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Clearer Picture

I was initially startled when I read Vermont Public Television (VPT) president John King’s response to my comment that we felt left “high and dry” during the funding mess that plagued our 2004 VPT/Kingdom County Productions (KCP) comedy series, Windy Acres” [“Boxed In,” April 27]. Mr. King called my account “a myth,” so I wrote to him, to share my version of the predicament and ask him to tell me his.

Briefly, we at KCP thought we had a firm deal for $60,000 from VPT, via its annual U.S. Department of Agriculture grant. We counted on this to supplement the $240,000 that KCP raised toward the $300,000 series cost. But we received an urgent phone call from VPT, during our June 2004 production, to say that a new USDA official in Montpelier reversed earlier assurances and pulled the plug on our $60,000 (but not the VPT grant as a whole).

We asked to meet USDA officials and Sen. Patrick Leahy, since he helped originate the USDA’s rural media program. VPT officials insisted that we not do so. Under pressure from KCP’s development director, VPT kindly chipped in $15,000, but I had to borrow $50,000 from a local bank, secured by my home, to respond to our unexpected cash crisis.

John King graciously responded to my retelling of these events, acknowledging that VPT “did propose to allocate up to $60,000 from the USDA grant.” And he didn’t challenge the importance I placed on VPT’s optimistic November 2003 email — and its spring 2004 phone call indicating that USDA funding had been approved. Then he shared his view that when the USDA official overturned our understandings, this reversal invalidated any earlier assurances.

So maybe we’re both right. John King feels that VPT had no further options or obligations once the USDA quashed “Windy Acres” funding. Fair enough. Is it also fair to recognize that we at KCP felt we were left “high and dry,” given that we undertook production expecting the $60,000? I think so.

I apologize to my friends at VPT for any hurt feelings. Rather than pointing fingers, the key is to understand that this episode illustrates how fragile and slight public television funding is in the U.S. And how bold leadership and reliable new funding support are needed to develop sustainable regional media voices.

Jay Craven

Peacham

VPT Responds

Your story about Vermont Public Television [“Boxed In,” April 27] highlighted challenges in today’s media world. As chair of VPT’s board of directors, I am well aware of those challenges. At the same time, I am pleased that VPT staff and the board continue to work on new ways and delivery channels to serve all Vermonters.

Much of what VPT does was missing from the article. We reach people on air, online, on the ground and on the go. We host events statewide (80 last year, with 100 community partners), from antifraud workshops to Community Cinema. We collaborated with Maine and New Hampshire public broadcasting on a major project to help people cope with the economic crisis. We’re about to celebrate the winners of our kids’ Writers Contest and to explore museums at Family Days.

Online at vpt.org, we archive local and national content as video on demand. Recent web-only content includes legislative hearings, a Middlebury forum on hunting, science discussions from the ECHO Lake Aquarium and Science Center, and journalist Jon Margolis on statewide issues.

As for local production, we’re celebrating an Emmy nomination for “Headline Vermont.” We’ve added episodes to the “Profile” season so viewers can hear from Anaïs Mitchell and Québec Premier Jean Charest. The “Outdoor Journal” season is under way. Sen. Leahy will answer questions next week on “Report From Washington.”

We strive to do more and better, and we’re proud to have one of the country’s highest viewer-to-donor ratios. As Congress works on next year’s budget, everyone who values VPT can help keep us strong by contacting representatives via 170millionamericans.org.

Brian Harwood

Waterbury

Book on Board

[Re: “Print Versus Pixels,” April 13; “Bye-Bye, Books” Feedback, April 20]: One more comment about e-readers:  Don’t forget to turn off your e-reader during takeoff and landing while I continue to enjoy my paperback. And if you need to throw up, Mr. Bliss, there’s a barf bag in the seat pocket in front of you.

Roger Crouse

Essex

Doctor Yes

[“Bitter Pills,” May 4] is a moving, powerful story. I am thoroughly touched by the work and passion of Dr. Fred Holmes.

Jill Berry Bowen

Swanton

Problem With Preservation?

Andy Bromage must really have it in for the historic preservation community and in particular Mary O’Neil. First his 2010 article on Mary O’Neil [“The Preservation Police,” September 22] — nothing short of an awkward I’m-trying-to-stay-fair-and-balanced attempt at character assassination. And now this piece about the Spot’s wind turbine, entitled “Burlington City Planners Object to Restaurant’s Wind Turbine” [Blurt, April 21]. Based on a close reading of the facts presented in the article, the more accurate title would have been “Local Restaurateurs Sneak Unapproved Design in Prominent Location.”

