Pollution Politics on Lake Champlain

September 28, 2017

Dozens of beaches up and down Lake Champlain were on high alert this week due to toxic algae blooms. In Franklin County, similar cyanobacteria has kept Lake Carmi closed for over four weeks.

Both sites have seen this problem before. Excess phosphorous from farms, roads and parking lots has caused algae blooms in waters across Vermont for decades. While multiple governors have worked to address the pollution, including passing legislation to strengthen water quality regulations, no permanent solution has been enacted.

Decades of phosphorous buildup stored deep under the lake may make long-term progress difficult to achieve. On this week's podcast, Mike Polhamus and Mark Johnson talk about why that makes clean water such a difficult issue for Vermont politicans to address.


A Hard Bargain in Burlington Schools

September 21, 2017

This week, a teacher strike that kept thousands of Burlington students out of school for four days came to an end. Both the teachers union and the school board have expressed relief that they were able to arrive at an agreement.

VTDigger's Morgan True discusses the consequences of the strike, and recaps how negotiations finally led to a deal. Plus, two lawmakers worry that this dispute could be a sign of what’s to come in school districts across the state. That's why they plan to reintroduce legislation they think will curb future conflicts.


Dispelling the Demons of Addiction

September 14, 2017

When Bess O’Brien organized a writing workshop in 2014 for people recovering from addiction, she was mainly hoping to continue gathering stories from the St. Albans community she spotlighted in her 2013 documentary film, The Hungry Heart. But over the past three years, she and writer Gary Miller have expanded into leading writing groups across the state that have helped guide dozens of Vermonters through the challenging process of recovery.

At each Writers for Recovery workshop, participants respond to writing prompts and share their work. “We have people in these workshops who write down and read aloud things that they’ve never told their therapist,” Miller says. Each group holds a public reading event at the conclusion of their workshops, and the project has published two volumes of participants’ work.

Starting next week, VTDigger will present a new podcast from Writers for Recovery. In each episode, listeners will hear workshop participants read their own work, in their own voices. O’Brien and Miller selected the pieces for the series, and Erica Heilman, from Rumble Strip Vermont, produced the recordings.

On this week’s Deeper Dig, Bess O’Brien and Gary Miller talk about how they’ve seen writing change participants’ lives. Plus, we’ll share a special sneak preview of the first Writers for Recovery podcast.


Why the Tax Man Cometh

September 7, 2017

Earlier this week, VTDigger reported that Vermont's tax department was sending about 20,000 letters to Vermonters notifying them that they may owe use tax, an often-ignored tax on some out-of-state or online purchases.

Kaj Samsom, Vermont's tax commissioner, said that fewer than a quarter of residents pay the use tax they legally owe the state. That's why his department is setting out to "change the culture" around the tax.

Readers quickly responded with a range of questions: When is this tax supposed to apply? How did the department choose who would receive these notices? What personal data are vendors obligated to share with the state under new tax law? In this week's podcast, Kaj Samsom responds.


Teflon Town

August 31, 2017

This week, VTDigger and the Bennington Banner published a five part series called Teflon Town, examining the toxic legacy of a North Bennington manufacturer that state officials have blamed for contaminating the surrounding area with dangerous levels of the chemical PFOA.

Two of VTDigger's reporters have been working on this story for over a year. On this week's podcast, they talk about how they put it together.

First, reporter Jim Therrien, whose work appears in both VTDigger and the Banner, discusses using the newspaper's archives to research the history of the once-popular ChemFab company. Then, VTDigger's environmental reporter Mike Polhamus delves into the cache of public records that revealed a lack of state regulatory oversight throughout the decades ChemFab was polluting. Plus, North Bennington residents describe how living with PFOA has affected their lives, families, and properties.


The Week in EB-5

August 24, 2017

Since 2014, VTDigger has investigated allegations of fraud at Jay Peak Resort and related developments in the Northeast Kingdom. This week, we reported on two new steps towards the resolution of this case.

On Monday, Governor Phil Scott announced that US Citizenship and Immigration Services intended to shut down Vermont’s EB-5 regional center, which was charged with overseeing the developments. On Tuesday, we found out that Ariel Quiros had agreed to drop his challenge to the fraud allegations and negotiate a partial settlement with the SEC.

On this week's podcast, VTDigger’s Anne Galloway joins Mike Smith on WDEV Radio’s Open Mike to talk about the regional center's closure, Quiros' settlement, and another recent interview that goes behind the scenes of her years-long investigation.


The Rescission Makers

August 17, 2017

For the past several fiscal years, Vermont has seen a series of revenue downgrades: Economists project a shortfall, and the governor proposes mid-year budget cuts to make up for it. For the current fiscal year, lawmakers approved $12.6 million in rescissions to counter a $28.8 million revenue downgrade projected in July.

On this week's podcast, reporter Elizabeth Hewitt talks about how the Scott administration identified ways to resolve this year's budget gap. Plus, editor Anne Galloway discusses why these continuing budget gaps point to broader structural issues in the state's economy.


The Care Board’s Balancing Act

August 10, 2017

The Green Mountain Care Board made two decisions this week that, taken together, affect health insurance premiums for every customer on Vermont Health Connect. On Wednesday, the board declared that MVP Health Care could raise premiums by an average of 3.5 percent, and on Thursday, they capped Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont’s increases at 9.2 percent.

Regulators set both rates lower than insurers had requested, but many consumers, advocates, and even members of the Green Mountain Care Board have said that these rates don't go far enough towards making health insurance more affordable for Vermonters. VTDigger’s health care reporter Erin Mansfield explains.


Returning to Coventry

August 3, 2017

Cynthia Diaz, the now-former clerk and treasurer in Coventry, admitted in civil court this week to destroying a thumb drive containing records of the town’s finances. Diaz still has not faced criminal charges over town officials' suspicions that she embezzled roughly $1.4 million in public funds.

Reporter Dan Schwartz posted his last dispatch from the Northeast Kingdom town this week. In it, he describes how the Selectboard's Scott Morley fought to get control of town functions out of Diaz's hands. Still, Morley and others wonder why numerous investigators have not been able to build a case against her. On this week's podcast, Dan tells us what he's learned since we last spoke about the town.


Repeal Debate Redux

July 27, 2017

Since returning from the July 4th recess, Senate Republicans have continued to push for a vote to repeal the Affordable Care Act. Last week, faltering support for their repeal-and-replace measure, the Better Care Reconciliation Act, left observers wondering if the bill was doomed.

A dramatic vote to proceed on debating the proposal earlier this week has touched off days of tension in Washington. On this week's podcast, VTDigger's Elizabeth Hewitt calls from a Capitol Hill phone booth to tell us how the Senate discussion has evolved.