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.
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
GRAND ISLE -- The Grand Isle Selectboard has voted 3-2 to seek requests for proposals from accounting firms to provide a comprehensive audit of town books.
The move came during a special meeting on Monday night to discuss a response to a petition the Selectboard received in mid-April signed by more than 150 community members seeking a review of the financial records for the past three fiscal years.
The petition noted taxpayers were concerned the Grand Isle Selectboard members have never received the state-mandated quarterly financial reports from the town treasurer for several years. The petition also asked for a forensic audit.
Selectboard Chair Jeff Parizo, who was delegated to develop a request for the town to seek bids from accounting firms, said he studied similar proposals for other towns in Vermont. He developed a 3-page proposal for accounting firms to respond to if interested.
Nobody has made any claims of criminal misconduct in Grand Isle. Grand Isle Treasurer Melissa Boutin, who is elected, has said she will answer any questions and that the town books remain available for inspection by the public.
Boutin attended the special meeting this week, but did not offer any thoughts or concerns.
Selectboard members Diane Cota and Adam White voted against the motion without offering any reasons initially.
Local resident Bianca Adams questioned why Cota and White voted no. Somebody could be heard on the Zoom meeting whispering that the two officials did not have to answer the question. Both eventually questioned the need for the review in light of an annual audit Grand Isle had received from RHR Smith & Company of Buxton, Maine, which has done the books since about 2016.
Cota said Boutin was unaware of two state statutes about dealing with reports and finances.
The Selectboard did receive recently from Boutin a draft of the latest quarterly report.
The petition also questioned how town investments are handled. The petitioners noted the Selectboard has oversight on investing town funds. Boutin has acknowledged she moved town money into certificates of deposit without board approval to try to attract slightly higher interest rates. She said she has stopped doing that.
Former Selectboard Chairman Ron Bushway noted several Vermont towns, including Coventry and Hardwick have had audits conducted, only to learn later that there were major mistakes.
He noted last month the certified public accounting firm of Kittell, Branagan & Sargent of St. Albans reached a $960,000 settlement with the Hardwick Electric Company because the CPAs failed to uncover any trace of a more than $1.6 million embezzlement over 10 years.
KB&S had audited the utility books from 2006 to 2010 when most of the money was taken, officials said. The Hardwick Electric office manager eventually went to federal prison for fraud.
The town of Coventry is missing more than $1 million, but no criminal charges have been filed, records show.
Parizo stressed during the meeting seeking requests for proposals would not cost the town anything now. He said based on the responses received, the Selectboard could take further steps and decide to spend money, if warranted.
Parizo said the town has been dealing with the audit question for about three months and he wants to get to the bottom of the concerns and move on. He said he has been given the names of six accounting firms that specialize in municipal audits.
“We should have done this a long time ago,” said AnnaMarie DeMars, vice chair of the Selectboard.
DeMars also repeated comments from earlier meetings that she had tried to push for a full audit when the town changed elected treasurers. She has said that is standard in most Vermont towns and it provides protection for both the outgoing treasurer and incoming treasurer should a problem later surface.
She noted the late Fay Chamberlin, the longtime Grand Isle Town Clerk and Treasurer, was “adamant” about having a full audit during any transition in the treasurer’s office.
Mitchel Richardson, a local property owner, asked about how Grand Isle went about hiring the outside auditing firm. Parizo said his recollection was the town’s former accounting firm was getting out of the municipal business in 2016 and Boutin proposed RHR Smith & Company.
The other four Selectboard members and Boutin did not dispute that narrative.
Richardson said it did appear the town failed in its due diligence at the time.
Parizo agreed. He said the Selectboard at that time should have hired the outside auditor -- not the town treasurer.
Cota did ask how much the town had in its “rainy day fund” to possibly pay for the audit, but Parizo said that was premature because no spending was being requested at this time.
Richardson said he did not understand the reluctance by some board members to send out the request for proposals when it would not cost taxpayers a penny to get information.
White later challenged Parizo to put a motion on the floor about seeking the request for proposals. He obliged and DeMars seconded the motion. Selectboard member Eric Godin later joined with them to approve the motion and move the process forward.
Adams said Mark Cobb, who served on the Selectboard 2013-2017, brought up the lack of quarterly reports at the time, but got nowhere.
