Last August, Governor Scott and the Legislature approved $2.8 million of state resources to complete the final stretches of Lamoille Valley Rail Trail (LVRT). This is expected to leverage an additional $11.3 million in federal funds, completing the last 60 miles of the 93 mile trail. Connecting St. Johnsbury to Swanton, LVRT passes through 18 communities, including Swanton Town & Village, Highgate, Sheldon, Fairfield, Fletcher and Bakersfield. In communities where the trail is already complete, like St, Johnsbury, the economic boost to the region has been realized. It is equally important that Swanton – the second trailhead – and all of Franklin County STEP UP to realize the full potential of this beautiful linear park.

Swanton residents must understand that a critical decision is being considered by the select board to sell a 1 acre parcel of land that abuts LVRT. Located on Fourth Street across from Swanton Elementary School, it is the site of the former town garage. The parcel has been for sale for almost a decade, with some expectations of new housing for our community, certainly a worthwhile use. As a previous select board member, I supported that initial plan. HOWEVER, in the years that have passed, much has changed. First, we are growing as a community, encouraging and welcoming new families to our town. With this has come the growth of programs requested of Swanton Recreation Department, stretching their capacity and space. Imagine what 1 acre on LVRT might do to alleviate this problem. We also know that education has changed, recognizing that student learning is found outside of the school walls, engaging students in their environment and their community. Imagine what 1 acre on LVRT might do to support this leaning. Lastly, the reality of LVRT being completed is now only 2 years in our future, with some completion in Franklin County being even sooner...a long awaited promise. Imagine what 1 acre on LVRT might do to boost our recreational and creative economy. All of these factors, and more, bring even more value to the little one acre lot on Fourth Street. With sufficient planning this lot could expand options for our young children, our older youth, our elderly and all families in Swanton. The 93 mile LVRT will bring us visitors from across northern Vermont and beyond. In general, people across the state and nation have a better appreciation for the importance of outdoor recreation to our personal and community health. Our decisions cannot be shortsighted.

Unfortunately, the opportunity to have a community discussion around what use is best for this land may be lost unless the people of Swanton STEP UP. A developer proposed to purchase this land for a fraction of the advertised sale price, and certainly a fraction of the true value to Swanton. AND the select board considered this sale. The Swanton Enhancement Project requested that they halt the decision to allow for community discussion. They agreed to halt the decision, HOWEVER, the 1 month (ending March 16) they allotted is insufficient for the planning that is required to have this serious conversation. STEP UP, Swanton. Contact your select board members through calls, emails, letters, to let them know we must have an organized community discussion. STEP UP, Swanton. Attend March 16th select board meeting to ask them to halt the pending sale. The decision on what will be done with the Fourth Street land needs to come in the future, not now. STEP UP to support the best that Swanton can be.

Kathy La Belle Lavoie

NOT having pot shops is what’s really nuts

A recent editorial entitled “Outlaw Vape but allow pot? That’s nuts.” caught my attention. The author compared the addictive flavored nicotine to the harmless recreational use of a medicine that we have used for 8000 years. Cannabis is a medicine that heals the body and mind. From chronic pain to PTSD. It is not a dangerous drug. It is not a gateway drug. States that have legalized cannabis have seen a decrease in opiate deaths. President George H W commissioned a independent study on cannabis that made their politically manufactured “war on drugs” seem as ridiculous as it actually was. The study and findings, recommending legalization were buried. I would rather have a person locked to the couch watching a funny movie, than driving drunk to their ex-girlfriends to shoot her new boyfriend. How many past opinions have been posted by local residents about the politically manufactured untrue evils of cannabis and not the proven scientific negative effects of alcohol. Alcohol kills the users internal organs and kills the users brains cells. Alcohol destroys families. How many opinions have we seen in the Messenger about liquor stores in our community? Approximately 88,000 US citizens die each year from alcohol use. Approximately zero die from cannabis use. Not having the tax revenue from a local “pot shop”. That nuts!

Dale Ford

Saint Albans

There has to be a better way for VPR and Vt. PBS

Dear VPR/Vermont PBS Board members,

I listen to VPR and watch Vermont PBS and want this merger to be successful. A few changes might help meet that goal. Like any Vermont family it’s better to bravely face uncomfortable subjects rather than ignore them. Asking and answering challenging questions assure all a brighter future.

