Category Archives: local/regional

McAllister to stand trial (again) for sexual assault

Good news for those of us who felt Mr. McAllister’s plea deal cheated his constituents of the opportunity to hear all the details of the case, including Mr. McAllister’s defense, in open court.

He had a good thing in that plea deal, which spared him exposure to a life sentence; but now that he has chosen to withdraw from the deal, all bets are off.

It appears from news reports that McAllister’s second thoughts on the plea deal were largely due to a concern to preserve his farm from vulnerability in an upcoming civil case, filed by one of his victims. He claims that he was unaware, at the time of accepting the plea deal, that it would represent a tacit admission of guilt and could jeopardize his defense in that pending civil suit.

The need to prepare a second time for trial and to screen a second jury is a burden on the county; the county for which he served as an unyielding fiscal and social conservative voice for a number of years. Not so concerned with the people’s purse now, are we Mr. McAllister?

This of course does not address the repeated pretrial stress on the victim; still awaiting her day in court.

A trial date has not yet been announced; but once again, I sincerely hope that the women of Franklin County turn out to support the victim.

Could Vermont’s EB-5 Regional Center wither away?

Of course it’s hard to match the impact of the original headlines from Stenger & Quiros’ Jay Peak EB-5 scandal — but two resulting events, largely unnoticed by comparison, will soon impact Vermont’s EB-5 Regional Center.

buriedEB5 3The first change was set underway when, to prevent future “Ponzi-style” EB-5 scandals, Vermont shifted financial oversight responsibility from the Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD)  to the Department of Financial Regulation (DFR). The focus jumped from wooing overseas investors with almost full-time EB-5 boosterism to tightening up financial oversight.

Along with this shift came legislative adjustments allowing the DFR to control charges and enact new fees for those participants in the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center. Additionally the DFR was given authority to invoice EB-5 developers for its oversight and regulation. Moves were also made to rein in the ACCD’s taxpayer support for advertising, out-of-state  travel, and other promotional work through the Regional Center on behalf of EB-5 developers.

And recently Peak Resorts /Mt. Snow surprised top state officials  by announcing the formation of their own independent EB-5 center. The resort had to struggle with waiting on a payment for an ongoing project from their EB-5 investor funds held in escrow by the state as a guarantee.

By setting up their own EB-5 program, the out-of-state resort owners can happily gather-up their foreign funds through the investment-for-visa immigration program, independent of the Vermont-run EB-5 Regional Center with whom they formerly were partnered.

In fact, Mt. Snow Resorts probably has an inside track on this approach, should it become a trend for other EB-5 developers here in Vermont. In 2015 they hired the director of the Vermont EB-5 Regional Center — grabbing Brent Raymond directly out of the revolving door. As director, Raymond’s duties for the state included both promotional activities and monitoring EB-5 program compliance under state and federal financial regulations. Quite the catch.

So, the Jay Peak financial scandal has forced Vermont’s Regional Center EB-5 Program to change their regulatory responsibilities and funding — and perhaps most importantly, the state-run monopoly on EB-5 regulation and oversight is now threatened. It might even spell extinction rather than evolution for the Vermont ACCD’s Regional Center.

However, here and nationally, independent EB-5 foreign investment-for-visa programs are bound to stick around. Even in the midst of the new President’s immigration crackdowns, access to large chunks of quickly attainable legal foreign investment money is tough for any developer to deny themselves. You could even say it is almost impossible to resist — one New York finance broker said the EB-5 immigrant money racket was so good “[It] sounds like legalized crack cocaine.”

After all, even Donald Trump is tapping EB-5 funds for one or more of his gang’s projects. If it’s good for the President, it must be good for the country, right? … Right? … Amiright?

Recreation and Drinking Water

We’ve talked about this issue before: what level, if any, of recreational use–boating, kayaking, fishing, etc.–should be allowed in Berlin Pond, the body of water located in Berlin and owned by Montpelier that provides drinking water for the capital city. The argument has even been to the Vermont Supreme Court, which ruled that the city charter, as it then existed, did not allow Montpelier to prohibit recreational use of the pond.

