Wednesday, November 19, 2014

WVTK Local & State News November 19, 2014

Brian Searles is retiring as secretary of Vermont's Agency of Transportation. Searles has been employed by the state for more than four decades, including two stints heading transportation. Governor Peter Shumlin says deputy secretary Sue Minter will be taking over the agency from Searles at the beginning of next year. Searles says the work in the four months after Irene is what he is most proud of from his time in state service.

Vermont Senator Patrick Leahy is pleased that the Senate has rejected a bill to fast track the Keystone XL Pipeline. Leahy took to the floor of the Senate yesterday to oppose the bill before the vote against advancing the measure to full debate. Leahy says the pipeline is one of the most striking examples of how the nation's thirst for oil is destroying the environment. He says this destruction will continue until a comprehensive national energy policy is established.

Plans to expand Plattsburgh International Airport are taking off. Dirt is being moved adjacent to the current terminal. Crews were out there yesterday. The airport is undergoing a $55 million expansion project that will include new gates and passenger areas to accommodate more people.

State officials say the updated Vermont Health Connect insurance exchange is working much better than it did last year. A new open enrollment period began Saturday, and since then the system has taken in more than 600 new applications and processed more than 3,000 renewals of already existing policies. Vermont Health Connect spokesman Sean Sheehan says the system's performance hasn't been flawless, but he described its improvement over last year as like night and day.

Federal and state officials are holding the third of three public meetings tonight on the efforts to clean up Lake Champlain. Tonight’s meeting is planned for 6:30 to 8:30 p.m. at the Doubletree Hotel in South Burlington. The meetings are part of a yearslong effort to come up with a plan specific. Runoff from farms, wastewater treatment plants and developed properties are among the primary sources of phosphorus, which is blamed for toxic algae blooms in the lake. The battle over runoff has focused on Vermont because the parts of New York state that border the lake have fewer farms and less development.