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Vermont News Updates For Monday, August 17

A woman and a statue of a woman's bust both wear face masks
Shanta Lee Gander
/
For VPR
Brooks Memorial Library reference librarian Jeanne M. Walsh works in Brattleboro last week in matching style with Jane Gregg Schroeder's Susan Walker statue. The statue was outfitted by Sara Vincent-Hoag.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of ongoing local coverage of the coronavirus, economic impacts from the U.S.-Canada border closure and more for Monday, August 17.

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The latest coronavirus data:

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12 more people test positive for COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported 12 new cases of COVID-19 Monday. 

Seven are in Chittenden County, two each in Windham and Lamoille counties, and one in Orange County. 

Another 1,884 people tested negative, and 113,223 have been tested to date. Three people are hospitalized with the disease, 58 people have died, and 1,343 are reported to have recovered.

- Karen Anderson and Elodie Reed

NEK tourism economy hurt by border closure

Restrictions on cross-border travel between Canada and the U.S. have meant the loss of thousands of Canadian tourists — and the $150 million dollars they spend in Vermont.

The border has been closed to non-essential travel since March.

The restrictions have devastated tourist destinations in the Northeast Kingdom, which typically get about half their business from Canadian tourists.

Jay Peak General Manager Steve Wright says the resort is 85 to 90% off its normal numbers for hotel rentals. And golf, a popular summertime activity, is way down.

“With the border closed on one side and the U.S. side the cross-state travel having those limitations in place, our audience to fish from doesn’t have that many fish left in it,” Wright said.

He says the resort will continue to remain open, but if business remains low, they won’t be able to hire their full workforce for the winter season.

Read the full story.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Burlington to restrict gatherings, bar hours

The city of Burlington plans to use its newly granted authority to restrict gathering sizes and limit the hours of bars.

Mayor Miro Weinberger said in a written statement that the city would announce details early this week.

Gov. Phil Scott granted municipalities that additional authority on Friday, citing concerns that the return of out-of-state college students could lead to a spike in coronavirus cases.

The governor’s order comes as the University of Vermont faces mounting criticism of its plan to bring thousands of students back this month.

Burlington officials, residents and even students and members of UVM's faculty say the school’s testing approach and its plan to enforce public health guidelines aren’t strong enough to prevent widespread outbreaks of COVID-19.

- Liam Elder-Connors

Economist: Drop in state revenue "off the charts"

The Legislature's economist says the decline in state revenue this year is unprecedented.

Tom Kavet told legislative leaders and the governor last week that total revenue is expected to be $275 million lower than what was predicted back in January. That includes money for the general, education and transportation funds.

Kavet says the state hasn't seen anything like this before.

"I don't think there's any single year in which it's faced a decline in revenues this precipitous,” he said. “So this is off the charts in many ways."

This week, Gov. Phil Scott is expected to release his budget proposal for the last three quarters of the fiscal year. Lawmakers are set to return to Montpelier later this month to grapple with the spending plan.

Read the full story.

- Henry Epp

Green Mountain College up for auction this week

The former Green Mountain College campus will go to auction this week.

The 155-acre property in Poultney was appraised in 2016 for $20 million.

The property has been for sale on the open market, but in July, Maltz Auctions of New York announced that it would be sold at auction.

The auction house says it’s received a $3 million offer on the property. The auction will take place Tuesday with a minimum $3.2 million needed to open the bidding.

Green Mountain College closed in May 2019. It is one four Vermont colleges that have closed over the past few years.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Rep. Peter Welch: President's behavior toward USPS, election "reprehensible"

Congressman Peter Welch is accusing President Trump of "trying to cheat and steal the election.”

Welch says the president is failing to fund the essential services of the U.S. Postal Service in order to undermine mail-in voting for the November election.

"What Trump is doing is a) cheating by trying to suppress the vote and b) trying to discredit the election in advance of the election,” Welch said. “It's really reprehensible behavior on the part of our highest elected official." 

The U.S. House will hold an unusual Saturday session to consider legislation to fully fund the post office through the rest of the year.

- Bob Kinzel

Update coming on first two districts wanting to dissolve Act 46 merger

The State Board of Education this week will get an update on what happens when towns want to break up their Act 46 school districts.

