July 25, 2014

Report on construction accident due within days

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State agency could penalize construction business

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

A report on the March construction accident that injured two workers in Williston is expected this week.

Robert McLeod, compliance program director for the Vermont Occupational Safety and Health Administration, said a compliance officer had not yet compiled a report on the accident, but he had completed investigating the case. McLeod expects the report will be finished this week.

The accident occurred March 11 at a housing construction site on Overlake View. Ian Dewey reportedly suffered internal injuries in the accident, while Andrew Francis apparently sustained an apparent broken ankle. Both are employees of Colchester-based Francis Construction.

Dewey was listed in fair condition three days after the accident. He has since been released from Fletcher Allen Health Care.

Four workers were attempting to raise an exterior wall on the second floor of a house. The workers lost control of the wall and it fell. The wall struck Dewey and knocked him 12 feet to the ground, according to Williston firefighter Jim Hendry. Francis was injured when the wall fell on his leg.

George Walker, a VOSHA compliance officer, reported to the site of the accident to begin an investigation. Williston fire officials contacted VOSHA.

McLeod said the investigation would examine whether any VOSHA workplace rules had been violated at the site. If the investigation finds any violations, Francis Construction would be cited. If the violations are deemed serious, McLeod said the company would be penalized.

McLeod said a business that is cited has 20 days to meet with the state, either in an informal conference or to contest the violation before the VOSHA Board.

Work has continued on the house where the accident occurred in the weeks since the accident.

McLeod said the state database lists accidents by employer and not by location of the accident, so it is difficult to track the number of workplace accidents in Williston in recent years. A worker at Pete’s RV Center died in a forklift accident at the store’s Williston warehouse in June of last year.

However, McLeod said, generally “there aren’t an awful lot of (construction) accidents in Vermont” each year, particularly where serious injuries occur.

McLeod said Francis Construction has not been involved in a VOSHA investigation during the past five years.

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Priests recount pope’s passing

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The Associated Press

ST. ALBANS — Several Vermont priests have returned from the Vatican after paying their last respects to Pope John Paul II.

The Rev. Thomas Mosher of Woodstock and the Rev. Benedict Kiely, a pastor in Enosburg Falls, were among those to receive the pope's last blessing before he died. They also waited in line for hours to pay their last respects to the pope following his death.

“We arrived, dropped our bags at the hotel, and walked into St. Peter's Square,” Kiely said. “We received the pope's blessing and that was the last time the pope was seen in public before he died. It was an amazing start to the whole thing.”

They had planned the trip to Rome six months earlier as a pilgrimage.

The experience was emotional for Mosher, 52. “To be Catholic in Rome is like being one step below heaven, no matter what time of year,” he said. “But to be there for a major event like that is like being only a half-step below heaven.”

Mosher and Kiely were walking toward St. Peter's Square when the St. Peter's bell started to toll. Kiely said the bells could be ringing because the pope had passed away. “We ran into the square from there just in time to hear them announce that the pope had died,” Mosher said.

The same cardinal who made the announcement led the people in reciting the rosary. “Then what happened was even more amazing,” Mosher said. “While the bell kept tolling, people began singing. It was small groups, here and there.” They included German high school students and Polish pilgrims, singing hymns in their native languages.

People poured into the plaza as they learned of the pope's death. Mosher and Kiely left around midnight, although the singing continued through the night. “Even after we went to bed, we could hear the movement of people,” Mosher said. “I opened the window to look out, and we could hear people all through the night walking toward St. Peter's.”

Kiely said he stood in line for hours and saw the pontiff's body lying in state at about midnight. He said the experience was unforgettable.

“What was impressive was that a majority of the people were young,” he said.

Kiely said he was 18 when he first met the Pope, and that meeting was one of the reasons he became a priest.

“We're all very, very sad,” he said. “He was like a grandfather. I'll miss him very much.”

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Poop patrol does spring cleaning

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

They walk briskly, their heads tilted down, their eyes scouring the grass for samples. When they spot the treasure they seek — months-old piles of dog waste — they lean eagerly forward and scoop it carefully into a plastic bag, like scientists recovering rare specimens. Their smiling faces belie neither disgust nor agitation.

“It’s a little mushy, a little more aromatic than you’d like,” Allan Kunigis says analytically. “It’s great to get it when it’s still frozen.”