Richardson had said at an earlier meeting a review of meeting minutes appeared to show the Selectboard stopped getting the quarterly reports in 2012. He maintained the Selectboard should not be “begging” for financial reports.
Cota also questioned the length of the audit proposal. It seeks bids for the past three fiscal years, but also could go back up to another three years.
Parizo explained if something was found amiss in the three-year audit -- 2018, 2019 or 2020 -- the town may want to be able to see if additional research was needed in 2017, 2016 or 2015.
Bushway said there has been a lot of talk in town about the audit and it would be good to determine if there are any problems. If there is a problem, it can be addressed.
“If they find nothing, so be it,” he said.
By MICHAEL FRETT
ALBURGH – On a relatively humid Friday morning, Bill Baron popped open the tailgate of his truck and, with gloved hands, grabbed for a bundle of sticky, purple cardboard slabs.
Nearby, Al Crist tossed a string over a branch on a local ash tree, this one helping frame the parking lot to Alburgh’s public library. It took a few tries, but, eventually, a string snugly hung from the branch.
Baron peeled a sheet of cardboard from the bundle and bent it into a prism with its sticky side facing outward. A bag mimicking the smell of an adult emerald ash borer was dangled inside and Baron and Crist began hoisting the cardboard prism into the tree.
They also pinned a printout to the ash’s trunk, replacing one poster asking “what is this ash is worth to you” with a new sheet describing “the purple thing hanging in the tree” as necessary tool for local communities preparing for a “pest’s arrival.”
“I got to watch it come through Indiana for a number of years,” Crist, a Grand Isle resident, remarked. “By the time I left Northeastern Indiana, there were no ash left. I guess I get to see it happen again.”
Shaped like a bullet and smaller than the length of a dime, the emerald ash borer hardly looks like the kind of a threat warranting the organized response it has received. Most adults sport an emerald hue, hence the name, but otherwise look like a number of other beetles who might call Vermont home.
Those little beetles can cause a lot of damage, however. After their larva hatch, young emerald ash borers begin carving into the tree layers just below the bark, digging an S-shaped pattern that gradually cuts the tree off from nutrients and, after several years, starves the tree.
The S-shaped patterns woven beneath the bark are a telltale sign of the ash borer’s presence, as are the D-shaped holes adults leave in the wood once they have grown and are ready to leave the tree behind.
Scientists working with the U.S. Forest Service have observed infected ash trees dying at rates of nearly 100% in some infested parts of the Midwest. Vermont’s state agencies are warning 99% of the state’s ash are vulnerable due to the beetle’s arrival, saying as much on their traps’ accompanying posters.
The economic fallout from infestations of emerald ash borer have been collectively estimated to be somewhere in the range of billions of dollars, as states, towns and property owners are left with the expensive costs of treating surviving trees, removing dead ash and planting replacements.
There is also an irreparable cultural loss that could follow the disappearance of the ash tree. For many Native American cultures in the Northeastern U.S., including the Abenaki people who have historically called Vermont home, the ash tree can have irreplaceable religious and historical significance.
According to Baron, a retired forester and the head of Grand Isle County’s emerald ash borer task force, the Champlain Islands are uniquely vulnerable to the ash borer. Depending on the source, somewhere between 30% and 60% of the islands’ trees were one of several species of ash.
“If you look around here, there’s some green ash here, some green ash there,” Baron said as he and Crist hoisted another emerald ash borer trap, this time at the Islands in the Sun Senior Center. “This will have a dramatic effect in the islands.”
The fallout from those losses could be catastrophic ecologically. Nearly 300 insects and spiders rely on ash trees for food and shelter. Forty-four of those insects and spiders feed exclusively on the tree, according to an Agency of Natural Resources presentation.
There were also significant municipal costs Baron said towns may have to face as they remove dead ash from public roadsides in order to avoid incidents where ash, which can become fragile once it dies, could come crashing down atop motorists or pose other significant hazards on the road.
According to a Vermont Urban and Community Forestry Program case study focused on South Hero, the county’s southernmost town could potentially have to spend between an $113,500 and $150,000 over the next decade to manage ash trees currently lining its roadways.
With partnerships with organizations like the Vermont Electric Cooperative and the state parks system, those costs could fall significantly, but South Hero will still be looking at potentially steep costs to remove ash trees from its town highways, according to Baron.
The town has started budgeting annually for removing ash trees, according to the case study.
