[ Here's a sneak peek at an upcoming editorial.]
“It’s an evolving situation.”
Well, that’s one way to put it.
It’s also how Vt. Rep. Mollie Burke, P/D-Brattleboro, described recent discussions between herself, Brattleboro officials and officials at VTrans, regarding the severe state of Western Avenue — AKA Route 9 — which is riddled with potholes. It’s nothing new and it certainly isn’t unique to Windham County. Just take a look at Boston, Hartford, New York, Indianapolis ... well, you get the point. Blame Old Man Winter. Or Mother Nature. “This winter’s lower-than-average temperatures, coupled with higher-than-average snowfall,” according to a Boston Globe report, “have created the perfect climate to spawn a barrage of teeth-clattering, bone-jarring, axle-cracking potholes across the region. And public works agencies are struggling to keep up.”
“It’s been really difficult, if not impossible, to stay out in front of it,” Brattleboro’s Interim Town Manager Patrick Moreland told the Reformer on Monday afternoon, as DPW crews were out on Western Ave. filling as many of the potholes as they could.
And much like the water pooling in these troublesome black holes, the problem runs much deeper than manpower, time and weather. There’s a steep cost involved in any fix that’s more than a simple Band-Aid.
Being at the Statehouse, Burke is well-aware of Vermont’s transportation- funding constraints. But after asking VTrans to take a closer look at this major east-west thoroughfare, the official response was a recommendation for Brattleboro to invest in a paving project. The only problem is that such a project would carry at least a $200,000 price tag, a steep cost when you consider that, for the fiscal year 2015, officials approved a $250,000 budget for paving ... for the entire town!
“The potholes are emblematic of a deeper chasm,” according to a recent report from Bloomberg. “The gap between the cost of improvements to U.S. transportation infrastructure and available revenue from both state and federal sources was as much as $147 billion, according to a 2009 National Transportation Infrastructure Financing Commission report.”
And, according to Washington nonprofit research group TRIP, “substandard conditions” on rural U.S. roads (of which we’re sure Western Ave. would be considered), cost the average driver using them $377 a year (which works out to be about $80 billion nationwide).
“That money comes out of a finite budget, and so when you have a harsher climate for your infrastructure and even less money to spend on repairs, that’s asking for trouble,” Rocky Moretti, director of policy and research at TRIP, told Bloomberg.
So what are states to do? Well, according to the Bloomberg report: — The Michigan Legislature is considering allocating an additional $100 million to the transportation department (to cover plowing, salting and pothole repair).
— New York Mayor Bill de Blasio is adding $7.3 million to the city’s $74 billion budget (specifically for street repairs).
— And Indianapolis has already exceeded it’s winter maintenance budget by $5 million.
Which brings us back to Brattleboro’s $200,000 problem.
“In light of the terrible condition of the road, I anticipate the Selectboard will need to consider trying to locate the money, including out of the surplus,” Selectboard Chairman David Gartenstein told the Reformer on Monday.
But don’t forget, in addition to the usual day-to-day and general cost of living increases any town faces, Brattleboro residents and officials must also consider other large costs associated with the recent wastewater treatment plant project and the forthcoming police/fire department project.
Here’s just a handful of comments the newsroom has received from the community on the state of Western Avenue: — “It’s like an obstacle course out there.”
— “Thought we were going to have to get the ‘horse and buggy’ out to maneuver around the potholes.”
— “Some of these ‘potholes’ have reached the level of craters. They need to be fixed, ASAP, before someone gets really hurt.”
— “Not only dangerous for drivers but also for pedestrians ....”
— “It’s getting to a point where now I’m worried I may lose a tire ....”
— “Maybe you can get the town to post a sign with the scoring system for their little slalom course.”
You get the idea.
Band-Aids are one thing, and much-needed in this case. But you don’t keep putting Band-Aids on a gaping wound — you see an expert and get the problem fixed.
The problem on Western Avenue is two-fold.
First, a way must be found to get a fresh pave done as soon as possible. Then, perhaps it’s time to start re-examining why this two-lane road turned into a main connector between the eastern and western corners of the state. With hundreds of trucks traveling this little two-lane blacktop through the heart of West Brattleboro, is it any surprise it’s so quickly torn apart?
