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The Brattleboro Reformer has many colleagues around the country producing news for our "sister" papers. The Daily DFM is a "top picks" of today's national news. Consider it a collection of "things you should know, today."

1. Women kidnapped in Cleveland break silence with release of video (WATCH)

By Karen Workman, Digital First Media

"Amanda Berry, Gina DeJesus and Michelle Knight would like to say thank you to people from Cleveland and across the world who have offered support to them," states information uploaded with the video on YouTube. "They are extremely grateful for the tremendous outpouring of kindness they have received and wished to put voices and faces to their heartfelt messages with this video."

As Berry emphasizes on camera, though, the women ask that people continue to respect their privacy.

Amanda Berry is the first to speak, and Michelle Knight is the last. Both give prepared statements.

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Gina DeJesus and her parents, Felix DeJesus and Nancy Ruiz, also speak.

The video was filmed July 2 in the offices of the lawyers representing the women.

The women were held hostage in a Cleveland home for years before Berry escaped earlier this year, leading to the rescue of the two others. Ariel Castro, 52, is accused of kidnapping, raping and keeping the girls hostage.

2. How a train ran away and devastated a Canadian town

By P.J. Huffstutter and Richard Valdmanis Reuters

Fire from a train explosion is seen in Lac Megantic, July 6, 2013. (Reuters/Stringer)Fire from a train explosion is seen in Lac Megantic, July 6, 2013. (Reuters/Stringer)

CHICAGO/LAC-MEGANTIC, Quebec - The short length of track, nestled in a dark pine and birch forest in Quebec, is a regular overnight stop for freight trains hauling crude oil and other raw materials across North America.

Normally, before retiring for the night, the train operator sets the hand brakes and leaves one locomotive running to power the air brakes that help hold the train in place on the gently sloping track. The next morning, the operator or a relief engineer starts up the train and continues on their way.

Last weekend, the system failed. The locomotive caught fire, so firefighters shut off the engine to stop the flames from spreading. That slowly disengaged the air brakes, and the driverless train carrying 72 cars of crude oil rolled downhill into the scenic lakeside town of Lac-Megantic, derailing, exploding and leveling the town center.

At least 13 people were killed and some 37 are still missing, according to Canadian police. Few residents expect any of the missing to be found alive.

The catastrophe could force policymakers across North America to rethink the practice of shipping crude by rail - a century-old business that has boomed with the surge in shale oil production.

Based on Reuters interviews with witnesses, fire services and the head of the train company, the Montreal, Maine & Atlantic Railway (MMA), a tale emerges of how the brakes on a train parked on a slope were released leading to tragedy.

The accounts also frame the critical questions that investigators will be asking over the next few days and weeks. In particular, whether there was clear communication between the firefighters and the train operator, and whether anyone in authority saw the train start to roll down the hill before it picked up momentum and crashed into the town.

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According to MMA Chairman Ed Burkhardt, the train operator was an experienced Canadian engineer who had parked the train in the small town of Nantes at a siding, a short length of track where trains make overnight stops. The siding is about 7 miles from Lac-Megantic.

He secured the train at 11:25 p.m. on Friday, setting the air brakes and hand brakes, according to MMA. Burkhardt said the engineer set the brakes on all five locomotives at the front of the train, as well as brakes on a number of cars, in line with company policy. Four of the train's engines were switched off, but the front locomotive was left on to power the airbrakes. The engineer, who Burkhardt declined to name, then retired to a hotel in Lac-Megantic.

Soon after, things started to go wrong. Nantes Fire Chief Patrick Lambert said the fire department got a call about a blaze on one of the locomotives at 11:30 p.m. He said the fire was likely caused by a broken fuel or oil line.

Firefighters reached the scene within seven minutes.

"It was a good sized fire, but it was contained in the motor of the train," Lambert told Reuters. "By 12:12, the fire was completely out."

But as they extinguished the fire, the 12 volunteer firemen also switched off the locomotive, in line with their own protocols, to prevent fuel from circulating into the flames.

One of the many unknowns in the story is precisely what happened next.

