By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
GRAND ISLE -- Three staff members from the Vermont Court Administrator’s Office provided few solid answers for area legislators, local officials and residents during a two-hour meeting on how to re-open the Grand Isle County Courthouse with fulltime service.
Gregg Mousley, chief of finance and administration said he along with Teri Scott, director of trial operations and Rob Schell, state court security manager, would bring back to Montpelier the comments they heard to try to find a solution. He did say he doubted there would be any immediate action.
The Grand Isle Selectboard had proposed the regional meeting after Court Administrator Patricia Gabel ordered the North Hero courthouse closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays due to the judicial branch not having any contracted security beginning Aug. 1. Grand Isle residents at a couple of meeting expressed the lack of access to the courthouse.
Some like State Sens. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle/Colchester and Randy Brock, R-Franklin/Alburgh, Rep. Michael Morgan, R-Grand Isle/West Milton and Selectboard Chairs Josie Henry of Alburgh and Jeff Parizo of Grand Isle tried to be taskmasters at the meeting. They pressed for specific answers on solving the issue last Thursday night, but came away empty handed.
Mazza said he was less interested in the mis-steps by the judicial branch as he was in getting the courthouse doors open 5 days a week. He said he wanted to know if the issue could be solved with more trained personnel and/or more money.
Morgan and Henry, who are both retired from the Air Force, said in the service objections are identified and answers found. What could be done? they asked.
Grand Isle County Sheriff Ray Allen notified Schell in late April that the uniformed deputy sheriff that has served at the courthouse in North Hero was retiring this summer and the department had nobody to fill the spot. No deputies were interested in taking a pay cut to leave road patrols to work the courthouse details, Allen has said.
Mousley said even if somebody is found to screen people at the door, there was no guarantee the court would be fully open. He blamed COVID-19 and said there is an issue with ventilation at the historic courthouse in North Hero.
Vermont Superior Court Judge George “Ned” Spear and retired Judge Ben Joseph said public access to the judiciary is needed -- and not over a phone or having to drive to St. Albans. Joseph said some people don’t have phones, computers or email. Spear said he sometimes does not have phone access at home.
Mousley disputed the claim a few times during the night.
“Well, you know, as time passes, as I said, we don’t need a courthouse to provide justice,” he said.
The groans and grunts from the audience was clear they did not agree with his assessment.
State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito, who served as moderator for the night, said he thought that was the quote of the night.
South Hero Selectboard Chair David Carter, a retired lawyer, said it was clear Scott, Mousley and Schell do not understand the importance of local justice.
“They don’t get it. It’s white privilege. If they understood they would know how poor people are throughout Vermont,” he said.
Carter said he thought the three were “arrogant and Pat Gabel is as guilty as any of them.”
Gabel was invited to the meeting, but did not attend. Gabel’s delegation did not say why she was missing or offer any comments on her behalf.
Mousley did say this is not part of a long-sought effort to close some courthouses and going to a regionalization. He said there are now 7 out of 23 courthouses in the state that are facing closures or reduced hours due to lack of security personnel or ventilation questions that surfaced from COVID.
He did say Grand Isle County has become the most vocal.
The others are the Essex County courthouse, Franklin civil in St. Albans, Orleans criminal and civil in Newport, Windham civil in Newfane, Washington civil in Montpelier, and possibly Windsor criminal in White River Junction.
The turnout filled the conference room at the sheriff’s office. Local officials were part of the audience, including a large number of selectboard members, including two towns with quorums. Four of the 5 selectboard members from Grand Isle attended, while 3 came from North Hero. Isle La Motte was the lone town with no representation.
Franklin County Sheriff Roger Langevin said he attended the session because he is concerned about future contracts for the two courthouses in St. Albans that he provides security.
He said he almost did not renew his contract the last time, but after a weekend of thinking agreed. Langevin said he later was hit with a 5.8 percent increase in the retirement system that he is now paying out of his pocket.
“I’m losing money,” he said. “We need to pay our people.”
He said the courthouse contract is $29 an hour, while other contracts, including patrols in a half dozen towns are at $56 an hour.
It was clear that nobody was happy with the way Gabel’s office handled the case -- and some remain unhappy with how the court is operating.
Grand Isle County Assistant Judge Joanne Batchelder noted that in 3 relief from abuse hearings earlier in the day, the court had trouble conducting the remote hearings. She said the presiding judge was in Barre and there were issues with people unable to submit documents. At one point the court computer system, called Odyssey, shutdown, she said.
She also said she likes to see the faces of the people and not just listen over a phone.
“It’s not the way justice should be done,” Batchelder said.
DiSabito said he was concerned that the Court Administrator’s Office had set up a contract with a private communications company led by Denise Casey that has cost $59,000 over 10 months and is still in place. He said the money might be better spent on improving security contracts instead of expanding the court’s communications committee.
Casey also serves on the Vermont Judicial Nominating Board, he said.
Carter said after the meeting he is concerned that the court Administrator’s Office is going to use the ventilation system issue to close the courthouse permanently.
“I don’t think the suits from Montpelier have been in there to look at it,” Carter said.
By MICHAEL FRETT
SOUTH HERO – The small cabin parked in South Hero’s village has had several lives, and while its early life is the stuff of local histories, its more recent history is one Colleen Bushway remembers personally.
