The_Valley_Reporter - News Sun, 20 Apr 2014 20:19:48 -0400 en-gb Housing trends in the Mad River Valley

By Rachel Goff

The 2013 Data Report published earlier this year by the Mad River Valley Planning District (MRVPD) took a look at housing in the area, whose slight uptick in sales reflect national economic trends.

As of 2010, housing in Waitsfield, Warren and Fayston has continued to be split fairly evenly between full-time residents (48 percent) and second-home owners (47 percent), with just a small percentage of housing available (5 percent).

The data report shows the number of vacation homes sold starting to increase after plummeting during the 2008-09 economic recession. Warren, which experienced the steepest decline in sales due to the high concentration of condominiums and apartments located near Lincoln Peak at Sugarbush Resort, is experiencing a slight uptick in sales, as is Fayston on a much smaller scale, with around 10 vacation homes sold in 2012, compared to Warren's 50. In Waitsfield the number of vacation homes sold each year has remained relatively constant (around five homes sold in 2012).

Likewise, the median vacation home sales prices have rebounded somewhat since plummeting in 2008-09, but The Valley remains well below its 2007-08 peak. In Fayston, the median vacation home cost $280,000 in 2008 but fell to $175,000 in 2012. In Warren, the median vacation home cost $245,000 in 2008 but fell to $229,000 in 2012.

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The median vacation home sales price for Vermont fell from $239,000 in 2008 to $203,000 in 2012, showing that Valley towns are largely following state trends for housing with the exception of Waitsfield, which has varied considerably over the past few years. For reference, in 2008 the median vacation home price in Waitsfield was $303,000 compared to the state median of $239,000, but it fell to $108,000 in 2012.

Primary residence sales prices in The Valley have overall increased more than vacation homes sales prices since 2009. In 2001, all three towns reported sales prices well above the state average of $195,000. 2012 saw a drop in all three towns, but sales prices still remained above the statewide average. For reference, the median home in Waitsfield cost $255,000 in 2012 and $223,500 in Fayston, while Warren's median home price was $247,500.

While their sales prices are up, the number of primary homes sold has declined in recent years, and The Valley has reverted back to 1990s' low levels of between 5 and 15 homes sold a year, compared to 2000s' high levels of between 20 and 40 homes sold a year.

Rather than buying a house, however, more Valley residents are choosing to build their own. One leading indicator of new home construction is zoning permits, and the data report shows that the number of permits issued for all three towns increased from 804 in 2011 to 889 in 2012.


News Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:55:05 -0400
Select board reverses course on sidewalk

By Lisa Loomis

The Waitsfield Select Board voted unanimously to accept a grant to build a sidewalk on the west side of Route 100 from the Valley Players Theater to Village Grocery – reversing a decision the board made last year.

The select board, on April 14, met with representatives from the Vermont Agency of Transportation (VTrans) and those interested in revisiting the grant. The select board rejected it last year with one member dissenting, because of concerns about whether or not the sign for Village Grocery would survive construction of the project.

The grant is for $369,500 and would require the town to pay 10 percent, or $36,950, for approximately 700 feet of sidewalk.

When the board rejected the grant last year, board members were very specific that they did not believe the assurances of VTrans officials that the Village Grocery (VG) sign would remain. It is in the right of way for Route 100.

The matter came up again at Town Meeting last month when Waitsfield Planning Commission chair Steve Shea took the select board to task for rejecting the grant and not taking the initiative to find a way to make it work. The issue came back before the select board this week at the request of local organizations interested in pedestrian paths and safety.

At this week's meeting, members of the select board questioned VTrans officials Sue Scribner and Rob White about what they felt were VTrans oversight problems that led to significant problems with the town's first sidewalk project – which runs on the east side of Route 100 from the school south into Irasville.

Scribner said that the issues with the first sidewalk were related to the fact that it took so long from inception to construction (almost 20 years). She said the ideal timeframe is four years from inception to construction.

Board members also asked about the VG sign.

"Signs are illegal in the state right of way. If there's a sign in the right of way, it's an illegal sign and it is illegal until it is moved. But I don't know of any case where we've come along and pulled one out," White said.

"But we want to work with property owners on these issues. We know it's not always exactly clear where property lines are. It's not uncommon for us to come down the road with a project and find all kinds of things in the right of way. Signs are the number one thing that can't be in there. So we're working with the VG to try and make an adjustment to the boundary so that not the existing sign but maybe a new sign in a new location will work," White said.

Troy Kingsbury, owner of VG, held up a letter from White and said they had been working on a solution.