[Here's a sneak peek at an upcoming editorial.]
“There is perhaps no issue more important than how we educate our youth.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Bernie Sanders, I-Vt., a member of the Senate Education Committee (quoted above), was at the Statehouse, offering some Vermont lawmakers an overview on federal education policy.
“I am very concerned that, on many levels, we are failing our youth,” Sanders told members of Vermont’s House and Senate education committees. “We must do away with the archaic notion that education begins at 4 or 5 years old. For far too long, our society has undervalued the need for high-quality and widely accessible early childhood education.”
Children are our future. The youngsters of today will grow and become tomorrow’s leaders. And the foundation we can lay in those early, highly developmental years will yield returns throughout a child’s journey to adulthood.
But, with budgets constricting and states constantly forced to evaluate and re-evaluate every aspect of every budget ... well, we don’t need to tell you that sometimes the most vulnerable — children and seniors — are effected the most.
That’s what makes last year’s $36.9 million federal grant — dubbed Early Learning Race to the Top — so important.
When announcing the grant this past December, Gov. Peter Shumlin said it would set the foundation for low-income and high-needs children to succeed in school.
“As you know, early childhood education is extraordinarily important to ensuring that every child in this great state has a strong start and a bright future,” Shumlin said. “Where we fail is moving more low-income kids beyond high school,” Shumlin said. “We do that primarily because they do not get a strong start. They don’t have the opportunity to get a strong start.”
On Wednesday, Sen. Sanders called that grant “a good start,” but urged, “we must do more to ensure that quality programs are created for families to help educate their children.”
The Reformer Editorial Board echoes Sanders’ assertion that this is only one part of the solution. As we said, early education lays the foundation for all that is to come. A more concerted effort must be made to improve every step along the way.
That means improvements and upkeep of school buildings. (One need look no further than the recent struggles Leland & Gray is having balancing a “responsible” budget with infrastructural improvements.) That means better support for teachers (both in terms of pay and respect).
That means expansion of after-school and summer programs. (In today’s society, where children are living in either single-parent homes, or homes in which both parents are working just to makes ends meet, this added support system is a must.) “(T)he truth of the matter is that, as a nation, we are not doing well in this state and throughout this country,” Sanders told VTDigger in December. “There are millions of working families that are desperately in search of high quality, affordable, early childhood education.”
No one is naive enough not to understand the state of our economy, both on a state, regional and national level. Sanders, himself, on Wednesday called the effort to ensure “every kid in this country, regardless of income has high quality early childhood education” an “expensive proposition.”
That’s true. But turning a blind eye to the problem, today, will create bigger problems in the future.
“I worry that today you probably have millions of kids who are right now sitting in somebody’s living room watching dumb television programs rather than getting the quality early childhood education both on an intellectual and emotional basis that they need,” Sanders told lawmakers.
That’s our fear, too.
And what does that say for our future?
[Here's a sneak peek at an upcoming editorial ....]
The latest Youth Risk Behavior Survey, released last week, revealed some troubling — if not too terribly surprising — facts.
Despite the warnings, the evidence and educational efforts, 60 percent of Vermont’s high school seniors still admit to texting or e-mailing while behind the wheel.
According to the Department of Health’s survey, more than 33 percent of high school students and more than 56 percent of high school seniors said that they engaged in the behavior.
According to the U.S. Government’s Distracted Driving website, 11 percent of all drivers under the age of 20, involved in fatal crashes, were reported as distracted at the time of the crash. “This age group has the largest proportion of drivers who were distracted,” according to the site. Furthermore, according to the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration, when considering drivers in the 15-19 years old age group, 21 percent of the distracted drivers were distracted by the use of cell phones.
“Vermont state law prohibits texting while driving,” Ted Minall, chief of the Governor’s Highway Safety Program, told the Associated Press. “(A)nd educators and parents have a responsibility to promote a no-texting message.”
He added that driving safely requires a vehicle operator’s full focus. But really, that’s just common sense.
And the reality is, we’re not just talking about teens, here — everyone is doing it.
Some more sobering facts to consider: — According to government statistics, in 2012, 421,000 people were injured in motor vehicle crashes involving a distracted driver, a 9 percent increase from the previous year.
