By MICHAEL FRETT
Islander Staff Writer
MILTON – With a chorus of shuffling rakes and brooms, the crashes of trash bags smacking a dumpster and the roar of a chainsaw clearing brand new biking trails, volunteers signaled the start of the summer parks season in Milton this weekend with a volunteer “spruce up” of Bombardier Park.
According to Jenna Tucker Eugair, the director of Milton’s recreation department, the town had made a tradition of formally opening its flagship park with an annual “Park Spruce Up Day,” inviting volunteers to help Milton’s modest recreation staff prepare Bombardier Park as seasonal park maintenance begins.
“It’s a long tradition, at least as long as the recreation department has existed,” Tucker Eugair told The Islander. “It helps get people involved and it helps us, because we don’t have a lot of people.”
This year, a team of around a dozen volunteers joined Tucker Eugair and assistant recreation director Ben Nappi in cleaning out the park’s fieldhouse, tidying up its popular dog park, hoisting tennis nets and, in a wooded area along the park’s western edge, blazing and clearing long-sought mountain bike trails.
Ryan Logan, a Milton resident and “Park Spruce Up Day” volunteer, scraped at the edges of the trails with a rake, clearing out the first leg of a growing network of mountain bike trails in Bombardier Park.
Logan, himself a mountain biker, said he wanted to lend a hand in bringing mountain bike trails “closer to home,” telling The Islander he “jumped at the opportunity” to help a larger group of volunteers with blazing new mountain bike trails through the town’s centerpiece park.
“I like to see them built,” he said, “and helping be a part of that is a wonderful thing.”
Ryan Bushey, another member of the group of volunteers tending to the trails and, as of a brief Saturday game of “Nose Goes,” the group’s anointed spokesperson, said the trails had been “years in the making” and would soon be ready for a “grand opening” planned for the coming summer.
“Milton has great opportunities for recreational activities, and mountain biking has been growing across this state, but there’s a big hole in Milton,” Bushey, another mountain biker, told The Islander. “We thought it’d be great to have something close to home here in Milton.”
According to Tucker Eugair, the project had been warmly welcomed by Milton’s recreation commission and recreation department, fitting neatly into a larger priority for the department involving the promotion of walking and biking trails in the Chittenden County community.
“Trails were one of the top requested things when we did our survey in 2019 and 2020,” Tucker Eugair said, “and we had this amazing volunteer group who approached us.”
After clearing the first leg of trails Saturday, the volunteer group began marking and blazing an eventual second leg to Bombardier Park’s mountain biking trails, paths Tucker Eugair said would also welcome walkers looking to take in the outdoors and explore the park’s forest.
Across the park, despite some initial hiccups, Nappi, the town’s assistant recreation director, and volunteer Rod Moore, the vice chair of Milton’s recreation commission, strung tennis nets over Bombardier Park’s courts that, according to Tucker Eugair, would receive a facelift in the coming months.
While it would still be a few weeks before the park’s bathrooms could open, due to concerns relating to the ground thawing after the winter, Tucker Eugair said the “Park Spruce Up Day” effectively rang in the department’s summer season, when facilities formally opened and Bombardier Park would get a little more upkeep from staff as local families took to the outdoors.
By MICHAEL FRETT
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO – Collecting at the North Hero Community Hall on Tuesday, conservation groups met with residents in the Champlain Islands to, according to regional conservation district directors, better align conservation resources with local concerns.
Directors for two of the region’s three natural resources conservation districts invited feedback during Tuesday’s forum from groups of residents following a series of charrette-style discussions about conservation concerns in the Champlain Islands and other local issues.
“This is us gathering the needs of our communities,” Lauren Weston, the director of the Franklin County Natural Resources Conservation District, said. “It’s really about gathering what you care about, so we make sure we’re all working toward the same goals and we’re not missing things.”
Natural resources conservation districts are organizations formed under state law to work with landowners and government agencies to support conservation programming in Vermont.
On Tuesday, it was the heads of Franklin and Lamoille counties’ districts coordinating the forum. Together, the two districts, alongside the Grand Isle County Natural Resources Conservation District, compose the Natural Resources Conservation Service’s Northwest Vermont administrative zone.
