of bills between the Senate and House. Lawmakers said there were other initiatives to address climate change and Republican Gov. Phil Scott is likely to veto any legislation that raises taxes or might hurt businesses.
The bill proposed last month by Sen. Anthony Pollina, P/D Washington, would raise $30 million a year from the state’s top 5% of earners over five years. Pollina said about 16,000 wealthy Vermonters earning between $200,000 and $500,000 saved about $237 million a year because of recent federal tax cuts, or an average of $33,000 a year each. Under Pollina’s bill, they would contribute about $3,000 a year, or 10 percent of their tax cuts, to Vermont’s Green New Deal.
Pollina said the funds could be used for home weatherization and renewable energy programs, as well as encourage the use of electric vehicles and improve public transportation.
At a packed news conference in the Cedar Creek Room on Thursday, half a dozen activists and supporters of S.311 represented the climate and youth lobbies, agriculture, the labor movement and top lawmakers supporting S.311.
Climate activist Jaiel Pulskamp, co-director of 350 Vermont, said she applauded lawmakers for approving the Global Warming Solutions Act last week, which would mandate state reductions in carbon emissions targets.
She called for a public hearing on S.311 by the Senate Natural Resources and Energy Committee and for lawmakers to pass it.
“This is the most ambitious and important climate legislation to date,” she said. “350 Vermont and our allies support this legislation because it creates a funding source that supports immediate solutions to address the climate crises.”
Pulskamp noted that Renewable Energy Vermont recently reported the number of solar industry jobs had fallen by a third in recent years. She said S.311 could help boost employment in the industry and attract and retain workers to the state.
Pulskamp also urged passage of S.267 that proposes significant increases in renewable energy generation, as well as H.175 which would end the use of eminent domain to seize land for fossil fuel infrastructure.
Montpelier High School student Carmen Richardson-Skinner said, “Young people’s biggest priority is fighting the climate crisis. ... So why would we live in a state without the infrastructure to do it? The Vermont Green New Deal is crucial to meeting Vermont’s emissions goals.”
Danielle Bombardier, secretary/treasurer of the Vermont State Labor Council and a labor organizer with the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local Union 300, “S.311 is a start to far-reaching Green New Deal legislation that must emerge in coming years,” she said. “The bill is progressively funded, seeks to address basic environmental concerns and results in job creation. It’s good for the economy and the environment.”
Maddie Kempner, policy director of the Vermont chapter of the Northeast Organic Farming Association, said its members were facing unprecedented challenges that included climate change.
“(The Vermont Green New Deal) provides an exciting opportunity to recognize ecologically sound farming practices as a critical part of the solution to the climate crisis,” she said.
Pollina noted an ongoing “denial” when it came to taking action on climate change.
“It’s not a denial of climate change – people recognize climate change is a problem,” he said. “It’s a denial of the fact that we need to make the investments in order to combat climate change. It’s not enough to say that it exists and then we’re not going to do anything about it.
Lt. Gov. David Zuckerman said he also supports the bill. “I’m extremely pleased that Senator Pollina introduced this legislation; it’s a topic that a number of us have been talking about with respect to the Trump tax cuts and the wealthiest folks who, generally, are doing OK. The idea of a marginal tax on them to retrieve some of that tax cut to invest in our future is, frankly, a no-brainer,” he added.
Speaking after the news conference, Senate Pro Tempore Tim Ashe, D/P-Chittenden, said lawmakers were working on several bills to address climate change that were identified as priorities in the current session.
“We’re working to accelerate our renewable electricity goals, increase the supply of local power in our utilities’ portfolios, modernize Efficiency Vermont to deliver more substantial emissions reductions, and expand the number of professionals who’ve been trained in their respective fields to reduce environmental impacts,” Ashe said. “In addition, to tackle Vermont’s largest source of emissions from the transportation sector, we’re looking to join the Transportation and Climate Initiative once we’re confident it will be a good deal for Vermont. We’re also working on the Global Warming Solutions bill which just passed the House.”
Committee chairman, Sen. Chris Bray, D-Addison, who is also a sponsor of S.311, said the committee is expected to consider the bill.
In response to concerns that the committee may not have time to vote on the bill before crossover to continue passage through the Legislature, Bray said there is still a chance it could make it through committee and the session, by attaching it to another bill that passes.