— According to the 2013 National Occupant Protection Use Survey, at any given daylight moment in the U.S., approximately 660,000 drivers are either using cell phones or manipulating an electronic device while driving. (This number has held steady since 2010.) — Research from the Virginia Tech Transportation Institute shows that “engaging in visual-manual subtasks” (like reaching for a phone, dialing and texting) increased the risk of getting into a crash by three times.
It’s research also shows that sending or receiving a text takes a driver’s eyes from the road for an average of 5 seconds. If one was traveling 55 mph, that would be the equivalent of driving the length of a football field, blind.
— A recent University of Michigan Transportation Research Institute study found that a quarter of teen drivers respond to a text message once or more every time they get behind the wheel. Furthermore, 20 percent of teens and 10 percent of parents admit to extended, multi-message text conversations while driving.
Like we said, this isn’t just a “teen” issue.
In this day and age, there’s just too much technology at our fingertips — be it car audio equipment, a cell phone, a GPS, a portable video device. Even without all of that, there’s plenty to consider a distraction (a talking passenger, crying child in the backseat, food or drink, etc.).
What it really boils down to is that driving is not a right, it's a privilege. And part of earning that right means that anyone choosing to get behind the wheel should practice common sense and self-control.
While that text may seem important now, how important will it seem if the distraction leads to a fatal crash?
There are always exceptions to the rules, and emergencies can and will happen. But if the text can’t wait, pull over. If you really need to consult the map or GPS, pull over. If you absolutely have to make that call, stop first.
It may sound corny, but the life you save may just be your own.
There's no better feeling than knowing something you do is able to alleviate the difficulties faced by someone in need. Which is why, every year, the Reformer Christmas Stocking is humbled and awed as the community steps up to donate to our annual campaign.
For 77 years, the Christmas Stocking has been helping families in Windham County and southwestern New Hampshire -- from homes with low incomes, or high medical bills, or families affected by fire or some other unforeseen disaster, or even loss of income due to layoffs -- receive warm winter clothing for their children to stay warm through the cold months ahead.
As it is every year, the need is great and always increasing.
And as it has been for the past several years, our goal was set at $90,000 last summer. As we have often said, given the state of the economy -- locally and nationally -- along with the various other well-deserving fundraising efforts in and around the area ... it's often with a mixture of relief and surprise when a new set of daily donations show up at the Reformer offices and we finally reach that goal. Let's just say, we would have been disappointed, but not surprised, if we weren't able to reach it.
But today, we don't have to worry about that -- this morning our fundraising effort's total stands at $90,730.91. As you do every year, so many of our readers -- from friends who have always helped us over the years to new donors who stepped up when we needed them most -- kept the spirit of the Reformer Christmas Stocking alive for another season, and we surpassed our 2013 goal Tuesday afternoon, one week into the new year.
We needed every bit of help we could get this year; the need is always there, for folks who need a little extra, extremely important assistance for the winter months. This year, 1,330 children from more than 600 families qualified for coats, snow pants, boots, hats and mittens. The state of the local and national economy continues to put a strain on many of our friends and neighbors, which makes the Stocking more important than ever to local families in need.
It goes without saying, but we could not have reached our goal without the help of the Reformer's readers and friends. From the schoolchildren who turn in their pennies and nickels to the local businesses who give so generously each year, people of all ages and circumstances from around the region have demonstrated -- yet again -- that people here are always ready to help out those in need.
Since 1937, the Christmas Stocking has always been about neighbors helping neighbors. It is something we take great pride in here at the Reformer. The volunteers that run the Stocking put in a heroic effort each year, and their effort ensures that every dollar donated goes toward buying the winter clothing that is needed from year to year.
"For some people it's automatic this time of year. We have been getting checks from some families for a lot of years," said Pat Smith, the Reformer's news clerk, who has been counting the checks for the Reformer Christmas Stocking for more than 20 years. "It seems like it takes a little longer every year, but we always get there."
If you haven't done so yet, it's not too late to give to this year's campaign. Contributions, which are tax deductible, may be sent to: Reformer Christmas Stocking, P.O. Box 703, Brattleboro, VT 05302-0703. Donors may use their credit cards on PayPal for contributions by visiting www.reformer.com/christmasstocking. Type how you would like your donation to be listed in the Reformer in the "Purpose" line. Contributions may also be brought to the Reformer office at 62 Black Mountain Road on Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. until 5 p.m.