According to Weston, Tuesday’s meeting, one in an ongoing series spanning the three counties, was intended to help regional conservation districts like hers and the Grand Isle County district to better administer grant funding toward local conservation projects.
While Weston said the results of forums like Tuesday’s would not preclude other conservation charges coming from state and federal agencies, she said they would still allow the local conservation districts to better prioritize local concerns as they move conservation resources toward existing projects.
“This is really trying to get at where needs aren’t being met in our existing system,” Weston told The Islander. “From here, we’ll follow the grant cycle and chase opportunities to meet the needs expressed.”
Those needs, according to residents of Vermont’s northwesternmost county, varied widely.
Many of those attending Tuesday’s forums were farmers, who shared concerns about being able to accurately track their environmental impacts, as well as questioned what farming could even look like in the Champlain Islands as agriculture in Vermont largely transitions away from conventional dairy.
“We want to know if it makes a difference,” one farmer said during the meeting’s breakaway discussions. “Wouldn’t you want to know?”
Others shared concerns about being able to publicly access the region’s natural resources, as well as balancing growing development pressure in parts of the Champlain Islands with environmental needs.
John Chesarek from the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain said his breakaway group talked about protecting water quality particularly as it related to phosphorus, a common nutrient that, in excess, can nurture the sometimes toxic blooms of cyanobacteria – or “blue-green algae” – choking parts of Lake Champlain every summer.
“Where is the phosphorus coming from?” he said, summarizing his group’s discussion. “Is it the farms draining into the areas where we’re sampling or is it coming from somewhere else?”
Along those same lines, others asked about whether the resources available for conservation projects would be able to reach the farmers, homeowners and municipal governments charged under state and federal laws with managing certain water quality impacts related to stormwater runoff and erosion.
Others still noted an apparent “mismatch” in the Champlain Islands between its celebrated agricultural economy and ongoing challenges with food insecurity in a county where, according to U.S. Census Bureau data cited by Feeding America, somewhere around 8% of the population and 10% of children were considered “food insecure.”
According to Weston, the director of Franklin County’s natural resources conservation district, meetings like those in North Hero last week would be recurring, taking place twice a year between the region’s three counties as conservation officials look to better understand conservation needs on the ground.
For those unable to make any of the districts’ meetings, a survey was also circulating online where people can share their concerns. That survey can be found at https://www.franklincountynrcd.org/local.
“Conservation districts do great work,” Weston said. “It’s good to have this input so we’re as effective as we can be.”
By MICHAEL FRETT
Islander Staff Writer
SOUTH HERO – Not even a sheet of ice can keep some islanders from a morning swim in Lake Champlain.
Since at least November, a group of Island residents have taken to Lake Champlain every few days, bonding initially over a daily winter swimming challenge that has gradually grown into a chance to hang out along the island’s shores.
“It’s become something we do every couple of days,” Matt Bartle, the owner of Wally’s Place and co-owner of Two Heroes Brewery in South Hero, told The Islander. “Now I just enjoy it.”
In the weeks and months since, the regular icy dips in Lake Champlain have become something Bartle said he and others enjoy, even prompting a “fear of missing out” whenever life keeps the Wally’s Place founder and Two Heroes Brewery co-owner from visiting the lake’s shores.
The group typically gathers at a member’s home on Lake Champlain. Typically, a few members wade out earlier than others to widen the gaps in the ice to accommodate the whole team. On days when the sun is out and there is little wind, Bartle said conditions can even feel warm above the water.
“You get used to it,” Bartle said.
While already a longstanding practice in much of the world, wintertime dips in lakes and ponds is becoming an increasingly popular activity among both professional athletes and everyday swimmers as some experts tout possible health benefits associated with chilly swims and others look for community activities like Burlington’s almost three decades old “Penguin Plunge” to brighten dour winters.
Some evidence exists showing cold water dips could positively impact people’s circulatory system and cut down the risks for chronic diseases like diabetes, as well as benefit the physical chemistry influencing people’s mental health, but much of the often-cited evidence for cold water swims is anecdotal and few existing studies appear conclusive.
Published research on cold water swimming is also often quick to note the practice comes with its own risks, particularly the chance for an immediate shock associated with icy lakeside dips.