Her name was on it, after all.
“The ABC Craft Shop stands for Anna, Betty and Colleen,” Bushway said, recalling a far more recent life for the cabin as a craft shop. “Anna was my mother, Betty is my sister and I’m Colleen.”
Today the cabin sits idle near the South Hero Meeting House at the far end of a patch of green the South Hero Bicentennial Museum hopes to see converted into a parklet centered on the century-old cabin.
Already museum officials have managed some restoration work with the help of volunteers and donations, stabilizing the cabin for its eventual facelift as a small museum.
The dream, according to museum officials, is to see the cabin take the shape of the pre-electricity honeymoon suite it was designed as around the start of the 1900s, after the coming of the railroad heralded the arrival of tourism to the Champlain Islands.
“Tourism was – and is – the way we make money in South Hero,” Teresa Robinson, the South Hero Bicentennial Museum’s president, said. “The history of South Hero is camps and summer people.”
But while its next life as a museum will focus on the cabin’s historic role as an extension of the inn now housing South Hero’s Community Bank extension, more than just newlyweds will be remembered with this small cabin’s restoration.
The “Honeymoon Cabin” was built more than a century ago as a honeymoon suite for the South Hero Inn, the centuries-old stone building now housing Community Bank’s South Hero branch.
At the time, the inn had been a temporary home for travelers passing through South Hero on their way toward Montreal and New York’s North Country, one of many in the island’s history with only modest accommodations for traveling traders and farmers passing through.
As the arrival of the railroad tied the Champlain Islands more directly to Burlington, however, a new kind of visitor arrived in the islands, and Lillian Axtell, the owner of what would be renamed the South Hero Inn, hoped to cash in on the coming tourism economy that still defines island life today.
Axtell had three modestly furnished vacation cabins built behind the inn, offering a private getaway for newlyweds who might otherwise chafe at the idea of staying in the far less private inn.
For decades, the eventually electrified cabins provided visitors with romantic stays in the Champlain Island, becoming token examples of an increasingly visitor-centered economy before ultimately succumbing to disrepair sometime in the middle of the century.
By the time Bushway’s family came to own the inn in the 1970s, the South Hero Inn had been foreclosed and all three of the inn’s honeymoon cabins had become disheveled shadows of a romantic past.
The ABCs of a craft store
Colleen Bushway grew up as Colleen Poquette in Winooski, where her mother worked in a sewing factory and also made alterations for local families.
“I actually have a photo of the sign in Winooski that says ‘alterations’ and everything,” Bushway said.
But after coming to own a camp in South Hero’s “Shadowland,” Bushway’s parents purchased the South Hero Inn and began operating the waystation in the 1970s, becoming fulltime islanders in the process.
According to Bushway, her family’s purchase of the inn was entirely a “family affair.” The Poquette family’s savings went to making a down payment on the inn and, with Bushway herself finishing up with college, she joined three of the four other Poquette children and moved into the South Hero Inn.
“My father wanted to keep the five of us kids together,” Bushway said. “We cleaned up there. We served people. We cooked. The boys played music in the band.”
When they took over the then-foreclosed inn, the Poquette family also inherited a trio of ramshackle cabins that had been let to rot behind the historic inn.
According to Bushway, the cabins had been neglected for some time, though for exactly how long had been a mystery even then. Regardless, time had clearly taken a toll on the three buildings, one of which had become a junk shed and another of which would be demoted to being the Poquettes’ greenhouse.
The middle shed, however, remained in decent enough shape that, with a few repairs, the Poquettes managed to reopen it as a small craft shop, the only one at the time in South Hero. “My father was the one who put that plywood up there,” Bushway said, pointing to a few leftover repairs.
The ABC Craft Shop, named for Bushway, her mother and her sister, provided supplies for sewing and crafting visitors and residents would otherwise need to travel to Burlington or Essex to buy. In turn, the shop was a source of supplemental income for the Poquettes, who made a living off the nearby inn.
It was also fulfilling a sort of dream for Bushway’s mother, who had always dreamed of having their own craft store. “I wouldn’t say it made her a lot of money, but it satisfied that need in her,” Bushway said. “She always wanted to have her own craft shop.”
Eventually the South Hero Inn would close again, becoming apartments by the 1980s and, by the 1990s, home to the local branch of a regional bank. Bushway, who recalls living upstairs in the stone segment of the inn still looming over Route 2, married into the Bushway family and moved into Grand Isle.
From “Timstead” to time machine
According to the South Hero Bicentennial Museum, at around the time the bank purchased the South Hero Inn, the inn’s accompanying cabins were moved off the property. One of those found its way to “Timstead,” an area farm managed by Tim Maxham.
On the farm, the cabin took on another life, becoming the playhouse for the Maxham family’s children.
On the inside face of the cabin’s front door, a collage of children’s handprints and footprints against a white backdrop frame the names of the Maxham family’s children, a detail the South Hero Bicentennial Museum intends to preserve even as the rest of the cabin takes on a more historic appearance.
Years later, the cabin would be donated to the museum on the condition the museum removed the cabin from “Timstead.” Because the museum itself lacked the room on its property for a cabin, South Hero’s selectboard allowed the cabin take up residence near the South Hero Meeting House.