From everyone here at the Reformer, the members of the Christmas Stocking board, and from all the families you have helped with your generosity: A most sincere thank you.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
“Sleeping in your car should not be a crime when it’s all you have.”
“Asking for help should not be illegal.”
“Keep your coins, I want social change.” So read just a few of the signs being held by protesters in Bennington, Sunday afternoon. The group had assembled to voice concerns over a recent amendment to the town’s “Improper Use of Public Way and Abatement of Public Nuisances” ordinance. In short, town officials are attempting to curb panhandling on public property. The Bennington Selectboard drafted and voted on the change after Town Manager Stuart Hurd received complaints from the Better Bennington Corporation and the Bennington Area Chamber of Commerce.
And while the amendment goes into effect in about 60 days, many in the community are already voicing concern over a specific aspect of the law, which restricts people’s ability to use a vehicle as housing — something many homeless people are forced to do. In fact, some might almost consider a car a luxury, when the only other choice is a sleeping bag under a bridge.
Another sign that caught our attention: “Solve the problem, don’t move it.”
By some, this amendment is viewed as simply an effort to shift Bennington’s homeless to other communities (Out of sight, out of mind?). Compounding that viewpoint, Bennington Police Chief Paul Doucette at last week’s Selectboard meeting suggested those in need be referred to neighboring Brattleboro or Albany, N.Y.
Perhaps Bennington should, instead, focus on better support of the resources in its own community, like the Bennington County Coalition for the Homeless.
Reality check: This is not a Bennington-exclusive issue. The resources in Brattleboro struggle greatly, as well. And surely we need not remind you of recent struggles in the Bellows Falls area, over the past several years, in simply locating a warming shelter.
The Greater Falls Warming Shelter opened for the season on Nov. 18, its second year in its new location in North Walpole, N.H. The shelter can serve, from 7 p.m. to 7 a.m. seven days a week, up to 10 individuals without stable housing. (And, while we’re on the topic, volunteers are being sought to staff the shelter every evening in shifts from 7 p.m. to 1 a.m. and 1 a.m. to 7 a.m. For more information, e-mail email@example.com.) Here in Brattleboro, we’re heartened by the many efforts of the community to support these needed resources for those in need. This past October, Morningside Shelter held its third annual Hike for the Homeless fundraiser on Mount Wantastiquet in Hinsdale, N.H. Nearly 150 participants took part and helped Morningside raise nearly $20,000 in support of the Shelter’s work.
“I am thrilled,” Morningside Executive Director Joshua Davis said after the event. “Every dollar we raise is used to support our mission to create individualized solutions to homelessness in our region. We’re the only year-round homeless shelter in southeastern Vermont, and our services are consistently in high demand, regardless of the season.”
And this past November, members of Students Supporting Veterans at Brattleboro Union High School, after spending much of the year fundraising, presented a $500 check to Home At Last, a local nonprofit that provides mobile homes to veterans.
Or consider the annual Warm Hands effort, in which local faith communities collaborate in the collection of warm clothing and bedding for those in need. Items donated are distributed to the homeless and those at risk through Morningside Shelter and the Brattleboro Area Drop In Center. Warm clothing, especially jackets and sweaters, hats, boots, socks and gloves are especially needed as are pillows, blankets and sleeping bags. (Want to take part? Drop off points are located at: Guilford Community Church; Centre Congregational Church; First Baptist Church; St. Michael’s Episcopal Church; and the Putney Friends Meeting.) Back to yesterday’s protest in Bennington; One other sign we liked: “Brother can you spare some sense?”
We don’t presume there’s an easy answer or solution to solve the homelessness crisis. It’s a widespread problem. But there are easy ways to help. If you can spare some money, however little, there are (local) organizations that can use it. Extra food? Unused clothing? There’s a place for that, too. Even if all you have to offer is a little time, there are plenty of ways for volunteerism to be put to good use.
This is not a problem with no face. These are former friends, families, people who for whatever reason have fallen on hard times. They’re part of our communities. And this time of year, as temperatures continue to drop, they need our help more than ever.