This was not, as Andy Bromage tries to frame it, an “alternative energy vs. historic preservation” incident. It was more like a “historic preservation integrates alternative energy” incident. Mary O’Neil and the Department of Planning and Zoning showed flexibility and a respect for alternative energy interests in approving the incorporation of a modern windmill into a retro Phillips gas station. They should be congratulated for this. Unfortunately, the owners of the Spot did not show the same generosity of character. Instead of playing by the rules, they thought they could get around them by submitting one design for approval and later erecting another. Who are the bad guys here?

Andy Bromage pooh-poohed this side of the story, instead writing an agenda-driven, one-sided piece that furthered his campaign against Mary O’Neil and the DPZ and discredited the efforts of local historic preservationists. We are resigned to expect opinions packaged as reporting from national news sources, but not from our local paper. Keep it honest, Seven Days.

Britta Fenniman & Jeffrey Tonn

Winooski

Seven Days is Anti-Preservation

Over the past year, Seven Days, through its paper and staff blog, has published multiple articles attacking the merits of historic preservation [“The Preservation Police,” September 22; “Burlington City Planners Object to Restaurant’s Wind Turbine,” Blurt, April 21; “Burlington Zoning Case Pits Solar Panels Against Slate Roofs,” April 27]. These stories have been biased and often factually inaccurate. They have run the gamut — from unfairly targeting an employee of Burlington’s Department of Planning and Zoning to inventing a feud between historic preservationists and the advocates of renewable energy.

There are many reasons to support historic preservation. I support preservation because it promotes a sense of community heritage and maintains our connection with the past. One need only visit other cities and towns in Vermont — or other parts of the country — to see the devastation wrought by unchecked development and so-called modern improvements. On a more tangible level, preservation, contrary to the opinion espoused in Seven Days, is one of the simplest and best ways to use renewable resources and limit our community’s carbon footprint. Restoring and maintaining our homes’ original wooden windows, clapboards and slate roofs keeps money in the community through local trades, as opposed to purchasing nonlocal replacement materials. It also promotes environmental stewardship and saves money by saving materials and reducing waste. It’s a simple fact that historic materials last longer than replacement materials.

In the coming months, government officials will be reevaluating what importance to place on historic preservation in the context of our city’s growth. I urge your readers to consider this issue at length and not be imprudently swayed by Seven Days’ anti-preservation rhetoric.

Matt Viens

Burlington

Viens is president of Preservation Burlington.

Better Than Nothing?

In response to the interview “The Green Veneer” [April 13], I would like to expand on author Heather Rogers’ concerns about logging tropical forests for palm oil plantations for biodiesel. While this is undoubtedly a concern, we also have forest logging issues right here in the U.S., and in fact in our own backyard, where burning wood for energy (Burlington’s McNeil biomass power incinerator) is being touted as a “clean,” “carbon-neutral” renewable energy source. At least two new biomass power incinerators are proposed for Vermont.

This approach is, to use Rogers’ phrase, “green gone wrong.” In fact, terribly wrong, for these particular biomass facilities are logging forests that provide countless ecosystem services (carbon storage and sequestration, flood and erosion control, oxygen exchange, water filtration, fish and wildlife habitats, and recreation and tourism dollars). Furthermore, biomass power incinerators actually emit more carbon dioxide into the atmosphere from the smokestack than coal burning!

And to put a cherry on top of this deceptive biomass sundae, these facilities are also harmful to human health. According to EPA data, McNeil produces 79 air pollutants, which include dioxin, particulate matter, carbon monoxide, nitrogen oxides and sulfur dioxide. These pollutants can be connected to asthma, cancer and heart disease — does this sound “green” to you? 

Trees have the amazing capability to absorb pollutants, so why cut down and burn the lungs of the Earth when we have the intellectual capital to explore actual clean energy technologies? I urge environmentalists, citizens and politicians to explore other possibilities rather than just accepting current disillusioned ones because they appear to be better than nothing. 

Devon Byrne

Burlington

Corrections

Last week’s cover story [“Bitter Pills,” May 4] incorrectly stated that 16.6 percent of Vermont high school seniors reported having taken prescription pain relievers that were not prescribed to them. The correct figure is 18 percent. Seven Days regrets the error.

In an April 20 article about the passing of artist Steve Larrabee [“Monkey See”], his cause of death was misstated: Larrabee died of natural causes, according to former partner Susan Rickstad; he would have been 61 this Friday.

Clarification

In last week’s food news [Side Dishes: “Growl and Go,” May 4], Corin Hirsch reported that Pearl Street Beverage was the first retailer to offer growlers of beer after a regulation change at the Vermont Department of Liquor Control.

At least two retailers in the state had been offering growlers prior to that: Bennington Beverage Outlet in Bennington and Hunger Mountain Coop in Montpelier. Both began offering growlers last year, and invested in relevant equipment, before the Vermont Liquor Board realized one of its own regulations made this practice illegal. The board then drafted a change to the regulation, which was approved this year by the legislature, to allow licensees to begin offering growlers. Pearl Street Beverage invested in a growler bar immediately after this change.

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