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Town develops stormwater master plan

Milton now has a Stormwater Master Plan identifying 65 projects around the town which could help reduce stormwater flows into the town’s streams and rivers and ultimately Lake Champlain.

Stormwater carries with it pollutants and nutrients, including phosphorous which encourages the growth of cyanobacteria, better known as blue-green algae, in the lake. Cyanobacteria can be toxic for pets, and its potential impacts on human health are still being researched.

The plan was developed by Fitzgerald Environmental of Colchester with a grant from the Dept. of Environmental Conservation (DEC). The Chittenden County Regional Planning Commission (CCRPC) oversaw the project.

Of the 65 projects initially identified in the plan, Fitzgerald Environmental, in consultation with the town, went on to do conceptual plans and initial budget estimates for 15 possible projects. Those projects will still need to go to final design.

Projects identified in the plan range from the relatively inexpensive — $6,500 for rain gardens and other stormwater infiltration at the town municipal complex — to $100,000 to retrofit existing catch basins on Stacy Street. Roughly half of the projects fell into the range of $30,000 to $50,000.

The town is required by the state to produce a phosphorous control plan by 2022. The new stormwater plan also identifies some initial compliance mechanisms which can be included in that plan.

In addition to identifying projects the town can do, the plan recommends working with area farmers to help them adopt best management practices for reducing runoff from agricultural lands. The lions share of nutrients in Trout Brook, Malletts Creek and Stone Bridge Brook are coming from agricultural land, according to the stormwater plan.

Allen Brook and the lower portions of the Lamoille River are primarily impacted by stormwater coming from developed lands.

The plan can be viewed on the town’s website.

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Milton to remain in historic opioid suit

The Town of Milton has opted to remain a party in a national class action lawsuit charging the manufacturers and distributors of prescription opioids for their role in the opioid epidemic.

Milton was initially declared a party of the suit when a federal judge in Ohio, where the nationwide suit is being argued, created a “negotiating class” including virtually every municipality in the U.S. by default.

Municipalities were given until Nov. 22 to decide whether they would opt out of the suit and, if the governments of those municipalities took no action, they would continue in the suit by default.

The Milton selectboard, after hearing testimony from the town’s public safety director Taylor Yeates, opted to take no action, leaving Milton as a party in the suit’s negotiating class.

Once involved, municipalities no longer need to file their own cases in court or hire their own attorneys in the already massive suit consolidated in a U.S. District Court in northern Ohio, now known as the National Prescription Opiate Litigation (NPOL).

“It’d be nice to recoup a lot of money, but I don’t think anyone on our staff wants to spend a whole lot of time managing this,” Yeates said. “We’ve already felt the effects of what’s happened... and we’re still responding to it.”

Plaintiffs in the NPOL charge 13 major companies, from prescription drug manufacturers like Purdue Pharmaceuticals to pharmacy chains like Walgreens, for aggressively marketing and downplaying the risks of addictive medications, leading to widespread addiction and, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 200,000 prescription opioid-related deaths since 1999.

The CDC reported earlier this year that overdoses resulting from opioid abuse still kill around 130 people a day in the U.S., and estimates from the National Institutes of Health have placed the costs of the epidemic in the tens of billions of dollars.

An allocation map provided for the NPOL suggests that, should the suit result in a hypothetical award of $1 billion for the plaintiffs, Milton would receive $14,566 from the settlement.

Commentators have suggested a hypothetical settlement in NPOL could result in damages worth billions of dollars.

In opting into the suit, Milton joins neighboring Georgia, where the selectboard voted unanimously to endorse the town’s continued involvement in the suit.

“Why would we not want to?” Georgia selectperson Steve Lamos said ahead of the Georgia selectboard’s decision to join.

According to the NPOL allocation map, Georgia would see $3,922 in damages from a hypothetical $1 billion settlement.

In a letter informing towns of their default participation in NPOL’s negotiating class, Vermont Attorney General T. J. Donovan encouraged municipalities to remain involved, writing, “you can participate in the potential fruits of a settlement without having to file a lawsuit, hire attorneys, and most important incur additional attorneys’ fees and costs.”

“We believe Vermont cities and towns should seriously consider joining the Negotiation Class because it provides away to participate in recent efforts to settle on-going litigation against the manufacturers, distributors, and large pharmacies that created the opioid epidemic,” Donovan wrote.

NPOL is a separate lawsuit from those previously filed by Donovan in Chittenden County Superior Court between 2018 and 2019 over companies’ involvement in the opioid epidemic.

Those respective suits charged Purdue Pharmaceuticals and its owning Sackler family, and drug distributors Cardinal Health and McKesson, for similar damages cited in the wider NPOL.

The negotiating class was not the first incorporation of Vermont communities into the NPOL.

Both the City of St. Albans and the Town of Bennington had filed their own suits against opioid manufacturers before Ohio judge Dan Polster approved creating a negotiating class.

