August 31, 2014

Farmers

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By Michelle Edelbaum
Observer staff

Hannah Marshall, 11, is the youngest vendor at the Richmond Farmers’ Market, but what she lacks in age she makes up for in popularity.

On Friday afternoon there was a steady line of thirsty customers at the lemonade stand she runs with her brother Nick, 13. Hannah, wearing a pink T-shirt with the word “Chill” aptly emblazoned on the front, said the duo squeezes more than 75 cups of fresh lemonade on a sunny day.

The market, which doubled its revenue in the last two years, is abuzz with activity every Friday on sprawling Volunteers Green, said manager Carol Mader. When the market started 12 years ago, it was small and produce-focused. Today the market is packed with dozen of vendors and includes an afternoon and early evening of entertainment for the entire family, with musical performances and community events.

The market is a treat for the senses, too. The scent of ripe summer fruits and vegetables mix with delicious odors from prepared ethnic foods like samosas and egg rolls, tempting those who come with an empty stomach.

The colorful selection of artists’ wares includes hand-dyed textiles, hand-painted pottery and dried flower bouquets. Squeals and screams from the adjacent playground intermittently punctuate market talk about weather and recipes.

Parents like Shelly Underwood of Huntington bring their children to the market to play, meet friends, and to enjoy entertainment like Cranky Yankee’s Twyne rope-making demonstration.

The market is now so popular and the space so congested, that Mader is considering moving it to a larger location next year, which would ideally provide more space for vendors and parking. The small lot is always full on Fridays, and not just with Richmond residents.

The market draws residents from nearby towns such as Williston and Huntington. It also attracts visitors from other states, including New Jersey and Connecticut, said Sonia Rivadeneira of Sonia’s Salsa, who sends her mild and medium-hot green tomatillo salsa to customers in those states.

With a waiting list for vendor space, Mader said she easily fills the market’s 20 spots every week. Many vendors have come to the market for years.

For example, Ted Sargeant, 78, of Still At It Farm, helped found the market and watched it grow.

“I think it’s a lot better we have entertainment every week. It draws people sort of like a festival,” Sargeant said. “It seems like every Friday afternoon we get a good turnout of local people here.”

Sargeant sells maple cream, his wife Joan’s homemade banana, zucchini and pumpkin breads, and organic vegetables from his Huntington farm.

The yellow cherry tomatoes, globular lemon cucumbers and purple and white speckled shelling beans are displayed attractively at his stand alongside green spinach and maroon beets. Sargeant judiciously sprays the vegetables with water so they don’t wilt during the hot afternoons. His generous samples of unusual produce, along with cooking suggestions, draw loyal customers and newcomers to his corner table all afternoon.

A few stands down, magenta and blue scarves stream from the umbrella that shades Jenny Hermenze’s table, laden with white, tangerine and indigo-colored T-shirts. Hermenze owns Bridge Street Dyeworks and has sold her vibrant Japanese stencil-dyed fabrics and clothing at the market for three years.

“It’s a really good outlet for my work,” said Hermenze. “I find it more worthwhile than the big craft shows because people get to know me and I get people who see something one week and by the next week they’ve decided to buy it.”

Hermenze, unlike some vendors, does not exhibit her goods at other farmers’ markets.

Alan Jones, president of the Richmond Area Business Association, said the Richmond market is an important venue for the more than 350 businesses in the town, many of which are home-based artisans, crafters and cooks.

“Part of the fabric of Richmond is the Farmers’ Market itself,” said Jones. “It is a staple business that we have. It draws people from fringe towns. Does it also help Main Street businesses? Yes.”

Craig Colburn of Richmond Beverage is one business owner who benefits from the market. Colburn said that he sees an influx in customers each Friday afternoon, which he attributes to the Richmond Farmers’ Market.

“People will go get greens and other things for dinner and then come in to get a bottle of wine to go with dinner,” Colburn said.

The market brings more than just business and visitors to Richmond, it cultivates a stronger town identity too, residents said.

“It’s a sense of community,” said Lynne Gavin of Richmond, who sells her handmade soaps and body care products at the market.

Gavin said that Richmond’s market has become a place to get together with family and friends.

“People can get together and talk and socialize, listen to music and buy produce, “ she said.

Heather Cristol of Richmond, who comes to the market most weeks with her two young children, agrees.

“All of the events at the green are what create a sense of community,” she said. “You see the same people and it’s a gathering spot.”

 

The Richmond Farmers’ Market takes place from 3-6:30 p.m. each Friday through Oct. 14 at Volunteer’s Green on Bridge Street in Richmond. For more information, call Mader at 434-5273.