Today, the cabin shows some signs of a restoration project already well underway. Robinson told The Islander she sees the museum easily being able to restore the cabin within the coming years, with the dreams of a historical marker outside describing the cabin’s association with the nearby South Hero Inn.
The cabin’s association with the inn is what museum officials and volunteers, including Bushway herself, hope to especially emphasize as the cabin’s interior is restored to look like the honeymoon suites Axtell sought when she rechristened the Island House as the South Hero Inn more than a century ago.
“It’s part of the South Hero Inn’s history and that is the most important building in town,” Cathie Merrihew, the museum’s treasurer, said of the museum’s plans for the cabin. “I don’t think South Hero has very many buildings that still evoke an era.”
Museum officials who met with The Islander talked about dressing the cabin’s interior with historic furniture from the time, some of its sourced locally within South Hero itself. Already an appropriate kerosene lamp was available for the future Honeymoon Cabin museum.
Still, pieces recalling a larger story will be visible inside, remembering the years when a cabin was left in disrepair, only to see new life as South Hero’s only craft shop and, after that, the playground for children from a local family whose names still grace the building’s front door.
Bushway, meanwhile, looks forward to seeing a restored cabin open to the public. The self-described history buff, now a volunteer with Grand Isle’s historical society and an active participant in the Honeymoon Cabin’s restoration in South Hero, wants the cabin’s history shared.
“I want people to really care about the past and learn from it, enjoy it and know it,” Bushway said.
There were personal reasons for her support, as well. When she met with The Islander last week, Bushway brought with her an aerial photo of the South Hero Inn that included its now demolished stable barn and its three rustic cabins, of which only the museum’s still stands.
“I would like it that my granddaughter could come in here and see what life was like,” Bushway said. “I want to be able to say to my grandkids: ‘You see this picture? This is where your great-grandma and grandpa lived, this is where I lived.’”
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
The public was blocked this week from attending a meeting hosted by Vermont Court Administrator Patricia Gabel to answer questions from state legislators about the judiciary’s unexpected closing of the Grand Isle County Courthouse three days a week.
Several legislators encouraged The Islander to attend the virtual meeting at 9:30 a.m. Tuesday because of the serious concerns locally about limited judicial access. However, Gabel never responded with the contact information before the meeting or offer a recap after. Her assistant said she did not have access to the sign-in information for the meeting.
State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito and Sheriff Ray Allen also were among those left in the dark. DiSabito said he asked to be included, but was told it was for legislators only. Allen said he was never notified of the meeting to discuss security at the North Hero courthouse.
In the end about three state senators and two representatives for Grand Isle County, along with a few representatives from Franklin Counties got a briefing from seven judiciary employees about the lack of both money and staffing the court system receives from the state.
DiSabito was disappointed at the public being excluded on an issue of concern in the county.
“I find the fact that the Judiciary set up a meeting solely between their administration and select legislators, 48 hours before the county-wide public meeting, and specifically excluded myself, the Assistant Judges, Probate Judge, the county sheriff and the public, quite chilling to say the least,” the prosecutor told The Islander.
“Public trust and confidence are integral to the credibility of the judicial branch. This is not the way to foster integrity, transparency and accountability with other branches of State government, and certainly not with the public,” according to DiSabito, who worked for the state court system for 6 years before attending law school.
DiSabito said local officials still plan to go forward with the scheduled public meeting at 6:30 Thursday night in the large conference room at the Grand Isle County Sheriff’s Department in Grand Isle. He said it is still designed to get all the players together to try to solve the problems and make sure everybody has the same information.
Invitations for Thursday night were sent to area state senators and legislators, Sheriff Allen, Assistant Judges Joanne Batchelder and Sherri Potvin, Probate Judge George Spear, other court personnel, including Gabel and Chief Administrative Judge Brian Grearson. The selectboards in the island towns also have been invited to attend and the public also is welcome, he said.
The flap developed when Gabel’s office ordered the historic county courthouse shutdown beginning Aug. 1 on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays until further notice because the judiciary was unable to find anybody to work at the courthouse door.
The word about the shutdown began to surface the Friday afternoon before the implementation.
In late April Sheriff Allen had sent an email to the Court Administrator’s Office notifying the state that his department would be ending its annual security contract this summer because a longtime deputy doing the job was retiring. Allen indicated there was nobody in his department to fill the courthouse slot.
During the next 3 months the Court Administrator’s Office was unable to find anybody to do security and that’s when the decision was made to keep the court open only on Tuesdays and Thursdays with interim security. Gabel said the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department was not interested in staffing the post.
Part of the debate is whether an armed police officer is needed at the North Hero courthouse entrance or whether somebody without law enforcement experience and no weapon could be hired to run the metal detector.
The Court Administrator’s Office now has acknowledged it was aware of other possible staffing issues in at least 3 other courthouses by mid-July. They were the civil division in Franklin, Orleans and Windham Counties and the full courthouse serving Essex County.
The courthouse closing has creeped into meetings of Grand Isle County selectboards because taxpayers are concerned about the lack of services for island residents. Grand Isle Selectboard Chair Jeff Parizo proposed the joint meeting as a way to get everybody under the same roof and providing answers, while trying to find solutions. DiSabito later agreed to try to coordinate all the interested parties.
