December 22, 2014

Local employees irked as out-of-towner wins contract bid

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Middlebury firm to manage $6.8 million public safety project

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Each morning, Doug Robie drives by the future sites of Williston’s new fire and police stations on his way to work at DEW Construction Corp. Once construction starts on the project, he will try to keep his eyes trained exclusively on the road ahead.

“I’m not looking forward to driving by that every day and seeing the ‘Bread Loaf Construction’ signs less than a mile from the DEW office,” Robie said. “That’s going to hurt.”

Robie’s disappointment stems from the town of Williston’s selection of Middlebury-based Bread Loaf Corp. to handle construction management duties for the project. He feels that DEW was jilted for the job despite having its headquarters in Williston. Although he insists he is not speaking for DEW, Robie notes he has spoken to several fellow employees with the same gripe.

“I’m astounded we didn’t get the job,” Robie said.

The town’s Public Safety Building Committee selected Bread Loaf last month from a pool of five pre-qualified candidates for construction manager. The job includes selecting subcontractors, providing estimation services and managing the $6.8 million project. The new facilities will include constructing a fire and rescue station on the former Mahan Farm on U.S. Route 2 and converting the current fire station to a police station.

The committee’s pick came down to DEW and Bread Loaf, but ultimately each of the seven committee members present at the key meeting agreed that Bread Loaf was the right pick. The decision was based on qualifications and the committee’s interview with the specific members of the team that would be working on the project.

“The bottom line was that the committee just liked the team that Bread Loaf put together a little bit better,” Town Manager Rick McGuire said.

McGuire, who works with the committee, said proximity to the project was included among the criteria to be considered in the applicants. However, he said, whether or not a business was based in Williston was not a major consideration for most committee members.

Herb Goodrich appears to have been an exception. Goodrich missed the June 16 meeting when Bread Loaf was selected, but sent word that he strongly preferred DEW, “because they are local and will be able to provide the best oversight over the project,” according to the minutes of the meeting.

McGuire depicted the committee’s deliberations on the decision as “agonizing,” because members had high opinions of all of the candidates, particularly DEW and Bread Loaf. The finances of the two proposals were too similar to make a difference, McGuire said.

Leo Ioannou stepped down from the committee in the middle of the June 16 meeting because he believed the choice of Bread Loaf was obvious and committee members were taking too long to select it, McGuire said.

“It was really tight,” said Police Chief Ozzie Glidden, a member of the committee. “There were two or three that it was nip and tuck with.”

Lucas Jensen, the committee chairman, could not be reached for comment. Andy Mikell, the Selectboard representative on the committee, declined to comment.

One plus for Bread Loaf was its work on a police station in Middlebury. Glidden visited the station and spoke to the Middlebury police chief, who strongly recommended the company.

Don Wells, president of DEW, pointed out that his company had worked on a Vermont State Police facility in Derby and a fire station in Johnson. Wells did not criticize the committee’s decision, saying, “you win some and you lose some.” However, he admitted that he thought his company’s Williston address would give it an edge in a close contest. DEW also provided free estimates of the cost of the project last year.

“I think some people here (at DEW) felt very strongly that if it was close and we had people who were taxpayers who were helping to pay for this project and we had done some free work up front for this, then we would get it,” Wells said. “But it just didn’t work out that way.”

Wells said it is difficult to measure how often municipalities heavily weigh whether a contractor is based in the same municipality when awarding a contract, but he said “some do.”

Bread Loaf apparently believed DEW’s address would be an advantage. McGuire said Bread Loaf initially declined to apply for the position because it assumed the job would be dealt to a Williston business, but he urged the company to reconsider.

“I had to convince them that the town would have an open mind and the decision would be based on qualifications and not whether they were located in Williston or not,” McGuire said.

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Interstate 89 paving project gets underway

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Work expected to continue until fall

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

The pain of traffic congestion over the next few months will result in the gain of a smoother ride on Interstate 89 by this fall.