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Expired permit won

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Town officials will not enforce ordinance violation

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

Town officials say they will not take issue with the soon-to-expire permit for temporary classrooms at Allen Brook School in Williston.

On Tuesday, the classrooms’ three-year permit runs out, meaning the structures will be in violation of town ordinance. But town officials say the school district is working in good faith to obtain a new permit, so fines or other measures — such as requiring dozens of students to vacate the structures — are not appropriate.

“They have applied (for a new permit), and they are clearly going to cooperate,” said Williston zoning administrator D.K. Johnston.

The town received a new site plan application for the classrooms, which are doublewide trailers converted for school use, late last week. The permit application was tardy in part because school officials did not begin the process soon enough to accommodate long lead times needed by the consultant that helps complete the paperwork.

Johnston has set the required public hearing on the application for Oct. 11. The hearing before the Development Review Board takes place at 7:45 p.m. at Town Hall.

Williston officials say that the town is treating the school district the same as any other person or organization that violates ordinances. By policy, they say the town first seeks to correct the violation. If polite requests don’t produce results, only then does the town consider enforcement measures.

“Whether it is a business or a school system, the goal is to seek compliance, not penalize people,” said Town Manager Rick McGuire.

He said the typical process for correcting a violation involves an informal phone call, then a letter. If the problem continues, the town can levy fines or take the violator to court.

But McGuire said imposing penalties is the last resort, in part because fines and court proceedings eat up staff time and cost the town money for legal representation.

The temporary classrooms house between 72 and 80 students. They were installed in 2002 to ease crowding at both Allen Brook and Williston Central schools.

At the time, the structures were considered a stopgap measure as the district mulled long-term solutions to rising enrollment. Williston School Board members vowed the temporary classrooms would be removed after no more than three years. The permit’s 2005 expiration date was imposed at the district’s request.

But the decade-long trend of enrollment growth in Williston has since reversed itself. Enrollment in the district has dropped by a handful of students in each of the past two school years. And as of the first day of school this year, enrollment was down by 39 students.

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Donations still being collected for Katrina victims in Williston

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By Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

With a long, cold winter ahead, donations continue to be accepted at the Williston Observer for Hurricane Katrina victims who have relocated to the Williston area.

As reported in last week’s edition, 12 family members and friends from storm-ravaged New Orleans have relocated here and are trying to familiarize themselves with their new surroundings.

Audrey and Irving Trevigne, both 79, evacuated just hours before the storm with only the clothes on their backs. Currently staying in a small apartment in Maple Tree Place with their daughter, Ava Andrews, and her children, the couple hopes to move with the family to a larger apartment in the same complex.

Neighbors tried to make them feel at home with a Southern-style barbecue on Sunday night.

“There was jerk chicken, ribs, potato salad …lots of people came out and they really enjoyed it,” said Andrews. “They got to meet lots of people and are acclimating very well.”

One thing all the evacuees may not be prepared for are the harsh Vermont winters. The Trevignes, for example, are accustomed to year-round warm weather. They were surprised to learn that the temperatures often dip below zero in Vermont, and that galoshes aren’t enough to keep their feet warm in winter.

But the Williston community is pitching in to help, donating gift certificates for some of their basic needs. One donor gave a gift card to Lenny’s Shoe & Apparel so the evacuees can purchase the proper winter footwear. Other donations have included gift cards for Shaw’s and TJ Maxx, as well as donations of money and offers of blankets, quilts, clothing and even transportation to job interviews and appointments.

The donations will help the families get through the next few months as they wait to find out if they will receive any compensation for their homes and belongings from insurance companies.

The evacuees are trying to put their lives back together. The Blooms, whose son Kolby started first grade last week at Williston Central School, have found an apartment in Burlington. Danielle Bloom may have to put her son in the Burlington school system because of the commute.

Edwinn Bernard, who evacuated with his daughter, Amber, started a job this week as a security guard. He said Amber really likes Williston Central School. He is impressed with the quality of the school system and is still looking for permanent housing in Williston.

Those who would like to donate gift cards to the evacuees for the purchase of winter clothing, food, and household items may drop them off at the Williston Observer, which is acting as a collection point. The gift cards should be made out to “Hurricane Katrina Victims.”

The Observer’s office is located at 2141 Essex Road (Route 2A), next to Taft Corners Shopping Center. A receipt will be provided.

For more information, call Sierra Flynn at the Williston Observer at 872-9000.

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Williston resident honored for lifetime of community service

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By Jen Butson
Correspondent

Gov. Jim Douglas recently held a reception for 57 of the state’s outstanding volunteers. Among them was Ruth Painter of Williston, whose lifetime of community service brought an honor with a long and weighty title: the Governor’s Lifetime Achievement Award for Outstanding Volunteer Community Service.