“So ... we’ll be holding a public hearing and we’ll be looking for opportunities to work (on it), post-crossover,” Bray said.
Pollina’s bill is a local extension of the Green New Deal proposed at the federal level in February 2019 by Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, and Sen. Ed Markey, D-Massachusetts.
BARRE — In an 18-page decision, a judge has denied a motion asking for the guilty verdict a jury reached to be tossed out in Jayveon Caballero’s murder trial.
Caballero was found guilty in November of second-degree murder in the killing of Markus Austin in Montpelier in January 2017.
According to court records, a witness told police Austin was shot around 4:30 a.m., Jan. 22, 2017, in the parking lot outside his 191 Barre St. apartment in Montpelier. Austin died from a 9 mm gunshot wound to the chest, according to police and court records.
Police said the shooting followed a fight hours prior near a bar in Barre, when witnesses said Austin hit Caballero’s then-girlfriend, Desiree Cary, who required medical treatment as a result. Officials said Caballero waited outside Austin’s apartment before Austin was shot.
Police said Caballero then fled to Florida, where he was arrested in May 2017 and brought back to Vermont.
Officials said it was Montpelier’s first murder in 100 years.
The trial lasted seven days. Caballero had been charged with first-degree murder, but the jury found him guilty of the lesser charge.
The state attorney general’s office had argued Caballero shot Austin while Austin was sitting in his car. Defense attorney Dan Sedon had argued Austin was out of the car when Caballero shot and the bullet ricocheted off Austin’s vehicle, hitting Austin in the chest. He said Caballero did not intend to kill Austin.
In December, Sedon filed a motion asking Judge Mary Morrissey to set the guilty verdict aside and acquit his client. Sedon said the state had failed to provide sufficient evidence proving Caballero’s actions occurred with “conscious disregard” of the risk those actions could present, as in causing Austin’s death by shooting at the vehicle. He said the state also did not produce any evidence showing Austin was sitting in his car at the time of the shooting or what the angle of trajectory was of the bullet, which would help show where Austin was when he was shot.
Assistant Attorney General Jon Waszak wrote in his response to Sedon’s motion there was sufficient evidence for the jury to reach a verdict. Waszak said Caballero doesn’t dispute he was at the scene and fired the gun that caused Austin’s death. Caballero denies he intended to shoot Austin.
Waszak noted witnesses testified at trial it wouldn’t be possible to reconstruct the trajectory of the bullet because you need two fixed points to do so. There was only one in this case, the windshield, while Austin’s body was not a fixed point so it’s impossible to know where his body was exactly when he was shot.
Waszak said during a hearing on the motion earlier this month Sedon’s motion completely ignores surveillance footage at the scene showing Austin was shot seconds after he pulled into the parking lot. The footage is from a camera inside a laundry room pointed at a window in Austin’s building where Austin’s car is observed pulling into the parking lot, stopping suddenly and a small cloud, believed to be glass from the windshield, is seen shortly after the car stops.
Judge Morrissey issued an 18-page decision on the motion Wednesday. In it she said she instructed the jury in order for it to convict Caballero of second-degree murder members of the jury would have to find beyond a reasonable doubt Caballero caused Austin’s death, the killing was unlawful and in causing Austin’s death Caballero either acted with the intent to kill or do great bodily harm or he had a wanton disregard of the likelihood of death or great bodily harm by his actions. She said the jury was specifically told “a wanton act is a reckless act done with extreme indifference to the probability that someone would suffer great bodily injury or die as a result. It is more than extreme negligence.”
The judge also noted while Sedon argued the state failed to prove critical aspects of its theory in this case, the state is only required to prove each element of the offense charged, not every detail of its theory.
Morrissey said the evidence presented at trial showed Caballero shot and killed Austin and that killing was unlawful.
She highlighted part of the surveillance footage which showed the left turn signal on Austin’s car came on seconds after Austin was shot.
“Given how quickly a bullet was fired into Mr. Austin’s vehicle after Mr. Austin was confronted by Defendant in the parking lot, the jury could reasonably have concluded that Mr. Austin was sitting in the driver’s seat of his vehicle when the bullet entered his car. The jury could also reasonably infer that, after being shot, Mr. Austin did not reenter his car to turn on the left turn signal, but, rather, Mr. Austin was still in his vehicle when that action took place,” she wrote.
