‘Making an impact’

Residents help restore Allen Brook

Nov. 23, 2011

By Luke Baynes

Observer staff

Ian Ambler, owner of Stowe-based Ambler Landscape Architecture & Ecological Design, shows the Bear Cub Scout Den Williston Pack 692 how to plant tree seedlings. The scouts planted the trees in a field along the Allen Brook, between Williston village and North Williston Road, on Nov. 1 to help with restoration efforts. (Observer photo by Steven Frank)

Williston has yet to see a significant snowfall this year, but there’s still a lot of white around town.

Instead of the fluffy stuff, the color has blanketed the banks of the Allen Brook in the form of ubiquitous tree tubes that represent significant progress in the restoration of a watershed that has long been relegated to the state’s list of impaired waters.

“I’m very proud of the work that we’ve been able to do,” said Williston Conservation Commission member Jude Hersey. “I really feel when driving around the town that we’re making an impact.”

Hersey and her commission cohorts are indeed making an impact, as Stephen Diglio, project manager with the environmental consulting firm KAS Inc., attests.

According to Diglio, 17 acres, with an average of 200 to 250 trees per acre, have been planted along the Allen Brook – a sprawling watershed located entirely within the town’s boundaries.

“The initial goal for the project was to do the restoration of 10 acres, so we actually exceeded those goals,” said Diglio.

As Williston senior planner Jessica Andreoletti explained, the restoration of the Allen Brook has been an ongoing, multi-year process.

“There have been multiple phases to the project, and this is the culmination phase,” Andreoletti said. “The whole point is to keep sediment out of the Allen Brook, and the only way to do that is to plant trees and provide habitat. What we’re trying to do is bring back fish and bugs. The reason why it hasn’t passed the state’s stormwater standards is because there’s not enough fish or bugs.”

In order for the tree planting to commence, however, Andreoletti and Diglio first had to convince landowners to give up land within the brook’s 150-foot riparian buffer by signing conservation easements over to the town in exchange for cash compensation.

“Really the biggest challenge we had was getting land owners to commit, because it is an easement on their property,” Diglio said. “It doesn’t really provide any more restrictions than the local town zoning, but it’s a perpetual thing. The zoning could one day disappear, but the easement will stay.”

“But all in all,” continued Diglio, “most of the land is undevelopable anyway, so it’s a net benefit for everybody. They’re getting money for land they couldn’t really do anything with, plus we’re improving the water quality and health of the brook in hopes to eventually get it off the impaired water (list), and that’s the ultimate goal of the restoration project.”

Rick and Karen Reed, whose 14-acre plot on Williston Road abuts the brook, were more than happy to allow an easement on the western edge of their property.

“It’s not land that has any commercial value anyway and (it has) sort of marginal agricultural value, so I couldn’t see really a reason not to participate,” said Rick Reed. “I thought it was great.”

Doug Goulette, a member of the homeowner’s association in Williston’s Southridge neighborhood, said his community is unified in its support of the Allen Brook restoration.

“We wanted to do everything we could to improve the water quality of Allen Brook, at least where it passes through our property,” Goulette said. “It seemed like a win-win situation for all parties.”

There are two components to the Allen Brook project: land acquisition and restoration. Andreoletti said that while 2011 restoration funds have been exhausted and the final 70 trees were planted on Nov. 19, additional land acquisition dollars remain.

Funding for land acquisition and restoration was made possible by a federal grant the town secured through Jim Fay of the Champlain Water District. Under the terms of the State Tribal Assistance Grant — recently extended through July 1, 2012 — the grant will pay 55 percent (up to $220,243) of total project costs, if the town comes up with the 45-percent match.

With $66,080 in matching grant monies already in tow from a variety of sources — including the state’s Stormwater Impaired Restoration Fund — the Williston Selectboard authorized the use of up to $114,119 of the town’s Environmental Reserve Fund to satisfy the match.

Besides the environmental benefits of the Allen Brook restoration, Hersey said the project serves as a way to unite the community and to teach the value of conservation to local youths.

“Both of our schools border the Allen Brook, so you can have kids at a young age be a part of protecting the environment,” Hersey said.

Andreoletti observed that in addition to preserving the long-term welfare of Williston’s primary watershed, the brook’s restoration also sends a symbolic message to residents.

“Williston gets a bad rep for being the box store capital of Vermont, and this (project) shows there’s more to Williston than just that,” said Andreoletti.