For locals like Bartle, there are health benefits they are “all sort of aspiring to,” but the regular winter dips in Lake Champlain have been beneficial in other ways. Bartle described it as a “confidence booster” and “revitalizing,” as well as a chance to frequently socialize with a handful of fellow South Hero locals.
“For me, it’s been strangely addictive,” Bartle told The Islander. “For those of us who have children, we go over to this person’s house and it’s like a coffee hour – if you will.”
“Mostly,” he added with a laugh, “it’s just cold.”
Photos by Paula Bradley, Islander Contributor.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
Twenty one schools across Vermont, including in Alburgh, Milton, Colchester and Swanton, were subjected this morning to false reports of active shooters or gun incidents.
“These calls were a hoax—an act of terrorism designed to create chaos and stoke fear that can be exploited," Gov. Phil Scott said in a statement.
“These events are unnerving for everyone – students, teachers, parents and Vermonters. We can use this energy to come together because unity is the most powerful way to ensure terrorists do not achieve their goals," Scott said.
Public Safety Commissioner Jennifer Morrison said there were 21 schools impacted by the calls starting at 8:30 a.m. They covered 10 of the 14 counties and ranged from Alburgh to Brattleboro and from Bennington to Derby.
She said it appeared to be a large-scale swatting scenario and the investigation was continuing.
The bogus report in Alburgh was initially made to the Town Offices and not the school, according to Grand Isle County Sheriff Ray Allen. He said he thought the caller apparently wanted somebody else to make the 911 call, which are recorded.
Allen said he had a couple of deputy sheriffs at the Alburgh Community Education Center (ACEC) within a couple of minutes. The deputies confirmed it was a hoax.
The other 20 false reports were called into police agencies, Morrison said.
Authorities are still sorting out the hoax calls, but perhaps the most serious one appears to have been received in Montpelier, where the report said two people had been shot at the high school, police said.
Colchester Police said they received a report at 9:39 a.m. that several students and a teacher were injured. Officers responded, did a sweep of the school and cleared from the scene about 10:15 a.m., Chief Doug Allen said.
He said by coincidence Colchester Police was hosting a training session involving other departments and those officers also responded to the emergency call.
Milton High and Missisquoi Valley Union High School in Swanton also received threats, police said.
Rice Memorial High School in South Burlington, which has students from the Champlain Islands region, also had a similar call, Police Chief Shawn Burke said.
"No acts of violence have been discovered," Burke said. The officers cleared from Rice about 10:15 a.m.
Scott, along with law enforcement and education officials hosted a noon news conference to outline what they knew. Also on hand were key legislative leaders.
When asked about giving attention to the publicity-seeking hoaxer, Scott said transparency trumps other options when it comes to major incidents.
Education Secretary Dan French said other schools besides the 21 may also take safety steps today.
Grand Isle Supervisory Union Superintendent Michael Clark said local officials reacted swiftly.
"Our GISU Administration worked with the Grand Isle Sheriff’s Department and our admin staff at ACEC and the other schools in GISU to quickly determine that our buildings were safe and that we followed our safety protocols. Out of an abundance of caution we will have indoor recess today," Clark wrote.
"These calls appear to be associated with ongoing nationwide hoax phone threats of school shootings, bomb threats, etc. and the Vermont Intelligence Center is not aware of any credible threats related to these phone calls," he noted.
"As always, the GISU will continue to take precautions around the safety of our students and staff. If there are any updates or new information, we will be sure to share that with each of you. We are grateful for our partnership with the Grand Isle Sheriff's Department," Clark said.
Scott also appreciated the work of police responding to all the emergencies.
“I want to thank the Vermont State Police, local law enforcement and emergency response offices across the state for acting quickly and professionally based on the initial calls.
“My office, the Agency of Education, Vermont State Police, Vermont Intelligence Center and local partners will continue to monitor this situation closely, and in the days ahead, after all the facts are gathered, we will debrief on this incident to strengthen our response," the Governor said.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
ISLANDER STAFF WRITER
The Grand Isle Supervisory Union District officials are banning fans from attending elementary school basketball games for the remainder of the season in the wake of a brawl involving adult fans at a junior high game earlier this week in Alburgh.
The fight became a national story when one of the adult fans on his way home was stricken about 45 minutes later and died, officials said. The cause of death remains unknown.
