Tag Archives: Valley News

The Mormons are coming! The Mormons are coming!

To all those up in arms over Scott Milne’s planned development near Exit 1, or Jesse Sammis’ soon-to-be-downsized proposal at Exit 4, how about this one?

A wealthy Mormon developer is buying land in four towns near the Joseph Smith Memorial in hopes of building a planned community there inspired in part by the founder of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.

This doesn't look at all cultish to you, does it?

This doesn’t look at all… cultish, does it?

That’s from the Valley News, which would be Vermont’s best daily newspaper if only it was headquartered in Vermont. After it published a story a few days ago, it was picked up by ol’ buddy BP at Green Mountain Daily. Since then, it’s begun to ripple outwards — as it should. This is a Big Biden Deal.

David Hall has already bought some 900 acores in Royalton, Sharon, Strafford and Tunbridge. His goal is to build a massive development housing “as many as 20,000 people within a few square miles.”

Geesh, talk about changing the Vermont landscape. If fully populated, his hypothetical Mormontown would be the third-largest community in Vermont. Not that we have to panic just yet; he’s looking 30-50 years down the road.

But still. His NewVista Foundation has already invested more than three and a half million dollars in land purchases, and “has about $100 million at its disposal.” That’s enough to carry out the plan, for sure.

If this were to come to pass, it would completely change the character of what is now a largely rural area nestled in the crook of I-89. It would probably lead to continuous development from this area to the Upper Valley. Scott Milne’s plan is dwarfed by comparison.

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The ghost of 2014 walks the earth

Ruh-roh. I’ll bet Pat Leahy is quaking in his boots.

Either that, or snickering in his tumbler of single malt. The Valley News via VTDigger:

Milne Travel, the Barre-based travel agency owned by former Vermont GOP gubernatorial candidate Scott Milne, has sold a controlling stake in the company to the New York-based travel management giant Altour International Inc.

Milne, who acknowledged he is weighing a run later this year for the U.S. Senate seat held by Patrick Leahy, said the joint venture with Altour places his firm on a solid financial footing “should I get lucky … it gives me the ability to step back for six years.”

That’s right, Senator. Vermont’s own Giant Killer has you squarely in his crosshairs.

Hahaha.

Well, to be fair, Milne’s name recognition should allow him to outpace Len Britton, who earned 31% of the vote in 2010 as Leahy’s most recent Republican opponent. But can Milne repeat his David V. Goliath act against Vermont’s Senior Senator?

Naah.

I suppose I should explain, since I was equally dismissive of Milne’s chances in 2014, when he came within an eyelash of unseating Shumlin. So why am I confident in laughing off his chances this time?

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And now, a word from the Department of Corrections’ Corrections Department

When last I wrote, I brought you the sad, unfinished tale of Valley News columnist Jim Kenyon’s quest for a visit to North Lake Correctional Facility, the Michigan for-profit prison contracted to house surplus Vermont inmates. And I promised an update when I heard from the Shumlin administration.

Well, here it is. Just got a nice call from Corrections Commissioner Lisa Menard and Director of Facility Operations Mike Touchette. The gist: Kenyon’s request got lost in the shuffle, and Menard would be happy to have him tour the prison.

For those just joining us, Kenyon submitted a written request to the Department of Corrections on August 13. There was no response for over a month. And then, DoC simply told him that his request had been passed on to prison operator GEO Group. Kenyon emailed GEO directly on September 25. As of the 30th, he hadn’t gotten an answer. And another reminder: Menard only recently became DoC Commissioner; she replaced Andy Pallito earlier this month.

Which brings us to the present. What about the delay in responding?

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Q: How do you gain access to Vermont’s for-profit prison? A: You don’t.

Update: For those finding this post afresh, please also read the following entry, which includes the response from the Department of Corrections. 

Here’s a little goodie from Vermont’s Best Newspaper (Out Of State Division), the Valley News. Columnist Jim Kenyon has a problem with the whole concept of for-profit prisons…

The mere concept of for-profit prisons defies logic. [The operator] only gets paid when its prison beds are occupied. It’s not in the financial interests of the company — or its shareholders — to work toward keeping people out of prison.

… what elected officials don’t talk about much is the toll that being so far away from home can have on inmates, their families and their future. Elected officials also gloss over the reasons why GEO and other for-profit prison companies are less costly.

(Kenyon’s essay is behind a semi-permeable paywall. If you sign up for the Valley News email list, you can read up to five articles per month for free.)

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One Neat Trick To Investigate Bill Sorrell (two, actually)

SorrellZevonThe cloud of questionable campaign finance activities hangs heavy around the head of Our Eternal General Bill Sorrell. Fortunately for himself, his peripheral vision isn’t so great, so he’s blissfully unaware that the storm is gathering and everyone around him is scurrying for cover.

Today brings an editorial from Vermont’s best daily newspaper, the Valley News (okay, technically a bi-state newspaper), calling for an independent probe of Sorrell’s iffy doings.

