The Valley Reporter's Year in Review

By Kara Herlihy and Lisa Loomis

The year 2011 in the Mad River Valley can be summed up in several words – road work and Irene. The historic storm slammed The Valley and Vermont hard and was of such significance that it gets its own segment of “The year in review” (see below).

What follows is a synopsis of the most newsworthy stories of the year in The Valley, including Harwood’s amazing athletes, legal wrangling over water and footpaths, a new food hub, the removal of the white flag memorial in front of Yestermorrow and the amazing success of the inaugural running of the Mad Marathon.

White Flag Memorial in Waitsfield. Photo: John Williams

White flag memorial taken down at Yestermorrow

After six years, the fields of white flags in front of Yestermorrow that commemorated soldiers fallen in Iraq and Afghanistan were removed on Veterans Day to make way for farm fields.

The field was converted to farmland with topsoil that Sugarbush removed from its snowmaking pond after Hurricane Irene filled it with dirt and gravel. Aaron Locker, who farms the Kingsbury Farm immediately north of the snowmaking pond and immediately south of Yestermorrow, will turn the fields into farm fields and Yestermorrow will grow food on them.

The flags have been a fixture in the field since 2005 and the original memorial for soldiers killed in Iraq was expanded in 2010 to include soldiers fallen in Afghanistan. The flags were installed on the State House lawn in Montpelier and then moved to the Waitsfield site. They were created by a group of local people opposed to the war in Iraq. Since being installed in Waitsfield, the flags have been removed by volunteers several times a year so the fields could be mowed. Volunteers then re-created the grid and re-installed the flags. The number of soldiers killed was noted on a large sign at the front of the field and those numbers were updated several times a week by organizers.

The flags created a powerful visual image for drivers on Route 100 and attracted many visitors as well as a fair amount of commentary.

Mad Marathoners stream across the covered bridge in Waitsfield. Photo: John Williams

First Mad Marathon a success

The first annual Mad Marathon drew nearly 1,200 runners to the Mad River Valley last July; the 26.2-mile marathon and 13.1-mile Mad Half started at the Mad River Green in Waitsfield under a covered bridge facade finish line. The race was praised as a success, bringing many new visitors to The Valley, filling shops, restaurants and beds and treating participants to a dose of local hospitality.

Runners traveled the race course north on Route 100 for six-tenths of a mile, over the Waitsfield covered bridge, climbed Joslin Hill Road until it meets the North Road. The course continued through the Pine Brook covered bridge down to Meadow Road until the turnaround location on Loose Cow Lane (five and eight-tenths miles into the race).

The race continued back along North Road to Common Road in Waitsfield until it meets East Warren Road for three miles until runners began a four-mile loop that started on Roxbury Mountain Road. After returning to East Warren Road 18 miles into the marathon, runners ran through the dip back to Bridge Street and another mile along Route 100 back to the finish line on the Mad River Green.

The Mad Half required runners to travel the first section of the regular Mad Marathon course, only turning back at the end of Common Road, back through the Waitsfield covered bridge for a 13.1-mile race.

The Mad Relay teams traveled the marathon course until the Common Road intersection that served as the first hand-off point for the three-person teams. The first leg was 9.4 miles. The hand-off location for two-person relay teams was 1.1 miles down East Warren Road after relay team members ran the length of Waitsfield Common Road.

Mad Marathoners race past Mountain Valley Farm in Waitsfield. Photo: Jeff Knight

HU teams are state champs

Both the boys’ and girls’ Harwood cross country teams won Division 2 state titles this year; the girls defended the title from 2010 and captured a third straight title by dominating the field with a 48-point victory.

The young Harwood boys’ team won in a barn burner finish, squeaking out a two-point victory over the senior-laden squad from Woodstock.

Both Harwood teams traveled to the New England Cross Country Championships on November 12 in Ponaganset, Rhode Island. The girls finished 27th and the boys finished 25th.

The number-three seeded Harwood varsity field hockey team won the Division 2 state championship 1-0 over the number-one seeded Woodstock Wasps last November at the University of Vermont’s Moulton Winder Field.

The victory marked Harwood’s third victory in the last four years. Harwood returned to defend their title against the first seeded Woodstock Wasps. There were five seniors on the team: Charlotte Thompson, Samantha Fox, Emma Cummings, Megan Burrows and Naomi Cormier.

Charlotte Thompson said, “We weren’t expecting to make it back to the finals, since we lost Sophie [Lisaius] and she was amazing, so coming back and winning states for senior year is just an amazing feeling.”