During the Isle La Motte Selectboard meeting last week, local resident Sylvia Jensen questioned whether the town needs to pay its full county tax this year when the courthouse is now open only 40 percent of the time.
While the judiciary in Montpelier may have known for a long time about the proposed cut in security services, an email from the Chief of Trial Court Operations makes clear that Grand Isle officials were left in the dark until the last minute.
On Friday afternoon July 30, just before the lockdown began, Tari Scott emailed several members of the judiciary branch asking that a sign be put on the courthouse door and to put a message on the judiciary website.
“We will also need to notify the State’s Attorney and the GI bar of this change as well as the Probate and Assistant Judges,” Scott wrote. She added that the presiding Superior Court Judge, Robert Mello, also should be alerted.
“We should anticipate a rapid response from the State’s Attorney and possibly the Assistant Judges. The Island Newspaper may be looking for information as to the swift locking of the building without notice. We should be prepared,” Scott wrote in her email.
DiSabito has said -- and Judge Grearson confirmed -- that he never got the official word about locking the courthouse 3 days a week until the evening of Monday Aug. 1, after the first full lockdown day. The notice came from Grearson as a courtesy trying to make sure he was aware of the decision in case the Court Administrator’s Office did not reach out.
Mello, after he was notified, sent an email to Gabel, Scott, Grearson and others on Aug. 1 that it might make sense that the Assistant Judges, the county clerk, DiSabito, county legislators and members of the bar be asked for suggestions.
“They probably won’t think of anything you haven’t already thought of, but they deserve at least to be consulted,” Judge Mello wrote.
DiSabito said the issue comes down to fairness and equal treatment, something the courts like to say they endorse.
By MICHELLE MONROE
GRAND ISLE – Island businesses have enjoyed a busy summer, often exceeding the business they did in 2019. Unfortunately, staffing has not kept up.
When college and high school students returned to school this month, Wally’s Place closed for 10 days. It will reopen on Thursday with hours reduced from seven days per week to Thursday to Sunday.
The reduced hours are needed “to alleviate the stress on myself and the few employees I do have,” said owner Matt Bartle.
While he typically loses summer help when college resumes, in the past he’s had a core group of year-round employees. “This year something shifted and those people were not there,” Bartle said.
Bartle said there is a perception that restaurant work is low paid and workers are not well-treated, but he is currently paying close to $15 per hour. “I’ve always been a proponent of raising the minimum wage, but you can’t do it all at once,” he said.
Although 10,000 Vermonters are poised to lose unemployment benefits within the next week, Bartle said he was not sure it would make a difference. “There’s all sorts of new online jobs,” he said, offering the ability to work from home.
Before limiting his hours to four days per week, Bartle closed Wally’s Place on Tuesdays in August. Prior to the pandemic, the restaurant only closed three days out of the year.
Bartle has reached out to former employees, with some agreeing to return, at least for a few hours per week. Family have also helped, with his wife working on the weekends, even though it meant hiring someone to watch their children.
Shore Acres, too, has closed its restaurant one day per week. Initially, the closure was because of staffing shortages in the kitchen, said manager Jason Hanny. Once he had staff to reopen he decided to stay closed on Wednesday to give the staff a rest.
The restaurant has been booked solid every night. “Every single night for us is a Saturday night,” Hanny said, which takes a toll on staff.
Guests at the inn have understood the closure and staff have directed them to other area restaurants on Wednesdays, according to Hanny.
To get and keep staff, Hanny is willing to be flexible about hours. “We pay a very handsome wage,” he said.
Hanny also draws a hard line on the treatment of staff. When a longtime customer threw a bread basket at an assistant general manager because the customer was angry about the length of the wait for food, Hanny banned the customer. “I will never allow anybody to mistreat the staff,” he said.
Shore Acres best recruitment tool has been current staff, Hanny said. In recognition of that, every staff person who refers someone who is then hired receives $100.
Next year, Shore Acres will open a tiki bar, Bravo Zulu. A pop-up version was planned for this summer, but staffing kept it from happening.
“The number one thing that keeps me awake at night is staffing,” Hanny said.
With the opening of Bravo Zulu, Shore Acres will go from employing approximately 60 people to 100. Finding those additional people is his biggest concern, according to Hanny.
Seb’s Snack Bar and Viva Marketplace haven’t had to close, but finding staff has been a struggle, according to owner Heidi Tappan. “We’ve been very fortunate to have a lot of high school and college age kids help us out,” she said. But with school starting, those staff are departing or working fewer hours.
Hiring is “very difficult,” she said. “Nobody’s responding to any ads at all.”
“We had never advertised before,” Tappan said. In addition to advertising, she’s been asking friends and family to refer potential staff. They’ve also become staff themselves. “Friends and family are here working,” she said.
Tappan is willing to accommodate a variety of schedules “even if you only have five hours one day a week.”
Tappan is hiring for bakers, retail and snack bar staff. “Come and join the fun,” she said. “It really is fun.”
She suggested people could think of working in local businesses as a form of community service. “It helps the whole community. Otherwise, the community is pretty shutdown,” Tappan said.