Paving on I-89 in and around Williston began this week. The project involves grinding down the rough asphalt and repaving the 16-mile stretch of the interstate’s southbound side between South Burlington and Bolton. The work also includes widening the ramp at exit 12 in Williston.

Traffic tie-ups can be expected, said a spokeswoman for Frank W. Whitcomb Construction Corp., the project’s contractor. With work confined to non-commute hours, however, the congestion might not be as bad as motorists fear.

“I think for the most part they will do the work at night,” said Stephanie Barrett, a public relations representative contracted by Whitcomb Construction. “But vehicles traveling through the construction area will be subject to delays.”

Barrett declined to advise motorists on alternate routes, saying that detours can lead to problems on other roads. Initially, she said, most of the work will take place between 7 p.m. and 6 a.m.

Whitcomb Construction was the low bidder on the $4.5 million project. The contractor is working under several conditions imposed by the Vermont Agency of Transportation designed to minimize snarls by limiting the hours that roadwork can take place and imposing deadlines.

The contractor is not allowed to work on the portion of the project between exit 13 in South Burlington and exit 12 in Williston during commute hours. Whitcomb Construction faces a 30-day deadline to finish that phase, backed by financial incentives. The state will award a $5,000 bonus for each day the project is finished early or levy a $5,000 penalty for each day the work continues beyond the deadline.

The contractor plans to finish most of the work between exits 12 and 13 first before doing the repaving south of Williston, Barrett said.

Two lanes of travel must remain clear on the portion of the project between South Burlington and Williston during rush hours, 7 a.m. to 9 a.m. and again between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m. The requirements are somewhat less stringent south of Williston, with both lanes mandated to remain open from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

At other times, one lane will be closed. The ramp work will take place largely off the traveled portion of the road, though the existing two lanes at exit 12 will be narrowed slightly for the project’s duration.

On Monday night, crews began the process of grinding down the existing pavement at exit 12 and the main highway. Barriers were erected Tuesday on the exit 12 ramp so that workers could begin constructing the additional lane.

Just when the actual paving will start depends on the weather, Barrett said. If rain doesn’t interrupt the work, she said, paving could start on Sunday.

Weather could also affect when the work begins south of Williston. Barrett said workers could begin grinding the existing pavement on that part of the project in two or three weeks.

The incentive/penalty clause includes paving the interstate itself as well as adding the left turn lane on the southbound Williston off-ramp. The clause is designed to minimize the amount of time motorists have to deal with the traffic congestion the project could bring.

“We’re hoping we only have to live with it for a maximum of 30 days,” said Michael Pologruto of the Vermont Agency of Transportation.

The incentive clause does not apply to paving work south of exit 12. That part of the project must be completed by Oct. 15. The contractor will pay a $3,500-a-day penalty if it does not meet that deadline, but there is no bonus for competing it sooner.

The project has two goals. The first is to fix Interstate 89’s cracked and potholed pavement. The type of asphalt used when the stretch was last paved in the 1990s was a new blend designed to drain better. But the state Agency of Transportation discovered that the formulation, which was also used on a number of other highways, did not stand up to Vermont’s harsh winters and failed far sooner than the expected 15- to 20-year lifespan.

The second reason for the work is to fix a traffic hazard at exit 12. Many motorists have complained that vehicles back up on the ramp and onto the main highway.
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Group to consider sales tax replacements

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Selectboard established a task force that will study alternative means of raising revenue to prepare for the potential loss of the local sales and rooms and meals taxes.

At its meeting on July 11, the board decided that the Local Options Revenue Task Force will include one Selectboard member, two business representatives and two members from the community at large. The agenda for Monday’s Selectboard meeting includes time to appoint the members of the task force.

Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons has mentioned former board member state Rep. Mary Peterson as a likely community member on the task force.

The legislation that allows Williston and a collection of other municipalities in the state to implement local option taxes expires in 2008.

Two bills this past legislative session that included provisions to strengthen the local option taxes — one would have expanded the option to include other municipalities, one would have extended the sunset on the current legislation — were not approved.

