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.
By MICHAEL FRETT
ISLE LA MOTTE – Seven years after their first grapes took to the soil, Jamie and Steven Foley lined their shelves with bottles of red and white, and welcomed their first customers to their Isle La Motte abode.
As a sign near Shrine Road now declares, the Isle La Motte Vineyard is officially open.
“We’ve always tried new things,” Jamie Foley said as she welcomed The Islander into the vineyard’s tasting room during a recent afternoon, “but we were done traveling and wanted to settle down.”
The Isle La Motte Vineyard stretches over a prominent corner of their namesake island, blanketing much of the land behind the intersection of Shrine Road and Main Street with an array Vermont vineyard mainstays like La Crescent and Marquette grapes, fanned out around the vineyard’s centerpiece winery.
For the prospective Green Mountain wine enthusiast, the Isle La Motte Vineyard is one of the most recent additions to a budding wine scene, one tracing the length of the Champlain Valley from Franklin in the north toward Middlebury and Brandon further south.
For the Foleys, though, wine is a relatively new adventure, the latest chapter in a background stretching from the Alaskan southeast to their new home in a nascent wine region, where retirement had proven to be a sort of homecoming for the two former North Country natives and current full-time islanders.
Before the islands, the two made a living in Alaska. Steven, an electrician by trade, ran his own contracting business out of Alaska’s capital city. Jamie, meanwhile, leveraged her background as a paralegal and worked within the Alaskan statehouse.
In between, there were a few grand adventures. Their website references several voyages through the Panama Canal aboard a sloop, the Sentient, and, as Jamie said above, “trying new things” was a sort of mantra for the two, whether it was packing their lives into a used Volvo or sailing between two oceans.
Eventually, “trying new things” led the two to retire to a comparatively “hot and tropical” small island on the opposite end of the U.S., closer to family and closer to their original hometowns in New York’s North Country.
It was “trying new things” that also led the Foleys to a vineyard.
According to Jamie, the decision to open a vineyard on Isle La Motte was a “natural” decision, stemming from a shared interest in the vineyard experience seen elsewhere in the world and hopes to develop their corner of Isle La Motte with some form of agriculture.
“We’ve always enjoyed vineyards,” Jamie said. “It seemed like a natural fit to just commit ourselves to this project.”
Despite an interest in vineyards, winemaking was entirely new to the two Foleys.
While he said Jamie had no problem adapting to the organizational side of the vineyard, Steven was fairly quick with his answer when he told The Islander there were few overlaps between work as an electrician and tending to grapes, a fruit with a learning curve despite an innate hardiness.
When the two settled on a vineyard for their slice of Isle La Motte, Steven enrolled in a Vermont Technical College program based out of Randolph Center, learning an entirely new trade that would come to stock a tasting room shelf with official, home grown Isle La Motte wines.
“It’s a totally different line of work than I’m used to,” Steven said.
“We’re having a good time”
The vineyard officially opened for business this spring, roughly a year after COVID-19 delayed the Foleys’ original plan for a 2020 grand opening. “In a way, it was sort of a blessing,” Steven said as an aside. “It gave our red wine another year to sit in oak, so it actually came out quite nice, you know?”
The vineyard currently advertises four wines, two reds made from Marquette grapes and a pair of blended white wines made from La Crescent and Frontenac grapes. According to Steven, there were hopes to round out the vineyard’s offerings with a rosé for the next season.
In a lot of ways, life on the vineyard seems like a family affair.
Among the vineyard’s customers during The Islander’s visit was a cousin from nearby in New York, and while the day-to-day work is managed by Jamie and Steven, one of their daughters is expected to join the two for the summer season in the coming weeks.
Even the vineyard’s location is intimately tied to family, as it straddles a home previously belonging to Steven’s late mother.
(That home, according to the two, might soon become the actual tasting room for the Isle La Motte Vineyard, a role currently assigned to a downstairs kitchen in the Foleys’ family home. “Steven would like his kitchen back,” Jamie joked as an aside.)
Future plans for the vineyard also include an artists’ market this August and a possible concert in September, both of which, according to the vineyard’s website, are still “taking shape.”