Lambert said the fire department contacted the railway's regional office in Farnham, Quebec, and spoke to the dispatcher. "We told them what we did and how we did it," Lambert said. "There was no discussion of the brakes at that time. We were there for the train fire. As for the inspection of the train after the fact, that was up to them."

It was not known what the dispatcher did after receiving the call. Burkhardt said he was not sure if the dispatcher was told that the engine had been shut down, or what the dispatcher did after receiving the call. The company is still investigating the incident, as are Canadian authorities.

"This is all within the scope of our investigation," said Benoit Richard, a spokesman for the Quebec provincial police.

Burkhardt said the fire department should have tried to contact a local engineer who would have known how to secure the train. The hand brakes alone were not enough to keep the train in place after the pressure leaked out of the air brakes, he said.

"If they had actually talked to an engineer he would've known immediately what to do about that. I don't know what they actually said to the dispatcher," Burkhardt said in an interview in his office, decked out with model trains, rail posters and other railroad memorabilia, in a seven-story building near Chicago O'Hare International Airport.

Shortly after the firefighters left the Nantes siding, an eyewitness reports seeing the train - some four-fifths of a mile long - start rolling down the gentle hill.

"About five minutes after the firemen left, I felt the vibration of a train moving down the track. I then saw the train move by without its lights on," said Andre Gendron, 38, whose trailer and off-the-grid wooden cabin are the only buildings anywhere near the rail siding.

"I found it strange its lights weren't on and thought it was an electrical problem on board. It wasn't long after that I heard the explosion. I could see the light from the fires in Lac-Megantic."

Burkhardt said the train picked up speed quickly and was likely going "far, far faster" than the speed limit of 10 miles per hour (16 km per hour) as it reached a curve in the track in the very center of Lac-Megantic at around 1:15 a.m. on Saturday and jumped the tracks.

He said the locomotives separated from the buffer car - a heavy railcar loaded with stones or rocks or sand - and the tanker cars, which were laden with a free-flowing type of Bakken oil from North Dakota.

Lac-Megantic residents reported hearing a series of five or six explosions. The crude caught on fire, spread through the storm drains and spilled into the deep blue lake that the town was named after.

"This was a huge derailment. If you have a pile-up of cars like this, you are going to have a multitude of sparks," Burkhardt said. "The whole train was compressed into a few hundred feet in some spots. And cars piled three high in certain places."

"It's awful, it's absolutely awful," said Burkhardt, a slender, gray-haired rail industry veteran who is also president of Rail World Inc, a privately held rail management and investment firm that is the parent company of MMA.

Pictures taken from the air on Monday show blackened tanker cars concertinaed on top of the space where the popular Musi-Cafe used to be, a night-time hangout that was packed when the train roared into town.

Eyewitness Bernard Theberge, 44, said about 50 people were inside the bar as the train approached, and he was outside on the terrace.

"There was a big explosion, the heat reached the cafe and then a big wall of fire enveloped the road.... It all happened so fast, in the space of a minute," he said.

"There were people inside. I thought for maybe two seconds that I should go in, but the heat was too strong to get to the door," said Theberge, who escaped with second-degree burns.

(Reporting by Richard Valdmanis in Nantes, Quebec, and P.J. Huffstutter in Chicago; Additional reporting by Julie Gordon in Lac-Magentic; Writing by Janet Guttsman; Editing by Tiffany Wu and Lisa Shumaker)

3. Did Korean culture contribute to San Francisco plane crash?

By Ashley Halsey III, The Washington Post

A fire truck sprays water on Asiana Flight 214 after it crashed at San Francisco International Airport on Saturday, July 6, 2013, in San Francisco. (AP Photo/Noah Berger)

A comment Monday by the head of the National Transportation Safety Board sounded reasonable to the average ear, but for aviation crash experts there was an immediate connection to a remarkable 1999 crash of a Boeing 747 just after takeoff from London.

"We are looking at communication between the two crew members," NTSB Chairman Deborah Hersman said from the San Francisco scene where a South Korean Boeing 777 crashed Saturday, killing two teenage girls bound from China to a summer camp in the United States.