As of press time, the emerald ash borer has now been found in four of Grand Isle County’s five towns. Both South Hero and North Hero have reported having at least one tree infected with emerald ash borer, and adult beetles have been found in purple traps on Isle La Motte and in Alburgh.
In nearby Franklin County, an adult emerald ash borer had also been observed near the Missisquoi Bay’s shoreline in Swanton.
The emerald ash borer task force, one of the few county-wide initiatives endorsed by each of its member towns, still warns against bringing firewood from outside of Vermont, an action seen to be the most effective way to prevent emerald ash borer’s spread, but the task force has also started pivoting more towards managing the beetle.
The county task force is now planning to offer services for connecting landowners to companies authorized to treat ash or information around disposing of emerald ash borer-infested trees.
The task force also recently wrapped up trainings around ash removal for local road crews, who will likely be trimming back their respective town’s ash populations as the emerald ash borer continues its slow crawl through the Champlain Islands over the next decade.
“Slowing the spread is important… but we also want to deal with the pest here,” Baron said.
That Friday morning, Baron and Crist traced major highways in and around the islands. In four of the islands’ five communities, purple traps were hoisted into tree canopies with the hope they would help measure the emerald ash borer’s presence in the islands and maybe spark a conversation.
The posters they pinned beneath each trap seemed to ask for as much.
“What is that purple thing hanging in the tree?” the posters, also provided by the state’s Agency of Agriculture and Dept. of Forests, Parks and Recreation, read.
“Ideally, we’d like to help the towns plan moving forward,” Crist said after raising a box in the Islands in the Sun Senior Center’s lawn. “We want to help them know what’s coming or soon to be coming.”
With that, the two left for Isle La Motte, where traps would be raised at the town’s recreation fields and on an ash looming in a landowner’s private trail, and from there to Grand Isle and South Hero.
Eight traps in all would be hoisted by Friday afternoon.
By MICHAEL FRETT
GRAND ISLE – “Artists are exceptional people,” a short post from Grand Isle Art Works reads. “They have the ability to channel their happiness, anxiety, or just plain quirkiness into art.
“This past year,” it continues, “was no exception.”
The post in question can be found on the gallery’s website, above a poster advertising an upcoming exhibit showcasing local artists’ work from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Titled “Art in a Time Like This,” the exhibit, scheduled for June and July, serves as a denouement of sorts for what has been an unprecedented year for the artists whose creations feature in Grand Isle Art Works’ historic island home.
According to the gallery’s owners, the exhibit will highlight artists who transitioned to new mediums, who found new, maybe less whimsical voices during the height of a pandemic that shuttered much of the arts world and led many to feel more isolated.
“People are expressing themselves differently,” Ellen Thompson, a fiber artist and educator who owns Grand Isle Art Works with her husband Jim Holzschuh, said.
A destination in the islands
For the farmhouse perched near Route 2 in Grand Isle, pandemics are nothing new.
More than 200 years of history have taken place in Grand Isle Art Works’ current home, at least three of which fell within the height of the Spanish influenza, the last great “unprecedented” epidemic to grip the U.S. in the early 1900s.
The farmhouse, dating back to 1797, was also old enough to have witnessed more than a few recessions and depressions, the coming and going of the Merino sheep and the height of the railroad in Vermont, and the administrations of 45 of the nation’s 46 presidents.
“John Adams was just moving into the White House in 1797,” Holzschuh said, “and if you’re from the Boston area or know anything about Boston, there’s a ship in the harbor called ‘Old Ironsides’ – or the Constitution – that was commissioned in 1797.” (He initially denied he was a history buff when asked but later acquiesced. “You’re right, I am a history buff,” Holzschuh admitted after recalling a very particular historical detail involving the U.S. flag and the War of 1812.)
The farmhouse’s history as a gallery is significantly shorter. A little more than a decade ago, Holzschuh and Thompson purchased the farmhouse and created Grand Isle Art Works with the hopes of both adding a destination to the Grand Isle map and opening an outlet for craftspeople like themselves.
For the couple, the gallery was also an answer to a very specific problem unique to the allegedly retired South Hero couple.
Holzschuh would later joke that he had never actually retired, despite supposedly having retired from not one but several careers. Thompson, meanwhile, still works as an educational consultant after having left public education some years ago.