“Stay tuned,” the vineyard’s website teases.
Since its opening, life on the vineyard had been gradually picking up steam. For the most part, it has been locals trickling through the Isle La Motte Vineyard, though Independence Day brought a comparably large audience for the Foleys’ vineyard.
An unexpectedly busy Friday afternoon met the Foleys during The Islander’s visit. Throughout the afternoon, the two balanced their interviews with entertaining guests to their vineyard.
“The nicest part is we’re meeting more people from the island,” Steven said. “We’re having a good time.”
By MICHELLE MONROE
SOUTH HERO – The South Hero Bicentennial Museum may have been closed during the pandemic, but its volunteers still kept busy. The museum reopened this week with a number of new exhibits.
“It looks completely different,” said Cathy Merrihew, a member of the museum board and one of the volunteers who put together the new exhibits.
One of those exhibits focuses on the history of agriculture in South Hero, with farm implements, photos, and maps showing the farm locations.
There is also a quilt from the Fifield family which dates from 1939 or 1940 with the name of every resident in the town embroidered on it.
Another new exhibit is dedicated to what life is like on an island, including boating, fishing and hunting, with a section dedicated to the steamboats which traveled Lake Champlain in the 1800s.
One of those ships, the Phoenix, caught fire on Sept. 15, 1819. Rescuers went out from South Hero to retrieve the passengers. A map shows the Phoenix’s planned route and where it traveled that day. Merrihew was able to secure a print of a painting of the Phoenix burning from the Lake Champlain Maritime Museum.
The display includes dishes used on some of the ships and stateroom keys. “We’ve had more fun learning about these,” said Merrihew.
The basement was opened as a display space in 2018. It contains equipment from businesses which operated in South Hero, and items from South Hero households. A sewing machine powered by the feet of the sewer sits in one corner. Another clever item allowed the family dog to run on a treadmill which could then be used to operate some basic types of equipment, such as a butter churn.
A bean sorter from the South Hero Bean Company was also powered by the operator who pushed a foot press to cause beans to fall onto the sorter. The worker then removed the chaff before sending the beans down a shoot and into a pail.
Corn was also canned in South Hero under then name Maine’s Finest Corn from 1915 to 1930 when earwigs began destroying the local corn crop.
The most successful South Hero business from the period, according to museum president Terry Robinson, was a creamery that made butter.
The manufacturing businesses were all located near South Hero’s train station where trains stopped regularly from 1900 to 1960.
The museum itself was built in 1925 as a library by Susan Landon in honor of her son who survived World War I only to die of pneumonia in France before he could return home.
In 1974, Folsom School added a library and the town library was moved there to join the school library.
Two years later a group of town residents decided to convert the library building to a museum as a part of the bicentennial celebrations.
Twenty years later, another group of town residents took over the operation of the museum, explained Robinson. When they were on longer able to open it one summer, Robinson, a former social studies teacher at Folsom, volunteered.
“I just loved the history” of South Hero, she said.
“You don’t do too bad for someone from New Jersey,” commented Ron Phelps, another member of the board.
The latest crop of volunteers took over in 2017. They started making changes on the main floor, adding a research area for visitors to use, as well as some new displays.
They then opened the downstairs for the first time, allowing them to display more of the items which had been donated to the museum.
The current board isn’t inclined to rest on their laurels. A cabin from the South Hero Inn has been moved to a location across the street. It’s the next restoration project for the board. It’s one of three cabins added to the inn by Lillian Robinson Axtell. John Roy suggested the museum save it, and Phelps figured out how to move it from a local farm where it had been used as a child’s playhouse.
The museum is open Wednesdays and Saturdays from 10 a.m. to 1 p.m. or by appointment. Email email@example.com to schedule an appointment.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO -- A Grand Isle businessman, with both federal and state drug convictions, has been ordered to appear in Vermont Superior Court on new drug trafficking charges following a raid at his home and company last week.
Michael Larrow Sr., 63, has been a focus in an ongoing investigation into heroin trafficking in Grand Isle County since last October, according to the Vermont Drug Task Force.
