It was a grand plan. Jay Peak was a modest ski area transformed to a year-round destination. Now the resort would lead the biggest private investment Vermont’s Northeast Kingdom had ever seen – about a half billion dollars to revive the region’s rural economy with tourist developments, plus manufacturing from windows to airplanes to biotech.
Now the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission and state regulators say Jay Peak’s EB-5 scheme was a fraud. Stenger and resort owner Ariel Quiros face 62 civil charges of misleading investors and misusing more than $200 million of their money, including $50 million for Quiros’s personal benefit. Stenger has denied wrongdoing to local press. Neither could be reached for comment. The two are locked out of their resorts, which will stay open under an appointed receiver. Quiros says assets are frozen. Criminal charges may follow.
Dan Gauvin radios from his four-seat Cessna and aims for the sky. Gauvin lifts off almost every day. He had been running the Newport State Airport for almost decade when, in 2012, developers from Jay Peak ski resort took over management of the facility.
Jay Peak’s parent company, Q Resorts, kept Gauvin on to run airport operations. He’s seen a lot of changes since then. From 1,000 feet above ground, he points out some big ones: A thousand feet of fresh black-top caps the base of the airport’s north-south runway. Between it and a tiny white terminal building, construction vehicles criss-cross a new area for planes to park. Beyond that lies a massive new stormwater retention pond.
“The base of that’s the size of a football field, believe it or not. It’s 27 feet deep,” Gauvin says.
These and other infrastructure improvements were mostly paid for by federal grant money — a lot of it.
“$2.1 million is our usual program funding from the feds every year, and we brought in excess of $60 million in two years,” according to Guy Rouelle, who heads up Vermont’s Aviation Program.
Almost half that has gone to the Newport airport, for upgrades designed in conjunction Q Resorts’ plan to put the airport on the map: They’d build a new and improved terminal with customs service for international cargo and passengers, bonded warehouses for use by import-export businesses, an assembly plant for small aircraft and more hangars for private plane owners.
This year, the Legislature even renamed the airport the Northeast Kingdom International Airport.
To date, though, it’s mostly the publicly-funded projects that have come through. Q Resorts, which also has projects in limbo in nearby Newport and East Burke, hasn’t yet delivered its end of the bargain.
On Aug. 28, 2011, Tropical Storm Irene began flooding state employees out of their Waterbury offices and psychiatric patients out of their beds.
Three years later, steel beams three stories tall with cross bars at the top prop up faded brick walls from a courtyard. A mason from Irasburg fills ground-level windows with oversized granite bricks. A Monarch butterfly rests on a swaying stalk of tall grass that sprouted next to an oak tree circled in chain link fence.
The $95 million project — $125 million with design fees and other project costs factored in — started with demolition of 15 buildings a year ago.
Low-lying land near the Winooski River, where office buildings and a boiler plant once stood, now is sloped for stormwater runoff and has been seeded with grass. Pickup trucks, cranes and cement mixers track a dirt lane that soon will be built into a paved road about six feet higher.
Project manager Mike Stevens said on a tour of the site Tuesday that when the decision was made to rebuild at the same location, architects reconfigured the sprawling facility. New construction will be built closer to the quarter-mile long historic corridor, and on higher ground, to withstand a 500-year flood.
Beverly Grout suspects a neighbor may have told the loggers that she and her husband Fred would be in the market to sell some timber.
She said the loggers, Ken Bacon Jr. and Ken Bacon Sr., knocked on the door of their home on a hill overlooking Barre back in June. Within days, the Grouts signed a contract.
“We didn’t realize who they were,” she said.
Left with 20 acres of damaged forestland and a blocked stream in Barre Town the Grouts wish they had known more about the Bacons’ track record.
The father and son logging team have a long legal history with Vermont environmental and criminal courts. Both men are under order to notify the state of when and where they’ll be cutting, but officials were not informed they were working at the Grout property.
“Unfortunately, they didn’t clean up thoroughly when they left,” Barrett said. Now two stream crossings are blocked, landings and fields that weren’t properly seeded are muddy, and knee-high ruts from machinery further contribute to soil erosion.
