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.

 

Ways to Connect

AP/Jason R. Henske

The Public Service Board has cleared the way for critics of the Vermont Yankee nuclear plant to examine the plant’s impact on water quality.

The ruling was a reversal for Entergy Vermont Yankee, which tried to keep water pollution issues out of the ongoing hearings over the nuclear plant’s future.

The PSB this week rejected Entergy’s argument.

The board said it was allowed to independently examine water impacts, even though Yankee must also get a separate permit from the state Agency of Natural Resources.

AP

Gov. Peter Shumlin has asked for a detailed federal environmental review if an oil pipeline than runs through the Northeast Kingdom is reversed to carry tar sands crude.

The governor has written to Secretary of State John Kerry about the issue, since the State Department has jurisdiction over a project that crosses the U.S.-Canada border.

Shumlin’s letter to Kerry asks for a presidential permit for the pipeline and an impact statement to assess the environmental costs of reversing the pipeline.

State agencies are investigating whether a pesticide sprayed for mosquito control caused a fish kill in an Addison County lake earlier this month.

The fish die-off was seen in Fern Lake a few days after trucks applied a chemical in the area to kill adult mosquitoes.

Leicester resident Zachary Saxe has lived near Fern Lake for a decade. He often fishes and swims there, and the first weekend in June his swim was interrupted by the sight and smell of dozens of dead fish. Saxe, who once worked as a wildlife technician, went out to collect samples in plastic bags.

AP/Toby Talbot /

Critics of a proposed Addison County natural gas pipeline say the developer has exaggerated the project’s environmental and economic benefits.

The latest arguments come in testimony filed with the Public Service Board.

Vermont Gas Systems says its proposed 41-mile Addison pipeline project will bring cheaper, cleaner-burning fuel for homes and businesses along the route.

The testimony filed by opponents late last week aims directly at those arguments.

How much is a little brown bat worth? According to Green Mountain Power’s calculation, about $1 million a year.

The utility has asked for a state permit to kill four of the endangered creatures a year at its 21-turbine Lowell wind project. GMP says if it has to follow all the protections needed to spare every bat from getting thrashed by the turbine blades, it would cost the utility $4 million a year in reduced power output.

The town of Monkton has signed an agreement with Vermont Gas Systems that sets out the conditions the company must follow if it’s allowed to build a natural gas pipeline through the community.

Vermont Gas wants to extend its line 41 miles south to Addison County. Some residents in Monkton oppose the project. The town selectboard last week voted to reject a legal agreement – called a memorandum of understanding – between the town and the company.

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.

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