Superintendent Michael Clark told The Islander today that the ban covers the final two weeks of the basketball season for games hosted by teams from Alburgh, Grand Isle, North Hero and South Hero.
There was no word about any impact on away basketball games played in nearby counties.
The GISU announcement, which came during the lunch hour, will have an immediate impact on games this afternoon when Grand Isle is scheduled to travel to Alburgh for contests between their 5th and 6th grade girls at 4 p.m. and the boys at 5 p.m.
The announcement letter from the school district noted athletics plays an important role in education.
"However, given the current environment, we also recognize that an immediate change must happen. To ensure the safety of all of our learning community, including students, faculty, staff, administration and the community who participates as spectators at our events, we have made the difficult decision to end spectator attendance at GISU home games for the remainder of the basketball season," the letter said.
The letter was signed by Clark, the 4 elementary school principals covering the buildings in Alburgh, Grand Isle, North Hero and South Hero, along with other district officials, including for business, facilities, human resources and technology.
The brawl happened during a 7th and 8th grade game when Alburgh hosted St. Albans City Elementary on Tuesday evening. About two dozen adults were involved in the melee on the court during the second half of the boys game, according to video of the event. Some adults were involved in the fighting, while others appeared to try to be stopping it.
Vermont State Police were summoned shortly before 7 p.m. for a report of a fight, but did not arrived until about 7:45 p.m. because some troopers were dealing with a car crash on Interstate 89, records show.
One of the adults believed to be involved in the incident was on his way home about 7:45 p.m. when he started feeling poorly, officials said. Russell Giroux, 60, was on U.S. 2 in Alburgh when he activated his OnStar alert system in his car and an ambulance brought him to Northwestern Medical Center, where he was later pronounced dead, state police said.
The initial autopsy report does not have a cause of death and Vermont's Chief Medical Examiner Office said it was waiting for test results, including toxicology, police said.
By MICHAEL FRETT
Islander Staff Writer
ALBURGH – Voters approved Alburgh’s school district budget in a special election on Tuesday.
According to Donna Bohannon, Alburgh’s town clerk, voters approved the school district’s revised annual budget 85 to 58 in an election that saw a low turnout typical for special elections in Alburgh.
“For a revote, that’s pretty normal,” Bohannon said of the relatively low turnout seen Tuesday.
Voters in Alburgh originally defeated a previous budget proposal on Town Meeting Day, voting 170 to 152 against the annual budget funding both the Alburgh Community Education Center and affording tuition for high schoolers taught outside of Alburgh.
Following the budget’s defeat in March, school officials trimmed the school district’s proposed budget by $100,000, thinning the school’s annual operations and maintenance budget.
The revised $6.8 million education budget included funding for a new math interventionist position and for expanding a part-time guidance counselor position into a full-time position, as well as funding to cover the 10% increase in teacher health insurance premiums seen statewide.
In an interview with The Islander earlier this year, Alburgh’s school board chair, Michael Savage, said the revised budget would still likely be able to cover periodic maintenance needs at the school as well as programming needed to address COVID-19’s impact on Alburgh students.
Despite a lower equalized per pupil count and common level of appraisal, two variables in the complicated formula used by Vermont to determine education tax rates, the education tax rate in Alburgh is estimated to fall to just shy of $1.50 for every $100 of assessed property value.
In all, 192 elementary and middle school students are currently educated in the Alburgh Community Education Center.
By MICHAEL FRETT
Islander Staff Writer
GRAND ISLE – Grand Isle’s selectboard on Thursday backed an effort to explore potentially developing an outdoor ice skating pavilion doubling as a summer sports and performance space in Grand Isle, agreeing unanimously to endorse a grant application seeking funding to study the pavilion.
Brought by Grand isle residents Roth Perry, Levi Kraemer, Ralf Schaarschmidt and Ashley White, the proposed pavilion is only in an exploratory phase, currently working on fundraising for an engineering study exploring the feasibility of developing such a space in Grand Isle.
The selectboard asserted as much during Thursday’s hearing, stressing the hearing was regarding only a $60,000 planning grant the nonprofit organization formed to develop the pavilion needed selectboard support to access. The nonprofit would fundraise to cover the grant’s 10% match.
“I don’t believe we were considering a binding commitment at all,” selectperson Eric Godin said. “This was just to make these guys could get their paperwork rolling with these grants.”
