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Dry Wells, High-Speed Internet And More: 6 Key News Stories

A view of turning leaves along Rugg Road in Fletcher.
Elodie Reed
A view of turning leaves along Rugg Road in Fletcher.

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about coronavirus, dry wells, highspeed internet and more for Wednesday, September 30.

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The latest coronavirus data:


1. Vermont Department of Health reports three new cases of COVID-19

The Vermont Department of Health reported three new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday. The new cases were in Lamoille and Grand Isle counties.

So far, 1,752 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Vermont and 1,606 people have recovered from known cases. One person is currently hospitalized with the disease.

The state reports it has now tested 162,727 people for active cases of the new coronavirus.

- Abagael Giles

More from VPR: Four Takeaways From Lt. Governor Major Party Candidate Debate

2. Senator Bernie Sanders criticizes President Donald Trump following debate

Senator Bernie Sanders criticized President Donald Trump after the presidential debate, calling him a "racist" and a "xenophobe."

Sanders appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live Tuesday. He acknowledged but downplayed disagreements he had on policy with democratic nominee Joe Biden, saying they paled in comparison with the danger posed by President Trump.

Sanders said of the president: "If you believe in democracy, if you believe in the Constitution and in the rule of law, Trump has got to go, because he does not believe in those things."

- Sam Gale Rosen

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3. Rutland judge dismisses countersuit over pandemic business closure

A Rutland judge has dismissed a countersuit brought by Club Fitness in Rutland for damages over the temporary pandemic closure ordered by Gov. Scott. 

Attorney T.J. Donovan announced the dismissal Wednesday.

The Governor's executive order went into effect in March. When Club Fitness reopened, in defiance of the mandate, the Attorney General got a restraining order to force it to close. 

In its countersuit, Club Fitness owners argued the governor's order was unconstitutional and that the business had been essentially taken from them by the state, for which they should be compensated.

The case was dismissed by the Vermont Superior Court Civil Division in Rutland.

The Attorney General said the state will now proceed with its enforcement case against Club Fitness and its owner. 

- Karen Anderson

More from VPR: A Guide To Voting In Vermont For The 2020 General Election

4. New plan for high-speed internet comes to Franklin and Grand Isle counties

After two months of organizing, a plan for high-speed internet is coming together for remote areas of Franklin and Grand Isle Counties.

The St. Albans Messenger reports the Northwest Communications Union District, which includes 11 towns in Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, wants to build a fiber optic Internet network to serve the counties’ most rural areas. Existing providers would do the job of actually getting people online.

Communications Union Districts are municipally owned by member towns and are gaining traction in Vermont as a way to provide high speed broadband service.

The paper says state data show that in the most rural parts of Franklin and Grand Isle Counties, a minority of residents have access to Internet speeds that meet the FCC's definition of broadband.

The Northwest Communications Union District also wants to look into addition wireless hotspots to improve Internet access for residents.

 - Karen Anderson

5. Congressman Welch backs bill to compensate communities that host radioactive waste sites

Communities around the country that host high-level radioactive waste sites should be rewarded financially.

That's the goal of a bill backed by Congressman Peter Welch.

Nuclear waste from the now closed Vermont Yankee plant is stored in the town of Vernon.

Welch says the bill would give the town a role in how the site is managed and provide compensation for accommodating the waste.

“The promise that was made to Vernon and to other host sites for nuclear reactors, was that the nuclear material, the spent fuel, would only be there temporarily and would then be transferred to a permanent place,” Welch said. “That's not the case. So in effect, Vernon has become a nuclear waste storage facility. And they're entitled to compensation for that.”

Vermont Yankee was closed at the end of 2014. Because the federal government has failed to build a site for high-level radioactive waste, most spent radioactive fuel remains where nuclear plants are located.

- John Dillon

6. Months-long drought causes some wells to run dry

Vermont's months-long drought is causing some residential drilled wells to run dry.

Most of Vermont is in moderate drought - with patches of severe drought along the Connecticut River.

That's leading to a depressed water table in the state, according to Rodney Pingree, the Water Resources Section Chief at Vermont's Department of Environmental Conservation.

He tells Vermont Edition that the water table represents a shared resource and those who have drilled wells should do their best to conserve water.

"So if you hear there's a drought coming on, there's a shortage of water, the key thing is for everybody to sort of cut back on their water usage, because it protects that water table from depressing too much and affecting a lot of people," Pingree said.

There have been 12 self-reported well failures due to drought in Vermont, but Pingree said the real number is likely much higher.

Rain falling across much of Vermont this week is a relief from months of dry conditions, but may do little to help those residential wells that have run dry.

Pingree said recent rains may help some wells that have gone, but only some.

"It takes a while for the rain water to seep through the soil, through the cracks and crevices of the bedrock and down into the water table, where the wells are drilled," he said. "So yes, it'll help, but it won't help immediately."

Pingree said roughly half of Vermonters rely on wells for their water.

Listen to the full conversation, as heard on Vermont Edition here.

- Matthew Smith

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