Painter has lived in the Williston area more than 50 years and has volunteered continuously. She worked part-time at Pine Ridge School helping children with reading, writing and spelling until 1995, when she started a private tutoring practice.

Now retired, she said that work never stopped her from volunteering. “I’ve been volunteering my entire life,” she said. “This isn’t something I just started doing now that I’m retired.”

Painter has combined her passions with helping others in many different volunteer programs. One of her favorite hobbies is gardening, and she has served the town’s Williston in Bloom program, which is in its third year and has twice took second place in national competitions.
Painter also works with Vermont Master Gardeners, visiting the Vermont Respite House in Williston every Wednesday evening. The group’s objective is to beautify the landscape around the facility, which serves terminally ill patients and their families. Painter said the group has been meeting for more than six years and always welcomes new volunteers.
“We want there to be a beautiful view from every window, and that takes a lot of work,” she said.
Painter’s volunteer activities include working with numerous local groups. She is a member of the Old Brick Church Board and helps out at Dorothy Alling Library, the Williston Historical Society, Meals on Wheels and Habitat for Humanity. She is a Justice of the Peace, serves on the boards of Green Mountain Habitat for Humanity, Vermont Campaign to End Hunger and Interfaith Affordable Housing.
At first, Painter was reluctant to receive her volunteer award and did not want her efforts publicized. She said she volunteers not for praise, but because helping is just an inherently good thing to do. She views herself as just another volunteer.

”Look at all the fathers and mothers working just as hard being coaches or soccer moms,” she said. “They’re volunteering too, and they do a lot of good.
“It about the common good, it’s not about the award,” she added. “I really enjoyed the people who attended (the ceremony). They had wonderful examples of efforts being done in their communities. I see volunteerism as the strength of America, and it is healthy here in Vermont.”

Douglas thanked and shook the hand of each volunteer at the ceremony.
“Every Vermonter has something valuable to share with his or her community,” Douglas said at the ceremony. “From time, money, skills or experience — there are an unlimited number of ways which each of us can contribute. In your service, many of you demonstrate much more than the ability to give.”

The award is sponsored by the Vermont Commission on National and Community Service.

Painter said everyone should volunteer. She said a lot of people feel like they don’t have the time, but when they combine their interests with an effort, they are dually rewarded.
"People who volunteer are generally happier people," she said. "Identify your interests and choose a program that suits you."

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Town fills environmental planner position

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By Tom Gresham
Observer staff

Williston did not need to look far to find the newest member of its planning department.

Carrie Saviers Deegan starts work in early September as the town’s new environmental planner, replacing Lara DuMond, who vacated the post in July to attend graduate school.

Deegan currently works in Williston for the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District. A large part of her work is implementing water quality and stormwater grants in Chittenden County, and she has previously collaborated with Town Planner Lee Nellis on projects in Williston.

Nellis said the town received several strong candidates for the position, but Deegan’s resume stood out.

“She has a lot of great experience working with land conservation and a lot of great experience working in stormwater issues,” Nellis said. “She’s very bright, very personable and she had fantastic references.”
In addition, Nellis said, “the fact that she worked right here in Williston and was familiar with the town didn’t hurt.”

Deegan, a Richmond resident, has a bachelor’s degree in biology from Colgate University and a master’s degree in resources management and environmental studies from the University of British Columbia. She has worked at the Winooski Natural Resources Conservation District since October of last year.

Previously, Deegan served as an adjunct professor at the Community College of Vermont for two years, teaching Introductory biology, botany, animal behavior and biodiversity. She was also a research supervisor for Green Street Scientific LLC in Forest Hills, N.Y., from 2001 to 2004.

Deegan volunteered extensively for the Nature Conservancy of Vermont between 2001 and 2003, earning the volunteer of the year award for the large number of hours she contributed at the organization’s preserves.

Other work-related experience included working as a project assistant on a project to catalogue and map mosses and liverworts of Vermont, as a biologist/bid coordinator at a New York company dealing with government contracts, as a research technician at Simon Fraser University in Vancouver and as wetland technician/reimbursement coordinator for a Massachusetts business.

Deegan said she was impressed with the diversity of the ongoing projects in Williston. She mentioned the Sucker Brook restoration project, a recent wildlife habitat inventory, the town’s efforts to protect open space and the burgeoning trail network as particularly interesting topics to her.

“It’s a great next career step for me,” Deegan said. “I’m excited to get involved in some of the projects that are going on in Williston right now.”

Nellis said Deegan’s experience working on stormwater issues would be particularly valuable in her new post. She agreed, saying stormwater was “a huge deal for Vermont.”

