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.