Well, the conversation is still going on years later. If you’re interested in the science of the debate, take a look:

Informational meeting on the potential impact of recreational use of Vermont’s small drinking water ponds, including Berlin Pond, with regard to pathogenic contamination.

Wednesday, March 15, 1:30-3:00 p.m., Montpelier City Hall Council Chambers

Dr. Jeffrey Griffiths, an expert on Cryptosporidium and Cryptosporidiosis, and other waterborne infectious diseases, will speak on the potential contamination of Montpelier’s drinking water source, Berlin Pond, by pathogens such as Cryptosporidium, should recreation be allowed to continue. Dr. Griffiths is a professor of Public Health and Community Medicine at Tufts University School of Medicine, and former chair of the EPA Drinking Water Committee. For more information on Dr. Griffiths go to http://publichealth.tufts.edu/About-Us/Public-Health-Rounds-Newsletter/Dr-Jeffrey-Griffiths-Career-Comes-Full-Circle-at-Tufts-University

Cryptosporidium is one of the highest causes of waterborne infectious disease in the US. In fact, the EPA has a rule devoted primarily to combating that pathogen, which is carried in the human gut and is not affected by chlorine. Yet the Agency of Natural Resources has said nothing about it since the state began allowing recreation on Berlin Pond, and also Stiles Pond which serves St. Johnsbury, in 2012. The State has said it wants to allow recreation on all the drinking water ponds, including the Thurmond Dix Reservoir.

Dr. Griffiths was recommended by the NH Dept. of Environmental Services where he previously testified in a similar case.

Everyone is welcome. Bring questions!

Contact Page Guertin – pguertin@myfairpoint.net – if you can’t attend and have a question to ask. The event will be videoed by ORCA.

 

Gov. Sununu carries water for EPA’s Scott Pruitt

Vermont better keep an eye on this if only because we “share” the Connecticut River and for that matter a planet, with New Hampshire. It appears that state’s new Republican Governor Chris Sununu wants a little jump start on polluting his state waterways and may want to take a time out from his ongoing voter suppression campaign.waterdownhill

To those ends Sununu sent a letter inviting to New England Scott “big oil BFF” Pruitt, the new head of the US Environmental Protection Agency,  to explore loosening “burdensome” regulations governing storm water rules. His letter references a program that requires towns that collect and dispose of storm water to get a special permit. Such disposal can pass pollutants into water systems.  Do you suppose Sununu cc’d his invite on this one to his fellow New England Republican Governors, his  buddies Phil Scott and Charlie Baker?

Pruitt, the new head of the US EPA might enjoy a diversion after he came under fire last week for comments openly questioning accepted facts about climate change science. By the end of week the EPA’s telephone voice messaging system was overwhelmed with a massive number of calls.

Governor Sununu will always enjoy discussing tearing up a few clean water regulations and Pruitt will get a nice friendly regional platform to spew Trump’s anti-regulation initiatives.

But no worries: Sununu claims that, as if by magic “if these federal mandates disappeared tomorrow, New Hampshire would not cease to keep our waters clean.”  He may starkly figure ‘so what’ about a polluted NH or planet: after all, we ‘live free and die.’  Besides, it all runs downhill (out of New Hampshire) doesn’t it, Governor?

Darcie Johnston & Trump’s little shop of hires

ProPublica has compiled an online directory of 400 political hires Donald Trump has quietly made across the federal government. And as we know, Vermonter Darcie Johnston made the cut. The anti-Obama healthcare advocate and former Trump for President Campaign leader got herself a real job in the Federal Government. She’ll be working at Health and Human Services as a Special Assistant. The job is rated GS-14 which pays from $88,136.00 – $114,578.00 yearly.

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The list assembled by ProPublica is a complete accounting of names that would normally just have dribbled out to the press. It shows the appointees to Trump’s so-called beachhead team. These are Donald loyalists named to federal jobs that need no senate confirmation: Trump’s true believers or just berserkers ready on day one, they said, to to begin laying the groundwork for the president-elect’s agenda.