In her current job, Deegan has been working on a rain garden at the Dorothy Alling Memorial Library. The garden, which is set in a depression, is designed to collect stormwater.

The environmental planner position was expanded from a 30-hour-a-week job to a 40-hour-a-week job on July 1. Among Deegan’s responsibilities will be grant writing and serving as a staff liaison for the Conservation Commission.

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Scoreboard issue gets pitched to the planning commission

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By Mal Boright
Correspondent

The Williston Selectboard Monday night took a few mighty swings at the hot issue of an electronic scoreboard for the Little League field in the historic district and finally belted it over the fence and smack dab into the back yard of the Planning Commission.

Asked by Selectboard Chairwoman Ginny Lyons whether zoning ordinances should be amended to allow the scoreboard, all members said “yes,” although Selectman Jeff Fehrs conditioned his thumbs up on approval by the Recreation Committee and the Historic Preservation Commission.

There was no similar agreement on the companion issues of advertising on the scoreboard and on the fences surrounding the field.

Asked if there should be advertising on a scoreboard, Selectmen Andy Mikell and Terry Macaig said “yes” within reason, while Fehrs agonized a bit, saying, “In a perfect world, no. But if we can get a donation, we need to take a good, hard look at it. It could be $5,000 we don’t have to put on the taxpayer.”

The estimated cost of the scoreboard is $5,000. Coca-Cola Corp. has offered to donate the board with a sign on it advertising one of its products. A Williston health club, Sports and Fitness Edge, has also offered to buy a scoreboard.

Selectman Ted Kenney said he opposes advertising on the scoreboard, pointing to the historic district as his primary concern. He added that he is interested in hearing more from the Planning Commission.

Lyons agreed with Kenney, adding that she, too, wants to hear from the Planning Commission.

As for advertising signs around the fences, Mikell and Macaig were in support while Kenney, Lyons and Fehrs were more skeptical.

While Selectboard members gave the issue a needed public airing, it apparently is going to be some months before there is much action.

Williston Town Planner Lee Nellis told the Observer that it would be October at the earliest before the Planning Commission can take up the issue.

“Our agenda is full until Oct. 25,” Nellis said.

Little League spokesman Mike Healy was somewhat surprised at the planners’ timeline. He said the scoreboard must be ordered during the winter for installation by the start of the 2006 schedule.

“The question remains how is it (scoreboard) going to be funded, and however it is funded, will advertising be allowed,” Healy said.

He added that the meeting went “Pretty much as I expected.”

The vote to send the issue to the Planning Commission was without dissent.

In its package to the Planning commission, the board also returned its memo on the issue in which Nellis pretty much rejected the idea of zoning changes for the scoreboard.

“We would ask the Planning commission to bring back to us some alternatives we can work with,” said Lyons. “That would include advertising, if any, as well as advertising on the scoreboard.”

In responding to questions from the board as to whether the proposed scoreboard is being used as a necessary lure for regional and state little league tournament games, Healy said, “The scoreboard is for the kids.”

He added that the scoreboard is for regular season games, and while “we would like to position ourselves to host a regional tournament, it is not now in our plans.”

In opening this portion of the meeting, Lyons noted the intense public interest the issue has garnered.

“I’ve had e-mail from people on every single side of this issue,” she said. “It seems at first a no-brainer, but it brings out everybody.”

The Planning Commission is expected to hold a public hearing before making its recommendations to the Selectboard.

 

Other business

In other business, the board approved preliminary drawings for a new police station on the site of the current fire station that would be torn down, and a new fire station on U.S. Route 2 and Talcott Road.

Project manager Alan Brown of Dore and Whittier, said the project has a way to go, pointing out that the next steps will be the Development Review Board and the Historic Preservation Commission.

“Our interest in this is the financial integrity and the integrity of the buildings,” said Lyons. She told the board that there are some conditions at the proposed fire station site on the former Mahan Farm on Route 2 “that we have not talked about.”

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School employee, 78, quits amid cost-cutting moves

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By Jen Butson
Correspondent

Rose Garrett thought she deserved better after 36 years with the Williston School District.

Garrett, 78, held a part-time position as a food services worker. But in a move to consolidate operations and reduce a deficit with the program, school district officials wanted to increase her hours so they could lay off a full-time worker and thus save money overall.

Garrett, however, felt the additional hours were more than she could physically bear. Faced with a choice that Garrett said amounted to working six hours a day or not at all, she quit. Her last day on the job was June 15, the final day of the school year.

”I always did my work, but I can’t lift cases of No.10 cans from one school to another for a full day,” she said. “I guess that’s just one way to get rid of the old people.”