For some time, Holzschuh and Thompson have raised a small herd of angora goats under the moniker Yellow Dog Farm in South Hero. The name, they said, comes courtesy of the pair of yellow labs who, in Holzschuh’s words, were “the keepers of the keys” on Yellow Dog Farm.
Angora goats are well regarded for their long, lustrous and wavy hair, also known as “mohair,” that can be easily dyed and used for making fine garments.
Angora goats also produce a lot of hair. Every year, a single goat can produce more than a dozen pounds of mohair. In at least one article, the University of California posits angora goats “may be the most efficient fiber producers on Earth.”
In other words, Holzschuh and Thompson suddenly had a lot of goat hair on their hands.
Thompson, who had knitted when she was young, began knitting and weaving, and learned how to spin their goats’ hair into material the couple could sell. Holzschuh, a woodturner who seemed to have inherited a bit of his craftsmanship from his farmer father, began making the needed tools for fiber art.
They became a regular presence in Vermont’s craft shows as members of the Vermont Hand Crafters, the state’s largest juried craft organization, selling both the materials and tools for creating fiber art and hand knit garments made from their homegrown yarns.
It was, they said, a lot.
“We had a lot of product,” Thompson said. “About ten years ago, we decided we were tired of lugging things around, so we ended up looking for a gallery.”
With that in mind, the two purchased the 1797 farmhouse, drawn by its history and its ability to provide a unique destination in Grand Isle, and began welcoming Vermont artists into a handful of rooms on the farmhouse’s first floor.
Eleven years later, works by more than 70 artists can be found in almost every nook and cranny of the historic farmhouse and, despite having to weather the farmhouse’s second pandemic, Grand Isle Art Works remains open to the public.
“Art in a time like this”
For artists, the COVID-19 pandemic has not been kind.
The threat of COVID-19 and public health measures intended to control the disease’s outbreak led to the closure of both gallery spaces and public art shows for much of the duration of the pandemic. While some artists found success in pivoting to online sales, many did not.
Grand Isle Art Works did close down for a few months early in the pandemic, the result of state public health orders limiting most nonessential business to curbsides.
Buoyed by a Paycheck Protection Program loan and donations from the community, the gallery was able to squeak open during the summer, but its eventual reopening was quiet without the regular tourism traffic businesses in the Champlain Islands thrive on.
Grand Isle Art Works remains relatively quiet, but while Holzschuh and Thompson are optimistic the possible subsiding of the COVID-19 pandemic could bring more travelers later on in the summer, they say the effect the pandemic has had on artists has been palpable.
“Artists have been dramatically affected,” Thompson said. “A lot of the artists that are in our gallery are full-time artists, and if our gallery slowed down, then you can bet many of the others have as well.”
The effects of a pandemic extended beyond business, though. Artists were isolated and left to contend with a year that not only saw a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic, but a constant stream of political and social upheaval, according to Thompson.
Many artists may have “looked inward” to reflect on “the way the world was,” Thompson said. Others may have found new ways to express themselves as artists. Thompson, for example, took up pottery, while Holzschuh began turning out a steady supply of wooden eggs that had proven popular online.
In a few highlights from Grand Isle Art Works’ cadre of Vermont creators, one artist’s more whimsical work with kites became more grounded work with acrylics, Thompson said. Another artist transitioned from vibrant watercolor to abstract works involving driftwood salvaged from Lake Champlain.
They are the kind of effects the gallery is will showcase later this month when “Art in a Time Like This” opens.
Grand Isle Art Works is planning to exhibit those works in an area once occupied by the gallery’s café, a casualty of the pandemic. Accompanying those works will be descriptions penned by the artists themselves, describing what it was like to create art in, well, a time like this.
“I hope people are inspired by what they see and, I know this is going to sound very lofty, but reflect on the resiliency of the human spirit,” Thompson said.
“These artists were isolated, often by themselves, and yet one of the things they did was they reached into their art in different ways,” she continued. “It’s that ability to say, ‘This is tough. I’m all by myself. What am I going to do? I’m going to make something beautiful.’”
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
A revitalized twice-weekly Champlain Islands Farmers’ Market in Grand Isle County will open for the season today kicking off at 10 a.m., at St. Joseph Catholic Church on U.S. 2 in Grand Isle.
Market President Patrick Helman of Isle La Motte said about two dozen vendors are expected to participate this Saturday and he expects that number to grow over the summer.