State, county, municipal and federal law enforcement officials raided Larrow’s fishing bait business and home on Hyde Road in Grand Isle on Thursday.
Eight firearms, drugs and an undisclosed amount of cash were all seized by investigators, a task force spokesman said. Larrow is due in state court Sept. 16, police said.
Larrow has a felony drug conviction in federal court in 2012 as part of a major conspiracy to distribute oxycodone in the area, records show. He received a 57 month prison sentence and forfeited more than $11,000 in drug proceeds in July 2012. The sentence was later reduced to 46 months in February 2015.
He also was sentenced in state court in July 2019 to 60 days to one year in prison after Williston Police and the Grand Isle County Sheriff’s Department said they found more than 400 pills in his apartment. Police said they were mostly Diazepam, a painkiller.
A $1,500 fine also was imposed by Judge Robert Mello.
Larrow’s shop had become so notorious as a local source for diverted prescription pills that it was well known in the community as “Island Bait and Bean,” Grand Isle County State’s Attorney Doug DiSabito noted in his sentencing memo.
DiSabito confirmed Friday he had been consulting with the Vermont Drug Task Force since early in the investigation. He said he helped secure the court-ordered search warrant, but is still waiting to receive police reports before determining the final charges.
The raid was conducted by task force members, including state police detectives, the Franklin County Sheriff’s Office and South Burlington Police, along with the Grand Isle County Sheriff’s Department, state police from Franklin County and the Drug Enforcement Administration.
BY MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
NORTH HERO -- The annual Independence Day fireworks celebration sponsored by Island Center for Arts and Recreation (ICAR) will be at dusk on Saturday, July 3 this year.
The evening spectacle will return to Knight Point State Park in North Hero this year, ICAR spokesman Bill Champagne said. The fireworks were held on Lovers Lane last year due to COVID-19 complications.
There will be free admission after 5 p.m. at the state park on Lake Champlain. People also can arrive in the area by boat, he said.
Families, groups and individuals are welcome to bring a meal to enjoy, use one of the barbecue grills or take advantage of some mobile vendors that will be selling delicious food items, he said.
The rain date will be Monday July 5.
“But we aren’t going to have any rain this time,” said Champagne, who said the event has been held for at least 15 years.
Champagne said ICAR is not planning to have any concerts or other live events this summer due to COVID-19. The status of gatherings during the summer was unknown during the winter when most of the planning and booking of groups and entertainers occurs.
“ICAR plans to come back in 2022 in a big way with music in the park. There will be plenty of planning and top entertainment for lovers of the arts and recreation,” he said.
By MICHAEL FRETT
NORTH HERO – The lights do not dim and there is no curtain to call, but as the first performers took to the mic Friday evening, it was clear theater had returned to Grand Isle County.
The Full Circle Theater Collaborative held its first fundraiser of the season on Friday, welcoming students and alumni to the stage for “An Evening Under the Stars” and what was, for many, the first live show since vaccinations cued the end of COVID-19 restrictions earlier this year.
Given the looming threat of rain, around 100 people crowded inside Island Arts’ Homer Knight Barn for what was advertised as a cabaret, a style of nighttime entertainment sitting audiences at tables and ensembles on stage.
While the definition of cabaret can incorporate a number of different performances, Friday’s event was strictly a musical affair, punctuated only by the occasional spikes of comedy and commentary from the evening’s three designated emcees.
“It’s an art form about singers having a conversation with an audience,” Gina Fearn, one of Full Circle Theater’s organizers, told The Islander from the sidelines of Friday’s concert. “It’s an opportunity to give a lot of our students a chance to perform.”
Perform they did.
Throughout the night, around a dozen singers took to the stage, offering takes on audience- and theater-friendly cuts that ranged from the spry to the serious and everywhere in between.
One singer took on a standout track from The Prom, a recent Broadway favorite and even more recent recipient of the Netflix treatment. Another offered lyrical warnings against romancing “navel-contemplating, floppy haired actors originally from Baltimore,” despite their city’s apparently cool aquarium.
All of the above won smiles and applause from their Friday evening audience.
