John Dillon

Senior Reporter, New England News Collaborative

A veteran Vermont reporter, John joined VPR in 2001. Previously, John was a staff writer for the Sunday Times Argus and the Sunday Rutland Herald, responsible for breaking stories and in-depth features on local issues. He has also served as Communications Director for the Vermont Health Care Authority and Bureau Chief for UPI in Montpelier. John was honored with two regional Edward R. Murrow Awards in 2007 for his reporting on VPR. He was the lead reporter for a VPR series on climate change that in 2008 won a national Edward R. Murrow award for continuing coverage. In 2009, John's coverage of an asbestos mine in northern Vermont was recognized with a regional investigative reporting award from the Radio-Television News Directors Association.

 

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VPR/John Dillon

Before there were ski areas, before snow cats groomed the slopes and high-speed lifts whisked you uphill, there were people who would climb miles to ski on some of Vermont’s most rugged terrain.

Clem Holden is 90 now, and still skis when he can. Back when he started in the 1930s, the skiing involved a lot of uphill motion.

“We used to start down on Route 2, and we’d ski up to Bolton lodge, and that’s about halfway, and then we’d keep going to Bryant’s camp, and that’s about eight miles from the main road down below,” he said.

As Vermont Gas Systems seeks approval for a 40 mile pipeline project, the company faces stubborn opposition from one town along the route.

Officials in the town of Monkton hope to negotiate an agreement with Vermont Gas that would provide additional concessions for the community.

The Monkton selectboard has met several times to discuss a legal agreement with Vermont Gas that would offer the town’s support for the project and provide local benefits. These include hook-ups to a distribution line to provide gas service to about 100 potential customers in town.

AP File/Toby Talbot

A lawyer with connections to state and national Republicans has stepped in to represent a man who says Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin took advantage of him in a land deal.

Brady Toensing is a lawyer who practices in Washington, D.C. and lives in Charlotte.

Toensing said he was retained to represent Jeremy Dodge, Shumlin’s neighbor in East Montpelier. Shumlin bought Dodge’s 16 acre property for about a quarter of its assessed value days before it was scheduled to be sold last November at a town tax auction.

A deal is being finalized that would resolve financial issues related to the cleanup of the closed Vermont Yankee  nuclear plant.
Jason R. Henske / AP

Entergy Vermont Yankee and the state of Vermont were back in federal court on Tuesday in another case that tests the state’s authority over the nuclear power plant.

In this latest lawsuit, Yankee charges that state regulators have delayed approval of an emergency generator it says it needs to meet a federal safety mandate.

Entergy wants a court order saying that federal law preempts any Vermont law that would stop plant operators from installing the back up diesel generator by Sept. 1.

The Air Force has issued a revised draft report on the impact of bringing the F-35 jet fighter to Burlington. The report is a follow up to last year’s Environmental Impact Statement. 

The Air Force says the Vermont Air National Guard facility at Burlington International Airport is a preferred location for the new generation of planes, which have been troubled by delays, mechanical difficulties and cost overruns.

A statewide environmental and consumer group will spend the summer trying to drum up support for legislation that requires labeling of food made with genetically modified organisms.

The Vermont Public Interest Research Group says it will contact thousands of Vermonters to build a grassroots movement for the issue.

Falko Schilling is VPIRG’s consumer protection advocate. He says the goal is to win votes in the state Senate for the GMO labeling bill. The measure passed the House this spring.

VPR/John Dillon

Last year, hundreds of gardeners in northern Vermont were shocked to learn that the compost they bought to nourish their plants had instead damaged them with trace amounts of chemical herbicides.

A year after the widespread contamination, officials have tracked down the main source of the problem to horse manure from a farm in Colchester.

The investigation involved scientific detective work and led to the discovery that persistent herbicides are found in both compost and the human food supply.

VPR/John Dillon

Two unions are competing to represent up to 7,000 home-care workers in Vermont.

The union drive follows the Legislature’s decision to grant collective bargaining rights for people who care for elderly and disabled Vermonters.

The contest is between two labor organizations that specialize in organizing public employees and health care workers. Officials say it will be the largest union election in state history. 

The first to file petitions with the state labor Relations Board was the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, known as AFSCME.

VPR / John Dillon

A year after contaminated compost wilted gardens in northern Vermont, officials are re-assuring the public that commercial compost is safe.