Kunigis and two fellow dog lovers, Jan Lawson and Pam Boutin-Adams, toured the bike path behind Williston Central School on Friday, cleaning up the waste left behind by a year’s worth of labs, hounds, collies, shepherds and mutts.

It was the third year the trio has performed the service. Each frequently travels the path with their canines, and they have become well aware that not all dog owners are diligent about cleaning up after their pets. Every spring, when the snow melts, mounds of the waste become visible along the bike path.
The group said the situation had simply grown unbearable two years ago, and they felt compelled to make some improvements.

“I don’t like getting in the car and finding poop on my shoe any more than the next person,” Boutin-Adams said.

The group was embarking on its mission a bit later in the season than was ideal, Kunigis said. In previous years, they timed the trip for when the snow had only partially melted. Consequently, instead of the poop standing out against the white backdrop of the winter’s remaining snow on Friday, it was hidden among leaves and mud spots in the grass.

Kunigis and Boutin-Adams used garden trowels to scoop the poop into plastic bags in buckets; Lawson employed a pair of tongs. When a bag filled, they tied it off and left it along the side of the path. Lawson later drove down the path in a pickup truck, collecting the bags.

The three appeared to be having fun during their unenviable task, laughing and joking along the way. Boutin-Adams said the three were the sort of friends who identified each other by their dogs.

Lawson’s dog, Poppy, and Boutin-Adams’ dog, Clay, joined their owners on the search, playing rambunctiously along the route. Clay occasionally pointed out a sample for Boutin-Adams with his nose.

Although the threesome seemed to be constantly reaching to pick up new piles, they said the path area seemed cleaner than it has in recent years.

“This is way better than I’ve seen it before,” Kunigis said.

“I think the poop fairy may have come,” Boutin-Adams said.

Two years ago, when they made their maiden run on a cold, rainy day, the group “couldn’t go five feet. It was just disgusting,” Boutin-Adams said. Last year, the group filled five five-gallon bags with unretrieved poop.

Lawson, Kunigis and Boutin-Adams say they do not resent those who fail to clean up after their dogs, noting that sometimes people just do not realize their dog has “gone.”

However, Lawson said the three areas where the dog poop was most concentrated abutted residential neighborhoods.

“That seems more deliberate,” Boutin-Adams said.

Some passers-by thanked the trio for their work, and Kunigis said they have heard that people appreciate their work. Kunigis said a nearby day care worker who regularly walks along the path sent word to the town in the past year that the poop removal was beneficial.

The group also received praise from Williston Public Works Director Neil Boyden, who extolled the volunteers to the Selectboard this winter.

“They do a real service to the town,” Boyden said. “That’s not an easy job at all.”

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Park

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Rossignol Park sits well below the surrounding traffic of Industrial Avenue and North Brownell Road, creating a decidedly isolated oasis.

Rossignol’s intimacy is both its best and worst quality, giving it a relaxed environment for a leisurely tennis match while also emboldening vandals and other social misfits. A man recently exposed himself to a female jogger at the park in the middle of a Friday afternoon.

For years, the town of Williston has hoped to fill in the park and raise it to the level of Industrial Avenue. The fill would come from construction of the Circumferential Highway through town.

The plan would solve concerns with the park’s seclusion, but, perhaps more importantly, it would produce much-needed park space for the town. Recreation Director Kevin Finnegan said the available land for recreation facilities at the park would grow from 3-1/2 acres to 5-1/2 acres.

Recreation Committee member Kevin Armstrong said he likes Rossignol the way it is — “it is neat to be down in that hole like that” — but still believes the plan to fill the park would best serve the town.

“I haven’t heard anybody say don’t fill it,” Armstrong said. “It would be an advantage for it to be more visible, and it would be great to get all that space.”

Little League players and fans and those that use the tennis courts are particularly appreciative of the park’s current isolated nature.

“It’s really what makes it unique,” said Martha Chevalier, a Williston resident who mostly visits the park for her sons’ Little League games. “It’s what gives it a lot of character. I really like it.”

However, Finnegan said use at the park is not very high, perhaps because it does not seem welcoming from the road, and safety concerns accompany the location.

