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News roundup: Scott administration says it will extend motel emergency housing program, again

A blue background with the words Vermont News Roundup with a green Vermont icon over the "R"
Elodie Reed

Vermont reporters provide a roundup of top news takeaways about the coronavirus, the state's emergency motel housing program, cows and seaweed and more for Friday, Oct. 15.

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While Vermont's pandemic state of emergency has ended, the delta variant is now circulating around the state. Click here for the latest on new cases, and findthe latest vaccination data online any time.

1. State officials report 236 new COVID cases, one more death

The Health Department reported 236 new cases of COVID-19 Friday and one new death.

Chittenden, Bennington and Windsor counties had the most new cases.

Statewide, 45 people are in the hospital, and 343 people have died in the pandemic.

Vermont's vaccination continues to slowly increase. Some 89% of eligible residents have received at least one vaccine dose.

Lamoille and Grand Isle counties have the highest vaccination rates in the state.

- Mark Davis

2. Gov. Phil Scott to grant another extension to emergency motel housing program

Gov. Phil Scott will grant another extension to an emergency motel housing program for Vermonters experiencing homelessness.

More than 500 Vermont households were set to lose long-term motel housing when the program expired next week.

But the governor’s spokesperson says Scott will announce next week that he’s extending program.

The spokesperson says the governor is still negotiating the length of that extension with lawmakers and housing advocates. And he said Scott will announce a longer-term emergency housing plan next week.

In the meantime, a former Democratic candidate for governor says she’ll be sleeping outside the Vermont Statehouse until Gov. Phil Scott fully reinstates an emergency motel housing program for people experiencing homelessness.

Newfane resident Brenda Siegel says hundreds of Vermonters were forced out of motels in July, when eligibility for the program was pared down. She wants them to be allowed back into motel housing.

“We must use all the tools in our toolbox, and if what it takes is for us to stand here, then that is what I will do,” she said. “This has gone on long enough.”

- Peter Hirschfeld

3. Federal judge approves $45,000 settlement in lawsuit against Burlington Police Department

A federal judge has approved a $45,000 settlement of a lawsuit filed by the family of a man who died two days after being hit in the head by a Burlington police officer.

The settlement of the lawsuit was made public Wednesday.

It was filed by the estate of Douglas Kilburn against the Burlington Police Department and the city.

Just over $25,000 of the settlement will go to Kilburn's estate.

Kilburn died in March 2019 days after a Burlington police officer hit him in the head during a confrontation. The officer was later found to have acted properly.

An autopsy determined the blows to the head played a role in Kilburn's death along with other underlying conditions.

- Associated Press

4. Goddard alumni group have “no confidence” in the college’s leadership

A group of Goddard College alumni, students and faculty say the college’s president and board are not living up to the mission and values of the school.

In a public letter, the alumni association called on Goddard to change its board to include more alumni and faculty, as well as have a public nomination process for trustee members.

“I see an increasingly authoritarian dimension in the higher leadership,” said Kris Hege, who graduated with a master’s degree in 2015 and is a current faculty member. “I can’t recognize the institution that I have come out of, that I have supported, that I worked hard to get other students to come to.”

“We want Goddard to succeed,” added Kailina Mills, the president of the alumni association and a 2018 graduate. “That’s why we did this vote of no confidence, is we’re really concerned that things are shifting in a way that is veering off-course from the founding vision and from the pedagogy of the school.”

Goddard’s president, Dan Hocoy, said the group’s letter is “empty and meaningless,” because the alumni association is not formally recognized. “I love the passion and commitment to the college,” he said. “But I think it’s completely misplaced.”

Hocoy does not support increasing alumni and faculty representation on the college’s board. “You’re not going to get new ideas or a diversity of perspectives because all they know is Goddard,” he said.

He said the college plans to develop a formal alumni association going forward.

- Lexi Krupp

5. Bennington Select Board approves plan to move two commercial solar farms

The Bennington Select Board this week unanimously approved a plan to move two commercial solar farms.

The controversial solar projects were slated for Apple Hill, a hillside along Route 7 near Shaftsbury.

The Bennington Bannerreports the select board supported a settlement agreement between the developer, Allco Renewable Energy, and opponents of the projects.

The projects are now slated for an area across town, the paper reports. The new area is classified as "preferable for renewable energy projects" under the town's energy plan.

Further approvals by the Public Utility Commission are still needed.

- Brittany Patterson

Stratton Mountain Resort to receive solar power from Wallingford array

Stratton Mountain Resort has signed an agreement to take all of the solar power produced by a new 500-kilowatt array in Wallingford.

Sea Oak Capital developed the solar project. It's expected to create 1 million kilowatts of power annually, or enough electricity to power 85 homes for a year.

With the new addition, Stratton says more than 60% of its power comes from wind and solar energy.

 - Brittany Patterson

6. Stonyfield promises to take on some organic dairy farms dropped by Horizon

A major organic dairy processor has promised to take on at least some of the Northeast farms who will be out of a contract next year.

In August, Horizon Organic announced that by 2022, it would cut ties with 89 organic dairy farms in the Northeast. That includes 28 in Vermont.