The Burlington-based Howard Center filed a suit this year alleging several providers and distributors, including those cited in NPOL, “negligently distributed and dispensed prescription opioid drugs.”

As members of the negotiating class, both Milton and Georgia have a right to vote on settlements proposed by any of the defendants in the NPOL case.

When any of the defendants offers to settle, members of the negotiating class have the right to decide through a supermajority’s vote – in this case 75 percent of voting towns – to accept a settlement.

Even before the creation of a negotiating class for NPOL, the suit was already the largest civil case in U.S. history, featuring thousands of plaintiffs from across states, counties, municipalities and Native American tribes.

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Jury sides with victim of football team assault

BURLINGTON — On Friday a jury awarded $280,000 to a former Milton High School student who was the victim of sexual assault by his football teammates in 2012.

The former student, now 21, had sought $2.5 million.

The school’s attorney, Pietro Lynn, has indicated the district will not appeal the decision.

The jury ultimately concluded the school had been negligent in not anticipating an assault such as the one on the plaintiff could occur. The jury initially found that the school had not been negligent, but had nonetheless awarded damages to the plaintiff. After Judge Helen Toor explained that damages could only be awarded if the school was negligent, the jury returned to the jury room and concluded the school had been negligent.

The victim, a freshman at the time, was at a team dinner at a home in Milton when two teammates dragged him to the basement, pushed him onto a couch and forcibly inserted a pool cue into his rectum, over his clothing, the lawsuit says. The Independent does not name victims of sexual assault without their consent.

In 2013, a year after the assault, the plaintiff and another teammate were called into Milton High School principal Anne Blake’s office to discuss rumors about an initiation ritual involving broomsticks — a meeting Blake told the victim that his parents didn’t need to attend, the suit says.

Blake told the plaintiff if the allegations were true, she’d have to shut down the football program. Fearing retaliation from his peers, the plaintiff denied anything happened, the complaint says. Blake then directed the plaintiff to tell incoming freshmen there was no truth to the rumors.

It wasn’t until spring 2014 that a parent called the Vt. Department for Children and Families after their child heard the plaintiff being taunted for getting “a pool stick shoved up [his] ass,” the filing says. The Chittenden Unit for Special Investigations subsequently opened an investigation and later charged the victim’s attackers – Colby Darling and Brian Lasell – who served 18-month deferred sentences for simple assault.

Following a similar assault by members of the football team in 2011, another Milton High School student, Jordan Preavy, committed suicide.

The victim argued that because the school knew about the assault on Preavy it should have taken steps to protect other students on the football team and investigated more thoroughly when it learned of the assault on the plaintiff.

Vermont law says school districts owe students a duty of “ordinary care,” limiting districts’ responsibilities by stating that they don’t owe students immediate supervision at all times, but rather must protect them from foreseeable risks.

The protection proved enough to sink the Preavy lawsuit, a result the district had hoped would carry over into the second suit because the two cases are “factually indistinguishable.”

However, the plaintiff maintained that because of what had happened to Preavy, as well as other incidents of harassment by the football team, what happened to the plaintiff was forseeable and, thus, the school had a duty to protect the plaintiff. The jury agreed.

The jury rejected the suit’s second claim, which was brought under the Vermont Public Accommodations Act (VPAA). The act requires school districts to promptly investigate harassment allegations and maintain policies that say how investigations will take place.

VPAA harassment claims can only succeed if plaintiffs exhaust their “administrative remedies,” and both parties agree that the victim did not file a complaint under the district’s harassment policy. But the VPAA offers five exemptions to that rule, covering cases in which school districts fail to investigate in a timely manner, or cases where victims believe their efforts to seek remedies through a formal process will be futile.

The plaintiff had argued that because of the known history with the football team, the school should have investigated rumors more quickly and that when the plaintiff denied the assault it was because Blake had placed him in the position of being responsible for the closure of the football team should he say the assault occurred. The jury disagreed.

Asked about how the school district has changed its approach to such incidents in the years since the assaults on Preavy and the plaintiff, as well as efforts to improve the school’s culture and climate, superintendent Amy Rex said significant changes have taken place “not just in this school, but in every school I’ve ever worked in.”

Each year, administrators receive four to six hours of training on how to investigate bullying and harassment along with updates on the law surrounding them, she said.

There are staff at each Milton school dedicated to addressing bullying and harassment, including conducting investigations of complaints. That helps ensure that investigations are conducted the same way throughout the district, said Rex.

With greater understanding of bullying and harassment, we are “able to be much more preventative,” said Rex, “talking to students, helping students and parents understand policies and procedures.”

The school has also adopted restorative justice practices in all of its schools. Currently, the school is focused on the first tier in that process “building community and ensuring everyone feels like the belong,” said Rex.

Rex was not at Milton at the time of the assaults.

“It’s a tragedy for everybody,” she said. “We can always move forward with compassion and forgiveness and continue to support each other.”