The victory gives the Harwood girls’ field hockey their eighth state title.

Waitsfield Water tank under construction. Photo: Mark Walker

Waitsfield’s water project, Virginia Houston—what’s next?

The journey continues with Virginia Houston, the town of Waitsfield and the question of whether the town can use water from a well it drilled that is close to the wells Virginia Houston drilled on her land next to Reed Road. At the end of the year the Vermont Superior Court affirmed the necessity for Waitsfield’s municipal water project and the condemnation of 1.22 acres of land from Virginia Houston for that project. With that ruling, the injunction preventing the town from completing the work was lifted.

While construction on the rest of the project throughout the town has been ongoing (some might say ongoing ad nauseum) since spring, the town had been unable to complete work around the well it drilled in the right of way on Reed Road. Houston challenged the need for the water project and for the town to take the 1.22 acres by condemnation. She has drilled two wells on her land that abuts Reed Road.

After the Superior Court ruling, a three-judge panel was set up to determine what damages are due to Houston for the land. The town reached a settlement with a second landowner whose property also abuts Reed Road. That settlement was with the Damon/Richards family for $230,000, the cost of which came from the water project budget versus the town’s general fund.

On June 11, the board signed the agreement with landowner Jean Damon whereby she will received $230,000 for .71 acres of land on Reed Road where the town has drilled a well for a municipal water project in the road right of way. The sum also settled Damon’s claims in three separate lawsuits against the town regarding the road and the water project.

The settlement comes after six months of negotiations between the town and Damon. The town has also been in negotiations with Virginia Houston whose property also abuts Reed Road. The town began condemnation proceedings at the same time as it began negotiating with the two landowners for access to the well after a Vermont Superior Court judge ruled that the town had not shown sufficient proof that Reed Road was a town road.

The town drilled the well for the water project in 2007 based on its belief that it was a town road. Houston and Damon challenged that assumption leading to last December’s Superior Court ruling. Work on the water project began last fall and when it resumed this spring, the only portions that were under construction were those away from Reed Road.

In terms of the water project itself, crews spent all spring, summer, fall and into December working on what seemed like the same stretches of roads multiple times between Irasville and Waitsfield Village. Contractors working on the project were diverted after Hurricane Irene to repair storm damage to roads so that roads could be re-opened. The project has come to a halt for the winter and will continue next spring. The 500,000-gallon water storage tank on Bushnell Road has been completed and is ready to go. Next spring contractors will complete the water lines from Reed Road and finish the wellhead protection and parking areas near the well.

Sue Carter case dismissed by Superior Court

Last July, a Vermont Superior Court judge dismissed a case that would have granted the town of Warren access to a footpath that crosses Sue Carter’s property in Warren Village. A probate court hearing is scheduled for December 21.
Judge Geoffrey Crawford dismissed the case that began almost three years ago on July 13; the town’s request for unobstructed access to the path that connects the village to the Brooks Field was denied.

After the town mistakenly sued Carter individually, the court ordered that the town apply to the probate court and open an estate making Carter the administrator so the town could so choose to sue the estate.

The town never formed the estate and after a period of 60 days the judge found that instead of opening an estate, the whole case should be heard in probate court. For the purposes of the case, Carter was named the administrator of the estate.

In 2009, Carter posted a section of the path used over the years by schoolchildren and residents.

Carter engaged attorney Lauren Kolitch after the town’s attorney Paul Gillies issued an opinion that the path is considered a public right of way. Gilles maintained that there was deed language that allows access to the land where the Warren School is and referred to that access as a road or highway.

Attorney Alan Uris took over the case and represented Carter in the ongoing litigation at the Vermont Superior Court.

Uris said the town’s attorney wrongly sued Carter because she is only one of five siblings that hold legal title to the property following the death of Carter’s mother, Veda Carter, who died in 1983. Following her mother’s death, no estate was opened; Carter lives in the home with the acquiescence of her siblings and pays the taxes and other expenses.

Valley towns back together in final redistricting proposal

After a back and forth that saw The Valley towns split up, the Vermont Legislative Apportionment Board (LAB) released a final proposal on redistricting the state that put the towns back together again.

The LAB’s final proposal creates a two-member district of Warren, Fayston, Waitsfield, Moretown and Duxbury, with a population of 7,772. Waterbury is proposed as a one-member standalone district with 3,878 people. Granville, Hancock, Rochester and Bethel are to form a one-member district with a population of 3,790.