"His thing is that he wants to get to yes and that is important and encouraging. There are options that Rob brought forth such as purchasing the right of way. He was able to work with me. Hopefully, I can purchase that 10-foot-by-40-foot piece of property and could build a solar canopy and hang a sign," Kingsbury said.

"We came to the conclusion that we could split the difference," White said.

"I have a son who is 12 and in 13 more years I can go fishing and he can run the store, so I'm looking to find a permanent solution," Kingsbury said.

Board member Scott Kingsbury made the motion to accept the grant. It was seconded by board member Chris Pierson. Board members Logan Cooke and Sal Spinosa and board chair Paul Hartshorn joined the others in voting to accept the grant. With the exception of Spinosa, who was not on the board last year, all other board members rejected the grant last year.

Those in the room applauded after the vote.


News Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:42:29 -0400
Mad River Glen looks at manmade snow to extend season

By Rachel Goff

At the annual Mad River Glen shareholder meeting that took place on Saturday, April 5, co-op members came together to discuss the past and the future of the ski area, focusing mainly on one aspect of mountain operations that could extend its season: snowmaking.

Currently, Mad River Glen makes enough snow to maintain the base area and lower elevation run-outs, relying on "very basic, bare bones, simplistic and antiquated infrastructure," president Jamey Wimble said.

Due to limited snowmaking, Mad River Glen was forced to close for much of this past January when temperatures warmed and the real white stuff melted, while other ski areas with more advanced infrastructure were able to remain open.

If Mad River Glen were to expand its snowmaking to help the ski area get through low-snow periods without closing, Wimble explained, the first priority would be to make snow on "trouble areas" that can restrict access to mid-mountain skiing, including the trail Porcupine and part of the way up Bunny.

The second priority would be to make snow up to the top of the Sunnyside Double chairlift and to the midstation at the Single Chair. According to Wimble, "It wouldn't really take much more to give us the capability of running two lifts." Lastly, Mad River Glen would look to expand snowmaking to the Birdland area on the northern side of the mountain.


While many Mad River Glen lovers laud the mountain's all-natural snow, the ski area "did not reject snowmaking over the years because of an anti-snowmaking philosophy, per se," explains a report published on the co-op's website. Instead, the mountain "developed as it did due to the economic realities of the ski area and what the costs of the system would entail. Several engineering studies and site reviews were done to assess the potential for snowmaking upgrades, but a feasible solution was never found."

According to Wimble, the main physical and regulatory limitation to expanding Mad River Glen's snowmaking is water.

Right now, Mad River Glen makes snow on 15 acres of trails, which requires roughly 2.6 million gallons of water per foot of snow. If the mountain were to expand its snowmaking operations to cover all three priority areas Wimble identified—64 acres in total—it would need 32 million gallons of water each season.

Currently, Mad River Glen sources its water for snowmaking from the Mill Brook, whose flow diminishes as it freezes over the winter. The mountain is limited by what water is available at the time, as it has no place to store water for future use.

If Mad River Glen were to expand snowmaking, the ski area would have to look for other significant water sources, Wimble said. He identified a high-yielding well at the top of the Appalachian Gap that could increase the mountain's snowmaking capacity, but Mad River Glen's water rights to that well as of now are "unproven," he said.

If the mountain were able to tap into the well, it would still need a place to store the water, as state laws prohibit direct withdrawal from underground sources without rigorous testing over time. Mad River Glen has looked into places to install a snowmaking pond, but the mountain "is a big, giant rock," Wimble said, leaving little to no possibilities.


And then, there's the question of how much expanding snowmaking would cost. Right now, "our whopping budget for snowmaking is about $9,500," Wimble said. Making snow up to the top of the Sunnyside Double would cost an estimated $350,000 a year, in addition to a base capital cost of $6.2 million to install a storage system and more advanced infrastructure.

While shareholders were optimistic about Mad River Glen's ability to raise the money, they first wondered whether expanding snowmaking would solve the mountain's financial problems.

As reported at the beginning of the meeting by Board of Trustees treasurer Roy Liu, Mad River Glen estimates a negative $92,000 net operating income coming out of this season. Skier visits were down 9 percent from last year, which "was not exactly a year to write home about either," Liu said.

The snowmaking report published on the co-op's website states that Mad River Glen has seen an average net operating income of $100,000 over the past 17 seasons of shareholder ownership. Since expanded snowmaking would cost about $350,000 a year, "in an average year the co-op could expect to lose $250,000 a year at the current sales volume," it read.

While expanded snowmaking could increase Mad River Glen's sales volume by drawing more skiers to the mountain, the facility would still be limited by parking and chairlift capacity, Wimble explained, and Mad River Glen would have to increase ticket and pass prices to pay for its increased operating costs.