The need is especially great in the spring and summer, when high school and college students are still in school, according to Tappan.
Like many other businesses on the Islands, Tappan had a busy summer. “I’ve had a great season, and I think other people have as well.”
She wants those customers to have a great experience, but staffing has made that a challenge. “People have to understand we’re understaffed,” Tappan said.
Snow Farm Winery, too, is struggling with staffing, just as the grapes are reaching the harvesting stage.
“We’re really struggling,” said Julie Lane, co-owner of Snow Farm. On some days, they’ve had no help.
“We’re just doing the best we can,” she said. “We’re in the same boat everybody is in.”
In addition to staff in the tasting room, the winery needs people to pick grapes for the next six to eight weeks. “We’re starting earlier this year because of the hot, humid summer,” Lane said.
During harvesting, the grapes are cut from the vines in bunches with scissors. “Anyone can pick grapes,” Lane said.
Some retirees come and pick grapes. In the past, people have earned money for special purchases, according to Lane.
“Come on in and get some extra dollars for Christmas,” she said.
By MICHELLE MONROE
ALBURGH – A Black Lives Matter sign was defaced in Alburgh earlier this week and windows on three vehicles shot out, Grand Isle Sheriff Ray Allen confirmed for the Islander today.
An ‘O’ was painted in front of the word “Lives,” changing the wording. The letters BLM were also painted inside a circle with a slash through it.
The most serious damage was to the three vehicles at the residence with the sign, whose windows were shot out with a pellet or airsoft gun, according to Allen.
The vandalism occurred between 10:30 p.m. on Monday and 5:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Allen said.
The Grand Isle Sheriff’s Department is seeking information into the incident. Tips may be left anonymously on the department’s website, grandislesheriffvt.org, or by calling 802-372-4482.
The incident follows a decision by the Alburgh selectboard in June not to approve a declaration of inclusion proposed by a community members. Similar declarations have been adopted by the state and numerous communities, including Milton and South Hero.
The proposed declaration stated Alburgh “condemns racism” and “welcomes all persons regardless of race, color, religion, national origin, sex, gender identity or expression, age, or disability, and will protect these classes to the fullest extent of the law.”
In the wake of that decision, a group of Alburgh residents have gotten together to “look at town policies and draft an Alburgh specific declaration of inclusion,” according to community member Ashley Bowen.
In an email to The Islander, Bowen said the group was not responding to a specific incident or situation of bias that occurred in Alburgh and instead just wanted “to do what is right and fair.”
By MICHELLE MONROE
NORTH HERO – Earlier this week, the Islander reached out to Sen. Patrick Leahy’s office concerning the delays in mail delivery in North Hero.
Leahy spokesperson David Carle said today that the Senator’s staff had been assured mail will be delivered today.
The U. S, Postal Service (USPS) acknowledged that the delays are the result of a shortage of carriers, Carle wrote in an email to the Islander.
“There are similar staffing shortages around the country right now,” Carle continued. “They have assured [Senator Leahy] that North Hero customers will receive mail today, and that USPS has a plan going forward to improve delivery in North Hero and to prevent further delays.”
However, Carle said the Senator’s staff will be remaining in close contact with USPS until Leahy is confident the situation has been resolved.
The rest of Carle’s statement is below:
“Last year Senator Leahy joined 46 other senators in sending an oversight letter to the new Postmaster General about his recent moves that have slowed mail service to millions of Americans. During negotiations for a second COVID relief package, as chairman of the Appropriations Committee he fought hard for increased funding for the Postal Service, and Congress was able to pass a bill that included $10 billion in emergency funding for USPS. That bill was signed into law on December 27, 2020.
“The problems that the Postal Service is experiencing are not due to its dedicated workforce, which has heroically struggled to serve Americans during the pandemic. A strong and dependable Postal Service is a vital and critical service for all Americans, all the more so in rural states like Vermont, and he will continue to fight for policies that ensure its viability for generations to come.”
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
GRAND ISLE -- Former longtime Grand Isle Selectboard member Ron Bushway is returning to the governing board to fill an unexpected vacancy.
Bushway was a member of the Selectboard for 11 years, including 10 as chairman. He also has served his hometown in many other capacities, including Highway Commissioner, Building Facilities Manager, Town Health Officer and Fire Warden. He said his experiences would allow him to hit the ground running.
The other applicants seeking the appointment were: Josie Leavitt, who was active in Charlotte before moving to Grand Isle in 2018 and Cooper Shaw, who moved away after graduating from Castleton University in 2016, but returned to town recently.
The candidates had to file letters of interest by Monday afternoon and were expected to attend a special meeting that evening to answer questions from the board and from the public both attending in person or by Zoom. Each candidate was expected to answer every question.
The candidate interviews were conducted in open session and the votes were also in public session. Selectboard member Eric Godin said filling the seat was like an election and the public deserved to know where each candidate stands on issues. Chairman Jeff Parizo said he agreed with transparency and didn’t want the town criticized for holding secret meetings to fill an important post.
After the public interviews Leavitt was nominated to fill the slot, but the board deadlocked 2-2.
Another motion was made to appoint Bushway and it passed 3-1.
Vice Chair AnnaMarie DeMars swore in Bushway after his selection and he joined the rest of the board at the conference table for the rest of the meeting.