Far be it for us, from afar, to second-guess how Bennington chooses to look at its issues. But we believe treating the effort proactively, as opposed to shifting it, is the best policy. It’s the neighborly choice.
[Here's a sneak peek at Friday's editorial -- marking the launch of the Reformer Christmas Stocking fundraising effort.]
It’s hard to believe, but today the Reformer Christmas Stocking enters its 77th season.
Seventy-seven years ago, a group of volunteers pulled together with a single goal: To ensure that children in need in Windham County and southwestern New Hampshire stay warm through the winter.
And thus, the Reformer Christmas Stocking was born.
And each year since, we have asked and the community has delivered.
In its first year — 1937 — the Stocking collected $280. Last year, more than $90,000 was raised from individuals, groups, businesses schools and organizations in the community. The brand-new, winter clothes were distributed earlier this month to children from more than 600 families in southeastern Vermont and neighboring New Hampshire.
That means 1,330 children will not have to worry about when they’ll get winter coats, boots, snowpants, mittens and hats this year.
The Christmas Stocking is run by volunteers, and keeping the area’s children warm is a year-round mission. They spend long hours meeting in advance of each year’s clothes distribution, combing through applications and getting ready for the fundraising campaign. Some volunteers help unload shipments and organize the clothes while others don the signature red aprons and help families find just the right fit for the kids. And then there are those who spend hour upon hour knitting mittens and caps.
Our goal this year — to raise $90,000 — has remained unchanged since 2008. During our last drive you managed to donate more than $94,000, with money still arriving well into January. Families with children ages 0-15 from homes with low incomes, high medical bills or even loss of income due to layoffs receive winter clothing through the Stocking. This is our way to help those families out in some way, and the many people who continue to help us year
after year continue to come through and keep the spirit of the Reformer Christmas Stocking alive and well in good times and bad. We hope that tradition continues.
Each and every year, we are amazed by and extremely grateful to everyone that helps contribute to this cause. Our mission is to reach our target by Christmas; last season it took until Jan. 24, 2013. Contributions, which are tax deductible, may be sent to Reformer Christmas Stocking, P.O. Box 703, Brattleboro, VT 05302-0703. Donations may also be brought to our office at 62 Black Mountain Road. You can also visit us online — www.Reformer.com/ChristmasStocking
— where you will find information, forms, photos and a link to PayPal, where you are able to donate to the Stocking via credit card.
For the past seven-and-a-half-plus decades, thousands upon thousands of children have been clothed by the generosity of their neighbors. And that generosity has meant more than can be expressed through mere words, but here’s a few comments to consider from those who have been helped by the Stocking:
“My parents donate money every year. Even if it’s only $20, every little bit helps. ... and it comes back to you if you donate one year and find that you need the Christmas Stocking in the future.”
“We have no extra money, and this is great for us — to get new clothes and boots to keep the kids warm.”
“This is a great program. I’ve never been here, and you look around and say, ‘People really do care. They really do.”
Yes, people really do care, and each year, the Christmas Stocking proves it.
On behalf of the children of Windham County and southwestern New Hampshire, we thank you.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
On Wednesday, the New England Economic Partnership released a new report, stating that federal spending cuts and reduced consumer demand are slowing economic growth throughout New England.
That growth could be as low as 3 percent through 2017, which the Partnership — a nonprofit that provides analyses and forecasts — said is less than what would even be considered moderate.
On top of that, an average employment growth of 2 percent in the region will be below the national average. New England’s unemployment rate is expected to decline gradually — from 6.7 percent in this year’s third quarter to 6.4 percent in late 2014 and to below 6 percent in the first quarter of 2016 — in part due to slow employment growth elsewhere in the region, according to a recent Associated Press report.
But there are bright spots to consider from the report, as well.
First and foremost, the region’s strongest economies will continue to be found in Vermont, New Hampshire and Massachusetts over the next four years.
Likewise, Massachusetts has already recovered jobs lost during the 18-month recession from December 2007 to June 2009. And Vermont will soon follow.
“The greater Boston area has been a bright spot in the New England economy,” Ross Gittell, manager of the New England forecast, told the Associated Press, “leading the region in job growth and more than recovering the jobs lost in the recession.”
New Hampshire, meanwhile, may not reach its pre-recession job count until next spring.