Perry, a volunteer coach, said the idea for the pavilion stemmed from a lack of a reliable public skating rink in Grand Isle. A natural outdoor rink had been set up locally in the past, but according to Perry, inconsistent winter weather made it difficult to plan classes and programming for the rink.
“You’d go and you’d prep it, and then you’d have a warm-up that weekend,” Perry told The Islander after Thursday’s hearing. “You couldn’t have any programming.”
Initially looking at an artificially chilled rink covered with a pavilion, Perry said the idea “snowballed,” eventually evolving into a year-round space that would include a stage for performances and the ability to convert the rink into courts for other sports like pickleball and tennis during the warmer months.
According to the group of residents floating the pavilion idea, surveys distributed over social media and through several local organizations have pointed to there being overwhelming support for the pavilion project, with around 90% of the 290 responding residents signaling some interest in using the facility.
Organizers said the positive response seemed to show locals agreed that there was, in Perry’s words, interest among Grand Isle residents for more recreational opportunities on the island and “more opportunities to meet people.”
“I think people are really craving community,” White, one of the four organizers pitching the pavilion to Grand Isle’s selectboard Thursday, added during a subsequent interview with The Islander.
In the weeks since the idea was first proposed, the pavilion has also drawn support from the Grand Isle Recreation Commission and local pickleball association, as well as the Island Stage Vermont Theater and the Champlain Islands Farmers’ Market, Perry told the selectboard during Thursday’s hearing.
“There is a paucity of venues in the islands for theater,” Noni Stuart, the president of Island Stage, told Grand Isle’s selectboard. “Really, the only viable theater is in North Hero, and that’s a wonderful space, but we don’t have anything further south, and I just feel like this might give us an opportunity.”
Judy Steacy, speaking for Island Arts, echoed Stuart’s sentiments during Thursday’s hearing.
“We have the barn up in North Hero, but we’re looking maybe expand as well and have different performing arts we could bring to other communities,” Steacy said. “If that was something we could expand upon, that would be great.”
While initially imagined for either Donaldson Park or the town-owned land abutting Grand Isle’s town office and fire station, Perry and several other residents involved with the nonprofit organization sponsoring the pavilion said they would also be open to building on private property as well.
Part of the study sought by the pavilion’s supporters was deciding where the pavilion could ostensibly be built in Grand Isle, something Perry stressed was not explicitly focused on town property, and already town interests in potentially developing land near its offices ruled out housing the pavilion nearby.
Focus had fallen on Donaldson Park, however, an area where, in previous meetings, local officials had discussed attempting to drive up traffic to help discourage vandalism in the park and an area, Perry told the selectboard, recreation commissioners hoped more people would regularly use.
While the proposed pavilion drew vocal support from some during Thursday’s hearing, others expressed concern with potentially siting the new pavilion on town land, citing in particular the town’s possible responsibility for the project should Donaldson Park come to host the pavilion.
Perry and others associated with the project asserted the pavilion’s construction and maintenance would be independently supported through fundraising by their nonprofit organization, the Islands Community Pavilion Organization, pledging new taxes would not be needed for the new pavilion.
Josie Leavitt, the selectboard’s vice chair, said any future construction in Donaldson Park would be prefaced by a memorandum of understanding between the town’s government and the pavilion’s nonprofit outlining maintenance responsibilities, insurance liabilities and other details.
“There are lots of ways to protect the town in terms of ensuring there is no rise to property taxes and, you know, the tax base in general,” Leavitt said.
Announcements regarding the grant application the selectboard endorsed Thursday, a Vermont Community Development Program grant, will likely not be made until this coming June.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
GRAND ISLE -- The Grand Isle Selectboard has agreed to proceed with the annual town meeting vote on Tuesday, despite the town failing to follow all the proper pre-election steps.
Residents had raised several questions in recent weeks and at the Selectboard meeting on Monday about whether Grand Isle was in compliance with all the laws for the annual town meeting.
It turned out Grand Isle appears to have failed to follow at least one legal requirement, but the town has been told it will be able to take steps later in the spring to validate the votes on Tuesday, the Selectboard said Thursday night at a special meeting.
Under questioning, Chairman Jeff Parizo said research showed Grand Isle voters agreed at the annual 2010 town meeting to notify all taxpayers through the Islander newspaper each year about when the printed town report would be available.