My commentary focusing on the VPR/Vermont PBS merger was recently forwarded to you. It was published in ten newspapers including the Waterbury Roundabout (editor Lisa Scagliotti) and The Chester Telegraph (editor Cynthia Prairie). The civic dedication of these small, independent, local, and financially constrained newspapers allowed many thousands of Vermonters to assess the merits of the proposals. Indeed one of those who read the Commentary in the Caledonian-Record was a fellow board member. What would the outcome be if those ten newspapers, or all Vermont newspapers, suddenly decided for financial reasons to cancel the publication of letters and commentaries and reallocate the funds? Yet in all honesty, isn’t that what VPR did when it cancelled its Commentary Series? Is it reasonable to expect VPR/Vermont PBS to have a comparable “letters and commentaries” space open to all Vermonters? Can we agree that freely communicating over the public airways without gatekeepers will help democracy thrive in Vermont? VtDigger published the Commentary and in 2020 published 860 commentaries. They are an online competitor of yours, but felt the expense and effort was their civic duty. What should we be saying in defense of VPR/Vermont PBS when such a robust and equal effort is absent? You have expressed a goal of filling Vermont’s news reporting void. That’s a laudable goal. Will you match that effort with an undertaking to fill the shrinking open public discourse space?

Almost all Vermont media, especially those locally owned and operated, are in a perilous situation. Your friendly competitors in the Vermont media have faced layoffs, cutbacks, unfilled positions, pay cuts, and downsizing. VPR said that they had not suffered any layoffs. Last year you requested $874,000 of COVID-19 funding. The legislature asked for your proposal but, some questioned the judgement surrounding the nature and size of this submission. Specifically, requesting equipment replacement that wasn’t COVID-19 related. Can you understand how this request may have been seen by other media companies suffering the terrible effects described above? Perhaps we can agree that certain items in the Legislative submission were inappropriate given the nature of the funding? When your request was pared down to $100,000, VPR had millions in cash, millions in reserve and millions in restricted endowments. Why didn’t you just say, “We’re in good shape, we don’t need it, we’ll be fine, give it to someone worse off?” The board of directors are responsible for a non-profits direction and oversight. Is it reasonable to inquire if the board of directors reviewed and approved this list for the Legislative committee?

It’s fair to acknowledge that this merger would not be taking place without many hours of hard work and good planning by staff, board members and others. It’s truly a momentous achievement and worthy of our thanks. The programs you offer are high quality and very well produced. Many Vermonters hear your news and watch your programs. No one begrudges your success. As the largest non-profit media organization in Vermont, your preeminence is unrivaled. Being the biggest might bring additional demands for more leadership on behalf of your industry. We acknowledge VPR’s mission of being an essential and trusted independent voice for news and information. While still cognizant of this mission will you bring additional creative suggestions and ideas to help small, locally owned and operated media companies? Will you forge a closer partnership with the Vermont Press Association (VPA) and your fellow Vermont Broadcasters Association (VBA) members seeking collaborative new solutions to Vermont media’s plight? Could you bring together a diverse delegation of Vermont media and ask the Vermont House and Senate to hear the industry’s plight and their legislative survival suggestions? Perhaps you could ask them for the creation of a modest study group. Other states embrace a dog eat dog and an I got mine attitude. That’s not how Vermonters view the world. We extend a helping hand and voluntarily pitch in when times are tough helping those in need.

Your board members and employees said I raised good questions which is very much appreciated. After serving eight years in the Vermont House and Senate, I came to admire and respect Vermonters demand for full involvement in issues that are of interest to them. They want to explain problems, propose solutions, and be involved in the implementation of those solutions. Please count me with that group. Can we agree that this is the Vermont way to address concerns? The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) which regulates our public airways encourages viewers to write directly to a stations’ management regarding broadcast service. This is my second approach to VPR and candidly during the first time I’m not sure my ideas were welcomed. Perhaps I was mistaken.

What formal roles might best permit loyal customers with concerns to be fully engaged as described above? Or would you prefer they advocate for change from outside the organization? Vermonters want the best for you and the on-going merger. I hope this letter is received in the spirit it was offered. I’m looking forward to further mutually beneficial conversations beginning at the March 17th meeting at 2:15 PM.

Respectfully,

Matt Krauss

Stowe

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