In addition to the recent flashing incident, Rossignol was also the scene of a man exposing himself in 1999 (police made an arrest in that case). However, a search of the police database showed just eight complaints at the park since 2000. All were minor.

Williston Police Chief Ozzie Glidden said Rossignol Park is similar to most secluded spots.

“It really is a pretty little spot,” Glidden said. “People who use it should just temper that with common sense. It’s not a place for a child or female to go alone without taking some precautions, but I wouldn’t call it dangerous either.”

Glidden said the park’s privacy tends to attract people using alcohol and illegal drugs. Finnegan said municipal employees clean up empty beer bottles at the park most Mondays in the summer, and vandalism has been a frequent problem.

Municipal officials remain uncertain whether the plan to fill the park will ever be realized. Not only is the future of the Circ undetermined, but the town might not win the bid to store the fill.

“I think to get that much fill without the Circ is pretty much unthinkable,” Finnegan said.

In the meantime, the Selectboard has budgeted funds for maintenance improvements at the park. The board had postponed the improvements when construction of the Circ appeared ready to begin.

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Officials defend use of security grants

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Occasionally, the Planned Parenthood offices in Williston receive a suspicious package that employees are wary of opening. The Williston Police Department is called.

Williston Police Chief Ozzie Glidden said the department does not have the tools to inspect the contents of the package without opening it. So, typically, if there are no wires sticking out of the package, officers “very gingerly” remove the package from the offices and open it outside.

“We shouldn’t be doing that,” Glidden said. “We shouldn’t have to do that.”

Glidden cites the Planned Parenthood example to explain the usefulness of the homeland security grants that police, fire and rescue departments across the country have received over the past three years.

Critics assert much of the homeland security funding has gone to smaller communities at little risk from a terrorist attack. They say many of the items purchased have nothing to do with security.

The grants, Williston officials say, have helped both police and firefighters acquire equipment they otherwise might not have been able to afford.

For instance, Williston police secured a grant last year to purchase a portable X-ray machine that it would be able to use to inspect suspicious packages.

Most recently, the Williston police and fire departments were approved for a combined $101,542 in homeland security grants this month. Town Manager Rick McGuire still must approve the acceptance of the grant money, and the Selectboard will review the equipment the grant funding would purchase at its May 2 meeting.

Both Glidden and Morton declined to discuss the specific items the new grant funding would purchase because they had not yet met with the Selectboard.

The grants represent a big addition to the departments’ budgets. They appear to make Williston an example of what critics complain is too many of the federal homeland security dollars going to small towns.

Some have questioned whether the grants amount to pork barrel spending. Lauren Cook, a media associate with Citizens Against Government Waste, said the 2005 Homeland Security appropriations bill, which totals $4 billion, features $1.7 billion in pork barrel spending.

Cook said the bill too often “supports programs riddled with waste and abuse.”

However, both Glidden and Morton say there has been no waste in Williston’s homeland security purchases. Nothing, they say, sits in storage unused.

“The things we have bought are all things we can use to prepare for (a terrorist attack), but also they are things we can use on a day-to-day basis,” Morton said. “These things are not just sitting on a shelf waiting for the big one.”

Municipal officials say the equipment purchases improve public safety workers’ ability to respond to major events, whether they result from a terrorist attack or not. For instance, upgraded radio equipment allows firefighters and police officers to communicate with each other and neighboring departments in a way they could not before, producing a more coherent, organized approach to a disaster.

Extrication equipment used to remove people from cars in auto accidents could also help firefighters rescue people trapped in a building collapsed by a bomb. Thermal imaging cameras used to fight fires and locate hidden suspects would be used for similar purposes during a terrorist attack.

Williston’s homeland security grants place it in the norm among Vermont municipalities. The Williston Police Department’s recent approval for $61,300 in grant money stands alongside $61,410 for Winooski, $82,044 for Stowe and $133,378 for Springfield. The fire department’s $40,242 can be measured against $43,975 for Beecher Falls, $62,000 for Bradford and $49,199 for Cabot.

In fact, the amount raises the question: “Why hasn’t Williston sought more homeland security funding?”

Morton said the answer is restraint. Both Morton and Glidden say the equipment they have purchased with the grants has been limited to items they would have sought in their operating and capital budgets.