The 2010 census data for Vermont shows a population of 625,741 and with 150 members of the House of Representatives, the ideal district population for a one-member district is 4,172. Deviations under 20 percent within districts are considered acceptable.

The LAB’s original proposal for The Valley had Warren and Waitsfield plus half of Fayston as one district. The northern half of Fayston was put together with Duxbury and Moretown in another one-member district.

Boards of civil authorities locally and throughout the state voiced strong opposition to having local towns split between districts. Sentiment was strongly against splitting Fayston away from the towns with which it shares emergency services, an intra-municipal government entity, recreational organizations and dozens of other links.
The LAB initially opted to create as many one-member districts in the state as possible, with some members arguing that it was easier for legislators to campaign in a one-member district. Faced with significant outrage from towns split in half to create dozens of one-member districts, the LAB revised its plan.

Mad River Food Hub opened this year. Photo: Kara Herlihy

Mad River Food Hub opens

The Mad River Food Hub (MRFH), a new food storage, processing and distribution facility located in the Irasville Business Park, opened in November.

MRFH is the first of its kind to offer both vegetable and meat processing facilities; the two meat processing rooms are licensed by the Agency of Agriculture Vermont Meat Inspection Service and the vegetable kitchen was constructed to USDA standards. Meat processing space is available for rent on an eight-plus-hour-per-day basis by chefs, farmers and food entrepreneurs.

Owner Robin Morris said that the MRFH got its start after George Schenk of American Flatbread in Waitsfield graciously agreed to sell his freezers; construction started back in May and reached completion in mid-August.

The MRFH applied for and was awarded several grants that served as capital to purchase equipment and fund the project including $7,500 grant from the Vermont Sustainable Jobs Fund Farm to Plate initiative.

Mad River Food Hub facilities manager Jacob Finsen breaks down meat at the Food Hub in waitsfield. Photo: Kara Herlihy

The Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce applied for and was awarded a $50,000 matching USDA Rural Business Enterprise Grant (RBEG to purchase meat and vegetable processing equipment for the MRFH. The MRFH is classified as a L3C, a for-profit business; nonprofits may serve as the applicant for the grant, even though the recipient is technically a for-profit entity.

The Mad River Valley Chamber of Commerce, in partnership with the MRFH, was awarded a $50,000 grant from the USDA to purchase meat, vegetable and herb processing equipment.

More than 10 farms and five value-added producers have already committed to using the facility including Kingsbury Market Garden, the Vermont Meat Company, Vermont Raw, Vermont Yak and Lawson’s Finest.

MRFH is the result of many years of discussion and collaboration with the Mad River Valley

Localvore Project, Valley Futures Network, Mad River Valley Planning District, Vermont Land Trust, farmers, businesses, nonprofit organizations and residents.

Taxpayers petition for an end to Fuoco litigation

A Harwood paraeducator who was fired for lack of an appropriate credential was the subject of binding arbitration between the school district and the teachers’ union, which the district and school board sought to have dismissed, prompting taxpayers to petition for an end to the litigiousness.

Paraeducator Denise Fuoco was relieved of her duties and employment in October 2010 because she did not have the Highly Qualified Professional (HQP) designation. The Washington West Supervisory Union and Harwood Union School Board argued she had to be fired because the district could lose its Title 1 funding for having a non-HQP paraeducator.

The case went to binding arbitration with the arbitrator ruling that Fuoco was wrongly terminated and needed to be reinstated and made whole for her year of lost employment and related expenses. Fuoco has dyslexia and did not take the HQP test without accommodations. The arbitrator ruled that she should be given six months to achieve HQP status and that she should be given reasonable accommodations for her dyslexia when taking the test.

The school board and school district appealed the binding arbitration in Vermont Superior Court arguing that the arbitrator overstepped his bounds by asking that the school and district ignore provisions of the federal No Child Left Behind law that require paraprofessionals to hold HQP status.

Shortly thereafter, a petition with 168 signatures requesting an end to litigation in the Denise Fuoco case was submitted to the Washington West Supervisory Union, in advance of Harwood Union’s regular board meeting on December 14.

"We the voters of Washington West Supervisory Union and the Harwood Union School District do hereby request that our school boards and our superintendent no longer pursue the Denise Fucco case. [Not] doing so will force us to vote no on the upcoming Harwood Union School budget.”