School officials said that Garrett left the job voluntarily and that she could have kept working if she wanted.

“Certainly, the decision about whether Mrs. Garrett is an employee of Williston School District is hers alone,” said Williston Central School Principal Thomas Fleury. “It was not a matter of trying to terminate her. We aimed to reduce hours overall and follow the contract.”
Fleury said the support staff union contract gave her seniority and she would have been eligible for other arrangements. “On the phone and in writing, we have offered her a shift change,” he said.
Cindy Koenemann-Warren, personnel director for the Chittenden South Supervisory Union, explained that Garrett would have been one of the last food services workers laid off under the contract. “It would have been someone with less seniority who would have lost their job, not her.”
Bonnie Sicard, a teacher’s assistant at Allen Brook School and president of the support staff union, learned about the situation and tried to repair hurt feelings and restore Garrett’s original hours.

Sicard said the district was trying to cut expenses, not get rid Garrett.

”What really happened is that the food program has been in the red for many years and to maintain service, there needed to be an hours cut — three hours,” she said.

Sicard learned about Garrett’s decision to leave after the fact.

“I had stopped by the school one day and learned that they had offered her a full-time position,” she said. “After thinking about the years Rose spent here, it was only fair that she should be able to have her three hours.”

Both Fleury and Sicard eventually decided to allow Garrett to work her original schedule. “We met with the union, followed the contract and tried to meet everyone’s needs,” Fleury said.

For Garrett, it was too little, too late.
“I told them no,” she said. “After a month, I figured they had forgotten about me and I was too hurt by this time.”
Fleury said the food service program is still running a deficit.

“We’re in debt to the tune of about $30,000 per year,” he said. “We obviously can’t buy less food; it’s the people costs that we can change.”
"I'm not aware of any other personnel changes, but that does not mean there will not be more," Koenemann-Warren said. "The administration may have to take more action to remedy the deficit."
Bob Mason, CSSU’s chief operations officer, said that though Garrett was asked to take on more hours, it was actually an effort to reduce hours overall and thus save money by laying off a full-time employee who had less seniority.

"The need was to reduce the number of hours and it happened to be the same number that Rose worked," he said. "Originally, if she opted not to work full time, then it would be her hours."

Mason said that asking Garrett to work more hours was a request, not a final decision. He said school administrators tried to balance the needs of the staff with the necessity of cutting costs.

Garrett said what really hurt was the fact that she had seen other co-workers with far fewer years of service acknowledged with a lunch party and kind words when they left. “If they celebrate one employee, do it for all employees,” she said.
Instead, Garrett’s said her decades on the job went unrecognized, not even with a simple thank-you note.

“A nice card with all the girls’ signatures would have meant a lot to me; it wasn’t about getting a gift,” she said.

Garrett’s supervisor, Lydia King, director of food services for the district, said she in no way intended to give Garrett a cold shoulder by not calling her after the school year finished.

"It's not uncommon," King said. "I tend to not be in touch with any of my former employees over the summer months. Still, she was a good employee and she did a number of jobs."

Garrett estimated that about one month passed before Fleury wrote a letter and invited her for lunch. The invitation came after she had written a letter to the editor that was later published in the Williston Observer and Sicard offered to reinstate her position.

“I said keep it,” Garrett said. “That school was part of my life; nearly half my life I worked there.”

Still, Fleury said the position remains open and available for Garrett’s taking.
“The door is open to her,” he said. “I want to be sure that we’re compassionate employers, especially to ones who have done that much service.”
Garrett is unsure about what she will do now that she has rejected the offer for her position back.

“I don’t want to cause any hard feelings,” Garrett said. “But I’m sure the town of Williston would agree that I was treated poorly.”

Both school officials and Garrett expressed concern for the other and hoped that there were no hard feelings.

As for acknowledging Garrett’s nearly half a lifetime of service, Sicard and Fleury said that the school plans to give her a goodbye party after she has time to reconsider coming back to work.

“We do need to do something for her, as we planned,” Sicard said. “I want there to be positive closure.”

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Police contract talks at stop-and-start stage

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Picketing possible

By Greg Elias and Marianne Apfelbaum
Observer staff

Claiming Williston police officers are the lowest paid police force in Chittenden County, police union representatives are becoming more vocal in their frustration with town officials and the Selectboard.

“In what most would see as the richest town in the county, we are the lowest paid police department,” said Sgt. Bart Chamberlain, who is a member of the bargaining committee working to negotiate a new contract with the town.

After just two meetings with a mediator, contract talks between the town and the police union reached a standstill after the August 9 session. Then they inched forward again.

Town Manager Rick McGuire, who two weeks ago stated the talks were again at an impasse and would enter the fact-finding phase, said Friday that the mediator has been asked to return to the bargaining table after all.