Municipal officials argue the funding is particularly appropriate in Williston because it is home to multiple potential targets. The town might not present as obvious a target as New York or Washington, but there are reasons Williston could be the site of a domestic terrorism attack, officials say.

“It might not seem likely, but it’s definitely possible,” Glidden said. “We’re close to Vermont’s largest city, we have the largest commercial base in the state, we’re part of the prime interstate corridor, we’re 80 miles from Montreal — a place we know terrorists have been. We’re 40 miles from the Canadian border, which is not that heavily guarded and which it would not be that difficult to walk across or to smuggle something across.”

Williston is home to four federal buildings, including Homeland Security Department offices. The town also includes the Vermont State Police barracks, a hazardous waste disposal facility, a propane line that runs from Canada to the southeastern United States and some shipping companies.

“You add up all those things and our risk is enormous,” Morton said. “If I was a terrorist, I would think, ‘What better place is there to make an impact in the state of Vermont than Williston?’”

Morton and Glidden attended a domestic terrorism preparedness exercise on Saturday for Chittenden County public safety officials. Morton said the potential incidents involving Williston that were reviewed as test scenarios were both “believable and logical.”

Over the past three years, since the passage of the USA Patriot Act, Vermont has received $54.8 million in federal grant money for public safety departments. The previous three years, the state received $1.1 million for the same purpose.

The 2005 federal budget included approximately $1.1 billion in grants to be distributed to the states. Under a funding formula that Vermont Sen. Patrick Leahy has claimed a hand in devising, each state could receive no less than 0.75 percent of the total pot. The Bush Administration’s initial budget proposal for 2006 reduced that number to 0.25 percent, directing more money to heavily populated areas.

Morton hopes the new supply of money does not dry up, but says the past three years have been fruitful.

“We’re just happy to have had the opportunity to improve our equipment and to get better prepared,” Morton said.

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Man exposes himself at baseball field

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Williston police are looking for a man who exposed himself to a jogger at Rossignol Park last week.

Officer Jon Marcoux said a woman was jogging on a path above Rossignol Park around mid-day on Friday when she saw a man on the Little League baseball field with his hand down his pants. The woman continued on her route, which took her on the loop of Avenue D, and then ran back past Rossignol, Marcoux said.

The man was lying on the baseball field with his hand still down his pants when the woman returned. Upon seeing her again, he stood up, dropped his pants to his ankles and masturbated, according to Marcoux.

Marcoux said the man was able to see the path from his vantage point, but he was out of sight of passing motor traffic. Police were called to the scene at 1:20 p.m. Marcoux said he searched the area on foot, but did not find a man fitting the description given by the jogger.

Marcoux described the suspect as a white man in his early 20s. He was 5 feet 10 inches to 6 feet tall and wearing a baseball cap with a logo, a light-blue T-shirt and a pair of long, silky shorts.

Anyone with information about the incident is asked to call 878-6611.

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Local church bell tolls to mark pope

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Attendance surges at Immaculate Heart of Mary

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

When Pope John Paul II died on April 2, the bells at the Immaculate Heart of Mary Church in Williston rang 84 times to signify the pontiff’s age.

The wind was apparently blowing hard that afternoon, said Pastor Donald Ravey, because when parishioners arrived for mass that evening many said they had received some comfort at the sound of the bells.

Bernadette Ferenc, a Williston resident and Immaculate Heart of Mary Church parishioner, said she heard the slow tolling of the bells.

“I felt compelled to go to evening mass,” Ferenc said. “It was very moving, very emotional.”

Ravey said local worshippers have been praying and paying their respects to Pope John Paul II in the days since his death, just like millions of others around the world. The pope’s passing after a 26-year tenure in his position at the Vatican was a powerful event to many Catholics, Ravey said.

Ravey said his church has seen an obvious increase in visitors over the past two weeks. The Immaculate Heart of Mary held a special morning mass in the John Paul’s memory last week that attracted a large crowd and services the past two weekends have also featured strong attendances.

Ferenc said Ravey’s memorial mass felt like an intimate funeral service.

“It helped to put some closure on his passing for me,” said Ferenc, who is proud to share John Paul’s Polish heritage. “I had been watching everything on television, but it put a little more of a personal aspect on it.”