The Sugarbush Access Rd. was repaired and repaved from Gold Hill Rd. to Wheeler Brook. Photo courtesy Google Maps

Sugarbush Access Road repaired and repaved

Repaving of the Sugarbush Access Road was finally completed after Warren voters approved an article to fund $375,000 of the project in the spring. The final cost of repairs and paving of the road including repairs to a slumping section cost the town of Warren approximately $600,000.

The project consisted of paving an eight-tenths-of-a-mile section of road starting in the vicinity of Gold Hill Road and ending near Wheeler Brook. Town officials also included an additional $15,000 worth of paving and patch paving.

Additional paving was completed using funds from the negotiated settlement with Sugarbush in the prior year for patch paving required after the snowmaking pipeline burst.

The town also included $25,000 worth of extra gravel to complete the project to the specifications.

The town’s contract with F. W. Whitcomb included a clause with an October 15 completion date; failure to meet that date would result in the company paying the town liquid damages of $1,300 per day past October 15.

Town officials never received a request to extend the completion date or notice that work wouldn’t be complete by then. The project was completed two weeks beyond the agreed upon date. Select board chair Andy Cunningham said that F. W. Whitcomb “doesn’t feel they owe us any liquidated damages.”

Town officials hired Mark Bannon of Bannon Engineering to complete the engineering of the one-mile paving project.

Last July, a slump in the road prompted town officials to hire Dubois Construction to restore the slumping section at a cost of close to $179,000.

Sugarbush reveals plans for next phase of development

Sugarbush Resort’s next phase of development at Lincoln Peak calls for a multi-year project consisting of eight building sites with a mix of townhouses, condominiums and mixed use buildings.

Sugarbush presented its plans to the Warren Development Review Board on December 19.

The Phase II project will be built on land in the Sugarbush Village Commercial Zoning District, between the Rice Brook to the north and the Lincoln Peak base area to the south. Eighty to ninety new residential units will be constructed and all buildings will have underground parking.

Ground level parking and access roads will be shared with Sugarbush Village and pedestrian connections will be created between the existing base area and Sugarbush Village.

The project also calls for completion of the Hotel Brook restoration project, stormwater and utility infrastructure, moving and replacing the Village Double chair and improving skier traffic management at the approach to the Village Double. Also proposed are upgrading children’s ski-school terrain and the creation of five new parcels to accommodate the proposed buildings.

Phase II will be built over several years, with implementation of each part based on market demand.

Months of hearings held for True North Wilderness Program

True North Wilderness Program’s efforts to gain state permits for its wilderness therapy school continued in Waitsfield and Fayston throughout much of the year. The residential treatment program uses a wilderness camping experience for its teen and young adult students.

True North currently operates on land off Dana Hill Road in Waitsfield as well as the Howe Block of the Camel’s Hump State Forest. At the request of adjoining landowners, state level Act 250 permitting hearings began for the Waitsfield project this summer.

Concurrently, True North began local permitting hearings to create a new school campus on 651 acres of land it intends to purchase (pending permitting) in Fayston. True North is seeking permission to have 24 campers and 8 to 12 counselors on the Waitsfield campus. Those students will use two permanent campsites and camp in the woods and on parts of the Howe Block of Camel’s Hump State Forest.

After several well-attended local hearings, the Fayston Development Review Board granted True North a permit with conditions. True North originally planned to build a school center, a maintenance building and 12 permanent campsites, each with two yurts and a composting toilet. The 651-acre parcel where the project is proposed straddles two of Fayston’s zoning districts, the soil conservation and rural residential. True North is seeking permits for 42 students plus 14 counselors on the Fayston parcel.

After the DRB issued the permit, it was appealed to Vermont Environmental Court by True North abutters John and Liz Levey and the Fayston Citizens’ Group, which participated in the hearings and voiced concerns about the impacts of campers being present 365 days a year on land that is habitat to bear.

The Fayston parcel is subject to a recreation easement that ensures the public can hike, hunt and recreate in the parcel year round. Concerns were raised by the Citizens’ Group that state and federal regulations that prohibit guns on school grounds made True North’s proposed use incompatible with the permanent recreation easement. True North has received a waiver from the Vermont Department of Children and Families allowing the company to operate its residential treatment program in an area where guns (and hunters) would be present.

All parties also sought to have the DRB re-open its deliberations to reconsider certain aspects of the decision, but the board declined. The appeal in Environmental Court is on holding pending conclusion of the Fayston state level Act 250 review which got underway late this summer.

