Scott Tours Windsor County

  • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott visits the Windsor Recreation Center Summer Camp as Windsor residents Gracie Hughes, 10, and Matteson Tenney, 10, slide under a jump rope in a game of hooks and ladders in Windsor, Vt., on Monday, July 23, 2018. The game teaches about the life cycle of the American eel. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott talks fishing with children attending the Windsor Recreation Center Summer Camp on Monday, July 23, 2018. Scott spent the day visiting various businesses and organizations in Windsor County. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

  • Vermont Gov. Phil Scott kneels for a group photo with members of Windsor High Schools various championship teams during a recognition of the Windsor High School class of 2018 in Windsor, Vt., on Monday, July 23, 2018. (Valley News - August Frank) Copyright Valley News. May not be reprinted or used online without permission. Send requests to permission@vnews.com.

Valley News Correspondent
Monday, July 23, 2018

Springfield, Vt. — With the summer campaign season starting to ramp up, Gov. Phil Scott traveled through southern Windsor County on Monday, focusing some of his attention on economic development as he visited a brownfields site in Springfield.

Stopping in the former Jones and Lamson Machine Shop on Clinton Street, Scott listened to Springfield Regional Development Corp. President Bob Flint describe the time and money that has been spent cleaning up contamination at the site.

Inside the 270,000-square-foot building, Scott and others stepped carefully around puddles deposited by heavy rain earlier in the day as they made their way into a large empty area where there is little left except rusted steel beams and piles of debris soaked by water from a leaky roof.

Flint said the plan is to demolish all but 6,000 square feet of the building to make way for the construction of two 75,000-square-foot buildings. The hope is that the work will be completed a year from now, he said.

“This is a visible symbol of Springfield’s inertia,” Flint said once back outside. “The day this is knocked down will be one of the biggest in Springfield’s history.”

The building has been vacant for 30 years and was bought at bankruptcy by SRDC in 2003. Since then, SRDC has worked closely with state and federal agencies, including the Environmental Protection Agency, to secure money for assessment of the contamination.

“We have been grinding our way through a complicated series of processes,” Flint said.

So far about $1 million has been spent, and that figure could rise to more than $4 million once demolition and cleanup have been completed. But Flint told the governor there is every reason to believe that the rebuilt site will prove attractive to a new enterprise: The property is strategically located on a four-lane road, near the interstate and with complete infrastructure.

“If we can get past the contamination issues, I think both those properties are very valuable,” Flint said, referring also to the former Bryant Grinder building on Clinton Street. That building also is slated for demolition and rehabilitation, although to create three separate buildings.

Those properties represent potential, while 100 River St., formerly the Fellows Gear Shaper building, represents what can be accomplished with time and money. SRDC took over the building in 2006 and after partial demolition and about $2.5 million in cleanup was completed, private investors put $15 million into the property, Flint said. Among the tenants are Springfield Health Center, Trout River Brewing and an art gallery. A pedestrian bridge across the Black River ends at an entry into the building.

Scott is touring different Vermont counties as the Aug. 14 primary approaches. A VPR-Vermont PBS Poll released on Monday found that his Republican challenger, Keith Stern, and the four Democrats vying for their party’s gubernatorial nomination are unknown to a majority of voters. Scott had a 43 percent approval rating, while 28 percent of voters disapproved of the job he is doing.

Outside the former Fellows Gear Shaper building, Scott spoke about a few of the issues that dominated the most recent legislative session, including school spending and gun control legislation.

Scott decried the steady increase in spending on education and the fact that Vermont has the highest per-pupil spending in the nation.

“We find ourselves in a situation where we are educating 30,000 fewer students than we were 20 years ago,” said Scott, who fought against any increase in the statewide property tax for education and continues to push for cost containment for school spending. “Education is the single largest expense in state government now, between $1.6 and $1.7 billion.

“And it all relates to the property taxes because that is where we derive our funding,” he said. “We have heard the scream for relief. Some say change the formula, which I am open-minded to, but we have to address the spending side; otherwise it just comes out of another pocket.”

Gun legislation that Scott signed into law this year has drawn criticism from some gun rights advocates who believe it went too far. Among the measures passed, one expands background checks for gun purchases while another prohibits Vermonters under 21 from buying a gun unless they meet certain requirements. Stern, Scott’s primary opponent, has called the measures unconstitutional and vowed not to enforce them.

Scott acknowledged that he has alienated some gun rights advocates, but said he did what he thought was right for the state.

“The burden falls on your shoulders to keep the public safe,” he said of responsibility as governor. “I understand their disappointments, I understand their concerns and I understand what could happen politically, but you have to do what you think is right and not concern yourself what is best for next election.”

Scott also stood by his decision to veto two budget plans because they contained tax increases.

“My standpoint is it is counterintuitive when you have a budget surplus to have a tax increase in the same year,” he said.

If re-elected, Scott said his approach won’t change.

“I’m still going to focus on three things: Making Vermont more affordable, growing the economy and protect(ing) the most vulnerable. This is an ongoing conversation that isn’t going to end whether I get re-elected or not.”

Patrick O’Grady can be reached at pogclmt@gmail.com.