The editorial quotes Sorrell’s heartwarming assurances: “It’s unfortunately that there are questions about whether there was undue influence. I know there was no undue influence.” The News has a stiletto-sharp rejoinder:

We guess it’s reassuring that in his heart, Sorrell knows he’s right. … On the other hand, the allegations are not so far-fetched that “take my word for it” is an adequate response from the state’s chief law enforcement officer, whose position and power are such that his or her integrity needs to be above reproach.

However, in the absence of any action by Governor Shumlin — or any semblance of concern, frankly — the only folks who could mount an independent investigation are our State’s Attorneys. Well, one or more of them.

There are two problems with that scenario. Continue reading

Here’s a completely unsurprising bit of news

According to the Valley News, Senate President Pro Tem John Campbell is waving the white flag on legislation that would expand background checks for gun purchases. Campbell is the chief sponsor of the gun bill; he promises to continue fighting for two other provisions: one would create a state crime for possession of a firearm by a convicted felon, the other would restrict access to guns for those declared mentally ill by a court.

The background check provision had been the chief battleground — although now that it’s seemingly off the table, the Orange Vest Brigade is stepping up its attacks on the other two items.

The news is unsurprising because (a) Senate Judiciary Committee panjandrum Dick Sears said earlier this week that the background-check provision would not pass his committee, and (b) I don’t believe Campbell ever intended the bill to pass.

Call me cynical, but I’ve seen too much of John Campbell to believe he was ever serious about background checks. He’s never been visibly pro-gun regulation, he never stakes out politically risky positions, and he rarely takes the lead role on any legislation.

I’d go so far as to speculate that he made himself lead sponsor so he could pull the bill when it became politically expedient.

In vowing to fight on for the rest of the bill, Campbell portrayed himself as a Profile In Courage:

“I’ve been told that my political career’s over because of this, and I’m more than happy to deal with that, but that’s how important it is.”

Good God, what a blowhard. His political career will survive this just fine. For one thing, he represents a completely safe Democratic district; he’ll be a Senator as long as he wants to be. For another, the two remaining provisions simply aren’t that big a deal. Nobody’s going to do an over-the-top charge into No Man’s Land for those two items.

He’s talking tough right now, but I suspect that Campbell has another white flag in his back pocket, ready to wave at the proper time.

Yep, Ruth Dwyer’s still a colossal jerk

Remember Ruth Dwyer? The arch-conservative Republican gubernatorial nominee in 1998 and 2000? (Lost both times to Howard Dean.) The staunch opponent of civil unions and sourpuss leader of “Take Back Vermont”?

She’s still around, living in Thetford, and she’s at least as much of a jerk now as she was then.

Neighbors' house in foreground. "Curtain" and Dwyer's house are way in the background.

Neighbors’ house in foreground. “Curtain” and Dwyer’s house are way in the background. Photo from the Valley News.

As the Valley News reports*, Dwyer took exception when a neighboring hayfield was bought by someone who then built a house. Her calm, measured response: she built a huge fence blocking the new house from her view because the new house “offends her sensibilities.”

*The Valley News is paywalled, but if you register (for free), you can read up to five stories per month.

By “huge fence” I mean 60 feet wide and 24 feet high. Basically, a billboard in a rural residential neighborhood. She never sought a building permit.

Thetford zoning officials, meanwhile, have determined the structure — forest-green shade cloth strung across five large wooden utility poles along Sawnee Bean Road — is a “wall” and therefore out of compliance until it goes through a permitting process, which is now underway.

She claims that the structure is merely a temporary “curtain” that will come down as soon as the 68 young cedar trees she’s planted are tall enough to provide a privacy screen. (Sixty-eight trees? She’s planting a damn forest on her front lawn.) Cedars apparently grow a foot to a foot and a half per year. So with any luck that “temporary curtain” will only be there for a couple decades, more or less.  Why the fuss?

Dwyer makes a variety of arguments, ranging from the illogical to the insane. What it boils down to is, “she doesn’t want a neighbor.”

Also, she claims an absolute right to do what she likes on her property, but she doesn’t want her neighbors to exercise the same rights.

Her complaints include the aesthetics of the house. Which, as you can see from the Valley News photo, is functional and plain but not especially ugly.

She also “lamented her neighbors’ habit of mowing the lawn during the warmer months.”

“Mowing the lawn!” Well, I never! What’s next — hanging laundry or putting up a swingset?

She also professes to be bothered “by the glow of [the neighbors’] flatscreen TV.” Now, look at that photo again, and try to gauge the distance between the two houses. (Bearing in mind the “curtain” is 60 feet wide.) She’d practically need a telescope to see the glow of a TV set.

Finally, she complains of increased traffic on her rural road. As if one stinkin’ house is generating noticeable traffic.

The ironic thing, like rain on your wedding day, is that Dwyer is screeching her head off about her property rights being infringed upon by Thetford authorities, while she seems to want absolute control over what happens on neighboring property.