(Bradford) An informative public conference took place in the old Bradford Academy on October 5th sponsored by the COHASE Chamber of Commerce, Green Mountain Economic Development Corporation (GMEDC) and the Vermont Working Lands Enterprise Initiative, directed by the Vermont Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD).
The event was attended by over 100 participants including: loggers, foresters, truckers, saw mill and power plant operators, land owners, legislators and staff from Vermont’s congressional offices as well as state and federal officials. It was conceived by Marvin Harrison, a key driver of the Cohase Chamber and a local commercial banker with Wells River Savings Bank and Bob Haynes, the Executive Director of GMEDC. The decision to host a public forum followed discussions on behalf of clients in the region who are experiencing financial difficulty with businesses related to the forestry industry in all aspects. As Mr. Harrison said in his introductory remarks, “This is a major problem for all of us who live and work here, not just those of us who are employed in the woods. Bob and I wanted to assemble a group of local folks to share observations and ideas and see what could be done about it.” Haynes seconded this sentiment and explained that he reached out for assistance from Joan Goldstein, Vermont’s Commissioner of Economic Development and Jared Duval, the Director of Working Lands Program in Vermont. “We wanted to introduce people directly involved with forest products – “boots on the ground” – to state and federal agency staff and elected officials to discuss the forces at work and possible solutions. The stakes are high and we’re not sure that the average person recognizes how difficult the situation has become.”
Harrison, Haynes and Duval spent several weeks planning the event with the expressed hope to conduct an open and respectful session. The program began with a panel discussion including: Peter Condaxis, Chief Forester of the Ryegate Power Station, Bob Moses, President of Britton Lumber, Ryan Kilborn, Chief Forester/Principal with Meadowland, LLC, Marcus Bradley, Co-owner, Redstart Forestry and Bruce Limlaw, Owner of Limlaw Chipping and Land Clearing. Each gave his perspective of problems, opportunities for relief and suggestions about how best to proceed. The audience was invited to respond and several exchanges took place which highlighted items that need more analysis and attention from the state legislators. Sales taxes on forestry equipment and the high cost of Workers Compensation as compared to neighboring states was referenced by several speakers as well as the importance of promoting biomass heat for schools, hospitals and other public buildings. A central theme was that unfortunately, biomass has become a poor stepchild of the renewable energy market as compared to solar and wind. Ironically, it should be considered the only renewable source since it can provide direct benefits to the region perpetually and not just the owner of an energy device (solar or wind). For example, Ryegate Power and Burlington Electric purchase approximately $150M of wood chips annually and most agreed that the legislature and Public Service Board should be advised to reconsider their support or opposition.
Jared Duval then introduced Steve Sinclair, VT Director of Forests who spoke briefly and introduced Paul Frederick, the Wood Utilization and Wood Energy Program Leader for the VT Department of Forests, Parks and Recreation. Mr. Fredericks gave a Power Point presentation he called “A 30,000 foot view of Drivers and Trends” describing the Vermont forest products industry from a historical perspective to its current status. His central message was that the forces at work are substantial, are effected by national and international issues and that the New England Region in particular is suffering badly as a result.
The balance of the three-hour meeting was spent with a “town hall” style discussion. Among the participants was Mark Scarano, the Federal Co-Chair of the Northern Border Regional Commission whose district includes upstate NY, VT, NH and Maine. Scarano thanked the sponsors for taking the initiative to hold the event and expressed how important the discussion is. He promised that it is receiving appropriate attention on the federal level and that similar meetings will take place soon and that coordination with other communities in the region will be an important component to finding meaningful long term solutions.
A sign up list with contact information was gathered and notices of subsequent meetings and updates will be circulated. For further information, please contact Bob Haynes at 802-295-4231 (w); 603-448-8494 (m), or go to http://www.gmedc.com