Morrissey said there was sufficient evidence presented by the state for the jury to find Caballero guilty of second-degree murder beyond a reasonable doubt.
Charity Clark, the chief of staff at the state Attorney General’s office, said in an email Thursday, “We are pleased the Court upheld the jury’s decision and that the jury’s verdict stands.”
Sedon did not respond to a request for comment Thursday.
Caballero is scheduled to be sentenced in May where he faces a life sentence. He is currently being held without bail at Northeast Correctional Complex in St. Johnsbury.
WILLIAMSTOWN — It won’t happen next week, or even next month, but voters here will get a chance to weigh in on an ordinance that — unless they decide otherwise — will open portions of 20 town roads to all-terrain vehicles in mid-May.
A petition signed by 150 registered voters opposed to the controversial ordinance was filed with Town Clerk Barbara Graham on Tuesday and will force a yet-to-be-scheduled special election in April.
ATVs or no ATVs?
That, give or take, is the question voters will be asked to answer during a special election Graham is suggesting be scheduled for April 21 — a Tuesday — at the Williamstown Public Safety Building. Polls would be open from 8 a.m. to 7 p.m., she said.
Graham, who is now readying for next Tuesday’s Town Meeting Day elections at Williamstown Middle High School, said she plans to present her recommendation to the Select Board at its reorganizational meeting on March 9.
That meeting will mark the first time the five-member board will be back to full strength since the Jan. 13 session that began with former Selectman Chris Wade’s abrupt resignation and featured the board’s subsequent adoption of the now-challenged ordinance.
Graham’s husband, local lawmaker Rodney Graham, and Rama Schneider, who served as the non-voting chairman of a committee that deadlocked over key aspects of the ATV ordinance, are both running for the year remaining on Wade’s two-year term. That race will be decided during daylong voting Tuesday.
Though it was briefly possible for the ATV question to be included on the Town Meeting Day ballot that window closed shortly after the ordinance was adopted.
Those opposed to the ordinance immediately mobilized, but initially struggled with wording for the petition. After consulting with the Secretary of State’s Office, they circulated the petitions Grandview Road residents Richard Chalmers and Ronald Cadorette presented to Graham on Tuesday.
Graham said the petitions contained roughly 160 signatures, including 150 that belonged to registered voters. That, she said, was comfortably more than the 122 needed to force a special election and the petition was submitted before Wednesday’s deadline.
Chalmers, Cadorette and others opposed to the ordinance had 45 days from the date of its adoption to file a petition designed to block it from ever going into effect. The petition essentially asks voters to override the Select Board and “disapprove” the ordinance it adopted in January.
Due to the wording of the petition, those who oppose the ATV ordinance will want to vote “yes” when the time comes; those who support it will want to vote “no.”
If one thing has been evident during a year-long debate over whether and under what conditions the town should permit ATVs on many Class 3 roads, it’s that there are plenty of people in both camps.
Those for and against the idea first floated last April by a local ATV club have stacked – including the one in January when the ordinance was finally adopted.
Critics of the ordinance fear it could alter the rural roads along which they live. They say inviting additional traffic in the form of ATVs would generate unwanted noise, could lead to a spike in roadside litter, create safety hazards in some areas and potentially affect property values.
Proponents of the ordinance argue those concerns are overstated and allowing select town roads to be used as part of a broader trail network will be an innocuous change. It’s one that would enable ATVs to travel back and forth between Williamstown and neighboring Washington where a more robust off-road trail network exists. They say it would be a boon for some Williamstown businesses, a convenience for many residents who own ATVs.
Under the ordinance, the on-road trail network would be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m. from May 15 to Oct. 15 each year. It would be evaluated annually and residents could petition the Select Board to add or drop their road from the trail network for the ensuing year. The ordinance dictates the installation of signage and sets the speed limit for ATVs at 20 mph, unless otherwise posted.
The Select Board wrestled with the issue before punting it to a committee, with some members suggesting the question be put to voters. Adopting the ordinance and opening the door to the promised petition allowed that to happen.
“As we enter the most challenging budget season in our recent history, I want to help you understand the progress we’ve made in building a school district of which we can all be extremely proud.”
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