Several of Donald’s more noteworthy best and brightest are spotlighted. Here are three likely worth keeping an eye on: A Trump campaign aide who argues that Democrats committed “ethnic cleansing” in a plot to “liquidate” the white working class found a home as Special Assistant to the Secretary, Department of Labor.

At the Department of the Treasury a former reality show contestant whose study of societal collapse inspired him to invent a bow-and-arrow-cum-survivalist multi-tool will test his mettle as a special assistant.  And finally, hailing from New Hampshire a Trump supporter who has only recently graduated from high school.

Maybe Darcie  and this kid will carpool back home to New England on holidays.

VT Dems’ New Chair Has to Hold Big Tent Together

I was so proud to be a member of the Vermont Democratic Party State Committee on Saturday when Faisal Gill, a Pakistani-born Muslim-American was elected Interim Chair. Over the next few months the VT Dems will need our new Chair to hold the big tent of the VDP together.

Out-going Chair Dottie Deans, while thanking the committee and staff for their hard work in her remarks, also issued an impassioned plea for the committee to stick together in spite of disagreements. She mentioned some tough conversations about issues like renewable energy siting that have split the committee in the past. The biggest challenge now will likely come in the form of keeping disillusioned “Berniecrats” active within the Vermont Dems.

Faisal Gill was elected Interim Chair of the Vermont Democrats, Saturday March 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Faisal Gill
Faisal Gill was elected Interim Chair of the Vermont Democrats, Saturday March 4, 2017. Photo courtesy of Faisal Gill

Faisal Gill won the election for Chair in a race against Nick Clark, who was very active for Bernie during the 2016 primary and has been an avid organizer of progressive Democrats and the founder of the Upper Valley Young Liberals. During the campaign I was personally accused of “exclusivism and elitism” for supporting Gill over Clark by one Upper Valley Young Liberal. I spoke with several of Nick’s supporters after Saturday’s election, and urged them to stay involved. I heard “I think I’m done with the Democratic Party after this.” from one UVYL member. “We need a change and this is just more of the same top-down elitism.” From another UVYL supporter, clearly frustrated with the State Committee’s 31-7 vote for Gill. He said “It’s like no one in the Vermont Democrats gives us any credit for what we’ve done, except the occasional mention.”

It will be a challenge to keep these passionate, progressive Democrats in the fold for the 2018 election cycle. Frankly, their expectations of the VDP are unrealistic. Change comes slowly, and the State Committee has activists and organizers that have been with the party for decades who are skeptical of any new faction asserting authority. However, I agree that the VDP is an institution that could use new blood (including relatively new voices like Faisal Gill).

My advice to the UVYL is this: Keep working with the Vermont Democratic Party. Get on your Town and County Committees, seek the change you want from within. People will welcome you and listen to you, but you also should listen to them. Learn what works and doesn’t work in political organizing and demonstrate your value helping candidates you can support get elected to office.  This party sent at least one of your members to the DNC as a delegate. We may not have voted for your candidate for Chair, but you’re not being ignored. We want you and we need you. I want your voices at the table, but I’m not ready to hand over the gavel to you yet. Politics and party-building are about compromise.  If your strategy is all or nothing, you aren’t going to accomplish anything.

The election of Faisal Gill is great for the Vermont Dems. It’s a powerful message that we reject racial and religious discrimination. However, I think that Faisal’s commitment to organizing, fundraising and herding cats at State Committee meetings is impressive on its own and he’ll be great. He has big shoes to fill, but I’m excited to see what he can do to get us ready for what’s likely to be a crazy election cycle next year.

Nuke security report: “opportunities exist for program improvement”


Vermont Yankee is in the decommissioning process; its owner Entergy has plans to sell the out-of-operation plant to an industrial demolition company, NorthStar Group Services Inc. However, VY may not be ready to cool down as an issue yet: Vermont’s attorney general is asking to intervene in the state Public Service Board’s review of the sale of the closed Vermont Yankee power plant, saying significant environmental and financial issues are at stake.

It seems Vermont AG Donovan wants to keep a sharp eye on good old Vermont Yankee. Considering Entergy’s past, spotty record on safety (or lack of it) – underground leaks, fire and a spectacular cooling tower collapse – and security (or lack of it, as in sub-contracted Wackenhut Security guards sleeping on the job) this is probably a good idea.