Act 250 hearings for the Fayston land are on hold, pending the state’s conclusion of its study of the environmental impacts of the proposed uses, including a review of whether the project encroaches on critical wildlife habitat and its review of True North’s use of “cat holes” for the disposal of human waste when students are not staying in the yurts in the winter.

The District 5 Environmental Commission has yet to issue a decision on issuing an Act 250 permit for the Waitsfield project but did issue a notice that erosion control protocols for a 25-acre parcel on Dana Hill Road in Waitsfield needed to be completed by November 23. Act 250 retains jurisdiction over several other aspects of the proposed Waitsfield use.

MLI denied ANR variance for fourth cell

Last July, the Moretown Landfill’s (MLI) proposed fourth cell expansion was delayed when the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) denied MLI’s request for a variance from stream setback and groundwater isolation distance requirements.
As proposed, the fourth cell would have added 16 to 20 years of capacity to the landfill.

In a July 15 decision, ANR denied the variance request which would have “allowed for the destruction of wetlands and the resulting project would be within the isolation distances established in the solid waste rules for surface water, bedrock and groundwater.”

The state can grant such variances if the applicant can show that complying with the regulations produces serious hardship without equal or greater benefits to the public. The state found that the site had built-in limitations including the fact that a large part of the land proposed for the fourth cell did not meet the isolation distance requirement for bedrock and wetlands and other surface water bodies that would need to be destroyed or relocated. Additionally, creating the cell, with the variance, would require removing large amounts of bedrock and artificially depressing groundwater to obtain adequate isolation distances.

Sugarbush President Win Smith,right, speaks with Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin at Shumlin's inaugural ball held at Sugarbush. Photo: Sandy Macys

Sugarbush hosts Shumlin inaugural ball

In a great coup for the local resort, Vermont Governor-Elect Peter Shumlin held his inaugural ball on Friday, January 7, at Sugarbush, hosting over 1,000 guests, state dignitaries and other luminaries at the Warren ski area.

All hands were on deck at Sugarbush preparing for the event which featured Vermont finger foods. Timbers Restaurant served as a milking parlor featuring Vermont dairy products. Castlerock Pub was remade as an orchard where Vermont fruit products were offered.

Sugarbush owner, Win Smith, left, presents Vermont Governor Peter Shumlin with a framed print of the resort at the Governor's inagural ball at Sugarbush. Photo: Sandy Macys

The Gate House Lodge became the barnyard where Vermont poultry, Sugarbush chowder and local pork were available. There was also a late night mini-Mackenzie hot dog station.

Entertainment for the ball included a collection of Vermont musical acts: Dave Grippo, Brian McCarthy, Russ Lawton, Ray Paczowski, Bob Wagner, Lowell Thompson, D Davis and Jon Rogone.

Citizens continue appeal of Family Dollar in Moretown

A citizens group’s appeal of a permit for a Family Dollar Store proposed for the intersection of Routes 2 and 100 in Moretown continues. A teleconference for the applicants’ attorneys and the court is scheduled for January 23.

The Moretown Development Review Board first issued a conditional use permit for the proposed store on May 17. Members of the citizens group expressed concerns about the impacts of the store during the DRB hearings and will take those concerns to the Vermont Environmental Court.

Their appeal will be held while the project goes through state Act 250 review. If the project receives an Act 250 land use permit, the appeal will then be heard.

The 8,200-square-foot store was approved in a 3-2 decision by the Moretown DRB. Board members John Riley (chair of the board), Tom Badowski and Linda Vantine voted for the project. Erick Titrud and Jim O’Neill voted against it.

Objections and concerns over the proposal were voiced by the towns of Duxbury and Waterbury as well as the citizens group. The decision was issued May 17. The written decision notes that retail stores are permitted in the commercial district and goes on to explain the board’s reasoning.

Top Notch Properties, developer of the Family Dollar Store, owns two adjacent lots near the intersection of the two roads. One lot is 1.3 acres and contains Juniper’s Fare and the Arkley Homestead building which is rented residentially. The second lot is 7.4 acres and contains three commercial buildings, each about 10,000 square feet. As proposed, the new store will be constructed on part of both lots (after the residence is torn down).

In issuing its decision, the DRB declined a recommendation from the town of Waterbury and others that the two existing curb cuts leading into the commercial property be replaced by a single access directly across from the intersection. The board wrote that there was insufficient evidence to determine whether that would improve traffic and safety.