He said the markets, which will run until Fall, will offer crafts, vegetables, fruits, canned goods, pasta, plants and baked goods, including the internationally known Parish Pie Ladies of Grand Isle County.
Helman, who is from Sandy Bottom Farm, said last summer’s market proved successful even with some restrictions due to COVID-19 rules, including a limit of 18 vendors. Helman said there will be less restrictions this summer to make a visit to either market even more of a pleasure and more like pre-COVID.
Helman also announced the market board has hired a new manager to oversee operations this summer.
Liz Inness-Brown of South Hero is an avid flower and vegetable gardener, a talented writer and an award-winning professor and will now serve as market manager.
Inness-Brown retired this month as an English professor at St. Michael’s College in Colchester and was looking for a gig to keep her busy.
“It’s a really, really important job,” he said. The post is about 20 hours a week.
Helman said about 25 people applied and Inness-Brown ended up on the top.
Saturday markets, 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. at St. Joseph Catholic Church, U.S. 2 in Grand Isle.
The Wednesday markets will be held from 3 to 6 p.m. at St. Rose of Lima Catholic Church on U.S. 2 in South Hero.
By MICHELLE MONROE
SOUTH HERO – 2020 was a pivotal year for Alisha Utter and Kyle Bowley, leading ultimately to the opening of a new business, Arbor Farm Market.
The couple have owned a farm South Hero since 2016. The seven-acre farm has four acres of woodland and three in crops, primarily fruits, including multiple species of berries.
The berries are used to make a syrup, which is then placed on shaved ice for a summer treat, popular at both the Burlington and Champlain Islands farmers markets where the couple also sold produce and Bowley’s woodworking.
When COVID-19 arrived last March, the couple made rapid changes to their business model.
“We couldn’t in good faith sell snow cones face-to-face,” said Bowley. “We were also seeing a need in our community for healthy, accessible food.”
In March, they began putting together boxes of local foods from local producers for delivery direct to customers’ doorsteps. It was, Bowley said, totally contactless and sanitized.
By April, they had added a community donation option in which customers could purchase items that could then be claimed by those in need. The donated items were also delivered to doorsteps.
In May, Utter and Bowley created their first community supported agriculture shares, which lasted for 20 weeks and allowed people in the Islands to get deliveries of produce from the couple’s farm.
“Lastly, we also decided to build a farm stand on our property,” Bowley said.
“There’s a lot of pivots here,” said Utter, of the rapid changes the pair made to their business.
At the farm stand they offered items from other local growers as well as their own produce. It became “a focal point for people during the pandemic,” Bowley said.
The success of the farm stand led them to open Arbor Farm Market. A market had always been in their business plan, but not for a few years. “The catalyst was definitely the pandemic,” Utter said.
A grand opening is planned for Memorial Day weekend, but the market had a soft opening in April, appropriately enough, on Arbor Day.
Like the farm stand before it, the market offers items from numerous local producers. This weekend there was fresh asparagus and hanging flower baskets from Pomykala Farms.
Items in the market are divided between general grocery including staples such as milk and bread, fresh produce and the creations of Islands-based artisans and crafters, said Bowley. They describe it as a “contemporary general store.”
Anything that can be sourced locally or within Vermont is, Utter explained. For items from other areas, she investigates how they are grown or produced and the treatment of workers and farmers.
Many of the items for sale at the market can also be found at the local farmers market. Utter emphasizes that Arbor Farm Market isn’t intended to replace the farmers market, but to supplement it by offering producers another outlet for sales. Customers are encouraged to also go to the farmers market and support farmers directly, she said.
When farmers bring in produce for sale, Utter said she writes them a check right then. For many, this is their first wholesale account.
The market has been “very warmly received so far, which is great,” Utter said.
The two phrases they hear most often from people coming into the market for the first time are: “we need this,” and “you saved me a trip to Burlington,” Utter said.
While they will welcome tourist traffic, “our foundation is created in serving locals,” said Utter. “We didn’t want it to be a novelty. We wanted it to be a staple.”
Because they want the market to help meet customers’ every day food needs, “we’ve been mindful in pricing while bringing in high quality products,” she added.
The market is located in the heart of the village in a building that previously housed C.I.D.E.R. “We absolutely adore the location,” Utter said.