For some aviation experts, examining cockpit communication brought to mind what went wrong on Dec. 22, 1999, when Korean Air Cargo Flight 8509 plunged to the ground in a village near London.

The investigation that followed, even when described in the terse terms used in such reports, revealed a remarkable dynamic in the cockpit that has been linked to the hierarchical structure of the Korean culture.

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When the plane took off after dark, the pilot's cockpit indicator called an artificial horizon wasn't working. The copilot's was, as was an auxiliary artificial horizon dial located on the dashboard between them.

When the pilot began to execute a planned banked turn, the horizon instrument in front of him didn't register that the plane had tilted on an appropriate angle. Unable to see that the plane already had banked, he continued to bank farther, even though a warning buzzer sounded nine times in the cockpit.

"There was no audible acknowledgment from any crew member regarding these warnings," said the final investigative report of the British Air Accidents Investigation Branch, the United Kingdom's equivalent of the NTSB.

The plane's wing tore into the ground. All four crew members died.

The plane's pilot was Park Duk-kyu, a 57-year-old former fighter pilot in the South Korean air force. The first officer was Yoon Ki-sik, 33, who had far less experience.

The investigative report said that Park was irritated by their late departure from London.

The report said that though Yoon was communicating correct information to the tower, Park spoke at him in a "derogatory" fashion, saying, "Make sure you understand what ground control is saying before you speak."

Seconds later, he barked: "Answer them! They are asking how long the delay will be."

"By making these comments, it is considered that the commander contributed to setting a tone which discouraged further input from other crew members, especially the first officer," the report said.

When the plane went into its ill-fated bank less than a minute into the flight, the first officer said nothing, even though the instrument in front of him indicated that the plane was turned almost sideways, the report said.

Author Malcolm Gladwell examined the Korean culture's influence in airplane cockpits in his 2008 book "Outliers."

"Korean Air had more plane crashes than almost any other airline in the world for a period at the end of the 1990s," Gladwell said in an interview with Fortune magazine just after the book came out. "What they were struggling with was a cultural legacy, that Korean culture is hierarchical. You are obliged to be deferential toward your elders and superiors in a way that would be unimaginable in the U.S."

In their formal recommendations, British investigators called on Korean Air to revise its company culture and training, "to promote a more free atmosphere between the captain and the first officer."

There has been no indication or suggestion that the crash of Asiana Flight 214 on Saturday was caused by a communication failure in the cockpit. The NTSB would review what the pilot and copilot said regardless of their nationality.

The plane was being flown by veteran pilot Lee Gang-guk, who was a newcomer to the Boeing 777 but had many hours of experience with another jumbo jet, the Boeing 747.

His copilot, identified by the airline as Lee Jeong-min, had logged 3,220 hours on the 777.

The cockpit voice recorder showed no conversation in the cockpit when a warning went off three seconds before the crash. At 11/2 seconds before impact a voice in the cockpit said the landing attempt should be aborted.

4. After Sandy, the pristine Jersey shore shimmers again

By Andrea Sachs, The Washington Post

Hurricane Sandy' s monster footprint is shrinking in places such as Beach Haven, N.J., a community on Long Beach Island; the storm caused nearly $37 billion worth of damage in New Jersey. (Melanie Burford/for The Washington Post) (Melanie Burford)

Sandy was here?

From way up high, 65 feet above Long Beach Island, the superstorm that had ravaged the Jersey Shore in late October was AWOL. With each spin of the Ferris wheel, I searched for the cruel souvenirs the hurricane reportedly had left behind: toppled houses, shredded roads, tousled beaches. Yet I saw only pristine coastline, shimmering ocean and the Sharpie black line of the main drag.

Sandy had come to Jersey and crushed, but her monster footprint is shrinking.

The second-costliest hurricane in U.S. history, after Katrina, punched its way up the Northeast coast in late October of last year, causing nearly $37 billion worth of damage in New Jersey, according to a November report from the governor's office. The hurricane resulted in 117 total deaths, based on American Red Cross figures; destroyed or damaged 346,000 housing units; and affected 75 percent of the shore's small businesses. About 2.5 million cubic yards of sand and debris choked roads and waterways. Hundreds of residents had to wait weeks before they could return home to assess the wreckage and their personal losses.