There is some question as to which side requested the return. McGuire said he thought the police union had called for the resumption of mediation.

Williston Police Sergeant Bart Chamberlain said that it was the town that asked the mediator to come back. Speaking as an alternate steward of the union representing the officers, Chamberlain said negotiations were still so far apart after the last meeting that they “told the mediator to pack his bags.”

Pay and health care benefits are the big issues in the contract talks according to Chamberlain.

The Selectboard earlier this year talked about having all town employees pay for a portion of their health care insurance. Both police officers and other non-unionized town employees currently receive free health care insurance.
Some board members felt that if the town asked non-union employees to pay part of their health care premiums — and the unionized employees were not — the non-union workers might seek union representation.

Chamberlain said politics are to blame. “The Selectboard is more interested in getting re-elected and keeping the tax rate low than they are in treating employees fairly,” he said.

Chamberlain also said officers would consider paying as much as ten percent of their health care premiums as long as they received pay hikes that keep salaries competitive with other Chittenden County police departments. While starting salaries appear to be in the same range as other departments, “Once you hit the 3-year mark, Williston officers are the lowest paid of any police department in Chittenden County,” he said. According to Chamberlain, Williston police also handle about twice as many calls per officer as other local departments. “We have a heavier workload and are making less money,” he said.

Chamberlain sees the town’s seeming unwillingness to raise salaries for its officers as more costly to taxpayers in the long run. “Pay is one of the main reasons we’re losing people. We’ve become a training facility. The town is spending tens of thousands of dollars on training, and it makes the officers look very attractive to other departments. The town is being shortsighted,” he said.

Currently, the Williston police department is advertising statewide to hire three officers. Police Chief Ozzie Glidden has also tried to find help through more unconventional means such as calling state Senators, the American Legion and the Vermont National Guard so see if there are soldiers returning from Iraq who might be interested. “We have three openings right now, and there’s nobody trying to come here for a job. People should be forming a line to apply here. Instead they’re forming a line to get out,” said Chamberlain.

The Williston Police Officers Association represents police officers, sergeants and dispatchers. The union is a chapter of Teamsters Local 597. Attorney Tony Lamb, as well as Glidden and the town manager are representing the town in negotiations. The union is being represented by officers John Marcoux, Duane Messier and Chamberlain. Jim Magnusson of Federal Mediation and Conciliation Service is acting as mediator.

Tension between the police union and town management has surfaced on several occasions in years past. Last year, union members stated publicly that management had engaged in a “pattern of harassment.” The officers filed a grievance listing instances they claimed were attempts to withhold union members’ rights.

Before the talks broke off earlier this month, McGuire said “a little bit of progress” was made during the talks involving the mediator. But then the negotiations reached an impasse, and McGuire said both sides wanted to hire a fact finder.

Chamberlain said a representative for the town called back the mediator because of fear the situation will go to the fact finding stage. “We’ve done our homework and they’re afraid because they have no defense,” he said. “We’re so underpaid right now they look at an approximately twenty percent raise and are saying it’s too much. We look at it as a wage adjustment.”

McGuire countered that the problems of maintaining the police force are “related to a whole series of issues. Pay is one of them. Pay is being negotiated.”

If talks reach the fact-finding stage, the union is permitted to conduct “informational picketing,” while waiting for the fact-finding report, something Chamberlain says the town wants to avoid. While the officers are not allowed to strike, off duty union members can carry signs, answer questions and hand out pamphlets. “We’d be in front of Town Hall, at Taft Corners and other high traffic areas,” said Chamberlain. “Most residents support us and have no idea we’re the lowest paid department in the county.”

McGuire expressed concern that police officers might choose to picket. “This is the first that I’ve heard of picketing as a possibility. The purpose of fact finding is to flesh out details and look at the comparisons, not to push your agenda in the press.”

As of Tuesday afternoon, Chamberlain said the mediation session is set for August 30. “We’re keeping an open mind,” he said. We agreed to give them one more shot.”

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Neighbors say project caused flood damage

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Heavy summer rainfall left inches of water in basements

By Greg Elias
Observer staff

When Shaly Joseph arrived at her Coyote Run home one day earlier this summer, a torrential downpour had turned her street into a river.

The water was so deep and swift that it blocked access to Joseph’s driveway. She worried that her 5-year-old daughter could not safely wade through the rushing water.

“It was running so fast that she could have slipped and been washed away,” Joseph said.

The June 29 storm dumped several inches of rain in a narrow band across Williston. It washed out roads, uprooted trees and threatened bridges in low-lying areas.