Expanding snowmaking would put a strain on the mountain's finances, but not expanding snowmaking could hurt Mad River Glen even more, co-op members agreed. If the ski area has to keep closing for stretches of winter like it did this past January, "my concern is that some people will stop buying season passes," one shareholder said.

Indeed, the last three years have been "subpar," Wimble said, in terms of snowfall and skier visits, and because of that, "our cash cushion is eroding," he said. At the same time, however, Mad River Glen has put money into a developing a master plan and the mountain is being proactive about its future, Wimble said.

The cooperative's investigation into expanding snowmaking falls under those plans for the future, and Mad River Glen has formed a Snowmaking Exploratory Committee (SEC) that—in addition to the expansion outlined above—is looking into other ways to extend its season, including improving trail surfaces so that they are skiable on less snow.

While some shareholders expressed apprehension at altering Mad River Glen's terrain, which traditionally has attracted skiers seeking a challenge, Wimble explained that the work would include mostly improving erosion controls and would not change the trails themselves.

At the same time, however, one shareholder said that the mountain's reputation as challenging may be scaring away potential skiers who are unaware on Mad River Glen's easier trails and terrain options. In terms of marketing, "we need a kinder and gentler way to get our message out," she said.

Other shareholders showed appreciation for the mountain's decision to groom more terrain during tough conditions this past winter, including the grooming of half of some of the wider trails like Canyon, "to give people options," one shareholder said.


While Mad River Glen explores its options, the ski area acknowledges that changing weather patterns are responsible for the mountain's increasingly unreliable snowpack. "A lot of people will ask, 'If we can't ski in 30 years, why make the changes?'" Wimble said. But, while the ski area acknowledges the reality of climate change, the general consensus among the co-op is to do what it can so people can "ski it if [they] can" for as long as they can.

In addition to asking shareholders, Mad River Glen is continuing to collect input from the public via a skier satisfaction survey linked to its website, Those interested can also visit the website to read the snowmaking report or to watch the video of this year's co-op meeting.


News Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:34:34 -0400
It’s mud season, stay off hiking trails to protect them

Green Mountain Club is urging hikers to stay off muddy and high-elevation trails unless they still have extensive snow or ice cover. High-elevation soils take until Memorial Day to dry out, especially on north slopes and evergreen-shaded trails.

In between spring showers many are ready to hit the trails after a long, cold winter. But even if yards are drying out, soils are still thawing at higher elevations. It takes time for mountain soils to dry out. Hiking trails on state lands managed by the Vermont Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation and Green Mountain Club are closed until Memorial Day weekend. Hikers are also strongly discouraged from using hiking trails in the Green Mountain National Forest until Memorial Day weekend. Generally, along the Long Trail, the national forest extends south from Mt. Ellen in Warren to Massachusetts, and the state parks and forests run north of Appalachian Gap in Buel's Gore to Canada – including more than 25,000 acres conserved by the Green Mountain Club.

"Please give our trails time to dry out for the summer hiking season," says Dave Hardy, director of trail programs for the Green Mountain Club. "Until the end of May, consider hiking on south facing slopes and lower elevations where the sun can dry out the trails sooner. And please stay on the trail rather than walking around puddles so the trails don't widen and create new erosion problems. Thank you for taking care of our trails!"

To find a list of suggested mud season hikes, visit


News Thu, 17 Apr 2014 17:07:59 -0400
Mad River Distillers wins two awards

Mad River Distillers, Warren, recently won two awards from the Wine and Spirits Wholesalers of America organization.

They submitted their Corn Whiskey and Maple Rum to the tasting jury of the organization two weeks ago and received a gold award for the rum and a silver for the corn whiskey. The annual competition is one of the largest industry functions.

Brett Little, one of the founders and the CEO of the business, said that he and his colleagues were thrilled with the awards.

"It's good publicity and awareness and an affirmation of our products. We've been in production for eight months and we're winning awards! There are people who have been trying for years to win these awards," he said.

"I think when our Rye Whiskey goes to competition it will also win awards," he added.


News Thu, 17 Apr 2014 16:51:17 -0400
Roxbury Gap Closed

Roxbury will be closing the Roxbury side of the Roxbury Gap for at least 2 weeks starting Thursday, April 17 at 9:00 a.m. Reopening is weather dependent.