The task force was subsequently developed to ready the town for the possibility of losing a revenue source that produces approximately $2.7 million for the town. The local sales and rooms and meals taxes reduced the municipal property tax rate by 24 cents this fiscal year, saving the owner of a $250,000 home approximately $600.

Among the revenue sources the task force is expected to examine are user fees, impact fees, special taxing districts, sales taxes and assessing businesses at a rate greater than 100 percent.

A written report is due to the Selectboard by Jan. 1.

Sewer transfer

The Selectboard approved a transfer of the excess sewer capacity Al Senecal held on the Hertz building on Harvest Lane.

Senecal will transfer 900 gallons of sewer to a proposed commercial warehouse building on 378 Commerce St. and another 350 gallons to a future building at the Williston Driving Range. Senecal will keep 400 gallons in reserve for the Hertz facility, while returning 357 gallons to the town.

Under the current sewer ordinance, Senecal would not be able to transfer the sewer capacity. However, he acquired the sewer before the ordinance and is allowed to transfer it between properties.

Town Manager Rick McGuire said the transfer would allow Senecal to use his resources more efficiently and to return some gallons to the town.

The Selectboard approved the transfer by a 4-1 vote. Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs was the lone dissenting vote.

Brennan Woods

The town installed stop signs at the intersection of Brennan Woods Drive and Hanon Drive earlier this month.

The signs were part of proposed traffic calming measures the town has planned for the development. The town also plans to install a series of speed tables once it assumes ownership of the roads from the neighborhood’s developer, the Snyder Companies.

A severe thunderstorm caused damage to the road and drainage system at Brennan Woods earlier this month. Town Manager Rick McGuire said the developer will have to fund the repairs since the town has not yet accepted the roads.

Maple Tree meeting

Town Manager Rick McGuire told the Selectboard that town staff had met with representatives of the new owner of Maple Tree Place.

McGuire said the meeting with Inland Western Retail Real Estate Trust officials occurred June 29. McGuire said the representatives “promised cooperation and hope to address many of the town’s concerns in the near future.”

Inland, a real estate company based in Illinois, purchased Maple Tree Place from Connecticut-based Starwood Ceruzzi for $102.3 million on May 20.

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Flush with capacity, Selectboard allocates sewer for 2005-06

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

The Selectboard, at its June 27 session, approved sewer allocations for the new fiscal year.

Under the new sewer ordinance that approved this spring, the Selectboard set an allocation for both the fiscal year and for each year through 2014-15, when the current capacity, which was bolstered by recently completed sewer plant expansion, is expected to be depleted. The board, however, can set a new annual allocation each year.

The allocations include 2,029 gallons per day of sewer capacity for new commercial and industrial projects, 1,080 gallons per day for new residential projects and 2,835 gallons per day for new affordable housing. There is also 1,500 gallons per day for residential additions and minor subdivisions.

The quantities anticipate that the Development Review Board will approve all of the residential units currently proposed within the area of town served by the municipal sewer system. The new municipal growth management regulations ensure that residential developers will receive the sewer capacity to support projects that they receive permission from the town to construct.

Also, developers do not have to obtain the sewer capacity for their entire project at the outset of construction. They can obtain it on an annual basis.

Larger amounts of sewer capacity are projected for new residential projects in future years, allowing for the construction of some of the large proposed projects currently in the municipal permitting process.

Speed limits set

The Selectboard approved amendments to the town traffic ordinance that included assuming ownership of a frequently traveled road.

The amendments included the town formally accepting Maple Tree Place Road as a municipal road and making the speed limit 25 mph.

In addition to providing access to the Maple Tree Place development, the road connects Vermont Route 2A to U.S. Route. Many motorists use the road to travel from Interstate 89 Exit 12 to the Village without going through the Taft Corners intersection.

Some public officials have commented over the past year that vehicles frequently exceed 25 mph when traveling on the stretch of Maple Tree Place Road that runs behind the development and in front of the Maple Tree Place housing development.