There also seemed to be a sense of relief among members of the audience as they filed into Island Arts’ barn for what was, presumably, their first show since the COVID-19 pandemic closed theaters and forced live performances onto Zoom.
The minutes before Friday’s show came with a steady stream of “welcome backs” and seemingly warm embraces. “Happy theater,” wished one visitor to another.
“We’re here in this barn and it’s lovely and beautiful, and we’re watching live music and theater,” Ryan Addario, one of Friday’s hosts, said in between songs to whoops of agreement from the audience. “I don’t know about you, but I’ve been watching Top Chef for fifteen months and this is objectively better.”
According to Fearn, Friday’s show was intended as a fundraiser to help support the Full Circle Theater Collaborative, a theater group created during the height of the pandemic to support local children and teens interested in the theater arts COVID-19 effectively put on hold.
“We started our companies to meet the needs of the kids during the pandemic,” Fearn said, “and now we’re just running with it.”
Throughout last year’s season, the group had managed to stage practices and performances through Zoom before returning to the stage in October for a musical adaptation of Twelfth Night.
That show, performed for only a modest audience in Island Arts’ North Hero barn, was warmly welcomed by performers, according to Fearn. “When we got into this space, they were so thrilled to get together,” Fearn said. “[Theater] is so much more than just their art – it’s their community.”
The theater group is planning another pair of performances – one for preteens and middle-schoolers and another for high school and young adults – for the Homer Knight Barn later this summer, as well as setting aside scholarship funds for prospective theater students.
While Friday seemed to bring some nervousness from its performers, many who had graduated into professional careers likewise stymied by the pandemic, Fearn said there was also an excitement around returning to the stage.
“Theater is alive and well in Vermont,” she said. “We’re just getting going. We’re making it happen.”
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
ISLE LA MOTTE - St. Anne’s Shrine has a new Vermont Historic marker that is bilingual -- only the third created by the state.
The new sign is English on one side and French on the other and gives the background of the historic site, which is important to both residents of the U.S. and Canada.
The old marker was only in English, but the new one also allowed for expanded text, according to the Rev. Brian Cummings, spiritual director of the shrine.
The old historic marker had deteriorated and needed replacing, Cummings said.
The shrine honors the French-built Fort St. Anne in 1666 and hosted the first Mass celebrated in the northeast. A chapel was built in 1892 and starting in the following year the shrine has hosted countless personal and group retreats.
The shrine was entrusted in 1904 to the Society of St. Edmund, which was founded in France in 1843 and established St. Michael’s College in Colchester that year.
Cummings said he worked with Celine Paquette of Champlain, N.Y., a longtime history buff and friend of the shrine and with Laura Trieschmann, state historic perseveration officer to produce the new marker.
Cummings said crafting the sign was a little tricky because there were a limited number of lines and characters and in some cases even the punctuation might impact the spacing. He said the Rev. Marcel Rainville, a native of Swanton, also helped with the French translation.
Trieschmann said the state has nearly 300 roadside cast-aluminum green markers, which have a distinctive gold state seal on the top. They commemorate people, events and places of regional, statewide or national significance.
She said the other two bilingual signs were erected in 2019 and are on the Burlington waterfront and in Newport City.
By Michael Frett
GRAND ISLE – Every summer it closes beaches, sours the air with a putrid odor and colors Lake Champlain’s shores with a sickly green.
Scientists call it cyanobacteria, though most Vermonters seem to have settled with the more easily understood “blue-green algae,” and it is an almost guaranteed summertime guest during any given Vermont summer.
But what is “cyanobacteria?”
That was the question state researchers hoped to help Vermonters answer last week during a remote forum on Lake Champlain’s perennial pest.
At the most basic level, cyanobacteria are small, single cell organisms that feed through photosynthesis, the process in which plants use energy from sunlight to convert carbon dioxide and water into oxygen.
“They’re actually the first organisms on the planet that developed photosynthesis,” Peter Isles, an ecologist with Vermont’s Dept. of Environmental Conservation, said, “and as such, we can thank them for things like having oxygen we can breathe.”