See The Valley Reporter's local roads map :


News Wed, 16 Apr 2014 19:24:44 -0400
GMP notifies customers that spraying – versus cutting – will commence next month

By Lisa Loomis

Twenty-nine years ago a Waitsfield citizens' group persuaded Green Mountain Power (GMP) to manually maintain the power lines. But the issue is not dead. This winter the utility notified their customers that herbicides would be used to maintain utility line rights of way this spring.

Customers have the right to opt out if they have concerns about the use of herbicides, proximity to water supplies and dwellings, animals, children’s play yards, etc.

In July 1985, Waitsfield Citizens Against Toxic Sprays (WCATS) objected to a proposal by Green Mountain Power to use herbicides to maintain the rights of way under power lines on a 12-mile stretch from Waitsfield to Northfield.

The citizens' group took its concerns to the state Pesticide Advisory Council presenting testimony about the herbicides leaching into soil and water as well as data challenging the idea that herbicide use was cheaper than manual line maintenance.

In August 1985, GMP withdrew its application to use the combination of chemicals and manual cutting to maintain the 12-mile stretch. WCATS vowed to take the issue statewide, but GMP voluntarily moved to using manual maintenance of the rights of way throughout the state.

But the company revisited that policy in 2008 and has continued to use herbicides to maintain the lines going forward. At issue in 2008, according to company spokesperson Dotty Schnure, was the fact that herbicides and how they were used had changed in ways that made them safer.

Contacted this week, Schnure said, “Using herbicides in a targeted way helps us meet our goal of safely providing reliable service while saving customers money. Limited amounts of herbicides are selectively applied to individual plants in order to control plant growth and encourage the development of low-growing species. The result is a right of way that is a natural, bio-diverse, sustaining ecosystem, much like a meadow, without tall trees that interfere with power lines.”

She said that newer herbicides and how they are used have “a very low impact” and “save our customers money.”

When WCATS challenged the utility’s use of herbicides in 1985, local activists created detailed cost spreadsheets that they said showed that manually maintaining the rights of way cost less than herbicide use. However, as Schnure explained, herbicides are no longer sprayed on rights of way, instead workers selectively cut trees and then apply herbicides only to the stump of the tree.

She said that that practice resulted in eliminating taller plants that grow into the power lines and instead encourages the growth of low-growing plants. She also said that fewer stumps makes it safe for utility employees when they have to walk the right of way.

“In the past, we used chainsaws, cutting and mowing to remove vegetation. This keeps root systems intact and encourages new growth. As a result, the plant spreads and where one tree had grown, several more grow back. Herbicides, on the other hand, control the entire plant, reducing the need for frequent cutting and mowing, which saves customers money over the long term,” she explained.

Customers who wish to opt out can call Green Mountain Power at 1-888-845-4672 and ask to speak to Jared Wilcox, the company’s forestry manager.


News Thu, 10 Apr 2014 17:04:43 -0400
Duxbury looks at options for financing debt

By Rachel Goff

On Monday, April 7, the Duxbury Select Board discussed a plan for repaying the town’s total debt of almost $340,000.

According to Bonnie Batchelder of Batchelder Associates, who performed the 2011, 2012 and 2013 financial audit for the town, Duxbury’s debt is a result of misreporting of operating expenses over the last three years. During that time, the town received over $1 million in aid from the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) to repair damage done by Tropical Storm Irene in August of 2011 and earlier flooding that spring, but those accounts were all properly dealt with, Duxbury town treasurer Kym Andrews said. Andrews took over for Duxbury town clerk Ken Scott after he resigned from his financial duties last December.

Duxbury received and discussed a draft version of the audit on April 2 and accepted a final version of the audit at the April 7 meeting.

Duxbury took out a $228,000 line of credit with Merchants Bank to pay to repair damage done by Irene until it received reimbursement from FEMA, but due to a misreporting of operating expenses that resulted in a $110,344 budget deficit on top of the borrowed money, the town was unable to pay back the line of credit when it became due at the end of last October.

Merchants Bank granted Duxbury an extension on the line of credit until June of this year and the town has provided the bank with titles to two of its trucks as collateral. The select board met again with Merchants Bank last week to discuss repayment of the loan, “and there really isn’t anything else that [they] can do,” select board chair Dick Charland said.

To repay the line of credit, Duxbury will put requests for proposals (RFP) out to other banks, including Merchants Bank, with whom the town has had “a good, working relationship,” Charland said. According to Duxbury’s attorney, the town can finance a loan over a maximum length of five years.

Per Batchelder’s recommendation, the town is also looking into borrowing money to rebuild its General Fund, which currently stands at negative $9,000. In the meantime, Andrews is assessing “what our cash flow is going to look like between now and tax collection time,” she said, in order to determine where to take money from to continue to pay the town’s operating expenses.

