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Vermont News Updates For Friday, August 14

A sign telling people to social distance one cow apart
Anna Van Dine
/
VPR
Some cow-distance guidance inside Kenyon's Variety in Waitsfield.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, Ariel Quiros pleading guilty to a scheme used to defraud investors and more for Friday, August 14.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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COVID case update: 17 people test positive

The Health Department reported 17 new cases of COVID-19 in Vermont Friday. Another 1,508 people tested negative for the coronavirus.

Eleven were in Chittenden County, two were in Franklin County, and there was one each in Orleans, Windsor, Bennington, and Windham counties.

Two people are hospitalized with the disease, 58 people have died. A reported 1,321 people have recovered.

- Mark Davis and Elodie Reed

Ariel Quiros pleads guilty in EB-5 fraud scheme

One of the former developers of Jay Peak ski resort admitted Friday to a scheme used to defraud foreign investors of millions of dollars.

Ariel Quiros pleaded guilty to three federal charges – including money laundering and participating in a multi-year fraud.

Federal prosecutors said Quiros and Bill Stenger, the former president of Jay Peak, used the federal EB-5 program to raise millions of dollars from foreign investors to build a biotech facility in Newport – but that project never got off the ground.

Last year, the U.S. Attorney filed charges alleging that the entire project was a fraud.

Quiros, on Friday, admitted to misleading investors about project and to using funds raised through the EB-5 program to pay off personal loans and expenses.

The plea agreement caps Quiros’ jail sentence at eight years. He has not been sentenced yet.

Stenger has pleaded not guilty. His trial is set to begin next year.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Burlington continues to threaten litigation over stalled CityPlace project

Burlington Mayor Miro Weinberger is refusing to back down from his position that the owners of the downtown mall broke promises to develop the site, amid reports that the project is back in the hands of the developer who failed to get the project under construction two years ago.

On Friday, the Burlington Free Press reported that Don Sinex bought out Brookfield Properties – his former partner in the CityPlace Burlington project.

Sinex had been the public face of the project until it stalled in August 2018. Brookfield eventually took over in early 2019 and said repeatedly that they would complete the project.

More from VPR: From Proposal To Present: A Timeline Of Burlington's CityPlace Project

But at the end of July, Weinberger said the city learned Brookfield was pulling out of the project and returning control to Sinex — in response the city threatened to sue. 

In a written statement Friday, Weinberger said that Brookfield and Sinex “must propose a more reasonable and responsible path forward if they wish to avoid litigation.”

Sinex did not respond to a request for comment.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Gov. gives cities, towns more authority to close bars, restrict public gatherings

Gov. Phil Scott says he's concerned about a possible spike in COVID cases when college students return, so he's given cities and towns strengthened authority to close bars and restrict public gatherings.

“It appears uncontrolled parties and crowds at bars and clubs are a big part of the problem,” Scott said. “So I believe giving our towns, especially the college towns, some additional mitigation measures to work with, is the right thing to do.”

The new order allows towns to enact limits on public gatherings that are more restrictive than those now set by the state. Towns will also be allowed to shorten the hours bars can operate beyond the rules now set by the Department of Liquor and Lottery.

Scott also extended his statewide emergency order for another month.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Burlington officials raise concerns about UVM's reopening plan

Burlington elected officials are pushing back against the University of Vermont’s plans to bring thousands of students back to campus this month, raising concerns that it could bring a new wave of coronavirus infections.

Community members, city officials and even some of UVM’s own faculty and students have raised concerns around issue, including whether the university is doing enough to stop off-campus parties.

City Councilor President Max Tracy says UVM needs to outline its plans for how it would respond if there were widespread cases of the disease.

“We also need to make sure we have a threshold or a plan in place, where if this starts to go really sideways, we have a way to pull the plug responsibly, so that we’re not just flailing in the wind looking for solutions in the moment when we have large scale community transmission taking place,” Tracy said.

City Councilor Jane Stromberg says UVM’s decision to reopen is driven by economics — and not public health.  

“Not a single life should be lost so students can have a choice to be on campus and physically back at school this semester,” Stromberg said. “The semester is going be basically September, October and part of November, how is that even worth it as an amount of time to bring back thousands of people?”