The amendments to the traffic ordinance also included the acceptance of Beartown Lane as a municipal road. It runs from South Road into a dead end.

Pay hiked for town employees

The Selectboard approved a 3 percent cost of living raise for the 2005-06 fiscal year, which started July 1, for all municipal non-union employees. Employees can also receive discretionary raises, which are determined by Town Manager Rick McGuire.

The town’s police officers are the only union employees. Their annual raises are included in their union contract with the town. The town and Williston Police Officers Association are currently negotiating a contract extension.

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Cops, town reach impasse on new contract

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Dispute appears to center on health insurance

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Contract negotiations between the town and the local police union have broken down after just a month, apparently indicating complications with the town’s desire to have officers begin to pay a portion of their health insurance costs.

The two sides declared an impasse in the negotiations this month and will now take a break from the bargaining table. They are expected to return to talks early next month with the help of a federal mediator. An impasse was declared four weeks and two days after the first negotiating session.

During previous negotiations for a police contract, talks also reached the impasse stage, which signals that negotiations have stalled and a mediator is needed to revive them. However, past negotiations took much longer to reach impasse, according to Detective Sgt. Bart Chamberlain, the union’s alternate steward. Chamberlain said talks in previous years at least progressed five to six months before stalling.

“We’re disappointed that it took just four weeks for us to realize that we’re so far apart that we’re already at an impasse,” Chamberlain said.

Town Manager Rick McGuire declined to comment on the negotiations and did not concede that they had reached an impasse unusually early, saying, “Each negotiation is different.”

The town’s police officers, sergeants and dispatchers are the only unionized employees working for the town of Williston. The union, which is called the Williston Police Officers Association, is a chapter of the Teamsters Local 597.

There has been tension in the past between town management and the members of the police union. In August of last year, union members went public with claims of “a pattern of harassment” by town management, centering on a list of grievances filed by officers for what they said were attempts to withhold rights from union members.

Salary and health care are apparently the hang-ups in the current talks.

Negotiations are held behind closed doors, but it was no secret that the town would be seeking a contract that had Williston’s police officers paying a portion of their health care costs for the first time.

During budget discussions in January, the Selectboard discussed having all non-union municipal employees begin to contribute to their health insurance costs. Currently, they do not pay anything for health care coverage. In some nearby municipalities, like Milton, Essex, South Burlington, Colchester and Shelburne, municipal employees pay small percentages of their health insurance premiums.

However, the Selectboard expressed a reluctance to force non-union employees to pay for health insurance before the union employees had a similar plan. Selectboard member Terry Macaig said it would be unfair and would encourage non-union employees to unionize so they could bargain collectively.

At the time, Selectboard member Jeff Fehrs noted the rising cost of health care had led to increased costs for employees in the private sector. Fehrs also pointed out making employees contribute to their health care costs, even a marginal amount, would produce significant savings for the town.

“In my opinion, the time has come and gone to address this,” Fehrs said.

McGuire, apparently referring to the then-upcoming negotiations with the police union, replied, “I would say the time is almost here.”

Chamberlain would not discuss any specifics of the cause for the impasse in negotiations. However, he said that police officers are willing to accept a contract that requires them to contribute to their health care premiums, as long as they receive the salary increases they say are needed to keep their pay competitive with other police departments in Chittenden County.

In a comparable scenario, the teachers of the Chittenden South Supervisory Union, which includes the Williston School District, received a substantial increase in salary four years ago but they were required to contribute more to their health insurance costs. When a new contract was agreed to last year, the teachers’ contributions to health care costs stayed level but their pay hike was lower than in the previous contract.

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California visitor faces aggravated assault charge

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Authorities say suspect shouted slur against gays

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

A California man was arrested after he was accused of shouting a derogatory comment at a Williston motel employee and attempting to hit him with a car.

James W. Darden, 19, was arraigned July 1 on charges of aggravated assault, disorderly conduct and careless and negligent operation of a motor vehicle.

