Local & Regional Briefs for Thursday, Feb. 6

Claremont Deliberative Session Postponed to Tonight

Claremont — The Claremont School District’s deliberative session will be held tonight after being postponed because of Wednesday’s snowstorm.

The session will be held at 6:30 p.m. at the Sugar River Valley Technical Center. On the warrant is a $31.1 million budget and a separate warrant article to spend $204,000 on technology.

Defunct Vt. Health Co-Op Hit by U.S. House Panel

Montpelier (ap) — A U.S. House committee that has been sharply critical of the federal Affordable Care Act directed some of its ire at the defunct Vermont Health Co-Op in a report issued Wednesday.

The report from the House Committee on Reform and Government Oversight said the Vermont Health Co-Op, which dissolved in September after failing to get a state license, cost taxpayers $4.5 million and was an example of lax federal oversight of co-ops set up under the health care law.

The report cited a state review that found conflicts of interest in the co-op’s leadership, a low likelihood that it could gain its footing financially, and the compensation of its board chairman, Mitchell Fleischer.

Fleischer was paid $126,000, versus the $28,900 paid to the board chairman of the much larger Blue Cross Blue Shield of Vermont. The state Department of Financial Regulation also criticized Fleischer’s salary.

Both the house committee and state agency cited the co-op’s selection of Fleischer’s company, Fleischer Jacobs & Associates, to market co-op products as a conflict of interest.

The committee said co-op executives were “not well-qualified for their positions,” and seconded the state’s finding that the co-op’s pricing for its insurance products would made it uncompetitive with other Vermont insurers.

The committee report also criticized the co-op’s efforts to lobby Gov. Peter Shumlin and other officials to win state approval.

The federal government recouped or had not yet paid out most of the $34 million the co-op was originally supposed to get, but the report said the government gave the co-op about $4.5 million. It blamed the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services for lax oversight.

“The story of the Vermont Health Co-Op is a cautionary tale of how excessive risk, serious conflicts of interest, and inexperience escaped the attention of CMS,” the committee report said. Without diligent state oversight, “it is entirely possible that American taxpayers could have lost far more than $4.5 million.”

U.S. Officials to Reveal Alternate Northern Pass Routes

Concord (ap) — The U.S. Department of Energy plans to reveal details of possible alternative routes for the Northern Pass electrical transmission project before it releases a draft environmental study on the proposal, likely by the end of this year, according to a letter sent to the state’s congressional delegation.

In a letter released Wednesday by the delegation, the department said it is reviewing more than 7,500 public comments as it reviews a permit application for the $1.4 billion Northern Pass.

The delegation had twice asked for details of all alternatives to be released and Northern Pass Transmissions, the project sponsor, also wanted the alternative routes revealed.

The project would run 187 miles of transmission lines carrying 1,200 megawatts of electricity — enough to power 1.2 million homes — from Canada to the southeast part of the state.

Backers point to clean renewable power and job creation while opponents say it would harm the state’s natural beauty.

U.S. Sens. Kelly Ayotte and Jeanne Shaheen and Reps. Annie Kuster and Carol Shea-Porter asked the department in August and again last month to see details of the alternative routes. The four pressed the department to keep the review process as open as possible, given the strong feelings it has stirred on both sides.

“DOE’s commitment to issue a public preliminary report on alternatives is a positive step forward that will improve transparency for New Hampshire citizens,” the delegation said in a joint statement. “We look forward to working with DOE to make sure Granite Staters have the opportunity to thoroughly review and comment on the alternative routes prior to the issuance of the draft Environmental Impact Study.”

Water Leak Leads Vt. Police To 209 Marijuana Plants

Montpelier (ap) — Police in Rutland, Vt., say they removed 209 marijuana plants from a home after going there to investigate a water leak that came from a broken irrigation hose for the plants.

Sgt. Matthew Prouty said Tuesday the house was “basically retrofitted for growing” and that the setup might have cost thousands of dollars.

A neighbor noticed a lot of water leaking from the second floor.

Police said the property is owned by a New-York based management company and the home itself is a rental. He declined to identify the tenants, or say whether they would face charges. — Staff and wire reports