BENNINGTON -- Vermont Public Radio's "Vermont Edition" program visited Bennington on Monday, covering issues such as heroin abuse and treatment, the decline of manufacturing, and Bennington's cultural scene.
Bennington residents filled Madison Brewing Company on Main Street to be a part of the broadcast. The program, hosted by Jane Lindholm, only travels the state twice a year, and has never before broadcast from Bennington. The show was entitled "Live From Bennington," and broadcast from noon to 1 p.m., with a rebroadcast at 7 p.m. on VPR and vpr.net.
Lindholm began the program with an audio package featuring Mount Anthony Union High School student Austin Bourn, who wrote and performed a rap defending the school from a New York Times article that quoted a state trooper saying that heroin baggies were a common sight at the high school. The package included a clip of the rap, as well as interviews with Bourn and local video marketing expert Jeffrey Grimshaw, who helped the students in the Quantum Leap program produce the music video.
Lindholm then continued the heroin discussion in an interview with Peg Gregory of United Counseling Service in Bennington. "I think we are on par with the rest of the state, and less than in some areas, although it is still a major problem," said Gregory on what the New York Times referred to as a "heroin scourge." She said a large part of the problem in Bennington is due to the state's treatment program not working as intended.
Gregory says UCS and Southwestern Vermont Medical Center have had discussions about turning Bennington into something she described as a "super spoke," which would allow more patients to get treatment here in Bennington. According to Gregory, doctors in spoke communities can only take up to 100 opioid patients. Working with the state to increase Bennington's standing would help to get around that limit, and perhaps pave the road to Bennington becoming a hub community, if the state determines the need is there. Responding to a question from an audience member, Gregory also mentioned UCS' desire to expand its outpatient program. "We have wanted an intensive outpatient program for years," she said, "and it looks like this year that may happen."
Lindholm also interviewed John Shannahan, executive director of the Better Bennington Corporation, on the economic conditions in Bennington. He talked about "Project Catalyst" a program being spearheaded by Bennington's economic and community development director, Michael Harrington, which Shannahan described as "a proposal to engage the entire community, especially after the response from Mount Anthony." He said that project is not yet public, as it is still being vetted by the police and fire department, but should roll out within the next couple months.
One audience member pointed to Route 279, often referred to as the Bennington Bypass, as a major cause of Bennington's economic woes. Shannahan disagreed, saying that the town's goal is to make Bennington a destination, not catch people as they pass through to somewhere else. "Every town that's growing needs a highway," he said," If anybody can remember 15 years ago, the traffic jams that would go past the New York border, there was only one way to deal with that, and that was building a highway. Burlington survived building a highway, Brattleboro survived, and we'll survive too."
Shannahan also dismissed the closing of Greenberg's Lumber Yard as a sign of Bennington's economic downturn, saying that it had nothing to do with the town or the community, but was simply the result of a failure in negotiations between the Greenberg estate and Leader Home Centers, who had been running the store for the past year. He did say, however, that the store's closure could open up new opportunities for downtown, "[Greenberg's] took up a large footprint in Bennington. A lot of projects were looked at that were inhibited by that footprint, so now we can look at the larger picture."
Shannahan also said that the closure of Plasan Carbon Composite's facility in Bennington was not a poor reflection on the town, and was simply a result of the company's desire to move their factory closer to their Michigan headquarters. "In manufacturing, our biggest strength is in our diversity. We aren't beholden to one company if they decide to relocate," said Shannahan, who described the closure as, "an opportunity to attract someone else."
The final interview in the hour-long program was with Robert Wolterstorff, of the Bennington Museum, who talked about the arts and culture scene in Bennington and the surrounding areas, pointing to the Vermont Arts Exchange in North Bennington, MASS MoCA in North Adams, Mass., and, of course, the Bennington Museum. He also spoke of the two views of Vermont that people hold, and how both can hold appeal and should be showcased, "There are two Vermonts, the old New England Vermont, and the new, progressive, happening Vermont."
Derek Carson can be reached for comment at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @DerekCarsonBB