“That’s by any measure a fairly disappointing performance for the New Hampshire economy,” Dennis Delay, an economist with the New Hampshire Center for Public Policy Studies, said. “Usually we’re a leader in economic growth and job growth.”
Looking ahead to 2017, unemployment is expected to be lowest in New Hampshire (3.3 percent), with Vermont a close second (at 3.7 percent). Not bad, compared to the rest of the region: Maine, 6 percent; Rhode Island, 6. 1 percent; and Connecticut, 6.5 percent.
A few other statistics to consider: — Regionally, the unemployment rate will be 5.4 percent by mid-2017, a “significant” decline from the peak of 8.7 percent in 2010.
— New Hampshire will enjoy the regions strongest annual average growth rate (1.8 percent); Maine will have the lowest at 0.7 percent.
While there’s still challenges to be met here in the Green Mountain State — a shrinking labor force, lack of skilled workers and aging population — there’s still plenty of ways for officials at the local and state levels to battle those challenges. (Just look at the good work being done by the Southern Vermont Revitalization project.) Much of this news should come as no surprise. After all, we heard time and again as the nation was deep into the recession that much of New England was fairing better than the rest of the country when it came to unemployment levels and other economic factors. The cost of weathering the storm better than others would come during recovery, as the region would ride the tail-end of the upward swing.
We don’t know about you, but when looking at many states that were faced with or are facing bankruptcy, we’ll take what we got. Not too bad, especially when you consider that in the midst of this economic crisis we had all the damage caused by the flooding brought by Tropical Storm Irene to deal with.
As one final element to the silver linings found in the New England Economic Partnership’s forecast, the housing market continues to perform well, as home prices and sales continue to rise, leading to boosts in construction and other related industries. In all but one New England state housing prices are expected to remain below their peak levels. That one state expected to over-perform? Vermont.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
Today marks the one year anniversary of Superstorm Sandy coming ashore in New Jersey, slowly marching inland and leave a swath of destruction in its wake. The storm swamped lower Manhattan with a 13 foot surge of seawater; It devastated New Jersey coastal communities; When all was said and done, more than 8 million people were left without power. The storm and its aftermath would kill more than 100 people in the United States.
Luckily, the Green Mountain State was spared the brunt of this storm. Which is a good thing, as we were still embroiled in our own efforts to bounce back from the flooding caused by Tropical Storm Irene, little more than a year earlier.
Today, more than two years after Irene’s floodwaters have receded, there’s still evidence of the hard work going in to returning to the “status quo.”
Last week, Newfane officials marked a milestone in the town’s long, ongoing recovery from Tropical Storm Irene. Newfane’s first buyout of a property severely damaged by Irene was completed Thursday as the town took title to 236 Dover Road.
Federally-funded buyouts still are in the works, but this was a significant development that came nearly 26 months after Irene’s severe flooding devastated the town.
“We’re making progress,” Selectboard Chairman Jon Mack told the Reformer. “It’s a slow process.”
Newfane is one of many towns across Windham County which still bear the scars from Irene and continues to repair infrastructure washed away in the Aug. 28, 2011 flood: A new Hunter Brook Bridge is nearly complete, and Lynch Bridge is due to be replaced next year. Jamaica is still in the midst of completing buyouts for homes on Water Street. Similar projects continue in and around the Deerfield Valley. Or, consider beloved local eatery, Dot’s, in Wilmington, which is tentatively planning to reopen next month.
Our point being, just as our recovery, over a relatively small area of the country, is continuing to this day, so will our neighbors to the south and on the East Coast continue to deal with the aftereffects for years to come.
The silver lining to living through such challenges is to see humanity at its best, as neighbors help neighbors, and communities pull together in the unlikeliest of ways to do good. It is those moments the best of who we are is on display.
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
During a press conference this past August, announcing the closure of the Vermont Yankee nuclear power plant in Vernon, the president of Entergy Wholesale Commodities, Bill Mohl, said the decision to stop producing power at the plant was based on the economics of the plant, and not operational performance, litigation risks or political pressure. “Simply put, the plant costs exceed the plant’s revenues and this asset is not financially viable. Despite its excellent track record, Vermont Yankee is a single, small-unit nuclear station operating in a very challenging marketing environment.”