The shore's tourism industry is crucial, despite its short season of a few sunny months. In 2012, it earned $19 billion in revenue, but this year's forecast is less rosy: A January report by Rutgers University's Edward J. Bloustein School of Planning and Public Policy estimates a $950 million loss during the peak beachgoing period of July through September.

"Tourism pays for everything," said Ron Bernknopf, who runs the Colony Motel in Seaside Heights with his wife, adding that occupancy is down 20 percent.

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But time, plus money, heals. Eight months (and $6.8 billion in federal aid) later, New Jersey's beach towns are wriggling back to life. Over Memorial Day weekend, the psychological start of summer, Gov. Chris Christie heralded the triumphant return of the oceanside destination. Someone pressed play on the sunbaked anthem "Stronger Than the Storm," then left it on a continuous loop. This summer, we're not surfing with the Beach Boys, "we're resilient, we're Jersey-tough, we are stronger than the storm."

A sunset cruise sails past Barnegat Lighthouse, which didn' t lose a fleck of red paint to Hurricane Sandy, on the northern tip of Long Beach Island. (Melanie Burford/for The Washington Post) (Melanie Burford)

Catchy ditty, for sure, but sunbathers can't cop a tan on perseverance, resolve and good intentions. We want silky strands and restored boardwalks, hot funnel cakes and frozen cocktails. We need the Jersey Shore to be operational and functional, and back in full-on beach party mode. We'll take that song, but mix it with Pitbull, please.

To determine the Garden State's state of readiness, I retracted the top on the convertible and followed the salty scent of sea to the Jersey Shore. I started on Long Beach Island, slightly north of the hurricane's landfall, and drove along the coast until I hit the long toe of Sandy Hook's Gateway National Recreation Area. Along the route, I looked for vestiges of the hurricane, but in many places, Sandy was a nobody.

Seaside Heights, a community that was hit hard by Hurricane Sandy, has a newly rebuilt boardwalk. (Melanie Burford/for The Washington Post) (Melanie Burford)

- - - Sandy was a fickle beast.

In New Jersey, the storm unleashed its greatest wrath upon Monmouth and Ocean counties, in the central coastal region. Although the hurricane clawed some areas, it barely nipped at others. For instance, Long Branch lost its boardwalk (on the docket for expansion anyway) and 50 yards of beachfront, significant damage yet minor when compared with the devastation its northern neighbor, Sea Bright, suffered.

Instructor Eric Leonard, left, and Brighton Beach Surf Shop owner Mike Lisiewski take visitors to Brighton Beach for a surf lesson on Long Beach Island. (Melanie Burford/for The Washington Post) (Melanie Burford)

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Long Beach Island exemplifies the storm's mercurial nature; the 18-mile-long barrier island endured a patchwork of casualties: nothing serious on the north, but painful in the south.

"If you drove down the boulevard and didn't know about Superstorm Sandy," said Joe Jones, a resident and real estate agent on LBI, "you'd never know anything happened . . ."

"Unless you go to Holgate," interrupted Mike Lisiewski, who owns Brighton Beach Surf Shop, a few communities north of Holgate.

At the tippity-top of the island, Barnegat Lighthouse State Park reopened less than a month after the storm hit. Rangers led the season's first full moon night climb on Memorial Day weekend (next one: July 22). The lighthouse did not lose a fleck of red paint.

I strolled the jetty with Dave, who owns a vacation home in the nearby township of Loveladies. We were chatting about the storm (he lost a few shingles) when he stopped and pointed: "That was probably caused by Sandy."

I bent down to inspect a gap between the concrete squares, which was highlighted in cautionary pink spray paint. It was a hazard - to hermit crabs and small toes.

Farther south, I noted a few boarded-up stores and restaurants, as well as an abandoned 7-Eleven. In different circumstances, I could have easily interpreted the damage as the inevitable wear-and-tear of salt spray and strong ocean breezes, or blamed the weakened economy.