Among those sustaining damages were homeowners in Joseph’s Coyote Run neighborhood and the adjacent South Ridge subdivision, both of which sit high on a hill between U.S. Route 2 and Mountain View Road. Basements in 16 of the neighborhoods’ homes were flooded, according to a survey conducted for the town.

The damages totaled tens of thousands of dollars. And some of the neighbors worry that they will have to disclose the flooding to future buyers, thus driving down property values.

Some South Ridge residents think it was uphill development — not the unusually heavy rain — that caused the flooding. They allege an inadequate stormwater system in Coyote Run led to several inches of water flowing into their basements, which had been bone-dry before the most recent homes in Coyote Run were built. Other neighbors are not so sure, but they want to find out before the next big storm.

“If it’s a development issue, then let’s fix it,” said Jerry Davis, a South Ridge resident whose finished basement sustained an estimated $25,000 in damages when 15 inches of water poured into it. “If it’s a Mother Nature issue, then let’s move on.”

At the urging of Davis and his neighbors, the town of Williston hired a consultant to look into the matter. Based on the consultant’s report, the town has demanded that Coyote Run’s developer, Hergenrother Construction Co. of Colchester, make several stormwater system changes within a month or face fines or a moratorium on future home construction.

A letter sent to Hergenrother earlier this month signed by Public Works Director Neil Boyden and zoning administrator D.K. Johnston states that problems with Coyote Run’s stormwater system “had a direct effect of basement flooding to downstream properties located in the South Ridge development.”

Yet Boyden and Town Planner Lee Nellis said in an interview that it is impossible to determine exactly why so many basements were flooded. When asked how he would apportion the blame, Boyden shrugged and spread his arms.

Both he and Nellis said there were too many variables to know if the flooding was caused by the unusual amount of rainfall in a short time — the National Weather Service says between 4 and 6 inches of rain fell in less than two hours in parts of Williston — or a substandard stormwater system in Coyote Run.

“Even if Hergenrother had already done everything we have asked him to do, it’s possible the flooding may have happened anyway,” Nellis said.

 

Stopping the flow

Company owner Thomas Hergenrother flatly denies Coyote Run’s stormwater system had anything to do with the flooding in that development and South Ridge. He said the problems clearly were caused by the storm.

“Our development is built to handle a 25-year storm, and it is built to state and local specifications,” he said. “I’m 48 years old, and I’ve never seen a storm like that in my whole life. It just happened to be in my development.”

In fact, Hergenrother asserts that without the stormwater system in Coyote Run, which is uphill from South Ridge, the flooding would have been much worse. During the storm, he said he watched a sheet of water pouring across Mountain View Road above Coyote Run and into the neighborhood.

“No matter what you do, you can’t stop that volume of water,” he said, noting that Coyote Run’s stormwater ponds hold 1.5 million gallons of water.

Nellis said state standards mandate that stormwater systems handle a 25-year storm, which can be expected to occur on average once in that many years. He said that standard equates to about 2 inches of rain. Though there were no official rain gauges in the South Ridge and Coyote Run, the rainfall in the June storm likely totaled more than double that amount.

Coyote Run’s stormwater system includes numerous components: footing drains, which pipe water away from home foundations; catch basins, which drain water flowing in streets; and stormwater detention ponds, which collect water from other parts of the system. The ponds slowly drain into nearby streams and rivers.

The consultant’s report said some of those components did not operate properly or were overwhelmed by the amount of stormwater. The town’s letter to Hergenrother requires him to fix catch basins, saying they are placed too high to collect water flowing past them. The town also wants Hergenrother to ensure that detention ponds do not allow water to back up into footing drains, which the report cited as a source of basement flooding.

Nellis said the requirements concern things that would have been done before Coyote Run was built out. The town, he said, is simply requiring them to be done sooner.

 

More homes, more water?

In e-mail messages obtained from the town and in interviews, some residents pointed to construction of the second phase of Coyote Run as the cause of their flooding. They note the latest storm marks the second time formerly dry basements in a few homes were flooded since the second phase of construction began.

Five homes were initially built in Coyote Run in the late ‘90s, and then a larger group of homes was constructed over the past couple of years.

“This problem surfaced a year and a half ago when a smaller group of residents took on water,” wrote South Ridge resident Steven Zebertavage in an e-mail message to Boyden, “and now that Coyote Run has added more surface water being directed into the storm drainage system, the problem has grown in size and magnitude.”

While town officials maintain a carefully neutral position on what caused the flooding, they nonetheless want Hergenrother to meet a Sept. 15 deadline for the stormwater system improvements. The developer has been given until Friday to respond to the request.

Hergenrother is unsure if can meet the town’s timeline for making improvements, but he vowed to answer the request by Friday.