Parizo and other board members thanked the three candidates for applying and urged them all to remain active in the town no matter which one was selected. He said the town is always looking for people to serve and noted there has been a longtime vacancy on the planning commission.
Bushway replaces Diane Cota who quit abruptly when she walked out of a July 19 meeting. As she left Cota called her fellow board members liars and said she was done with the "nonsense" and stated "I can't stand working with them." She later submitted a formal letter.
The posting for the board vacancy noted Grand Isle was looking for somebody to help move the town forward and meet the needs of all town residents.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO -- The Grand Isle County Courthouse is now closed Monday, Wednesdays and Fridays due to an inability to find qualified deputy sheriffs or security officers.
Sheriff Ray Allen said he had alerted the Court Administrators Office in Montpelier earlier this summer that his department would likely discontinue having a uniformed deputy sheriff at the courthouse entrance due to lack of qualified personnel.
Deputy Sheriff Kevin Scott, a retired Vermont state trooper, had held the job in recent years, but he indicated he would be moving out of state at some point. Allen said he has been unable to fill that slot and two vacancies for deputies doing patrol work on the roads. The contract with the court formally ended last Friday.
Court Administrator Pat Gabel has made provisions for some security to be available at the historic courthouse on Tuesdays and Thursdays when hearings are scheduled. Hearings are conducted remotely, but legal papers still need to be filed in criminal, civil, family and probate courts.
Chief Administrative Judge Brian J. Grearson sent a note late Sunday night to John Campbell, head of the state’s attorneys and sheriffs, alerting him about the staffing shortage and that the courthouse would be locked three days a week until further notice.
Grearson told The Islander on Tuesday that he had not been involved in the security discussions. He said he had been away for the weekend and didn’t want Campbell caught off guard. The email was sent as a courtesy or heads up, the judge said.
Allen said he has been dealing in recent weeks with Rob Schell, the chief of security for the Vermont judiciary, on ending the contract.
Allen said it was unclear where Grand Isle County residents seeking relief from abuse orders would file the paperwork. He said the sheriff’s office in Grand Isle will continue to help with people filling out the paperwork, but the person eventually has to file it personally at a courthouse. It may mean people seeking protection will have to drive to Burlington or St. Albans.
The Court Administrator’s Office contracts either with the local sheriff’s office or with private security firms to staff entrances at all the courthouses throughout the state. In Windham County the sheriff’s department gave up the courthouse contract in about 2016 because it was losing considerable money having certified officers and the judiciary later went with a private security firm.
In Chittenden County one deputy sheriff is on hand at the criminal court, but the rest are unarmed private security officers and screeners with no arrest powers. Over at the civil court on Main Street one security guard from a private firm with no arrest powers monitors people coming through the metal detector by the front door.
Allen said his remaining deputies were not interested in the job at the North Hero courthouse. Deputies doing road patrols and other work make more money and they would take a substantial cut with the assignment under the courthouse contract, Allen said.
He said his department also recently lost two other fulltime deputies that were working on the road. One joined the Williston Police and the other went into a private sector job.
Allen said he is trying to fill all three slots, but like many other police agencies the number of qualified applicants is seriously lacking.
Allen said he does have enough personnel to handle the patrol contracts with the five towns in Grand Isle County. He has four full-time deputies and a handful of part-timers still working.
“It’s a lack of personnel,” State Sen. Dick Mazza told The Islander on Monday.
Mazza, the state’s senior senator, agreed with Allen that law enforcement agencies are struggling to find qualified applicants in this current atmosphere.
Mazza said he has had several conversations with Judge Grearson on the issue and they have pledged to work together to get the Grand Isle County courthouse back open fully.
“It is not a closure,” Grearson told The Islander on Tuesday.
Grearson said he was not directly aware of what efforts had been done by Gabel’s office. He was aware that somebody did reach out to the Franklin County Sheriff’s Department for possible help, but they were unable to help.
The Franklin County Sheriff’s Department also is struggling with personnel and staffing. It recently bailed out on the final year of its contract with the town of Georgia.
State’s Attorney reacts
Grearson sent an email Monday evening explaining the situation to Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito. Most criminal court hearings are held on Thursdays. The courthouse still has not been cleared for trials.
DiSabito said he learned of the closing on Monday after he went to work. He said when he arrived at his office, he saw no cars in the parking lot next door at the courthouse.
DiSabito said he remains concerned that the partial closing is just the latest step in an ongoing effort to fully close the courthouse -- a hot political topics for many years. Sen. Mazza has always said it would be done “over my dead body” including when the supreme court considered the idea.
In a response to Grearson, DiSabito reminded the chief judge that the right of access to justice is fundamental in the Vermont constitution. He said Grand Isle County residents should be afforded the same access to justice as the other 13 counties.
DiSabito also cited the inability by local residents to file a relief from abuse complaints on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays at the North Hero courthouse.
The prosecutor said he is willing to assist in any way to help get the courthouse fully opened again.
He said he would continue to work with Sens. Mazza, Randy Brock and Corey Parent, along with state Reps. Leland Morgan and Michael Morgan and Assistant Judges Joanne Batchelder and Sherri Potvin. in His email to Greason, DiSabito also enclosed a news story and photo from The Islander covering the recent visit by Lt. Molly Gray.