In our coverage of the closure, we stated that “most challenging for Yankee was competition from producers using natural gas to power turbines to create electricity. Due to advancements in hydraulic fracturing, extraction companies have been able to exploit reserves in the Marcellus Formation, driving down the price of natural gas.”
Ah yes, hydraulic fracturing, more commonly referred to as fracking, is becoming more and more popular in pockets around the country, while others — like lawmakers here in Vermont — view the relatively new process with more skepticism.
(Of note, Vermont was actually the first state to ban fracking in 2012, when Gov. Peter Shumlin signed Act 152.) Last month, the Environment Massachusetts Research and Policy Center issued it’s latest report, “Fracking by the Numbers,” in which it measured the damage being caused by the so-called “controversial drilling practice” across the United States.
The report’s authors attempt to compile a comprehensive measurement of fracking’s after-effects — that includes toxic wastewater, water use, chemical use, air pollution, land damage and global warming emissions.
“When it comes to fracking, the numbers don’t lie,” said Ben Hellerstein, field associate with Environment Massachusetts. “Fracking has created billions of gallons of toxic wastewater and damaged hundreds of thousands of acres of land across the country.”
According to the report, “in Pennsylvania alone, fracked wells produced 1.2 billion gallons of wastewater in 2012. Often laced with cancer- causing and even radioactive material, toxic fracking waste has contaminated drinking water sources from Pennsylvania to New Mexico.”
The report also caught the attention of the Vermont Public Interest Research Group, who are using it to continue conversations about Vermont Gas Systems’ proposed pipeline expansion, a 43-mile, $86.6 million natural gas pipeline that would pass through Addison County if approved by the Public Service Board. Why? Well, because as a recent report by Vermont Digger points out, “the pipeline would be used to distribute natural gas to customers of Vermont Gas, which derives some of its supply from natural gas wells outside the state that use ‘fracking’ techniques.”
“If fracking is too dirty and dangerous for us here in Vermont, then we must admit that it is not acceptable just because it’s taking place in Alberta, Pennsylvania or anyplace else,” Paul Burns, executive director for VPIRG, told the online news source.
For a moment, thought, let’s take a look at the other side of the issue. Take, for instance, last week’s opinion piece by New York Times columnist and self-described fracking-supporter Joe Nocera, “A Fracking Rorschach Test.”
Nocera writes: “Thanks to the fracking boom, America is on the verge of overtaking Russia as the world’s largest producer of oil and gas ... Supporters ... tend to focus on the economic and foreign policy blessings that come with being able to supply so much more of our energy needs in-house, as it were. Critics, however, fear that fracking could have grave environmental consequences. And they worry that the abundance of natural gas will keep America hooked on fossil fuels.”
The meat of his piece, however, is on a Cornell University study published in 2011, which Nocera astutely describes as “purely an estimate” due to the fact “very little hard data” existed.
But isn’t that the real problem, here?
Consider this: Fracking is currently underway in 17 states, and more than 80,000 wells have been drilled since 2005. New gas deposits are being discovered in new places all the time (recently just south of us in Western Massachusetts).
Is it dangerous and damaging to the environment? Well, it certainly would seem so. But more than that, we tend to echo the sentiment of yesterday’s opinion piece published by the website LiveScience: “We deserve a better fracking debate.”
The truth is, the evidence, be it pro or con, is in short supply.
“Citizens are hungry for reliable information about new unconventional oil and gas development,” writes Gretchen Goldman, “but they aren’t receiving it. Interference in the science, weak or non-existent laws and misinformation from industry and activists have clouded the conversation.”
If this truly is the future of our nation’s energy industry, or at least a part of it, then more — much more — investigation and oversight needs to be going on. Without that, how can you expect anyone to make an informed judgment?
[Here's a sneak peek at tomorrow's editorial.]
You have two groups fighting over the same issue.
On the one side, a group which has (for all intents and purposes) followed the law as it was laid out. While the road to where we’re at was bumpy, efforts were made to meet opposition along the way (to varying degrees of success).
On the other side, it would seem a fairly vocal minority, having been thwarted at every bump along the way, has finally gotten a few, governmentally important ears to listen, and suddenly (and unfairly) all process has ceased. Sounds an awful lot like the scenario playing out in Washington, D.C., at the moment — with the fight over “Obamacare” leading to a government shutdown — doesn’t it? But we’re actually referring to the ongoing fight over a proposed skatepark in Brattleboro.