“I don’t know if I can meet the time deadline,” he said. “I’m still meeting with the town, so I can’t speculate about that.”

Nor does he know what he will do if neighbors — who have collectively hired an attorney — ask him to pay for damages.

“I haven’t gone there yet,” he said. “The most important thing is to make sure (the flooding) doesn’t happen again.”

Meanwhile, Shaly Joseph, the Coyote Run homeowner, has along with her family finished the hours of cleaning up their flooded basement. They have discarded the computer, books and clothing that were damaged by a foot of water. Now she wonders if the developer and the town will ensure their basement stays dry.

“I think the standards are high enough,” she said. “Our question is who checks to see if they are followed?”

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Lasting repairs a long way off for Checkered House Bridge

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Structure essential for local farms, businesses

By Mal Boright
Correspondent

There is likely a better chance for a free lunch than for a quick and permanent fix to the Checkered House Bridge on U.S. Route 2 in Richmond.

Late last month two-way traffic on the structure, built in 1929 in the aftermath of the devastating 1927 flood, was reduced to one-way because structural defects were found.

A somewhat quick fix to those problems is in the works, said Roger Whitcomb, project manager for the state Agency of Transportation. He said bids were being taken for “patchwork repairs” to the outside edges of the bridge that will allow for the resumption of two-lane traffic.

“We don’t want to leave it for just one-way traffic,” Whitcomb said.

As for the timetable for a new bridge at the site, Whitcomb was much more circumspect. He said an earlier estimate that a new and wider span could be under construction by 2009 was “optimistic.”

“I would not doubt that a bit,” said Richmond farmer David Conant, who was at the February meeting and who has been frustrated for years by the lack of progress in replacing the aging truss bridge.

In the early ‘90s the state was ready to replace the bridge only to have local opposition — some citing the historic nature of the bridge — emerge, causing the proposal to be shelved.

Even worse than the prospect of waiting years for a new bridge is the possibility that the state may have to close the span entirely. If the bridge deteriorates to the point that the steel deck needs replacement, Whitcomb said, “the bridge could be closed for a few months. Nobody wants to do that, but we may be forced to.”

The potential closure worries Ken Paquette of Paquette Full of Posies, a Williston nursery located on Route 2 just west of the bridge. Paquette and his wife, Veronica, both said that the one-way, stop-and-go traffic on the bridge has had little noticeable effect on their business. But a closure might.

“If this bridge should be closed, that would be bad,” he said. “The bridge is very important to us.”

“I can’t foresee them closing the bridge,” said Conant who farms both sides of the Winooski River and needs to get equipment, feed and manure across the span. “They know it can’t be closed.”

The Conant farm is one of four or five that depend on the bridge for access to fields and produce.

Chuck Farr, owner of Johnnie Brook Farm in Richmond, said any future closing “would be a big deal for us. We would then have to go to the North Williston Road.”

Farr said about one-fourth of his operation is served by the Checkered House Bridge and another fourth is served by the truss bridge in downtown Richmond, which, is about the same age as the Route 2 bridge and of some concern to Richmond town officials.

Rep. Jim McCullough, D-Williston, said he could not imagine the Checkered House Bridge being closed without a temporary bridge in its place.

“Any closure would be very tough for Williston,” McCullough said. He pointed out that businesses and residents east of Oak Hill Road and North Williston Road would then likely use Route 2A to reach Interstate 89. He said that exit is “already overburdened.”

Rep. Denise Barnard, D-Richmond, said she is hopeful that plans for the replacement bridge will “hopefully get bumped up on the list.”

She said a $5,196 ticket issued by the Department of Motor Vehicles to a contractor hauling a load of manure across the bridge for Conant put the Checkered House Bridge and other bridges on the public awareness radar. The truck weighed 79,000 pounds, much more than the 60,000 pounds permitted for agricultural use.

According to Barnard, the ticket opened up “a can of worms” for the Vermont Department of Motor Vehicles. She noted that the department, while posting the load limits at the bridge itself, had failed to post the rule with the Richmond town clerk’s office and on the Internet as required by law.

“That ticket has been postponed indefinitely,” Barnard said with a smile. Conant confirmed that the ticket is now on hold.

“We need to bite the bullet, step forward and get our road and bridges repaired,” said Barnard. “In every town around the state there are bridges like this where farmers are unable to go across.”

Conant said a meeting in Montpelier last Friday was called to look into the issue.

“It was not just about this bridge but all of them around the state,” he said. “We met with the Department of Motor Vehicles and tried to give their people a better understanding of agriculture equipment and how farmers use roads and bridges.”

He said a second meeting is being set up for the near future.

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