This week, Stonyfield Organic said it would help by inviting some farms into their direct supply program.

Stonyfield did not specify how many farms it could help, or in which states.

There are currently 167 organic dairy farms left in Vermont, a nearly 20% since 2012.

 - Elodie Reed

Research team led by UVM professor to look into seaweed’s benefits for organic dairy industry

A team of Northeast researchers is exploring the benefits of feeding seaweed to organic dairy cows.

Dr. Sabrina Greenwood is a professor at the University of Vermont specializing in dairy nutrition. She says part of the research involves receiving samples of seaweed from colleagues in Maine, which she then runs through a system mimicking the stomach of a cow.

“So it's not like big, long ropes of wet seaweed. So it's kind of dried stuff, it's almost kind of like ... if you were looking at like, loose leaf tea or something like that,” she said.

Greenwood says the team hopes to find seaweed species and processing methods to reduce methane emissions from organic dairy cows. This has potential benefits for the animal, the environment and the organic milk industry.

The research is funded by a nearly $3 million federal grant.

- Elodie Reed

7. More Vermonters will be eligible for federal energy assistance this winter

More Vermonters will be eligible for federal energy assistance this winter.

Almost $50 million will be available this year, officials said. That's up from roughly $20 million in 2020.

The money can be used to supplement fuel costs, weatherization expenses, and other energy efficient projects.

Last year, roughly 39,000 people applied for this assistance, and Community Action council coordinator Tom Donahue says there's enough money to further increase participation this winter.

"Because the funding is there to assist, and we at the community action level, we're the boots on the ground, we're ready to assist, but we do have to make that connection to Vermonters in need,” Donahue said. “And we don't want them to hesitate to reach out to us if they are in need."

State officials say the extra money is also important because fuel costs are expected to increase by as much as 50% this winter.

- Bob Kinzel

Weatherization advocates say buttoning up older homes is key to reducing greenhouse gas emissions

As Vermont works toward its first plan to address climate change, advocates for weatherization — making a home more energy efficient — are touting the cost savings of this practice.

Many Vermont homes are old, and aren’t efficiently insulated against the cold.

This has deep implications for the state’s greenhouse emissions. According to state data, about 30% of Vermont’s emissions come from heating homes.

Will Dodge is the chair of the energy committee in Essex. The community in the northwestern part of the state is trying to get to net zero emissions by 2050. He says weatherization is an important part of reaching that goal.

“Truthfully, if you are looking at Vermont as a whole, and what people need to focus on for energy, dealing with the weatherization is far more important than just renewable energy,” Dodge said.

Vermont has several programs that address weatherization including Button-Up Vermont, sponsored by Efficiency Vermont.

This story was written by Community New Service reporter Max Dodson. You can find Max’s full story on the Community News Service website.

8. High school football game halftime show to feature drag performance

Later today, the Seawolves — the combined football team of Burlington, South Burlington and Winooski high schools — will play St. Johnsbury in the annual homecoming match.

But it won't be just football players taking the field.

During halftime, the Gender & Sexuality Alliance groups from Burlington and South Burlington will perform a drag show.

Queer students, allies, and teachers will put on a fashion show in drag as they strut their stuff and do a choreographed group number.

Burlington High School senior Rowan Wurthmann says he's excited for people to express themselves and make football a more inclusive environment.

“We are not trying to eclipse the football team,” Wurthmann said. “We want them to succeed and do well, and we are trying to add to that and give them something that more people at our school can rally behind.'”

You can hear more from Rowan and other BHS studentson Vermont Edition.

- Connor Cyrus

9. State tourism officials say delta variant threatens leaf-peeping dollars

Leaf-peeping tourists typically bring about $40 million in tax revenue into Vermont every year.

But state tourism officials say the continued presence of the delta variant threatens to curb the number of tourists traveling to the state.

Heather Pelham is the commissioner of Vermont's Department of Tourism and Marketing.

Speaking on VPR's Vermont Edition Thursday, she said her office is hoping people still come to see the foliage so that local businesses can benefit.

“It's our local retail stores, our restaurants and so forth — can those businesses stay open, can they continue to employ Vermonters, can they be successful?” Pelham said. “And that's where our visitation has the most impact.”

Many parts of the state are approaching peak color, including Quechee Gorge, Mount Ascutney, Mount Philo, and Mount Equinox.

Hear the full conversation.

- Mikaela Lefrak

10. Brownington community putting on final in series of fundraising dinners for Amish baby in need of medical care

This weekend in the Northeast Kingdom, community members are holding the final in a series of fundraising dinners for an Amish family with major medical expenses.

Bari Fischer helps run a rare donkey rescue in Brownington, where many of the dinners have taken place. They’re for a baby named Levi, who needs several heart procedures.

Levi’s parents are part of the Amish settlement in the Brownington area. Fischer says hundreds of neighbors, not only the Amish but across the community, have come out to support them.

“They're absolutely adored,” she said. “You know, it's like everybody wants to be their friends.”

The final fundraiser dinner, which will also include a silent auction, will go from 4 to 7 p.m. Saturday at Arnold’s Rescue Center.

- Elodie Reed

Elodie Reed compiled and edited this post.

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