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Almost a year ago Entergy significantly scaled back its emergency notification and management protocols. And security concerns may also be an issue to watch as spent  nuclear fuel will remain onsite for some time to come. This February the NRC signed off on Entergy’s security changes for the now out-of-operation plant. Specifics regarding the changes are not public,as a precaution, but it is likely they involve lowering certain requirements.

One thing the NRC and certainly Entergy didn’t mention in public was that it was  auditing security rules for nuclear plants going through decommissioning. The NRC Office of Inspector General’s report, now available, recommends: [the NRC] clarify which fitness-for-duty elements licensees must implement to meet the requirements of the insider mitigation program; and to establish requirements for a fatigue management program. [PDF here]

Threats from “insiders” are defined by the International Atomic Energy Agency (IAEA) as individuals with authorized access to nuclear facilities or nuclear material who could attempt unauthorized removal or sabotage, or who could aid an external adversary to do so. 

In language laughably similar to the NRC’s well worn classic: “there was no apparent danger to the public” line, the OIG report notes that although security is now adequate, “opportunities exist for program improvement.”

It appears Vermont AG T.J. Donovan is correct in operating on the assumption that Entergy is still Entergy and the NRC is still the NRC: ineffectual and always willing to protect the bottom line over the health and safety of host communities. Kind of ironic that while the US Border Patrol has been unleashed on innocent Canadian shoppers hoping to visit Vermont, someone should be doing a better, sharper, more aggressive job guarding spent nuclear fuel just a few hundred miles south.

Saffron or Algae Blooms?

I’m sure I wasn’t the only Messenger reader who noted the ironic coincidence of headlines in last nights paper.

Just as President Donald J. Trump signs his second attempt at a Muslim travel ban, the early cost of this administration’s arbitrary agenda is vividly illustrated by two local examples.

Saffron: Vermont’s next cash crop?

The feature story tells us that, thanks to an Iranian postdoctoral student, we may soon see an extremely valuable cash crop, saffron, cultivated in our own backyard…at St. Albans Bay.

In the “brave new world” of Donald J. Trump, just being Iranian would be sufficient to invoke the President’s travel ban against him. That Dr. Ghalehgolabbehbahani is also a man of science would surely serve only to reinforce the administration’s antipathy toward him.

The President’s clumsy attempts to target Muslim countries for exclusion is already impacting interest in travel and study in the U.S. That doesn’t bode well for several industries which heavily depend on foreign dollar infusions.

Over to the side, on the same front page, is a warning from Senator Patrick Leahy. Being in a position to know, Sen. Leahy predicts that Donald Trump’s massacre of the EPA budget will imperil cleanup of Lake Champlain.

It’s a pretty easy guess that Leahy’s prediction will prove accurate. In the new federal budget, funding for clean-up of Chesapeake Bay has been slashed from $73-million down to just $7-million. Somehow I suspect that if the waterways lapping near to Capitol Hill merit so little support from the Trump administration, Lake Champlain, way up here in blue country, will receive less than none.

It should be noted that, even though funding for water protection is being sacrificed on the pretext that an exponential hike in military spending is urgently required, the President isn’t prepared to abandon his frequent getaways to Mar-a-Lago (four so far) that had already cost the tax payers $10-million before the paint was even dry in the Oval Office. That’s $3 million more than the Chesapeake Bay clean-up funds! The indignity is only worsened when a translation of “Mar-a-Lago” is considered. (Look it up!)

So, once the clean-up funding runs out and the stench of algae blooms hangs heavy over St. Albans Bay, perhaps we will at least be grateful that one Iranian chose to locate here before Donald Trump closed the door.

McAllister brought to blushes by his own filthy words.

Well, the sordid pageant of disgraced former Franklin County senator Norm McAllister’s legal battles continued on Friday, as Judge Martin A. Maley heard a second day of arguments concerning Mr. McAllister’s request to reverse his plea deal on sex crime charges. Mr. McAllister has said he was coerced by the defense team into accepting the plea deal, but testimony would seem to suggest that, after hearing the evidence against him, his son Heath first  urged him to accept any plea deal that was offered, then changed his mind much later after the plea commitment had been made.