Ravey said the Immaculate Heart of Mary has also displayed a portrait of the pontiff.

“People have just been coming in regularly to pray and to pay their respects and to reflect on what he has meant to them,” Ravey said.

Ravey said he does not know of any parishioners from the Immaculate Heart of Mary traveling to the Vatican to witness the memorial ceremonies for Pope John Paul II, but their attachment to the departed has been evident. Ferenc said the pope’s influence spread well beyond the Catholic Church. Ravey agreed.

“He really had a far-reaching effect on a lot of people,” Ravey said. “He related well to everybody.”

Ravey said younger parishioners have been particularly curious about the process of tapping a successor to the papacy. The 117 members of the College of Cardinals will soon meet in the Sistene Chapel to elect a new pope.

“This is the only pope they’ve ever known,” Ravey said. “They’re learning what happens now. They can’t imagine anyone else as pope.”

Ravey said the positive media attention that has followed in the wake of the pope’s death represents a chance for the Catholic Church to renew relationships with former parishioners who have drifted from being active in the faith. The Catholic Church has struggled in recent years to escape the negative effects of a clergy sex scandal.

“It certainly is an opportunity because the coverage has just been great through all of this,” Ravey said. “It’s gotten so much attention. Many people have been called to come back. He’s reaching out even in death.”

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Interstate projects will smooth bumps and reduce backups

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Work to start in July, state official says

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Roadwork that will smooth the rough ride on Interstate 89 and ease congestion at exit 12 begins this summer.

The paving project includes 16 miles on the southbound side of I-89 between Bolton and South Burlington. The exit 12 work involves lengthening the deceleration lane and adding a lane to the southbound off-ramp that leads to Vermont Route 2A.

Motorists who suffer the bruising ride while dodging ruts and potholes during their daily commute say they are eager to see the repaving completed.

“It’s like a roller coaster ride,” said Bolton resident Kelly O’Brien, who commutes on Interstate 89 between Richmond and Williston to her job as a Vermont State Police dispatcher.

The stretch of Interstate 89 was last paved less then a decade ago, said Mike Hedges, paving program manager for the Vermont Agency of Transportation. A type of asphalt designed to reduce road spray and provide better traction was used.

But the state found that the pavement, which was supposed to last for 15-20 years, has a far shorter lifespan.

“It had many useful benefits,” Hedges said. “But we found that in modern applications it has a 9- to 10-year lifespan. Then it fails dramatically.”

Indeed, the quality of the southbound drive between Williston and Richmond has deteriorated rapidly over the past year. Shallow but wide potholes pockmark the stretch between Williston and Richmond. The segment between the Williston and Shelburne Road exits also has flaws.

Both stretches are marked by grooves and washboard pavement. Vehicles occasionally kick up pieces of loose asphalt, a distraction for drivers and a danger to windshields.

Williston resident Phyllis Etienne, who sometimes drives on Interstate 89 to reach Burlington, said she has seen the rapid deterioration.

“It’s definitely noticeable,” she said. “I find myself consciously steering from one lane to another to avoid it.”

Hedges, while acknowledging that potholes could present safety issues for motorists traveling at 65 mph, said many other roads are worse. “They are not as bad as the potholes we have elsewhere,” he said.

The limited lifespan of asphalt on Interstate 89 has been a problem since the state started using the new type of pavement in the 1990s. Last year, the state had to repave a stretch of I-89 between exits 8 and 10.

Was it a mistake to use the new type of paving, which allows water to drain better but apparently doesn’t hold up in Vermont’s rugged climate?

“When we planned it, we felt it was the best available product,” Hedges said. “That’s why we put it on the interstate. We anticipated it would last longer — 15-20 years — than it did.”

About 150 miles of interstate in Vermont have been paved using the asphalt. Hedges said much of it will need to be repaved in coming years.

The work of the exit 12 off-ramp is designed to reduce traffic backups, which sporadically cause vehicles to spill out onto the traveled portion of the highway. Residents and town officials have complained that the situation is a serious hazard, as vehicles traveling at 65 mph bear down on the line of stopped cars.

The state originally planned to do the ramp work in 2006. But that timetable was accelerated after town officials and resident complained that the traffic backups amounted to an emergency safety issue and the state concluded it would make sense to combine the paving and ramp projects.