Williston police initially cited Darden on a charge of a hate-motivated crime, according to Williston Police Officer Dan Gowans. However, he was not formally charged with that crime.

Darden, a Watsonville, Calif. resident, was in Williston to help move his parents to Vermont, Gowans said. Darden arrived the evening of June 29, Gowans said, and was arrested the following afternoon.

Gowans said the charges surrounded an incident that occurred at the Fairfield Inn on Vermont Route 2A. Darden was driving a vehicle with his younger brother, when “he came flying into the hotel parking lot,” according to Gowans.

A Fairfield Inn staff member asked Darden to drive more slowly, Gowans said. The staff member told Gowans that Darden grew very upset and “got in his face and told him he would drive any way he wanted to.”

As Darden walked to his car, he allegedly yelled at the staff member, “All Vermonters are f—— faggots.”

The staff member attempted to write down Darden’s license plate. Gowans said Darden noticed the employee reading the license plate and put the car into reverse, apparently attempting to hit the staff member. Gowans said the employee jumped out of the way.

After his arraignment, Darden was lodged at the Chittenden County Correctional Facility on $2,500 bail.

Gowans said aggravated assault in Vermont does not have to include an actual instance of assault. He said an attempted assault — such as attempting to strike someone with a car — could be classified as aggravated assault.

Gowans said Darden’s slur and subsequent actions met the state’s qualifications for a hate crime, but the Chittenden County State’s Attorney’s Office did not file that charge against Darden.

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Booming thunderstorm floods roads, swells streams

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Hillside home threatened by rising water

By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

An intense thunderstorm roared through a concentrated section of Williston last week, bloating streams, threatening a house and forcing the closure of multiple roads.

The storm hit the Village and its vicinity with particular force when it struck at approximately 2:45 p.m. on Wednesday, June 29. Portions of U.S. Route 2, as well as North Williston, Oak Hill and Governor Chittenden roads were closed for varying stretches of the afternoon because of flooding. All of the roads were reopened by 8:45 p.m.

Soon after the storm hit, Vermont Agency of Transportation workers arrived in town and went to work protecting a yellow house that sits on French Hill close to U.S. Route 2. The house and some accompanying outside propane tanks were besieged by a stream of runoff that had overwhelmed a nearby culvert and storm grate, according to Williston Police Officer Dan Gowans.

Gowans said the rush of water flowing down French Hill during and after the storm carried large amounts of mud and debris, which in turn clogged a storm drain. Gowans estimated the rainfall from the storm at 3 to 4 inches.

Stephen Brown, a resident of nearby Sunrise Drive, visited the scene after spotting the lights of the emergency vehicles. Brown had been digging trenches to direct runoff away from his house, which was threatened by approximately 3 feet of water around the foundation.

Brown described the running water on French Hill as a “torrent.” He said the threat to the yellow house was apparent.

“It was just running wild,” Brown said. “It was unbelievable. The water was right up against the house. It seemed like it was in danger of being knocked off its foundation.”

Gowans said state Agency of Transportation workers used a bucket loader to drag soil and build a dam that redirected the stream away from the house and across U.S. Route 2, which had already been closed.

The water also washed out a 3-foot stretch of U.S. Route 2 on French Hill, exposing a gas line, Gowans said. The line was covered by roadway again by the evening.

Elsewhere, two pedestrian bridges were overrun by Allen Brook — one on U.S. Route 2 and one on North Williston Road. The bridge on North Williston Road was submerged. At the bridge on U.S. Route 2, water from the brook swept over the bank and turned an adjacent field into a pond.

There were also reports of several fallen trees at Old Stage Estates.

The storm was apparently far more intense in Williston Village that in other parts of town. Williston Police Department dispatcher Scott Morris said the Taft Corners stoplights switched to flashing because of a power outage caused by the storm. Multiple motorists called the police department to ask why the lights were not functioning.

“When I told them ‘Because of the storm,’ they said, ‘What storm?’” Morris said.

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