At Brighton Beach Surf Shop, which I last visited in 2007 for a surf lesson, the front yard and porch looked unchanged. I was greeted by the same jumble of jellybean-colored beach chairs, inflatable rafts, surfboards and umbrellas. And once again, I found Mike fussing around in the garage bursting with surfboards.

Sandy is a sensitive topic for many residents, but I had to ask Mike a vital question: "Did you surf the storm?"

"With Irene, I went the day after, but I didn't really surf this one," he said. "It just didn't feel right. I didn't go back out till around Christmas."

The storm flooded the shop with about four feet of water (see the watermark on the door), blew off the gutters and trampled the roof. His staff removed the merchandise piled on the floor, but it did not anticipate the water rising and carrying off higher-shelved items like corks on a creek. He set a date to reopen by Easter and met his goal.

"This is a make-or-break-it season for a lot of people," he said. "In August, you might see a lot of stuff go on sale." (Some businesses, such as Tucker's, the Frosted Mug and the Black Dog Cafe, are indefinitely closed.)

Mike, who admitted that tourist numbers are down so far this year, politely answered my questions. But I sensed that he was tiring of this topic and ready to switch to more important matters, such as when could he get me out on the waves again. My answer: When the water warms up; see you in September.

The biggest concern at Fantasy Island Amusement Park in Beach Haven is not freezer burn on the toes but losing your funnel cake. The family-fun center has been making kids dizzy for more than three decades with theme park rides and sugar highs. Swamped by nine feet of water, the entertainment venue had to gut every building, including the arcade. However, the rides escaped structural harm, and every evening (at least through August), the park flips the switch, setting the thrill-mobiles in motion.

Fantasy Island operates 18 rides; many move at blurring speeds or feature tot-size seats that require adults to slip into a pair of Spanx. The Giant Wheel, by comparison, provides roomy cars and a lost balloon's view of Long Beach Island.

Before I could board the wheel, I had to draft a partner to go around with me. Yes, I am taller than 54 inches, but after the 2011 death of a young girl in Wildwood, the state recommends that amusement parks pair up at least two people per car. Victoria, an employee, stepped in as my chaperone.

As we slowly churned, I rotated my body counterclockwise, taking in the long and wide spread of the island. I saw Barnegat Bay and the Atlantic on opposite sides, and the Monopoly-size homes wedged in between.

Sandy was nowhere to be seen.

To find her, I had to travel to the bottom of the island, to Holgate. The community, a vulnerable target near the rendezvous point of the bay and the ocean, received quite a bruising. Today, the laid-back community is a humming hive of activity, with contractors fixing windows, porches, doors and driveways. I could barely hear the cackles of gulls through the din of bulldozers, hammers and drills.

"Take pictures of the nice things," Eileen Bowker told me when I stopped by her deli for a soda, "the beaches, and the restaurants that are open."

A few minutes before meeting Eileen, I had snapped a picture of the rah-rah sign - "LBI is Alive" - hanging from the store's second floor. Before driving off, I took a photo of Holgate's beach and its new fence, which smelled of fresh pine.

- - - Seaside Heights rebounds

If you want to support the restoration and revitalization of the Jersey Shore, be hedonistic and self-indulgent. Follow the T-shirt gospel, "Jersey go hard or go home."

Here are some suggestions for Seaside Heights: Take a long, REM-deep nap on the beach (remember to buy your $5 badge). Fill your chipmunk cheeks with thin-crust pizza, Hershey's ice cream and fried Oreos on the boardwalk. Chug $2 pints of Budweiser or $10 shakers of shots at EJ's bar. Pass out in a local hotel (I suggest the comfortable Colony Motel). Rouse yourself for a henna tattoo or a Monroe piercing. Or, for less bodily intrusion and mutilation, spring for a "Restore the Shore" magnet or sticker; all proceeds go to recovery efforts, according to the accompanying sign. And if there are any javelin throwers in the house, toss a sharp object at an inflated orb that never meant you any harm.

"Wanna play the darts? We're trying to restore the shore," an arcade vendor shouted at a family of four walking past the game. "Help us."