According to Isles, cyanobacteria are fairly common organisms living in “almost every environment on Earth” and are a “natural and important part of most ecosystems.”
“I say this because it’s not always a cause for concern if there’s a little bit of cyanobacteria present in your lake,” Isles said. “There are cyanobacteria present in every lake.”
Where cyanobacteria become a problem, however, is when they clump together into the thick colonies people have dubbed “blooms,” where they take on the greenish hues that inspired cyanobacteria’s more commonly known name “blue-green algae.”
According to Isles, Vermont has five known varieties of problematic cyanobacteria, each taking on their own alien shapes when peeked at beneath a microscope and each one capable of forming the occasionally toxic blooms of “blue-green algae” stifling Vermont’s waterways.
Relative to other major bodies of water like Lake Erie or China’s Taihu Lake, Lake Champlain’s annual cyanobacteria blooms are rarely as overwhelming, though some corners of Lake Champlain, like the beleaguered Missisquoi Bay, will regularly see more severe blooms between summer and fall.
When blooms are severe enough, according to Isles, they can extract a toll on their local environments, depleting the amount of oxygen available within a lake and resulting in what scientists call a “fish kill,” the localized dying-off of fish populations.
Cyanobacteria can also sometimes be toxic, prompting the beach closures and drinking water concerns that tend to accompany late summer months in Vermont.
According to state toxicologist Sarah Vose, scientists do not currently know when a cyanobacteria bloom becomes toxic or what prompts cyanobacteria to begin producing toxins. It is for this reason public health officials opt for beach closures immediately after a bloom appears.
“We never really know when a bloom is producing toxins, and that’s something scientists are still trying to understand,” Vose said. “Even when they have the genetic capability to produce toxins, sometimes they do and sometimes they don’t.”
What scientists do know, however, is that when cyanobacteria do produce toxins, those toxins can be dangerous.
The deaths of several dogs in Vermont have been connected to cyanobacteria blooms. A severe bloom in Utah several years ago prompted more than 100 calls to the state’s poison control agency. Exposure to a bloom in Uruguay led to a child’s liver, the organ most affected by cyanobacteria poisoning, failing.
After a toxic bloom of blue-green algae in Lake Erie prompted the Ohio city of Toledo to temporarily shut off a supply of tap water for more than 400,000 residents in 2014, Vermont began providing for weekly tests of its own freshwater sources for drinking water.
According to Vose, there have been no known reports of drinking water in Vermont being found toxic since 2015.
While the primary source of poisoning from blue-green algae blooms stems from accidentally drinking or breathing in infested waters, public health officials also advise against boating over cyanobacteria blooms due to the possible threat of cyanobacteria being kicked into the air by boat and jet ski engines.
Officials also ask locals to avoid brining pets or children near infested shorelines and ask Vermonters to report cyanobacteria sightings to beach managers and the state’s health department.
How to address Vermont’s blooms of cyanobacteria is another question state officials hoped to help answer with last week’s meeting.
According to Isles, cyanobacteria need several ingredients to sustain themselves within Vermont’s waterways. Two of those, carbon and sunlight, Vermonters have no control over. The other two, however, have become the targets of multi-million-dollar efforts to improve water quality in Vermont.
“The things humans really control are nitrogen and phosphorus,” Isles said, “in particular phosphorus.”
In recent decades, Vermont’s watersheds have been carved by state and federal officials into a number of tactical basin plans and total-maximum daily load agreements intended to stymie nitrogen and phosphorus flow into Vermont’s rivers and lakes.
With the notable exception of Vermont’s east, where those documents target nitrogen flowing through the Connecticut River, most of the state’s water quality targets relate to phosphorus, an important nutrient for plant growth often found in fertilizers and other practical chemicals.
Since 2016, Vermont has invested more than $194 million through contracts and grants to address nutrient pollution in Vermont’s waterways, according to the state’s most recent Clean Water Initiative performance report.
Those funds have targeted everything from wastewater treatment plants to the implementation of farming practices intended to slow phosphorus runoff from fertilizers, to the installation of an expensive aeration system in Franklin’s Lake Carmi, currently Vermont’s only official “lake in crisis.”
