Southern Vermont

Susan Keese / VPR

The owner of Santa’s Land in Putney has filed for bankruptcy.

Lillian Billewicz, of Fair Haven, bought the once-popular theme park last June but has not opened it this year. In March, Billewicz and an employee were charged with animal cruelty after 16 of the park’s fallow deer and some other animals were found dead and emaciated.

The surviving animals are still at the shuttered tourist attraction while the case is pending.

Seven Guilford fire fighters were hospitalized Wednesday afternoon after it was suspected they had been struck by lightning. The fire fighters were in the process of extinguishing a two alarm structure fire on East Mountain Road in Guilford, near the Massachusetts border.

A witness at the scene reported severe thunderstorms in the area at the time. Brattleboro Area Rescue and another ambulance service transported the firefighters to Brattleboro Memorial Hospital.

Susan Keese / VPR

A member of a group that’s been protesting alleged animal mistreatment at Santa’s Land in Putney has been cited for trespassing.

Sarah Massucco received a citation Friday from the Windham County Sheriff’s Office. She says the charge stems from efforts by her and a few others to feed the animals at the theme park, which has been closed since December.

Susan Keese / VPR

A group that’s been picketing outside Santa’s Land in Putney wants to find new homes for the animals there. The theme park’s owner and caretaker have both been charged with animal cruelty, following the deaths of more than 20 animals this winter. But officials who have been spot checking the shuttered park say the remaining animals are not in trouble.

Residents of Windham packed the local meeting house on Tuesday night to hear about the findings of three wind test towers on the ridge between Windham and Grafton. The towers were erected last spring to determine the feasibility of a commercial wind project in the two towns. But the would-be developers say it’s too soon to reach any conclusions.

The test towers were built by the Spanish Energy conglomerate Iberdrola Renewables. But Meadowsend Timberland Limited of New London, NH,  also known as MTL, is the driving force behind the project.  

Voters at a special town meeting in Putney Thursday night reaffirmed the $1.8 million budget they approved in March.

The vote was an endorsement of Rescue Inc, a multi-town emergency services coop that Putney has used for decades.

The original budget, presented in March, called for the town to switch to Golden Cross, a for-profit ambulance service based in Claremont, NH and Westminster.

Golden Cross offered to serve the town for $22,000 less than Rescue Inc. But voters in March amended the budget to pay for the higher-priced services of Rescue Inc.

State officials were in Brattleboro this week to discuss how to spend more than $2.5 million earmarked for clean energy projects in Windham County.

The money is part of a final $5.3 million payment by Entergy Vermont Yankee to the state’s Clean Energy Development Fund. Entergy has funded the state program since it began in 2005. Those payments will stop when the plant closes at the end of December.

Voters in Vernon Tuesday passed a slightly pared-down version of the $4.4 million school budget they rejected at town meeting in March. Vernon School Board Chairman Mike Hebert said the board shaved about $50,000 from the original budget.

"We did say to people that we were going to do as much as we could without changing our offerings in the school and what we need to do to maintain our quality level education," Hebert said.

Windham County resident Stephan Morse will serve as interim executive director of the Brattleboro Development Credit Corporation. The position opened up recently when Governor Peter Shumlin tapped current director Patricia Moulton Powden as Secretary of the State Agency of Commerce and Community Development. Moulton Powden had only been director of the Brattleboro development group for a few months when the administration announced her new appointment.

Susan Keese / VPR

Residents of Vernon have voted for a second time to eliminate the town’s police force.

The original vote to de-fund the Vernon Police Department came as a surprise at the town’s annual meeting this past March.

Local residents reaffirmed that decision at a special meeting Monday night that drew what some said was the biggest turnout in the town’s  history.

Voters agreed to contract instead with the Windham County Sheriff’s Department. They accepted a proposal made by Sheriff Keith Clark for round-the-clock police coverage at significant savings to the town.

The owner of Santa’s land in Putney and the park’s caretaker appeared in Brattleboro District Court Tuesday. Lillian Billewicz  and Brian Deistler pled not guilty to charges of animal cruelty. Earlier this winter 16 fallow deer, a pot-bellied pig and a pheasant were found dead at the once-popular theme park.  Court documents say other animals were found in stalls with frozen water and insufficient hay.

Susan Keese / VPR

The owner of Santa’s Land in Putney and the theme park’s caretaker are scheduled to appear Tuesday in Brattleboro District Court. The two were cited in March for animal cruelty and neglect after 16 fallow deer, a pheasant and a pot-bellied pig were found dead on the park’s premises. Now the park’s remaining animals are getting attention from some local residents who’ve been trying to feed them.

Susan Keese / VPR

Trustees of Brattleboro’s Austine School for the Deaf have voted to close the 100-year-old residential program at the end of this school year. But the board also made a commitment to work towards reopening the school in 2016.

The Austine School had enrollments of close to 150 students in the 1970s and 80s. It now serves fewer than 20. According to Austine President Bill Gurney, the school’s 174-acre campus costs more than $1 million dollars annually to maintain. Gurney says the school’s endowment and credit are maxed out.

Susan Keese / VPR

Voters in Brattleboro will get a chance to weigh in on the town’s budget in a referendum set for later this month. The budget was approved at Brattleboro’s Representative Town Meeting in late March. Backers of the recall vote say the $16 million spending plan will increase a town tax rate that’s already too high.

VPR/Susan Keese

More than 50 experts and officials met in Putney Wednesday to begin to plan a national conference for regions and states facing nuclear plant closings.

The country will see a landslide of nuclear plant closings in the next few decades, organizer Jeff Lewis told the group. He said the economic and social impacts on those regions will be severe. But Lewis says there isn’t much information on how host communities and states can protect their interests when nuclear power plants stop operating.

Susan Keese / VPR

Vernon residents may be asked to rethink their unexpected Town Meeting vote to eliminate funding for the town’s police department.  A petition is circulating in town that calls for a special town meeting to reconsider the original $2.1 million dollar budget proposed by the town select board.

Susan Keese / VPR

Vernon residents met Wednesday for a third and final installment of a town meeting that began on Monday evening. The town is grappling with the unknown impact of losing Vermont Yankee, its biggest tax payer and employer.

After lengthy debate Tuesday, voters made deep cuts in the municipal budget and eliminated the town’s police department. The school budget was defeated by Australian ballot. On Wednesday, several people said they had heard that a petition was being drawn up, calling for a vote to restore the police department.

Susan Keese / VPR

Putney voters approved a $1.8 million municipal budget at their town meeting Tuesday. They agreed to an $8,000 request for region wide economic development. They decided to stay with their longtime ambulance service, despite another provider’s lower bid.

And they sent a complaint to Montpelier calling for high-speed Internet access for the whole town.

Susan Keese / VPR

Six colleges in southeastern Vermont have formed a partnership that will allow students at any of the schools to take classes at the others.

The agreement is part of a wide-ranging economic development effort in the region. Officials from the six institutions of higher learning met in Brattleboro Monday to sign off on the new Windham Higher Education Cooperative.  The cooperative’s cross-registration agreement will enable students in degree programs to take up to one course each term at the other institutions. 

It's So. Vermont

Dec 10, 2013
Lincoln Benedict / AP

The impending closing of Vermont Yankee has everyone worried about job losses in southern Vermont. But a group of people in Windham and Bennington counties have been working for years to try to understand the region’s underlying economic situation.