The market and farm aren’t their only endeavors. Utter is finishing up a doctorate in soil and plant science at the University of Vermont while Bowley is a National Guard pilot.
Because they will be focusing on launching the market, they will not have a stand at the farmers market this summer.
Those craving the snow cones, however, will be able to find them during pop up events once a month at the market, including at the Grand Opening on Memorial Day.
By MICHELLE MONROE
ALBURGH - Alburgh voters have approved both a broadband project and the sale of recreational marijuana in town. Both were approved by a large margin, with just 114 ballots cast.
The broadband project was approved 75-39 and marijuana sales 76-38.
Under the broadband proposal, the Matrix Design Group would extend fiber alongside power lines servicing most of the town with the intention of connecting residents into a network capable of handling the higher upload and download speeds typically found in urban areas.
In total, the project is currently expected to cost around $2.73 million. The town is responsible for acquiring rights of way which is projected to cost $869,000 which will be recouped from fees on internet subscribers using the network.
Taxpayers will not fund any portion of the expansion.
The vote on recreational marijuana allows businesses to begin selling retail canabis in October 2022. The wording of the article states that any such sales will be “subject to any town ordinances or regulations that the town may lawfully adopt.”
Alburgh is the second town in Grand Isle County to allow for retail sales of marijuana. Earlier this year, voters in South Hero approved allowing retailers to potentially sell marijuana for recreational use.
By MICHELLE MONROE
Alburgh will be holding a vote tomorrow, May 11, on a proposal to expand broadband access and whether or not to allow recreational marijuana sales in the town.
Polls will open at 7 a.m. and close at 7 p.m. with voting to take place in the bingo hall behind the town office.
Under the broadband proposal, the Matrix Design Group would extend fiber alongside powerlines servicing most of the town with the intention of connecting residents into a network capable of handling the higher upload and download speeds typically found in urban areas.
In total, the project is currently expected to cost around $2.73 million, roughly $869,000 of which would be covered by the town of Alburgh through fees on internet subscribers using the network.
Taxpayers will not fund any portion of the expansion.
Petitioners asked the town selectboard to place the question of allowing recreational marijuana sales before voters after the legislature left the decision of whether or not to allow sales up to individual communities.
Should voters in Alburgh approve marijuana sales, Alburgh would become the second town in Grand Isle County to allow for retail sales of marijuana. Earlier this year, voters in South Hero approved allowing retailers to potentially sell marijuana for recreational use.
By MICHELLE MONROE,
NORTH HERO – Lodging providers across the Islands are gearing up for a busy summer. With COVID-19 restrictions lifting as more and more people are vaccinated, local businesses say they are rapidly filling up.
At the Anchorage in South Hero reservations for May are 43 percent ahead of May 2019 and June reservations are 17 percent ahead of 2019, said Dave Morrissette, who owns the business with his wife, Melissa.
With a busy season looming, the Anchorage is finishing up renovations on three cabins and just broke ground on a new cabin, which Morrissette said he hopes to have open before the Lake Champlain International’s annual Father’s Day Derby.
For ten weekends this summer, the existing cabins are already full, and the Anchorage has a waiting list of people ready to rent the new cabin once it’s complete. The first of those full weekends is just two weeks away.
The Anchorage isn’t alone. At Goose Point Campground in Alburgh, which opened May 1, there are very few sites left, according to Pauline Beyor, who owns the campground with her husband, Gordon.
“People are in a hurry to get out of their houses,” Beyor said.
The RV park is also seeing a number of people who haven’t camped at Goose Point before. That coincides with an increase in RV sales. “Places that are selling trailers are out of trailers,” Beyor said.
“If the weather holds out, it’ll be good,” she said of the upcoming season. One concern for her is the level of the lake. Most of Goose Point’s campers own boats, she said, so the water level needs to be high enough for boating to bring people to the campground.
Jason Hanny, general manager at Shore Acres Inn and Restaurant in North Hero, said, “We are getting bombarded with bookings for both the inn and restaurant.”
He described the tourist season as “raring to go.”
“We’re getting people from all over the Northeast, Mid-Atlantic, and even as far as the Mid-West. People not only want to get out, but are,” said Hanny.
Joanne Batchelder at Holiday Harbor Lodge was a little more cautious in her optimism. “We’re hoping to have a good summer,” she said.