As of the 2018 State of the Lake report, a publication updated every three years by the federally funded Lake Champlain Basin Program, Vermont had reduced the amount of phosphorus washed annually into Lake Champlain’s watershed by about 13% of what is mandated under federal orders.
Those numbers are expected to be updated with the release of the 2021 State of the Lake report later this week.
According to Isles, while the effects of a warming climate have led some to fear cyanobacteria blooms will become more severe and more common, research also suggests managing the flow of nutrient runoff into watersheds will have a more direct impact on the prevalence of blue-green algae blooms.
“This means we have the potential to control blooms even if warming continues by managing nutrients now,” Isles said.
By MICHELLE MONROE
GRAND ISLE – Returning home will be marginally easier for fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents starting on July 5, the government announced Monday. However, there is little likelihood the border between the U.S. and Canada will be fully open anytime soon.
On Sunday, Canada’s Minister for Public Safety Bill Blair told the CBC that a full reopening of the border will have to wait until 75 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated. “The finish line is when a significant majority of Canadians, 75 percent, are fully vaccinated,” Blair said.
Currently, just 20 percent of Canadians are fully vaccinated. Canada, like Britain, chose to focus on partial vaccination for as many people as possible rather than full vaccination for a smaller number.
Monday’s announcement comes as the country reaches a previously announced goal of 75 percent of the population partially vaccinated.
Canada is expecting to receive 68 million doses of vaccines in July, but Blair declined to estimate when the border may open more fully. At the same time, he did say the country is “rapidly reaching the goals we set for ourselves.”
The minister did say that there is significant pressure from within Canada to ease travel restrictions.
Canada has prohibited non-essential visitors from other parts of the world and actively discouraged Canadians from traveling. Anyone arriving at the border, including Canadians returning from visits elsewhere, was required to submit to a COVID-19 test, quarantine for 14 days and have a second test eight days into quarantine. Those arriving by air were required to quarantine for three days in a hotel designated for that purpose, with just four airports accepting international flights.
Monday’s changes will allow fully vaccinated Canadians and permanent residents to avoid quarantine when returning to Canada. However, they must still have an initial COVID test and a quarantine plan should it be needed.
“We are still discouraging non-essential travel,” Blair said.
All steps to reopen the border are being taken based on advice from Canada’s public health agency. Blair said the government is being “very careful so we don’t expose Canadians to unnecessary risk.”
One of the concerns, he said, is new variants of COVID-19.
The Delta variant, a highly infectious COVID mutation, originated in India and is now the most prevalent variant in the United Kingdom. U.S. public health officials have warned it will likely be the most common strain in the U.S. within weeks.
In addition to vaccination rates, the Canadian government is also looking at other metrics, such as hospitalizations when making decisions about easing border restrictions, according to Blair.
Vaccinated Canadians returning to the country will be required to upload proof of vaccination to an app, ArriveCAN. That information will then be compared to the written proof of vaccination travelers will have to present at the border. “Our border officers are going to check 100 percent of the time,” Blair said.
Blair acknowledged that there is a pent-up demand for travel, including to second homes in the U.S.
He said Canada and the U.S. are working on a vaccine certification system that will protect individual privacy while providing for easy confirmation of vaccination status. Similar discussions are happening with the European Union, Blair said.
Northern Vermont is a destination spot for Canadian travelers and it’s likely that despite heavy domestic travel communities here will still feel the pinch of lost Canadian visitors.
The toll may be even heavier for those with family on both sides of the border, a common occurrence, especially in communities near the border. Blair acknowledged that hardship, saying compassionate exceptions to the travel rules are being made.
By MICHAEL FRETT
NORTH HERO – More than 300 bikers will take to island roads this weekend in the name of a cleaner lake.
After having been sidelined in 2020 by the COVID-19 pandemic, the Friends of Northern Lake Champlain’s (FNLC) “Bike for the Lake” is scheduled to make its annual return to the Champlain Valley this coming weekend.
The event, which raises funding for FNLC’s work to support clean water projects in the Lake Champlain Basin’s northernmost watersheds, has occurred annually in the islands since 2011, when the lakeside bike ride was first organized on FNLC’s behalf.