The southern Vermont towns of Halifax and Readsboro merged their school boards in 2018, under the state’s school consolidation law, Act 46.

But both towns are unhappy, and they’ve each approved a break-up.

These are the first two school districts that have voted to dissolve a newly merged district. The state board has to approve the separation, but it’s not clear how the towns need to present their cases to the state.

A spokesperson for the Agency of Education expects the case to be taken up in September or October.

- Howard Weiss-Tisman

Vermont artist turns to local sources for materials

A Vermont Arts Council grant program has been helping artists weather the pandemic. In many cases the money is being used to enhance artists' websites or take advantage of virtual learning opportunities.

But Bonny Hall of Halifax is using her grant in a low-tech way. 

A basket full of animals made of wool
Credit Bonnie Hall, Courtesy
/

Hall is a fiber artist who creates sculptural objects from wool. She used to buy her wool from international sources, but the pandemic disrupted that. So Hall is using the grant money to purchase a machine called a drum carder. Now she can buy local wool and process it herself.

“Everything is so much more local now,” Hall said. “And we're going to have to be that way for years, I think. And this feels right to me: to be moving things as locally as possible.”

Another round of Vermont Arts Council grants is underway. The deadline is Sept. 28.

- Betty Smith

Rep. Peter Welch attends virtual Democratic National Convention

Congressman Peter Welch says this week's Democratic National Convention will still energize Democrats even though most of the delegates will be connecting online and not in person.

Party officials had hoped that thousands would attend the convention in Milwaukee, but concerns about COVID-19 changed their plans.

Welch, who is a delegate, says party officials made the right decision.

“So I think in the scheme of things, where folks are worried about their jobs, worried about the health of their family, it makes great sense that we have a virtual convention when, of all of the disappointments, this is pretty minor,” he said.

Kamala Harris will address the virtual convention on Wednesday night, and the party's presumptive presidential nominee Joe Biden is scheduled to speak on Thursday night.

- Bob Kinzel

Vermont AG sides with defendants in border drug case

Vermont Attorney General T.J. Donovan is siding with defendants in a drug case whose vehicle was searched by federal agents near the Canadian border and are now being prosecuted in state court.

In a brief filed with the Vermont Supreme Court, the attorney general argued the couple's car was searched without probable cause in violation of the Vermont Constitution, even though the search was legal under federal law.

The case began two years ago when two Vermont residents were stopped by U.S. Border Patrol agents while returning home in Richford. The agents searched the car and allegedly discovered illegal drugs.

- Associated Press

New program offering funds to exchange coal heating for wood pellets

Vermont's Clean Energy Development Fund has a new program to help homeowners and businesses convert from old coal to new wood pellet heating.

The fund now offers homeowners up to $10,000 to help pay the costs of switching to cleaner wood pellet systems. Commercial customers can receive up to $30,000 for changing out a coal heating system to an eligible pellet system.

Fund director Andrew Perchlik says it's part of the state's effort to transform the heating sector to be cleaner and more supportive of the local economy.

- Associated Press

State to purchase new public transit vehicles

The Vermont Agency of Transportation will use nearly $840,000 in federal grant money to buy new public transit vehicles throughout the state.

The new vehicles will replace transit vehicles that account for about 70% of the state's total transit fleet. The new vehicles will help to reduce a backlog of transit vehicles that have needed replacement across the state.

- Karen Anderson

Recreation website looks to connect users with outdoor-related businesses

A website called Trail Finder has long served as a resource for finding trails in Vermont and New Hampshire. Not surprisingly, the site has seen a surge in usage this summer.

Now the people behind Trail Finder hope to harness that growth for economic benefit by connecting the website’s users to nearby outdoor-related businesses.

Russell Hirschler is executive director of The Upper Valley Trails Alliance.

“We're really interested in using the recreation economy to help with economic recovery,” Hirschler said. “So when businesses sign up, they can also list their specific COVID requirements, so that any user can get up to date information about that trail site service.”

The information will be featured on a searchable interactive map of Vermont and New Hampshire as well as on detailed trail pages.

The service will be free of charge to businesses until next April.

- Betty Smith

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