When Brattleboro Area Skatepark is Coming — aka BASIC — a town committee operating under the Recreation and Parks Department, appeared during Tuesday night’s Selectboard meeting, it had the potential to be nothing more than a mundane appearance. The group last month had voted to reduce the size of the proposed skatepark, largely because the group has not been able to raise enough money for the original plan, and was asking the Selectboard to support the change.
Instead, following more than an hour of debate, the Selectboard voted 3-2 to table any further discussion until its Nov. 5 meeting. But not before Chairman David Gartenstein alluded to many alternatives being open on how the board, BASIC and the community could proceed.
“This is a different board than the one that made the decision in the past,” Gartenstein said. “This is a different board than who voted over the course of the last two years. ... I continue to believe that having such a divisive atmosphere relating to this park is not a healthy way to go forward with this project. There may be merit to broadening out the decision about whether there’s going to be a park and if so, where?”
Well, that’s all well and good, but we don’t see how the board allowed the discussion to reach that point.
Instead, we concur with Skatepark committee member Spencer Crispe, who appeared before the Selectboard: “We’re not here to decide whether there’ll be a skatepark here or not. That’s already been decided. We are only here to ask permission to make it smaller.”
Let’s take a moment to reflect on how we got here ....
As the skatepark project moved along over the past four years, those in support of the project have done everything asked of them. Every time the matter was discussed at a Selectboard meeting (as far back as 2010), that’s considered a public hearing. Where were the voices of dissent, then?
Once the School Board got involved with providing the land, at least three public meetings were held.
While we will admit that the actual site selection process was not managed via a committee, once the Crowell Lot was chosen, BASIC on more than one occasion attempted to address various concerns, including altering plans in order to save “historic” trees, to shifting the actual location further back, to even this recent re-design which would have prevented playgroup structures from having to be moved.
And let’s not forget, various other sites were considered and vetoed — the West River Park (storm run-off would prohibit construction); a parking lot at the junction of Elm and Flat streets (the town didn’t want to lose parking spaces); Living Memorial Park (too far away from downtown); even the vacant Home Depot building on Putney Road (again, too far from downtown, not to mention the cost to rent or purchase the location).
And the opposition has a done a fair job expressing concern through letters to the editor, guest opinion pieces and public signage. Still, we are vexed by some of the attitudes displayed in those letters, including blaming the theft of signs on park proponents earlier this year. Or, consider this quote from an October 2012 letter: “When this site was chosen in 2010 ... I did not speak up at the time because I thought the project would not fly for lack of funds.”
Perhaps it would have been better to get together enough people to put a petition together?
Instead, for the last three-plus years, we’ve had exactly what you saw on Tuesday night: Opponents said there have not been enough public meetings on the Crowell Lot site; Supporters said there have been countless public meetings over the past three years; they said, they said ... and on and on ... with no middle ground in site.
Add our voice to that of Selectboard member John Allen, who on Tuesday asked: “What do we do, make them start all over again? I don’t think that’s fair. If we do we’re gong to run into the same problems and the same situations as we did at Memorial Park, as we did at West River Park, and all this committee wants to do is get a skateboard park built for the kids.”
While Andy Davis, who spoke on behalf of a group opposed to the skatepark, painted Tuesday night’s proceedings in a positive light (“... a closer look reveals more opportunities for creativity, and even for success of this project.”), we don’t see it quite the same.
There’s only so long people are willing to push forward, especially when they’re doing everything instructed of them. Just like a prospective business owner, tired of meeting an ongoing list of variances and regulations, the youth in the community will at some point throw in the towel, rightly convinced that a skatepark is not anything the citizens and officials of Brattleboro are interested in entertaining.
This isn’t just a lesson on skateparks. The same will be true for business (big-box or other); cell towers (Can you hear us, now?); windmills and solar arrays (an energy efficient future for others, but not us); and on and on.
So we end with a comment from Facebook, posted as a comment to our item about Tuesday’s skatepark discussion: “I haven’t lived in Brattleboro for over six years; this is still being discussed?”
Unfortunately, it would seem so.