Attempts to reach the Bacons were not successful. A woman who declined to give her name, but identified herself as their secretary, said in a phone interview Thursday night that the father-son team from Barton are loggers who want to do the best timber management possible.
After asking the Bacons to leave several times, the Grouts say, they finally called the police in late August to force them off the property.
The Grouts say the Bacons harvested timber they weren’t supposed to, didn’t pay for all the loads they took and improperly dammed a stream with skidder bridges, which they subsequently left in place. The Grouts are left to clean up the mess or pay someone to do it — prospects they hardly can afford.
The Bacons’ secretary says the Grouts had initiated the relationship — not the other way around — but never informed the Bacons that the land was in Current Use. She says the men did nothing that wasn’t agreed to, paid the Grouts for every load, can’t be blamed for not completing a job they were kicked off, and are preparing to sue the Grouts for breach of contract for not being allowed to finish.
The Department of Environmental Conservation has launched an investigation.
When Adam Truso returned to Vermont after flying Black Hawk helicopters in Iraq, he wanted to transition to civilian employment.
But most of what he found in the want ads were jobs as nurses and Walmart greeters, Truso said. Wasn’t he surprised when a contact from the Vermont Department of Labor introduced him to Liquid Measurement Systems in Georgia.
The manufacturing company is the sole supplier of carbon-fiber fuel gauges for Black Hawks, plus Boeing’s CH-47 Fox model Army helicopters, an entire line of auxiliary fuel tanks by Robertson Fuel Systems, and the experimental Sikorsky X-2 helicopter that holds a helicopter speed record of 259 mph.
Truso now works in the sales and marketing division for LMS — a company considered an anchor in Vermont’s $2 billion aviation and aeronautics industry.
Air prowess was on display Thursday at the Burlington International Airport for the state’s first Aerospace and Aviation Trade Show, hosted by the Vermont Chamber of Commerce.
“We’ve never had a trade show just for the aerospace and aviation industries,” said Chris Carrigan, the chamber’s vice president of business development.
I’ve just left the Investigative Reporters and Editors annual conference in Boston, and not only was the entire affair inspiring, informative, and fun. I got to stay on a tall ship in Boston Harbor, instead of a regular hotel.
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It might sound a tad sexier than it was, but I’d do it again in heartbeat.
“How did you swing that?” people kept asking. Really, all I did was google for hostels in Boston, and the Liberty Clipper came up because the company describes itself as offering “hostel-like” accommodations. They rent out cabins on the 125-foot, gaff-rigged topsail schooner (a replica of the Baltimore Clippers of the mid-1800s) while the boat is docked for the night. The crew, who also sleeps onboard, runs up to three pleasure cruises a day.
Renting out the cabins, for them, is a pretty clever way to monetize the downtime. For me, it sounded more interesting than staying in a cheap motel, and the price was just about equal.
Here’s the view in a small slideshow. I even had seals from the Boston aquarium’s outdoor tank as neighbors …
The conference kept me so busy, I didn’t get to take full advantage of my maritime motel. I was off the deck before coffee was served every morning and returned well past “quiet time” each night. Still, a slight scent of sea, waking to a gentle rock on the water, the tongue-and-groove ceiling mere inches from my pillow, and the greeting of blue sky as soon as I opened my cabin door every morning — living on the Liberty Clipper while immersing myself in the power of a free press made a meaningful conference all the more memorable.
“Not just radio. Community radio,” they say at KOPN, where volunteers have been keeping the frequency live since March 3, 1973.
Part music and part talk, the station’s programming is diverse and sometimes controversial. There’s a waiting list for new DJs, whose first chance to get on the air is often in the middle of the night.
More than ever, women and minorities are running the country’s farms, “boutique” farming is a hot trend, and farmers’ markets continue to grow and multiply. We speak with Carol House of the National Agricultural Statistics Service about the latest numbers in farming, and we check in with Jon Satz, who runs Woods Market Garden in Brandon, Vermont.