The three public locations at the time were the town clerk's office, the U.S. Post Office and the Grand Isle School.
Selectboard member Adam White read the 2010 ballot item into the meeting record that said the newspaper notice would be done instead of mailing the town reports to all taxpayers.
Parizo said it was his understanding that the town never posted a Public Notice this year in The Islander for taxpayers about obtaining their annual report.
State law mandates municipalities provide advanced public access to annual town reports to allow taxpayers a chance before Town Meeting Day to have adequate time to review the past financial reports and the upcoming budgets on the ballot.
Some Grand Isle residents complained that they were unable to find copies of the town reports as recent as last Saturday. The report was not on the town's website and it was hard to find at the current designated pick-up locations: the town clerk's office and the town library were not due to have open hours for most of Saturday, while the transfer station had copies for part of last Saturday.
Local taxpayers stopping by the town clerk's office last weekend and on President's Day (Monday) found no printed copies outside as has been the tradition in Grand Isle and other towns across Vermont when offices are closed.
Boutin explained during the Monday night meeting she had been unable to get the town report online. It is now available on the town website.
According to White, a town attorney said in an email that he thought Grand Isle should still proceed with the annual vote next week as warned. The lawyer said there is a provision to hold a vote later to validate the actions taken at town meeting if and when questions surface about certain procedures.
The town attorney also wrote he had spoken with Boutin, the town clerk, for the steps she needs to take going forward.
The town attorney said he thought the Selectboard did not have to take any steps now to get retro-active approval for failures to comply for any past years.
It was unclear what years Grand Isle had conformed to the voter-mandate from 2010, or may have failed.
White suggested The Islander do an investigative article to see what Public Notices that Grand Isle had posted since 2011 about the town reports being available. The newspaper promised to seek from the town the years Grand Isle had paid for public notices alerting taxpayers about the availability of the town report.
The Islander subsequently filed a public records request with Boutin, who is the treasurer and clerk.
The Selectboard also agreed to follow up with the town attorney about the steps Grand Isle needs to take.
The town’s informational meeting is still planned for 6:30 Saturday night at the Grand Isle Elementary School and will be available also on Zoom.
In other action, the Selectboard voted 5-0 to continue talks with Carol Eagan of Turn to Joy Day Care about re-establishing day care and pre-school in Grand Isle in the Annex Building owned by the town.
Eagan made two five-year offers to the town and the Selectboard said it was inclined to take the first offer. It would include Eagan making $25,000 in improvements to the building in lieu of rent for the first two years.
Selectboard member Ron Bushway said he had crunched all the numbers for the improvements and rent over 5 years and they were essentially the same. He moved to proceed with the first option, which provides $6,000 in rent the third year and $7,500 in both the fourth and fifth year.
The lease will address various issues, including lawn mowing and snow plowing, officials said.
Eagan hopes to be open in June.
Bushway had added to the agenda at the start of the meeting a separate discussion item about the misinformation posted on Front Porch Forum since the Selectboard discussed the day care issue Monday night.
It was falsely reported multiple times that Grand Isle taxpayers will vote on Town Meeting Day on Tuesday about possibly approving the day care facility.
The Selectboard said the day care issue is not on the ballot on Tuesday.
During the meeting local resident Shannon Bundy repeatedly questioned if Grand Isle taxpayers would be subsidizing a for-profit business.
The Selectboard members said they believe it is a valuable service that the town needs to provide following the departure of another daycare from the site.
Chairman Jeff Parizo stressed any lease would be reduced to writing and would need to be approved at a future public meeting.
Before the meeting closed Parizo said he does not use Front Porch Forum but hoped if more misinformation was circulated about the day care that those with the facts would step in to correct the record.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO -- The Grand Isle County Courthouse in North Hero should be open again five days a week by March 1, according to Scott Griffith, the Interim State Court Administrator.
Griffith on Thursday, in response to the latest series email from Grand Isle State's Attorney Doug DiSabito, wrote that an employee from Securitas, the Judiciary’s private security vendor, will be available to help fill the needs for screening at the courthouse.
Chittenden County Sheriff Kevin McLaughlin also has made a commitment to help, Griffith wrote.