A second left-turn lane will be added to the ramp to accommodate the majority of the traffic that heads north on Route 2A. The deceleration lane leading up to the ramp will be lengthened, and the timing of traffic signals may be adjusted, Hedges said.

The ramp project will cost an estimated $500,000, Hedges said. The interstate paving will cost roughly $4 million. Federal funding will pay 90 percent of the cost of both projects.

The repaving work will start just north of the 189 interchange (where motorists exit to reach Shelburne Road) and continue south to Bolton. The state will advertise the projects in May, with bidding taking place the following month. Hedges said both the repaving and ramp work would likely begin in July. The projects are expected to take one construction season, which runs through October.

No paving will take place on the northbound side of I-89. Hedges said a northbound stretch between Richmond and Bolton was repaved two years ago.

Motorists will have to deal with congestion as a result of the work, but Hedges said the state will take steps to minimize problems. He said no paving on Interstate 89 will take place during rush hours — 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and 3 p.m. to 7 p.m. Work will largely take place off the side of the exit 12 ramp, so Hedges does not foresee major traffic issues with that project.

“I think (the workers) will be somewhat out of the way of traffic,” he said. “But there will be some disruption anyway.”

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Hearing set on subdivisions regulations

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Selectboard agreed to hold separate public hearings on two versions of interim subdivision regulations at its May 16 meeting.
The board will hold the hearings as long as it receives approval for the unusual arrangement from legal counsel. Town Planner Lee Nellis suggested the hearings to solve a debate about which version of the regulations should go to hearing.

Each version would produce major changes in the current subdivision regulations, but the most recent version, informally titled “Skipping Ahead,” includes particularly substantial changes in the criteria used for allocating phasing to residential projects. Phasing rules require larger subdivisions to be built over several years.

The phasing criteria changes originated with a task force working on the comprehensive town plan update. Some Selectboard members have expressed reluctance with taking the task force’s recommendations before the town plan process has been completed.

Nellis and Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons each said they have heard concerns from Planning Commission members about the Skipping Ahead plan. The Planning Commission was poised to review the draft Tuesday night. Results of that meeting were not available at press time.

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Freon leak shuts down Carter One branch

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Seven employees checked at hospital

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Seven Charter One employees were taken to the hospital for observation last week after an employee chopping away at ice in a refrigerator punctured a Freon line.

Linda Magoon, the vice president and regional sales manager for retail branches at Charter One, said each of the employees was examined and released from the hospital and had returned to work by late afternoon. None of the employees demonstrated signs of illness or other effects from the leak.

“Everybody was fine,” Magoon said.

Williston Fire Chief Ken Morton said the leak occurred around noon on April 20 when a Charter One employee breaking off ice that had stuck to a freezer’s walls accidentally punched a hole in the Freon line. Williston’s Charter One branch is located on U.S. Route 2 near Taft Corners.

Morton said the employee was exposed to Freon released into the air, as was another employee who was already in the room. Bank workers called the Williston Fire Department for assistance.

Morton said the workers were told to evacuate the building. Fire and rescue officials arrived. Fire workers ventilated the building, while rescue workers tended to the bank employees. At least one employee was seen wearing an oxygen mask.

Morton said Freon is not a highly toxic chemical and the amount released from the punctured line was limited. He said the main threat would have been if the chemical had been in contact with the skin, had been directly inhaled or had been released into someone’s eyes. None of those occurred.

“This was a mild exposure hazard,” Morton said.

However, Morton said fire and rescue officials must use caution dealing with any chemical leak. He said fire officials spoke with the state hazardous materials team over the phone for advice. Firefighters eventually removed the refrigerator after speaking with a technician about the appliance and ruling out the possibility the leak had been ammonia, a more dangerous chemical.

Morton said rescue workers decided the two workers exposed to the initial release of Freon should be transported to Fletcher Allen Health Care for assessment. He said the other five bank employees decided they would like to be checked, too, for precautionary reasons. The seven employees were transported in a total of three ambulances.

Magoon said the Charter One branch remained closed for the afternoon. A Charter One employee was stationed outside the bank to direct customers to the nearest branches.

When the bank workers evacuated the building, the bank’s vault remained open. A Williston police officer provided security until Charter One facility personnel arrived and closed the vault.

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