Albright: Blue De-icer

Mar 3, 2017

When I was a reporter covering the Upper Valley, I did a story about a controversy that erupted on the Norwich list serve. Issues often come to a boil on that email forum. This one, I thought, was amusing, yet it touched serious issues that can rile people up - like the environment and public safety.

Here’s what got some list serve users upset: Norwich sidewalks were turning blue. That’s because the town manager approved the application of blue de-icer. Not a tasteful, historic blue, but the color of Papa Smurf.

The town manager told me that this stuff was more effective than white salt, and also had the benefit of being visible, so people could see where icy spots had been treated. But some people said it was ugly. Pet lovers worried about toxicity. An email ruckus ensued.

I didn’t know it then, but Elisabeth Gordon, a writer and art curator from Norwich, also saw “blue de-icergate” as a compelling story. She turned it into a hilarious ten-minute play which I am now, by a string of then-unforeseen twists of fate, performing in, at the opening of Norwich Town Meeting.

To deepen the irony, the playwright’s proposal to present this highly relevant work before such a hallowed public forum was itself subject to civic scrutiny, and required the approval of the select board, which very nearly denied it. But her play has a happy ending, brought about in only ten minutes, and there’s a moral to her tale: that even though we may disagree about whether or not to turn our sidewalks blue, we all still want to walk on them without falling down and hurting ourselves.

So as another town meeting day dawns, I hope Vermonters will pack their knitting, tote their casseroles, and spend a couple of hours hashing things out together, without sinking into the kind of name-calling and rancor we’re seeing in other parts of our nation.

Maybe if members of Congress were all required to share home-made pies on the day they cast their most important votes, they might be able to reach agreement, at least on one day of the year, about how to make our world a safer place, and to protect us from nasty falls that might have been prevented.