“It grew from 30 bikers eating hamburgers cooked by local Boy Scouts,” FNLC’s longtime director Kent Henderson told The Islander. “It’s now the backbone of our fundraising.”
Starting at Knight Point State Park on North Hero’s southern shoreline, this year’s event sees several “loops” or routes, starting with a shorter loop around South Hero and Grand Isle, and gradually widening from there to include detours to Isle La Motte, Alburgh and a ferry ride from New York.
Henderson said FNLC plans to highlight some of its work in the watershed alongside organizations like the Lake Champlain Basin Program, a federally designated organization based in Grand Isle that coordinates environmental efforts in Lake Champlain’s watershed.
In a way, the event also helps showcase the lake at the center of FNLC’s clean water work. The event’s routes make a point of keeping bikers close to the waterfront, bringing them along prominent lakeside roads tracing Grand Isle and Clinton counties’ shorelines.
“People get right down beside the lake… and understand what a great resource it is,” Henderson said.
CLEAN WATER WORK
Events like the annual Bike for the Lake fundraisers build out the bulk of FNLC’s operating costs, supporting its office and some of its educational outreach and programming within Northwest Vermont.
The loss of major fundraising events pinched FNLC’s budget hard. According to Henderson, the organization’s total budget had been halved as a result, and while the organization was given a lifeline through state and federal relief programs, FNLC still had to cut a staff member.
In the meantime, according to Henderson, the organization had managed to tap into grant funding for some of the most substantial projects in Lake Champlain’s watershed in FNLC’s history.
According to a projects list shared with The Islander, as of May, FNLC had around $600,000 in grant funding tied to projects targeting water quality issues in Franklin and Grand Isle counties, ranging from a shoreline project in North Hero to major stormwater improvements in the Town of Georgia, where stormwater runoff from Route 7 had carved a deep gully and destabilized a nearby brook feeding into the Lamoille River.
A few of FNLC’s current programs were targeted in the islands.
Around $15,000 in awarded funding had been used to assist with restoring a private stretch of eroding shoreline in North Hero. A recent FNLC press release said work along North Hero’s shoreline had been completed earlier this spring and had involved stabilizing the shoreline against further erosion.
There were also conversations around bringing a visiting environmental education program to Alburgh’s school, where FNLC previously helped coordinate the installation of a small wetland called a “catch basin” to help manage stormwater runoff from the school’s parking lot.
While larger projects like the stormwater infrastructure targeted for Georgia will have its impact on phosphorus runoff monitored, Henderson said monitoring costs made it harder to appreciably measure FNLC’s projects elsewhere in Lake Champlain’s watershed.
It also was not necessarily the primary goal for several of FNLC’s projects in the Lake Champlain’s basin, according to Henderson.
Instead, Henderson said the organization typically looked to model projects that could be taken up at a greater scale elsewhere in Vermont, like the two-tier ditching systems piloted by FNLC on a Franklin County farm and later advertised in the state’s tactical basin planning for the Missisquoi River.
“These are demonstration projects,” Henderson said. “The hope is others pick up on them.”
Phosphorus, a vital nutrient for plant growth, is targeted as a pollutant in Lake Champlain’s watershed due to its role in fueling sometimes toxic blooms of cyanobacteria or “blue-green algae.” Vermont is under federal orders to significantly reduce the amount of phosphorus entering Lake Champlain.
Several waterways the Lake Champlain Basin have also been listed as impaired due to erosion issues stemming from upstream development and uneven flows of water through those streams, an issue that can indirectly lead to phosphorus-laden sediments being washed downstream into Lake Champlain.
Recent reports from the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and Vermont’s Agency of Natural resources have found Vermont is currently on track to meet federal water quality goals by 2036.
FNLC’s Bike for the Lake is scheduled for this coming Saturday, with a rolling start for riders on each of its loops scheduled between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m. Information about registration is available online at https://www.friendsofnorthernlakechamplain.org/event/2021bikeforthelake/.
As of last week, more than 300 riders were scheduled to take part, according to Henderson.
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