The Agency of Agriculture says chemical herbicides found in trace levels in compost are now being minimized to protect crops.  The agency has released a list of frequently asked questions about the compost issue.

Agency officials say the chemicals that got in the compost were applied legally to feed crops and hay fields both in Vermont and in other states.

Governor Peter Shumlin is defending a controversial land deal in which he acquired his neighbor’s property for less than a half of its assessed value.

The governor said he was trying to help a neighbor who was in financial and legal trouble. And Shumlin said he reached out to his neighbor again this week and promised to improve the deal.

Dogged by headlines over the land deal, the governor spent the afternoon after a tour of flood ravaged northwest Vermont doing damage control with the media.

Vermont and three other states have asked the Nuclear Regulatory Commission to conduct a more expansive environmental review of storing highly radioactive waste at nuclear power plants.

The petition follows a federal court ruling last summer that found the NRC’s environmental review of onsite waste storage was inadequate.

The NRC staff has since launched a more limited review process. Attorney General Bill Sorrell says the petition asks the commission to overrule its staff.

A Massachusetts developer has proposed a power line under Lake Champlain to carry renewable electricity from northern New York into the New England grid.

Anbaric Transmission has developed several challenging projects, including an undersea power line that connects Long Island and New Jersey via Long Island Sound.

VPR/John Dillon

A bill allowing terminally ill patients to get medication to end their lives became law on Monday with Gov. Peter Shumlin’s signature.

Although the law takes effect immediately, it may be some time before it’s used. Doctors and hospitals say they’re looking carefully at whether and how to participate.

The signing ceremony in the governor’s Statehouse office was both a celebration and a quiet remembrance for those who worked on the issue but didn’t live long enough to see it through.

A deal is being finalized that would resolve financial issues related to the cleanup of the closed Vermont Yankee  nuclear plant.
Jason R. Henske / AP

  A federal court judge has set a hearing date for early June in Entergy Vermont Yankee’s latest legal challenge against the state of Vermont.

The owner of Vermont’s only nuclear plant sued the state last month, charging that state regulators have delayed approval of a back-up emergency diesel generator.

Yankee is under orders from the U.S. Nuclear Regulatory Commission to install a back-up power source by September. The generator is supposed to be available if the plant is disabled and loses electricity from the transmission grid.

Toby Talbot / AP

Gov. Peter Shumlin and legislative leaders came into the recent session promising to make combating climate change a top priority.

Lawmakers and the governor said a warming world was the defining crisis of our time. They focused on an effort to make homes more energy efficient.

But the reality has not lived up to the rhetoric.

AP/Toby Talbot

Governor Peter Shumlin says the state wants to ease parking problems in Montpelier by encouraging people to take public transportation or share rides in a carpool.

Shumlin says the effort to get state workers to drive less includes discounted fares for buses coming to the capital.

Political leaders came into the 2013 session seeming to outdo each other with promises for election finance reform.

They leave Montpelier with the House and Senate in a stalemate over campaign legislation and the bill dead for the year.

Secretary of State Jim Condos, was frustrated by the political gridlock.

“I think the real loser here is Vermont’s citizens and voters in this state, because what this bill is really about was accountability and transparency,” he said.

A bill allowing dying patients to get a doctor’s help to end their lives is on its way to Governor Peter Shumlin for his signature.

Supporters last night mustered enough votes to defeat several amendments that would have stalled the bill for a year.

The first was offered by Barre Independent Paul Poirier. He says the bill was hastily patched together and may include errors that could jeopardize vulnerable people.

The Vermont House has approved legislation that sets an 18-month time limit on data collected by police agencies using license plate readers.

The readers are tiny cameras hooked up to computers that scan a vehicle’s registration plate. There is now no limit on how long the information can be stored on police computers.

Rep. Michael McCarthy, D-St. Albans City, said the bill was a compromise. Civil liberties groups had called for a 30-day limit on keeping the information.

Toby Talbot / AP

House Speaker Shap Smith is optimistic that legislative leaders will wrap up a budget bill by the end of the day. If that happens, the Legislature is on track to adjourn the 2013 session Tuesday evening.

But the two-day timetable depends on whether Democrats in the House and Senate and Democratic Gov. Peter Shumlin can agree on a revenue package.

The tax-writing committees have been busy on an income tax proposal they say is revenue neutral. The plan would lower taxes for 250,000 filers but raise taxes on about 15,000 upper-income earners.

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