When the multi-year financial audit was presented to the board at their meeting on April 2, several residents expressed concern for the accountability of those responsible for the misreporting of funds that resulted in the debt, and Andrews said that Batchelder and select board chair Dick Charland reiterated that there was no fraud or other financially bad behavior. Minutes from the April 2 meeting note that in response to questions about accountability, Charland said Duxbury is currently discussing the situation with counsel.

Batchelder, in presenting the audit report to the select board, indicated that the work of the former town treasurer was “sloppy,” Andrews said, “but she was clear that there were no issues of fraud.”

When asked why the town didn’t catch the misreporting earlier, in its annual town audit, Andrews explained that, in the past, Duxbury has paid $2,500 for its municipal audit, while most town spend around $10,000. “You get what you pay for,” she said.

On Saturday, May 10, at 9 a.m. at Harwood Union High School, Duxbury will hold a special Town Meeting asking residents to vote on several articles, including authorizing the town to borrow the money needed to repay its debt.


News Thu, 10 Apr 2014 16:57:30 -0400
Proposed FDA guideline could hurt brewer-farmer relationships

By Rachel Goff

Vermont, a state famous for its craft beers and local food, could fall among those affected by a proposed Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guideline complicating brewers’ and distillers’ ability to donate spent grain to farmers to use as feed.

After heating up grains during the mashing process to extract sugar, proteins and other nutrients for making beer, brewers are left with a high-volume byproduct that—while otherwise useless—is perfectly good food for livestock. For many years, brewers have been donating their spent grain to farmers, building symbiotic relationships across communities in which both industries are prevalent, including the Mad River Valley.

Mad River Distillers delivers its spent grain to farms throughout The Valley, free of charge. The process of making alcohol uses only a fraction of the grain used in making beer, but they still need a way to dispose of their waste. “Farmers are thrilled to get [the spent grain],” Brett Little of Mad River Distillers said, “and the pigs are even more thrilled.”

According to Little, “Spent grain is a great source of protein,” and it’s clean and has been cooked, so there’s little chance of microbial contamination, he explained. Still, that’s what the FDA is trying to control.

Earlier this month, the FDA announced a proposed Food Safety Modernization Act guideline that would require brewers to adhere to new processes, testing, recordkeeping and other regulatory requirements in order to donate their spent grain to farmers.

Brewers across the country shared strong reactions to the proposed guideline, which would increase the time and costs associated with donating spent grain to farmers and could force some brewers to send it to a landfill instead.

As Mad River Distillers’ method of waste disposal stands right now, “It’s so profoundly local and green,” Little said. “I can’t even fathom what the FDA’s problem is.”

According to Mark Udall, a democratic senator from Colorado who wrote a letter to the FDA commissioner defending the repurposing of the byproduct, decades’ worth of data shows no compromised food safety from livestock feeding on spent grain.

After receiving countless such letters, the FDA announced that it plans to revise the guideline’s language later this summer, saying that it merely aims to ensure the cleanliness of food storage and transportation methods.

In Vermont, especially, the guideline’s language could protect the so-far symbiotic relationship between the state’s oldest industry, agriculture, and its newest one, craft brewing. If it didn’t, “beer and food prices would have to go up,” Little said, and nobody wants that.


News Thu, 10 Apr 2014 16:54:01 -0400
Waitsfield Historical Society potluck ‘Sugaring: Then and Now’

The Waitsfield Historical Society potluck supper will be on Wednesday, April 16, at the United Church of Christ Fellowship Hall in Waitsfield. Supper will be served at 6 p.m. Persons attending are asked to bring a covered dish to share. People with names beginning with A to E are asked to bring a salad, names F to R bring a main dish, and names S to Z, desserts. Have covered dishes at the church by 5:45 p.m. Coffee, tea and cold drinks will be provided. “Sugaring: Then and Now” will be the program presented after the WHS potluck supper. Some experienced sugarmakers in The Valley will share sugaring stories.

The panel features Huguette Abbot, Martin von Trapp, Hadley Gaylord, Paul Hartshorn and his daughter Kathi Orr. Other sugarmakers may attend depending on their busy schedules. “Sugaring is a big part of The Valley and we all have probably visited sugar houses, enjoyed sugar on snow with a big dill pickle and, of course, had maple syrup on our pancakes,” said historical society spokesperson Sandra Reilly.

The steam from the sugar houses signals that spring is really here, even though the snow is lingering on. The program and dinner are free and open to everyone. Check the website,, for more details.


News Thu, 10 Apr 2014 16:51:13 -0400