UVM has defended its reopening plan and said it has one of the most aggressive testing plans in the country.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Canadian border closure extended until Sept. 21

The Canadian border will remain closed to non-essential travel for another 30 days.

Canadian Public Safety Minister Bill Blair made the announcement Friday, saying, “We will continue to do what is necessary to keep our communities safe.”

The border will remain closed until at least Sept. 21.

Canada has been more successful than the United States in limiting the spread of COVID-19. The border was initially closed in March.

- Mark Davis

Middlebury community members call for college to go online in fall

Some residents in Middlebury are calling on Middlebury College officials to move to online-only learning.

VTDigger reports the community members, including Middlebury faculty and staff, published a letter in the Addison Independent Thursday asking college officials to reconsider its reopening plans. 

On Friday, Middlebury College President Laurie Patton responded in writing, saying, “The benefits of having students return to campus outweigh the risks.”

Middlebury College’s more than 2,200 students will begin returning to campus next week.  Students must quarantine prior to arrival, and will be tested for COVID-19 upon arrival, seven days later, and then on a regular schedule after.

- Karen Anderson

Gov. responds to union criticism of school reopening plans

Gov. Phil Scott says the union representing Vermont teachers has been involved in the planning around school reopenings, and that its criticism of his plans are unfounded.

The Vermont NEA says the state lacks a coordinated statewide safety strategy, and predicts chaos in the classroom when schools restart.

In response, Scott at his news briefing Friday listed a half dozen COVID-19 safety protocols set by his administration.

“I would also say this isn't unique to Vermont. In speaking to other governors throughout the country, they're experiencing the exact same thing. So this is a national effort, with a lot of the same talking points,” Scott said.

The administration has allowed school districts the leeway to choose between in-person learning, remote learning or a mix of the two. But it has also set statewide health screening requirements, developed guidance for at-risk staff, established protocols for bus travel, cleaning of buildings, food delivery and more.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Education Secretary: School districts having "hard conversations" about staffing levels

Do Vermont schools have enough staff to safely reopen next month? Education Secretary Dan French says he’s not sure, but federal COVID relief funds could help cover staff shortages.

French told Vermont Edition he doesn’t know if Vermont schools will have the teachers they need to open Sept. 8.

Various federal relief funds offer more than $60 million to districts that can be used for expenses like extra staff. But French says that money only goes so far.

“I would say that those dollars are really going to help with the initial reopening of schools,” he said. “The longer-term costs are ones that we’re going to need additional federal support to deal with.”

French says districts are still having what he calls “hard conversations” with staff about teaching in person, online, or both—and he says it’s still too early to finalize staffing plans.

Read/hear the full conversation.

- Matthew Smith

Burlington police investigate two shootings

The Burlington Police Department says two gunfire incidents that occurred late last night and early this morning are related.

Officers responded to reports of a fight with gunfire at Oakledge Park Thursday night. Police found blood and ballistics evidence, but no victims. 

Then, early Friday morning, a Plattsburgh Ave resident awoke to the sound of gunshots. Officers discovered multiple rounds had penetrated the house.

The investigation is ongoing.

- Karen Anderson

Grant program meant to help Vermonters afford internet service

The state has launched several programs using federal dollars to improve internet access in under-served areas as parents, students and teachers prepare for remote learning this fall.

One grant program is designed to help consumers pay to run cable or fiber optic lines to their homes, to provide internet service.

Clay Purvis directs the telecommunications division at the Department of Public Service. He says many people have service near where they live, but can't afford the cost of bringing the line into their residence.

“A big broadband expansion project is probably not going to touch them. These are addresses that, you know, for a few thousand dollars we can reach,” Purvis said. “And we have addresses like that all over the place.”

The state is using $2 million in federal COVID relief funds to offer grants of up to $3,000 each.

Read the full story.

- John Dillon

Bennington Battle Day is Sunday

Bennington Battle Day is Sunday, and a group of Bennington residents have planned a series of patriotic events for the weekend. 

The town fire department, historical society, and local churches will celebrate with a mix of virtual and socially distant events, including walking tours, speeches, fireworks, and a motor parade.

Bennington Battle Day is a Vermont state holiday that commemorates the American victory over British forces on August 16, 1777 in nearby Walloomsac, New York.

- Karen Anderson

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