The dad, who was toting his daughter on his shoulders, abruptly stopped. The little girl tightened her grip on the two stuffed mermaids in her hands.

"We were here twice to restore the shore," Papa Bear retorted. "Second time in three months. Stop acting crazy. We're doing what we can."

Indeed, restoring the shore can turn ugly. But without passion, muscle and loud voices, Seaside Heights might not have risen again - or, at least, recovered so swiftly.

"Seaside Heights was the hardest to come back so far," said Bob Hilton, executive director of the Jersey Shore Convention and Visitors Bureau. "There wasn't a board on the boardwalk."

But that was then. Since Memorial Day weekend, visitors have been stepping on nearly a mile of new planks stretching from Kearney Avenue to the border with Seaside Park. (About three blocks were still under repair during my visit.) New benches look out toward the ocean or inward at the boardwalk scene, depending on your viewing preference. The arcades on Casino and Funtown piers are once again tinny-loud and tacky-fun. The Shore Store, where the "Jersey Shore" cast faux-worked, is selling Snooki costume eyelashes and Pauly D bobble heads (how realistic - his hair is immobile) alongside "Restore the Shore" T-shirts. You can also tour the MTV House of Horror, with the added bonus of taking a photo with the duck phone. (Bring your baby wipes.)

"They're trying," said the Colony Motel's co-owner, Bernknopf. "We should be 100 percent by next year." (According to Bernknopf, about 30 of the 40-odd lodgings have reopened.)

No doubt, the progress is fitful, especially along the two piers, which have grown into a tertiary tourist attraction. At Casino Pier, I watched workmen array the disassembled seats of the chairlift and dust off large panels with Southwestern desert landscapes. To the south, tourists congregated around the chain-link fence protecting Funtown Pier, which appears to have been chewed off by a sea monster. At the end of the boardwalk, I settled into a picnic table at Park Seafood that overlooked the decapitated head of a giant (fake) snake and a lone T. rex staring off to sea. I can't read dinosaur emotions very well but imagine he was pretty choked up.

By next summer, one can only hope that the snake's head will be reunited with its body and that T. rex will have playmates again. That should lift his spirits, and Seaside Heights's, too.

5. A break for smokers? Glitch may limit penalties

By Ricardo Alonso-Zaldivar, Associated Press

FILE - In this June 11, 2007 file photo, Helen Heinlo smokes outside of a coffee shop in Belmont, Calif. Some smokers trying to get coverage in 2014 under President Barack Obama s health care law may get a break from tobacco-use penalties that could have made their premiums unaffordable. The Obama administration _ in yet another health care overhaul delay _ has quietly notified insurers that a computer system glitch will limit penalties that the law says the companies may charge smokers. A fix will take at least a year to put in place. (AP Photo/Paul Sakuma, File) (Paul Sakuma)

They huddle outside office buildings and they can't satisfy their nicotine cravings by lighting up on planes and trains, but now smokers could be getting a break from an unlikely source.

A glitch involving President Barack Obama's health care law means smokers may get at least some relief next year from tobacco-use penalties that could have made their premiums unaffordable.

In yet another health care overhaul delay, the administration has quietly notified insurers that a computer system problem will limit penalties that the law says the companies may charge smokers. A fix will take at least a year.

Older smokers are more likely to benefit from the glitch, experts say. But depending on how insurers respond to it, it's also possible that younger smokers could wind up facing higher penalties than they otherwise would have.

Some see an emerging pattern of last-minute switches and delays as the administration scrambles to prepare the Oct. 1 launch of new health insurance markets for people who don't have job-based insurance. Last week, the White House unexpectedly announced a one-year postponement of a major provision in the law that requires larger employers to offer coverage or face fines.

The smokers' glitch is "a temporary circumstance that in no way impacts our ability to open the marketplaces on Oct. 1," Health and Human Services spokeswoman Joanne Peters said in a statement.

A June 28 HHS document couched the problem in technical language:

"Because of a system limitation ... the system currently cannot process a premium for a 65-year-old smoker that is ... more than three times the premium of a 21-year-old smoker," the industry guidance said.