By MICHAEL FRETT
ISLE LA MOTTE – While the rock in this part of the island is maybe best celebrated for its record of life from millions of years ago, the now retired Fisk Quarry is still very much alive.
On a recent July afternoon, birds leapt between trees and frogs bounced their croaks off quarry walls, providing the soundtrack for a visiting family and, on the opposite end of the quarry, The Islander.
Turtles dipped into the water now filling the quarry at the first sign of a reporter’s camera. A beaver’s lodge sat idle. A fox sitting near the gate bounced into a nearby stand of trees.
Visiting wildlife specialists once told Linda Fitch, the eventual founder of the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust (ILMPT), they had documented as many as 110 species of bird around the quarry.
It was, to quote Fitch, “one of the richest habitats on the island.”
Four hundred million years ago, her statement may have been just as true.
Buried within Isle La Motte’s southernmost third are the imprints of what, according to the National Parks Service, represents the “oldest known occurrence of a biologically diverse fossil reef in the world.”
Across the island’s two nature preserves, both maintained by the Isle La Motte Preservation Trust, are outcroppings of a dark limestone pockmarked with the imprints of aquatic animals like gastropods and cephalopods, the early evolutionary ancestors of today’s snails and squids, respectively.
In the millions of years since snails and squids populated the shallow Iapetus Ocean, their remains would fall to the ocean’s bottom and subsequently be buried. Sediments washed over their left behind shells and as those layers of dirt and sand grew, pressure built and pressed remains into fossils.
Maybe more significantly are the remains of stromatoporoids caked into the Fisk Quarry’s walls. The ancient predecessors to sponges helped build the Ordovician Period reef now enshrined in the island’s limestone deposits once marketed as far away as New York City as luxurious “black marble.”
The outcroppings are significant enough that the two preserves, as well as the nearby Valcour Island in New York, have been enshrined as National Natural Landmarks, celebrating their contributions to modern understandings of evolution and prehistoric life.
“A deep satisfaction”
Today, the Fisk Quarry, a historic industrial site flush with wetlands, is one of two nature preserves maintained by the now well-established Isle La Motte Preservation Trust.
The second preserve, the Goodsell Ridge Preserve, fills out around 83 acres of former pastureland spread out northeast of the quarry. Now replanted as natural land, the retired farm is rung with trails, all leading back to a restored barn providing the preservation trust with its de facto headquarters.
Both are two of the only publicly accessible natural areas on Vermont’s westernmost island, a fact the trust’s founder and president Fitch takes pride in.
“I have a deep sense of satisfaction,” Fitch said. “I feel very good about having made possible a public place to go and to just walk.”
Earlier this month, The Islander met with Fitch at her property neighboring the Fisk Quarry, where the quarry’s former owners, the Fisk family, once headquartered their quarry operation and had raised a manor extravagant enough to host American presidents.
A state historical marker at the Fisk Farm celebrates such a visit from then-Vice President Theodore Roosevelt, whose visit would be notoriously cut short by news President William McKinley had been shot. Roosevelt, upon his return to Washington, D.C., would be sworn in as president.
While once the site of a general store servicing a small quarry town, the Fisk Farm is notably quiet.
Bikers occasionally stop by, passing cars rattle over the nearby gravel road and a gallery filling the farm’s former barn courts visitors, but things are, by and large, serene in the kind of romantic sense people often attach to the Champlain Islands’ quieter corners.
“Being here now,” Fitch said, “it’s quiet.”
It was when jackhammers began rattling off one day in 1995, threatening to break up that silence, that events would be set into motion leading to the preservation trust’s foundation.
“How cool is that?”
Fitch details the events leading up to the creation of the Fisk Quarry preserve in her book, The Qwarriors. According to her book, a not insignificant number of residents were concerned with the effects quarrying could have on both the environment and their lakeside quality of life.
Fitch’s book describes the roar of jackhammers and the sound of trucks pulling rock up the dirt road stretching past the Fisk Farm. “I was terrified,” she recalled to The Islander as she pointed in the direction of the Fisk Quarry, “because it was right there.”
By this time, the quarry had become the wetland habitat it resembles today. The visiting wildlife specialists who identified more than 100 birds in the area had already come and gone, according to Fitch, and her family had already made a habit of observing the beaver lodges pocketing the quarry.
In the years that followed, the quarry would become subject to a permitting battle involving Act 250, Vermont’s land use law that adheres new commercial projects to, among other things, a series of environmental criteria.
By 1998, the owners of the Fisk Quarry, whose limestone lines the floors of the Vermont State House and helps color the interior of Radio City Music Hall in New York, agreed to sell the quarry to the Isle La Motte Reef Preservation Trust, then a nascent nonprofit formed to allow for the quarry’s purchase.
While her book uses occasionally combative language, often describing the events as an “eco-battle” invoking environmental and historical interests and challenging a quarrying tradition that helped build Isle La Motte, Fitch is now far more diplomatic when recalling the quarry’s preservation.
The legal and political hatchets sharpened in the 1990s have, by 2021, largely been buried, she said, and the quarry owners who attempted to resume mining the fossil-rich limestone of the Fisk Quarry have become friends to today’s Isle La Motte Preservation Trust.
