KEITH WHITCOMB JR.
BENNINGTON COUNTY - Bennington may be the namesake and population center of the county, but things happens in the smaller towns, too.
One item in particular that affected nearly every town in the county was reapportionment. Every 10 years, to coincide with the census, boundary lines for House districts are redrawn, meaning some towns that had one person representing them in the House might now be represented by one or two people along with a handful of other towns. The formulas are somewhat complicated and fuzzy at times and the process is highly political. Ultimately, Manchester, Arlington, Sandgate and most of Sunderland were joined into a two-member district. Part of Sunderland went to a district with Shaftsbury and Glastenbury, while the part of Rupert that had been with Arlington rejoined the Pawlet district to the north. During the process, some suggested splitting Bennington and North Bennington to keep Shaftsbury as a one-member district.
ARLINGTON - A proposed Dollar General that gained approval from the Development Review Board did not do so without heavy public scrutiny, which will likely continue if and when Dollar General files for an Act 250 permit this year. Residents mainly had concerns over what the building would look like, and while some were appeased by the final design changes others were not in favor of a Dollar General store regardless of its appearance. The management of the Arlington Recreational Park remained a bone of contention between the Select Board and the Arlington Recreational and Park Committee Inc. The park had formerly been managed by a committee, but that changed when the committee asked the board to take over management of the park. After that, leadership of the committee changed and disputes over who owns park equipment erupted. A resolution has yet to come in the matter.
SHAFTSBURY - "Just keep it civil" became the motto of many in town. It all started the year before when a proposal put before the Development Review Board by TAM Inc. to build a composting facility off Route 7A got residents riled up at meetings. Harsh words were exchanged between members of the public on both sides of the issue, as well as with the DRB. Bad feelings seemed to extend into 2012 even after the facility’s application was withdrawn. At some point a citizen’s group formed and pushed the Select Board to adopt a civility resolution, which it ultimately did after much debate over wording, as some feared it could be used to curb free speech while others said incivility itself was hampering people’s freedom and desire of expression.
WOODFORD -- Attempts to adopt a town charter that would allow for public officials to be recalled stalled out in November after the Select Board was told by an attorney it had not followed the proper procedure. Efforts to get a charter were prompted by a feud between the board and Town Clerk Ron Higgins stemming from communication problems that in turn led to trouble with forming a budget, setting the tax rate, and other disruptions to town business.
POWNAL - The Bartels Lodge led a hard, long existence and did not go down without a fight. Built in the 1800s it was damaged in a fire that destroyed an adjacent building about six years ago. It was bought by the town for a mere $60,000 right around then, as the Select Board was considering turning it into a town office. That ultimately proved to be too expensive an option and in the meantime the building was left to decay. In fall 2011, then-board member, now-chairman, Stephen Kauppi, began to argue for the lodge’s demolition, which was ironic as Kauppi initially had been a proponent of preserving it, and held fond memories of the building from his youth.
Several issues came up with the lodge, the first being competing ballot articles that both passed, one calling for the lodge’s sale, another for its removal. Kauppi was also accused of taking boards from the building’s attic, which he freely admitted to, saying he had the Select Board’s permission. In any case, prosecutors said the incident happened so long ago no charges could be filed. A Montpelier attorney, acting on behalf of lodge preservers, also sent a letter to the board indicating there would be legal action should the lodge be torn down. There was talk of selling an option on the lodge to the Vermont Preservation Trust, then slightly less realistic talk of letting anyone who wanted the building to pick it up and take it. Finally, in early December, after demolition bids were accepted, the lodge was razed by a large backhoe.