“We have a loyal clientele that comes back year after year,” Batchelder said. “It seems like this year, people will come back.”
With just 12 rooms, the Holiday Harbor Lodge caters primarily to anglers, who rent rooms by the week.
Like Beyor, Batchelder is anticipating that people “want to get out after COVID.”
Because they rent cabins, the Anchorage was able to be fully open for the second half of 2020, and actually exceeded 2019 numbers from July to December, said Morrissette. “People wanted to be in that setting,” he said of the Anchorage’s cabins.
But there were differences. The dining room was mostly closed and the lodge little used. Morrissette said he is looking forward to serving guests breakfast once again and having the chance to speak with guests and get to know them.
Although a bit daunted by the work that needs to get done before the season kicks off in mid-May, Morrissette said, “It is exciting.”
By MIKE DONOGHUE
Islander Staff Writer
GRAND ISLE -- The Grand Isle Selectboard will hold a special meeting Thursday at 6 p.m. with its town auditor following a sometimes contentious meeting about town financial records on Monday.
Selectboard members Adam White and Eric Godin reported Monday they met with Town Clerk and Treasurer Melissa Boutin to discuss town finances and to review how the board can get quarterly reports routinely to better understand the financial standing of Grand Isle.
The quarterly reports were not good enough for some of the more than 150 taxpayers that had signed a petition presented two weeks ago that requested the Selectboard seek a forensic audit of all town funds for the past three years.
There have been no public claims of criminal misconduct and Boutin has repeatedly said her books are always open for inspection. She said she will provide any information the board seeks.
Selectboard Chair Jeff Parizo said the outside auditor Ron Smith, managing partner of RHR Smith & Company of Buxton, Maine was unable to attend Monday.
Parizo promised he would reach out Tuesday morning to set up a public meeting with Smith as soon as possible. The result was the special meeting called for Thursday evening.
Linda Effel and Randy Gover, two of the petition organizers, have said the signers are concerned that the town has failed to follow state law when it comes to providing public financial reports. The petition notes the Selectboard has never received quarterly financial reports for at least two years as required by law.
White and Godin said Boutin has agreed to provide the quarterly report for March 31 before the end of April. White said they thought providing 30 days for the report was reasonable, but the full board could reduce it.
Parizo said he expects reports also for the first two quarters.
Boutin agreed to get the first reports emailed to the Selectboard by this Friday.
Gover said the books should be up to date and a month should not be needed, but Boutin and others maintained it takes time to resolve some ledgers because of accounts payable and receivable.
Selectboard member Diane Cota questioned Effel, who was a former assistant for Boutin, why she did not bring the issue forward when working at the town offices. Effel said she became aware of the state’s mandatory reporting law only recently.
She said she did not know, had not been fully trained and was working for Boutin.
“I just took direction from Melissa,” she said. Effel said she had moved over from the zoning office to become Boutin’s assistant.
Her responses brought a crude remark from one man in the audience. The meeting also saw people speaking before called upon and out of turn. At one point Cota appeared frustrated, threw up her hands and walked away from her computer.
Joe Longo, a town lister, tried to challenge Effel’s credentials, asking her for her background.
Mitchel Richardson, a local property owner, said his review of meeting minutes from 2014 to 2017 showed then-Selectboard member Mark Cobb had questioned about getting financial records multiple times, but they appeared to fall on “deaf ears.”
Effel, a former Grand Isle County State’s Attorney, questioned if White had a conflict of interest in dealing with Boutin. Boutin serves as treasurer for the volunteer fire department and White is an assistant fire chief.
White questioned what was his conflict. Effel said “he may have.”
Parizo said the town does have a conflict-of-interest policy and all that can be done is to bring the issue to light.
Local resident Bill Stone said the board could direct Boutin to provide a summary of any large items at each meeting to help keep any significant changes or trends in mind.
The petition also noted the Grand Isle Selectboard has not approved the investment or reinvestment of any monies received by the town treasurer on behalf of the town for at least two years as required by state law.
During the meeting there also was considerable discussion about money that Boutin had said she transferred into Certificates of Deposit for a higher interest rate. She did not get board approval as required.
She said the $350,000 CD was due to mature in a few days and had thought about rolling it over for another month.
Stone noted the meeting was getting to be unproductive.
Parizo said Selectboard members were in a “holding pattern” until they have the financials in front of them. “I just want to see the reports.”
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