“We prevailed and, during the process, established a relationship with the owners of the quarry,” Fitch recalled from her front porch. “It turned out that, you know, we became friends.”
Eventually their organizing coalesced into today’s preservation trust, with Fitch, who had led much of the work to preserve the Fisk Quarry, at its head.
Their group would eventually purchase the nearby Goodsell Ridge Preserve from a family of local farmers who wanted to see the property’s fossil records preserved. The following years would see the farm’s farmhouse restored as an office and a dairy barn restored into a visitor’s center.
In the latter sits a grand piano Fitch repeatedly described as “beautiful,” used during annual concert seasons the preservation trust has since put on hold due to the uncertainties with public gatherings amid COVID-19 and Vermont’s potential emergence from the pandemic.
Wrapped around the Goodsell preserve is a trail marked with information about its 460-million-year-old fossil reef known more widely as the Chazy Fossil Reef, named for the New York town where the reef’s remains were first documented and studied.
Trail markers describe the Chazy’s snails and squids, and the millions of years of tectonics, the forces shifting continents and sparking earthquakes the world over, that dragged a diverse, fossilized reef from the tropics to an often far chillier home in the future Champlain Islands.
The histories transcribed on those markers continue to draw the interestof geologists and paleontologists, according to Fitch. They have also provided a new source of fame for Isle La Motte, winning headlines in publications like the Smithsonian Magazine and Los Angeles Times.
“I’m proud to have made my own contribution to something that has been a great interest to geologists for many years,” Fitch said to The Islander. “It’s the earliest biologically diverse reef in the history of life on Earth. How cool is that?”
Also perched along the trails are a series of placards detailing the formation of the Earth from loose gases formed at the start of the universe to the vibrant planet existing today, one of only a handful of such “Walk Through Time” presentations in the country.
“I want to see it thrive”
As she leaned back on her porch with her dog nearby, Fitch told The Islander her focus now is helping transition the preservation trust away from her leadership. Term limits for the trust’s presidentship mean Fitch will have to walk away from the preservation trust’s leadership sooner rather than later.
With that in mind, Fitch said her only priorities now, after helping protect two natural areas and guiding the preservation trust toward educational and cultural programs, like the Goodsell preserve’s concerts and its “Walk Through Time” presentation, is to set the nonprofit up to continue without her.
“I want to see it thrive,” Fitch said. “A huge priority for me is that it would be able to thrive, and be healthy and happy without me, with people that just care a lot about it and about the work.”
By MICHELLE MONROE
and MICHAEL FRETT
Islander Staff and Islander Correspondent
NORTH HERO/SOUTH HERO – Lt. Gov. Molly Gray was in the Islands today as part of an ongoing effort to reach out and learn more about what Vermonters, businesses and communities need coming out of the pandemic. In particular, she is interested in how the state should invest the $2.7 billion coming from the federal government.
Gray’s first stop was the office of state’s attorney Doug DiSabito, where she spoke with DiSabito about how Vermonters have and have not been able to access the justice system during the pandemic. Grand Isle’s courthouse remains closed because of concerns that the ventilation is not sufficient given that COVID-19 is transmitted via air droplets.
She then crossed Route 2 to talk with Walt Blasberg of the North Hero House about the impact of the pandemic on the hospitality industry, in particular the challenges with finding workers.
Gray again trekked south through the islands, arriving at two South Hero businesses before closing out with a meeting with state legislators and the county’s economic development coordinator at a picnic table near Seb’s Snack Bar.
At Two Heroes Brewing, Gray heard from co-owner Daren Orr and taproom manager Danielle Orr about the brewery’s plans for a restaurant the pandemic had put on hold. The brewery had opened during the winter at the arguable height of the COVID-19 pandemic in Vermont.
According to Daren and Danielle Orr, plans were still underway to build a larger brewery and restaurant in South Hero. “There’s been a lot of positive feedback from people saying we need a space like this,” Danielle Orr told the lieutenant governor.
In South Hero’s village, Gray met with Michael McCarver-Reyes and Albert Reyes-McCarver, the co-owners of the Champlain Islands Candy Lab and its recent addition, Lola’s Latin Kitchen, a food truck with a pan-Latin palette that, judging by its removed wheels, will be a longtime addition to the café.
According to McCarver-Reyes and Reyes-McCarver, the loss of tourism traffic during the pandemic had been palpable for their candy shop and café. The two also shared concerns with the requirements for pandemic relief programs, which they said were at times too rigid, inadequate and complicated.
“We got the money to cover the mortgage,” McCarver-Reyes said, describing one such program to the lieutenant governor, “but that’s not enough for supplies.”
Nearby at Seb’s, Gray met with Reps. Michael Morgan and Leland Morgan, Milton Republicans who represent the Champlain Islands alongside the Town of Milton in the Vermont House of Representatives, as well as Andy Julow, the Lake Champlain Islands Economic Development Corporation’s new director.
While there may have been some disagreements, the Democratic lieutenant governor and Republican legislators seemed to share concerns around a number of issues affecting the islands, from the lack of affordable child care and housing, to the rollout of broadband and lagging workforce.
It was, in the words of Gray, a “rare bipartisan moment” worth celebrating.
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