I had a prior obligation that prevented me from attending yesterday’s proceedings, but the St. Albans Messenger bravely provided an outstanding account of all that was said and heard. It bears reading for the graphic lesson it provides on the sheer brutality of this kind of sexual exploitation, as well as insight into the rationalizations Mr. McAllister adopted for his behavior.

That the good people of my county repeatedly sent the perpetrator to the legislature, even while all of this was going on, makes it that much more disturbing.

Unfortunately, a paywall prevents me from sharing the Messenger story, so I am linking to a Seven Days piece instead.

The fact that Mr. McAllister at first accepted, then sought to overturn his arguably generous plea deal, is further proof that he still has not fully accepted his wrongdoing.

Unlike the little girl whose case against McAllister was dropped when she came unravelled at the end of four hours of grilling on the stand, the victim in this case was not forced to testify.

On that occasion last June, Mr. McAllister was allowed to sit undisturbed in the gallery without having to say a word or meet the appraising gaze of the curious, as the most graphic aspects of that victim’s testimony were haltingly and painfully recounted, mortifying the young woman and rendering her easy prey for defense tactics.

This time, Mr. McAllister was forced to listen to a recording of his own filthy admissions of forced sexual conduct with the victim while the entire courtroom heard them as well.

According to the Messenger story, members of the public listened with downcast eyes, some weeping for the indignity that was so painful to hear. McAllister for his part just sat there, red in the face.

The defense has been given one week to submit closing arguments, and the prosecution, another week for response. After that, Judge Maley will render a decision as to whether or not Mr. McAllister’s plea deal will remain in effect.

Mr. McAllister and his son had better hope they lose this case because a full trial on the evidence holds not just the threat of further humiliation, but a possible sentence of up to life in prison.

Hey, is it time to revisit Vermont’s ski resort leases yet?

The big news Tuesday in Vermont (thankfully nothing to do with Trump) was that AIG International will be selling their ski operations at Stowe Mountain to Vail Resorts Inc. for $50 million. It isn’t a complete break from Vermont for AIG which acquired Stowe in the 1940’s. Bloomberg news reports: “[AIG] will retain majority ownership of the base area, which includes a 312-room lodge, along with a country club and future development rights” yeoldeVTskilease

After hearing the AIG/ Vail Resorts announcement several times today I recalled a January 2015 VT Auditor’s report. Auditor Doug Hoffer’s office released a report for the Agency of Natural Resources on state land leases to ski resorts that deserves a second glance from the powers that be.

The study, titled State Land Leases Boost Ski Industry, but Are Dated and Inconsistent, reported on long-term leases of valuable state land to Vermont ski resorts. The leases, some dating back as far as 1942, were designed to help the then-new and developing ski industry. Lease revenue to the state is based on a percentage of lift ticket sales; however, now a larger part of resort revenue is from other sources, such as hotels, water parks, golf, etc. State Auditor Hoffer: “Our review points to old lease terms that may not be suitable for today and questions whether taxpayers are receiving fair value for these spectacular public assets.”

Maybe some legislator or group of them could again marshal the courage as Senator Tim Ashe did in 2015 to suggest revisiting some of the sixty-plus-year-old bargain-basement leases. The 2017 legislature is just getting warming up for another in what seem to be their endless rounds of service cuts and fee increases driven by revenue shortfalls. Updating existing leases seems more realistic than some of the desperate-crazy revenue ideas that pop up from time to time in legislature. Privatizing rest areas, state-run online daily fantasy-sports betting, legalizing resort gambling, and even floating casinos on Lake Champlain have all been kicked around at one time

Vail Resorts CEO Robert Katz told a business magazine in 2016 the key to making money in the ski industry isn’t necessarily finding more skiers–it’s getting more money from the ones you already have.

Perhaps for Vermont State the key to getting more revenue is revisiting the leases we already have with wealthy out-of-state corporations, not in pretending floating casinos make sense.