If an insurer tries to charge more, "the submission of the (insurer) will be rejected by the system," it added.

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Starting in 2014, the law requires insurance companies to accept all applicants regardless of pre-existing medical problems. But it also allows them to charge smokers up to 50 percent higher premiums - a way for insurers to ward off bad risks.

For an older smoker, the cost of the full penalty could be prohibitive.

Premiums for a standard "silver" insurance plan would be about $9,000 a year for a 64-year-old non-smoker, according to the online Kaiser Health Reform Subsidy Calculator. That's before any tax credits, available on a sliding scale based on income.

For a smoker of the same age, the full 50 percent penalty would add more than $4,500 to the cost of the policy, bringing it to nearly $13,600. And new tax credits available to help pay premiums cannot be used to offset the penalty.

The underlying reason for the glitch is another provision in the health care law that says insurers can't charge older customers more than three times what they charge the youngest adults in the pool. The government's computer system has been unable to accommodate the two.

The administration is suggesting that insurers limit the penalties across all age groups. The HHS guidance document used the example of a 20 percent penalty for young and old alike.

In that case the premium for a 64-year-old would be about $10,900, a significant cut from the $13,600 if insurers charged the full penalty.

Younger smokers and older smokers can still be charged different penalties, but if the total of premiums and penalties is more than three times greater for older smokers, the system will kick it out.

Insurers had not expected such limitations. Before the glitch popped up, experts said the companies would probably charge low penalties for younger smokers, and much higher ones for older ones.

"Generally a 20-year-old who smokes probably doesn't have much higher health costs than someone who doesn't smoke in any given year," said Larry Levitt, an insurance market expert with the nonpartisan Kaiser Family Foundation. "A 60-year-old is another story."

It's unclear what insurance companies will do.

Another workaround for the companies would be to charge the full penalty to both younger and older smokers. In that case, there wouldn't be any savings for older smokers, and younger ones would see a big price shock.

Levitt said he suspects insurers will keep the penalties low to sign up more young people. That's happened so far in three states, he added.

But health care industry consultant Bob Laszweski said he thinks insurers will do the opposite, hitting young and old with high penalties. "It's going to throw cold water on efforts to get younger people to sign up," he said.

Workers covered through job-based health plans would be able to avoid tobacco penalties by joining smoking cessation programs because employer plans operate under different rules. That option is not guaranteed to smokers trying to purchase coverage individually, prompting 10 states already to limit what insurers can charge smokers buying individual coverage.

5. Sale of Brooks House complete; project moving forward

By Reformer Staff

The Brooks House in Brattleboro. (Zachary P. Stephens/Reformer file photo)

BRATTLEBORO -- The members of Mesabi LLC, the corporation formed to help raise the approximately $23 million needed to purchase and renovate the Brooks House in downtown Brattleboro, on Tuesday morning announced that they have completed the closing process.

Bob Stevens, Drew Richards, Ben Taggard, Peter Richards and Craig Miskovich said the group is now set to move forward with the next phase of the Brooks House redevelopment.

Construction will begin before the end of July and should take approximately one year.

Brattleboro's historic Brooks House has been closed since a five alarm fire significantly damaged the structure on April 17, 2011, displacing up to 60 tenants and 10 businesses.

Bob Stevens, one of the investors involved in the deal, told the Brattleboro Selectboard last month that while investors hoped to purchase the building in December, and then again in March, the final pieces are finally in place.

"We're in a pretty good mood today," Stevens the board. "We think the budget is finally balanced and we feel like we are very, very close."

About one year after the April 2011 fire building owner Jonathan Chase announced that he was not going to be able to finance the redevelopment of the property.

Mesabi, LLC was formed to raise the capital to purchase the property from Chase and rehabilitate it.

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Since then Community College of Vermont and Vermont Technical College announced that they wanted to site their facilities in the downtown building.

Stevens said previously that the residences and businesses are more than 70 percent pre-leased

A ground-breaking ceremony with Governor Shumlin is scheduled for July 17 at 1 p.m. at the River Garden on Main Street.