DiSabito said resuming fulltime operations is great news for Grand Isle County residents that want to have their judicial services delivered in their home county.
DiSabito has been helping lead the charge since former Court Administrator Patricia Gabel ordered the historic county courthouse closed on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays last August due to staffing shortages for security.
DiSabito, along with the three state senators and two state legislators that serve Grand Isle County, have been among the officials pushing for fulltime service to resume. The state eventually resumed four-day service last fall, but DiSabito kept pushing for restoration of full service.
He maintained Grand Isle County should never be treated any less than all the other counties in Vermont.
"Persistence pays off," DiSabito told The Islander when reached by phone on Thursday.
Griffith said many people have been involved in the talks and he cited John Campbell, executive director for the Vermont State's Attorneys and Sheriffs and his staff in Montpelier.
State Sen. Dick Mazza, D-Grand Isle/Colchester and Sen. Corey Parent, R-Franklin/Alburgh, who serve on the Senate Institutions Committee, said Thursday they are continuing to work on securing funds to ensure improvements required due to COVID restrictions can be implemented at several courthouses, including in North Hero.
Mazza said the legislators and judiciary have been working on trying to restore full court services throughout Vermont, but he was especially concerned about Grand Isle County.
Parent, as part of an email chain, told Griffith that there will be a push to ensure proper funding for the Judiciary in the Capital budget for the upgrades in North Hero.
State Senate Minority Leader Randy Brock, R-Franklin/Alburgh upon learning about the increased service, sent a return email to Griffith thanking him.
"This is very good news and your continued work to re-open fully the Grand Isle Courthouse is very much appreciated," Brock wrote.
Grand Isle Sheriff Ray Allen had notified the state last April that his deputy assigned to courthouse security would be retiring during the summer and the department would not have anybody to replace him. Allen said the state judiciary would have to take back the security contract at the courthouse.
The state did not take enough constructive steps to fill the void by the time the deputy retired. Gabel ordered services reduced to two days a week. The Selectboards in at least three towns in the county became upset by the loss of services and Chairman Jeff Parizo in Grand Isle began to organize a county-wide meeting. He later punted the organizing to DiSabito and his staff.
Three key figures from the Court Administrators Office came to Grand Isle in September for the county-wide meeting with state legislators, town officials and taxpayers concerned that they could not get legal services in the county. Among those attending was one judge and one retired judge, who were not impressed by the reduced service for Family, Civil, Criminal and Probate divisions.
By October, Griffith said a temporary plan was developed for security services for 4 days a week. That has continued on, but DiSabito and others kept asking when full service would resume.
It now looks like it is just less than two weeks away.
By ISLANDER STAFF
NORTH HERO -- Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito said Tuesday that the triple shooting leaving two dead and one seriously wounded in Alburgh was pointless.
“This was a senseless shooting of two people after a brief, petty dispute over hunting rights on a certain parcel of land,” DiSabito told The Islander. The shooting is the first reported homicide case in Grand Isle County since DiSabito was sworn in as its chief prosecutor in February 2015.
DiSabito responded to the scene shortly after the shooting late Saturday night and has continued to work with state police.
He said he is shocked that people are turning more to firearms to settle disputes.
“Shortly after this tragic event occurred, there was a reported road rage incident in Chittenden County where shots were allegedly fired. And then there was the murder suicide in Lamoille County after that. All senseless and heartbreaking. People must keep their tempers in check, and not resort to such devastating violence,” he said.
“Where is all this hatred originating from in our society? It has no place in our communities,” DiSabito said in his email.
“On a related note, I am incredibly disappointed by the various posts and comments on social media—people are spewing hatred at each other, providing misinformation, disparaging law enforcement, criticizing press releases, and so on. It is so incredibly divisive and serves absolutely no legitimate purpose. It just perpetuates more hatred and division, at a time when we should be providing kind words and consolation to the families and friends affected by this tragedy,” he said.
DiSabito reported his office is continuing to work with Vermont State Police, its Bureau of Criminal Investigations and Vermont’s Chief Medical Examiner “with the goal of completing this investigation and finding out every fact that led up to the death of two Islanders.”
He wrapped up his comments: “I extend both my sincere appreciation for all the first responders and law enforcement officers who responded to the scene, and my heartfelt condolences to all the families and friends of the deceased.”